Thursday, 05 February 2009

Lagerstroemia indica

I have been gently reprimanded for never mentioning trees! And it is true - I do take my poor trees for granted. I really should show my appreciation at this time of year for the wonderful shade they are giving to parts of the garden in the ongoing horror heatwave that we are having - the shaded sections of the garden seem to cope better on the whole. How I wish I had planted more trees when we first came to this garden fifteen years ago! Most of my trees are deciduous, giving the added advantage of sunlight coming through in winter. It is tricky to find trees for suburbia that won't grow into giants - some of the choices I recommend are the Chinese tallowwood Sapium sebiferum (ht 6-12m)*, the Chinese pistachio Pistacia chinensis (ht to 8m), Japanese maples (Acer palmatum cultivars, ht 3.5-4.5m: though the very fancy ones tend to burn in our summer) and crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica, ht to 8m). Many lovely smallish trees simply do not thrive in the heat and humidity of our climate and they do best in areas with a cooler winter and milder summer.

Everywhere, the crepe myrtles are simply stunning at the moment, taking the heat in their stride, with generous trusses of soft, crimped blooms in colours of pinks, white, reds, mauve and deep purple, forming a pretty backdrop to summer border flowers. Petals fall to make a carpet below. The trees have wonderful smooth young bark in attractive patterns, revealed each summer after the old bark has peeled off, and have a beautiful open vase-like shape if not pruned. Traditionally, the trees were pruned very hard every winter to ugly stubs to create a mass of bloom on straight stems fanning out from the pruning points, but these days we tend to appreciate more the natural shape of the tree left to its own devices. The leaves turn to pretty golden and red tints in autumn in Sydney, and all-in-all the crepe myrtle is a good choice for a small garden. Older varieties were subject to powdery mildew but newer ones (such as the 'Indian Summer' hybrids) are supposedly resistant. There are a number of named hybrids, including multi-stemmed shrubby varieties around 3-4.5m tall (such as white 'Acoma' and bright pink 'Hopi') and miniatures growing to 1m or less (such as lavender-blue 'Cordon Bleu' and mauve-pink 'Delta Blush') for very small spaces or pots.

Corymbia Summer Beauty

I have no other flowering trees in my garden at the moment (perhaps something that should be rectified) but an early-morning stroll around the neighbourhood revealed some lovely specimens. Two small hybrid grafted gums (one of their parents being Corymbia ficifolia) are quite spectacular in full bloom. 'Summer Beauty' is pink and 'Summer Red' has vibrant scarlet flowers. The intricacy of the blooms is simply exquisite. Later, large woody seedpods form, which are also attractive. These grafted gums are easier to grow in Sydney than the original species they were bred from and are quite compact trees, growing to 5m or a bit taller. They are reportedly drought tolerant.

Buckinghamia celsissima

A Queensland rainforest native, the ivory curl-flower tree (Buckinghamia celsissima) is quite stunning - a mass of perfumed long blooms with curling petals, like a cross between a bottlebrush and a grevillea; it belongs to the same family as grevilleas, the Proteaceae. It grows to a height of 6-8m in a garden setting and likes a reasonably rich, well-drained soil with at least part sun. Many native rainforest trees grow very well in our climate, and their glossy leaves allow them to fit in well with other exotic plantings.

Chorisia speciosa

In the same garden (originally planted by a man with a passion for subtropical trees), there are two fine examples of the South American floss-silk tree (Chorisia speciosa) which soar to over 15m. The large pink flowers are like orchids, and they drift to the ground around the tree. The trunk has distinctive spines and greenish bark.

I'd love to hear what other trees are in bloom at the moment!

* The Chinese tallowwood is now called Triadica sebifera. In many areas, especially warm zones, it is now classed as a noxious weed because it spreads by seed and suckers, and can invade bushland.