Tag Archives: woodland plants

Clivias, with a sidetrack onto green flowers.

IMG_5576Clivias sure do light up a dark spot at this time of the year, for those of us who live in climates where they grow. This is not a family that will take much at all in the way of frost, though their preference for shaded, woodland conditions gives some protection against cold.

I used to quote Mark’s quip that if somebody wanted to be an expert in a particular plant, hellebores would be an easy family to choose. But as long as you are patient, clivias beat them hands down for simplicity. There are only about six different species to learn and they are dead easy to grow and care for, presenting few technical challenges. The drawback is that it takes much patience as they take several years before they reach flowering size. So if you are wanting to try and hybridise for different blooms or even just to raise plants from seed, you need to be prepared to wait.

Most of the plants in our garden are C. miniata seedlings and this is by far the most common type of clivia available. It is what gives the big heads of blooms.  We have quite a few, and almost as many again hanging around in pots waiting to be planted out. Less resilient plants would be dead by now. While I think they are wonderful focal points of colour in shady areas which are lush and green, I think one can have too many orange clivia, even too many clivia. But then we have always gone for the mix and match of a variety of plants to create a more natural effect rather than uniform blocks of one colour as favoured by mass planting landscapers. They combine particularly well with ferns.

IMG_5596I headed out with my flower basket to gather a single flower from a range of plants around the garden, feeling a little as if I was doing a geriatric Milly-Molly-Mandy impersonation. Given that ours are almost all seedlings, I was a little surprised at how consistent the flowers are when I started sorting them by colour. The variations are… subtle, shall we say?

IMG_5601IMG_5598To the right, we have the ones that age to red. Do not be like the novice gardener I heard of who ordered a swag of expensive red clivia for a mass planting in her ‘designed’ garden. They opened orange, so she dug them all back up again, complained and wanted them replaced. We have not seen clivia that actually open to pure red – some age to red.

IMG_5597On the left, very battered by bad weather, are a couple of examples of blooms heading to what are called the peach tones. Like many other clivia enthusiasts, Mark has been playing around crossing different plants to try and extend the colour range and the peachy ones are certainly different to the yellows which are the comparator. We have yet to acquire any of the green throated clivia which would add a worthwhile variant.

A recent newspaper article referencing the very recent green clivias had Mark snorting. He is not a fan of green flowers at all, but a net search for images shows that they are more white clivias with green markings which is a great deal more interesting.

Satyrium odorum - green flower insignificance

Satyrium odorum – green flower insignificance

Why is Mark sniffy about green flowers? It is because he is first and foremost a gardener so he assesses plants on garden performance and appearance. And when the most dominant colour in a garden is invariably green, he sees no merit in green flowers. They meld into the surroundings. Take the green orchid, Satyrium odorum. I had to pick them because I had no hope of getting a clear photo of them in the garden. They have an interesting, strong, cinnamon scent but are insignificant as garden plants. If we hadn’t been given a whole lot of them, I wouldn’t be bothering with them.

068Earlier articles include a step by step guide to how to dig and divide clivias and a short piece on seed colour and future flower colour. To save you having to google the basic details, clivias are native to southern Africa and Swaziland, evergreen, used to growing with low light levels and belong to the Amaryllidaceae family. Over time (many years), they can get quite large – well over a metre in diameter and the same in height. Clive-ea or clivvia? We pronounce it clive-ea because it was named for a member of the Clive family, but it is probably optional.

 

 

 

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Exotica in the shade

Shade gardens we have a-plenty

Shade gardens we have a-plenty

Glory be, but I do love spring.  This month subtropical bulbs and orchids shout out to be noticed.

We have extensive shade gardens. It is an inevitable result of a large, mature garden with many evergreen trees dating back as far as 1870. We do a lot of what we call lifting and limbing – taking off lower branches and keeping areas open to the light, for there are not a lot of plant options when it comes to deep, dark shade. Beneath the mighty tree canopy, it is dry but frost-free with dappled light. Over the decades there has been much trial and error to find what will thrive in these conditions and the plantings have become increasingly complex.

