Hot colours of spring

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Left to right: Salvia gesneriiflora Tequila, Lobelia laxiflora, Streptosolen jamesonii

Perhaps due to an overexposure to the colour pink when I was a young mother with two little girls who would only wear clothes of that hue for quite some time, I don't have a lot of pink flowers in my garden. At this time of year, sugary pink seems to be everywhere: azaleas, Prunus, crab apples, zonal geraniums and various other specimens. I find myself instead drawn to brilliant hot colours at this time of year. I have written in a previous blog about my semi-shaded border which features massed orange Clivia, the amazing Scadoxus bulb, Abutilon and Kohleria eriantha, but I also have a section devoted to this same colour scheme in a sunny part of the garden. I find it very cheerful and uplifting at this time of year and a good antidote to the fairy floss flowers of spring.

Streptosolen jamesonii

Simple, dainty tangerine and yellow trumpets adorn the orange browallia or marmalade bush (Streptosolen jamesonii, ht 1.5-2m, or its dwarf cultivar 'Ginger Meggs', ht 1m) from South America, a very easy shrub to grow in Sydney. Although it is officially a spring flowering plant, it can have an amazingly long flowering period here, from July until November. A lax, evergreen, frost-tender shrub, it enjoys sun and good soil. It has arching stems which can be trained against a wall, or it can be tip-pruned when young to form a dense shrubby shape each year. I tend to cut it back fairly hard after flowering. It is pretty with blue flowers nearby: the compact Salvia rubiginosa is a good partner.

Salvia gesneriiflora Tequila

Another Salvia, S. gesneriiflora 'Tequila' (ht potentially 3-4 m, kept to 2m with pruning), grows nearby to my orange browallia. It has long electric-red tubular flowers in black calyces and velvet heart-shaped leaves. It too began to flower in winter but it really comes into its own around now. It needs plenty of space, as well as support from a wall, stakes or another shrub to protect its brittle stems. Mine sprawls into the orange browallia. It forms an attractive background mass of tropical-looking foliage through summer and autumn. I chop it back very hard after flowering finishes and again in mid-summer to try to control its size.

Lobelia laxiflora

Lobelia laxiflora is an amazing shrubby perennial member of the genus Lobelia from Mexico and Central America. It is hard to believe it is related to the cute little blue annual Lobelia erinus that is grown as an edging plant. This one grows to about 1.5-2m tall in my garden and flowers in late winter through to the end of spring. It has long narrow leaves and is smothered in hanging tubular orangey-red and yellow flowers, adding to the hot-coloured shrub scene at this time of year. I cut it back fairly hard at the end of flowering. It is quite a feature in various beds in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, and I bought my original plant from the Friends' Nursery there. I find it self-seeds a little bit, so I dig up these plants to give away.

Pelargonium Deacon Sunburst

Other shrubs which can be added included yellow, orange and red Abutilon, which grow in sun as well as part shade and are very floriferous at this time of year, and the little shrubby firefly, Justicia rizzinii, which flowers on from winter all the way through spring and also will be just as happy in sun as in shade. The wallflower known as 'Apricot Twist' (ht 60cm), contributes its orange colour at a lower level in the border, and this week I bought a zonal geranium (Pelargonium) called 'Deacon Sunburst' with lime-coloured leaves and brilliant orange flowers, which will be added to the scene. I love that eye-popping colour combination!

Think hot colours as an alternative to pink in spring!