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.