Category Archives: Articles by Geoff Bryant

Japanese woodland favourite

Kirengeshoma palmata is a late-flowering rhizomatous perennial up to 1.2m high with arching stems and is native to the woods and mountain lowlands of Korea and the Japanese islands of Shikoku and Kyushu.

The unusual name? No, it doesn’t come from an obscure Danish botanist called Kirengeshom. It’s really just a Latinised version of the original Japanese name. Palmata, a common specific epithet, means shaped like a hand and refers to the foliage.

Formerly classified in its own family, it is now a member of the hydrangea family, although its flowers, which are around 3cm long, are more reminiscent of those of a single-flowered Japanese anemone. The flowers of most of the plants seen in gardens are a fairly deep yellow, though the colour of wild specimens ranges from white to apricot. While beautiful and graceful, the fleshy-petalled flowers, which are borne in sprays on wiry stems that bend under their own weight, never really open fully. The buds start to burst in early autumn.

While the flowers can be something of a disappointment, it isn’t too great a disadvantage that they don’t open fully as this is a plant grown as much for its foliage as its flowers. The leaves are up to 20cm long and wide with pointed lobes that are deeper on the basal leaves and very shallow on the reduced leaves found on the flower stems.

The generally accepted opinion is that it the only species in its genus, but some botanists prefer to classify the Korean plants separately as Kirengeshoma koreana. As far as gardeners are concerned any differences between the plants are very minor, though there is some suggestion that the Korean plants may eventually be larger than their Japanese cousins and that their flowers open more fully.

As you would expect, considering its origins, Kirengeshoma palmata prefers a moist, leafy, humus-rich soil in partial shade. In other words, typical woodland conditions. In late autumn it dies back to its rootstock, which is extremely hardy and quite capable of withstanding -15?C. It is propagated either by division in winter or early spring, or by raising from seed. The seed prefers cool temperatures, around 12’to 15?C and the germination time is variable, anywhere from 30 to 300 days. I’ve found that sowing fresh seed in the autumn and leaving the seed tray in a shady place for germination in the following spring satisfies any stratification requirements and gives good results.

Kirengeshoma palmata is an ideal companion for any Japanese or Chinese woodland plants and looks magnificent under maples, the leaf shape of which it complements perfectly. Because it needs ample summer moisture it thrives at the edges of a bog garden with candelabra primroses, Rodgersia and irises. Its late flowering habit is invaluable in providing interest at a time of year when other woodland plants may be becoming rather dull.

So why isn’t it far more common? I have absolutely no idea.

Fuchsia in New Zealand

Fuchsia (named after Leonhard Fuchs, a 16th century German botanist) is a genus of over 100 species of shrubs and small trees. Although there are four New Zealand native species (colensoi, excorticata, perscandens and procumbens) and one from Tahiti, the vast bulk of the genus occurs in Central and South America. 

Think of fuchsias and chances are the fancy garden hybrids come to mind first. Showy as they are, it is not difficult to see they are related to wild species such as Fuchsia magellanica, Fuchsia denticulata and Fuchsia triphylla. 
Some species, however, are less easy to distinguish. Our common native tree fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata) has fuchsia-like flowers, though it can be hard to see the connection with the garden plants when it is not in bloom. But the likes of Fuchsia arborescens from Central America, with its panicles of tiny flowers, scarcely matches the common idea of a fuchsia. 
The most widely grown of New Zealand’s native species is Fuchsia procumbens and it too is quite unlike the garden cultivars. It is a low spreading plant with small rounded leaves and can be very hard to pick as a fuchsia until it flowers. Indeed, my initial experience of the plant was with cultivated specimens and I have to admit that I didn’t immediately recognise wild plants when I first saw them. 
This species was discovered in Northland in 1834 by Richard Cunningham. (some authorities call him Robert; in any case he should not be confused with his better known brother Allan.) However, it wasn’t introduced into Europe until 40 years later in 1874. It has at times also been known as Fuchsia prostrata and Fuchsia kirkii. 
The species occurs naturally in the north of the North Island down to northern Coromandel, often in coastal areas, and is now endangered in the wild. Though wild specimens can spread to several metres wide, cultivated plants are usually quite compact. 
The flowers, which appear from mid to late spring are sometimes hard to see among the dense, sprawling foliage. The blooms are not the usual fuchsia colours – green and yellow, not red and purple – and most unusually, they face upwards rather than being pendulous. The blue pollen-tipped anthers are also very distinctive. 
Upward facing flowers are scarcely surprising in a plant that grows so close to the ground. Nevertheless it is a feature that hybridisers have long been trying, with limited success, to breed into garden hybrids. 
The real feature, and the reason why Fuchsia procumbens is grown by enthusiasts world-wide, is the berries that follow the flower. All fuchsias bear berries, but none can match the fruit of Fuchsia procumbens. While the bright red berries of wild plants are scarcely larger than redcurrants, cultivated plants may have fruit the size of small plums. The fruit has a grape-or plum-like bloom and is particularly showy because it is carried on top the foliage, not hanging below it. Fuchsia procumbens is a plant that likes to show off its wares. 
This little trailing plant makes a superb hanging basket specimen and is very easy to grow. Despite its northerly natural distribution, it tolerates frosts and even withstands some drought. But strangely enough it is one of those New Zealand natives that is better know abroad than at home. British and American growers wouldn’t be without it, but how often do you see a good specimen in a local garden?

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Photo: Flora Press.

Blueberry from Down Under!

Whether we know it or not, most of us are familiar with the genus Vaccinium as it has among its members several current or potential commercial crops, such as blueberry, cranberry, bilberry and huckleberry. Vaccinium delavayi, however, is strictly ornamental and very unlikely to be our next export success.

