Julie ThomsonHolus bolus. Or holusscolia? No….

Chinese whispers, that funny thing that happens when information is distorted when passed from one recipient to another, and another, was at play this week at the garden club meeting. One of the bench competition shrub entries drew particular admiration from members, being a string of scarlet and tangerine blooms on long spines.

Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

Bench competition for those not familiar with the term, is a procedure where garden club members bring something from their garden they are especially proud of,  a fruit or vegetable, flower, shrub or native, and the others vote on it for a prize.

Even many of the seasoned gardeners could not identify this stunning exhibit, until someone exclaimed what sounded like “holusscolia”.

“What is it?” several clamoured.

“Holus bolus”.

“No, holuscollus”.

‘I think he said “holksollia”.

Holmskioldia sanguinea Photo Forest & Kim Starr

And so it went on, rippling around the room, which admittedly, did have its fair share of hearing aids.

I came away with a variety of guesses, certain only that its name  started with H, but very keen to identify it because it was an absolute standout – and flowering in our semi-tropical mid winter.

Thank you google plant index. It is a Holmskioldia sanguinea, whose common names include Chinese hat plant, cup-and-saucer-plant or mandarin’s hat.

See? A pesky Chinaman was messing with our heads!

Sometimes it is called parasol flowers, because the Holmskioldia blooms are button-shaped with a little stem. They grow in clusters  along long graceful arching branches that can get up to three metres long, flower best in full sun, from autumn through to spring, in almost any soil and need only spare watering.

They can be grown as a shrub or a tree. If you leave it, holmskioldia can grow to 10 metres high and about five metres wide. For pruning, cut the branches back to ground rather than chop midway.

They come in vibrant tangerine, bright yellow or mauve varieties. Some are deciduous, some evergreen. The dropped flowers of some of the species have colours contrasting to the calyces and look dramatic scattered over the garden floor.

And bees, birds and butterflies love them.

Holmskioldia can be easily struck from cutting, so guess who was first at the bench to snaffle a piece?

The man responsible for its tricky name is 18th century Danish professor and physician Theodor Holmskiold, who discovered them in the Himalayan lowlands.

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Julie Thomson

About Julie Thomson

Journalist, writer, editor, television and book publicist, formerly with ABC Gardening Australia, passionate gardener, soil improver, digger, mulcher, living in acreage splendour near Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Subscribes to the Cicero edict: "I have a garden and a library, so have everything I need." Read my full blog at Julie's Garden Grapevine

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