Sunday, June 30, 2013

Senecio decaryi

  Senecio decaryi
 I was given a small cutting of this Senecio some years ago and it has gone on to grow into a metre high shrub. Like others in the genus, the flowers are insignificant, fluffy and sterile. Hard to believe it is a member of the daisy family. The silvery spade shaped leaves are very attractive and are neatly arranged and upward facing along the stems each ending in a pink coloured point.
2017 update: I have limited stock available.

Kalanchoe longiflora var. coccinea

 Flower detail
Kalanchoe longiflora var. coccinea
This succulent comes into its own over winter when the scalloped leaves turn brilliant red and the plant sends up a metre long stem bearing sprays of tiny yellow flowers. The flowers seem strangely detached from the plant below as they wave in the breeze. The stem being quite thin so the flowers almost float above on their own.
This Kalanchoe is not usually available as a commercial succulent plant. It is just too awkward and gawky looking to sit well in a pot amongst pretty and neat rosette types. It is one of those plants which makes an appearance at school fetes and market stalls, though during summer, it is a bronzey green colour and it is not really spectacular. A good filler in a garden of mixed succulents is its appeal and on grey winter days it shines.

Pelargonium grossulariodes, Coconut Geranium

 Pelargonium grossulariodes Syn P parviflorum
If not for the strongly scented leaves reminiscent of coconut mixed with candied orange peel, this scruffy little native plant from South Africa may never have made it into the garden scene where it has had a place since 1789. The tiny insignificant flowers are hardy noticeable but at this time of year, it, like many in the genus, put on a display of vibrant orange leaves. Not a lot, just a few tucked away amongst the mound of leaves.
  coloured leaf
 Tiny magenta flowers
The coconut Geranium is a bit of a trailer and spreads by sending off these long red stems from the centre of the plant. I think this is just a way of giving the developing seed, which eventually emerges with a feathery tail, a chance for it to blow away to colonize a new patch, which it has done quite well in many parts of the world most notably California and India.
I keep mine in a pot and it has never become weedy . If planted in the garden it is useful in a shady corner or a damp spot like its native habitat ,but it may go unnoticed by all except those with an interest in scented leaf Geraniums.

Pelargonium graveolens 'Lady Plymouth'

 Pelargonium gravelons 'Lady Plymouth'
This scented leaf Geranium has been around since 1800. I like the marbled finely cut grey green leaves with their cream edge and the strong scent of rose overlayed with peppermint given off from these coarsely textured leaves . Another great plant for a mixed container combined with darker coloured flowers or foliage as it tough and forgiving if you forget to water the pot. Like a lot of Geraniums/Pelargoniums it does get a bit 'leggy' by shedding lower leaves and leaving a bare stem. Often the leaves will hang there and need a bit of assistance in pulling them off. This is a good time to take cuttings from the semi mature brown wood and pieces strike readily at any time of year in mild climates. Otherwise to maintain a compact plant it is worth pinching out the tips to make it more bushy. If left unpruned it is usually reaches a height of around 1 metre.
 This Australian book on the group is worth seeking out as it contains concise and well presented information. It was published by Kangaroo Press in 1991. (Ah those pre-Internet days!) It contains fine line drawings by Jane Stapleford
A selection of scented geranium leaves drawn by Jane Stapleford from the book.

Parc de Saleccia, Corsica

 Photos of the 'Valley of the Oleanders' at the seven hectare Parc de Saleccia Botanic Garden at Ille-Rousse in Corsica.
It is that time of year when Le Tour de France gets underway and I stay up way to late to be able to function the next day in anything other than a bleary eyed way. Stage 1 from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia on Corsica, which was on SBS1 last night "live", was a feast for lovers of Oleanders like me. They lined the streets of small villages and were trained as standards appearing like big rosy coloured lollipops along the route.

