Tag Archives: autumn flowers

Day 3 of lock down and a minor mystery is solved

As we adjust to lock down and our personal worlds become so much smaller, I did at least solve a small mystery yesterday. I saw a lovely combination of vibrant pinks when we visited Cloudehill Gardens in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne last year. I can repeat that in my new perennial meadow, I thought.

Nerine bowdenii flowering in late May here 

My perennial meadow planting with hidden N. bowdenii

In my mind, I had it as a combination of the deep pink Japanese anemone and Nerine bowdenii. As the anemone came into flower, I found myself wondering where the nerine was before realising that of course it flowers much later here. I considered the possibility that Cloudehill had a selection that flowered much earlier in the season and kicked myself for not checking the flowering times here – easily done in these days of digital photo files that give dates. There seemed to be a story in there about not assuming that combinations seen in different climates will also work at home. I found my photos.

Belladonnas at Cloudehill! Of course. Not N. bowdenii. But then the Japanese anemone actually comes from China. The world is looking more confusing by the day.

Eagle-eyed readers will have already spotted my mistake. It was my memory. Not Nerine bowdenii at all. Those are belladonnas. That explains it. I am not sure that I want to bring big, thuggish belladonnas into the garden. We have them in abundance on the roadside and on our margins but they aren’t the best garden candidates. In fact we already have both on our roadside and all I need to do is shuffle some of the right pink tones closer to the anemone there.

I just need to relocate some pink belladonnas in the right tones on our roadside and I will have that combination.

As Mark and I had a leisured start to our morning on day two of lock down, he quipped that half the houses around the nation were currently undergoing paint jobs. Lloyd, our garden staffer, had gone in to a Mitre10 Mega on Tuesday and reported that everybody else was in there buying paint and they had sold out entirely of his preferred brand.

We are in the garden so there is no major change for us, except the absence of Lloyd during the week. I have found, however, that my focus and concentration are scattered all over the place. I am telling myself that there is plenty of time – a whole month at least – and it is fine to allow myself a few days to mentally settle into the peculiar new reality we are all facing. Friends have noted the same phenomenon. It doesn’t matter if major tasks get left for a little while.

Fiddly faddling on the Magnolia laevifolia. But where is Lloyd when I need him? He is always most obliging about dealing to my piles of prunings.

This is why I spent yesterday entirely distracted by a very small garden with an untidy Magnolia laevifolia draping itself over the garage roof, leading to a build-up of leaf litter composting on the corrugated iron roof. It is a smaller, defined project that I can complete before my scattered brain gets distracted elsewhere. Fiddly-faddling, I call it. Mark describes it as montying – a reference anybody who watches BBC Gardeners’ World will understand. May you all fiddly-faddle or monty in tranquil safety wherever you are.

Belladonnas we have a-plenty in a variety of hues but their flowering season is brief and their season is full, smothering leaf is very long

 

The autumn camellias

Camellia sasanqua Crimson King in prime position

When Mark returned home to Tikorangi in 1980 bringing me and our first baby bump, the name Jury was synonymous with camellias. These days Jury = magnolias, but not back then. There is a whole chapter in the family history that is headed ‘Camellias’ but it is largely in the past now. Changing fashion, changing focus and the dreaded camellia petal blight has seen to that.

But every autumn, as the sasanquas come into flower we both derive huge delight, particularly from the Camellia Crimson King by the old mill wheel, which is just out from our back door beside the driveway. It is a picture of grace and charm.

Crimson King rests more on its merits of form and position than the beauty of individual blooms

Sasanquas are the unsung heroes of the camellia family, seen mostly as hedging plants, so utility rather than glorious. But if they are allowed to mature as specimens and gently shaped down the years, they stand on their own merits. Mark declared yesterday that it is the autumn flowering camellias that interest him now, not the late winter and spring varieties. For these autumn ones do not get petal blight whereas the later varieties are now a mere shadow of their former selves, faced by the extreme ravages wrought upon their blooms by blight. Our camellia trip to China in 2016 had us concluding that our mild, humid climate with high rainfall means that we suffer worse from petal blight in Taranaki than pretty much anywhere else, really. It is nowhere near as bad in dry climates.

