Winter solace

Sunday, 03 July 2011

Tithonia diversifolia

In the depths of winter, I seek solace in the flowers that brave the chill, and I have written a number of blogs on these special blooms: those coloured in hot hues, some from South Africa and the Mediterranean, scented ones, white ones and some belonging to the Acanthaceae family of plants, along with japonica camellias, hellebores, orchids and Salvia species and cultivars! Today I wandered around the garden finding others that I hadn't ever written about and picked an unlikely posy of blooms, each of which, I realised afterwards, had some sort of sentimental significance for me. The first to catch my eye was the bold golden daisy of Tithonia diversifolia - sometimes known as the tree marigold - from Mexico and Central America. It grows as a tall, rather ungainly shrubby perennial (ht to 4.5 m) so is not the easiest plant to incorporate into a suburban garden; however, this year I was somehow able to weave the stems down through the branches of some nearby shrubs, thus bringing the flowers to eye level rather than having them tower way above my head.

Its brilliant cheery blooms are such a tonic on a brisk July day and evoke memories for me of a time more than a decade ago when I was obsessed with hot-coloured winter flowers to illuminate the winter garden and was to give a talk on the subject to a local garden club. I was desperate for a specimen of the tree marigold to photograph for the talk, so was thrilled when my mother brought back a flowering stem that had been used as part of a still-life subject for her watercolour class. Not only was I able to photograph the flower but I struck the cutting and that is what blooms in my garden today amidst some of the other hot-coloured flowers I collected during that phase of my life!

Strobilanthes gossypinus in bloom

One of the Acanthaceae plants that I grow, which I hadn't realised was a winter bloomer - Strobilanthes gossypinus - has flowered for the first time this year. It is a beautiful plant growing to a little over a metre in height, with exquisite velvety silver foliage - sufficient reason to grow it - however, it is also very drought tolerant and has the added bonus of stunning lilac flowers in racemes, which are making the branches arch over like a fountain at the moment. But ... I have read that flowering is sometimes a prelude to its imminent demise - which may be a myth, but I am going to take cuttings just in case as I would hate to be without this plant in my garden! The nostalgic value of this plant is that I bought it from Belrose Nursery just before it closed a couple of years ago, so it serves as a reminder of that wonderful place, which was a mecca for many Sydney gardeners in search of beautiful plants and inspiration.

White version of Iris unguicularis

Another drought-resistant plant in bloom at the moment is Iris unguicularis (ht 50 cm). This is a rhizomatous Mediterranean plant and it grows far better in inland NSW than it does in Sydney (the garden at the farm, for instance, has huge flowering clumps of this species), but it does survive in our gardens and produces enough flowers to justify its existence. The mauve-blue form is most commonly seen but the one I have out at the moment is a very pretty white one called 'Alba', and it is a joy to see its flowers unfurl from its tight scrolls of buds. Iris unguicularis was one of the first plants I ever read about as flowering in winter, more than 25 years ago, so I am fond of it for that reason; this particular white one came from the garden of one of my gardening 'gurus' - an amazing plantswoman who lived around the corner from me and was an active gardener and plant collector until the age of 95. I cannot see these flowers without recalling her encyclopaedic knowledge, her infectious enthusiasm and her generosity in sharing her plants, so it will always have a place in my garden. I am actually finding that the white one is more floriferous than the blue, which I hadn't expected, as some writers have found it a weaker plant.

Centratherum punctatum

Another plant in bloom at the moment is a rather unusual, short-lived perennial called Centratherum punctatum (ht 50 cm), which actually flowers most of the year but seems to be particularly good at the moment. It has flowers like fluffy round purple buttons, held above interesting leaves that look like they have been cut with pinking shears. I have never seen it for sale anywhere - it came to me originally from a dear friend, and then I was given it again by another friend when it somehow disappeared from my garden. The plants seem to last for a few years and then fade away but they do self-seed and I now make sure that I always have a few coming on to replace the older specimens. The flower has a quaint charm and always reminds me of those kind friends who each took the time to dig up a seedling that has brought a lot of pleasure to me on cold winter's days over the years.

Reader Comments

  • By Jill 3941 Monday, 04 July 2011

    Thank you Deidre for the 'winter solace' and the reminder of how our gardens are a remembrance of the friends who contributed to them. I don't see any of those particular plants where I live down south, but there are others who provide winter solace here.

    Thanks, Jill. It's so true that plants from friends are what make a garden so personal. Deirdre

  • By Sue 2073 Monday, 04 July 2011

    Hi Deidre, My favourite flower in winter are the tiny violets They are quite prolific this year. I have some of the large dark variety which came from my mothers garden in Canberra many years ago and when I pick a bunch I think of her - I also have the sweet smelling common variety. Sue

    Thanks, Sue. Yes violets are wonderful in winter and I like that large one. They make such a good carpet, even in quite a sunny spot. Deirdre

  • By Densey 2446 Monday, 04 July 2011

    Deirdre, Im only just pruning my salvias- throughout autumn the garden was alive with Eastern Spinebills, also 4 different native bees. I am loath to destroy such great sources of nectar - but Spring will be upon us soon. Thanks for sharing your winter cheer with us.Densey

    You are so lucky to be visited by those spinebills! We used to have them here years ago but now it is all miner birds and lorikeets. They love the salvias and seem to enjoy swinging on the stems and breaking them! Deirdre

  • By Lyn 4570 Monday, 04 July 2011

    How wonderful are those garden memories! In Qld both the Tithonias and Centratherum are are invasive-but pretty. My new winter favourites are the banksias golden candles and Strobilanthes 'Darwin Bells'. Cheers, Lyn

    Yes, it is true that those two plants I featured can self-seed a lot in Qld and shouldn't be grown near bushland. I haven't found them invasive in my Sydney garden (so far!). The banksia and that Strobilanthes are both great for winter blooms. Deirdre

  • By Carole 2230 Monday, 04 July 2011

    Oh yes, the yellow daisy bush is an annual cheer-up at a glance at this time of the year, along with the banskia. I am also enjoying the double hibiscus, the beautiful impatiens colours and the odd flowers on young azaleas as well as delicate sasanqua camellias. Many thanks for your thoughts Deidre.

    There are lots of flowers that do bloom now - we are lucky to be in a relatively mild climate! Deirdre

  • By therese 2119 Tuesday, 05 July 2011

    Thanks for your reminder to go out & look for these cheery winter blooms (sometimes I get too busy & forget to)....I'm really enjoying this winter as it reminds me of the crispy cold winters of years ago...maybe the plants are flowering better because of this true season were having?

    It could be the reason. Also, a cold winter makes a lot of spring flowers better too! Deirdre

  • By Libby 2093 Tuesday, 05 July 2011

    Hi Thank you for lovely commentary. It took me years to find the yellow tree daisy. My favourite flower at the moment is the beautiful apricot brugmansia which is dripping with heavenly scented flowers. Looking forward to your next blog.

    Thanks Libby. It is amazing how the brugmansia has flushes of blooms right through the year. My apricot one was a joy about six weeks ago. Rain seems to promote a new flush of bloom. Deirdre

  • By Peter 2008 Wednesday, 06 July 2011

    Hi Deirdre - yes winter can be a very interesting time for flowering plants , many that I've used on this concrete slab roof garden www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1FOp6Oa6cQ' turned 'abundant' that I thought you might like to see .. Cheers Peter

    Thanks for the link - that garden looks fab. Deirdre

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