I have always had a soft spot for winter flowers, as I admire their courage for appearing in the coldest weather. Their appearance really cheers me up on those awful bleak days we sometimes get at this time of year. They help get me into the garden, as I look forward to discovering new blooms. There are actually quite a lot of flowers out in July (see here for my list); this week I will be exploring some of the more unusual ones in my garden. This year is the first time I have had a profusion of blooms on a really interesting shrub called Phymosia umbellata, sometimes known as the Mexican bush mallow (pictured at the start of the blog). It is quite tall (up to 3 m or more) and it has cranberry-coloured, lantern-shaped blooms in clusters. The large, grape vine-like leaves are quite striking. The whole plant resembles an Abutilon (to which it is related) on steroids. It can be grown as a shrub or trained as a small tree on a single trunk. It is a frost tender specimen, but if grown under the shelter of tall trees, this may offer some protection. It will grow in sun or part-shade, and benefits from some protection from wind, which can damage the brittle stems. I'm not sure how long the flowers continue on for, but I am enjoying seeing them every day.
There are lots of winter-flowering Salvia but some of the less familiar ones include Salvia elegans Purple Form, Salvia rubiginosa and Salvia roscida. Salvia elegans Purple Form (ht 2 m) has long spires of dainty cerise flowers in late autumn, winter and early spring. Its foliage acquires a purplish tinge if it is grown in full sun. It is attractive with the silver leaves of Plectranthus argentatus. I also grow it nearby to Salvia rubiginosa (ht 1-1.5 m), a compact salvia with rich blue flowers accentuated by purple calyces in winter and early spring. Salvia roscida (ht 1.5-2 m; syn. S. fallax) is a late winter-early spring flowering plant with spires of many small soft blue flowers. Usefully, these latter two Salvia cope well with a degree of shade.
Among perennial plants in bloom is rhizomatous Clivia x cyrtanthiflora (ht 60 cm), a hybrid between Clivia miniata and Clivia nobilis and has pale to medium orange flowers in large clusters of narrow, pendulous blooms, mainly from now to early spring, but they can appear at other times of year too. It is probably the most commonly seen pendulous form seen in Sydney gardens and is often referred to as Clivia nobilis, though this species is rarely seen here. Clivia are so handy for dry, shady spots and this one is just that little bit different. I like its soft colour with the blue of Salvia roscida.
The beautiful hellebore hybrids are coming into flower now; some less-common species include Helleborus argutiflorus and Helleborus foetidus. Helleborus argutiflorus (ht 60-80 cm), the so-called Corsican hellebore, is a large perennial with bold, leathery, serrated-edged leaves of a deep green hue, and clusters of many pendulous pale-green exquisite cup-shaped blooms which open in late autumn and last until early spring. It will grow in sun or part-shade, as long as there is good drainage. Helleborus foetidus (ht 50 cm) has attractive, finely dissected leaves. and bunches of pale green, bell-shaped flowers in winter and early spring. My favourite cultivar is 'Gold Bullion', with golden new leaves in spring and gold-infused bell-shaped flowers; foliage and blooms tend to be more chartreuse in part-shade. I'm enjoying my specimen with a background planting of a creamy-lime Syngonium with creamy-lime leaves and the lime-gold foliage of Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold'.
Some winter blooms are distinct because they are a variation on the usual flower colour of the plant. I really like my white-flowered Daphne, the white version of Tulbaghia simmleri and a creamy-white poinsettia, all in bloom at the moment. Other flowers are unusual simply because they are appearing out of season at the moment! Why on earth do I have four heads of Echinacea purpurea, a spire of Campanula rapunculus and unfurling buds on Eranthemum pulchellum?
Creative pest control
25 Oct 20
There are lots of ways to outwit garden pests!
18 Oct 20
Although my garden is semi-tropical in nature now, I still have some vestiges from my cottage garden days!
11 Oct 20
Consider training a shrub into a small tree.
04 Oct 20
October is iris time in Sydney gardens: the best are the tall bearded irises and Louisiana irises.
One crowded hour
27 Sep 20
Much can be achieved in regular short stints in the garden.