Finding plants for shade

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Begonia Anita at the nursery

We may wish that plant fairs could be held every weekend but alas, they are not. With the dwindling numbers of retail nurseries in Sydney, it is becoming harder to find good places to buy plants during the rest of the year. I am not a huge fan of the enormous nursery chains, even though they do have some interesting plants at times. I have always preferred to visit smaller establishments where the owners have grown the plants themselves and have a genuine passion for and understanding of their wares. Unless we gardeners support these sorts of nurseries, they will vanish altogether.

Cane Begonia Esther Albertine at the nursery

I recently paid a visit to such a nursery at Annangrove in Sydney's north-west, run by Ross and Christine Bolwell. This nursery specialises in plants for shade and semi-shade, although they do also sell some specimens suited to full sun (including Salvia varieties). Ross is well known for his interest in the genus Begonia, and the nursery is the venue for several Begonia shows held during the year. Begonia are outstanding plants for shaded spots in Sydney gardens, growing easily and not requiring much maintenance. The cane and shrub types bloom for many months - from late spring until the end of autumn - and there is such a wide diversity of in the colour of the flowers and the shape, texture, hue and patterning of the foliage. The rhizome types make wonderful groundcovers for dry shaded areas and have a mindboggling array of leaf forms and colours; the pretty clouds of flowers appear in spring. Ross has bred many gorgeous new cultivars of Begonia over the years and naturally enough, Begonia are a highlight of his nursery, and it is the probably the best place in Sydney to find any variety you are looking for.

However, he also has many other plants of interest to Sydney gardeners for sale. His nursery is full of a wide range of shade- and semi-shade loving specimens, all of which have been tested for their suitability for our climate. They include many of my favourite plants: as regular readers of this blog will know, I have a special interest in plants from the family Acanthaceae, as they grow so easily in Sydney and in general (though not always) are adapted to shadier spots in the garden. I saw many of my favourite plants from this family at the nursery - the large, fluffy, yellow-flowered Justicia aurea, the dainty pink fringe-flowered Justicia brasiliana, the beautiful silver and purple foliage plant Strobilanthes dyeriana, red-bloomed Ruellia elegans and the dramatic Brazilian red cloak (Megaskepasma erythrochlamys).

Native Plectranthus from the Mt Carbine area at the nursery

I also have a fondness for Plectranthus plants, which are also excellent for shaded spots and easily cultivated. Ross grows a number of different types and I was interested in an unusual tall, shrubby native species with lemon-scented, velvety leaves from the Mt Carbine area. He also has a number of the smaller Plectranthus growing in hanging baskets, and these form a very attractive feature that could be hung in trees.

Some of the foliage plants for sale at the nursery

Many foliage plants are suited to shade and Ross has many very striking forms of coleus in his nursery. These plants have really made a comeback in recent years and they grow so well in Sydney, giving colour over a long period and being very useful for making colour echoes with other nearby plants. Hypoestes phyllostachya - the freckle-face plant (and another member of the family Acanthaceae) - is a useful foliage plant for dry, shaded spots, and Ross has various colours of these.

Fuchsia Tom West

A number of good old-fashioned plants that our parents and grandparents knew and grew as stalwarts for shaded positions - which are not easily obtainable these days - can be found in this nursery, such as the gold dust plant (Aucuba japonica 'Variegata') and the coral berry shrub (Ardisia crenata). I saw some very healthy-looking yellow-flowered Clivia miniata; some hardy Fuchsia, including an interesting variegated one called Fuchsia 'Tom West' (pictured above) and the tree fuchsia (F. arborescens); and the so-called evergreen hydrangea (Dichroa febrifuga), an excellent shrub for part-shade with large pinkish or blue flower-heads over a long period. Another plant featured is Brugmansia, in a variety of colours.

Ross has much knowledge to share with customers and can give advice on selecting plants. He gives talks to garden clubs and is also happy to have clubs or groups come to the nursery to visit. The nursery is located at 226 Annangrove Rd, Annangrove NSW, and is open to the public during the week from Wednesdays to Sundays from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm - just give them a call to confirm your visit beforehand on 0408 220918 or 0418 487816. For a list of some of the plants on offer, look here.

