Peter NixonGinger spiralitis – a new acquisitive plant fever

These days the Ginger Group, or Zingiberales, seem more and more conspicuous in eastern coastal Australian gardens, Heliconia, Hedychium and Alpinia especially. One branch of the Zingiberale tree less well known but fast coming into currency are the Costus or Spiral Gingers.

Costus ‘Oxley Ruby’

Costus ‘Oxley Ruby’

Now, a lot of these are so cool sensitive, even north-facing garden micro climates in the cooler subtropical zones of coastal NSW would be struggling to keep small plants going through their first winter. Minimum winter over-night temperatures less than 8 degrees C are about the limit for many. However, using Costus comosus (formerly Costus barbatus), as a cold-tolerant parent plant gets hybrid extension down to 3 or 4 degrees Celsius and has flung the door wide on this glamorous group. We can now find many beautiful and cold-tolerant Costus – all the inspiring work of plant collector, breeder, grower and wholesaler Greg Jones of Towen Mountain in southern Queensland.

Costus cold-tolerant hybrids grew quickly to conceal this wall

Costus cold-tolerant hybrids grew quickly to conceal this wall

My ‘Sea-Changer’ garden on the NSW Central Coast has two of these, Costus comosus X erythrophyllus ‘Oxley Ruby’ and Costus comosus X belize bred by Greg Jones, which I’ve grown as an east-facing wall concealer up to eave height over just two seasons. As a lilly pilly or murraya screen alternative, few plants can add more non-transparent, lush appeal to around 3m tall.

Costus ‘Oxley Ruby’ - you can nip off these small yellow flowers for a delicious ginger zing in your salad

Costus ‘Oxley Ruby’ – you can nip off these small yellow flowers for a delicious ginger zing in your salad

November to January flowers are both long lasting and impressive. Tubular day flowers produced from the cone shaped inflorescence can even find their way into the salad bowl for extra zest.

Costus comosus x belize

Costus comosus x belize

Costus afer

Costus afer

The street front semi-shaded garden space here at ‘Sea-Changer’, beneath the sparse shade of callistemon trees, also has Costus afer or Sweet Lips and Costus vargasii which features an elegant spiralling form, ‘Buddha belly’ stems and large leaves with a deep maroon-purple back.

Showing the characteristic spiralling form of Costus vargasii

Showing the characteristic spiralling form of Costus vargasii

Costus vargasii has attractive 'Buddha belly' stems

Costus vargasii has attractive ‘Buddha belly’ stems

Costus spiralis – Pink Indian Head is another plant I’ve used in coastal designs. All these I’ve found to be reliable, with the warmer weather of November expanding tropical appeal in soft, flock-backed leaves.

And you can come and see them all, plus THREE other very PLANTY gardens THIS WEEKEND, 5 March 2015.

Sea-Changer’ is open FREE this weekend on Saturday, 5th March 10am – 4pm for ‘Planty Fierce’- 4 never before opened horticulture industry gardens on the Central Coast. Designer plant sales from Coachwood Nursery.

Go to Planty Fierce Facebook Event for all the locations and the best Event Map.

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Peter Nixon

About Peter Nixon

Peter is a landscape designer, specialising in 'best fit', durable plants, and convenor of the Design-Growers Network. Sydney NSW

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