Dendrobium Bardo Rose

Dendrobium Bardo Rose

By this time in spring, we are over peak season for cymbidium orchids but the Australian dendrobiums are a delight. These are much smaller and more mounded or clumping in appearance and they take care of themselves. We have found the Bardo Rose group to be particularly obliging and free-flowering in woodland conditions. Ours all came from the local Orchid Society, an organisation that we have found combines generosity with superior technical knowledge.

Pleione orchids in the woodland

Pleione orchids in the woodland

Pleione orchids do not last as long in bloom as many of the other orchids. Their flowers are soft rather than waxy but oh my, they make such a pretty carpet. It is easy for them to get swamped so we try and keep the area around them open but beyond lifting and dividing every few years, we just leave them alone. In our experience, the lovely yellow varieties do better in a climate where they get more winter chill. I think all our yellows have died out now but we have plenty in shades of lilac, purple and pure white. Most of our successful varieties came from the late George Fuller, orchid expert and former curator of Pukekura Park, and seem to have formosana in their parentage. If you want to build them up, a single bulb will usually set 2 offsets each season so you can double them every year.

Calanthe orchid - CopyThe calanthes are ground orchids and we have big clumps now because these obliging plants can just be left to quietly increase in size. These are fully evergreen and somewhat frost tender but they are a delightful sight through spring and they combine very well with clivias, ferns and even hostas.

Hippeastrums are a plant family that has been much hybridised but I am not entirely convinced that has been to their advantage. It is two species that we rely on, both South American. It was by chance we found they settled happily into woodland conditions. In full sun, they were ravaged by narcissi fly but in high shade they are fine. Apparently nazi flies, as they are often called, don’t like shade. H. aulicum is one of our early to mid spring mainstays, flowering consistently year in and year out while multiplying most satisfyingly. To me, they look like beautiful Jacobean lilies in the woodland.

Hippeastrum aulicum, one of our woodland mainstays

Hippeastrum aulicum, one of our woodland mainstays

Hippeastrum papilio has been a more recent acquisition for us and it is certainly spectacular, looking more like an orchid than the butterfly for which it was named. It is offered for sale but be prepared to pay a lot for a single bulb – maybe $30 if it is flowering size – because it takes several years to get to that point. I can’t think that we would have started with more than just one or two bulbs at that price. I see with a bit of dividing and replanting we now have about sixty but not all are flowering size yet. Mark has done some hybrids of aulicum x papilio to increase numbers and get some variety, but they have yet to bloom.

Hippeastrum papilio

Hippeastrum papilio

I will have to leave the arisaemas, trilliums and the Paris polyphylla for another time but will finish with Scadoxus puniceus from South Africa. Many readers will be familiar with the summer flowering red S. multiflorus ssp. katherinae, especially in the Auckland area because it was, and maybe still is, much beloved by landscapers. It is a mainstay of our summer woodland, but in spring it is the lesser known S. puniceus that is the showstopper. Growing from large bulbs which are slow to increase, the foliage is lush and the large blooms are curious rather than beautiful. S. puniceus is not widely available, but if you can find somebody with it, it is easy enough to raise from fresh seed as long as you are willing to wait quite a few years to reach flowering size.

The rewards are there for patient gardeners.

The lesser known Scadoxus puniceus

The lesser known Scadoxus puniceus

Text first published in the October issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission 

Plant Collector: Streptocarpus

Streptocarpus hybrids - woodland bedding for mild climates

Streptocarpus hybrids – woodland bedding for mild climates

Not much shouts “mild climate” louder than using streptocarpus as bedding plants in shaded areas of the garden. That is because they are seen as conservatory plants in the temperate gardening world and few think to use them outdoors. They won’t take frost or very damp conditions, but they can withstand cooler temperatures.

The flowers are what is described as salver-shaped and sit above the foliage, usually in clusters. These will be hybrids, not the original species which grow in shady spots throughout quite large parts of Africa. A distinctive characteristic is the thin, spiral seed heads. Brittle leaves can get damaged easily, as well as snapping off but they also root easily from leaf cuttings so try replanting entire broken leaves. The root system is small and shallow, which means that it is not difficult to lift and divide established plants.

In a garden situation, we don’t get the quality blooms that are possible under cover but we do get months of flowering. If you don’t have a frost free, shaded garden position, these are still worthwhile plants to try indoors but keep them out of full sun.

