I have long been interested in where different plants come from in the wild. I have found that plants from some parts of the world do better in my garden than others: not many plants from Europe really thrive, for example. Time of flowering often seems to vary depending on where plants come from, and in late winter/early spring in Sydney, it seems very apparent that so many classic plants in bloom are from what might be loosely termed 'the Orient' - China, Japan and thereabouts.
The many of the ornamental fruit blossom trees - including Prunus species, some flowering pears (Pyrus species, pictured at the start of the blog), quince (Chaenomeles species) and crab apples (Malus species) - that are starting to open their delicate confetti-like flowers everywhere, and the flamboyant Magnolia trees (pictured at left) with their gorgeous tulip-shaped blooms on bare branches, all hail from that part of the world, and give Sydneysiders the feeling that spring has arrived. I don't grow any of these in my own garden but I thoroughly enjoy seeing them on my walks around the neighbourhood.
Evergreen Azaleas were one of the traditional oriental shrubs for Sydney spring gardens and are truly wonderful when smothered in their large, colourful blooms. They were one of the first plants I could put a name to, and my first garden had many of them in it. Now I have only a couple of tough old specimens at the top of my driveway as they seem to suffer from so many potential pest and disease problems nowadays that require chemical treatment, which I do not want to be have to do. However, I have some other oriental shrubs that I enjoy in early spring, which are easy to grow and trouble free, including the may bush (Spiraea cantoniensis), with its mass of white frothy flowers in September, and the so-called Indian hawthorn (Rhapholepis indica, pictured above), which like the may bush, hails from China and belongs to the Rosaceae family. I have pink and white specimens, and they provide pretty spring flowers that remind me of the ornamental fruit blossom trees, to which they are related.
The Chinese fringe flower bush (Loropetalum chinense) is another stalwart shrub for spring in Sydney and it is coming into bloom right now. I have the pink-flowered, burgundy-leaved one, but there is also a cream-flowered version. I like to place low-growing, spring-blooming oriental plants around these shrubs, as because they come from the same part of the world, they seem to 'go' together well, including the pretty woodland iris (Iris japonica), which has the advantage of growing in shade. Iris wattii (pictured above) is similar, with larger, pale blue flowers.
The dainty annual Primula malacoides is also of oriental origin, and is a useful plant to grow beneath some of the spring shrubs. It self-seeds from year to year and forms a lovely haze of white, pink or purple blooms.
The common white and pink jasmine seen everywhere in Sydney at this time of year, spilling its delicious fragrance (and swamping all in its path!) is Jasminum polyanthum, a climber from China. I don't grow it in my garden but I love to inhale its perfume when I encounter it - one single whiff takes me immediately back to the garden of my childhood, where it grew in a glorious tangle over our back porch.
As spring progresses, more oriental shrubs will come into bloom, including species of Deutzia, Philadelphus and Weigela. All these plants can make an important contribution to Sydney gardens at this time of year. Another region of the world which is a source of good spring flowers for Sydney is the Mediterranean region: see here for my previous discussion of these.
The charm of vintage gardening books
28 Feb 21
A trip back in time
21 Feb 21
Cane-stemmed Begonia cultivars are summer stars for foliage and flower power in Sydney gardens.
14 Feb 21
There are some unusual flowers on my grasses now.
07 Feb 21
These plants bloom for many months in my garden - and some are in flower all year!
31 Jan 21
Many scented flowers are in bloom now.