The name vaccinium is an ancient one taken directly from the Latin vernacular: it was used to refer to Vaccinium myrtillus, the delightfully named whortleberry. Vaccinium delavayi takes its specific name, like so many Chinese plants, from the French Jesuit missionary Abbé Jean Marie Delavay (1838-95), who discovered the plant and introduced it to cultivation. He was also responsible for such well-known plants as Abies delavayi, Magnolia delavayi and Osmanthus delavayi reaching our gardens.
Vaccinium delavayi, a native of Burma and south-west China, is a hardy evergreen shrub with small, rounded leaves that are tough and leathery. In spring it produces clusters of small, bell-shaped to almost globular, white flowers that open from pink buds. The flowers are very much in the style of Pieris, Gaultheria, Andromeda and several other closely related genera in the erica family.
Pretty as the flowers are, the real appeal of this little blueberry lies in the deep bluish-black berries that follow. They are just like small blueberries and have a similar flavour but are rather acidic unless very ripe. Although it seems a shame to pick the berries, you might as well because the birds will have no such reservations.
While scarcely a spectacular plant, Vaccinium delavayi is attractive throughout the year and is always interesting, whether in flower, fruit or just as a neat foliage plant. It is an ideal specimen for a rockery or partially shaded corner. It grows to about 45cm high × 60cm wide and can be kept trimmed to a small mound. However, any pruning will adversely affect either the flowering or fruiting.
As any blueberry grower will tell you, Vaccinium plants prefer acidic soil conditions. The small ornamental species are most at home when grown with other erica family plants such as dwarf rhododendrons, evergreen azaleas, ericas, callunas and pieris.
The native New Zealand Gaultheria species are interesting plants to combine with Vaccinium delavayi. Gaultheria crassa, in particular, looks very like its Chinese relative and provides a good illustration of how plants that evolve under similar conditions often resemble each other despite occurring thousands of kilometres apart.
Other small native berrying plants, especially those of the epacris family, also make good companions. An alpine rockery with good berrying forms of Pentachondra pumila, Leucopogon fraseri, Cyathodes empetrifolia, Gaultheria crassa and Vaccinium delavayi would be full of interest and colour throughout the year.
You won’t find Vaccinium delavayi in every garden centre, but it shouldn’t require too much of a search to locate a specimen. Try looking in the perennials as well as among the shrubs, as it’s often sold at a very small size and tends to get lumped in with the rockery perennials.

Image published with permission from Geoff Bryant. Owner of CFG Photo.

Beauties of Spring

Spring is a time when there are so many plants bursting into growth and flower that sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees, or in our case the plants for the flowers. So this month I thought it might be appropriate to consider some of the smaller and less obtrusive spring plants that are often overlooked.

The primula family is one of the stars of late winter and early spring and every year thousands of fancy primroses and polyanthus are sold and planted as means of providing quick colour. However, the plants that we see most often are simply the most flamboyant and highly hybridised members of a far wider family that includes many small treasures that are hardly known or that pass unnoticed.

My favourite is a species that is said to be the smallest of all the primroses: Primula warshnewskyana. Although it eventually develops into a decent sized clump, when it first comes into flower it is a genuine example of the name being bigger than the plant. One or two flowering rosettes could be planted in a thimble. Yet it is such a tough and undemanding little plant, asking only to be protected from being overgrown by more rampant greenery. Primula pubescens, particularly the pale yellow ‘Harlow Carr’ is another charmer. Rather like an auricula in foliage and flower, but more delicate and graceful than its large cousin. For something a little more showy and unusual tryPrimula vialii. Although this species is somewhat frost tender and inclined to be short-lived, it is worth growing and persevering with for its very striking flowers. These are clustered on spikes that are held well above the foliage. They are red in bud and open to pinkish lavender. The red buds overlap like tiles on a roof so that in the early stage of development the flower stems resembles the top of a miniature steeple.

The Epimedium species seldom receive any great attention but they are among the most adaptable small perennials. They develop into spreading clumps that are ideal for carpeting small areas in a woodland. Totally dormant in winter, they come into growth in earliest spring, often flowering before the foliage is fully developed. The most common epimedium is the pale yellow-flowered E × sulphureum, which is usually the first to bloom along with the closely related, white-flowered Coptis quinquefolia. The white E. × youngianum follows in mid spring while the fanciest of them, E. grandiflorum, flowers on and off from spring to autumn. Epimediums offer the bonus of rich autumn foliage colour which can be just as much of an attraction as the delicate little flowers. As is the case with many plants, those with the simplest flowers tend to produce the best foliage colour.

The wood anemones, too, have their share of lesser-known beauties. Anemone nemorosa and A. blanda are widely grown, but how often do we see good clumps of the pale yellow A. sieberii or its brighter relative A. ranunculoides. Although these plants are a little more difficult to cultivate than the common species, they are by no means impossible provided the soil has ample humus and the winter and early spring climate is not too warm — anywhere in the South Island and the lower North Island will do. Light filtered shade suits them best. Along with these and many other uncommon species there are also the more delicate forms of the common A. nemorosa. Particularly attractive is the pale pink-flowered ‘Allenii’ with its nodding blooms. The white double, ‘Bracteata’, is very useful for naturalising in woodland and can lighten up a dark corner.

Hacquetia epipactus is a very unusual little perennial that looks like it is closely related to the wood anemones but which actually belongs in the Umbelliferae along with dill and fennel. This hardy woodlander begins to flower in very early spring before developing any foliage. Indeed the first sign of life is the emergence from the earth of tiny green-bracted yellow flowers. These initial, usually rather tatty, flowers are soon followed by foliage and slightly larger blooms. Hacquetia is not the most beautiful plant but it certainly has its charms. It is also extremely hardy, it comes into bloom from early August and is unfazed by frost. In the heavy Christchurch snow of 1992 it carried on unchecked despite being buried under snow for several days while in flower.

Asperula gussonii is a small, wiry-stemmed perennial cushion plant that is almost a sub-shrub. It has tiny, bright green leaves with silvery undersides and is more or less evergreen though it can be rather untidy in winter. It demands perfect drainage and is really at its best in a rockery or alpine pan. In spring it produces heads of minute pale pink flowers that develop from deeper coloured buds. The effect is rather like a very small-flowered daphne or erica.

