Phormium tenax and hybrids

Purple leaf form of flax

Often known as flax, Phormium are dramatic, architectural plants from New Zealand, with a fountain of bold strap-like leaves. The leaves vary from plain olive green in the species Phormium tenax (ht 1.8 - 3m) to a variety of colours in forms including those which are hybrids with the more compact Phormium cookianum. Hues include purple-bronze ('Purpureum Group', 'Bronze Baby'), striped creamy yellow and white ('Variegatum') and striped green and rose red ('Maori Chief'), which can create interesting colour schemes in the garden.

Variegated flax in the garden of Anne Prescott, Sydney

They are generally tough plants that will endure hot dry positions once established, though their preference is for moist but well-drained soil.Those with lighter-coloured stripes (such as yellow, cream or pink) may scorch in very hot positions, so are best in part shade. They tolerate coastal conditions and cope with moderate frost. Every so often, remove old tatty leaves, to keep the plant looking well groomed - about the only maintenance they need! Give them some complete fertilser in early spring. To propagate a Phormium, or to keep it from taking up too much space, it seems best to take pieces from the sides in spring, rather than trying to dig up and divide the whole plant. Phormium make excellent container plants. The foliage is useful for indoor floral arrangements. They may flower in mid to late spring, with tall candelabra-like spires of tubular flowers, which are full of nectar and very attractive to birds, which are their pollinators. The Maori people used the fibrous leaves of Phormium to make baskets, matting, clothing and nets.

Flowers in October, November.

 Out now in my Sydney Garden.