The history of camellias from the middle of last century onwards has some parallels to the history of tulips – all about show and showy blooms. So it was predicated on the quest for the new – extending the boundaries of flower form, size and colour, prizing breakthroughs even when the results were more novelty than meritorious. Camellia societies had enormous flower shows where the staging of individual show blooms was the focus. It didn’t have much, if anything, to do with garden performance let alone longevity as garden plants. Sasanquas didn’t fit this show bench mould. They flowered too early in the season, individual blooms are often quite small, lacking rigid, defined form and falling apart when picked.

But fashions and conditions change and these days it is the softer look of the Japanese camellia family member, the sasanquas, that makes us stop and take notice more than the later flowering japonicas and hybrids on which the earlier family reputation was forged. The light airiness and grace of the sasanquas fits our style of gardening far better than the solid, chunkiness of many of the later varieties and the autumn flowers serve as another marker of the change of season.

The earliest of the sasanquas here – all named varieties

I did a walk around to see how many different blooms I could pick but it is still a little early in the season and some have yet to open. Some plants we leave entirely to their own devices, some we will clean up the canopy from time to time -to take out dead wood and create an umbrella effect, two we clip tightly once a year to a cloud pruned form. With their small leaves, the sasanquas clip well. It just pays to do it soon after they have made their new growth after flowering. Leave it until late spring and you will be clipping off all the flower buds set for next autumn.

Camellia Mine No Yuki

It takes a few decades of growth to get sufficient size to shape as we shape ‘Elfin Rose’ and ‘Mine No Yuki’ but these specimens now function as distinctive shapes within the garden all year round, rather than melding into the background as most camellias do when not in bloom.

Late Bloomers – the tree dahlias in autumn

Tree dahlia 'Orchid', bred by Keith Hammett

Tree dahlia ‘Orchid’, bred by Keith Hammett

The last clarion call of the autumn flowers here are the tree dahlias, wildly impractical plants to grow but I absolutely love them. There is nothing like their over the top blooms soaring skywards in late autumn.  At least we are lucky in this country that we get clear blue skies with strong light all year round. Otherwise they might be soaring up to the gloom of lower light levels of other climates.

For problem number one is that these are frost tender plants which is not surprising when you consider they originate from Central American areas like Mexico, Columbia and Guatemala. We are not actually frost free in Tikorangi. We have areas of the garden that are so protected now by overhead cover that we can grow the most tender material, but out in the open we still get sufficient frost to require placing tender plants carefully. We may only get three visible frosts each winter, but the air chill on a calm night can get low enough to wreak havoc. And because these tree dahlias don’t start flowering until May and continue into June, they can get hit late in their season.

Left to right: 'Chameleon" , 'Orchid' (both Hammett varieties), D. imperialis and an unnamed Hammett variety.

Left to right: ‘Chameleon” , ‘Orchid’ (both Hammett varieties), D. imperialis and an unnamed Hammett variety.

A hint to the second problem lies in the name – the ‘tree’ part. These are not trees. They have nothing to do with trees. They are a fully deciduous herbaceous perennial but their rapid growth in summer and autumn sees them take on tree-like proportions. It is nothing for them to be 3 metres high, sometimes 4 or even 5 metres. Being dahlias, they are plants for sunny, open positions but they also benefit from some support and shelter from wind which can knock their brittle stems over. They have the hollow stems that are typical of dahlias. Some we grow against sheds or to the side of frames already in place for runner beans and frost protection frames for the bananas and sugar cane.  Some we fence in with heavy duty bamboo cross bars – hitching rails, Mark calls them.

Below ground, they have big, chunky tubers which mean that they are difficult to grow amongst other plants and they take up quite a bit of space for their six weeks of glory.

Not many gardens have both the space and the conditions that suit such particular requirements, along with a tolerance for their scruffy off-times. But if you have and can, they are as easy to grow as your more modest dahlia but with more spectacular results.

New Zealand plant breeder, Keith Hammett, has done a lot of work with dahlias, including tree dahlias. The orange starburst variety which he named ‘Orchid’,  with its twisted petals is more compact than any of the others we grow. It only reaches about 2 metres maximum though that is 2 metres high  and 2 metres wide. We have it by a big mandarin tree whose fruit are ripening as the dahlia blooms. It is a lovely combination.