Hibiscus from seed

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis developing seed pods
Patience is needed for growing anything from seed and when it is a possible new flower colour and variety from a bit of human intervention cross pollination, there is no guarantee of success. So this is my first attempt at plant breeding and I have to wait at least two years before any resulting plant grown from this seed may flower. First I have to wait until the seed ripens inside the capsule before sowing it and that probably won't be till summer. 
Hybridising Hibiscus follows the typical stages applied to other flowers such as roses, and that is taking pollen from one flower (father) and applying it by hand or brush directly to the sticky stigma pads of another flower (mother). After the petals fall and the flower withers, the fertilized ovary enlarges forming a pod or capsule containing seeds. This pod takes from 40 to 90 days to ripen, turning from green to brown in the process. Before the brown pod opens to revel the seeds it needs to be netted so the seeds are not lost on the ground. Seed sowing in spring or in warmer weather is the best option for success, though it is also recommended that the seed coat be "nicked" or scarified to aid germination.
Optimistically it may be at least ten years before I can say I grew that variety of Hibiscus.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight'

 Helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight' syn 'Aureum'
This is the golden variety of the vigorous shrub, silver foliaged ground cover, Helichrysum petiolare which is known to cover several square metres given half the chance, as well as climb up and over surrounding plants. This form is more sedate though has a few issues which make it tricky to grow. The pale leaves make it vulnerable to sunburn and frost damage despite having a covering of woolly felt. Propagation can also difficult as it will easily rot from all that fur on the stems especially at times of high humidity. However I always have a few plants on the go as it has proved a popular addition to summer container gardens, hanging baskets and shady corners which are duly brightened by the foliage.
Trevor Nottle in his book on Mediterranean plants disdainfully relegates it to 'the mixed plant hanging basket outside an English pub' but I think it deserves a garden spot where it can be enjoyed for the unique colour of the leaves and ease of care. It just needs the occasional trim to keep it neat and is generally indifferent to soil conditions as long as it is well drained.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

xGraptoveria 'Fred Ives'

Graptoveria 'Fred Ives'
To get the technical info out of the way first, the succulent plants grouped with Graptoveria are intergeneric hybrids between Graptopetalum and Echeveria, so they typically have the spreading habit of the Graptopetalum and the larger rosette form of the Echeveria.This is a hybrid between Graptopetalum paragense and Echeveria gibbiflora. It is similar, though larger than, Graptoveria 'Douglas Huth' syn 'Huth's Pink'. 'Douglas Huth' has more rounded leaves and is smaller with brighter pink leaves.
This is a fast growing large succulent with rosettes up to 20cm across and plant stems reaching up to 20cm high. In dry or poor soils the growth is kept in check though often at the expense of leaf colour which tends to the bronze shades, as seen on the outer leaves of the photo.The specimen in the photo is actually resting on a low wall along the edge of a driveway and is emerging from a carpet of catmint and (unfortunately) weedy pennywort.
I gave up growing this succulent commercially because its rapid growth means it quickly develops a plant stalk way over the edges of the pot and then topples over breaking off half the leaves. I guess you could call this an example of having a short shelf life in which the window of having the plant ready for sale and having it "go off" is narrow. Terrific in the garden however and especially good for beginner growers of succulents or those who garden in pots. After the "show off" period of a tall stem it eventually starts to clump up and forms lots of smaller rosettes around the main stem. As with most succulents, If it does get unwieldy, you can always lop off the stem and stick it back in soil at ground level, after a brief period of letting the stem dry off.

Not china pink

Deep blue Hyacinth
How many of us buy seeds or bulbs which are labelled as a particular variety or colour, only to find out later at flowering time they are the complete opposite. These Hyacinth were labelled as "China Pink" and are the first of the season to flower. Not that I should complain as this deep blue is quite a rich colour and there is even a bit of ultraviolet in the mix on some petals.

pastel pink

 In warmer weather, the flowers on this Brugmansia are a strong dark shade of pink and now, in response to the short cold days they have changed to this pastel silvery pink.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Haemanthus albiflos - Paintbrush Lily

