Bonsai Inspiration

When it comes to bonsai books I am a great fan of practicalities and inspiring ideas. Their is nothing as bad as buying a book that you don’t feel like lifting up, one that gathers dust and ends up in the collection of possible recyclables. Yes I have bought those books… and no I won’t name them, well not yet! As a bonsai freakcollector in these recessionary times money well spent is a must, so having come across Harry Harrington’s book ‘Bonsai Inspiration’ was refreshing at a practical level.

The book starts out as most books with an introduction to Bonsai, its history and growing challenges for the beginner. This section is only two pages and then it gets into the good stuff.

Developing your own Bonsai.

The book explains in a series of chapters called the ‘Progression Series’, how a tree is designed, cared for and styled into a finished product. This is different from most bonsai books in that it explains from day one ‘How to Bonsai’.

bonsai privet
(c) Harry Harrington

Take the example…’Using material from the garden for bonsai’. The elements of this section explain that over-time your garden shrubs or trees (if your a good gardener) have been pruned every year or so and now exist with the desired height that you require. So transforming these from the ground to a pot is easier to achieve. Yes their are challenges in this transformation, but these are well explained by Harry. Take the example of the Common Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) progression series. In this, Harry explains from day one in August 2004, how this garden hedge tree was plucked from the ground, trained in its staging area for a number of years, how the deadwood was treated and like the inevitable masterpiece you come to expect it was transformed into beautiful piece of art. This is explained in a stage by stage practical and is photo documented to make it easier to understand.

Another example of this practical application can be found in ‘Developing Bonsai from Airlayering’. Airlayering is a great technique for growing your collection. It is a technique that has been used for generations by gardeners. With Bonsai their is a degree of difficulty as you are dealing with not just propagation, but styling. Where is the best place to make your cut, what is the best type of tree to use and how to develop your little stump, eh tree. Harry gives an excellent instruction in the pre and post creation phases, thereby guiding you into great possibilities.

(c) Harry Harrington

Is this book aimed at the beginner, possibly not the absolute beginner, but more the advanced one. It does not go into detail for anyone starting out as most beginners can be afraid to touch their prized tree. It does offer great advice if you want to make that transition from advanced beginner to an inspiring artist.

Other sections:

  • Creating Bonsai from field grown material.
  • Developing ready grown or ‘Finished’ Bonsai.
  • Developing Bonsai from nursery stock.
  • Developing Bonsai from air-layering.
  • Creating Bonsai from trees collected in the wild

Book Name: Bonsai Inspiration

Author: Harry Harrington

ISBN: 978-953-56515-0-5

Number of Pages: 272 (Full Colour)

Price: £24.95

Link to purchase. Click here.

Thinking of Spring!

When it comes time to plan a spring garden, there are many designs from which to choose. One of the serenest and most enjoyable garden designs is a Japanese garden design. A Japanese garden is a simple garden design that creates a space that fosters calm and is perfect for meditation. The following is a guide to the elementary principles to understand to make your Japanese garden a reality.

One idea that is hard to understand at first is that everything in this style of garden needs to emulate nature to the best of its ability. That means no sharp angles can be used. You cannot use things that wouldn’t exist in nature, like a fountain for instance. Another idea essential to the design of a Japanese meditation garden is a sense of balance. These gardens are essentially efforts to recreate a natural landscape in a small space. Therefore, everything is magnified. Rocks, for instance, take on the role of mountains. Therefore, you need to take care in the size of the elements that become a part of your garden design. Perhaps the hardest element for the Western mind to grasp when designing Japanese gardens is the emptiness that they require. This empty space is known as ma. Ma defines all of the elements that surround it, and is defined by all of the things around it. Ma is one of the most important elements in this kind of Zen garden, and it is one of the most important elements to include in your design in order to create a space that encourages meditation.

A final key to the design of this style of garden is to create a sense of enclosure. This garden is meant to be a separate space that is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Therefore, it is necessary to surround it with something that shelters it. This is often a bamboo fence, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be surrounded by pine trees or other natural elements that will give it a feeling of enclosure. The most important elements to include in a Japanese garden design are rocks, sand, and water. The plants are secondary. Remember, you want this space to be minimalist with harmony and balance. Decide where to place your rocks first, and then layout the sand and water around them. This is the best way to create the most harmonious space. Everything else is secondary.

Inspiring Winter Bonsai

Bonsai artists the world over look to nature’s more spectacular trees for inspiration. A tree variety is studied year-round to understand how quickly it grows in height and width as well as what changes occur on a seasonal basis. Especially important is to see the Autumn changes.

There are some exquisite displays among the maples, oaks and elms, just to mention a few. Coniferous and most other evergreen trees do not show such profound changes in the fall, but they are striking to witness nevertheless within the context of their natural surroundings.

The sharp contrast of their foliage, trunk and branches against an azure sky and the velvety softness of moss are attributes worthy of artistic emulation. Another factor that bears investigation when looking for a suitable variety of tree to “bonsai” is its exposure. From which direction is the sun coming, and how cool or warm, moist or dry must the air and soil be? Such things as leaf size and shape, as well as capacity for color are assessed. Armed with such knowledge, the bonsai artist knows what to do to manipulate the necessary factors to ensure a brilliant Autumn display in his own miniaturized collection.

Some dramatic examples of well-known trees which inspire bonsai artists are the Lone Cypress of Monterey Peninsula, the Major Oak of Sherwood Forest, and the General Sherman of Sequoia National Park.

The Lone Cypress, with its silvery gray trunk, and deep green boughs, is windswept, salt-sprayed and clings stolidly to bare rock. It is stunted due to the constant buffeting of the elements and the lack of sufficient soil nutrients for over 200 years. Poised solitarily on a cliff jutting into the bay, it is a poor example of a Monterey Cypress; its brothers, nestled further inland are much larger. The twisted limbs and sparse foliage are stark against the backdrop of the sometimes wild ocean. But it endures, testament to a marginal existence.

the-major-oak-sherwoodAnother magnificent example is The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest in England, an amazingly large and very old tree. The folklore surrounding it captures the imagination of people everywhere, not just bonsai artists. The tree that sheltered Robin Hood and his troupe of “merrie men” has an intensely gnarled trunk which is quite thick at ten meters in girth. It never fails to give an Autumn show, although some years it is more colorfully arrayed than in others. Rising from its massive trunk are many angular, finger-like branches that bear heavy masses of leaves. The bark is scaly and rough; its trunk is split open in a gaping maw. There is speculation that the tree is really comprised of several small oaks which grew together over centuries.

Lastly, the stately General Sherman, largest of all the Sequoias, continues its inexorable climb to the heavens. Its breath-taking tonnage and sheer height are awe-inspiring. The reddish-brown, deeply-seamed trunk appears to diminish in circumference as it ascends, almost to the point of infinity, as you gaze upwards. Its birth dates back twenty-three hundred years or more. The needled branches sprout thinly in relation to the immensity of this tree, as they compete for space to grow in this forest of giants.

These famous trees are just a few favorites, the characters of which are captured within the deft manicuring, delicate pruning and careful wrapping of their elfin counterparts. In a small way, the essential experience of beholding these and other revered trees can be perennially enjoyed, through the artistry of bonsai.

Photograph by Ken Thomas.

Twenty Winter Garden Tips

When winter gets serious – no more of those little squalls that send gardeners scurrying for shelter – but days of rain and numbing cold, it can seem that hibernation really is the best way to get through winter. But once all the seed and plant catalogues and the latest books have been read, what next? You can’t huddle by that fireside forever. Well, not for much longer anyway.

Gardeners know that regardless of the weather there’s always some sort of plant oriented activity to keep them occupied. There are certainly times, however, when it’s neither desirable nor advisable to be out in the garden. So, in the spirit of keeping idle hands away from more devilish tasks, here are twenty little jobs for winter. They’re a combination of indoor tasks for the really bad days and outdoor jobs for the fine spells.

1. Make a garden journal
Update the records of your planting, sowing and things to do over the next few months. Although it can be a chore to go to the trouble of writing everything down, it’s amazing how useful good records can be. How can you know when to make changes if you can’t accurately assess the results of your past efforts? Also, order or purchase any seeds that are needed and keep them in a cardboard box, filed in the order of sowing.

2. Take hardwood cuttings
Hardwood cutting of deciduous plants can be taken as soon as the last of the foliage has fallen. The cuttings are generally quite long — around 20–30 cm — inserted in beds of fine tilled soil outdoors, and simply left to develop roots on their own accord. Many conifers too can be grown from hardwood cuttings; tear them from the stem leaving a “heel” of stem wood attached. When new growth develops it’s usually a sign that the cuttings have struck. Some may develop quickly enough to be lifted in summer, otherwise transplant or pot up when dormant in the following winter. Of course, that’s tip 21: lift last year’s hardwood cuttings.

3. Clean away any fallen debris
If left to rot on the ground, fallen leaves and fruits are great breeding and overwintering sites for pests and diseases. Take the time to rake up them up and you’ll not only lessen that risk, you’ll also have some top class composting material.

4. Make compost bins
If you don’t already have compost bins, now is the time to make them — if only to take all those fallen leaves you’ve just raked up. Slatted timber bins with removable fronts allow good air circulation and are easily made. Remember to use treated timber; while H3 will do, h3 lasts far longer. A cover is a good idea in periods of heavy rain as the rain can make the conditions too cold and wet for the composting process to work properly.

5. Plant new deciduous trees and shrubs
Field grown deciduous trees and shrubs are lifted in late May or early June and arrive in the shops soon after. Roses, fruit trees, cane fruit and large specimen trees such as oaks and maples should all be available now or very soon. Remember to prepare your soil with plenty of compost well in advance of planting.

6. Know your onions
Onions, garlic and shallots are usually first planted around the shortest day. However if the soil stays wet and cold they may be slow to start into growth and could suffer from neck rots. To help prevent this, soak the seed bulbs for a couple of hours in a systemic fungicide then allow them to dry before planting.

7. Divide hardy perennials
The toughest of the herbaceous perennials can now be lifted and divided. Large clumps can be broken up with a spade or by using the time-honoured method of prising them apart with two forks back-to-back. Divide smaller clumps with a knife or by hand. Before replanting, trim any damaged roots or stems, dust them with sulphur to prevent fungal problems and work in plenty of compost. Rhubarb crowns can be lifted now. Tender perennials are best left until late winter or early spring before dividing.

8. Why wait for spring?
There are plenty of plants that will flower early if potted up and moved indoors. While it’s getting a little late now for spring bulbs, you can still lift and pot spring-flowering shrubs such as evergreen azaleas. Bringing them indoors will soon see them in bloom. Of course, you could always simply buy some potted bulbs or hardy annuals for quick indoor colour.

9. Pruning
Apples, pears, grapes, gooseberries and other bush fruits can be pruned soon after leaf fall. Stone fruit, however, should not be pruned in winter, as the cut branches will be susceptible to invasion by silverleaf disease.

