Seeing red

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Fuchsia boliviana (foreground)

In my younger gardening days, I grew few red flowers, as I had a penchant for soft, romantic pastels - red seemed such a harsh and strident colour! But in recent years, I have come to love and appreciate stronger colours and my pastels are now confined to a single border! Red certainly is a hue that demands attention, as it seems to leap towards you rather than receding away as pale blues, purples and pinks do. It can stop you in your tracks, but this characteristic can be harnessed in a garden to slow down visitors to admire a planting based around the colour red. I also enjoy using red flowers in part-shaded areas, where they can glow like burning coals and lift a gloomy spot. I think that a spangle of smaller red flowers amongst greenery or other colours look better than huge slabs of red, which can be exhausting on the eye! At the moment in my garden, one of the show-stoppers is my red Fuchsia boliviana shrub. I did mention this plant in a blog in June, thinking it was a winter-only bloomer, but it has steadily got better and better as the months have gone on. Its arching stems are now dripping with clusters of slim, pendulous red flowers, and I am enjoying it in a grouping with the long-flowering marmalade plant (Streptosolen jamesonii), harlequin-coloured Lobelia laxiflora and the indefatigable yellow daisy bush Euryops chrysanthemoides. I also have this Fuchsia growing in a shaded garden, but it certainly is not as floriferous there as the one in the sunnier corner.

Salvia adenophora in the garden of Kerry Mitchell in Kurrajong, NSW

I like red Salvia specimens but I haven't had a lot of success with many of them. Salvia gesnerifolia 'Tequila' (still in flower now) is of course gorgeous, but it is a big grower and take up a lot of space. Other smaller ones have proved to be poor bloomers in my garden. However, I have been trialling Salvia adenophora over the last few years and have had good luck with it. It is tall (to 2 m) but keeps a fairly slim profile, so doesn't take up too much space. It has clusters of scarlet flowers over a very long period from autumn into spring - and mine is still flowering. It is in a part-shaded position and still has had lots of blooms. It comes from Mexico and has nicely corrugated leaves.

Salvia Josh

During a recent weekend in Queensland, I visited two tropical cottage-style gardens in Ipswich and in one of these I saw a fabulous red Salvia about a metre tall, smothered in quite large red flowers and having attractive textured foliage - a Salvia I had never seen before. There was a plant stall at the garden and I was able to purchase a specimen of this plant, which has the cultivar name 'Josh' and which apparently was turned up as a seedling in a Queensland garden. In Queensland, it apparently flowers all year. I am looking forward to growing this one: it is always exciting to find something totally different, and some spontaneous Salvia seedlings in Australian gardens have proved to be some of the best plants I have ever known, such as the lovely 'Wendy's Wish'!

Pelargonium x hortorum Calliope Dark Red aka Big Red

Another recent purchase of mine was a Pelargonium that I had heard from friends from my local garden club was a fabulous bloomer - by the name of 'Big Red'. It has incredibly eye-catching large, velvety, dark red flowers above rich green foliage, and forms a mound about 40 cm high and 35 cm wide. This is a cross between an ivy and a zonal Pelargonium (and its full name is apparently Pelargonium x hortorum 'Calliope Dark Red') and apparently does not develop the awful rust that infects the leaves of many zonal Pelargonium in our humid Sydney climate. It is said to be heat and drought tolerant, and can grow in sun or part shade - and is in bloom almost all year round! I have never had a lot of success with zonal Pelargonium so I am really looking forward to growing this one.

Ruellia elegans

Earlier in the year I was given some very healthy-looking cuttings of Ruellia elegans - these have now developed into sturdy little plants and I have put them out into the garden. A member of the family Acanthaceae, this is a sprawling perennial (ht 1 m) with brilliant red funnel-shaped flowers in spring, summer and autumn. I have seen it in a friend's garden looking fantastic with red Dahlia and yellow Lycoris underneath a yellow Brugmansia. I have planted mine to spill over the edge of a retaining wall, nearby some lime-coloured foliage, against which the flowers really zing. I also like to grow red flowers near to dark purplish-bronze leaves - a vibrant combination. This Ruellia was a feature of the two gardens I saw in Ipswich - both of which contained many other Acanthaceae specimens, much to my joy.

Because of its chromatic strength, red probably shouldn't be overused in gardens, as it will dominate and overpower a planting. Judiciously used, however, it can provide an exhilarating dimension to your garden!