Paintbrush Lily flower with mini rose 'Orange Honey'
Don't look too closely to this photo as there are aphids crawling around both flowers. They came with the rose of course as it has not been cold enough to kill them off.
What I like about the paintbrush lily flower is the tulip shaped green calyx which holds the mass of white brush like stamens. The leaves of the plant are an attractive feature as well as they look like furry dark green tongues from which the the flower stem emerges.
 This bulb is often accompanied with the words "thrives on neglect' and is also included with cacti and succulents as it has the South African background to tie it in with that group of plants. The wikipedia link below gives more information as to its growing conditions etc.
This post is more about getting the information out there that I have plants of it for sale.
It remains a fairly non commercial plant however and is marketed more as a "curiosity" or a collectable plant, making an interesting addition to groups of plants for low light indoors or shady balconies. It will take some sun but the leaves may burn in strong sun. My trays of it are grown in small pots so it doesn't mind being cramped  and they are kept under a bench.
Haemanthus albiflos - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Saturday, June 15, 2013


It's Jonquil time of year
If you drive through the 'Garden Shire' of Sydney at any time of the year you will find enterprising vendors selling cut flowers at their front gates by the old honesty box system of selecting your bunch from the ones on display and putting money in a tin. I wonder for how much longer, as the old farmlets and acreage properties are carved up, giving way to housing estates and new developments.  A "flowers for sale" sign which caught my eye yesterday was one which offered "Johnquills" for sale. So it made me think of the word "Johnquill" as being a good clue in a botanical crossword or as an alias for the great 17th century botanist / horticulturist John Parkinson who probably wrote his books using a quill pen, and, who introduced the jonquil/narcissus/daffodil into England, brought back to his garden by plant hunter, one William Boels, who found them during a trip to the Iberian Peninsular in search of new plant treasures.
An illustration of a double jonquil from Parkinson's Paradisi in Sole from 1656

John Parkinson (1567-1659)
Portrait from 1640 from his book Theatrum Botanicum
What is interesting about the life of "Park-in-Sun", his pun not mine, is that he managed to garden, work as an apothecary/herbalist ,write popular books which have had many reprints, even as recently as 1976, yet retain his faith as a Roman Catholic at a time when it was dangerous to do so. He dedicated his book Paradisi in Sole (first edition 1629) to his gardening friend Henrietta Maria of France who was Queen Consort to King Charles 1, while reminding his readers that the botanical world was really an expression of "Divine Creation" through this poem in the introduction:
Qui vent parangonner l'artifice a nature
Et nos pares a l'Eden indiscret il mesure.
Le pas de l'Elephant parle pas du ciron,
et de l'Aiglele vol parcil du mouscheron.

Australian artist Fiona Hall gives her contemporary spin on the fascinating Parkinson Jonquil story in this video.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mystery Mint

More often than not my enthusiasm for a particular plant falls on deaf ears. I discovered this variety of mint growing amongst weeds on an abandoned community garden plot. The leaves are round and very furry and in summer the creeping stems and leaves have a white bloom on them. The smell from the crushed leaves is clean and sweet without that trace of rankness which often is present in common garden mint. So now I am growing it as my preferred variety, but putting a correct name on it is all but impossible. Even the experts say mints are hard to identify correctly and often new hybrids emerge when different sorts are grown close by each other. 
Herbs books will always say to plant mint with caution as it is likely to take over the entire garden. Not true in my experience. I would love to have a three metre square patch of mint actually. Imagine how nice it would be to lay on during a hot summer day. When using it in the kitchen I think only the top four leaves are the best part to use as these are soft and have the most flavour. No tough stems to deal with.
In mild climates mint is at its best right now, while in cooler regions it has probably gone underground, silently spreading its long thick stems in all directions to re-emerge far from where it was planted originally. Like all so called invasive garden plants you can afford to be a bit rough in your maintenance of it . Rip up runners, mow it down ,curse and swear at it but all in vain as it will return with vigour in a most rewarding way.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Dorothy Brady'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Dorothy Brady'
This is an old variety and is a classic large double rose red. At this time of year I assume the colour is deeper and even tends towards scarlet at the edge of the petals and will go back to a lighter pink in the warmer months. There are some white streaks on petals and this is normal though any streaked flower petals remind me of some sinister work undertaken by a thrip at time of pollination and subsequent development. Just think of all those streaky tulips by way of comparison.
This is a vigorous tall growing Hibiscus and is highly recommended as it is a prolific bloomer. It was bred by Brady E Foster from 'Surfrider' x 'Kona' and registered in 2002.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Remembering Gary'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Remembering Gary'
Not a terrific photo. This was taken using the installed iPad camera and uploading it direct to blogger via the app. I didn't have my camera with me so I thought I would see what the quality was like. Not enough detail can be seen in the flower.  Up close this Hibiscus has a biscuit coloured edge to the petals and they are nicely crimped. Summer photos from other sources show that the edge may become more of a distinct band of yellow. Time will tell. The centre of this large cartwheel variety (200mm) is pale pink and changes to orange towards the outer petals. This variety was bred by A Westerman from a pod parent of 'Ruth Watson' and a pollen parent of 'Sun Showers'.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hibiscus 'Ruth Wilcox'

