Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Shade garden plants

 Doodia aspera, Prickly Rasp Fern
The photos on this post are of some of the plants growing in part to full shade at the Illawarra Rhododendron garden. I have left out the cliche plants like Hellebores and Bergenia ,both of which were flowering, and have included some of the more subtle ones.
The little Doodia fern advertises itself by producing bright pink new fronds though is equally as attractive when the fronds wither for they turn ash grey and match the lichen growing on surrounding rocks.

 Cyathea australis, Rough Treefern
Treeferns need lots of space around them to be seen at their best and always seem to do better when growing near a good supply of water. These ones grow beside a brick rill and are bordered with tight clipped Kurume Azaleas.

 Melianthus major, Honey Flower
With ice blue crimped leaves and arching red flower bud this perennial is hard to beat for adding structure and elegance to a garden scene. Not often available in the nurseries as it is usually too large to grow well in a pot and seed is often not very viable.
 Buxus sempervirens 'Variegata'
Naturally compact and rounded as a shrub ,this variety, though slow growing, is worth including in a shady garden as it brings much needed light and foliage colour contrast. It also helps to formalize a garden picture of floppy or lax perennials or of bulbs which go through the process of dieing off and looking untidy.
 Plectranthus x 'Cape Angel'
Most Plectranthus go through a down time over winter and either cease to flower or lose their leaf quality. My eye was drawn to this snow white flower form as the more popular variety is the dark foliaged purple flowering one which would be "lost" in a too shady part of the garden.
 Aspidistra elatior 'Variegata'
So easily suffers from leaf scorch when given any sun, this is a perfect tough plant for dry shade though is slower to grow than the plain green form.
 Arum italicum 'Pictum'
At its best in mid winter this marble leafed Arum is seldom seen these days, perhaps not popular because it disappears underground over summer like so many of its cousins.The tightly rolled new leaves which resemble cigars poke through the ground in early autumn and can be accompanied by stalks of bright red seeds which are given the common name of 'lords and ladies', though here on the coast I am not sure whether this seed sets or even appears as it needs a chill factor to get it into action.
 Ligularia tussilaginea  'Argentea'
Like many white variegated plants this is tricky to grow. I have tried and failed. This one is growing pond side and I suspect it may like to dangle its toes in water to stay fresh and healthy. Slow to increase and not readily available.
 Snowdrops need no introduction. They are an essential part of the winter garden scene, being easy to grow and long lived. They can even be moved when in flower apparently. The trick is not allowing another plant to take its place during summer and grow over the soil while it is resting below ground.
Ligularia tussilaginea 'Aureomaculata' Leopard plant
This is a bit more vigorous then the 'Argentea' form and is always in demand from designers and landscapers, because of the vibrant uniquely spotted leaves, though it is slow to increase and seed is not always reliable. If only I could wave a magic wand I could probably sell one hundred plants of it tomorrow. A tough plant and able to cope with low water, it will nonetheless flourish in rich moist soil and look its best under those conditions. Must have good shade in the hottest time of the day or the little yellow spots will burn out.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Some Vireya Rhododendrons

 Lovely mango coloured Vireya
Vireya Rhododendrons can be guaranteed to produce flowers for most of the year and their appeal is the range of sorbet flower colours and variation in size of flower. The Illawarra Rhododendron Garden has many beds devoted to them. I have included information about growing them in an earlier post but to reiterate, they need to grow in very open friable well drained soil, almost like an orchid soil mix with lots of bark. Their natural habit is to grow as a very open straggly shrub so don't expect any compact growth from them. Otherwise they are very hardy and only occasionally get a few problems from spider mite which shows up as silvery leaves. Plants hit the garden centres and nurseries in mid summer when they are putting on all their new leaf growth.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Illawarra Rhododendron Gardens

 Large spreading arms of a magnificent Paperbark
 Emerging from the Camellia garden to Lake Patrick Lahiff

