November's little treasures

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dicentra formosa

Normally, I do not focus in my blog on the few small, delicate little perennials that still remain in my garden, years after my erstwhile cottage garden was transformed into a more subtropical style. However, at the moment, those survivors from what really were wonderfully enjoyable years, when my friends and I dreamed of creating English-style gardens and went on fabulous nursery crawls in search of cottage-y perennials, are in bloom. I love to see them in flower year after year - because despite the fact that so few of them suit the climate of much of the Sydney region, they are truly beautiful plants. Those gardeners who live in the less humid, more elevated, cooler parts of Sydney can enjoy many more of them than I can, but here are some that survive for me.

Dicentra formosa var. alba

I have had the white form of Dicentra formosa (var. alba, ht 30-45 cm) for as long as I can remember and I am pretty sure I grew it in my Ryde garden as well, nearly 20 years ago. It is related to the exquisite cool-climate Dicentra spectabilis (from Siberia, North China and Korea), often called 'bleeding heart', with its racemes of pink or white heart-shaped flowers - very difficult to grow in most parts of Sydney. I was content to grow its cousin from North America, which has clusters of nodding, heart-shaped flowers above dainty ferny leaves. It spreads by rhizomes to make a good sized-clump, dying down completely over winter. Last year I acquired the pink one (pictured at the start of the blog), which is the original species, and I have been thrilled to see it flower this month. These plants do need a shaded, cool, moist position in the garden, being woodland plants in their native habitats.

Corydalis flexuosa

A related plant is Corydalis flexuosa (ht 30 cm), from China, with similar lacy leaves and delightful blue flowers comprised of clusters of slender tubes. It has a reputation for being 'difficult' but I have found it grows well in the same area as my Dicentra plants, and has spread quite well over the years. It tends to be dormant for part of the year. There is another Corydalis which grows all too easily in my garden - which I think is C. lutea - with yellow flowers. It blooms earlier in spring and can become a weed, so I don't recommend anyone actually plants that one. The blue version does not become weedy. Dicentra and Corydalis can be grown in pots if a suitable position in the garden cannot be found.

Campanula poscharskyana E K Toogood

I always loved Campanula in my cottage garden days, but only two species remain in the garden - the unusual Campanula rapunculus (ht 30-40 cm) with its tall blue spires, and the ground-covering and robust Campanula poscharskyana (ht 15 cm), which seem to have flowered particularly well this spring. I have the usual white- and blue-flowering forms, with their attractive star-shaped blooms, as well as an interesting cultivar with a white centre called 'E K Toogood' (pictured). This one is not as vigorous as the others, but is very attractive. They seem to do best in part-shaded spots. In the photograph, it is shown with a strange plant I grew from seed years ago - Talinum paniculatum (ht 45 cm) - which has vivid, shiny, lime-green leaves: a fantastic foliage plant in sun or part-shade. Its only vice is a excessive tendency to self-seed.

Sutera cordata

When I was preparing my garden for the visit of the garden group earlier this spring, I planted out a couple of large pots at my entrance to distract the eye from the bareness of my borders. I included several plants of the South African groundcover known as bacopa (Sutera cordata, ht 20-30 cm, spread to 40 cm). They have simple, rounded flowers and come in various colours in single and double forms. I chose the cultivars 'Gulliver Snow', 'Double Pink Pearl' and 'Great Purple'. They have bloomed constantly since being shoved desperately into the pots two months ago and seem very tolerant of a hot, sunny position, though can apparently also grow in part-shade. I plan to move them into the ground eventually. They seem to be excellent plants for creating a soft and flowery effect, especially for cascading over walls.

These little plants can't make a big statement in a Sydney garden, but I always enjoy seeing them flower, as a reminder of the cottage garden that once existed mainly in my fantasy world.