Working in a retail nursery Terry Keogh was sick of being asked this question. He set out to start his own nursery and began breeding in search of new colours, sizes and different growth habits. The rest, as they say, is history.
Twenty years on, Terry is considered the godfather of tibouchina breeding. Over years of trials he has mastered the art of moving pollen from one flower to another, crossing batches of plants and waiting patiently to monitor the results. Releasing the pollen from tibouchina flowers proved to be a considerable breakthrough in itself. Tibouchinas in the wild are pollinated by hummingbirds, with their wings beating at the exact frequency required to release the pollen. Terry had to work out just how to replicate this, and to this day it remains one of his biggest breeding secrets.
The most popular results of Terry’s breeding work are the dwarf forms. Bred for their compact habits, these varieties are great in pots or at the front of garden beds for real impact. Tibouchina ‘Groovy Baby’ was the first to be released and it is quick to catch the eye with its spectacular vivid purple blooms. Flowering peaks in November but continues right throughout the warmer months. A flowering ‘Groovy Baby’ in a container is definitely a conversation starter! Sometimes when all the flowers are out, it’s difficult to see any foliage at all.
An important part of the breeding process was the introduction of cold tolerant genetics. Terry was able to isolate varieties that were more cold tolerant that others and incorporate these into his breeding program. Tibouchinas are native to sub-tropical Brazil so to have them being successfully grown in Australia’s southern states is no mean feat. For those of us that reside in Hobart, it’s like bringing a little bit of tropical ambience into the garden.
The success of ‘Groovy Baby’ led to the release of two other colour variants. The white flowered Tibouchina ‘Peace Baby’ – love its bright pink stamens- and Terry’s latest offering, Tibouchina ‘Cool Baby’ which offers a dazzling display of pink and white blooms. Like ‘Groovy Baby’, ‘Peace Baby’ and ‘Cool Baby’ are also cold tolerant cultivars. All three are marketed under the banner of the Fantasy Flowers collection and are widely available in garden centres across Australia.
Terry’s success with this genus was recognised in 2012 in the Australian Anthill Smart 100 Index – an awards program which rewards new Australian innovations. The Fantasy Flowers collection was ranked within the top 50 and is fitting recognition of Terry’s hard work and dedication over such a long period of time. It’s fantastic to see national awards programs recognising horticultural products and giving the work of plant breeders the credit it deserves.
Tibouchinas look striking in the many bright pots that are in fashion right now. These dwarf varieties in particular are ideal for small gardens, patios and courtyards. You can create even further impact and play with colour by planting them alongside plants with red and yellow blooms. All three ‘babies’ of Terry’s do best in a sheltered position (away from the wind), full sun to semi-shade and in a moist but well drained soil.
If you’re planting a tibouchina this season, water it well during the first month after planting and mulch well over summer. Prune lightly after flowering to ensure a good display the following season.
[This post is brought to you by PMA. Click here for more details about the Tibouchina Fantasy Flowers collection]