Saturday, March 31, 2012

Buddleia davidii 'Empire Blue'

Buddleia davidii 'Empire Blue'
The butterflies are out in force at the moment chasing the last rays of warm sun and all the flowers which provide them with so much nectar. They love Buddleias. This old cultivar originated at a Nursery in Ohio in the US despite its very British name. The violet-blue flowers have a distinctive orange eye and are produced in abundance in early spring and summer. You get a second flush of flowers in autumn if you lightly prune the shrub of about 30cm of top growth and give it a bit of fertilizer. A heavy prune in late winter is necessary as this shrub can become a bit woody and ungainly with age and may reach several metres in height and width.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Salvia 'Blue Abyss'

Flowering amongst the weeds Salvia 'Blue Abyss'
The story goes that this Salvia hybrid was discovered in the garden of Robyn and Ian Powell in Mylor, South Australia. It has the hardy genes of the Mexican Salvia leucantha and flowers which are a lovely shade of smokey ultra-marine blue. I planted it in a neglected corner but it is cheerfully putting on a display for the first time.
The word abyss is usually associated with the sea so it was interesting to hear of the underwater journey that film director James Cameron made to the darkest lowest point of the ocean, some eleven kilometres below the surface. I wonder if the experience will form the basis of a new film project for him?
The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima used the concept of the abyss as a metaphor for the uncertainty facing Japanese society following their surrender on August 15,1945 in his story "A Tale at the Cape": It was if a magnetic force were drawing me toward that beautiful abyss which was the sea. I managed to retreat a few steps. Then I threw myself to the ground and, as I tried to quiet the pounding of my heart, peered down into the abyss. What was it that I saw this time?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The "new" Bay Tree

Lauris nobilis 'Flavour Master' PBR

Ordinary Bay leaf (left) 'Flavour Master' (right)
Depending on where you live in the world this bay tree goes by different names. In California it is known as 'Saratoga' and in New Zealand as 'Tuscan Treasure'. I quite like the Aussie name because it reflects out obsession with cooking competition shows such as Masterchef and MKR. A crown of bay leaves for whoever is victorious in the kitchen and a nice wad of cash as well.
I like to plant a bay tree in whatever garden I make so I was pleased to get this new variety. It is thought to be a hybrid between Lauris nobilis and Lauris azorica, the Canary Island laurel with its characteristic ovoid shaped leaves. Growing to around 1.8 metres x 0.4 metres, it has a tight compact and upright habit making it ideal for topiary or hedge use. The Californian study shows it is also more resistant to attack by scale insects and resulting sooty mould.
The oval ,almost spoon shaped leaves are a bonus because it is easy to roll and tie other aromatics at its centre to throw into the pot when making a stock or stew.


A bay laurel wreath in this Olympic year.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Queensland Arrowroot/Achira

Queensland Arrowroot or Achira: Canna edulis
You know when a plant has reached a peak of popularity when you starting finding discarded specimens at the rubbish tip. This is where I picked up a clump of Queensland Arrowroot, on the ground as a thick tangle of rhizomes, roots and tatty large leaves. In recent years it has been made popular by Permaculture gardeners who want to grow a starchy root vegetable or quick growing screen plant/windbreak or source of leaves to use as mulch. It is even tolerant of a light frost and is certainly ok in a boggy poorly drained site which is where I planted three small pieces of plant. Off it went like a rocket over summer and is now a thick mass of stems about 2.5 metres tall. I am not sure whether I want to "harvest" it and extract the starch. Arrowroot was always included in the "Invalid Cooking" section of cookbooks in Australia, in between such delights as 'toast water' and 'gruel'. My copy of The Golden Wattle Cookbook, published as late as 1976, has the recipe for 'Milk Arrowroot' straight after lemonade. I know which I would prefer. If you grew up in Queensland you may even remember having a slice of 'sand cake' for afternoon tea which is made using arrowroot in equal quantities with butter and sugar plus 4 eggs. Cake was better than being offered a plain Arnott's Milk Arrowroot biscuit. In the biscuit department I always went for the Iced Vo Vo's or Custard Creams.

Australia's favourite biscuits

From around the 1870's onwards, Queensland arrowroot was grown commercially in the Pimpama district which is about 45 km south of Brisbane.

