Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hosta envy

I can't grow Japanese Hostas or the so called Plantain Lily. They like a cool climate, a shady location with humus rich moist soil and a vigilant protection from snails and slugs. That said I admired these in a plant trade market last week. That means they are available right now in retail Nurseries and Garden Centres

The village 'Crepe Myrtles'

 The Crepe Myrtle trees (Lagerstroemia indica) at the local shopping village have been flowering their heads off for weeks and I particularly like this red/dark pink one. The branches are being weighed down by the amount of flowers. A terrific small tree for gardens and parks.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

black sugarcane, Saccharum officinarum var. purpureum

 Gomphrena 'Fireworks' flowering in front of black sugarcane
Saccharum officinarum var. purpureum (Poaceae)
The distinctive black stems and purple foliage of this ornamental and edible sugarcane make it an attractive addition to the summer garden particularly if planted alongside the large variegated Miscanthus 'Cosmopolitan' or some burgundy leaved orange flowering Canna 'Wyoming'. By the end of summer the stems may have reached 2 metres or more as it loves the heat and constant moisture, something we are getting plenty of if this afternoon's downpour is anything to go by. Large canes can be cut during the summer and used to propagate more plants by cutting the stem into short sections which include a node and laying them horizontally with a bare covering of soil. Having a few back-up plants is handy if you live in a frosty climate as they can be kept under shelter for planting out as the weather warms up.
 Growing an ornamental sugarcane plant provides a link to a part of the agricultural history of Australia while gaining an insight into some of the characters who were pioneers in the industry. While the sugar museum in Mourilyan, Queensland has recorded the oral history of the 20th century pioneers, some of whom were interned as 'enemy aliens' during both Wars, the 19th century records make for interesting reading while second guessing the motives and actions of those involved. Certainly this is the case with the 31 year old John Buhot who, with his wife Jessie, sailed into Brisbane on board the Montmorency in April 1862. He was born and raised in Barbados at the tail end of their sugar industry which was tainted with the dark side of slavery and he probably knew more than anyone in the Colony about establishing and nurturing the fledgling sugar industry here. Two months after his arrival his expertise in making granular sugar was put to the test with the help of engineer and architect Andrew Petrie (1798-1872) Twenty four canes were selected from the patch growing at the Brisbane city 'Botanic Reserve', yielding 7 gallons of juice and 5 pounds of sugar. The crushing of the canes and clarifying of the juice was carried out on the footpath of the Brookes and Foster Ironmongers establishment at 143 Queen Street. No doubt a crowd gathered to watch this process and with much fanfare the clarified liquor was taken back to the gardens for the final process of turning it into granular crystals. For his efforts he was promised a grant of 500 acres of land by a select Parliamentary Committee consisting of Messers. S.W. Griffith, Moreton, Buzzacott and Macrossan. This promise came to nothing though he was no doubt living comfortably by 1874 in his 56 acre Dunellan Estate in what is now the Brisbane suburb of Greenslopes. On his death at age fifty in 1881 his wife reminded the government of their promise but this was dismissed. His falling out with sugar industry associates such as Louis Hope from Ormiston indicates he may have been quite quick tempered or a just a victim of a 'tall poppy' syndrome frustrated by his efforts to get people to take notice of someone born with sugar 'flowing through his veins' from a young age. A hundred years after his initial 'manufacture' experiments, a plaque was unveiled to honour his achievements at the Brisbane City Botanic Garden, with his descendants in attendance. He is also remembered by a row of fig (Ficus) trees he planted in Quay Street Rockhampton and by Buhot street in Geebung.

John Buhot (1831-1881)
Family portrait at Dunellan Estate 1870's

Suagarcane at Brisbane City Botanic Garden

Coreopsis rosea 'Sweet Dreams'

 Coreopsis rosea 'Sweet Dreams' (Asteraceae)
with purple Tradescantia pallida and Kale
This delightful Coreopsis is a bit of a flopper in warm humid climates, as, instead of forming a neat mound of foliage to 45cm topped with raspberry and white daisy flowers, it collapses in the centre with stems akimbo. Purists may reach for a metal hoop to keep it upright and in place but by selecting a few contrasting companions it can be left to its own devices quite successfully. An adjacent stiff stemmed Kale acts as an instant stake and a ground cover of 'purple heart' Tradescantia allows the horizontal stems a good place to rest without impeding on the growth of either, though the Coreopsis prefers even soil moisture for best results while the 'trad' can cope with dry. Flower stems are good for picking and have a light airy appearance in a vase and by cutting, a second flush of flowers is possible if this is done now.
Propagation is by division in winter as it does not set seed.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock.