Category Archives: Plant collector

flowering this week, tried and true plants

The later flowering lachenalias

Left to right, probably arbuthnotiae, aloides tricolor, aloides vanzyliae, glaucina x 2, mutabilis, what came to us as carnosa but probably a hybrid, don’t know (or can’t remember) and contaminata – a round up of some currently in flower this morning 

Back in August 2015, I wrote what I called part one about lachenalias, covering the early bloomers.  It has taken me three years but I return with part two on the late bloomers. Back in our days of putting out a mail order catalogue, we used to offer a range of over a dozen different lachenalias, all but one or two being species, and we gathered up every different one we could find for the garden. By the way, our last mail order catalogue went out in 2003 (yes! 2003!) so we have long since stopped supplying plants. If you are in New Zealand, try Trade Me which is one of the last places you can source some of these less common bulbs.

In the years since, some have proven themselves in the garden and others have faded away. The early season varieties in that first post are all easy and reliable as garden plants (L. bulbifera, L. aloides quadricolor, L. aloides var. aloides and Mark’s L. reflexa hybrid). Others are best kept in pots if you want to ensure their continued survival.

Lachenalia glaucina flowers, nestled in amongst the foliage of narcissi which have already finished blooming. The lachenalia’s foliage is much sparser and close to the ground

In the blues the absolute stand-out is Lachenalia glaucina, or at least the good forms of it. It can throw a lot of seedling variation. It was difficult as a nursery plant, partly because it was frost tender and we were growing the bulbs in open conditions, not under cover. Over the years, it has become one of most successful varieties in the garden – in an understated sort of way. I used to encourage less experienced gardeners to choose L. mutabilis instead because it was much easier and more reliable, while still a good blue. Now I can tell you that it was easier in a pot.  I am not even sure that we still have it growing in the garden. I rounded up one somewhat moth-eaten flower from a bulb that is struggling on in the heap where we dump our used bark potting mix. The other blues we used to grow like unicolor, mediana, and ‘Te Puke Blue’ have not thrived in garden conditions and the only plants we have left are in Mark’s covered house, where only he ever gets to see them. The same with the beautiful cream lachenalia with the terrible name of L pustulata (on account of its warty leaves).

Lachenalia aloides tricolor and aloides var. vanzyliae

Lachenalia aloides is an interesting species. It gives us the most common of all lachenalias in New Zealand – the strong growing orange and yellow one that looks as if it should be sold amongst the fake flowers at The Warehouse. That form has finished flowering for the season, as has its four-coloured variant, quadricolor. But look at these two late flowering forms of same species. L. aloides tricolor is a combination of green, yellow and red, finer in form than the usual aloides. It is easy to grow and reliable. And then there is L. aloides var. vanzyliae – surely the most desirable of them all and also the most unreliable. Ain’t that just the way? Who wouldn’t want a big patch of this little charmer in pristine white with highlights of aqua blue and lime green? It is at least still growing for us but I would hardly describe it as flourishing.

The other two from the top line-up that have proven to be easy and reliable here as garden plants are creamy L. contaminata (it has naturalising potential) and the pink one that came to us L carnosa but Mark thinks is a hybrid.

As always, it is the detail that gives us delight in our garden, not just the big pictures.

Glorious glaucina – the best performing blue lachenalia in our garden

Postscript: rather than rewriting the same information, I copy below the general info I wrote earlier about the genus of lachenalias:

Lachenalias are South African bulbs, mostly from the Cape Province. Some are very easy to grow, others less so. Naturally the very choice varieties are the ones that are less amenable but that is always the way. Some are desert plants and we struggle with those, but the ones that grow in areas of winter rainfall are generally easy and reliable in our conditions. A few, like L. glaucina, are particularly frost tender. Lachenalias last very well as a cut flower and will out-bloom most other late winter and spring bulbs in the garden. L. bulbifera is already in bloom by the beginning of July while the white L. contaminata flowers through November. A family of easy-care bulbs which gives us a full five months of blooming across the colour spectrum – what is not to like?

Our winner in the white camellia stakes – C. yuhsienensis

Camellia yuhsienensis

The world of white camellias is quite heavily populated, especially if you narrow it down to white species camellias. Over time, we have gathered up most of the species that have been available to us, and very lovely many of them are. But the one we have singled out as the most attractive specimen plant is Camellia yuhsienensis.

You can tell how much we love this plant by the fact that we have chosen to use it as a feature plant. I just counted and found we have no fewer than seventeen of them as specimen plants, each sitting in its own space – not hedged or jammed in with other plants. It is not usually our style to repeat a single cultivar like that. Mark threaded it through the new gardens – the grass garden and the lily border – to give winter interest.

Threaded through the lily border to give winter interest. That is visible frost this morning. And a freshly dug rabbit scrape. The rabbits are still winning here. We may yet have to get a cat again, given our dogs are pretty useless on the rabbits.

