"November's little treasures"

Some small perennials flower this month - a reminder of my cottage garden days.
Sunday, 25 November 2012     

Dicentra formosa

Normally, I do not focus in my blog on the few small, delicate little perennials that still remain in my garden, years after my erstwhile cottage garden was transformed into a more subtropical style. However, at the moment, those survivors from what really were wonderfully enjoyable years, when my friends and I dreamed of creating English-style gardens and went on fabulous nursery crawls in search of cottage-y perennials, are in bloom. I love to see them in flower year after year - because despite the fact that so few of them suit the climate of much of the Sydney region, they are truly beautiful plants. Those gardeners who live in the less humid, more elevated, cooler parts of Sydney can enjoy many more of them than I can, but here are some that survive for me.

I have had the white form of Dicentra formosa (var. alba, ht 30-45 cm) for as long as I can remember and I am pretty sure I grew it in my Ryde garden as well, nearly 20 years ago. It is related to the exquisite cool-climate Dicentra spectabilis (from Siberia, North China and Korea), often called 'bleeding heart', with its racemes of pink or white heart-shaped flowers - very difficult to grow in most parts of Sydney. I was content to grow its cousin from North America, which has clusters of nodding, heart-shaped flowers above dainty ferny leaves. It spreads by rhizomes to make a good sized-clump, dying down completely over winter. Last year I acquired the pink one (pictured at the start of the blog), which is the original species, and I have been thrilled to see it flower this month. These plants do need a shaded, cool, moist position in the garden, being woodland plants in their native habitats.

A related plant is Corydalis flexuosa (ht 30 cm), from China, with similar lacy leaves and delightful blue flowers comprised of clusters of slender tubes. It has a reputation for being 'difficult' but I have found it grows well in the same area as my Dicentra plants, and has spread quite well over the years. It tends to be dormant for part of the year. There is another Corydalis which grows all too easily in my garden - which I think is C. lutea - with yellow flowers. It blooms earlier in spring and can become a weed, so I don't recommend anyone actually plants that one. The blue version does not become weedy. Dicentra and Corydalis can be grown in pots if a suitable position in the garden cannot be found.

I always loved Campanula in my cottage garden days, but only two species remain in the garden - the unusual Campanula rapunculus (ht 30-40 cm) with its tall blue spires, and the ground-covering and robust Campanula poscharskyana (ht 15 cm), which seem to have flowered particularly well this spring. I have the usual white- and blue-flowering forms, with their attractive star-shaped blooms, as well as an interesting cultivar with a white centre called 'E K Toogood' (pictured). This one is not as vigorous as the others, but is very attractive. They seem to do best in part-shaded spots. In the photograph, it is shown with a strange plant I grew from seed years ago - Talinum paniculatum (ht 45 cm) - which has vivid, shiny, lime-green leaves: a fantastic foliage plant in sun or part-shade. Its only vice is a excessive tendency to self-seed.

When I was preparing my garden for the visit of the garden group earlier this spring, I planted out a couple of large pots at my entrance to distract the eye from the bareness of my borders. I included several plants of the South African groundcover known as bacopa (Sutera cordata, ht 20-30 cm, spread to 40 cm). They have simple, rounded flowers and come in various colours in single and double forms. I chose the cultivars 'Gulliver Snow', 'Double Pink Pearl' and 'Great Purple'. They have bloomed constantly since being shoved desperately into the pots two months ago and seem very tolerant of a hot, sunny position, though can apparently also grow in part-shade. I plan to move them into the ground eventually. They seem to be excellent plants for creating a soft and flowery effect, especially for cascading over walls.

These little plants can't make a big statement in a Sydney garden, but I always enjoy seeing them flower, as a reminder of the cottage garden that once existed mainly in my fantasy world.

 Reader Comments

1/6  Beverley - 2113 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 November 2012

I still love a cottage garden. I am using heat tolerant plants,ie small salvias, acillias, limonium, gaura, grey leaved plants,coneflowers and of course lots of old tea roses. Lambleys nursery have a lot of good ideas for hot dry gardens on their DVD"s. Your cottage garden is gorgeous, Beverley. There are definitely some perennials that do OK in Sydney and those DVDs sound really useful. Deirdre

2/6  Ann - 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 November 2012

Two annuals that I would never have thought to plant appeared in our garden recently. This year Aquilegia, which shouldn"t be planted till February, are flowering in both sun and shade, and Primula have flowered in our shaded garden for the past 3 years. These plants took 3 years of our 6 years of residence to appear, some in the lawn, but all provide an unexpeted splash of colour. Aquilegia are lovely and I find they do pretty well - they die off after a few years but usually self-seed. Mine flower mainly in October. I recently found a whole lot of little seedlings of them where they haven"t been growing for years1 Primula are also great and do self-seed quite well here. Deirdre

3/6  Helen - 2154 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 November 2012

Very interesting, Deirdre, to read of your changeover from cottage to semi tropical. It must be the Granny in me , but try as I may, the cottage look, which really doesn"t suit my current home, won"t leave me. I think it"s my obsession with border color! I keep hoping your guidance will eventually get through to me. Helen I still love the cottage look and colour, but I use plants from semi-tropical climates to create the effects I am looking for. As Beverley has mentioned in her comment, plants such as salvias can give a wonderful profusion of colour. I have not got a true tropical garden based mainly on foliage - I do have lots of flowers but find that semi-tropical ones do best for me in Sydney"s climate, rather than most of the true English-style perennials. However, there are exceptions and I still grow some of the ones that go OK in Sydney. Deirdre

4/6  Carole - 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 November 2012

I love the dicentras and campanula and had them in my Tas garden for years. However now I do not water my Maianbar garden and it isn"t suited to any but hardy plants.However one of my delights is Seaside Daisy(erigeron karvinskianus). It is nice to think back too, thank you Deidre. I have that little daisy everywhere in stonework in my garden. I never remember actually planting it but I have known it since I was a child and love its dainty flowers. A very robust plant that softens walls and paths. Deirdre

5/6  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 27 November 2012

am fond of dicentras, although I don"t currently have any. Years ago I had a yellow flowered, deciduous one, name escapes me, and it lasted a few years, before disappearing - probably not suited to our climate. I have bacopa growing, too, a white one and a blue, very easy to grow and easy to propagate from cuttings. My corydalis, from you, is growing well, in a pot.

6/6  Marinka - 2041 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Fascinating to finally find out about Talinum - that plant has been popping up in my garden for years, & I didn"t know if it was a weed (it didn"t seem entirely weedy) or not. I actually quite like the pink flowers! I love Campanula poscharskyana - I remember it from the garden of my childhood home, where it grew in a rockery. I would love to get a plant or two of it to grow in a new rockery that I"ve just created. Any advice on where to purchase it would be greatly appreciated! I think Talinum has weed potential but then so do many of the self-seeders that I wouldn"t be without (such as Cleome and Amaranthus). I just pull them up from where I don"t want them and try to not let them run to seed if I can. The campanula is a good one for Sydney. Maybe try our reader Plant Share? Deirdre

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