We learn something new every week, though whether the name of this charming little shrub embeds in the memory banks remains to be seen. It doesn’t seem to have a common name and Guichenotia does not trip off the tongue easily, let alone ledifolia.
But what a little pet this Western Australian shrub is. It has rangy growth and evergreen foliage somewhat like a sparse, grey-toned rosemary (without the aromatic properties). The charming, nodding bells are mauve with little dark centres like a quilted pin cushion.
As with a fair number of Australian native plants, it tolerates a wide temperature range but it needs very good drainage and favours a somewhat drier climate than we have. This specimen is in a raised bed in full sun. It has never exactly romped away to reach its promised 100cm in height, instead arching out and staying low. It is not rare. Nor is it endangered in the wild. It is just one of those lesser known gems that adds a quiet charm to its corner of the garden gently flowering for much of the year. It is the winter flowering now, however, that we value the most.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.
Anopterus glandulosa - a slow growing treasure
It did take a long time for our Anopterus glandulosa to do much other than just sit and put up a few racemes of flowers each spring but eventually it grew a little and after a decade (possibly more than a decade, in fact) it just gets better every year. Its flowers look like lily-of-the-valley but this is an evergreen shrub from Tasmania. The literature tells me it can make a small tree but at the rate it is growing, that might be when our grandchildren (who have yet to make an appearance) are adults. I can see why it is rated as rare because this is not a quick turn-over shrub for the trade so if you ever see it offered for sale, grab it because you may be looking a long time to find it again. The leaves are long, leathery, shiny dark green with saw-toothed edges. Even without its flowers, it is a tidy little evergreen shrub which keeps good form without needing pruning and then for many weeks in spring, it is adorned with its racemes of pink buds opening to white flowers.
There are apparently only two species of anopterus and the other member of the family must be of negligible merit because most of the references only record glandulosa. They are closely related to escallonias which readers may know for a hedging option. If you find somebody with an anopterus, you may be able to raise it successfully from seed.
The scented golden orb of Edgeworthia gardneri
This plant has a very curious flower head – fully rounded golden pompoms of tightly packed, almost waxy flowers. Sweetly scented too, which is not surprising because it is a close relative of the daphnes, but because it does not mass flower, it lacks the fragrant oomph of its cousins. Each flower head is only about 3cm across, not much larger than an old fashioned gobstopper. Gardneri is still newly introduced to the west – it comes from Nepal – not easy to propagate from cutting and rare. I tell you this because several years ago we did manage to get some plants successfully growing and offered them on the mailorder list we used to put out. At the same time a gardening magazine showed a photograph of the flower but gave no idea of the size. Somebody in Palmerston North tracked us down and ordered the plant. We shipped her down a splendid specimen but she was not happy. She was expecting a flower more akin, I suspect, to the size of a cricket ball rather than a pingpong ball. She sent back this rare and choice shrub. It cost her more in freight than the plant was worth, but clearly it was a matter of principle because she felt short-changed by the size of the flower.
There are only two, maybe three, species of edgeworthia. The more common Chinese form, papyrifera or chyrsantha, is deciduous but gardneri is fully evergreen and makes an open, airy bush with a graceful appeal. It is not particularly hardy and won’t thrive in areas with cold winters. It has good nectar for the tuis and we are planning to add another plant in full sun to feed our butterflies.
The small, waxy flowers of Illicum simonsii
I would be telling porkies if I said that these lovely soft lemon flowers are spectacular. Understated might be a better descriptor, maybe subtle. They only measure about 2cm across but they are really interesting, looking like miniature waterlilies cast out of wax. If you think they remind you of something else, you may be thinking of star anise which is the seed head of Illicum verum. Don’t be tempted to try the seeds of other illiciums – most are poisonous. Until I looked it up, I had assumed that Illicium anisatum should be the source of star anise –far from it and anisatum too is very toxic. Simonsii is still a relatively rare shrub in cultivation, originating from the Yunnan and Sichuan areas of China. It is evergreen with a lovely glaucous blue tone to its sturdy leaves and grows much more upright than most other illiciums as well as being more tolerant of full sun and relatively dry condtions. If you break a leaf, you will discover immediately how aromatic the foliage is. Whether you like the aroma or not depends a bit on your attitude to wintergreen or Vick’s Vapourub. It smells a little too close to the bizarre raspberry Sarsi drink we once bought in Kuala Lumpur – in itself an unforgettable experience.
Illiciums are a genus all of their own though they have a distant botanical alliance to magnolias but you could never tell that from looking at them.
• Widely available from most garden centres.
• Evergreen shrub.
• Tolerant of a surprisingly wide range of conditions but may need protection from heavy frosts and strong winds.
• Burgundy forms give colour all year round.
The wine red forms of the loropetalum are a particularly good recent introduction to this country
The wine red form of loropetalum (sometimes called the Fringe Flower) is a relatively recent introduction to this country and a particularly good one at that. It builds in layers and left unclipped it can reach two metres by two metres reasonably quickly. It is easily shaped but is rather brittle so will snap off in wind. We grow China Pink but there is a form called Burgundy and several others – all appear to be very similar and equally good with one exception. Shun Razzleberry if you find it on offer. It starts with good colour in spring but then changes quickly to a murky, dull olive green of no merit that I can see. The flowers on the burgundy forms are interesting clusters of shocking pink spidery petals and stamens but discreet, not showy. If you have a Singapore stopover and go to the Chinese gardens there, you will see all sorts of techniques with bonsai, clipping and hedging of the attractive loropetalum shrub.