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High summer designer plants

Peter Nixon

Peter Nixon

February 10, 2012

It’s good to be reminded of what plants fit into a bandwidth of growing conditions for the garden you might be considering. This way the plants you choose will be as close a fit as possible to those conditions, no matter what the geographic location. I call this Best Fit Gardening and you can pop along to this link where I explained it in a bit more detail in a nice little mini video for you…

To this end, seasonal visits to your local Botanic Gardens are a constant reminder of what possibilities there are for you, in designing a garden that holds great interest all year. Whether you make the final selection yourself or someone else does; knowing a combination that works well will breath life and richness into planting combinations and deliver the whole from a stale homogeny of mid greens borne from the same sized leaf …

Over the recent Christmas-January period I went into Sydney Botanic Gardens and found the following exciting plants for you to consider for the warm temperate, frost-free coastal climate that much of Sydney’s seaside suburbs have ..

Portea petropolitana var. extensa

Portea petropolitana var. extensa

For much of the cooler months this 1m or so tall bromeliad with heavily serrated leaf margins, remain only slightly brighter than mid green. Come late October they brighten to a fleuro lime shade and by end of December 1.2 m flowering spears split into stiff scarlet brushes with jacaranda tipped berries that persist for a month or two, extending their interest well into February.

Best in sheltered northern sun but can take some exposure to wind without scorching the fairly resistant leaves, your micro climate should also have good drainage. Sandy top soils are a bonus here and saves mounding up organic mix if you would like to try these Brazilian beauties over a clay based soil. Crowded on top of a 1m tall mound does show the compact habit off to advantage, though, I must say.

Easy and a reliable statement-maker sans undue maintenance, past removing any spent mother plants from previous seasons, make this a great “doer”. Sensational by high contrast with companions like the flinty red flowers of Ruellia elegans (Brazilian Petunia) and gingery beige slab-like leaves of Kalanchoe beharensis (Madagascan Felt Plant).

Telanthophora grandifolia – Giant Groundsel

Telanthophora grandifolia – Giant groundsel

Another coastal Mexican that can take quite competitive shade. I find this most often as shown here, weaving its way between taller canopied trees with ease where little else would do as well.
Grown this way makes it stretch up to around 5 meters but this member of the Asteraceae makes a neat, slightly shorter and perfect umbrella shaped habit in a sheltered northern aspect supported on a wine glass stem.
Excellent as the much sought after flowering small tree for its December/January cauliflower heads of rich textural gold in limited garden space like courtyards and town houses. Useful also as a “mother tree” for shade companions beneath, like some of the more sun tender begonias, coleus, baleria micans, plectranthus, justicea, kohleria and pseuderanthemums.

Sobralia xantholeuca

Sobralia xantholeuca

Also from Southern Mexico and Guatemala, this orchid like treasure forms a 1.2m tall clump comprising stick-like stems, borne from the crown centre that wave easily in a light breeze. Growing up to 1200mm makes me think its culture is similar to a cymbidium but without all the dividing and time sensitive feeding to trigger flowering.

A gross feeder though, it certainly benefits from something extra in a liquid form when the season changes around end of October. This makes for a profusion of December to March wand-like flower stems supporting the rather gorgeous terminal flowers.

Sobralia xantholeuca orchid-like flower

Patio pots and sheltered but open sky microclimates in the garden suit, and it even grows epiphytically on rock faces, much like dendrobiums, if enough leaf litter is allowed to develop in crevices.

Come along to ‘Planty Fierce’ on the NSW Central Coast on 5 March 2016 (details on the GardenDrum Sydney Garden Events page) to see these and more excellent ‘Best Fit’ plants for Sydney and the Central Coast’s cool subtropical climate.