What do we love about it so much? It has handsome, bullate (textured) foliage which is not the usual shiny green associated with japonica camellias. It sets an abundance of buds in pointed clusters and opens them over a long period of time. But it is the flowers that are the real delight – pristine, white single blooms, good-sized and looking more like michelia or magnolia than classic camellia. And it holds its blooms well out from its leaves and branches. The blooms are not substantial but that can be an advantage in a camellia, especially when there is a long succession of fresh blooms waiting to take over. It is just a delight to us.

Some reports mention an overwhelming fragrance but we think that either that claim is exaggerated, the Chinese have greatly sensitised nasal capacities or the clone we grow here didn’t get much fragrance. It is really only lightly scented and that requires sticking one’s nose right up to the bloom. Nothing, alas, is perfect and we need to give the bushes an occasional shake or brush to get rid of spent blooms because they don’t always fall cleanly.

For NZ camellia purists, we grow the mounding selection chosen by Neville Haydon, back in his days at Camellia Haven

The native habitat of C. yuhsienensis is in the Hunan area of China which is, loosely speaking, southern(ish) and inland, with mountains, so it is not a tropical area. We have found it to be completely hardy in our conditions, although our winters are hardly testing. Because it is a species, plants raised from seed will show species variation. We started with two forms but always vegetatively propagated them to keep the selections stable. We had an upright columnar form but ended up cutting it out because the foliage and flowering were nowhere near as good as the mounding form we kept.

The bad news is that I doubt that it is commercially available these days in NZ so you will have to search hard to find one. I have to say that because it is disconcerting to me how many people read these posts and assume they are commercially driven and we must therefore be selling the plant and can send them one. Um, no. I write these posts because I am a writer by nature, we love gardening and it is greatly rewarding how many readers share this pleasure. I appreciate the comments. The phone calls and emails trying to order plants from us – not so much.

Superstar

And just because I took a nice photo of it this week, I close with Superstar. It grows at least four times the size as C. yuhsienensis, probably with a quarter of the flowers, if that, but it can show a lovely bloom. It is hard to beat a beautiful white camellia on its day.

Blooms to sweeten a winter’s day – luculia

Luculia gratissima ‘Early Dawn’

Here we are, a mere three days from the winter solstice and outside my window, rain is pelting down while thunder and lightning is keeping the dogs safely in their beds by the fire. So I bring you winter sunshine, in the form of luculia, with photographs I took just yesterday when the sun shone and the daytime temperature was around 18 degrees Celsius.

I am very fond of luculia with their heady fragrance and their balls of flowers. Perhaps they are a bit like the wintersweet equivalent for mild climates. These are not particularly hardy plants even though their original homeland is declared as the Himalayas and Southern China. Think not of high, snowy peaks but more of temperate, protected, lowland forests and by the time you reach southern China, it is distinctly tropical. Luculia are okay with cooler temperatures and a degree or two of frost but that is all. The will not survive much beyond that.

There is not a huge range of luculia – there are only five different known species and, as far as I know, named cultivars are species selections, not hybrids. We grow gratissima and pinceana, grandiflora is also widely grown but I have not seen intermedia or yunnanensis except on line.

I am not a massive fan of L. gratissima ‘Early Dawn’, which is a smaller growing species. That sugar pink flower is very… sugary. Also, when grown in full sun or high light levels, the foliage can take on autumn tones which are not a great foil to sugar pink. Too often, ‘Early Dawn’ is clipped into obedient, rounded stature. Let it grow as it wishes in woodland conditions and the foliage stays bright green giving clean contrast to the pink, while the shrub becomes willowy and graceful. That is when it looks best, to my eye, although it won’t flower as prolifically in shadier conditions.

Luculia pinceana ‘Fragrant Cloud’

‘Fragrant Cloud’ is a different species, being L. pinceana. It is larger growing with considerably larger flowers in pretty almond pink, a stronger fragrance, more rangy and open in its growth and if you prune it too hard, it is highly likely to die on you. If you like tidy, contained shrubs, this may not be one for you. ‘Fragrant Pearl’ is one we named, another L. pinceana selection that came to us as a seedling from our colleague, Glyn Church. It is much more forgiving than its pink sibling and will take harder pruning. Left to its own devices, it will be just as rangy.

Luculia pinceana ‘Fragrant Pearl’

We used to grow ‘Fragrant Pearl’ commercially and it was one of the quickest turnarounds we had. Most of the trees and shrubs we grew took 3 or even 4 years from taking the cutting before becoming saleable. We could get ‘Fragrant Pearl’ through in 15 months. We would take the cuttings from nursery plants as soon as the new growth had hardened in January. They rooted really quickly and with a high percentage in the propagation beds. We would pot them from root-trainers to finished bag size in late winter or early spring, stake and shape them in January and sell them in bud in March and April. ‘Fragrant Cloud’, the pink form of the same species, was nowhere near as easy to handle as a nursery plant and the reason we don’t have L. grandiflora is because it was not that easy to propagate from the cuttings Mark tried and we don’t want it enough to go out and actually buy a plant.

