Winter wonders

Sunday, 07 July 2013

Hybrid hellebore

July is not a pleasant month in my garden, which is looking distinctly shabby at the moment. The cold weather has cast a yellow tinge over many evergreen leaves, my warm-climate plants are looking lank and overgrown, and there is a profusion of weeds. I don't like to prune too many of my cold-sensitive plants just yet; however, some things - such as ornamental grasses, Canna and Salvia of the type that have fresh new growth appearing at their centres - can be done now, to make things look a bit tidier.

Camellia japonica Lovelight

I went searching today for some winter blooms for this blog to cheer myself up, and found that there are actually quite a few things out in my garden that can give pleasure at this time of year. I have two main colour 'stories' for winter: cool, clear whites that echo the icy temperatures; and bright colours to engender a sense of warmth - reds, oranges and yellows. White flowers out at the moment include my white Daphne, which is smothered in blooms and smelling divine; Camellia ranging from the large, opulent 'Lovelight' japonica cultivar (pictured above) to the dainty miniature flowers of 'Blondie'; cute snowflake bulbs (Leucojum aestivum); petite Primula malacoides; white Iris unguicularis and the first blooms of my white Iris japonica; and white hybrid Hellebore.

Megaskepasma erythrochlamys

I also found some nice splashes of hot hues. Red Camellia japonica cultivars 'Moshio' and 'Wildfire', planted a few years ago, have now developed into robust shrubs with plenty of flowers. Brazilian red cloak (Megaskepasma erythrochlamys, pictured at left) is a warm-climate shrub from the Acanthaceae family growing to around 3 m tall, and it is smothered in plump cerise plumes of flower at the moment. In fact, it has been flowering since May. My specimen had been competing with a Brugmansia right next to it in previous years - with that shrub now gone, the Brazilian red cloak has flourished and this year it has its best show ever. It is an easy shrub to grow in Sydney.

Justicia aurea

Another Acanthaceae plant that is blooming well this year is Justicia aurea (pictured at left). It is like a brilliant yellow version of the so-called plume flower (Justicia carnea), but blooms in winter. It looks effective grown nearby gold-variegated shrubs such as Euonymus japonicus 'Aureus', or other bright-coloured plants such as its own relative, cute firefly (Justicia rizzinii), with its scarlet, orange and yellow-toned bell-shaped flowers, which are coming out now. Another Acanthaceae plant that I have, acquired from a stall at an open garden during my trip to Brisbane last year, has begun to flower, and it looks a bit like Justicia aurea, having a yellow, feathery sort of flower, but with the addition of yellow whiskers. This plant is Schaueria flavicoma, said to grow to about a metre in height. Mine is flowering in part shade, and I will be watching its progress with interest, to see how suited it is to my Sydney garden.

Euphorbia pulcherrima, the poinsettia

I have always loved poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) flowers, and these are out now and will remain for a long time, being comprised of bracts rather than petals. The large red inflorescences are very striking. A few years ago, I propagated a yellow-flowered one from a cutting from a friend, and it has finally started to bulk up and has a nice lot of blooms on it this year.

Dendrobium speciosum in bud

Golden jonquils are in flower - giving welcome fragrance as well. During my walk around the garden, I was excited to see lots of spikes on epiphytic Dendrobium speciosum, an Australian native orchid, which is growing in a tree. Its pale yellow flowers will open in August. I could also pleased to see the red snouts of the dramatic bulb Scadoxus puniceus, which will also bloom in August, with enormous paintbrush flowers.

Salvia rubiginosa

Other flowers of various hues light up my mid-winter garden, including bright pink Nerine bowdenii and a number of Salvia. Salvia rubiginosa particularly took my eye, with its brilliant blue flowers held in purple calyces. Salvia roscida (syn. Salvia fallax) is just starting to open its pale blue spikes of flower - these are not large but the shrub is smothered with them and it gives a pretty, misty effect. Usefully, this plant will grow in shade. I have my first spire on one of my new cultivars: 'Timboon', a lovely burgundy flower in a sultry calyx. Another interesting winter flowerer is Crassula ovata, which is a succulent plant that grows into the shape of a miniature tree to around 90 cm tall, and has sprays of tiny white or pale pink starry blooms - a great plant for a tub.

There are lots of winter flowers to decorate our Sydney gardens in winter!