"Fluffy flowers"

Some flowers just demand to be touched!
Sunday, 14 August 2011     

Perennial Ageratum houstonianum

Busily occupied with the big task of cutting back my semi-tropical shrubs this week, I paused to admire a clump of perennial floss flower (Ageratum houstonianum), which has been blooming non-stop during winter. Its curious blue powder-puff flowers reminded me of other blooms with similarly unusual textures that are around at the moment: in many cases it is the prominent stamens that are the most decorative feature of these 'fluffy flowers'. They just cry out to be caressed, giving a tactile enjoyment to those who encounter them.

My Ageratum is a tough plant from Mexico that forms a mound 60 cm or more wide and about 30 cm in height. It is more often grown as a dwarf annual but this perennial form has been grown in our region for a long time. It takes root where it touches the ground and seems to flower almost all year round. I just hack it back occasionally and pull up any stems that have wandered too far. It is like a miniature version of the shrubby Mexican Eupatorium megalophyllum (ht 1.5 m, pictured left) - which is just about to open its huge panicles of fuzzy lilac bloom in a shady area of my garden. Ageratum and Eupatorium are both unlikely members of the Asteraceae family of plants - though they don't look like most daisy flowers! Both have nectar-rich blooms that attract butterflies.

Another fluffy-looking flower that is about to open in a shady border is the amazing paintbrush lily from South Africa (Scadoxus puniceus, ht 45 cm). Its flower is basically a mass of red stamens with neon orange bristles, and reminds me of one of those fibre-optic lamps from the 1970s. It is a spectacular sight in full bloom. Mine grows amongst orange Clivia and red and orange Abutilon and I enjoy visiting this area of the garden in August. A related plant - Haemanthus albiflos (ht 20-30 cm) - has smaller white flowers that look like shaving brushes, and it bloomed earlier in winter this year in my garden. Like the Scadoxus, it grows well in shade.

Another winter bloomer with fleecy-looking flowers, sometimes known as the nutmeg bush, has just finished its display. It has had a few name changes over time but is currently known as Tetradenia riparia (previous names have included Iboza and Mochosma). It is an old-fashioned soft-wooded shrub from South Africa growing to between 1.5 and 2.5 m and has panicles of fluffy pale mauve blooms in winter. It needs to be cut back very hard in late winter, otherwise it will become hopelessly straggly. Its leaves have a spicy scent. It does best in full sun but will cope with a little shade; it needs protection from strong winds, which may snap the stems.

Our Australian native plants have many species with fluffy flowers comprised chiefly of clusters of decorative stamens, especially among members of the Myrtaceae family of plants, which includes Eucalyptus, Syzygium, Melaluca and Callistemon, which will all flower once the weather becomes warmer. Some wattles offer their clear yellow, downy, fragrant blooms from the very start of winter, with the Queensland wattle (Acacia podalyriifolia, ht 4-6 m) being one of the first to open in June, followed by the feathery-leafed Cootamundra wattle in July (Acacia baileyana, ht 6 m). These wattles in full bloom are a brilliant sight against a perfect blue winter sky. Both have decorative silvery foliage and require a well-drained soil but are generally easy to grow in a sunny or slightly shaded place. Both trees are suited to coastal gardens, but note that they can become weedy in our climate so caution should be exercised if you live near a bush reserve. One of the best wattles for seaside gardens is the Sydney golden wattle (Acacia longifolia, ht 3-6 m, shorter in very exposed coastal positions), which started to show its long, bright yellow chenille fingers in July and looks stunning at the moment . Like most wattles, these are fast growing trees, but their life span may be limited to 10-15 years, which may be extended by pruning after flowering and vigilance for signs of borers. Even if their life is relatively short, they will have provided much adornment in the winter garden during that time, as well as providing useful screens or background foliage whilst more permanent trees are establishing.

 Reader Comments

1/6  Robyn - 2282 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 15 August 2011

Hi, I was really interested to read about the Paint Brush lily. Do you know where I might buy any? Ive tried e-bay. I love reading your gardening blogs! Regards, Robyn.

Hi Robyn: maybe try the Botanic Gardens Growing Friends Nursery (02 92318182) if you live in Sydney. I know they have sold it at times. They are open on weekdays 11.30 am to 2 pm and on the second Saturday of each month. Deirdre

2/6  Lynette - 2261 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 15 August 2011

Hi I am from tumbi Umbi on the Central Coast and would love to add these plants to my Garden, & a Paint Brush Lily,& also an Agerantum Mexico,I think it is very pritty. Could u please tell me wear I could purches these plants.Regards Lynette

Maybe try the Botanic Gardens Nursery (phone first on 02 92318182) or Waverley Nursery at Matcham (phone first on 02 43654828). Deirdre

3/6  Christine - 2144 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 15 August 2011

Thank you for your blog on fluffy flowers, I had Iboza in my previous garden and had forgotten about it. I will now add it to my new garden when I can find it. I have recently joined your lovely website and its just fabulous. Thank you again, Christine.

Thanks, Christine. I have a soft spot for Iboza too, as it grew in my parents' garden. Deirdre

4/6  Therese - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Great blog!Being a primary school teacher I love the tactile aspect of these flowers - the feel & the amazing colours - & my thoughts turn to how young children would especially benefit from being up close & personal with them. What a great addition they would be to a Children's Fantasy Garden!

Thanks, Therese, it's a great idea and not something I have ever thought of. Deirdre

5/6  Judie - 3160 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Tuesday, 16 August 2011

I looked everywhere to identify a plant I was given - did not believe it was a bromeliad but thanks to your excellent photos and description I now know it is an Aechmea gamosepala. Perfect for shady Dandenong Ranges garden. Thanks!

Thanks, Judie. It is a great plant and mine is flowering very well at the moment near a miniature camellia with bright pink flowers. I am enjoying the combination! Deirdre

6/6  Bob - 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 17 August 2011

I really do enjoy reading and seeing your lovely blog and thank you for letting me/us know where these plants may be available.You say some flowers demand to be touched and I say demand to be bought and grown!!!! Bob Steer

I know how frustrating it is not to be able to find plants you want. We have few good nurseries left these days. Garden clubs are good as well as making lots of gardening friends, from whom you may be lucky enough to get cuttings. Mail order nurseries are also useful - garden magazines may list them and many are now online. Deirdre

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