Kanaka slave labour was used to harvest rhizomes of arrowroot until the practise of "blackbirding" was outlawed after Federation.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'

Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' with dwarf golden bamboo, Pleioblastus viridistriatus
The fluffy white flowers of this Eupatorium look way too much like the weedy "mistflower" Ageratina riparia for my liking. However it is a good perennial for difficult shady sites and is notable for the purple brown foliage which makes a nice contrast here to its companion the dwarf golden bamboo. I might let them fight it out to see which takes hold the most, as this bamboo is known to be a runner though is easy to control. This Eupatorium sometimes goes by the common name of 'white snakeroot' so I assume it has a tendency to spread far and wide though I have noted that it is one of those plants which goes completely to ground over winter and is very slow to reappear. I almost thought it was not going to come back but here it is now in a coolish autumn with a robust flush of flowers.

Helianthus salicifolius, Willow-leaf Sunflower


Helianthus salicifolius, Willow-leaf Sunflower (Asteraceae Family)
This perennial occurs naturally in limestone prairies from Nebraska to Colorado, south to Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It is a tough and hardy plant, flowering brilliantly in autumn with characteristic canary yellow sunflowers on tall stems to about 1.5 metres. I planted mine at the base of a Dracena draco and the bright flowers are a good contrast to the strappy blue-grey leaves of the Dracena. Before it comes into flower this Helianthus forms a rather scruffy clump of drooping leaves which is not very appealing, so a foreground planting of the earlier flowering Gaura helps to hide it somewhat. The drab foliage also makes it a less saleable nursery plant and getting such a tall plant to flower in a pot is also difficult. There are dwarf compact forms available but I have not come across any. The plant spreads by underground runners and will probably form a clump about a metre across. It can be divided after flowering or in spring in cold climates.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New York Aster

White Aster novi-belgii supported by Chondropetalum tectorum, Small Cape Rush


Aster novi-belgii, Common Names: New York aster, Easter daisy, Michaelmas daisy
This aster has been flowering its head off for weeks with clouds of snow white daisies. Because it is quite a big clump forming perennial it is usually recommended that stakes be provided to keep it upright. I am not a huge fan of staking anything, way too Joan of Arc, so I have tried to keep it upright by the combination of a nice piece of Sydney sandstone and a plant of the small cape rush which grows to about the same height. The stems of the rush have the habit of weaving their way through the aster and its chocolate brown segments, which have a sort of notch to them, also act as support. New York asters are very tough plants and can be dug up and moved during their dormant time over winter. This plant has been moved twice. I did dig it up originally because I thought it would be easy to divide to make new plants but had no luck with that as it forms a really tight ball of roots . So I planted it roughly in a holding bed before deciding what to do with it. Now it seems quite happy in a new spot. The large growing asters can be difficult to find in a nursery as the dwarf forms which flower well in a pot make for a good impulse buy at a Garden Centre. The dwarf forms seem to be more prone to mildew which is not a problem with this tall one. The RHS encyclopedia of garden plants lists many different cultivars of these asters but I suspect few have made it into Australian gardens which is a pity because they are very hardy and reliable growers over a range of climates.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bluey

Bluey is a frequent visitor to the garden. He treats the place as a fast-food drive thru. Arriving at around 9.30 he makes his presence felt by curling himself around my legs while I am standing at the potting bench. After putting on a good performance as a starving waif, despite his sleek coat and bright eyes, I give him a snack. This immediately acts a signal for the resident cats to arrive to check out what is on offer. Sammy, the grey tabby is the boss so Bluey steps back and lets him have a few mouthfuls first. Boxing gloves come on and there is a brief exchange of heated words between the three before they settle down and take turns at sampling the feast. Showtime is over and its time to relax for the rest of the day.