The erica family itself includes many hard-to-get but very choice small shrubs. Rather than tempt you with the real rarities I’ll mention a couple that are somewhat easier to obtain if you are prepared to search for them. The mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a much loved and widely grown shrub but the closely related sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), which occurs naturally in much the same parts of eastern North America is far less common though easier to grow. Its foliage is mid green and rather narrow, quite unlike the leaves of K. latifolia. Its flowers are deep pink and closely resemble those of K. latifolia in form while being about half the size. Although it has been overshadowed by the more flamboyant mountain laurel, K. angustifolia is a colourful, extremely hardy evergreen shrub that is well worth growing. It can grow to 1 m high and wide in the wild but is seldom more than two-thirds that size in cultivation. It is easily grown and seems more adaptable than K. latifolia, which has a reputation for being temperamental.

The bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) is a near relative of the kalmias and superficially resembles K. angustifoliabut is smaller still. This species, the only one remaining in a once large genus, forms a small mound that becomes covered with tiny, pink, bell-shaped flowers in spring. Cultivars with deeper pink or white flowers are available. This plant has a large range in the wild that extends into the Arctic Circle. It is essentially a cold climate plant that does not do well where the winters are mild. Choose a position that only receives only morning sun and make sure the soil is humus-rich yet well drained. It grows well in pure peat but any leaf-based compost will do.

Finally, one of my all-time favourites: Salix anoda. For most of the year this miniature willow is nondescript 60 cm–1 m high deciduous shrub that doesn’t merit a second glance, but in September and October it produces the most striking pussy willow catkins. The beauty of this plant is that something so ordinary can suddenly spring such a surprise. Like most willows, S. anoda has somewhat aggressive roots. It’s nothing like as strong-growing or ground-robbing as a weeping willow or a genuine pussy willow but it still needs room to spread.

There are so many plants that tend to be ignored while the cherries, daffodils, rhodos, camellias and the like hog the limelight that an article like this could go on forever. However, I think I’ll stop it here. The important thing is not to downgrade the common spring flowers but to remember to look for some of the real novelties that don’t rely on sheer flamboyance for their charm and that can really help to personalise your garden.

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.

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

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.

Orchids Listed

These very beautiful plants have tended to suffer from a bad press. There seems to be a general impression that they are very difficult to grow, requiring dedication, patience and special growing conditions. Some do but many are easy-going plants that most gardeners can succeed with.

Probably the most limiting factor in your choice of orchids is the severity of frost your garden experiences and the amount of winter rainfall. There are a few very hardy orchids but most of the more commonly grown genera are somewhat frost tender though few require sub-tropical conditions.

Winter rainfall is an important consideration if you intend to grow the hardy terrestrial orchids such as Pleione orCymbidium outdoors. Too much rain combined with cold weather will cause rotting.

The native orchids are seldom cultivated except by dedicated enthusiasts. They are mainly hardy plants but seldom do well in cultivation. Some species have very precise growing requirements.

Doubtless you will be able to grow a wider range and achieve greater success if you can build some sort of green house or other protective structure. This doesn’t need to be anything very elaborate. A simple lean-to structure attached to a garage will be perfectly adequate in most cases.

Orchid Cultivation

Growing Conditions

Orchids vary considerably in their demands. Some need the conditions that only a heated greenhouse can provide, others will grow outdoors under normal conditions, most fall somewhere between the two extremes. Enthusiasts don’t baulk at the power bills that growing warm temperature orchids bring but most of would find them too expensive. However a wide range can be grown with minimal heating or even in an unheated frost free greenhouse.

Cymbidium, Cattleya, Odontoglossum, Paphiopedilum, Coleogyne and Lycaste are some of the more tender genera that can be grown without having to use too much extra heating. They get by perfectly well with winter minimums of 10°C and will tolerate lower temperatures for short periods. Cymbidium and some Coleogyne species can be grown outside year round in frost free areas.

In many ways the hardy outdoor species are more difficult to grow. Not because they can’t tolerate the cold but because of other seasonal factors, such as humidity levels and rainfall. The most commonly grown is Bletilla striatabut it is seldom a spectacular plant. Pleione is a more interesting genus. Often grown in alpine houses these hardy terrestrial orchids may be grown in gardens if special attention is given to drainage and siting.

Orchids generally require bright indirect light. Most will tolerate direct sunlight for a few hours a day but not through glass. Many orchids will tolerate poor light for extended periods but their flowering will be adversely affected.

Maintaining the humidity above 50% is important, below this orchids will suffer, 65%–90% is preferable. The easiest way to achieve this in a greenhouse is to spray the floor and other surfaces with water. The evaporating moisture will raise the humidity. In winter lower humidity levels are preferable; the plants are not so active at this time and lower humidity will lessen the prevalence of fungus diseases.

Good ventilation is also important in preventing fungus diseases. Those inexperienced in greenhouse growing tend to close all the vents in winter to keep in as much heat as possible but good ventilation is just as important as maintaining the right temperature. When temperatures rise in summer adequate ventilation is the best means of avoiding overheating. As a rule a greenhouse should have a vent area roughly equal to a third of the floor area.

Greenhouses

There are several styles of greenhouses available to the home gardener. Which you choose will be dictated by the conditions you wish to maintain and the price you can afford to pay.

In the long run the commercially made metal framed glass is house is the cheapest to run but the initial outlay is high. Plastic skinned tunnel houses are a cheaper alternative but they require re-skinning every five years or so.

The cheapest alternative is an entirely home built greenhouse and in many ways it’s also the most satisfactory. Doing it yourself means that you get the size and design that you want. The work involved shouldn’t tax even a mediocre carpenter.

The construction doesn’t need to be anything elaborate. A simple wooden framework will be quite adequate. 100mm × 50mm timber is heavy enough for the main structure with 50mm × 50mm for intermediate support and bracing. Anything lighter than 50mm × 50mm is likely to warp excessively. Use only ground treated timber, H4 grade or better.

Painting the woodwork white will reflect more light but most greenhouses are bright enough. Painting or staining will, however, extend the life of the timber.

Very few of us are competent glaziers so plastic skinning is the preferred covering. Use proper horticultural film of at least 140 microns but preferably the 200 micron grade. Rigid fibreglass or polycarbonate sheeting is a longer lasting alternative but is expensive for all but very small structures.

Secure the plastic with 50mm × 12mm battening strips. Where the plastic meets the ground either secure it to a partially buried wooden beam at ground level or leave some surplus that can be buried. This should eliminate drafts at ground level, which can be very damaging.