10. Feed berries, currants and other soft fruit
There’s no need for anything fancy, just a general garden fertiliser. That should encourage good growth and fruiting in the coming summer, but if the crop was poor last season try some additional sulphate of potash. And don’t forget to top it off with a decent layer of mulch, which will not only improve the soil structure but should help stop the winter rains washing the fertiliser away.

(c) Geoff Bryant
(c) Geoff Bryant

11. Liming
If liming is necessary it should be done now. Lawns often benefit from a light winter lime dressing. Vegetables usually appreciate an annual 250g/m² dressing of dolomite lime. Use dolomite lime or sulphur fertilisers to influence the colour of next season’s hydrangeas: lime for pink flowers, sulphur for blue.

12. Spraying
Spraying in winter with a copper and oil mixture will kill any dormant fungal spores and overwintering insects and help to prevent any problems developing in the spring. Lime sulphur will control any lichen deposits, though I find lichen quite attractive and unless it’s really heavily coating a plant it’s unlikely to cause any problems. Don’t use lime sulphur on foliage; it’s for deciduous plants or the trunks and larger branches of evergreens.

13. Digging
If the soil is workable it’s a good time to dig over the vegetable garden and apply compost, fertiliser and mulches. However, avoid walking on or working over very wet soils in order to prevent compaction. If you’re in an area with heavy frosts dig with a spade and leave the large sods of earth exposed to allow the frost to break them up. This results in a fine soil that is easily raked at sowing time.

14. Feed the flowers
Feed polyanthus and primroses with dried blood and liquid fertilisers. Other hardy winter- to early spring-flowering annuals, such as pansies, violas, bellis daises and calendula will also flower better with an occasional shot of a mild general garden fertiliser or liquid feed.

15. Plant strawberries
Prepare strawberry beds and set out new plants. Strawberries can rot if left sitting on wet ground. The best way to avoid this is to plant the strawberry crowns at the top of ridges around 20 cm high by 30–40 cm wide. Because rain and wind can erode the ridges it’s a good idea to cover the soil in weed matting before planting, if you can afford it. The old stand-by — straw — is alright, but it tends to get blown all over the garden.

16. Have an indoor clean-up
Winter is a good time to clean all those pots, seedling boxes and punnets that have been thrown away still encrusted with soil. If they’re to be used again they should be cleaned out with a bleach or disinfectant solution to prevent the transmission of diseases and to kill any overwintering pests.

17. Tool maintenance
Tools are obviously great labour-savers yet we often overlook even their most basic maintenance. When the weather’s too bad to work outdoors is an ideal time for stripping down tools for sharpening, lubricating, rust removing, replacing broken handles and all those other little touch-up and repair jobs that have been held-over from summer.

18. Clean out the greenhouse
As they’re used only for summer crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, many home greenhouses are empty in winter. Now, while the greenhouse is empty, get stuck in and clean the glass, replace any damaged panes or plastic sheeting and, if you’re serious about disease control, sterilise the soil. Apply fertilisers after sterilising. Over years of cultivation greenhouse soils become dry and dusty. Extra humus is required and that’s best obtained from compost. If you’re sure your compost has been thoroughly rotted at a high temperature it should be disease-free, otherwise work it in before sterilising the soil.

19. Prevent waterlogged pots
Plants grow only very slowly in winter and use far less water than in summer. Those outdoor pots you could barely keep moist in summer may now be thoroughly waterlogged. Check them after the first heavy rainfall and if necessary raise them up on bricks or small timber blocks to allow the drainage holes to work properly. If that doesn’t work try moving them to a sunnier or more sheltered position.

20. Sow early seedlings
Provided you have somewhere sheltered to harden off the seedlings, you can now make your first container sowings ready for planting out in spring. Any of the following will germinate in reasonably cool conditions, such as in an airing cupboard: alyssum, Antirrhinum, Calendula, Clarkia, cornflower, forget-me-not, larkspur, Linaria, lupins, poppies, scabious, stocks, sweet peas, sweet williams and wallflowers. The short winter days can make the seedlings drawn and lanky, so make sure they get plenty of light to prevent this happening.

So there you have it. Whatever the weather there’s always something to do gardenwise.

Styles of Bonsai

cedar-forestThere are many styles of Bonsai and all refer to natural styles in nature. Many have Japanese names such as Ikadabuki, Netsuranari, Nebari and Shari. These terms have become generic although originating in Japan and they work in the same way as Latin terminology works with garden plants. It allows everyone, no matter what country he or she is in to understand each other.

In China where the other great art of Penjing, the Chinese name for Bonsai, originated they have many styles reflecting the landscape in the many regions that these styles are commonly seen in nature. The five main regions of China have within these regions a number of forms.

My point is that while we grow Bonsai or Penjing outside Japan or China, we have to work with our own native trees and try and reflect the styles that we see around us in our own countries landscapes. This means that we should be taking the opportunity to create unique styles of American, Australian, African or Scottish Bonsai and not just Japanese or Chinese styles.

John Yoshio Naka, a great American Japanese teacher and authority on styles and size definitions, identified both the major styles and heights, which help us, determinate the style descriptions.  John is no longer with us and like many others having studied with him over the years, I was taught these styles by John and I have put his descriptions in the following chart. This is a good start to the understanding of the names in both Japanese and in English. Chinese styles have their own terminology. I teach in many different countries where English is not the prime language so the terminology is useful as everyone will understand Chokkan rather than Formal Upright. I prefer using the English terminology in English speaking countries though.

 

Japanese Name English Name
Chokkan Formal Upright No curves or bends in trunk
Moyogi Informal Upright –Trunk changing direction.
Shakan Slanted
Sho-Shakan Small Slant
Chu-Shakan Medium Slant
Dai-Shakan Extreme Slant
Hankan Very coiled trunk
Fukinagashi Windswept
Bankan Old coiled trunk
Saba kan Hollow trunk
Shari Kan Exposed deadwood on the trunk- Shari miki dead wood with dead branch stumps like fish bones
Neijikan Twisted in wind trunk and- or – branches
Kobukan Lumpy trunk, gnarled with age
Kengai Cascade.
Han Kengai Semi cascade
Dai Kengai Straight cascade, extreme or long.
Gaito Kengai A tree that is on the edge and cascades with a round Ju Shin, apex.
Taki Kengai A cascade changing direction
Ito Kengai Multiple thin cascades
Takan Kengai Twin or more trunks cascade
Netsuranari Raft style from roots
Ikada Raft style of trees from fallen trunk
Ikadabuki Raft style from a fallen tree, branches takes root.
Soju Twin trunks
Sokan Two trunks of differing size from single root
Yose-uye(pr. Yohsay-ooay) Forest / group style
Tako Zukuri Octopus style. Very twisted branches and trunk
Ishi-zuke Root over rock
Ne-agari Exposed root style-erosion exposed roots
Hoki dachi Broom style. Fan shape with even growth
Bunjin Literati. Similar to elegant Sumi paintings long trunk with slight growth at top. Not heavy
Some Trees in Japanese English Names. I have listed just a few here for general reference
Momji or Kaede Maple
Sugi Japanese Cedar
Keyaki Japanese Grey Bark Elm
Ichijiku Fig
Shide or Soro Hornbeam
Goyo-Matsu (mats) Five needle white pine (also Pinus pentaphylla)
Kuro-Matsu (mats) Japanese Black Pine, two needles
Shimpaku Juniper. The most popular Juniper grown as Bonsai
Kashu Shimpaku California Juniper. Also Utah and other similar species such as Western Juniper and Common Juniper (communis)
Benishitan Cotoneaster
Botangi Buttonwood. Silver Buttonwood. From warmer climes in America, Florida etc.
Kashi, Kunugi, Oak. Many varieties
Maki Podocarpus pine
Satsuki Flowering Azalea. Kurume Azaleas
Ezo-Matsu Spruce, Japanese. Jezo, Ezo or Yezo spruce
Ichii Yew. Japanese, American or English
Sarusuberi Crepe Myrtle
Tsuge Box. Stiff when old but great for Bonsai
Other Terms*
Ara-kawacho & Arakawa Rough bark
Mastu (Mats) Pine Bonsai
Ju –Shin Top of a Bonsai tree
Shoki Collected Bonsai that is  well established as a Bonsai
Yamadori* Collected Natural material for Bonsai or Natural Bonsai not yet refined into a Bonsai
Tangei Bonsai material or material good for making Bonsai
Bonsai A tree in a tray or container-From the Chinese Pentsai-later Sung Dynasty.
Bonkei Landscapes with other plants, animals figures, buildings etc. In China its Pentsai.
BonsekiBonsekei Landscape planting but no figures Only rocks, moss and trees.
Uro Hole in trunk with healed edges
Nebari * Surface Roots
Saba miki Split trunk
Shari kan Bark split from trunk
Shari, * & Shari Miki Exposed areas on trunkDead trunk areas with jinned twigs sticking out like spines
Jin,  & Jinn * Jinning Exposed areas on branches or tipsTo remove bark and create dead wood
Dai Table to display a Bonsai
Daiza Shaped Table or a base for a Suiseki

 

  • · common terms

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Bonsai heights and names

 

Many years ago John taught us that we need to have a structure of size descriptions as well. Bonsai come in a variety of heights ranging from one inch up to six feet. Essentially the larger Bonsai are known as Garden Bonsai or Yard Trees while most Bonsai are of a reasonable size around a maximum of 40 inches. In some instances trees that require two persons to carry it are simply big trees in pots and not accepted (in some quarters) as true Bonsai. Nothing is fixed as to what is a Bonsai however and this size chart is a guideline.

 

Sizes are measured from soil level to the Apex of the Bonsai. The right size of pot to enhance the tree acts as a frame to a picture. It should be seen but not seen. A pot should not take over from the tree but have a quiet elegance in its own right. A pot should not be a distraction.

One inch = 2.5 Centimetres

 

Height Name English or other Name
1” Keishi Tsubo Thimble size –Within the Shohin category
1-3” Shito Mini size-very small-Within the Shohin category
3-6”
Mame*
Mini size –Within the Shohin category
6-8”
Shohin*
Katade –Small Size also Gafu-Bonsai, or  Miyabi-Bonsai. (Gafu is a term for excellent small sized Bonsai)
8- 16”
Kifu
Sho or Kifu – Small to medium size
16-24”
Chu
Chuhin Medium Size
24-40”
Dai
Also Oomono – Both terms mean Large Size but Oomono means a large size that can be carried by one man.
41—65” Very large sized Bonsai. Sometimes termed as Yard Bonsai. Needs two men to carry this size. Not always accepted as Bonsai in Competition (subjective)

Article by Craig Coussins©   

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A Winter Eden

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.
It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.
It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.
So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.
A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.
by Robert Frost

Winter Sweet

While gardeners in mild, frost-free parts of the country can look forward to an abundance of flowers in any month provided heavy rain doesn’t batter the blooms too much, those of us in the colder regions have learnt to really appreciate the hardy battlers that bloom on through the frosts. And it most certainly is the frosts that make the difference.