Australian coastal suburb with Norfolk Island Pine in the background
and Hibiscus 'Ruth Wilcox' 
Ruth Wilcox, like her namesake in the E M Forster novel Howards End is a tough old bird, tall and aristocratic, and a source of confusion to all those around her.
 She belongs to the arnottianus group of Hibiscus which include 'Wilder's White' and 'Apple Blossom', all originating from this large shrub/tree species native to Hawaii . Depending on where you live in the world 'Ruth Wilcox' can be pink or white and may go under the name of 'Albo Lacinatus' or 'La France'. Confused? It is worth reading the book Hibiscus Around the World by Ross H Gast as he mentions it growing in Nairobi as a tall standard, pruned bare to 3 metres so you could walk underneath it. The local native species to this part of Africa is H. schizopetalis which is a possible parent of 'Ruth' in combination with H arnottianus.
Regardless of origin, it is has lots of desirable traits which make it garden worthy. It is a very hardy variety , resistant to pests and diseases including borer and has very low water requirements. For this reason it is the main variety grown for use as a grafting understock particularly for all those large flowered but genetically weak Hawaiian hybrids. Grown on its own it makes a terrific hedge or screen plant and is never without a flower

A wall of green to 6 metres from Hibiscus 'Ruth Wilcox'

Ruth Wilcox was probably not named for the character in Forster's work of literature but she is certainly luminous in the pages of the novel which was published way back in 1910.
Early in the book Forster drops the hint that she is not long for this world when the effervescent Helen Schlegel, who is at 'Howards End' for an ill-fated engagement to her son Paul, spies on her in the garden 'looking tired, trailing her long dress through the wet grass and silently watching a red poppy open'. Red poppy being that symbol of opiates associated with pain relief. Ruth is stoically Quaker 'whose life has been spent in the service of husband and sons' , 'yet she and daily life are now out of focus and show blurred'. Despite her loss of vitality she develops a friendship with Helen's sister Margaret but is unable to communicate to her nor her immediate family the state of her health which leads to confusion on the part of family and friends. This is how Margaret reacts': 'Was Mrs Wilcox one of those unsatisfactory people -there are many of them - who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it ? They evoke our interests and affections, and keep the life of the spirit dawdling around them. Then they withdraw. When physical passion is involved, there is a definite name for such behaviour - flirting- and if carried far enough is punishable by law. But no law - not public opinion even- punishes those who coquette with friendship, though the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of misdirected effort and exhaustion, may be intolerable. Was she one of those?
Ouch!  And then a couple of pages later comes the sentence 'The funeral was over'. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

2 Yellow flowered Brugmansias

 Brugmansia sanguinea 'Midas'

