From Barlerias to bush salvias

2010-03-13 00:00

AN indigenous shrub with a rounded shape and about 3m x 3m with bright fresh shiny green leaves is the gardenia. I have always known it as the wild gardenia, so I’m am uncertain of its second name — it could be G. thumbergia, but the flowers on the shrub are prettier than the ones illustrated in the garden book. The lovely, small, snow-white flowers, about 3cm across, have 12 very pretty, wavey and slightly folded petals, and are produced in abundance through summer. This shrub is always neat, clean and green and suffers no pest damage.

Another very lovely indigenous spreading shrub of about a metre is the Barleria obtusa. These are carrying masses of tight green buds now with one or two early lavender blue flowers just opening. It’s most suited to warmer areas and is often called the South Coast violet or bush violet. The real pleasure of this plant is the generosity of the flowers it gives in its autumn flowering, and its ability to be happy in semi-shade.

At this time, the many varieties of Plectranthus come to full flower. These are known, too, as bush salvia or as forest spurflowers. Most give colour in spring. They too are indigenous and sizes between variations vary considerably, as do leaf shapes and sizes. The racemes, or clusters of flowers, are generous amongst the foliage and come in white and all the gentle pastles of blue, pink, mauve and lilac. There are low-growing, ground-hugging covers, from middle sizes to small tree heights. Easy to grow in dappled shade and deeper shade, they need little attention other than a good trimming after full flowering. Low stems and pieces root readily on the soil next to the mother plants.

Full of colour in the garden now are the fibrous rooted begonias, such rewarding plants to grow in their many different sizes. The dwarf bedding begonia is an annual for the semi-shade and shady areas, giving flowers in pink, white and red. Popular all through the garden are the Begonia semperflorens. These grow to a height of about 30cm and are colourful for many months of the year — very good in containers for courtyard and balcony decoration.

Begonia richmondensis is a hardy perennial reaching a metre in height, with flowers in a pink and white mix for most of the year. This plant needs pruning back from time to time to promote strong new growth. It grows well from stem cuttings, which root in water and in a potting mix.

Not seen often these days, but very desirable, are the tree begonias; these grow up on tall cones to two metres or more and often give large clusters of red, white or pink flowers, and also need pruning. All begonias prefer to grow in semi-shade and all suffer in cold gardens. Many gardeners lift them where winters are frosty and store them in sheds or under thick ledges, covered with a layer of soil or compost.

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