I live in Christchurch and when I visit coastal areas like Sumner or go up on the Port Hills, which are mostly frost-free due to cold air drainage and our infamous smog-trapping inversion layer, marguerites, gazanias, proteas and pelargoniums flower on seemingly unchecked, but go back to the plains and winter can be a flowerless wilderness. With a little forethought it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many plants that flower in winter. Some such as the ericas and nerines just continue their normal autumn-blooming well into winter, but others, like the hellebores, choose the harshest days as the time to start flowering.
While the frosty winter months will never be as bright and colourful as spring and early summer they don’t have to without flowers. And with fewer competitors the winter flowers, which tend to be rather simple, are more easily seen and appreciated. Mention winter flowers and for most people two come immediately to mind: wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and the winter rose (Helleborus). While that may be because they both have winter in their names, which makes it easy to remember when they flower, it’s also convenient because they neatly define the two main types of winter flowers: winter-blooming shrubs and winter-blooming perennials, which can be further subdivided into those we value for their fragrance and those with colour. Regrettably, there are few plants that provide both scent and colour, which is sensible enough when you consider that those features are there to attract pollinators and there no point in wasting effort on providing both scent and colour when either will do.
Fragrant-flowered shrubs are the definite winter favourites. In addition to wintersweet there’s witch hazel in its various colours and sizes, the daphnes, Sarcococca and the viburnums.
Wintersweet is a twiggy 2–4m tall deciduous bush with waxy cream flowers that aren’t much to look at, but they have that scent. There are, however, two cultivars that offer a little extra colour. ‘Grandiflorus’ has larger flower, usually slight deeper in colour, and ‘Luteus’ has soft yellow flowers. None is going to attract a second glance in summer, but come midwinter and they’ll be among your garden stars.
Witch hazels too are pretty nondescript in summer, though their autumn colour can be spectacular, but come midwinter when their heavenly scented flowers begin to open and suddenly everybody wants one. They’re the sort of flowers that you can smell well before you see them. The flower colour ranges from very pale yellow of ‘Pallida’ through to a the burnt orange-brown of ‘Jelena’.
Daphnes have the advantage of being evergreen and while their individual flowers are small, they are clustered together, which means that they can be quite showy. The most widely grown is Daphne odora ‘Leucantha’, but it’s not really very frost hardy. Better for cool gardens is the taller, more erect Daphne bholua, which has very similarly coloured and scented flowers. Daphne laureola looks rather like Daphne odora in size and shape. As its tiny flowers are green you may never see them, but you will certainly smell them.
Viburnum x bodnantense and V. farreri are similar erect, twiggy, deciduous shrubs with rounded heads of small, strongly fragrant, white and pink flowers. ‘Dawn’ is a cultivar with deeper pink flowers but it’s not always easy to find in the shops.
The various Sarcococca species are spreading evergreen shrubs, the flowers of which, while often insignificant and largely hidden, are beautifully scented. Although they don’t all flower in winter, S. confusa and S. hookeriana usually do.
Some winter-flowering shrubs are not scented. My favourite is Sycopsis sinensis. It’s an evergreen witch hazel relative and while there’s no scent to its filamentous clusters tipped with pinkish-orange anthers they are very pretty when examined closely.
Garrya elliptica is like to attract far more attention as its cream flowers are held in long, pendulous, very distinctive pale grey tassels. It occurs in male and female forms and the male cultivar ‘James Roof’, which has especially long tassels, is the most sought after. Garrya starts to bloom from late autumn and can be in flower right through winter.
The Sasanqua camellias also start to bloom in autumn and will flower intermittently until spring, though from midwinter they tend to be overshadowed by the larger flowered Japonica and hybrid types. In terms of sheer showiness and variety, camellias have to be the best value among winter flowers, though they can suffer in really cold weather. A few, like the popular ‘Fairy Blush’, also offer some scent. The related genus Gordonia is also winter-flowering in mild areas, though it is less hardy.
Other than some of the cherries, such as Prunus subhirtella and the early forms of P. campanulata, hardy winter-flowering trees are rare. That’s why Magnolia campbellii is so desirable. It’s a very hardy tree-sized magnolia that can easily exceed 12m tall and which comes into flower just after the shortest day. Regrettably though, its flowers aren’t frost hardy and will turn to mush with a freeze of more than a degree or two. But that may be a chance that you’re prepared to take, because in a mild winter the effect of a 50 foot magnolia in full bloom is magnificent, even if it may only last a few days before being frosted.
Hardy winter-flowering climbers are also rare. Two species shine out here. Clematis cirrhosa has small cream flowers that are quite pretty, but they can’t match Clematis napaulensis with its graceful clusters of bell-shaped creamy white flowers with purple-pink anthers and stamens.
Now then, the winter-flowering perennials, as typified by the hellebores. Although the winter rose (Helleborus niger) has the best-known name, it’s actually Helleborus orientalis that is the most widely grown.
Helleborus niger has pink-tinted white flowers while its very popular cultivar ‘White Magic’ is an almost pure white. ‘Moonshine’ is hybrid between H. niger and and a green- and maroon-flowered species, resulting in an interesting yellow-green shade.
The flowers of Helleborus orientalis occur in a wide range of cream, pink and purple tones, can be double and will hybridise with H. niger. Other species also flower from midwinter, including the large, evergreen, early-blooming, green-flowered H. argutifolius, the smaller green-flowered H. foetidus and several species with small maroon flowers, such as H. atrorubens and H. lividus. As what we think of as the flowers of hellebores are really coloured sepals they will last long after the true flowers have died, often into spring.
Polyanthus and many of the other primulas will flower from autumn until well into spring, as do the pansies. In mild areas stocks will also flower from late winter. Some gardeners think of these highly developed bedders as perhaps just too “artificial” and baulk at the idea of instant colour. I’m not so proud. If polyanthus and pansies are what it takes to brighten the dull days then so be it.
That said I’m really much more in favour of the natural look and equally I prefer spring to winter, so the winter-flowering plants I most look forward to are those that say spring is on the way. Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), snowdrops (Galanthus), Adonis amurensis and the earliest crocuses are just the thing. Catch one of those peeping through the snow and you can just about imagine that winter is on the way out. The trouble is, that’s most often anything but true, as these little beauties can be in flower as early as a week or two after the shortest day.
So there you are; your garden doesn’t have to be dark and dull even if the days are. Nor do you have to devote much space to winter flowering plants. You need only dot a few of them around for it to become apparent that even on the coldest days nature keeps ticking over.

Image copyright – Rosemary

Bonsai knowledge for beginners

Over the past 25 years of running the Bonsai Shop in Dublin, I have come across many questions from beginners. The following is a selection of some of them with answers.

How do you take care of them?

The most important thing is watering. Bonsai need more watering than an ordinary house plant because they are in a much smaller container, and dry out faster.

Keep them near a window, if indoor , but not in strong sun.

Spray the leaves if trees are in a very warm atmosphere, in central heating, or in very hot summer weather. Alternately, keep the on a tray of moist pebbles.

Give them some fertiliser every two weeks from Feb. to Sept. and once a month in winter.

Prune them into shape now and then.. Tight at the top, loose at the sides. More details later.

Repot them every 2 to 3 years into a larger pot when they grow too big for their existing pot.



How do you water them?


First feel the soil. If it is wet your tree does not need to be watered. Water when the surface of the soil is beginning to get dry
, but never let the soil of your tree dry out completely.

Fill up a sink or basin with room temp. water, ( use rain water, or filtered if possible) and immerse tree in water to base of trunk. Leave for 2 to 3 minutes or more, if tree very dry. Take out carefully, so soil is not washed away, and let drain. Return to its’ usual position near the window. Alternately if you use a sprayer to water your tree, make sure you spray enough water so that you see water coming out the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.

Very large trees can be placed in a shower or bath and sprayed enough so the water can be seen running out of drainage holes as above.. This can also be done outdoors with a watering can for outdoor trees.


How do you shape them?

Most bonsai will have their correct shape when bought, so it is just a matter of keeping the tree in that shape. Prune it tight at the top, loose at the sides, in a pyramid rather than a lollipop shape. Generally, trim it back to the first set of leaves at the top, and to the second or third set at the sides.( Will be covered in more detail later.)

Remove any suckers at the base of the trunk, as they will take away from the shape and vigour of the tree.


How big do they grow?

You can decide that. If you want them to get larger faster just don’t trim them back as much and re-pot them into a larger pot more often. If you want them small, trim hard and often and do not re-pot so often.


The leaves on my tree have turned yellow and are falling off. What’s the cause of this?

If your tree in an outdoor deciduous tree ie. maples, beech, oak etc. they will shed their leaves in the autumn so this is natural, so don’t worry, they will return in the spring. With the evergreen types you may have a problem.

  • Bonsai, being trees, do not like to be moved. If you have just bought one, it will take a week for it to adapt to its’ new environment. Do expect your tree to shed up to 50% of its leaves, when first bought or after it has been re-potted. It should start to put out new leaves and stop shedding after 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Another reason for this can be letting the soil get too dry in between watering, or the soil was left very dry for several days ie, if you were away on holidays. This can cause severe damage to the tree and they will die if left too long without water.
  • This problem is made worse if the tree is left in strong sun. Indoor bonsai should only be left in early morning or evening sun from March to September. But the more light and sun they get in the winter the better. Most of the outdoor trees will also not tolerate hot mid-day summer sun, so give them shade or position them in morning or evening sun.
  • The other reason for leaf fall can be too hot and dry an atmosphere. Keep away from heaters, fireplaces, top of TVs and cookers. They like a cool, moist position. Keep on a tray of moist pebbles if the room is very warm.
  • The last reason can be lack of light. Make sure your tree is no more than 3 ft from a bright window. If all your windows are very sunny, move it back enough so it is not in the sun through the summer months. If window has no sun, keep on window sill.

Can I keep my tree under a lamp as my office has no natural light?

Afraid not. Artificial light is like being in the dark for plants. They have to have natural light. There are special growing lights you can buy, but they are expensive.


Can I keep my tree in a conservatory?

A conservatory with temp. between 10 and 20 degrees is ideal in winter for most indoor bonsai, but is usually too hot in summer. Outdoor trees can be kept in a cold conservatory in very cold weather, but put them out again as soon as the weather turns mild.


Can I keep an outdoor tree indoors?

Yes, for short periods but not permanently. Deciduous tree need the change of seasons to know what to do .They have to have cold in winter in order to go dormant, and the heat indoors will cause them to come out too early in spring. Their growth will be pale and weak and unhealthy. They can be brought in for a week, now and then, and keep in a cool bright position.

Evergreens can be kept indoors safely for 2 to 3 weeks, also in a bright cool position.

Make sure not to move a tree from a warm temp to cool suddenly. Harden your tree off for a few days, leaving out during the day and in at night.


Can I keep an indoor tree outdoors?

Yes, but only in the summer from mid May to mid Sept. Most sub tropical trees cannot take frost. The Chinese elm and Ligustrum will be happy outdoors if kept in sheltered position. All trees enjoy prolonged periods outdoors in summer. It makes them healthier, happier and less prone to diseases, just like us.