Dahlia imperialis, my personal favourite

Dahlia imperialis, my personal favourite

My favourite is the simple Dahlia imperialis species and it is the most commonly available plant. When it first comes out, it looks like a clematis from a distance. Yes the blooms are a little floppy and the petals are larger and soft, so easily damaged, but I like the somewhat pendulous form and I think the lilac pink colouring is pretty.

Dahlia imperialis Alba - soaring skywards as winter descends upon us

Dahlia imperialis Alba – soaring skywards as winter descends upon us

Being a species, there are a fair number of different selections of D. imperialis. Our late season double white is Dahlia imperialis alba plena. ‘Alba’ of course means white and ‘plena’ means full and is applied to fully double flower forms. This one towers above a shed and puts on a wonderful display with its shaggy blooms but usually gets cut back by the cold when still in bloom in early June.

While tree dahlias can be grown from tubers in the same way as their smaller dahlia cousins, they are also commonly propagated from cuttings which are easier to handle than their oversized tubers. I admit I have yet to try it – there is a limit to how many tree dahlias we can place here – but the advice is to cut the stems that flowered in autumn, making sure that you have at least two nodes per cutting. Lay it flat because the new roots form from the nodes and cover to a depth of about 10cm. Or you can take spring cuttings from fresh growth. It does not appear to be difficult. I may report back on this because we are taking cuttings this year. We have a newly available position where a large tree fell, opening up what looks to be an ideal space for a tree dahlia or maybe two.

022 - CopyFirst published in the May issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission. 

Flowers from an early autumn Easter weekend

???????????????????????????????It is indubitably autumnal, but no sign of the leaves colouring or dropping yet as we gently drift into the cooler seasons. I shall do a survey of the plants that take us through autumn, I thought, and headed out to the garden with snips and a basket.

We love flowers – lots of flowers. Simple blooms, common varieties, oddities and curiosities, anything and most things (though not everything) across the colour spectrum. Some gardeners, presumably of more refined sensibilities, prefer to be restrained and to preach the value of form and foliage. We are happy to value form and foliage but we want the added appeal of flowery fluff softening the austerity.