 Banks of Azaleas with Melianthus major (foreground right) at 'American Hill'
 White Magnolia with treeline summit of Mt Keira in background
 Lakeside snowdrops and daffodils
Exotic deciduous trees merging with rainforest evergreens
Big dome shaped shrub Rhododendron just starting to flower 
Early flowering Rhododendron
Terrible thing to admit that I have never visited this garden even though it is right on my doorstep, a mere five minute drive away for me or a very stiff walk up Mt Pleasant. This 13 hectare (32 acre) garden was established in the late 1960's from land originally owned by BHP (Australian Iron and Steel) but later transferred to the stewardship of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1986. The garden is managed by volunteers who have transformed this site into a magnificent garden of grand proportions from what was once a weed infested area of lantana and blackberry. The exotic plantings merge seamlessly with nature trails through regenerated rainforest, which I hope to explore at a later date. (Have heaps more photos from today to post of course!)
Details for visitors:  
Address: Parrish Avenue, Mt Pleasant, Wollongong.
From Sydney take left turn Balgownie exit on Mt Ousley Road Freeway,  then sharp right onto New Mt Pleasant Road. follow signs to garden.
Open all year but only on Saturdays ,Sundays and Public Holidays from 10am to 4pm
Also Open Tuesday from 8am to 12noon. (admission gold coin donation)
 Bookings for weddings and functions phone 02 42843041 or 0411 155 125

Friday, July 26, 2013

Justicia rizzinii 'Firefly'

Justicia rizzinii 'Firefly' (Acanthaceae family)
Renamed many times and sold under different botanical names, this final version honours the great Brazilian botanist Carlos Toledo Rizzinni (1921-1992) where the plant hails from.
I am going to call this a 'real estate' shrub because if you were selling a townhouse or flat with a balcony during winter this would be the perfect little shrub to make a residence look warm and inviting. It only grows to about 75cm but packs a punch with the firecracker scarlet and yellow flowers during the coldest months. The only downside to shrubs this small is that you need at least five planted closely together to make an impact in a garden or planter box. Given a trim after flowering means it will stay compact ,and dare I say it may make a passing imitation of a clipped Buxus given half the chance. I noticed a grower with a batch in the plant trade market this week but only in small pots, as this is still a little known shrub, and what nursery person can take the risk of producing a plant in quantity which may not sell?
I leave the final word about it to Sydney garden writer Deirdre Mowat, who, in her book Meet the family Acanthaceae, says, when describing it in flower, as 'like that of a shower of embers suspended in mid-air, sparkling in a sunny spot or lighting up a more shady one'.
A perfect description indeed.

Grey Butcherbird

Grey Butcherbird
(photo by Brett Donald from Wikipedia)
'Boss Cocky' is an Australian colloquialism referring to a person eminent among nonentities; someone enjoying the exercise of petty authority, usually with some element of assertiveness implied and could be used to describe the behaviour of this bird.
Nearly all the usual birds of the garden have made themselves scarce since the arrival of this fellow. No more wrens or honeyeaters and even the big Kurrawongs who normally swoop and call all through winter have been running scared.
He likes to perch as high up a tree as possible before singing his heart out. A very melodious song he proudly sings while he surveys the territory. I know he is after a few tidbits from me as he often lands quite close, a metre or so away and gives me an eyeful. Not afraid, as I seem to be in his territory. How much longer he will stick around is hard to tell but I don't mind if he makes a meal of some of those pesky Myna birds in the meantime.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Colette on Hyacinths

