Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pelargonium 'Mallee Magic'

Pelargonium 'Mallee Magic' (Geraniaceae)
Sometimes you have to grow a plant for a couple of years to find out how it behaves and responds to different seasonal conditions. This native Geranium is possibly an inland form of G. australe and puts most of its energy into growing during winter and early spring before fading and "going off" during summer. In August it is smothered in flowers which stand proud of a low mound of tightly held leaves. Then in the first days of summer it starts to shrink back underground and though still producing a few flowers, the tight compact foliage is gone and growth is sparse. It hardly looks like the same plant. Like other species of Pelargoium, many of which originate from South Africa, it has a spreading root system consisting of swollen nodes or food storage segments to help it through harsh summer conditions . New shoots resurface a bit like suckers do on a shrub or tree around the original parent plant when conditions become favourable such as after rain and when temperatures are cooler. So the upshot of all this is that to propagate it you have to do so in winter usually by division when growth is rapid.

Mid winter foliage
Small new plants with sparse growth but still with flowers are waiting in the wings for potting on in winter 2014

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Brachyscome iberidifolia, Swan River Daisy

Brachyscome iberidifolia , (Asteraceae) Swan River daisy
This little daisy is from Western Australia and is spring flowering, responding in the wild to winter rainfall and then flowering for about six weeks until the hot weather sets in. Normally the flowers are blue but pink ,white or mauve flowering forms also occur. It is fairly easy to grow from seed sown during winter but the resulting seedlings need pinching back to produce bushy plants with more flowers. It eventually reaches a height of about 40cm and is quite wiry in appearance having only tiny leaves. The only drawback to growing it is that it only has a small shallow root system which means it is subject to wind damage and may topple over and continue growing in a lop-sided way. Easy to forgive this habit as it is such a pure and simple lovely plant.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Indigofera australis Austral Indigo

 Indigofera australis var. australis (Leguminosae)
This under-shrub (1.5 metre tall) of forests and open woodland has a wide range of distribution from Tasmania to Queensland, and, at this time of year, right through until December, it is a mass of rosy purple pea flowers which stand above the foliage in axillary sprays. The compound leaves are comprised of many smokey blue leaflets which expand or contract depending on how much soil moisture is available. I have one specimen in a pot which is waiting to be planted out and the leaves have become quite small from a lack of water, whereas these local species are lush by comparison.
The inland sister plant to this species ,var. signata has almost done away with leaves entirely and they appear as tiny wedges along the stems.
Austral Indigo is very adaptable to home garden use in either native or exotic gardens. Early in the new year, masses of seed pods appear and these are equally decorative.

Found locally in scrub on the higher slopes around Lake Illawarra

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Monotoca elliptica, Broom-heath

Coastal shrub Monotoca elliptica (Family: Epacridaceae)

Flower detail
Quiet and unassuming would be a way of describing this shrub and perhaps because of this, it has never made the crossover to mainstream horticulture and become a familiar garden plant. It certainly has all the attributes to make it in the garden scene and would be ideal as low hedge in a sea side garden. Limited horticultural use is usually attributed to difficulty of propagation and slow growth potential and I suspect the latter may be the case here. In the instant gratification garden world, no one is prepared to wait for twenty years for a shrub to reach 2 metres and form a dense and compact shape, and in my estimate this is probably how long it would take. The given genus name is interesting for its derivation and comes from the floral parts of its 1 celled ovary, hence mono and 'tokos' meaning birth. I enjoy coming across this shrub on coastal walks, because, at all times of the year, it is appealing but especially now when it is smothered in tiny white flowers. Often I come across specimens which have become victims of rough seas and coastal erosion and their trunks have taken on a gnarled and twisted appearance which would make any Japanese bonsai enthusiast long to have a similar specimen in a container and in pride of place in a collection or displayed on a table.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Callistemon salignus 'Great Balls of Fire'

Red new growth on Callistemon 'Great Balls of Fire' with silver Westringea 'Smokie'
The parent plant Callistemon salignus is a fairly ordinary native tree which is very much prone to sooty mould after being infested with scale insects as well as producing insignificant flowers. 
This low growing cultivar which has been on the garden scene for a few years now is proving to be terrific plant for use as a low hedge or good solid rounded shrub to 1.5 metres. It produces continual flushes of new pinky red leaves throughout the year and benefits from a bit of shearing to keep it looking good. It grows well across a range of climates and is versatile enough to do the cross-over thing of mixing well with native plants and exotics. I have not come across any advanced nursery specimens so you may have to start with a small pot plant. Given a good start with some fertilizer or soil improvement it is quick to establish however and growth is fairly rapid if given supplementary irrigation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Carpobrotus glaucescens, Purple Noon Flower

Carpobrotus glaucescens
This spreading ground cover succulent is found along the sandy beaches of New South Wales and Queensland growing just above the high tide mark and also in the hind dune plant communities. I have seen it growing well in semi shade and even bordering swampy ground inhabited by the knobby club rush, Ficinia nodosa.
It is a versatile plant and has now become a popular landscaping choice away from the coast. It is used to great effect at Sydney Airport in the public gardens which welcome visitors to the country. Over summer it makes rapid growth, quickly covering a large area and is frequently smothered by purple flowers which are often given the name of coastal noon flower. The fruits which follow the flowers are edible and have the taste of salty apples but good fruit development requires the bright sun reflection of sand dunes and as such, garden specimens often don't go on to to develop fruit to maturity.  As the plant ages the leaves become red tinged and eventually wither and this can make for some unsightly patches. Regular tip pruning keeps the growth looking uniform but eventually the whole plant and its rope like growth may need to be removed and replanted with fresh specimens.
 I always associate this plant with the Arthur Streeton painting pictured below. It captures the glare of a hot summer day along the Hawkesbury River west of Sydney. 

The purple noon's transparent might (1896)
Arthur Streeton (1867 -1943)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lord Howe Island Wedding Iris

Dietes robinsoniana ,Lord Howe Island Wedding Iris
Most people probably don't realize that Lord Howe Island is part of New South Wales. It always comes up on the weather map between Brisbane and Sydney and the air temperature is somewhere between both cities. The most famous native plant of Lord Howe is the Kentia palm (Howea fosteriana) and this Iris comes a close second. However, ask any nursery grower about it and they will probably tell you it is tricky to produce in any quantity. Reason being is that in its native habitat it grows in pure sand in the full force of sea wind or eeks out a living clinging to the side of a mountain. Thus in a nursery situation it needs to be kept on the dry side or in a very sandy potting mix. In the garden it grows to be a handsome clump forming plant of about 1.5 metres tall with many stems bearing clusters of pure white flowers in early spring. The seed produced by the pant is enclosed in a capsule which is usually ripe around this time of year. I have just planted some of the seed collected over the past week.
The clump as it matures grows "fans" of new leaves which often have exposed roots like stilts at their base . It is possible to cut these off to grow new plants and these are best potted into pure sand. Though it is a very easy care garden plant, especially in breezy coastal gardens, it is a favourite of snails which are able to find a safe haven amongst the leaves. Occasional pruning and clearing the clump of old brown leaves helps keep it looking good.