So now I know I did the exact wrong thing. Last summer, charmed on the way to the compost bin by the vanilla sweet scent of the Hoya carnosa blooming deliciously in the lattice fence, I picked a flower stem. Hoya carnosa you might know better as wax flower. Your gran probably grew it in the shade house. The blooms are globes of multiple tiny pink waxy star flowers with a white centre, like a fairy disco ball. I put the flower stem in a little ceramic sake jug and admired it for a week.
Rookie error. It turns out that most hoyas flower on the same bud nodes year after year so having picked the flower I’ve wrecked any opportunity of having flowers on that stem this year. It was Wes Vidler who gave me the bad news. Wes and his wife Lorraine own Weslor Nursery, which specialises in climbing plants and hoyas. They grow more than 90 of the 250 hoya species, so are well on the way to collecting the set. Wes and Lorraine grow their hoyas at Imbril, an hour west of Noosa, but plenty of hoyas do well in the frost-free gardens, balconies, courtyards and houses of Sydney. They grow on trellis, up trees, pillars and tripods, as groundcovers, and in hanging baskets.
Hoya kerrii ‘Sweetheart’ is a favourite for baskets for its distinctly heart shaped leaves. It also has pale pink flowers and says Wes, ‘flowers its guts out’. ‘Hoya Bella’ has pointy foliage and pink-starred, white fragrant flowers. In its native North India it cascades from the crooks of trees, and is consequently stunning hanging from a pot.
I was calling Wes for a recommendation for a hoya to grow up a tripod. His first suggestion was the one currently astonishing visitors on his front balcony. It is Hoya Macgillvray, native to Cape York, with the most extraordinary dark purple flowers that look like bats with outstretched wings.
It’s too cold in Sydney to have this beauty outdoors, but Wes thinks it would be fine in a bright spot by a window inside. A better bet for a filtered sun position in the garden is Hoya australis, another native, with a loose globe of white flowers in autumn.
Hoyas are mostly epiphtytic and like growing in a tight spot. They should only be potted up when totally root bound, and then only into a pot the next size up. They don’t need much water, and only in the growing season, not in winter. A warm season regular feed of weak foliar fertiliser will promote growth and flowers, but the real trick to flowers is enough light. They prefer morning sun and the dappled light under trees. You can often find them, not always named, at Bunnings and at garden centres. Better is to buy from the experts. The Vidlers mailorder at www.weslorflowers.com, and will have a stall at Collectors’ Plant Fair at Clarendon in April.