The brief spell of spring like weather last week sent my pots of hyacinths into a spin and out they came before really having time to develop a proper stem. 
As I am always interested in how garden plants are described in literature, I thought I would share a perspective on hyacinths held by the great French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954). In 1947/48 a Swiss publisher, Mermod, commissioned a small book, Pour un Herbier ,the writing of which was based on the weekly bunches of flowers sent to her by Mermod to her apartment at 9 Rue de Beaujolais , Palais-Royal in Paris. At this stage of her life Colette had become severely crippled by arthritis but by all accounts was still a bit of a "looker" with her frizzy reddish hair, alley-cat eyes rimmed with kohl and thin as wire lips painted a brazen hussy scarlet. Particular flowers jog her memory and she recalls hyacinths  in Parisian life during wartime Occupation when florists slyly offered a way to be seditious by selling potted bulbs 'from which there issued forth three gallantly chauvinistic flowers, one blue, one white and one red'. However the hyacinths she received in 1948 tell a different story. 'Today my gloomy privilege has fetched me a bouquet of white hyacinths. Their thick spikes, swollen with water, ooze where cut, like a snail, and bear little bells , heavy and opaque, as white as peppermint candy.' It seems that these 'fat, white, cultivated, well padded little city dwellers' were not really to her liking as they sparked an image for her of younger more mobile years when she was able to enjoy the wild type with their 'blue forest flourish, spontaneous and fragile, in numbers so great, to draw from it the illusion of standing on the edge of a lake'.
It is well documented that Colette received the 'gardening gene' from her beloved mother Sido, who was the subject of a memoir/novella published in 1929. The garden in the family home in the Burgundian village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye is described in terms like a French Impressionist painting: 'The warm garden nourished itself in a yellow light with trembling reds and violets, but I couldn't say if this red, this violet came from, if they still come from, a sentimental happiness or an optical dazzle'. It is a garden represented in shimmering heat and light, a dazzle of colour, children and cats playing, happiness (Sido has a 'garden face') rather than details of plants and design. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Buxus sempervirens 'Sufffruticosa', Dutch Box

Dutch Box
  Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa'
I grow a few of the so called Dutch variety of Box in pots. It's a slow grower, naturally compact and rounded and may only reach 45 cm or so after ten years. Over winter the foliage turns a bright coppery orange though some say this is a soil deficiency and can be corrected by using lime or dolomite in the soil. I like the colour at this time of year as it adds a glowing tone to the garden. I also grow it for the smell of the leaves, though admitting this may sound a bit perverse as it closely resembles the distinctive odour of cat pee on a warm day in summer. Just blame that ginger tom who is prowling the neighbourhood and marking his territory.
In Gerard's famous Herbal of 1633, the Box tree is shown as in the picture below and was unkindly described as having an evil and loathsome smell. I am sure some people would still agree.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kalanchoe orgyalis

 Kalanchoe orgyalis
This Kalanchoe has been on the nursery scene for quite a few years but it is only a recent discovery for me. It's a fashion thing, as I have fallen for the brown suede leaves. Magnolia 'Little Gem' has a similar appeal, though the suede is on the reverse of the leaf below the glossy green.
I shall no doubt propagate from this plant eventually and am looking forward to it reaching to the expected height of 2 metres. Apparently the specific species name is derived from the Greek system of measurement, the 'Orgya', meaning six feet (2 metres) or one fathom. The fathom being usually a measurement in water. Hence, the expression 'hard to fathom' alludes to something being too deep to understand. (or in modern lingo W.T.F)
Clint Eastwood, 'Il buono'
How to look cool wearing brown suede

A crested development on succulents

 Pachyphytum sp crest form
Echeveria agavoides cresting
Fasciation or cresting occurs when a plant develops a fan shaped flattened stem and growing point, resulting in a mass of crowded leaves which become distorted and over- lapping or in strangely elongated flowers at the end of the stem. It is often seen in daisy flowers and is not regarded as a desirable trait, though the summer annual Celosia 'Cockscomb' is a good example of where it has been selected and bred to look as such. 
The cause of cresting is usually attributed to a number of factors such as hormonal imbalance at a cellular level or invasion of the plant system by a virus or bacteria.
In succulent plants it is considered unique and crested forms of some species are considered quite collectible.One of the best examples and well worth growing is the crest form of Echeveria 'Gilva' as the resulting plant swirls and undulates in the pot and the grey green leaves with pink winter tips is very becoming.
Crest forms of succulents make terrific low maintenance pot plants as they usually stay neat and compact and continue to spread out and mound or undulate as they grow. Perhaps the only down side to this form is that the tightly held leaves are more subject to rotting from excess water held within the leaves and resulting lack of air flow around the plant. Often you have to rescue a specimen by cutting away the dead sections and starting again but this is only really a problem in warm humid weather or at times of excessive rainfall.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nasturtiums on the march