Unless you have a proper double skinned or double glazed greenhouse you will need to add extra insulation in winter. The bubble plastic used in packaging is effective but better still are the horticultural grade infra-red reflecting plastics. These can be stapled to a wood framed house or taped to a metal frame.

In most parts of the country some form of winter heating will be necessary. Electricity is the easiest to use and probably the most economical as electric heaters can be run off simple thermostats for maximum efficiency. Kerosene, natural gas and coal boilers are alternatives but they require careful setting and maintenance, are often expensive to install, and may produce poisonous fumes.

Containers

The traditional terracotta pot has long been favoured for orchids. These have the advantage of being porous, which means there are no drainage problems and the roots are kept well aerated. Unfortunately terracotta pots are expensive when compared to plastic and they are easily broken, consequently plastic is now the more widely used material.

Most pots are suitable just as they are but make sure they have adequate drainage holes. Extra holes are easily made in plastic pots either with drills or a heated metal rod, such as the tip of a soldering iron.

Hanging baskets made of wire or interlaced wooden strips are alternatives to traditional pots. Unlike the hanging baskets used for regular plants these are usually not lined. Instead a very coarse soil mix that will not fall through the holes is used. If necessary a thin lining of sphagnum moss will keep the mix in place.

Epiphytic orchids can be often be grown in pots with very coarse potting mix but are better grown in the hanging basket type container. This is because their roots can reach the air more easily. Some epiphytic orchids resent being confined in containers, these are best grown on slabs of tree fern or other bark. Until the roots gain hold the plants will need to be firmly tied to the support with a strong but unobtrusive thread.

Potting Mixes

Orchid mixes are very coarse and open compared to the more familiar potting mixes. Those unfamiliar with this type of soil wonder how it can possibly retain enough moisture for plant growth.

The answer is in the nature of the orchids grow habit. Most orchids have a conspicuous food storage organ known as a pseudobulb. The plants can survive for considerable periods on the reserves stored in the pseudobulb. The roots serve to recharge the pseudobulb and operate best in well drained and aerated soils. Too much moisture or too little air will rot the roots and ultimately the pseudobulb.

Orchid roots actually attach themselves to the soil material and so bind the soil to the plant. Anyone that has ever tried to clear the soil mix from Cymbidium will be familiar with the way the roots grasp the larger chunks of bark or fern fibre.

Most modern orchid mixes are made from composted bark. Regular bark based mixes can be used if they are sieved to remove the very fine material. The fine sievings can be used as seed raising or cutting mixes for other plants.

Even this mix may retain moisture for too long so add some coarse bark or polystyrene bubbles. Experiment with these materials until you have an extremely free draining open mix.

Watering and Nutrients

The mix should not remain obviously wet for more than a day or so after watering. Prolonged or repeated periods in wet soil will lead to rotted roots.

Watering is not so much a matter of how often to water but how quickly the plant dries out between waterings. Epiphytic orchids usually need to dry out within a day or two of watering or they may rot. Terrestrial orchids tend to prefer soils that retain moisture longer.

Your soil mix consistency will go a long way to avoiding any rotting problems. Keep the mix open and coarse for epiphytes and a little more dense and moisture retentive for terrestrials. Once you have the right soil consistency when to water is generally quite apparent. This all seems more than a little vague but it’s really a matter of experience.

Although orchid soil mixes may seem to be very lacking in nutrients most of the common genera will thrive in them, however, like any plants they will eventually need feeding. There are a number of pre-mixed orchid fertilisers available and most are quite satisfactory provided the directions are followed. Do not overfeed orchids; they are quite easily killed by that sort of kindness.

Enthusiasts will blend their own fertilisers but most home gardeners would be better to stick to a commercial formula. If you do want to make up your own mix it pays to thoroughly research the particular plant’s requirements.

Propagation

The easiest method of propagation is division of the clusters of pseudobulbs. This eventually has to be done even if you don’t require more plant as an orchid in an overcrowded pot will eventually cease to flower.

Some orchids will produce stems with aerial roots. These can be removed from the parent plant and grown on. Orchids with rhizomes rather than obvious pseudobulbs can be divided or pieces of rooted rhizome can be removed and grown on.

Growing from seed is another method but requires care. Orchid seed is generally very fine and seldom germinates well if sown on soil in the usual manner. The accepted method is to sow the seed in sterile flasks on a nutrient enriched agar jelly.

The exact make-up of the nutrient solution varies from genus to genus. If you wish to try this method contact your local horticultural society or orchid society for details of some of the more common formulas.

Tissue culture is widely used in commercial orchid propagation. Cultured plants are available from specialist growers.

Pests and Diseases

Orchids grown indoors are subject to the same pests and diseases as most greenhouse plants. You will probably be familiar with aphids, slugs, snails, mites and scale insects but mealy bugs are less commonly seen under normal garden conditions.

Mealy bugs have an unusual appearance. They are covered with a white powder and fine white hairs. They feed by sap sucking and leaf rasping and may be quite debilitating if present in large numbers.

Probably the most common disease is sooty mould caused by a fungus that grows on the honeydew secreted by feeding insects. The cure for this involves first removing the insects and then spraying with a fungicide, such as mancozeb, to halt the mould.

Most other fungus problems, such as root rots and leaf spotting, can be traced to poor growing conditions, especially overwatering and poor ventilation.

Orchids may also become infected with viruses. These often appear as unusually marked patches on the leaves, flowers or stems or may simply result in stunted growth. Nothing can be done to cure virus infected plants so if badly affected they are best got rid of.

Orchid Selection

There are hundreds of orchid genera, many very closely allied to one another. The following is a selection of a few of the more commonly grown.

Bletilla

The ‘Chinese Ground Orchid’ (B. striata) is a hardy deciduous species. Remarkable for its ease of cultivation rather than its flamboyance. Will grow in any moist garden soil in light shade. Magenta to purple flowers from spring.

Cattleya

Spectacular and reasonably tough plants. They are easy for beginners and often represent the next step afterCymbidiumCattleya is a mainly epiphytic genus and develops large pseudobulbs that enable the plants to withstand some drought. They prefer to dry out between waterings and prefer lightly shaded conditions.

