Mid-summer vignettes

Sunday, 08 January 2017

Impatiens walleriana not affected by downy mildew

Discombobulated by all the Christmas and New Year festivities and a lack of normal routines, I've hardly known what day it was for the past few weeks, and I had lost touch with my garden completely. This weekend, however, has allowed me time to wander in the garden and see what has been going on. I have enjoyed finding some little scenes in the garden that have revived my flagging spirits and inspired me to take up my trowel and secateurs once more.

One discovery that has thrilled me is that some old-fashioned busy lizzies (Impatiens walleriana, pictured at the start of the blog) - given to me as cuttings by a friend last year - have really settled in and started to bloom madly. These plants, once a stalwart in my garden, self-seeding from year to year and lighting up shaded areas, were hit by a horrible fungal disease a few years ago and basically wiped out. Whether the current success of my cuttings means the disease has been conquered (which I hadn't heard about) or that these particular ones might somehow be immune to it, I don't know. In any case, I am enjoying the return of these simple but floriferous plants to my garden!

Pennisetum setaceum Rubrum (centre) with Hymenocallis bulbs (at right)

I've been experimenting for some time with a part of the garden that combines dark leaves and flowers with Omo-white blooms. At the moment, I am enjoying deep purple grassy Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' with the brilliant white flowers of an unusual bulb called Hymenocallis. The flowers last only a few weeks but their long, drooping petals and the bulbs' broad leaves repeat the form of arching leaves of the grass, and the tonal contrast between the two plants is quite intense. Other dark-leaved plants such as Alternanthera dentata and Euphorbia cotinifolia continue the theme through the border, and white flowers such as Pentas lanceolata and Shasta daisies give long periods of bloom. I also include silver foliage in the mix as it combines so well with white and dark purple/black, and softens the strong contrast between the two here and there in the border.

Sanchezia speciosa (left) with Justicia brandegeeana

In another part of the garden, I enjoyed seeing the quaint inflorescences of the lime/yellow-coloured shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) intermingling with the striking yellow-veined foliage of shrubby Sanchezia speciosa. I love to use such colour echoes in the garden, where the hue of the flower of one plant matches the colour in the leaf or stem of another. Whilst the shrimp plant is in flower all year, the Sanchezia is a warm-climate shrub that doesn't like our Sydney winters much, and it takes a while for it to get going each summer and produce its dramatic leaves. Once it does, however, it is a fabulous foliage plant. Both these plants belong to the Acanthaceae family of plants. The combination will look good until the end of autumn, as the shrimp plant inflorescences are composed of long-lasting bracts rather than actual flowers.

Lacecap Hydrangea macrophylla (left) with Dichroa febrifuga

In a shaded part of the garden, I was delighted to notice that the stems of a pretty lacecap Hydrangea macrophylla, with white florets and a central pincushion of tiny blue flowers, were now juxtaposed with those of Dichroa febrifuga, a hydrangea relative that has as its entire flower-head a cluster of petite, deep blue flowers just like the middle of the Hydrangea blooms. The Dichroa blooms for a number of months, longer than the actual Hydrangea shrubs, and is a most useful addition to a shady area as a background planting. It is taller than most Hydrangea, being capable of growing to 3 m in height.

Old-fashioned Gerbera (right) with Euphorbia cyathophora

My final discovery was the combination of an old-fashioned, fine-petalled Gerbera with a most unusual Euphorbia plant I was given last year. Said to be a self-seeding annual (potentially weedy in very warm northern areas of Australia), the Euphorbia has kept going for almost 12 months without stopping flowering in that time. It seems to be Euphorbia cyathophora and it is like a miniature form of the traditional poinsettia that blooms in winter. Mine is coloured a vibrant apricot-orange, that almost exactly matches the hue of my Gerbera. I love the contrast of the intricately cut Gerbera petals with the chunkier form of the Euphorbia 'flowers', the showy part of which are actually long-lasting leafy bracts. I have developed a fondness for the old-fashioned Gerbera in recent times, and have been fortunate to receive some from kind neighbours, who grow a range of colours. These perennials love sun and good drainage. Make sure the crown of the plant is not covered with mulch, or it may rot.