Streptocarpus belong to the Gesneriaceae family. The best known members of this family are probably the touchy but very pretty African violets which are widely sold as house plants in this country. You may also recognise a similarity to what we often refer to as gloxinias – though it appears that the common gloxinias are not. Not gloxinias, I mean. They are more likely Sinningia speciosum, which I am unlikely to remember.
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First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector: Trillium sessile

Trilliums! Not common in gardens in our area. T.sessile

Trilliums! Not common in gardens in our area. T.sessile

In the world of status plants for the garden, trilliums are right up close to the top. I am not entirely sure why. They certainly have a quiet charm and are a delightful addition to the spring woodland garden. They are not at all easy for most people to grow and are hard to source, but even that combination of factors does not explain the reverent awe accorded to their presence in a garden.

There are a relatively large number of trillium species (somewhere over 40) and most are native to North America, with just a few from Asia. They are deciduous perennials forming rhizomes below ground. The foliage dies down each autumn, to re-emerge the following spring (one hopes – it is not guaranteed) with fresh leaves and flowers – hence their common name of ‘wakerobin’. At times they are also referred to as ‘tri flower’ on account of their wonderful symmetry of threesomeness. Three heart shaped leaves hold three narrow sepals in the centre which surrounds the three petalled flower which has six stamens. How perfect is that? The dark red trilliums (usually T. sessile or descended from that species) are usually the most highly prized as garden plants, although different species introduce white, pink and yellow to the range.

Being woodland plants, trilliums want ground rich in humus and leaf litter which never dries out. They tend to do better in inland areas with colder winters where the clumps can get more size to them than we see in our coastal conditions. They can be raised successfully from fresh seed if you find a friend with a plant.

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

Plant Collector: Monstera deliciosa

Monstera deliciosa - commonly known as the fruit salad plant

Monstera deliciosa – commonly known as the fruit salad plant

Most people know this as the fruit salad plant, widely grown as an indoor plant though more likely in commercial spaces because they grow quite large. However, it isn’t completely tender and can be grown outdoors as long as it is free of frost or snow. It puts out aerial roots and climbs without doing damage to the host tree. Some of ours are now maybe 10 metres up, giving a luxuriant, tropical effect. Each leaf is about 70cm across and lengthways.

If you look carefully, you can spot the fruit in the photo. There are two green phallic shapes, not to be confused with the unfurling leaf. The fruit is more a curiosity for us than anything else. It takes a year to ripen, at which point the green scales that form the outer casing start to split and peel off, revealing the creamy centre. It is variously described as tasting like a pineapple, jackfruit, mango or banana – in other words, exotic-ish. Because we lack the heat for proper ripening, the natural oxalic acids remain high so the fruit is more akin to eating tropical textured and flavoured fine shards of glass.

Hailing from tropical rain forests of northern South America (Colombia to Mexico), the monstera is a member of the arum family, which is very apparent when you see the hooded creamy flowers. You are most likely to find small monstera plants in the house plant section or if you know of someone with one, a length of stem with some aerial roots will grow away.

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

Our world of azaleas here

Our sky carpet of Kurume azaleas in September

Our sky carpet of Kurume azaleas in September

I have never tracked the flowering season of our evergreen azaleas. Generally we would say they are spring flowering and the peak is in September. But this year, I have become aware of them coming into flower already and I have been snapping a few photos for several weeks. When I looked around, plenty have blooms out.

I googled and found references to them having a flowering season of a week or two in spring. Not here, is all I can say. For us, they are unsung heroes in the background of our garden. We have lots of evergreen azaleas and they are rarely foreground stars. But they are such an obliging plant because they grow in semi shade to shaded areas (of which we have plenty), they never get too large, they are wonderfully unfussy, don’t need deadheading and they gently flower on… and on… and on.

The evergreen azaleas are gently flowering already and will continue through til spring

The evergreen azaleas are gently flowering already and will continue through til spring

You can make them stars. You can turn them into bright, colourful clipped mounds of bloom if that is what you want in your garden. You can tastefully plant the same cultivar (to keep uniformity) as an edger alongside a driveway or path. You can colour tone for variation and mass plant out a gentle incline. Or you can ignore fashion and plant a mismatched collection as a vibrant statement of mushroom shaped mounds out in the open. With any of those options, you will probably get peak flowering for a couple of weeks and have relatively anonymous, small leafed green shrubs for the other 50 weeks of the year.