United we stand

Monday, March 12, 2012

Coreopsis verticillata 'Monnbeam'

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam', Asteraceae
In peak of bloom at the moment is this lovely pale yellow perennial from the daisy family. It is a true herbaceous plant ,disappearing over winter and leaving behind a mat of tiny needle-like leaves poking out of the soil. In spring and summer it grows to around 50cm forming a low mound of filigree leaves before the delicate flowers appear. Being a sterile hybrid it does not set seed but is propagated by division of the rhizomatious root system. It is hardy over a range of climates and is not fussy as to soil type or growing conditions as long as the soil is free draining. Maintenance of the plant is easy, as it can be sheared off at ground level at the end of the season or after each flush of flowers to encourage new growth. The addition of some compost or fertilizer in spring is beneficial to ensure bountiful flowers over the summer and autumn months. It is native to the eastern half of the United States and has received several horticultural awards as a true winner in the garden.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Gaura lindheimeri

Gaura lindheimeri "Whirling Butterflies"
This perennial plant, a native of Texas and Mexico, has been in the garden scene for a number of years now. It is noteworthy because it produces masses of light and airy white or pink tinged flowers on tall stems, arising from a basal rosette, throughout the summer months. There are a number of cultivars derived from it including a compact dwarf form ,an all pink variety with burgundy leaves called 'Passionate Pink' and the all white 'So White'. In the garden it provides a good contrast with solid dense foliage or garden walls and the flowers appear to dance on air in the slightest breeze.
The down side of Gaura is that it can be a bit weedy especially in sandy soils. It is banned in WA and has been on and off the weed list in NSW. It produces lots of viable seed which is able to germinate anywhere and the plant itself has a tenacious root system . The long tap roots are an adaptation from a dry climate and help anchor the plant and even protect it from grazing animals. It should be cut down to ground level in late autumn before the seed sets to prevent problems.
If Gaura were to be a piece of music it would fit nicely within the framework of a sweet and delicate courtly minuet. Well the flowers would at least but not its root system or bad habits of going weedy. Haydn's String Quartet 'Die Quinten' in D Minor has the appropriate minuet. Its severe style introduces a strict canon ,first between two violins and then between the viola and cello. It is eerie and full of razor sharp tension. The Jerusalem Quartet version is the one to listen to.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Growing sugarcane

A couple of weeks ago a mate gave me a 3 metre stem of sugar cane which I cut into short lengths each with an "eye" or node. I placed them in an old Styrofoam box and roughly covered them with potting soil. Then we had lots of rain and green shoots appeared really quickly. What is interesting to observe about this growth is that each leaf exudes a tiny droplet of water near its tip. 
I do like to have that spoonful of sugar in my coffee each morning at about 10.30. The painting below gives us a wry look at that habit.

The Heart goes from Sugar to Coffee 1919
Watercolor by Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
Museum of Modern Art, New York


Monday, March 5, 2012

Black Cherries and Cream

It is easy to be seduced by seed packets which have been given imaginative names. So I couldn't resist buying Nasturtium 'Black Cherries and Cream' for my autumn planting. These are seed packets from the USA company 2Bseeds.com. They get my vote as one of the most professionally marketed products in the garden scene. Lots of detailed information on sowing and aftercare to inspire both the amateur and professional grower.
Before buying seeds from another country remember to check the quarantine regulations (AQUIS website here) regarding the particular variety you want to purchase.
Packets of seed are one of my favorite things......

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Buddleja davidii 'Joan'


Buddleja davidii 'Joan'
I can't find any information about plantswoman Joan Head? for whom this cultivar is named though its origin is from a garden in the U.K. What I like about this one is that the flowers mostly point upwards and they are big and fat to boot. The Buddleias are having a second flush of flowers perhaps stimulated by this very "English" weather we are experiencing of drizzle ,rain and then some more rain. I am not sure how big 'Joan' eventually grows but I believe it is one of the more compact varieties so may only reach a couple of metres tall. Butterflies love it and my favourite one, the blue triangle, is making an appearance at the moment in the garden.
Just for the record Buddleia is also spelt with an i not a j.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Salvia apiana,white sage

Salvia apiana
The recent excessive rainfall has meant the death of many of my garden plants which originate from regions which experience very dry summers or which naturally grow in well drained rocky soil. This Salvia is one of the casualties, though I have taken a few cuttings which may mean it lives to see another day. I was taken in by the description of this plant by Betsy Clebsch in her book Salvias: 'On a hot day its fragrance is often evident long before the plant comes into view. 'The leaves contain aromatic oils and resins which are reminiscent of lavender and pine and were once used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes.
Salvia apiana is indigenous to the chaparral habitat of California which is described in this video.
2017 update: I have limited stock available.