Don't be fooled by those seed packets of compact growing Nasturtiums or the variegated variety 'Alaska' with its pretty marbled leaves, after a couple of years of self seeding they revert to the wild type and in mild climates they spend winter sending off long runners topped with large round leaves to cover as much ground as possible before the return of hot days which shrivels their leaves. By then, when those sweetly scented flowers have appeared, all is forgiven and you hardly notice that beneath the leaves there are hundreds of their large crinkly seeds littering the ground. They are usually light enough to float and in a summer downpour they may end up a long way from where they were originally planted. Clever evolution at work to ensure survival of a species.
Despite this 'weed potential' warning, the humble Nasturtium is much revered in French gardens, and in art for that matter, where it is know as Capucine.  In Monet's garden at Giverny a central walkway is roped off to allow them to spread across the path from both sides. In Marcel Proust's A la recherche.....a gardener is described pruning the leaves from ones allowed to grow up a trellis to window height against a wall. 'Fauve' artist Henri Matisse painted pagan rhythmical figures swirling around a central vase of nasturtiums in Capucines a la Danse .
Capucines a la Danse 1912
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
'Danse' version 1,left, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York and 'Danse' 2 from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow.
 (As an aside about the Pushkin Museum, the recent sacking of the Director, Irina Alexsandrovana Antonova, at the age of 91, gives us all inspiration for a long and fruitful career in a chosen profession whatever the outcome.)

Weed or groundcover worthy of a place in the garden?

'Boulevard des Capucines'
Nasturtium bright colours in this French poster

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hibiscus 'Landersii'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Landersii' syn. 'Pride of Hankins'
 The term 'heritage variety' is usually applied to old roses which often have an aristocratic French pedigree, however it is also used when referring to this Hibiscus which originated from Florida about 100 years ago. It is one which is close in appearance to the original east Asian species described by Dutchman Hendrick Van Rheede (1636-1691) in his twelve volume Hortus Indicus Malabaricus which was published between 1678 and 1693 in Amsterdam. A team of up to a hundred plant specialists worked on the books and they can now be accessed online thanks to modern technology.
'Landersii' is a very hardy variety and one which is suitable for using as an understock for grafting. The flowers are small, double, ruffled and a cerise pink in colour after they emerge from the tightly furled dark red buds. The bush grows to about 2 metres in height.

Around the same time Van Rheede was compiling his Indian Flora, a Mughal artist was crafting this beautiful gold decorated enamel cup and saucer featuring hibiscus buds in the process of unfurling a single petal. It is now in the Kuwait Museum (Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah ) as part of the al-Sabah Collection. There is an interesting video on YouTube called 'Memory Keeping' from the Museum director Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, who, with her husband Sheikh Nassar Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah collected more than 30,000 works of art, many pieces of which get loaned out to art institutions in other countries for all to study and enjoy.


Geranium macrorrhizum 'De Bilt'

Geranium macrorrhizum 'De Bilt'
I have been reading about photoperiodism which is a term used to define a plant's physiological response to day or night length, and whether flowering is initiated by short nights and long days or the opposite. So this little Dutch bred Geranium, originating from the town of De Bilt in the province of Utrecht, flowers in June and July in the northern hemisphere, so I guess flowering has been triggered here by the lengthening days and probably our relatively mild cool weather season. It is not exactly sub zero at the moment.
The macrorrhizum group of Geranium cultivars are charming and neat, forming low mounds to about 30cm high. They have the added bonus of warmly aromatic scented foliage which is delightful to run your hands through. A growing position of half sun during summer and full sun during winter is ideal for them. They are tolerant of dry and prefer well drained soil enriched with organic matter but are just as happy when grown in a container of good quality potting mix.

a red Anemone

 Last year I planted red Anemone which flowered dutifully in spring. This year the saved and replanted tubers have returned early, flowering their heads off while the batch of new ones called 'misty blue' have still a while to go as they have just developed that parsley like foliage at ground level.
I photographed this red one using different camera settings but can see no discernible difference in the pictures.