Pests and Diseases.

Bonsai can be prone to pests and diseases the same as any plant. These should be treated as soon as possible as they can cause serious damage to your tree. Spray with appropriate insecticide at first sign of attack. Always spray at least twice. Red spider mite flourishes in dry, warm conditions. Spraying with water helps keep it at bay.

White fungus or mildew on leaves or soil can be caused by over watering, or lack of light. Make sure that the tree get as much light and sun as possible in the winter and kept as close to the window as possible, without it being in a draught. Also, always feel the surface of the soil before watering and do not water if wet.

Remove leaves that are badly damaged from mildew or black spot, and spray with a systemic fungicide.

Great Bonsai, part one

Bonsai that mysterious tree that has intrigued and inspired many great artists has been around for many centuries.

One great example is a famous tree known as the  ‘Hiroshima Survivor’, a 400 year old Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora ‘Miyajima’) that survived the bombing of Hiroshima by the infamous bomber ‘Enola Gay’ in 1945.

Ironically in 1976 the tree was donated to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the United States National Arboretum, as a gift to celebrate the American Bicentennial. The tree was presented by the Japanese Bonsai master Masaru Yamaki.

Image copyright by Ragesoss [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

The Blushing Bride Protea

The Protea family (Proteaceae) includes a wide range of ground covers, trees and shrubs that often make superb garden plants. While some of the species are frost-tender, they are in all other respects remarkably resilient plants that often thrive in situations where others would rapidly succumb. Poor soils and hot dry positions that scarcely seem capable of supporting life are often ideal for Proteaceae. If any plants could be said to thrive on neglect the proteas can.