Reader Comments

  • By margaret 2122 Monday, 28 April 2014

    I heartily concur with this assessment of Ross and Christine"s Annangrove nursery, having been a constant visitor for many years. For the purchase of begonias of all types, this is the place to visit, with an outstanding array of plants available. Ross willingly shares his vast knowledge, and now that shade plants are offered, this is an added incentive to call in to find plants, well-grown and competitively priced, and often unobtainable elsewhere. Call in, you won"t be disappointed! Thanks, Margaret. I look forward to my next visit. Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 28 April 2014

    Deirdre I"ve never been to Ross"s nursery and will certainly go now. My bush/shade house could do with a lift.Think I might have bought a beautiful variegated Begonia very like your first image at the Collectors" Plant Fair along with some unusual Fuchsias. With the climate getting warmer our mountain garden seems to be able to host a wider variety of "coastal" species. I am sure you will find some interesting plants at the nursery, Peta. Deirdre

  • By Chris 4034 Monday, 28 April 2014

    It sounds like Ross"s nursery is the kind of nursery I like to visit as well. Here in Brisbane, there are not many small nurseries that can keep up with the big commercial shops. I notice that the small nurseries stock different plants that are not always in season and that gives us the opportunity to buy things the larger nurseries do not have. I love the old tried and true plants of our grandparents time. Deidre, you seem to like the same plants as I do. Here in Sydney we have lost most of our small nurseries too. Such a shame, as visiting them is a real experience, unlike going to the rather soulless chain nurseries, which always seem to leave me dispirited rather than uplifted, for some reason. I do like the old-fashioned plants of my parents" and grandparents" gardens - and I still have plants that came from those gardens. Deirdre

  • By Alison 2125 Monday, 28 April 2014

    For those interested in begonias I can recommend the Begonia House in Mitchell Park at Bathurst. It has a fantastic display of begonias in flower at the moment. And it is a ideal time for a weekend road trip to the central west of NSW as the countryside is lush and green, and sprinkled with autumn colour. Thanks for that tip, Alison. It"s great to escape into the country for a weekend at this time of year. Deirdre

  • By Fred 2282 Monday, 28 April 2014

    A year ago I purchased a white flowering Justicia from the Hunter Botanic garden, it complements my 2 J. Carnea, not tried to take cuttings yet, maybe this year. The white one is very pretty. This is a good time of year to take a cutting. Deirdre

  • By Peter 2008 Tuesday, 29 April 2014

    Yes Deirdre, Ross & Chris have changed their offering away from just begonias to an array tempting warm temperate coastal treasures, many that are very hard to find but grow exceedingly well for the majority of people who have frost free gardens on or near the coast. Will be holding stall space at Central Coast Plant Lovers fair on 27th & 28th September BTW .. ECITEMENT Thanks, Peter. There are many excellent plants at the nursery. Deirdre

  • By Patricia 2100 Wednesday, 30 April 2014

    Another really helpful blog....without it the collectors plant fair would be unknown to me and presumably lots of others. Next car trip will be to Annangrove. Thanks again for such a gem of a blog. Thanks for your feedback, Patricia; hope you enjoy your visit to the nursery. Deirdre

  • By Jenny 2120 Friday, 02 May 2014

    I know there"s a real concern about BEES which we"ve all learnt about as kids but I think it"s a pity that few know about our very own special varieties of NATIVE bees which are I understand in some ways actually threatened by THOSE bees!

  • By Lynsey 2100 Wednesday, 07 May 2014

    Looking forward to visiting Annandale. Thanks big trees on the other side of the fence, most of our garden is now shady and sun-loving plants are struggling. Thanks, Lynsey. Please note that the nursery is in Annangrove rather than Annandale! Deirdre

  • By Lynsey 2100 Wednesday, 07 May 2014

    Oops! Thank you!

  • By Eric 2428 Monday, 28 July 2014

    A few questions.What is the nursery called? Does it have a website & offer plants via internet or phone orders? Does it sell many natives suitable for shady coastal gardens? I"m on the NSW coast about a half hour south of Forster. Have a south facing garden pretty much totally shaded by tall rainforest trees on the other three sides. On the north & east they"re on steep hills causing even more shade. Pretty much no sun in winter when the sun is lower. Any flowering natives I could use here? Thanks for your queries. The nursery at the moment is called Bloomin Greenery and although there are plans to sell online through a website, I am not sure if that is happening yet. I suggest that you give Ross a call on the number shown in the blog to discuss what you are looking for and see if plants can be posted. Hope this is of some help. Deirdre

  • By Eric 2428 Tuesday, 29 July 2014

    Thanks Deirdre!

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