???????????????????????????????Despite that slight sense of mournful decay that can characterise the autumnal garden, there was so much flying the flag for flowers that I had to group them. It is still early for the autumn bulbs. There is a whole lot more to come but the nine in bloom at least indicate that not all bulbs belong to spring. Starting with the white flower at the top of the photo, going clockwise, these are: Crinum moorei, belladonna, Colchicum autumnale, one of the autumn crocus (could be C. serotinus), Moraea polystachya which is an unsung star amongst the autumn bulbs, Cyclamen hederafolium both pink and white, the dainty little Leucojum autumnale, the earliest of the oxalis (hirta, luteola, massoniana and lobata) and the first of the nerines that will become the rockery stars over the next few weeks.
???????????????????????????????Climbers can be a little bothersome to place. Too many are strangling, invasive things, smothering their host as they scramble to the top, or, like the Rhodochiton atrosanguineus, seeding down in perpetuity. Others are such retiring little dainties that they can be difficult to keep going. Flowering for us at the moment are the bougainvillea (very much in the rampant camp) and one of the more garden-friendly jasmines at the top but we have lost track of which one it is. It has good fragrance, flowers pretty much all the time and is strong growing – bordering on rampant – but not as aggressive as the weedy jasmines. It is planted on the corner of the bedroom once inhabited by our daughter of the same name. Immediately below, the purple flower like a mini streptocarpus is on a soft vine, but its name escapes us at the moment. Well, I have never known it and Mark thinks he raised it from commercial seed but has yet to recall what it is. To the right are the lapagerias – Chilean bell flowers – with their wonderfully long blooming season and obliging habits. Sure it can take several – many, even – years to get a vine established but once there, these are rewarding plants for the shaded side of the house.
???????????????????????????????The flowering shrubs and trees are not so numerous at this time of the year. Top row left, we have Radermachera sinica (more on this below), Hydrangea Immaculata which is still at peak rather than that fading over to dusky spent flowerheads, next row down is the fragrant osmanthus (though not sure which one) and the so-called African butter knife plant or Cunonia capensis. Then comes the white flowered tibouchina which seeds down far too freely here but does compensate by flowering pretty much all the time in semi woodland conditions. Fuchsias are not a strong point for us, but the one on the left has been here forever it seems, surviving even falling over, splitting apart and drought. The one on the right is the attractive but dangerously weedy Fuchsia boliviana. Second row from the bottom is a sampling of vireya rhododendrons – have enough of these around the place and there are always some in flower, 52 weeks of the year. In the bottom row are the first of the evergreen azaleas embarking on their marathon blooming from early autumn right through to mid spring and the first camellia.
???????????????????????????????Camellia sinensis will no doubt be of interest to some. It is always the first to flower though with such insignificant blooms that they are easy to miss. This is the tea camellia, and yes, sometimes we do harvest the young leaves to make green tea. White flowered tea camellias are more common and we have a plant somewhere – in the “plant out” area, I think, waiting to get out of its pot.
???????????????????????????????I was pretty thrilled by the Radermachera sinica when Mark alerted me to it in bloom. It has a divine and heady fragrance. The trouble is that it is sub tropical to tropical so treated as a house plant in the temperate world. But it is a tree and ours is shooting skywards. Besides, we don’t do houseplants so we are yet to decide what to do with this plant besides enjoying its current flowering.
???????????????????????????????Finally there are the perennials and annuals still in full bloom. In brief in the yellow tones, we start with a damn big yellow salvia at the base and head around clockwise: kniphofia species, one of the gesneriad family whose name we have currently forgotten but which makes an excellent woodland plant, datura, dahlias, simple little autumn zinnias (none of the over-bred, bushy, compact, modern hybrid bedding plants), a handy yellow ground cover which flowers for a very long time and whose name will come back to us at some point, Hibiscus trionum and the common wildflower oenothera which is remarkably rewarding when it comes to blooming on and on.
???????????????????????????????In the pinks and whites, we start at the top with the under-sung white plumes of Actaea racemosa (syn Cimcifuga racemosa) whose fairy candles light up a woodland area, a simple dahlia seedling, the annual Amaranthus caudatus which is self sown, the lovely wind anemones, assorted daisies, streptocarpus (bit of one-upmanship here – we use these as permanent bedding plants in frost-free locations), one of the saponarias, a really old, self-maintaining strain of impatiens that has naturalised in our woodland, a self-seeded abutilon which should have been amongst the shrubs and some rather large and resilient begonias.

While others may find that buxus balls and refined plantings soothe their souls and give order to their lives, we like vibrancy to gladden our hearts. Besides, with flowers we get butterflies, bees and birds to enrich the scene further and we take delight in gardening to sustain a lively eco-system. That said, I gathered these flowers across a few acres, not from a few square metres in a back garden. I might feel differently with a more limited area. In the current situation, I can satisfy any need for more restrained style indoors.
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Postscript: Many of these plants have more detailed articles from earlier writing. Rather than clutter up the post with multiple links, if you want to know more about most, type the plant name in the search engine box on the right of the screen.

Plant Collector: Nerine bowdenii

Nerine bowdenii - the last of the season to bloom

Nerine bowdenii – the last of the season to bloom

When other nerines have long since passed over, the tall, sugar pink Nerine bowdenii are looking remarkably elegant in full bloom. They flower before their foliage appears and they are happy in congested clumps, though it takes a few years to get a clump this size if you start with a single bulb. Each head has about 10 individual flowers held up on a good strong stem so it doesn’t need staking. They can bend a little in our torrential downpours but don’t flatten. N. bowdenii has particularly long stems, 80cm or even taller at times.

These South African bulbs like to have their necks out of the ground so are planted at a shallow depth only. They are best in full sun; clearly they thrive on being baked in summer when they are dormant. As with all bulbs, good drainage is critical. The strappy foliage follows soon after flowering and will hang on until late spring. This means they can look a bit tatty in the spring garden but who can complain when they cheer up an early winter day with their splendid display?

N. bowdenii only comes in shades of pink and is often grown as a cut flower. Nerines last well in a vase, though I admit we leave ours in the garden. When a bulb only puts up one flower spike, it seems mean to cut it off in its prime. You can grow them from seed (make sure the seed is fresh and sow it immediately) but you will be waiting several years for them to get to flowering size.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.