Proteas (the term is often used collectively as well as for the genus itself) are a variable group. Indeed, the family was named after Proteus, a Greek god capable of changing his shape at will. It includes some 60 genera and 1400 species of Southern Hemisphere plants, the bulk of which are native to southern Africa and Australia with the remainder coming from South America and many of the Pacific islands, including two species (Knightia excelsa and Toronia toru) from New Zealand.
There is an enormous variety of foliage among the proteas. It is almost always evergreen, but may be needle-like, as with many grevilleas; long, narrow and serrated like that of Dryandra formosa; or rounded and leathery like the leaves of Protea cynaroides. Some genera, particularly Leucadendron, include species with brightly coloured foliage, the intensity of which varies with the season. Leucadendron stems retain their colour for weeks when cut and are an important part of the cut flower industry.
Protea flowers are composed of clusters of narrow tubes that are often curved. These ‘spider’ flowers are seen at their simplest in the two native species and some of the grevilleas. In many cases what appears to be the flower is actually a bract of brightly coloured leaves surrounding the true flowers. The most impressive example of this is the dinner plate-sized flower head of Protea cynaroides. The flowering season also varies; many proteas and grevilleas flower in winter, while leucospermums tend to flower in summer. With careful selection it is possible to plants in flower all year round.
The flowers often contain large quantities of nectar that many birds relish. Some species have very sticky flowers that will trap visiting insects, especially bees an this slightly sinister side of the flower appears to serve no particular purpose.
The South African and Australian Proteaceae tend to be at their best in warm, dry conditions and often thrive in coastal areas. Inland, unseasonable early and late frosts often kill all but the hardiest specimens. The South American genera tend to be hardier and prefer somewhat damper conditions. Embothrium in particular, can withstand hard frosts and is grown over most of the country. But where winter temperatures regularly drop to -6°C or lower, most proteas require frost protection.
Cultivation
Other than a suitable climate, the key to success with proteas is establishing the right soil conditions. The protea family is mainly adapted to mineral based soils that drain very quickly and which often have low nutrient levels. These soils tend to be moderately acid and are often especially low in phosphates.
Good drainage is absolutely essential. Rich loams and heavy clays do not make good protea soils. If you have a heavy soil do not try to improve it by adding sand or shingle as this will often make the problem worse; the soil binds with the sand and shingle and sets like concrete. Instead add more humus. Proteas would not appreciate the rapid burst of nutrients from a rich compost so the humus used should be fairly low in nutrients. Natural leaf mould and rotted pine needles work well. To avoid these materials compacting down into a poor draining thatch, incorporate about 50% fine shingle grit by volume and combine the mix with the existing soil.
Most proteaceous plants come from areas with low rainfall or where the rains are strictly seasonal. Many are coastal plants although most of the South African genera include alpine or sub-alpine species. Knightia from New Zealand and Embothrium from Chile are exceptions; they usually occur away from the coast, in areas where rainfall is quite high and not seasonal. Nevertheless, they still demand excellent drainage.
Although proteas are remarkably resilient and not difficult to grow there seems to be some common myths regarding their cultivation. Like most myths these have some basis in fact, but they can be misleading.
Myth 1: feeding proteas will kill them.
That’s not strictly true. Proteas need nutrients just like any other plant, but their are a little more exacting than some. It’s not fertiliser that does the damage but high phosphate levels and intense bursts of nutrients that lead to overly rapid growth. Avoid most general garden fertilisers, fresh animal manures and anything with added superphosphate. Because proteas will tolerate poor soils, it is often easier not to feed them rather than risk damage, but you’ll certainly get better results if you apply a slow release, low phosphate fertiliser in late winter and mid summer. This will keep the plants growing slowly but steadily; any bolting into growth tends to weaken them.
Myth 2: proteas only grow near the coast.
Not true. Many proteaceous plants come from inland areas. They will tolerate salt breezes but there is no general preference for coastal conditions.
Myth 3: proteas like wind.
That’s also not entirely true. Proteaceous plants do not tolerate wet foliage or high humidity for long periods and in areas prone to these conditions extra ventilation will help reduce the incidence of fungal diseases. However, most proteas have brittle branches that snap or split in strong winds so there’s no reason to presume that they prefer windy locations.
Myth 4: proteas need a hot sunny position.
Yes, most Proteaceae prefer full sun or something near to it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the hottest, most baked position you can find. Although they will survive severe conditions once established, extreme heat and drought will cause damage, especially to young plants. Shade from the hottest sun will prolong the flower display and, provided the drainage is good, occasional deep watering is also recommended.
Myth 5: proteas are short-lived.
Some are and some aren’t. Old plants are normally removed long before the end of their natural lives because they tend to become rather woody and untidy. You can generally reckon on a useful lifetime of at least 8 years for Leucadendron and Leucospermum, and around 12 years for Protea. However, large species, such as Grevillea robusta and Banksia integrifolia, may continue to be effective garden plants for several decades.
Planting
Most proteaceous plants are sold in containers and are ready to plant right away. However, the best planting time depends on your climate. Autumn or winter is best in mild areas as this is when moisture requirements are at their lowest, while spring is the preferred time if regular frosts are expected as this allows the young plants to get well established before having to endure winter conditions.
Start by digging a hole at least twice the size of the plant’s container, this large volume of loose soil will encourage good root development.. Additional drainage material can be added to the hole if necessary, otherwise planting is just a matter of removing the plant from its container, loosening any spiralling roots before placing in the hole, then refilling the hole and firming the plant into position. Large specimens will require staking to prevent wind damage.
Cut flower use
Many proteaceous plants make excellent long-lasting cut flowers. Leucadendrons in particular are widely planted solely for the purpose of providing material for floral decorations. Protea, Leucospermum, Banksia and Serruria flowers can all be used to make impressive large arrangements while the less dramatic blooms of Grevillea and Isopogon are better suited to more dainty work.
Some flowers, particularly goblet-shaped Protea flowers dry well although they do tend to disintegrate rather suddenly after a few months. Other genera such as Banksia and Leucadendron produce seed heads or cones that can be used in dried arrangements.
Pruning
Most proteaceous plants need occasional trimming and tidying. This may be to improve their growth habit or to remove old flowers or seed heads that have become dry and unsightly.
How far to cut back is the usual question. This varies with the genera, although as a rule only light pruning is recommended as there is a general reluctance among proteas to reshoot from bare wood. Of the common genera Banksia and Grevillea will withstand hard trimming, as will Leucadendron, Telopea and Mimetes, but pruning of Dryandra, Leucospermum, Serruria, Paranomus and most Protea species should be restricted to a light annual trimming.
The best time to prune is usually immediately after flowering unless you want to leave a few seed heads to mature for use as dried decorations. In areas where there is the possibility of frost damage, it is advisable to leave pruning autumn and winter-flowering plants until spring.
Container Growing
Some proteaceae can make good container plants, but you will have to be careful with your choice of potting mixes and fertilisers. Potting mixes need to be very free draining and often benefit from added coarse material such as shingle chips or pumice. Bark based mixes seem to work well but some growers feel they produce too much ethylene, which may harm the plants in the long run. Many commercial growers use soil based mixes and they generally prefer relatively poor and gritty volcanic soils.
Even plants with low nutrient demands will eventually exhaust their potting mix, so you will have to apply fertiliser occasionally. Use mild liquid fertilisers or special low-phosphate slow release pellets. Provided you are cautious the plants should respond well.
Propagation
Proteas can be frustratingly difficult plants to propagate. Fresh seed often germinates well only for the seedlings to collapse after a few weeks. This is usually due to a fungal disease that blackens the foliage and eventually kills the young seedlings. Regular fungicide applications are important. Prick out the young seedlings into a coarse, free draining, unfertilised potting mix once they have their first true leaves.
Cultivars and selected forms must be propagated vegetatively. The usual method is firm semi-ripe cuttings in late summer and autumn. The success rate varies markedly; some cultivars, such as Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, strike quite easily while many others may be virtually impossible without professional equipment.
Pests and Diseases
Grown under the right conditions proteaceous plants are relatively free of pests and diseases, or rather they’re not attacked by anything out of the ordinary. The most widespread problems are leaf roller caterpillars and scale insects, which can eventually lead to sooty mould.
When growing proteas from seed you will doubtless lose some to the fungal disease mentioned above. This disease, which appears to be a type of damping off, can sometimes also attack more mature plants. It appears to be far worse in excessively wet conditions or after long periods of high humidity. Good ventilation and avoidance of overcrowding are effective preventatives and regular spraying with fungicides may control the problem.
Common genera
Many of these plants are not widely available at garden centres, although specialist growers would consider them to be just the most common genera and are likely to stock others as well. All of the species and genera covered here are evergreen unless otherwise stated.
Aulax
This is a South African genus of small to medium sized shrubs. This genus and Leucadendron are the only dioecious (separate male and female plants) members of the Proteaceae. Seed of all three species, Aulax cancellata, Aulax pallasia and Aulax umbellata, is available but only Aulax cancellata is commonly planted. It grows to 1.5-2m × 1m and has fine needle-like leaves. In spring, female plants produce red edged yellow flowers that develop into red seed cones. The catkin-like male flowers are yellow, as are those of Aulax pallasia and Aulax umbellata, the female flowers of which are not very showy. Aulax pallasia grows to about 3 m and Aulax umbellata about 1.5m. All are hardy to about -5°C and are usually raised from seed.
Banksia
An Australian genus of about 60 species, ranging in size from ground covers to medium-sized trees. The flowering season is primarily from late winter to late spring and most species have cylindrical cone-like flower heads composed of densely packed filamentous styles radiating from a central core. Creamy yellow to light golden-yellow is the predominant colour range, although a few species, such as Banksia ericifolia and Banksia praemorsa, have golden-orange flowers and those of Banksia coccinea are red. Most species have narrow serrated leaves that are mid to deep green above and silvery grey on the undersides but Banksia ericifolia has fine needle-like leaves. Leaf size varies from very small up to the 50cm long leaves of Banksia grandis. Hardiness varies with the species, some are quite frost tender but some will tolerate -10°C.
Relatively few are seen in nurseries but the seed of most species can be obtained from Australia. Banksia ericifolia and Banksia integrifolia are the most widely grown and are also the hardiest of the common species, both withstanding -10°C once well established. There are hardly any cultivars or selected forms of Banksia in cultivation. Species may be raised from seed and most will also strike quite freely from semi-ripe cuttings.
Dryandra
An Australian genus of around 60 species of shrubs ranging in height from about 1-4 m. Most have narrow, mid to deep green leaves that are often very long and narrow with sharply toothed edges. The rounded flower heads, which appear from mid winter, are usually light to bright yellow. The most common species is Dryandra formosa, which grows to about 3m and is hardy to around -5°C once established (most of the other species are less hardy). Dryandras are superb long-lasting cut flowers and some will also dry well. They will grow on extremely poor soil and generally react badly to most fertilisers. Raise from seed or semi-ripe cuttings, which are often difficult to strike.
Embothrium
The Chilean Fire Bush (Embothrium coccineum) is a small tree around 5m × 2.5m. It has 100mm long, leathery, bright green leaves that may become somewhat sparse on older plants. In mid to late spring the tree turns vivid orange-red as the honeysuckle-like tubular flowers open – the flowering season is brief but spectacular. Two forms are grown: ‘Longifolium’ and ‘Lanceolatum’; ‘Longifolium’ is the more common cultivar. It is a vigorous upright plant that is quite drought tolerant and hardy to about -10°C. ‘Lanceolatum’ is a stockier grower with narrow leaves. It demands more moisture but withstands harder frosts, up to -15°C with some protection. However, in very cold winters it may lose up to two thirds of its foliage. Overall Embothrium requires more moisture than most Proteaceae but good drainage is still important. It may be grown from seed but is usually propagated by semi-ripe cuttings.
Grevillea
With some 250 species, this is the largest of the Australian proteaceous genera. Most of the common garden species and cultivars are ground covers to medium-sized shrubs (up to 3m) with needle-like foliage. However, some species are far larger. The silky oak (Grevillea robusta), which is often seen in mild area, can grow to 20m and in common with most of the larger species it has large pinnate leaves. Grevillea banksii has similar foliage but only grows to about 3.5m × 3m.
The more densely foliaged plants, especially Grevillea juniperina and Grevillea rosmarinifolia, are often used as hedging plants. These plants grow to at least 1.5m high.
Grevillea flowers are often describe as ‘spider flowers’. This refers to the styles of some species, which tend to radiate from the centre like a spider’s legs. Some species have ‘toothbrush’ flowers; the styles are all on one side like the bristles of a toothbrush. The best known example of this type of flower is the common red-flowered cultivar ‘Robin Hood’.
Many Grevillea cultivars are cultivated and they generally adapt well to garden conditions. Among the more popular are ‘Jenkinsii’ (a heavy flowering form of the red-flowered Grevillea rosmarinifolia), ‘Robyn Gordon’ (orange-red to red toothbrush flowers) ×gaudichaudii (deep red), ‘Austraflora Canterbury Gold’ (light golden yellow) and many of the Poorinda cultivars. Grevilleas are among the more widely available proteaceous plants and most nurseries stock a good selection.
The species and hybrids vary enormously in hardiness. Some will stand little or no frost but others, such as Grevillea rosmarinifolia, will tolerate frosts of -10°C or lower; all prefer full sun with good drainage. The species are easily raised from seed and most hybrids strike quite freely from semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer or autumn.
Hakea
This Australian genus includes about 130 species, few of which are widely cultivated. The most common is probably Hakea laurina, the Pincushion Hakea. When not in flower, this species could easily be mistaken for a small eucalyptus. It has bluish-green narrow, oblong to sickle-shaped leaves and reddish-brown bark. It grows to about 6m × 4m and mature trees have a slightly weeping habit. The name pincushion refers to the flowers, which are spherical, with numerous radiating styles. They appear in late autumn and early winter, opening cream and turning to orange and red as they age. This shrub is hardy to about -5°C once well established and is easily grown in most well-drained soils.
Of the other species, the most common are Hakea salicifolia, Hakea prostrata and Hakea sericea. They are hardy to about -8°C or slightly lower and are easily grown in most soils. Hakea salicifolia has narrow, willow-like leaves, spidery, white flowers that are produced in spring. It grows up to 5m high and will tolerate poor drainage. Hakea prostrata and Hakea sericea have fine needle-like leaves and white or pale pink flowers in winter and early spring. It grows to about 3m × 2m. All member of this genus are usually raised from seed but some can be grown from cuttings. A few, such as H. franciscana, are weak growers that often perform better when grafted onto more vigorous stocks, such as Hakea salicifolia.
Isopogon
Drumsticks, which refers to the shape of the flower stems and unopened buds, is a name often used for Isopogon anemonifolius but it can also be applied to the genus as a whole. It is an Australian genus of 34 species of small to medium sized shrubs, most of which grow from 1-2m high and about as wide. They have a preference for poor but well-drained soil and will quickly collapse if over-watered or overfed. Most species have narrow lanceolate leaves about 75mm long and some, such as the common Isopogon anemonifolius, have finely cut foliage reminiscent of Marguerite daisy or Anemone leaves.
The flower heads, which open in spring and early summer, are composed of a central cone from which radiate numerous styles. Some species have short stiff styles but in others they are long and filamentous. The flower colours are mainly white, yellow or pink. The two most widely grown species, Isopogon anemonifolius and Isopogon anethifolius are hardy to about -5°C, but many species, such as Isopogon cuneatus and the temptingly beautiful pink and yellow-flowered Isopogon latifolius, are damaged at temperatures below -2°C. Isopogon species are usually raised from seed.
Knightia
The Rewa Rewa or New Zealand Honeysuckle (Knightia excelsa) is the best known of the two New Zealand proteaceous species. In the wild it can grow to be a tall narrow tree up to 25m high and it is one of the few proteaceous plants to have been harvested for its timber, which is very attractively marked. In gardens it is more restrained and seldom exceeds 8m × 3.5m. Rewa rewa has semi-glossy, deep green to bronze-green, narrow, lanceolate to oblong leaves that are very tough and leathery. In summer it produces tubular honeysuckle-like flowers that develop from buds covered in a reddish brown tomentum. As the flowers open the tomentum covered sepals and the petals curl back to form a congested mass in the centre of the flower head. The flowers, which can smell unpleasant, are followed by conspicuous brown, velvety seed pods. Rewa Rewa is easily grown in moist well-drained soil in sun or partial shade and is hardy to about -5°C or slightly lower once established. It may be grown in any coastal area if protected when young. New Zealand honeysuckle is usually raised from seed and garden centres often stock ready-grown plants.
Leucadendron
Species of this genus are the most widely grown of the South African Proteaceae and many are valued for the long-lasting qualities of their flower bracts once cut. Most are medium-sized shrubs around 1-2.5m high. However, one of the best known species, the silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum), can grow to 10m high and the less widely grown Leucadendron eucalyptifolium may reach 5m.
Many species and cultivars are grown, but probably the most widely planted is ‘Safari Sunset’. It is a hybrid between Leucadendron laureolum and Leucadendron salignum and is fairly typical of the genus. It has narrow, lanceolate leaves that are up to 100mm long. Some species, such as L. argenteum, have tomentose foliage but ‘Safari Sunset’ does not. The upward-facing foliage densely covers the narrow, upright branches and develops deep red tints at the flowering tips. Deep red leaf bracts enclose the flower cones. As the insignificant flowers near maturity, the bracts become intensely coloured. ‘Safari Sunset’ has red bracts but others develop cream, yellow, pink or orange tones. ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ (yellow and orange-red), ‘Maui Sunset’ (cream, yellow and red) and ‘Rewa Gold’ (yellow) are among the most spectacular. Leucadendrons generally develop their best colours from mid to late winter but ‘Jester’ a pink, cream and green variegated sport of ‘Safari Sunset’ is brightly coloured throughout the year.
The species and hybrids vary considerably in hardiness but most will tolerate frosts of at least -3°C provided they have good drainage and the humidity is not excessive. ‘Safari Sunset’ is hardy to about -8°C and most of the numerous Leucadendron salignum and Leucadendron laureolum hybrids are nearly as hardy. In the North Island leucadendrons generally thrive in all but the coldest central areas and they can be grown with varying degrees of success in all coastal areas of the South Island.
Leucadendrons can be tricky to propagate. Reasonably firm cuttings taken in early autumn are usually the easiest to strike but gardeners without specialised propagating facilities may experience problems and although seed germinates well, it is inclined to damp off. Garden centres often stock a good range of plants.
Leucospermum
A South African genus of about 50 species, most of which are medium to large shrubs that grow to about 1.5-3m high. Some, such as Leucospermum reflexum, have strongly upright growth habits but most, including the commonly cultivated species, Leucospermum cordifolium, are dense and bushy. Both of these species have tomentose greyish-green leaves that are usually broadly oval shaped, often with small red-tipped lobes. The leaves of Leucospermum reflexum are narrower and greyer than those of Leucospermum cordifolium. Leucospermum reflexum can grow to 3m × 3m but Leucospermum cordifolium is usually around 1.5m × 1.5m.
The flowers are variously described as Catherine wheels, pincushions and sky rockets, all of which refer to the numerous radiating styles. These are often incurved, creating a cupped effect. The flower heads of Leucospermum cordifolium are quite globular while those of Leucospermum reflexum have drooping styles at the base of the flower. The flowers usually appear in late spring and continue for about two months. They are attractive when fresh but often become unsightly once they die off.
Most garden leucospermums are cultivars of Leucospermum cordifolium and are hardy to occasional frosts of about -5°C, but they resent wet or humid winter conditions, which can often lead to tip die back. Good drainage is also very important. Cuttings taken in early autumn are the most likely to strike but without proper equipment they may prove difficult and seed often germinates well only to be killed by fungal diseases. Gritty well-drained soil, regular fungicide use and just enough water to keep the seedlings standing up are the keys to success. The orange-flowered ‘Harry Chittick’ is the plant most commonly stocked by nurseries and it is one that performs very well.
Mimetes
This South African genus includes 11 species, only one of which is widely grown. Mimetes cucullatus has 40mm long oblong leaves with small lobes at the tips, that densely cover the branches like upward facing scales. The small white flowers are enclosed within leaf bracts that change colour to a bright red as the flower buds mature. Mimetes may flower throughout the year but is usually at its best in late spring when the new growth appears, as this is also red. Mimetes cucullatus grows to about 1.5m × 1.5m and is hardy to around -3°C. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and is not very drought tolerant. This species is usually raised from seed.
Paranomus
The most common species of this 18-species genus, Paranomus reflexus, is an undemanding 1.5m × 1.8m bush with bright yellow bottle-brush-like flower heads in winter and spring. The foliage is anemone-like and very finely cut; the flower stems have small diamond shaped leaves just below the flower heads. It is easily grown in any well-drained soil in full sun. Although the plant is hardy to about -5°C, the flowers are damaged by frosts over -2°C. It is usually raised from seed.
Persoonia
An Australian genus of around 75 species of shrubs, mostly under 2 m tall and some quite small. Known as geebungs, by far the best-known species is the Pine-leaf Geebung (Persoonia pinifolia), an eastern Australian native that is one of the larger species, capable of reaching 3 m tall. It has a weeping habit, fine needle-like leaves and small yellow flowers. Most geebungs will tolerate about 2 to 5°C of frost.
Protea
Protea is a genus of about 80 species that is confined to southern Africa and concentrated around the Cape of Good Hope. The species range in size from less than 50cm high to over 4m. Most commonly grown proteas are small to medium sized shrubs in the 1-2.5m high range.
The best known species is Protea neriifolia. It has narrow leaves up to 150mm long that are covered with a fine tomentum when young. In autumn, winter and spring, upright, 125mm long × 75mm wide goblet-shaped flowers are carried at the tips of the branches. They are composed of a woolly central cone surrounded by overlapping, upward-facing, petal-like, deep reddish-pink bracts tipped with a fringe of black hairs. Many forms with varying colours of bract and tip hairs are grown. Several other species, such as Protea magnifica and Protea laurifolia, have similar flowers.
The central cone, often with many incurving styles, is common to all Protea species but the arrangement of the bracts varies. Many have them arranged in a stellate or star-shaped fashion. The King Protea (Protea cynaroides) is the best known of this type. Its flowers can be up to 300mm in diameter. The flowers of the king protea face upwards but others, such as greenish-yellow-flowered Protea sulphurea, have downward facing flowers.
The foliage is also variable. It may be needle-like, as in Protea nana, lanceolate, oblong or rounded. It can be silvery grey, glaucous or bright green depending on the species and it may or may not be tomentose.
Likewise, hardiness varies considerably. Most species will tolerate at least -3°C with good drainage and low humidity but many are considerably tougher. Protea neriifolia will withstand -5°C and Protea grandiceps will often survive -10°C when well established. Proteas do well over most of the North Island and many species can be grown as far south as Christchurch with a little winter protection.
Protea species are often raised from seed, which germinates well, but the seedlings may be difficult to keep alive. Hybrids and cultivars must be propagated vegetatively. The usual method is firm semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer and autumn. Specialist growers stock many species and cultivars while garden centres seldom have anything other than the most common plants.
Serruria
Blushing Bride (Serruria florida) is very popular with florists because its Nigella-like papery white bracts are very delicate and last well as cut flowers. The bracts, which are surrounded with finely cut lacy leaves, are produced freely in winter and spring. Blushing Bride can be difficult to grow, because not only is it frost tender (it tolerates only occasional exposure to -2°C), it must also have full sun and absolutely perfect drainage. It is one of a genus of 44 species from South Africa, of which the only other species commonly grown is Serruria rosea. It is a densely foliaged 70cm × 90cm bush with small pink bracts and is slightly hardier and definitely easier to grow than Serruria florida. Serruria species should be raised from seed.
Stenocarpus
The Queensland Firewheel Tree (Stenocarpus sinuata) is a large tree (12m × 8m) that produces a magnificent display of orange to red flowers in summer. It has large, glossy, dark green leaves that are deeply lobed. The flowers are tubular and are carried in flattened clusters that radiate spoke-like from a central hub, hence the name firewheel tree. It is hardy to about -4°C once well established but is very tender when young and does best in moist well-drained soil in full sun. Stenocarpus salignus is a species with long, narrow leaves and cream flowers. It is smaller and hardier than Stenocarpus sinuata. Stenocarpus is usually raised from seed.
Telopea
Natives of Australia, the waratah genus includes just four species. The New South Wales waratah (Telopea speciosissima), which is the one most commonly grown has oblong, finely serrated leaves that are up to 125mm long with small notches or lobes at the tips. It develops into a large shrub or small tree up to 5m × 5m. The flowers, which are produced in spring and carried at the tips of the branches, are impressively large, bright red, and composed of numerous incurving styles surrounded by red foliage bracts. Several cultivars, such as the semi-dwarf ‘Forest Fire’ (2m × 2m) are reasonably commonly available. The ‘Victorian Waratah’ (Telopea oreades) is a similar plant with slightly lighter coloured leaves and flowers. Both of these species and the cultivars are hardy to around -8°C.
Waratahs prefer moist well-drained soil in full sun and once established they require little care. But many die during the initial establishment period. This is possibly due to essential mycorrhiza failing to establish. These minute fungi form a symbiotic relationship with the plants’ roots and are vital in the uptake of nutrients. It has been suggested that taking soil from around an established waratah and putting it around new plants may help lessen these establishment difficulties. Waratahs may be raised from seed or semi-ripe cuttings but they are difficult to raise. Some success has been achieved with tissue culture and this is how some of the new cultivars are produced.
Toronia
The sole species in this genus is the lesser known of the two New Zealand proteaceous species. Formerly listed as Persoonia toru, it is now known as Toronia toru. A small bushy tree that can grow to about 9m × 5m, it is usually far smaller in gardens. The narrow, lanceolate olive green to bronze leaves are about 100mm long but may grow to over 150mm on mature trees in sheltered sites. The buff coloured starry flowers, which appear in late winter and early spring, are carried in racemes and develop from golden brown felted buds. It is easily grown in any moist well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade and is hardy to about -8°C once established. Toronia toru is a relatively unspectacular plant but its flowers are pleasantly honey-scented and it is interesting because it is one of our more unusual natives. This species may be grown from cuttings, but as they are usually difficult to strike, seed is the preferred method.

