Willing weavers

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Centradenia inaequilateralis climbing through a Mackaya bella shrub

Whilst in general I am very suspicious of plants that want to take over more of my garden than I have allocated to them, there are a few that I regard as welcome 'weavers' that I am more indulgent of. I rather like seeing them winding their way up through shrubs or along the ground, filling gaps, forming a unifying thread amongst diverse plantings or simply providing an element of surprise as they drape themselves over their hosts and perplex garden visitors.

Tibouchina laxa Skylab

Some of these weavers are shrubs of very loose shape or even go under the name of 'scrambling shrub' that need to lean on other plants for support without any means of their own (such as twining stems, tendrils or suckering pads) to cling. They can also be trained on a wall, trellis or lattice, by tying up their flexible stems to these structures. Regular pruning can often tame them into a rounded shape but I tend to let mine go, as I fear I won't be diligent enough with the clipping! Two examples that are flowering in my garden at the moment both belong to the same family (Melastomataceae). One is a plant I was given as Tibouchina laxa 'Skylab' (ht to 2 m), which flowers in winter and early spring, after most other types of Tibouchina have ceased blooming. Its brilliant purple flowers are slightly smaller than those of the commonly seen large shrub Tibouchina lepidota 'Alstonville', but are very striking. It likes full sun and a warm, sheltered location. Mine is currently engulfing a young lemonade tree, and needs to be resited next to more robust shrub.

Its cousin, Centradenia inaequilateralis (pictured at the start of the blog), contently grows amongst the branches of a large Mackaya bella shrub, with its stems up to 2 m long! It provides a profusion of showy, magenta, four-petalled blooms that open from bright pink, pointed buds from late winter into spring. The flowers look like miniature Tibouchina blooms. It is possibly the cultivar known as 'Cascade'. I have seen it growing on trellises, in hanging baskets and tumbling from an urn, so it has lots of possible applications in a garden! I cut the Centradenia and Tibouchina back hard after flowering.

Jasminum laurifolium var. laurifolium, often called J. nitidum

Other rambling shrubs like this include some of the jasmines, such as Jasminum laurifolium var. laurifolium (ht to 1.2-2 m or more) - more usually known by its synonym Jasminum nitidum. It has flushes of fragrant, clear white blooms that open from purplish buds and have many finely cut petals that are often tinted red-purple on the outside, reminding me of little pinwheels. Jasminum odoratissimum (ht 2-2.5 m) can also be grown as a rambler or a shrub: it bears a profusion of tiny golden flowers in summer and early autumn.

Long, angular stems of the plum-coloured foliage shrub Alternanthera dentata also wander through nearby plants in my garden, forming interesting effects with silver-leaved or white-flowered specimens. This plant looks rather sad in winter, but once cut back at the end of August, it will perk up as warmer weather settles in.

Plectranthus saccatus in the Sydney garden of Alida Gray

Shrubby Plectranthus saccatus (ht 1 m) is a low-growing scrambling shrub with jacaranda-blue, pouched blooms amongst pretty, scalloped-edged leaves. It is an almost indestructible plant in the most inhospitable conditions of dry shade where it will form ribbons of colour as its cane-like stems meander through other plants, or climb up fences. It seems to be in flower for much of the year. Other weaving Plectranthus include Plectranthus ornatus, a shrubby groundcover with quite succulent, rounded, grey-green foliage, which has an unpleasant smell and is said to deter dogs from gardens! It grows about 20-30 cm tall and spreads to about a metre wide, interlacing with nearby plants. It has chubby flower spikes which are purplish-blue in colour which appear in autumn and sometimes unpredictably at other times of the year. It can cope with sun or shade, and tolerates extremely poor garden positions. Plectranthus 'Nicoletta' is another vigorous groundcover, with beautiful velvet silver foliage on long stems which infiltrate other plants but in a good way, knitting them together to form a whole. It will also grow in sun or shade. I chop all these Plectranthus back hard in late winter.

Old-fashioned forms of the annual nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) can spread up to 3 m, intertwining with other plants as they go, forming a carpet along the ground or climbing fences or shrubs, with their cheerful flowers of yellow, orange, red or mahogany dotted along the stems.

I enjoy my willing weavers, but try never to let them get totally the upper hand!