We have plenty of star plants in our garden, so we lean more to using the evergreen azaleas as understated support plants throughout. They are so obliging by nature. Even if you cut them back very hard, most will just come again. You can raise your own plants from seed if you are a patient gardener. They are widely available for sale and generally you decide what you want by leaf and flower size – some are much smaller in both than others – and by colour rather than searching out particular named cultivars.
???????????????????????????????Colours are from white through the whole gamut of pinks to pure reds. The closest to blue is lilac and the closest to orange is more coral in tone. Nor are there pure yellows. Just white with a green or yellow toned throat.

We have plantings of the fine leafed Kurume azaleas from Japan which are now over 60 years old. At about 45 years of age, Mark decided they needed some attention and rather than cutting them back hard to rejuvenate them, he set upon a course of limbing them up. It is a constant task but we take out all the lower growth and have them as an undulating carpet of blooms just above head height.

A garden visitor from Kurume came a few years ago. He spoke no English and we speak no Japanese but he managed to convey the information to us that our Kurumes were simply astounding for their age. But, and there is always a but, we should be taking better care of them. I have spent a prodigious amount of time grooming out dead twiggy bits and an excess of lichen ever since. Some gardeners choose to use copper sprays or lime sulphur to combat lichen build up on older plants.

All azaleas are rhododendrons but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. In other words, azaleas are a separate section of the rhododendron family. They then divide further into the deciduous azaleas (botanically Pentanthera) and the evergreen azaleas (at least mostly evergreen, the Tsutsuji or Tsustusti azaleas originating from Japan).

Vibrant colour in late October from deciduous azaleas

Vibrant colour in late October from deciduous azaleas

Deciduous azaleas are a different branch of the family altogether and many look more like rhododendrons with their full trusses. They are often referred to as Azalea mollis or Ilam azaleas in this country. Some bring the most wonderfully vibrant colour into the spring garden, bordering on vulgar if not placed well. You don’t get the same bright oranges in any rhododendron that I know of and the intense yellows, tangerines and reds make a big statement. For those of more refined sensibility, there are also pastels and whites. Many are strongly scented.

Deciduous azaleas are more tolerant of heavy, wet soils – even occasional flooding – and of full sun than their rhododendron cousins. Surround them with lots of green is my advice, and let them have their time to star in all their glory.

The problem with deciduous azaleas is that when they are not in flower in mid spring, they tend to be pretty anonymous plants. And in humid climates, they are inclined to get mildewed foliage by the end of summer so are not plants of great beauty in small gardens.

Nor are they always easy to source. Garden centres really only have a three week selling time on them when they are in flower because few will impulse buy outside that show time. So buy plants when you see them on offer, is my advice, rather than waiting until the precise moment you are ready to plant them.

Our garden might look a bit sad and empty without the strong showing from the azaleas.

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

Plant collector : Helleborus x sternii

Helleborus sternii in a woodland setting

Helleborus sternii in a woodland setting

There are more hellebores than just the common H. orientalis and sternii is one we appreciate in the winter woodland. It has distinctive green flowers, sometimes flushed purple, and lovely glaucous foliage which is finer in appearance. Glaucous just means it has a blue or grey cast to the colour. It is more upright in growth and does not make as dense a clump as orientalis. In addition to that, it holds its flowers in a cluster above the foliage and many of them are outward facing rather than all nodding (or facing downwards). So it displays its flowers a little better than H. orientalis.

The x sternii means it is a hybrid – in this case a cross between H. argutifolius (from Corsica and Sardinia) and H. lividus (from Majorca). From those origins, you can guess that it is quite happy in hot, dry conditions and the information is often given that it is suited to sunny positions. In our garden, sunny positions are at a premium whereas we have woodland in abundance so we are always after plant candidates for shadier positions. Plants like this hellebore which are not at all fussy, are very handy to add winter interest.

Sternii can be raised from seed or by division. There are named selections of sternii around – the seed from these won’t come true so they need to be divided or increased by cutting if you want to keep their special features. It appears that many of the newer forms are extending the colour range into purer pinks, burgundy, slate and white – akin to the orientalis colour range. We only have the original green flowered forms and have not seen the other colours in this country yet.

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