The protea family (Proteaceae) includes a wide range of ground covers, trees and shrubs that often make superb garden plants. While some of the species are frost-tender, they are in all other respects remarkably resilient plants that often thrive in situations where others would rapidly succumb. Poor soils and hot dry positions that scarcely seem capable of supporting life are often ideal for Proteaceae. If any plants could be said to thrive on neglect the proteas can. Proteas (the term is often used collectively as well as for the genus itself) are a variable group. Indeed, the family was named after Proteus, a Greek god capable of changing his shape at will. It includes some 60 genera and 1400 species of Southern Hemisphere plants, the bulk of which are native to southern Africa and Australia with the remainder coming from South America and many of the Pacific islands, including two species (Knightia excelsa and Toronia toru) from New Zealand. There is an enormous variety of foliage among the proteas. It is almost always evergreen, but may be needle-like, as with many grevilleas; long, narrow and serrated like that of Dryandra formosa; or rounded and leathery like the leaves of Protea cynaroides. Some genera, particularly Leucadendron, include species with brightly coloured foliage, the intensity of which varies with the season. Leucadendron stems retain their colour for weeks when cut and are an important part of the cut flower industry. Protea flowers are composed of clusters of narrow tubes that are often curved. These ‘spider’ flowers are seen at their simplest in the two native species and some of the grevilleas. In many cases what appears to be the flower is actually a bract of brightly coloured leaves surrounding the true flowers. The most impressive example of this is the dinner plate-sized flower head of Protea cynaroides. The flowering season also varies; many proteas and grevilleas flower in winter, while leucospermums tend to flower in summer. With careful selection it is possible to plants in flower all year round. The flowers often contain large quantities of nectar that many birds relish. Some species have very sticky flowers that will trap visiting insects, especially bees an this slightly sinister side of the flower appears to serve no particular purpose. The South African and Australian Proteaceae tend to be at their best in warm, dry conditions and often thrive in coastal areas. Inland, unseasonable early and late frosts often kill all but the hardiest specimens. The South American genera tend to be hardier and prefer somewhat damper conditions. Embothrium in particular, can withstand hard frosts and is grown over most of the country. But where winter temperatures regularly drop to -6°C or lower, most proteas require frost protection. Cultivation Other than a suitable climate, the key to success with proteas is establishing the right soil conditions. The protea family is mainly adapted to mineral based soils that drain very quickly and which often have low nutrient levels. These soils tend to be moderately acid and are often especially low in phosphates.

Good drainage is absolutely essential. Rich loams and heavy clays do not make good protea soils. If you have a heavy soil do not try to improve it by adding sand or shingle as this will often make the problem worse; the soil binds with the sand and shingle and sets like concrete. Instead add more humus. Proteas would not appreciate the rapid burst of nutrients from a rich compost so the humus used should be fairly low in nutrients. Natural leaf mould and rotted pine needles work well. To avoid these materials compacting down into a poor draining thatch, incorporate about 50% fine shingle grit by volume and combine the mix with the existing soil. Most proteaceous plants come from areas with low rainfall or where the rains are strictly seasonal. Many are coastal plants although most of the South African genera include alpine or sub-alpine species. Knightia from New Zealand and Embothrium from Chile are exceptions; they usually occur away from the coast, in areas where rainfall is quite high and not seasonal. Nevertheless, they still demand excellent drainage. Although proteas are remarkably resilient and not difficult to grow there seems to be some common myths regarding their cultivation. Like most myths these have some basis in fact, but they can be misleading.