Coleogyne

A large genera many of the species of which are fairly hardy and may be grown outdoors in genuinely frost free areas. Most need cool summer temperatures and are an ideal choice for a shadehouse. They prefer light shade and shelter from winter rain. Usually flowers from late winter.

Cymbidium

Without doubt the most widely grown orchid genera. Tough and adaptable Cymbidium is the ideal choice for the beginner. Plants are available in a huge range of colours and flower patterns. Able to tolerate extended periods with overnight temperatures of 5°C and drought tolerant. It’s very hard to kill a Cymbidium but they do so much better when looked after.

Capable of being grown outside year round in many areas. Medium to high light levels are preferred. The soil should be allowed to dry between waterings in winter but should be kept moist when the plants are in active growth. Feed regularly. May flower at any season but usually from late winter to late spring.

Dendrobium

There are native species but those commonly grown are exotic. They require reasonably warm nigh temperatures; preferably not below 12°C. Most develop conspicuous pseudobulbs and produce their flowers on long canes.

Epidendrum

The common ‘Crucifix Orchid’ (E. ibaguense) is the best known of this genus. Most species will tolerate some frost and are good in shadehouses. Not spectacular but unusual. The aerial roots are a feature. Rather tall but excess growth with aerial roots can be removed and grown on. No pseudobulbs.

Laelia

Mainly epiphytic orchids that will tolerate cool conditions. Most species will grow outdoors if frost free. Prefers light shade and should be allowed to dry between waterings. May be grown on bark slabs. Many of the species flower in autumn and winter.

Lycaste

Easily cultivated epiphytic orchids. Their culture is very similar to Cymbidium. They prefer cool summer temperatures and will tolerate winter lows of 5°C. Allow to dry in winter but keep moist in summer. Some of the species are deciduous. The long strap-like leaves can become untidy and are easily damaged.

Masdevilla

These epiphytic orchids prefer low to medium light levels and high humidity. Best in cool even temperatures; winter lows of around 5°C to summer highs of not more than 23°C. Some species do well outdoors in genuinely frost free areas. They prefer even moisture throughout the year but must not be overwatered. This genus does not produce pseudobulbs.

Pleione

Often grown in pans in alpine houses and capable of standing some frost. The flowers resemble Cattleya but the plants are considerably smaller. Fully dormant in winter. Plant in gritty soil and water and feed once actively growing.

Odontoglossum

Not too demanding but intolerant of very bright conditions. Able to tolerate overnight winter temperatures of 8°C or slightly lower. They like cool daytime temperatures. Often better in a shadehouse over summer. Allow to dry in winter but keep moist when growing. May be grown on bark slabs.

Oncidium

A very complex grouping of related genera. They require bright conditions and winter lows of not less than 10°C. The flowers are spectacular and freely produced on healthy plants. Miltonia is a closely related genus. Many intergeneric forms exist.

Paphiopedilum

Commonly known as the slipper orchid due to the flower’s prominent pouch. Easily grown but many require warm conditions with temperatures above 15°C. The tougher species will tolerate 8-10°C for short periods. Day temperatures should be below 25°C. This narrow temperature range is the main barrier to success. They prefer low to medium light and should be kept moist throughout the year.

Phalaenopsis

The ‘Moth Orchids’ demand warm temperatures with winter minimums of 15°C although they will tolerate 12°C or lower for brief periods. They prefer low to medium light and high humidity. They need plenty of air at the roots and are best grown in baskets in a very coarse mix.

Vanda

Often tall plants with very prominent aerial roots. Some species will tolerate winter lows down to 8°C but most are more tender. They prefer bright light and plenty of summer moisture but they should be allowed to dry over winter. High humidity is preferable. Stems with aerial roots may be removed and grown on as new plants. The best known species V. coerulea is autumn to winter flowering and one of the hardiest.

Witch hazels for winter colour

There’s no denying that winter can be a drab time in the garden and that deciduous shrubs and trees can be rather dull at this time of year, but that’s no reason to write them off entirely, as so many gardeners seem wont to do.

Not only do deciduous shrubs and trees have interesting branch structures — a bonus often overlooked after their autumn colour — some of them flower in winter. Many of those that do, such as wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) and winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), have highly fragrant flowers but they’re not very showy.

Among the exceptions, however, are the witch hazels (Hamamelis spp.). Not only are their flowers often very spicily scented, they’re usually bright shades of yellow, orange and russet red. Sure, the spidery-petalled blooms aren’t that large, but appearing as they do on bare-stems, they really stand out.

The flowers also have an interesting habit that enables them to withstand the cold they must endure while flowering in winter: the flowers open or close in relation to the temperature. So on cold cloudy days and at night they remain closed, but as soon as the weather warms they open and are ready for business again.

Like most of the common deciduous genera, Hamamelis is northern hemisphere-based. There are five species and they are found in the temperate parts of Europe, East Asia and North America. Despite the common name, the genus is not related to the edible hazel nuts, but is in a separate family: the Hamamelidaceae. The name witch hazel comes from early American settlers who saw a resemblance to European hazel and who used the twigs as water divining rods, giving rise to an earlier common name — water witch.

The name hamamelis means “together with fruit” and refers to the plants’ habit of carrying leaf buds, flowers and seed pods of the previous year all at the same time; something believed to be unique among North American trees.

Four species are most often seen in gardens: H. japonica from Japan, H. mollis from western and central China, andH. vernalis and H. virginiana from the southern and central United States. Extracts of the bark and leaves ofHamamelis virginiana are used in cosmetics and eye drops. European settlers acquired their knowledge of witch hazel astringents from Native Americans who had used them for many years, mainly for their styptic properties.

Most garden plants, however, are not species but hybrids of the group classified as H. × intermedia. Their parentage is H. japonica × H. mollis and they are generally smaller than the species but with larger and more colourful flowers.

Among the best known and most commonly available H. × intermedia hybrids are: ‘Arnold Promise’, dense clusters of bright yellow flowers; ‘Diane’, orange-yellow darkening to russet red; ‘Jelena’, orange and gold darkening to bronze red; ‘Primavera’; soft primrose yellow; and ‘Ruby Glow’, bright copper red flowers and reliable autumn foliage colour.