I can not advise on how to make the flowers last longer when cut. Sometimes they have held reasonably well, other times they have gone limp and flaccid within hours. This probably has more to do with the time of the day they were cut than whether the stems were crushed or sealed by burning. But we heat our house to such a degree in winter that there is no point in trying to keep cut flowers in a vase.

Left to right: gratisima ‘Early Dawn’, pinceana ‘Fragrant Pearl’, pinceana ‘Fragrant Cloud

More on belladonnas

Needing a break from a garden task, I wandered around with my flower basket, curious as to how much variation there is in the belladonna flowers still in bloom, given that ours are all seedlings. A fair amount, it turns out, in colour and size. This was not an exhaustive survey into the average number of blooms per flower spike, variations in flower form and length of time in bloom. There are limits to how interested I am in this particular genus.

Paler hues – 3rd from left has quite a sweet picotee edging. The one on the hard right was a noticeably different colour verging on more apricot tones – presumably the yellow throat bleeding colour further into the pink

There were a few interesting breaks – the palest form with pink picotee edging, the one which appeared to be developing apricot tones rather than shades of sugar pink, a big deep cerise one with an attractive white star within the trumpet. Some plants have noticeably larger blooms but, as with many plants, this can make the flowers more vulnerable to weather damage and often with fewer flowers to the truss. There is always a trade-off in the plant world.

The deepest coloured forms – cerise almost getting to red – tend to be later flowering and are  the only ones that we have ever had picked by passersby. But that was years ago. These days our road verges are so steep that there is nowhere safe to stop and nowhere to walk so the flowers are safe. It is an ill wind, I guess, though we would prefer more hospitable road verges and slower traffic.

There is only one single species in this family of Amaryllis belladonna but clearly that species is variable within itself. I am not sure that there is a great future for them other than as casual clumps on road verges or in wilder areas of the garden. Lovely though they are on their days, their blooming season is brief, they form large clumps of large bulbs and hang onto their foliage for a long time before it dies off untidily. They don’t lend themselves to the flower garden where they will swamp anything around them and take up a lot of space for their 10 days or so of glory.

  • From the Cape Province of South Africa.
  • Known as ‘naked ladies’ because they put up their flower well before the foliage appears.
  • Summer dormant.
  • Prefer to grow with their necks above ground so they can bake in the summer sun.
  • Thrive on benign neglect and can be left undisturbed for many years.

Plant Collector: Backhousia citriodora or the lemon myrtle

The graveyard specimen is in completely open conditions and looks happier for that, despite it originating from rain forest areas of Australia

A friend posted a photo of Backhousia citriodora on Facebook, asking if anybody knew what it was. I was promptly reminded of my plant and rushed out to pick some of the leaves to flavour the batch of kombucha I was just preparing. For it has one of the strongest lemon scents of any plant I know – eclipsing even grated lemon peel  – and is edible.

It is an Australian tree, the lemon myrtle. Its natural habitat is tropical rainforests of central and southern coastal Queensland but it is also an important commercial crop, grown for its very essence of lemon. Fortunately for us, it is not so tropical that it needs to be grown in frost-free conditions though it is presumably happier in milder areas of this country. Apparently it can reach 20m in height though that may be it stretching itself to reach the light in forest locations. In a more open position, ours is hovering around 3 metres but I do cut it back from time to time to keep it more compact. It does not seem to mind being trimmed.

There are more distinctive trees, if I am honest. We used to grow both B. citriodora and its relative B. anisatum (now Syzygium anisatum) and the less popular aniseed flavoured myrtle had the more attractive foliage. But at this time of the year, the lemon myrtle is in full flower and I came across this specimen in the Te Henui cemetery yesterday. It was alive with bees and a wondrous sight and sound. The fluffy clusters of flowers and stamens have their own charm, in a gentle sort of way.

Covered in flowers and alive with bees at this time of the year

I have used the lemon scented leaves to flavour milk-based dishes that lemons would curdle and added it to my fresh harvest of green tea. The kombucha won’t be ready for another five days so I can’t comment yet on how strongly lemon flavoured it is but I see no reason why it will not be effective. I have not tried drying the leaves but the ever-handy internet tells me they retain their lemon aroma when dried. Indeed, Wikipedia gave the following helpful advice: “The dried leaf has free radical scavenging ability”. So now you know.