Myth 1: feeding proteas will kill them. That’s not strictly true. Proteas need nutrients just like any other plant, but their are a little more exacting than some. It’s not fertiliser that does the damage but high phosphate levels and intense bursts of nutrients that lead to overly rapid growth. Avoid most general garden fertilisers, fresh animal manures and anything with added superphosphate. Because proteas will tolerate poor soils, it is often easier not to feed them rather than risk damage, but you’ll certainly get better results if you apply a slow release, low phosphate fertiliser in late winter and mid summer. This will keep the plants growing slowly but steadily; any bolting into growth tends to weaken them. Myth 2: proteas only grow near the coast. Not true. Many proteaceous plants come from inland areas. They will tolerate salt breezes but there is no general preference for coastal conditions. Myth 3: proteas like wind. That’s also not entirely true. Proteaceous plants do not tolerate wet foliage or high humidity for long periods and in areas prone to these conditions extra ventilation will help reduce the incidence of fungal diseases. However, most proteas have brittle branches that snap or split in strong winds so there’s no reason to presume that they prefer windy locations. Myth 4: proteas need a hot sunny position. Yes, most Proteaceae prefer full sun or something near to it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the hottest, most baked position you can find. Although they will survive severe conditions once established, extreme heat and drought will cause damage, especially to young plants. Shade from the hottest sun will prolong the flower display and, provided the drainage is good, occasional deep watering is also recommended. Myth 5: proteas are short-lived.
Some are and some aren’t. Old plants are normally removed long before the end of their natural lives because they tend to become rather woody and untidy. You can generally reckon on a useful lifetime of at least 8 years for Leucadendron and Leucospermum, and around 12 years for Protea. However, large species, such as Grevillea robusta and Banksia integrifolia, may continue to be effective garden plants for several decades. Planting Most proteaceous plants are sold in containers and are ready to plant right away. However, the best planting time depends on your climate. Autumn or winter is best in mild areas as this is when moisture requirements are at their lowest, while spring is the preferred time if regular frosts are expected as this allows the young plants to get well established before having to endure winter conditions. Start by digging a hole at least twice the size of the plant’s container, this large volume of loose soil will encourage good root development.. Additional drainage material can be added to the hole if necessary, otherwise planting is just a matter of removing the plant from its container, loosening any spiralling roots before placing in the hole, then refilling the hole and firming the plant into position. Large specimens will require staking to prevent wind damage. Cut flower use
Many proteaceous plants make excellent long-lasting cut flowers. Leucadendrons in particular are widely planted solely for the purpose of providing material for floral decorations. Protea, Leucospermum, Banksia and Serruria flowers can all be used to make impressive large arrangements while the less dramatic blooms of Grevillea and Isopogon are better suited to more dainty work. Some flowers, particularly goblet-shaped Protea flowers dry well although they do tend to disintegrate rather suddenly after a few months. Other genera such as Banksia and Leucadendron produce seed heads or cones that can be used in dried arrangements. Pruning
Most proteaceous plants need occasional trimming and tidying. This may be to improve their growth habit or to remove old flowers or seed heads that have become dry and unsightly. How far to cut back is the usual question. This varies with the genera, although as a rule only light pruning is recommended as there is a general reluctance among proteas to reshoot from bare wood. Of the common genera Banksia and Grevillea will withstand hard trimming, as will Leucadendron, Telopea and Mimetes, but pruning of Dryandra, Leucospermum, Serruria, Paranomus and most Protea species should be restricted to a light annual trimming. The best time to prune is usually immediately after flowering unless you want to leave a few seed heads to mature for use as dried decorations. In areas where there is the possibility of frost damage, it is advisable to leave pruning autumn and winter-flowering plants until spring. Container Growing
Some proteaceae can make good container plants, but you will have to be careful with your choice of potting mixes and fertilisers. Potting mixes need to be very free draining and often benefit from added coarse material such as shingle chips or pumice. Bark based mixes seem to work well but some growers feel they produce too much ethylene, which may harm the plants in the long run. Many commercial growers use soil based mixes and they generally prefer relatively poor and gritty volcanic soils. Even plants with low nutrient demands will eventually exhaust their potting mix, so you will have to apply fertiliser occasionally. Use mild liquid fertilisers or special low-phosphate slow release pellets. Provided you are cautious the plants should respond well. Propagation Proteas can be frustratingly difficult plants to propagate. Fresh seed often germinates well only for the seedlings to collapse after a few weeks. This is usually due to a fungal disease that blackens the foliage and eventually kills the young seedlings. Regular fungicide applications are important. Prick out the young seedlings into a coarse, free draining, unfertilised potting mix once they have their first true leaves. Cultivars and selected forms must be propagated vegetatively. The usual method is firm semi-ripe cuttings in late summer and autumn. The success rate varies markedly; some cultivars, such as Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, strike quite easily while many others may be virtually impossible without professional equipment. Pests and Diseases Grown under the right conditions proteaceous plants are relatively free of pests and diseases, or rather they’re not attacked by anything out of the ordinary. The most widespread problems are leaf roller caterpillars and scale insects, which can eventually lead to sooty mould. When growing proteas from seed you will doubtless lose some to the fungal disease mentioned above. This disease, which appears to be a type of damping off, can sometimes also attack more mature plants. It appears to be far worse in excessively wet conditions or after long periods of high humidity. Good ventilation and avoidance of overcrowding are effective preventatives and regular spraying with fungicides may control the problem. Common genera Many of these plants are not widely available at garden centres, although specialist growers would consider them to be just the most common genera and are likely to stock others as well. All of the species and genera covered here are evergreen unless otherwise stated. Aulax This is a South African genus of small to medium sized shrubs. This genus and Leucadendron are the only dioecious (separate male and female plants) members of the Proteaceae. Seed of all three species, Aulax cancellata, Aulax pallasia and Aulax umbellata, is available but only Aulax cancellata is commonly planted. It grows to 1.5-2m × 1m and has fine needle-like leaves. In spring, female plants produce red edged yellow flowers that develop into red seed cones. The catkin-like male flowers are yellow, as are those of Aulax pallasia and Aulax umbellata, the female flowers of which are not very showy. Aulax pallasia grows to about 3 m and Aulax umbellata about 1.5m. All are hardy to about -5°C and are usually raised from seed.