There are also several selected forms of H. mollis, but they don’t show such a variation in colour, being mainly yellow shades. Those you’ll most likely see are ‘Goldcrest’, which has bright yellow flowers with a maroon basal blotch, and ‘Pallida’, which has soft sulphur yellow flowers.

In areas with distinct seasons, witch hazels often develop attractive orange and red autumn foliage tones. In mild climates the seasons are often not differentiated sharply enough for these colours to be seen at their best.

Cultivation

Witch hazels are not difficult to grow in a suitable climate. They are very hardy to frost and actually require some winter cold to be at their best. In mild northern areas they may not get the necessary winter chilling to produce good flowering wood and to ensure that the foliage drops completely to reveal the flowers. However, provided your garden sees the occasional light frost, the climatic requirements aren’t too much of a problem.

Witch hazels are otherwise undemanding. Simply give them well-drained soil, an occasional watering in summer and a position in sun or morning shade. If any pruning is required, and it’s rare that anything more than a light trim is necessary, then do it immediately after flowering.

Provided they have been container-grown, witch hazels can be planted out at any time. Open-ground-raised plants should be planted in winter, which is also when any transplanting should be done. Witch hazels of almost any size can be successfully transplanted when dormant.

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Several other member of the Hamamelidaceae family are also valuable additions to the range of winter flowering plants. My favourite is Sycopsis sinensis, a near-evergreen tree from the Himalayas, China and, surprisingly, Malaysia. Its flowers are unscented and relatively small but are beautiful shades of cream, yellow and orange. They’re well worth close inspection. You might also consider the Persian ironbark (Parrotia persica), which, like the witch hazels, is deciduous and flowers when it has no leaves. It is a native of Northern Iran, and while its unscented red flowers are interesting, its most attractive features are its multi-coloured flaking bark and vivid autumn foliage.

CorylopsisFothergilla and Loropetalum are other fairly common genera that belong to the witch hazel family.

Growing Palms

sagopalmbonsaiEverybody recognises palm trees, they are the universal symbol for the tropics but many are hardy enough for our temperate climate gardens. Until recently New Zealand gardeners have had only a very limited range of palms to choose from. In the last five years the range has grown enormously as nurseries have been encouraged by gardeners eager to experiment.
Nevertheless, palms are, on the whole, slightly tender plants. Those that will tolerate regular frosts of -6°C. or more are few in number. If your minimum temperature does not drop below -2°C or if you are in a frost free area the range of suitable plants increases considerably.

There are two main styles of palms; the fan and the feather. The names refer to the layout of the fronds. Fan palms have the leaflets of the frond arranged just like a hand operated fan. The most widely grown fan palm is Trachycarpus fortunei, the Chinese Fan Palm. Feather palms have the leaflets of their fronds arranged along a rigid midrib like a bird’s feather. The most commonly grown feather palm is Phoenix canariensis, the Canary Island Date Palm.
Palms are extremely important plants to the world’s economy. The true date palm or commerce, Phoenix dactylifera, is rarely seen in New Zealand but is the most common commercially grown palm. The coconut, Cocos nucifera, is not far behind. Possibly more significant than fruit crops is the use of palms for shelter. Virtually every tropical third world village relies on palms as a roofing material.

Siting
Although palms are associated with sun and sand most species appreciate light shade when young. Shelter from wind is important if the fronds are to look their best but as the plants eventually become quite large they will eventually have to tolerate exposure to sun and wind.
When siting a palm remember to take into account the spread of the crown. This is not so significant with a mature plant as the crown is usually well above most obstructions. The problem is adolescent plants, which tend to have much the same spread as adults without the height. They take up a considerable area until the trunk begins to develop.

Soil conditions
Palms generally do best in a rich, moist well-drained soil. They have fairly strong roots that anchor them firmly. The roots of many palms can withstand a considerable amount of abuse, which enables the trees to be safely transplanted at almost any size.

Climate adaptability
Many palms are frost tender but there are quite a few that tolerate reasonably tough frosts. The best known are Phoenix canariensis and Trachycarpus fortunei but you should also consider Jubaea chilensis, Chamaerops humilis, Butia capitata, Washingtonia robusta and Brahea armata.
Palms often grow well in coastal conditions but benefit from occasional wash downs to remove any salt spray deposits.

Container growing
Palms often make superb container plants, both indoors and outdoors. Many are undemanding and tolerant of neglect. In cold areas it’s often best to keep young palms in containers until well established. That way they can be moved under cover for winter. Once they have a spread of over 1.5 m or so they should be hardy enough to plant out but if it’s not inconvenient it’s better to wait as long as possible.

Propagation
Palms are nearly always propagated by seed. They usually have only one growing point so vegetative propagation is not practical. Occasionally suckers form at the base of established plants and may be carefully removed for growing on but this is not a reliable method of propagation.
Palm seed varies greatly in its ease of germination. The most common problem is very hard seed coats. No amount of scarification or soaking will soften the toughest of them. Sometimes acid treatment is resorted to but patience is the usual method. Some, such as Butia capitata, may take upwards of a year in the soil before germination but eventually with the right combination of moisture, temperature and time they sprout.

Pests and diseases
Palms are not prone to any unusual pests or diseases. Frost damage is far more likely to the biggest problem.

Palm selection
Do not expect to find all of the species at your local garden centre; many of these palms are only available as seed. Unless otherwise stated all of these palms have panicles of small yellow flowers.

Archontophoenix
The King Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae) is a prominent feature in many tropical and sub-tropical areas but it is too tender for all but the very far north. Archontophoenix cunninghamiana is a better bet but it still requires a near frost free climate with warm summers. It is a feather palm with long arching frond. It can reach 20 m high but rarely exceeds 7 m in New Zealand gardens. The flowers are followed by masses of small red berry-like fruit. Archontophoenix cunninghamiana may be grown indoors but it needs high light and humidity levels. The seeds germinate easily.

