Anne LatreilleAnother person in my household

It’s like having another person in my household. I swear that this banksia is speaking to me! Eleven months ago I wrote for GardenDrum about how my two Banksia petiolaris, planted some five years ago and doing OK – but not that well – got a new lease of life when I put worms into the soil around them. Their growth rate stepped up markedly and the leaves went from sickly yellow-green to a deep and alluring dusty grey-green-silver. Which is how they are meant to look.

Now something else has happened. One of them is flowering its head off. This prostrate plant has been working away for a year, moving due west into the harsh afternoon sun. It has taken itself more than four metres across the rather rotten garden soil, and marched determinedly onto the gravel path.


Big fat furry torches

The blooms are like big fat orange furry torches, with crimson ‘globes’ at the top. Every time I walk past, I notice them. Resting on the silvery Lilydale toppings, peering through the stiff, long, slender vertical leaves, saying ‘how do you do?’

‘Very well, thanks’, I reply. ‘And aren’t you looking splendid!’

The other Banksia petiolaris has bright red shoots





Is there a quiet smile of approval? I’m not sure – then I look at the other banksia, which is in the middle of the same long planting bed, quite some way from the gravel. It has lots of bright new shoots, deep dark red in colour and delightfully structural, which are creeping in all directions across the soil. But only one small bloom. Should I give it some Lilydale toppings?

I’m not complaining. Both plants are beautiful. But in 12 months’ time I’ll bet the happier one will have taken over the path to the swimming pool. What should I do? I decided to look for information in Alex George’s “bible”, otherwise known as The Banksia Book.

But only one small bloom on the other Banksia petiolaris

I find that Banksia petiolaris has a long history. It was gathered 150 years ago by George Maxwell, probably in 1861, between Cape Le Grand and Cape Arid in Western Australia. Ferdinand Mueller named it in 1864.

It’s described as a shrub with prostrate branches, spreading two to three metres across, with cylindrical flowers that are up to 16 cm long and 7 cm wide and leaves that grow up to 40 cm tall. Its habitat is white sand (aha!), heath or mallee heathland. It likes a sunny position, is fast-growing … and can be lightly pruned where its branches fork.

OK, is this what I do to keep the one that has invaded the path in check? I’m not sure, but I don’t think this determined young person will like it. Looking at its attitude, I think I may need to move the path.

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Anne Latreille

About Anne Latreille

Writer, editor and journalist. Author of 'Garden Voices' (about Australian garden designers past and present, September 2013), 'Garden of a Lifetime' (Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at Cruden Farm), 'Kindred Spirits' and 'The Natural Garden'. Melbourne, Victoria.

4 thoughts on “Another person in my household

  1. Hello Anne
    I have moved paths before to retain the natural habit of a plant so can appreciate your idea of doing it as well. But then what hapens when it moves into the new path?
    I have pH tested Lilydale Toppings and found that it is extremely alkaline – it has a lot of limestone in it. There are some Banksias which do quite well with the lijmestone underlay, but your experience suggests that they tolerate even more limestone than one would have thought. Interesting insight Anne.
    Alison A

    • I’ve decided to let it be for the moment, then walk round it. Have the garden open in February, maybe a pedestrian or two will solve the problem for me….! Interesting about the ph of the Lilydale toppings. It hasn’t put roots into them yet, maybe it knows better.

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