Banksia An Australian genus of about 60 species, ranging in size from ground covers to medium-sized trees. The flowering season is primarily from late winter to late spring and most species have cylindrical cone-like flower heads composed of densely packed filamentous styles radiating from a central core. Creamy yellow to light golden-yellow is the predominant colour range, although a few species, such as Banksia ericifolia and Banksia praemorsa, have golden-orange flowers and those of Banksia coccinea are red. Most species have narrow serrated leaves that are mid to deep green above and silvery grey on the undersides but Banksia ericifolia has fine needle-like leaves. Leaf size varies from very small up to the 50cm long leaves of Banksia grandis. Hardiness varies with the species, some are quite frost tender but some will tolerate -10°C. Relatively few are seen in nurseries but the seed of most species can be obtained from Australia. Banksia ericifolia and Banksia integrifolia are the most widely grown and are also the hardiest of the common species, both withstanding -10°C once well established. There are hardly any cultivars or selected forms of Banksia in cultivation. Species may be raised from seed and most will also strike quite freely from semi-ripe cuttings. Dryandra An Australian genus of around 60 species of shrubs ranging in height from about 1-4 m. Most have narrow, mid to deep green leaves that are often very long and narrow with sharply toothed edges. The rounded flower heads, which appear from mid winter, are usually light to bright yellow. The most common species is Dryandra formosa, which grows to about 3m and is hardy to around -5°C once established (most of the other species are less hardy). Dryandras are superb long-lasting cut flowers and some will also dry well. They will grow on extremely poor soil and generally react badly to most fertilisers. Raise from seed or semi-ripe cuttings, which are often difficult to strike. Embothrium The Chilean Fire Bush (Embothrium coccineum) is a small tree around 5m × 2.5m. It has 100mm long, leathery, bright green leaves that may become somewhat sparse on older plants. In mid to late spring the tree turns vivid orange-red as the honeysuckle-like tubular flowers open – the flowering season is brief but spectacular. Two forms are grown: ‘Longifolium’ and ‘Lanceolatum’; ‘Longifolium’ is the more common cultivar. It is a vigorous upright plant that is quite drought tolerant and hardy to about -10°C. ‘Lanceolatum’ is a stockier grower with narrow leaves. It demands more moisture but withstands harder frosts, up to -15°C with some protection. However, in very cold winters it may lose up to two thirds of its foliage. Overall Embothrium requires more moisture than most Proteaceae but good drainage is still important. It may be grown from seed but is usually propagated by semi-ripe cuttings. Grevillea With some 250 species, this is the largest of the Australian proteaceous genera. Most of the common garden species and cultivars are ground covers to medium-sized shrubs (up to 3m) with needle-like foliage. However, some species are far larger. The silky oak (Grevillea robusta), which is often seen in mild area, can grow to 20m and in common with most of the larger species it has large pinnate leaves. Grevillea banksii has similar foliage but only grows to about 3.5m × 3m. The more densely foliaged plants, especially Grevillea juniperina and Grevillea rosmarinifolia, are often used as hedging plants. These plants grow to at least 1.5m high. Grevillea flowers are often describe as ‘spider flowers’. This refers to the styles of some species, which tend to radiate from the centre like a spider’s legs. Some species have ‘toothbrush’ flowers; the styles are all on one side like the bristles of a toothbrush. The best known example of this type of flower is the common red-flowered cultivar ‘Robin Hood’. Many Grevillea cultivars are cultivated and they generally adapt well to garden conditions. Among the more popular are ‘Jenkinsii’ (a heavy flowering form of the red-flowered Grevillea rosmarinifolia), ‘Robyn Gordon’ (orange-red to red toothbrush flowers) ×gaudichaudii (deep red), ‘Austraflora Canterbury Gold’ (light golden yellow) and many of the Poorinda cultivars. Grevilleas are among the more widely available proteaceous plants and most nurseries stock a good selection. The species and hybrids vary enormously in hardiness. Some will stand little or no frost but others, such as Grevillea rosmarinifolia, will tolerate frosts of -10°C or lower; all prefer full sun with good drainage. The species are easily raised from seed and most hybrids strike quite freely from semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer or autumn. Hakea This Australian genus includes about 130 species, few of which are widely cultivated. The most common is probably Hakea laurina, the Pincushion Hakea. When not in flower, this species could easily be mistaken for a small eucalyptus. It has bluish-green narrow, oblong to sickle-shaped leaves and reddish-brown bark. It grows to about 6m × 4m and mature trees have a slightly weeping habit. The name pincushion refers to the flowers, which are spherical, with numerous radiating styles. They appear in late autumn and early winter, opening cream and turning to orange and red as they age. This shrub is hardy to about -5°C once well established and is easily grown in most well-drained soils. Of the other species, the most common are Hakea salicifolia, Hakea prostrata and Hakea sericea. They are hardy to about -8°C or slightly lower and are easily grown in most soils. Hakea salicifolia has narrow, willow-like leaves, spidery, white flowers that are produced in spring. It grows up to 5m high and will tolerate poor drainage. Hakea prostrata and Hakea sericea have fine needle-like leaves and white or pale pink flowers in winter and early spring. It grows to about 3m × 2m. All member of this genus are usually raised from seed but some can be grown from cuttings. A few, such as H. franciscana, are weak growers that often perform better when grafted onto more vigorous stocks, such as Hakea salicifolia. Isopogon Drumsticks, which refers to the shape of the flower stems and unopened buds, is a name often used for Isopogon anemonifolius but it can also be applied to the genus as a whole. It is an Australian genus of 34 species of small to medium sized shrubs, most of which grow from 1-2m high and about as wide. They have a preference for poor but well-drained soil and will quickly collapse if over-watered or overfed. Most species have narrow lanceolate leaves about 75mm long and some, such as the common Isopogon anemonifolius, have finely cut foliage reminiscent of Marguerite daisy or Anemone leaves. The flower heads, which open in spring and early summer, are composed of a central cone from which radiate numerous styles. Some species have short stiff styles but in others they are long and filamentous. The flower colours are mainly white, yellow or pink. The two most widely grown species, Isopogon anemonifolius and Isopogon anethifolius are hardy to about -5°C, but many species, such as Isopogon cuneatus and the temptingly beautiful pink and yellow-flowered Isopogon latifolius, are damaged at temperatures below -2°C. Isopogon species are usually raised from seed. Knightia The Rewa Rewa or New Zealand Honeysuckle (Knightia excelsa) is the best known of the two New Zealand proteaceous species. In the wild it can grow to be a tall narrow tree up to 25m high and it is one of the few proteaceous plants to have been harvested for its timber, which is very attractively marked. In gardens it is more restrained and seldom exceeds 8m × 3.5m. Rewa rewa has semi-glossy, deep green to bronze-green, narrow, lanceolate to oblong leaves that are very tough and leathery. In summer it produces tubular honeysuckle-like flowers that develop from buds covered in a reddish brown tomentum. As the flowers open the tomentum covered sepals and the petals curl back to form a congested mass in the centre of the flower head. The flowers, which can smell unpleasant, are followed by conspicuous
brown, velvety seed pods. Rewa Rewa is easily grown in moist well-drained soil in sun or partial shade and is hardy to about -5°C or slightly lower once established. It may be grown in any coastal area if protected when young. New Zealand honeysuckle is usually raised from seed and garden centres often stock ready-grown plants. Leucadendron Species of this genus are the most widely grown of the South African Proteaceae and many are valued for the long-lasting qualities of their flower bracts once cut. Most are medium-sized shrubs around 1-2.5m high. However, one of the best known species, the silver tree (Leucadendron argenteum), can grow to 10m high and the less widely grown Leucadendron eucalyptifolium may reach 5m. Many species and cultivars are grown, but probably the most widely planted is ‘Safari Sunset’. It is a hybrid between Leucadendron laureolum and Leucadendron salignum and is fairly typical of the genus. It has narrow, lanceolate leaves that are up to 100mm long. Some species, such as L. argenteum, have tomentose foliage but ‘Safari Sunset’ does not. The upward-facing foliage densely covers the narrow, upright branches and develops deep red tints at the flowering tips. Deep red leaf bracts enclose the flower cones. As the insignificant flowers near maturity, the bracts become intensely coloured. ‘Safari Sunset’ has red bracts but others develop cream, yellow, pink or orange tones. ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ (yellow and orange-red), ‘Maui Sunset’ (cream, yellow and red) and ‘Rewa Gold’ (yellow) are among the most spectacular. Leucadendrons generally develop their best colours from mid to late winter but ‘Jester’ a pink, cream and green variegated sport of ‘Safari Sunset’ is brightly coloured throughout the year. The species and hybrids vary considerably in hardiness but most will tolerate frosts of at least -3°C provided they have good drainage and the humidity is not excessive. ‘Safari Sunset’ is hardy to about -8°C and most of the numerous Leucadendron salignum and Leucadendron laureolum hybrids are nearly as hardy. In the North Island leucadendrons generally thrive in all but the coldest central areas and they can be grown with varying degrees of success in all coastal areas of the South Island. Leucadendrons can be tricky to propagate. Reasonably firm cuttings taken in early autumn are usually the easiest to strike but gardeners without specialised propagating facilities may experience problems and although seed germinates well, it is inclined to damp off. Garden centres often stock a good range of plants. Leucospermum A South African genus of about 50 species, most of which are medium to large shrubs that grow to about 1.5-3m high. Some, such as Leucospermum reflexum, have strongly upright growth habits but most, including the commonly cultivated species, Leucospermum cordifolium, are dense and bushy. Both of these species have tomentose greyish-green leaves that are usually broadly oval shaped, often with small red-tipped lobes. The leaves of Leucospermum reflexum are narrower and greyer than those of Leucospermum cordifolium. Leucospermum reflexum can grow to 3m × 3m but Leucospermum cordifolium is usually around 1.5m × 1.5m. The flowers are variously described as Catherine wheels, pincushions and sky rockets, all of which refer to the numerous radiating styles. These are often incurved, creating a cupped effect. The flower heads of Leucospermum cordifolium are quite globular while those of Leucospermum reflexum have drooping styles at the base of the flower. The flowers usually appear in late spring and continue for about two months. They are attractive when fresh but often become unsightly once they die off. Most garden leucospermums are cultivars of Leucospermum cordifolium and are hardy to occasional frosts of about -5°C, but they resent wet or humid winter conditions, which can often lead to tip die back. Good drainage is also very important. Cuttings taken in early autumn are the most likely to strike but without proper equipment they may prove difficult and seed often germinates well only to be killed by fungal diseases. Gritty well-drained soil, regular fungicide use and just enough water to keep the seedlings standing up are the keys to success. The orange-flowered ‘Harry Chittick’ is the plant most commonly stocked by nurseries and it is one that performs very well. Mimetes This South African genus includes 11 species, only one of which is widely grown. Mimetes cucullatus has 40mm long oblong leaves with small lobes at the tips, that densely cover the branches like upward facing scales. The small white flowers are enclosed within leaf bracts that change colour to a bright red as the flower buds mature. Mimetes may flower throughout the year but is usually at its best in late spring when the new growth appears, as this is also red. Mimetes cucullatus grows to about 1.5m × 1.5m and is hardy to around -3°C. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and is not very drought tolerant. This species is usually raised from seed. Paranomus The most common species of this 18-species genus, Paranomus reflexus, is an undemanding 1.5m × 1.8m bush with bright yellow bottle-brush-like flower heads in winter and spring. The foliage is anemone-like and very finely cut; the flower stems have small diamond shaped leaves just below the flower heads. It is easily grown in any well-drained soil in full sun. Although the plant is hardy to about -5°C, the flowers are damaged by frosts over -2°C. It is usually raised from seed. Persoonia An Australian genus of around 75 species of shrubs, mostly under 2 m tall and some quite small. Known as geebungs, by far the best-known species is the Pine-leaf Geebung (Persoonia pinifolia), an eastern Australian native that is one of the larger species, capable of reaching 3 m tall. It has a weeping habit, fine needle-like leaves and small yellow flowers. Most geebungs will tolerate about 2 to 5°C of frost. Protea Protea is a genus of about 80 species that is confined to southern Africa and concentrated around the Cape of Good Hope. The species range in size from less than 50cm high to over 4m. Most commonly grown proteas are small to medium sized shrubs in the 1-2.5m high range. The best known species is Protea neriifolia. It has narrow leaves up to 150mm long that are covered with a fine tomentum when young. In autumn, winter and spring, upright, 125mm long × 75mm wide goblet-shaped flowers are carried at the tips of the branches. They are composed of a woolly central cone surrounded by overlapping, upward-facing, petal-like, deep reddish-pink bracts tipped with a fringe of black hairs. Many forms with varying colours of bract and tip hairs are grown. Several other species, such as Protea magnifica and Protea laurifolia, have similar flowers. The central cone, often with many incurving styles, is common to all Protea species but the arrangement of the bracts varies. Many have them arranged in a stellate or star-shaped fashion. The King Protea (Protea cynaroides) is the best known of this type. Its flowers can be up to 300mm in diameter. The flowers of the king protea face upwards but others, such as greenish-yellow-flowered Protea sulphurea, have downward facing flowers. The foliage is also variable. It may be needle-like, as in Protea nana, lanceolate, oblong or rounded. It can be silvery grey, glaucous or bright green depending on the species and it may or may not be tomentose. Likewise, hardiness varies considerably. Most species will tolerate at least -3°C with good drainage and low humidity but many are considerably tougher. Protea neriifolia will withstand -5°C and Protea grandiceps will often survive -10°C when well established. Proteas do well over most of the North Island and many species can be grown as far south as Christchurch with a little winter protection. Protea species are often raised from seed, which germinates well, but the seedlings may be difficult to keep alive. Hybrids and cultivars must be propagated vegetatively. The usual method is firm semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer and autumn. Specialist growers stock many species and cultivars while
garden centres seldom have anything other than the most common plants. Serruria Blushing Bride (Serruria florida) is very popular with florists because its Nigella-like papery white bracts are very delicate and last well as cut flowers. The bracts, which are surrounded with finely cut lacy leaves, are produced freely in winter and spring. Blushing Bride can be difficult to grow, because not only is it frost tender (it tolerates only occasional exposure to -2°C), it must also have full sun and absolutely perfect drainage. It is one of a genus of 44 species from South Africa, of which the only other species commonly grown is Serruria rosea. It is a densely foliaged 70cm × 90cm bush with small pink bracts and is slightly hardier and definitely easier to grow than Serruria florida. Serruria species should be raised from seed. Stenocarpus The Queensland Firewheel Tree (Stenocarpus sinuata) is a large tree (12m × 8m) that produces a magnificent display of orange to red flowers in summer. It has large, glossy, dark green leaves that are deeply lobed. The flowers are tubular and are carried in flattened clusters that radiate spoke-like from a central hub, hence the name firewheel tree. It is hardy to about -4°C once well established but is very tender when young and does best in moist well-drained soil in full sun. Stenocarpus salignus is a species with long, narrow leaves and cream flowers. It is smaller and hardier than Stenocarpus sinuata. Stenocarpus is usually raised from seed. Telopea Natives of Australia, the waratah genus includes just four species. The New South Wales waratah (Telopea speciosissima), which is the one most commonly grown has oblong, finely serrated leaves that are up to 125mm long with small notches or lobes at the tips. It develops into a large shrub or small tree up to 5m × 5m. The flowers, which are produced in spring and carried at the tips of the branches, are impressively large, bright red, and composed of numerous incurving styles surrounded by red foliage bracts. Several cultivars, such as the semi-dwarf ‘Forest Fire’ (2m × 2m) are reasonably commonly available. The ‘Victorian Waratah’ (Telopea oreades) is a similar plant with slightly lighter coloured leaves and flowers. Both of these species and the cultivars are hardy to around -8°C. Waratahs prefer moist well-drained soil in full sun and once established they require little care. But many die during the initial establishment period. This is possibly due to essential mycorrhiza failing to establish. These minute fungi form a symbiotic relationship with the plants’ roots and are vital in the uptake of nutrients. It has been suggested that taking soil from around an established waratah and putting it around new plants may help lessen these establishment difficulties. Waratahs may be raised from seed or semi-ripe cuttings but they are difficult to raise. Some success has been achieved with tissue culture and this is how some of the new cultivars are produced. Toronia The sole species in this genus is the lesser known of the two New Zealand proteaceous species. Formerly listed as Persoonia toru, it is now known as Toronia toru. A small bushy tree that can grow to about 9m × 5m, it is usually far smaller in gardens. The narrow, lanceolate olive green to bronze leaves are about 100mm long but may grow to over 150mm on mature trees in sheltered sites. The buff coloured starry flowers, which appear in late winter and early spring, are carried in racemes and develop from golden brown felted buds. It is easily grown in any moist well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade and is hardy to about -8°C once established. Toronia toru is a relatively unspectacular plant but its flowers are pleasantly honey-scented and it is interesting because it is one of our more unusual natives. This species may be grown from cuttings, but as they are usually difficult to strike, seed is the preferred method.