Arecastrum-see Syagrus
Arenga
Two species of this genera are suitable for growing outdoors in mild areas. Both are feather palms with broad leaves that have silvery undersides. Arenga pinnata requires near frost free conditions but Arenga engleri from Taiwan will tolerate infrequent light frosts. Both species have interesting flowering habits and fruit. Arenga pinnata is monocarpic; it dies after flowering although it takes at least ten years to reach maturity. Arenga engleri survives to flower again but the leaf stem beside the flower stalk dies. Both species have fruit with extremely caustic pulp. Both species are unlikely to exceed 3.5 m high under New Zealand conditions but Arenga pinnata may reach 18 m high in its native South East Asian region. Arenga pinnata seed germinates quickly and easily but Arenga engleri is erratic and may take several months to sprout. Not usually grown indoors.

Blue Palm-see Brahea
Brahea
These fan palms are becoming more common in New Zealand gardens. Both of the common species Mexican Blue Palm (Brahea armata) and Guadeloupe Palm (Brahea edulis), are reasonably hardy and adaptable plants. B. armata has beautiful, finely divided glaucous fronds. It is the hardier of the two and will withstand -8°C once established. It has a stocky trunk for many years but may eventually reach 12 m high. Brahea edulis is tender when young but withstands -6°C once the trunk is over 10-15 cm diameter. It grows slowly to about 15 m high. Both species are tolerant of drought and low humidity. Brahea armata has 12 mm diameter brown fruit, while Brahea edulis has edible 18 mm diameter blackish fruit. Grow in full sun. The germination of Brahea armata seed is very erratic and may take up to year. Brahea edulis is less tricky but still not very reliable. High light requirements make Brahea unsuitable for indoor cultivation.

Butia
The Yatay, Pindo Palm or Jelly Palm (Butia capitata) from Brazil is a hardy feather palm with long drooping olive to bluish green fronds. It will withstand -10°C once established and deserves to be more extensively grown. It grows to about 7 m high. The flowers are followed by yellow to red 25 mm diameter pulpy fruit. Grow in full sun. Seed germination is highly variable, it is unlikely to take less than two months and may be a year or more. High light requirements mean this palm is not very suitable for growing indoors. California palm-see Washingtonia

Canary Island date palm-see Phoenix

Caryota
The Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis) is often grown as a house plant and is unlikely to grow well outdoors except in the very far north. Caryota urens has slightly lower heat requirements but will not tolerate any frost. It has very dark green, slightly arching fronds. All Caryota palms have intricately cut bipinnate feather fronds. Most species grow to large sizes (over 18 m high) in the tropics but are unlikely to exceed 8 m high under New Zealand conditions. They have fruit with caustic pulp that should not be handled with bare hands. The seed germinates easily. Caryota palms grow well indoors but prefer warmth and high humidity.

Chamaerops
The Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) is a bushy fan palm that is usually multi-trunked and will not exceed 6 m high. The trunks take many years to form and are seldom seen in gardens. Most plants grow to about 1.5 m high x 5 m wide. The fronds are tipped with sharp spines. It is a very hardy palm that tolerates -15°C. Tolerant of low humidity and drought. Grow in full sun. The seed germinate well and takes about six weeks to sprout. High light requirements and sharp spines make it unsuitable for indoor use.

Chilean wine palm-see Jubaea
Chinese fan palm-see Trachycarpus
Cocos
The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera) is one the most important commercial crops. It is essentially a tropical palm but will grow outdoors in frost free areas of the far north. It is a large feather palm that often develops a leaning trunk. It may grow to 30 m high in the tropics but rarely exceeds 8 m in gardens. The fruit seldom will not develop to its normal size in our climate but becomes large enough to be a conversation piece. Coconuts germinate well but take at least three months to sprout. They need consistent warmth and the whole nut must be planted, do not strip away the husk. May be grown indoors but resents cold draughts.

Date palm-see Phoenix
Euterpe
Although primarily a tropical plant the Assai Palm (Euterpe edulis) will grow outdoors in frost free areas with warm summers. It is a feather palm with arching fronds and graceful drooping leaflets. The trunk is improbably slim fro the size of the foliage head and may grow to 25 m high although it is unlikely to exceed 10 m high under New Zealand conditions. The fruit is black and about 12 mm diameter. The seeds germinate easily. May be grown indoors when young.

Fishtail palm-see Caryota
Howea
Very popular indoors but capable of growing outdoors in frost free areas, these palms were formerly classified as Kentia and are still widely known by that name. Two species, Howea belmoreana and Howea forsterana, are grown. Both are natives of Lord Howe Island. They are feather palms with deep green gracefully arching fronds and narrow trunks. Howea belmoreana grows to about 7 m high and Howea forsterana about 15 m high but both are unlikely to reach these sizes in New Zealand gardens. They have brown olive sized fruit that takes two years to ripen. Only very fresh seed will germinate and even then it is erratic. Both species need shade when young, which is why they perform well indoors.

Jubaea
The Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis) is a hardy (-8°C) feather palm that should be more widely grown. It has deep green arching fronds and a very distinctive trunk. The trunk becomes greatly enlarged, rather like a baobab tree, so that when mature it may be up 2 m diameter. Within the trunk is a large reserve of sap, which may be tapped and fermented into an alcoholic drink, hence the name Wine Palm. This palm can grow to 20 m high or more but it takes many years to get above 10 m high. The 40 mm diameter fruit is yellow and the seed it contains germinates easily but takes about four months to sprout. May be grown indoors but has high light requirements.

Kentia-see Howea
Lady palm-see Rhapis
Livistona
These fan palms are native to South East Asia and Australia. Two species, Livistona australis and Livistona chinensis, are suitable for growing outdoors in mild areas. They are very similar to one another. Both have deep green spiny fronds with leaflets that droop and fray at the tips. They have quite solidly built trunks that grow to about 12-15 m high. Under New Zealand conditions it takes many years for them to reach 10 m high. Both species are hardy to about -5°C when well-established. Livistona australis has 18 mm diameter reddish fruit and Livistona chinensis has 25 mm diameter green fruit. The seed of both species germinates easily and quickly. May be grown as house plants but they have high light requirements.

