Icons of spring

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Rondeletia amoena in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

During the past week, I had the good fortune of visiting a few displays of spring flowers - in the Botanic Garden, Sydney, and at the Hazelbrook-Woodford Garden Festival in the Blue Mountains. As I don't have many spring flowers myself (my garden is mainly devoted to summer- and autumn-blooming plants), I enjoyed these opportunities to see some of the icons of spring in Sydney and its surrounds. I also happened to pick up a few plants to add a bit of spring colour to my own garden!

Wisteria, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

The Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, has a wonderful Spring Walk, which is at its peak right now, where visitors can delight in the dainty blossoms of ornamental peach trees, azaleas, mass-planted tulips and Wisteria. I don't grow any of these in my garden - for various reasons - but they are truly gorgeous plants and I love to drink in their beauty and admire them every spring. This season has been a very good one for azaleas, because it has been so dry, with the result that petal blight has not been such a nuisance this year. The tulips looked amazing - even though they are unlikely to rebloom in Sydney and new bulbs need to be planted each year. The fragrant, pendulous racemes of the white Wisteria were absolutely stunning and made me forget for a moment what a rapacious plant this can be in a suburban garden. The Botanic Garden specimens are grown as standards, and this is a good way to tame these vigorous plants - but they would need lots of clipping to keep them compact. These standardised plants can be successfully grown in large pots.

Brunfelsia pauciflora Macrantha in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney

In the Botanic Garden, I also admired a number of excellent warm-climate shrubs that are grown there that are excellent choices for Sydney home gardens, being easy to grow and having no particular 'issues'. Rondeletia amoena, Spiraea cantoniensis, Eupatorium megalophyllum, Justicia adhatoda and various forms of the yesterday-today-and-tomorrow bush (Brunfelsia) took my eye. I noticed one form of this latter shrub I'd never previously noticed, which had really large leaves and huge flowers - easily twice the size of the usually seen types. This is possibly Brunfelsia pauciflora 'Macrantha', and I was lucky enough to find a potted one of these in the excellent Friends' Nursery at the Garden the day of my visit.

Loropetalum chinensis at Balangara garden, Woodford, NSW

The Blue Mountains gardens included a number of cooler-climate plants that don't do as well in Sydney, but also many that do flourish closer to the coast. Azaleas do particularly well there and don't seem to get petal blight as much as in the more humid areas closer to the coast. Several gardens featured the shrub Loropetalum chinensis, in its cream-coloured form or in its pink-flowered variety with maroon leaves. This shrub gets quite tall and wide, but can be clipped into a rounded shape if desired. It grows very well in Sydney gardens and is a shrub I have added to my own garden in recent years - and I am very pleased I did.

Echium candicans photographed at Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour

Another plant in full bloom was Echium candicans, a tall, sprawling shrubby perennial from Madeira with incredibly luminous purple-blue flowers, clustered in their hundreds on tall, chubby spires in spring. It also will grow well in Sydney. It isn't a long-lived plant but is quite stunning, so I decided to give it a go and bought a small plant from a stall at one of the gardens.

Nasturtiums at Sunstone Lodge garden, Woodford, NSW

Marguerite daisies are quintessential spring flowers and do well in Sydney and in the Mountains. Again, they are generally short-lived but can easily be grown from cuttings. I succumbed to a pastel yellow one from the same plant stall. This particular garden featured many self-seeding spring annuals, including nasturtiums, forget-me-nots, Primula malacoides, borage, alyssum and heartsease, creating a delightful softening effect within a fairly formal garden layout.

Almost all of the Mountains gardens had impressive drifts of hybrid hellebores, and they were indeed a beautiful sight. We too can grow these in Sydney gardens, given a shaded site with enough water to allow the plants to become established. Once they get going, they are fairly robust and can cope with dry spells. There are many colours, including whites, pinks, maroon and yellow, as well as various forms with lovely markings. I admired them growing with naturalised bluebells, Ajuga, Iris japonica and primulas under trees.

Several of the Mountains gardens have spectacular valley views beyond their boundaries, and in some cases, the gardens merge gradually into the bush. In one garden, flowering waratahs and Gymea lilies had been planted at the point where an orchard of fruit trees met the bush, and this provided a most effective transition between the two parts of the garden, by using native plants with bold, exotic-looking flowers.

Do try to visit a spring garden if you can over the next few weeks! They provide much enjoyment and inspiration for all.