 Chrome Yellow PbCrO4
Brugmansia x candida 'Clementine'
When these two Brugmansia started to bloom this week I immediately associated the flower colour with my old box of paints, little tubes of cadmium yellow followed by chrome yellow, and with being in the chemistry lab, where lead nitrate mixed with potassium chromate when filtered off, leaves lead chromate or chrome yellow. So chrome yellow was the colour description I settled on though it is probably easier to describe as taxi cab yellow, that yellow with a bit of orange in it. We owe the discovery of the colour to Frenchman Louis Nicholas Vauquelin (1763-1829) who was mucking around in a Parisian lab with a mineral from Siberia called crocoite from which he extracted chromium. It seems he was a bit of a plant boffin as well and has the distinction of having the genus Vauquelinia named for him, though Vauquelinia californica is a plant I may never come across.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Leaf: Ipomoea barbatus, Flower: Salvia involucrata x 'Timboon'

The name Maroon was originally derived from the Italian marrone and French marron, meaning Chestnut, but the name Maroon today refers to the colour here shown.
It was adopted by the State of Queensland, Australia as their official colour in November 2003 and is an especially popular colour to wear during sporting events involving rival teams representing other States.
In the garden the colour is well represented by the tall 3 metre shrub Salvia Timboon. It is in full flower at the moment and is providing a magnificent display of flowers at the ends of its long arching branches. There is some confusion as to the origin of Salvia Timboon and it is currently thought to be a hybrid between S. involucrata and S. karvinski.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Moon Drop'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Moon Drop'

 'Moon Drop' flower has a large cartwheel style overlapped flower coloured a vibrant orange  with a deep crimson eye. It has 'Liberace' and 'Stan Beard' as parents and was bred by Joy and Norm Hatton and registered in 1998.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The 3000 Mile Garden

"It's a salmon coloured flower" was the reply I received when I asked about this Hibiscus which I bought a few months back at a local market.  When you spend so much time being a bit of a stickler for correct names of plants it is nice to have a few unknowns in the mix. Something can also be said for buying local whether it be food or plants. With plants you are likely to get ones which have adapted well to the climate and have particular desirable traits such as resistance to pests and disease or ability to flower well outside their normal seasonal range. Ability to withstand extremes of climate is also an important issue these days and one book which documents this well is The 3000 Mile Garden by Roger Phillips and Leslie Land (Pan Books 1992). This book (and later TV series) is based on an exchange of letters between Phillips in London and Land who gardens in Maine USA. At the time of writing both gardeners were battling drought and extremes of temperature. Included in the book are their lists of plants which survive extremes of dry and cold, always important information to pass on for those contemplating growing a particular plant outside its comfort zone. Phillips also tells of his joyous travel in Australia and on return he laments: 'Back in England everything seems very small and old fashioned. As a nation we have totally failed to invest in our future. I feel that it is most depressing: unless something radical happens we will become a very minor museum with our only asset our tourism'

It is Leslie Land however who shines from the pages of this book. Not afraid to call a spade a spade, with a career as an accomplished food and garden writer for The New York Times, she draws herself naked amongst her favourite garden plants celebrating the end of that long cold winter which is part and parcel of gardening in Maine. In summer there is the opportunity to cook a whole salmon in a bathtub while across the Atlantic, Roger Phillips enjoys a summer barbecue in his pride and joy, Eccleston Square in central London. This book is still available and is well worth seeking out.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Acer buergerianum, Trident Maple

 Acer buergerianum Trident Maple
For the last few weeks many of the big exotic trees in my neighbourhood have been putting on a spectacular display of coloured leaves, of red overlaid with orange and yellow or russet tones of ruby red and gold. If you don't have the space to plant one of these colourful trees you can still get to enjoy them by planting a bonsai or penjing version. Many of the maples such as this Acer do well in both small pots and large containers and are fairly hardy as long as they receive adequate water over summer. If the pots dry out the leaves may fall prematurely and you will miss out on the autumn colour.
Acer buergerianum is native to eastern China and is known as the three-toothed maple or Sanjiao Feng.