Nikau-see Rhopalostylis
Palmetto-see Sabal
Phoenix
The Canary Island Date Palm is by far the most common feather palm grown in New Zealand gardens. It has deep green arching fronds and a trunk studded with bases of old fronds. When young, the trunk tends to be quite bulbous but as it gains height it becomes more tree-like. A mature tree may be up to 18 m high and have a very solid trunk. The fruit is about 40 mm diameter and yellowish orange. Phoenix dactylifera is the true ‘Date Palm’ of commerce that is such a well-known symbol of North Africa and the Middle East. It has shorter fronds in a less dense head than Phoenix canariensis. It is much taller when mature, up to 25 m high. Both Phoenix canariensis and Phoenix dactylifera will withstand -8°C when established but should not be exposed to hard frosts until the have a short trunk. Phoenix dactylifera needs hot summers to grow well and is unlikely to produce edible dates in a cool summer climate.
A third species, the Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelinii) is considerably less hardy but it can be grown outdoors in frost free areas. It is frequently used as a container plant as it only grows to about 3 m high. There are several other species that would be suitable for growing in New Zealand gardens but they are rarely seen . Among those most likely to do well are Phoenix loureiri, Phoenix rupicola and Phoenix sylvestris. All Phoenix palm seeds germinates quickly and easily. All species make excellent house plants when young.

Queen palm-see Syagrus.
Rhapidophyllum
The Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is native to the south eastern United States. It is a hardy fan palm that remains low growing and bushy. The olive green fronds have sharp spines on the petioles and the tips of the leaflets are also sharp. It grows into a multi-trunked clump about 1.5 m high x 4 m wide. Makes a vicious, nearly impenetrable hedge. It is hardy to about -12°C but requires constant warm summer temperatures to grow well. Has 18 mm long green oval fruit, the seeds from which germinate erratically. Grow in full sun. Its spines make it unsuitable as a house plant.

Rhapis
The Lady palms are multi-trunked fan palms that are hardy to about -3°C when established but require warm summers to grow well. Two very similar species are grown, Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) and Slender Lady Palm (Rhapis humilis). They have small fronds on fibre covered bamboo-like canes. They form dense bushy clumps to about 4 m high with foliage to ground level. Rhapis excelsa has 12 mm diameter green fruit and grows quickly and easily from seed. Rhapis humilis does not produce seed and may not be a true species. It is grown from basal suckers. Both species are excellent house plants that tolerate low light levels and neglect.

Rhopalostylis
This genus is most commonly represented in gardens by our only native palm, the Nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida), but also includes Rhopalostylis baueri, which is a similar species from Norfolk Island. Sometimes known as Shaving Brush palms because of the prominent bulge beneath the foliage head both species are elegant feather palms that grow to about 8 m high under garden conditions although Rhopalostylis baueri can reach 15 m high or more in the wild. Both species tolerate only light frosts. Rhopalostylis sapida grows well in cool climates provided they are nearly frost free but Rhopalostylis baueri needs steady summer warmth. Both species have 18 mm diameter red fruit. Seed germinates reliably but may take over three months to sprout. Seedlings are slow growing and need shade. Good house plants when young.

Sabal
The Palmetto palms are native to the southeastern United States and Mexico. They are fan palms and often have large fronds. Two species are readily available. Sabal minor and Sabal palmetto. They are among the smaller species: Sabal minor is a bushy, often multi-trunked and grows to about 3.5 m high while Sabal palmetto is more tree-like but rarely exceeds 7 m high. S. minor has glaucous fronds. Both species are hardy to about -6°C once established and both have 12 mm diameter black fruit. The seed germinates quickly and easily. There are several other species worthy of trying but they are seldom available. Of these Sabal domingensis is the most distinctive as it can grow to 25 m high. Sabal mexicana and Sabal uresana are also tree sized. S. uresana has silver grey fronds and is very drought tolerant. These palms have high light requirements and are unlikely to be good house plants except for conservatories.

the_saw_palmSeranoa
The Saw Palmetto (Seranoa repens) is bushy fan palm native to Florida. It grows into a clump about 2.5 m high x 4 m wide, often multi-trunked. The fronds are silvery grey to glaucous with sharp tipped leaflets. Hardy to about -4°C. Grow in full sun. The fruit is oval, about 18 mm long and black. The seed germinates well but may take a few months to sprout. Can also be grown from suckers. High light requirements would probably limit this species as a house plant.

Syagrus
The Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana [syn. Arecastrum romanzoffiana]), is frequently seen as a street tree in tropical and sub-tropical cities. This Brazilian native has very long finely divided arching plumose fronds that move in the slightest breeze. It has a slender trunk that can reach 18 m high but is unlikely to exceed 10 m under New Zealand conditions. Hardy to -5°C when mature but needs protection from frosts until about 1.5 m high with a good crown. Also needs warm summers to grow well. Has yellow fruit about 25 mm in diameter and 18 mm long seeds that germinate quickly and easily. It makes a good house plant when young but needs bright light and humidity.

Trachycarpus
The Chinese Fan Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is probably the hardiest of the tree-like palms. It will tolerate -12°C from a young age. The fronds are deep green and quite luxuriant on young plants grown in the shade but they rapidly deteriorate in full sun and strong wind. The trunk is covered in fibre and the bases of old fronds and may be up to 12 m high. The small 12 mm diameter grape-like fruit is bluish with a grey bloom. The seed germinates quickly and easily. As this palm prefers shade when young it makes a good house plant when young. There are other species worth growing, such as the very dwarf Trachycarpus nanus, but they are seldom available.

Washingtonia
These palms are synonymous with Southern California. They are fan palms with very straight trunks. Two species are grown, one Californian (Washingtonia filifera) and the other Mexican (Washingtonia robusta). Washingtonia filifera can grow to 20 m high and is quite stocky. Washingtonia robusta, which is sometimes called Sky Duster, has a very narrow trunk and may reach 30 m high or more. Under New Zealand conditions they are slow growing and unlikely to reach such impressive dimensions. The fronds have long petioles for fan palms. Both species will survive -6°C once established but need summer heat to grow well. Both have 18 mm diameter fruit that is reddish green when ripe. Both species appreciate light shade when young. The seed germinates quickly and easily. May be grown as house plants until too large to remain inside.