It appears that lemon myrtle is particularly vulnerable to the dreaded myrtle rust in Australia which has implications for commercial growers and for the plant in its natural habitat. It remains to be seen whether rust-resistant varieties appear but I have not heard reports of it being spotted in NZ yet. Mind you, it is not a common tree here but it is worth growing one in the edible garden alongside the more common but dull bay trees – Laurus nobilis. Unlike the bay, which gets thrips, I have never seen anything much attack the backhousia and I find I need lemon flavouring way more often than I cook with bay leaves.

Plant Collector: Jade Cascade

Meet ‘Jade Cascade’. It has an appealing name though, to be honest, there is nothing jade about it. It really is a plain, somewhat dull green though it has attractive long ribs running the length of the leaf. It does at least cascade, or maybe it fountains, from its central point. And it is simply a terrific and eye-catching performer in the garden.

When we used to grow hostas commercially, we had maybe 40 different varieties in production. ‘Jade Cascade’ was over-shadowed by the showier members of its family and it did not sell well. Most customers did not want to buy a plain green hosta. No, they wanted the big, showy, variegated ones and the new releases. I would counsel that it is the plainer hostas that show the fancy ones off to better advantage and that planting a whole mass of striking variegated ones looks a mishmash. My wisdom was not totally ignored – customers would buy the solid coloured gold or blue ones but green varieties? Rarely.

When we went out of production, I planted many of them out in the garden and that is a very interesting exercise. Some, like ‘Jade Cascade’, have romped away and gone from strength to strength. But not that many. Of the newer varieties we had in the nursery, many have just quietly languished, doing very little. The greatest disappointment of all was ‘Great Expectations’. Aptly named, Mark says. We had great expectations of this showy, variegated variety though we had decided it was too slow to be commercially viable for us, even in optimal nursery conditions. It became Unfulfilled Expectations before transitioning to Disappointed Acceptance. Despite being given optimal conditions (well cultivated soil, plenty of compost and humus, little direct competition, summer moisture and semi shade), the plants have languished. They are still there after many years but have failed to do anything of note, let alone increase and thrive.

Pot culture in nursery conditions is one thing. Hostas are a really easy nursery crop to get looking large, lush and enticing given the controlled conditions of a production nursery. We came to the conclusion that in the quest for the new and the novelty, hosta sports were being separated off and trialled but only in nursery conditions. Garden performance is very different. We have seen the same thing with hellebores and have even bought some which looked simply terrific in the garden centre but failed to replicate that performance once put into garden conditions. Consumers can’t generally tell whether the plants they are looking at in a garden centre have been rigorously trialled so it becomes a case of win some, lose some. Were we ever to go back into business, I think I would sort out a range of tried and true performers.

‘Jade Cascade’ would earn a place close to the top of such a list. Plain green it may be, but it has a most graceful form, good slug and snail resistance and a robust disposition. In its quiet little way, I find it draws my eye every time I walk past the area where it is growing. That is a good plant.

Jade Cascade now occupies a similar amount of garden space to the established vireya rhododendron behind it

Plant Collector: Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ – (Betchel Crabapple)

My first sighting of a juvenile plant in a Taranaki garden last spring

When I first spotted this pretty, young tree in a local garden last spring, I could not identify it but it sure was a charming sight. In Canberra a couple of weeks ago, there were SO MANY of these trees in bloom that I felt I had to track down a name. It is a flowering crabapple, a malus. The nurseries that supply Canberra are clearly making a killing on producing this cultivar (along with the pretty dogwoods). It is being used widely as a street tree on suburban road verges, it was strongly represented in the gardens at Parliament House that we visited and was featured in many, many (many) gardens.

It is a pretty blossom tree though it does flower as its fresh foliage has broken dormancy, so the display is not on bare branches. Crab apples fit a similar niche to flowering cherries (prunus), though many varieties will flower a little later. Unfortunately, with ‘Plena’, you don’t get the bonus of coloured crab apples later in the season, although it can be used as a pollinator for the fruiting varieties.

Malus ioensis ‘Plena’ , not a prunus as I initially assumed

I have not looked closely at the plants in New Zealand to see if they are cutting grown or grafted. The Canberra plants were grafted, usually onto a rootstock that had an attractive, smooth pale grey bark. The problem with the plants in the Parliament House gardens (no photos allowed so I can’t show you), is that the lower grey bark of the root stock for the first metre or so was not particularly compatible with the graft so the union – where the grafted variety meets the rootstock – was already a bit lumpy and not attractive. They were not as bad as the linden shown here, but neither were the plants mature so they may well get worse. If you like your trees to last the distance over many years, just be cautious about buying plants that have been grafted as standards well above ground level. The closer the graft is to the ground, the less obvious any incompatibility will be.

It is a very pretty tree and one I expect we will see become as popular in this country as in Canberra.

A very pretty and presumably well behaved street tree in Canberra