Sydney gardeners first fell for rhipsalis at the first Australian Garden Show Sydney, held in Centennial Park in 2013, when we saw it falling in curtains from a Brendan Moar-designed pergola. Moar accentuated the thin vertical hang of rhipsalis with slender hanging threads of silver beads. The long lime green stems caught the slanting sun and waved and shimmied in the breeze so that all but the plant nerds in the crowd stood amazed and desirous, asking what’s that and where can I get some?
The first part of the question was the easiest to answer. Rhipsalis is a large family of mostly epiphytic cactus that look nothing like the typical image of a cactus. Though some are hairy, even bristly, none are spiky or spiny. The stems are generally thin and cylindrical and they hang down. In their native South American and tropical African rainforests they do this from the forks of trees, but they do it just as well in a pot.
Different species of the plant branch in different ways. In some the stems hang as straight as the hair of a teenager practising with her new hair straightener. Longest and straightest of all is R. campos-portoana. Others branch more compactly, such as R. ewaldiana, which is like a tangled perm, dense enough to use as a groundcover in a shady, well-drained spot. R. baccifera, is in between those two, trailing to a bit more than a metre, with branched lime green stems like so many split ends. Its little flowers are followed by translucent white berries so that the plant in fruit looks covered in a net of pearls.
For a few years after Moar’s revelatory experiments with rhispalis the second part of the question – whereabouts – was harder to answer. Now rhipsalis is no longer a collectors’ rarity and can even be found in commercial garden centres.
Justine Smith is a wholesale grower who supplies several species of rhipsalis to Flower Power from her greenhouses at Peats Ridge just north of Sydney. With perfect timing her interest in growing the plant coinciding with a huge new demand.
Part of the initial appeal for Smith was that rhipsalis doesn’t just look good, it’s easy to grow, and to propagate. She advises partial shade for the best-looking plants. Rhipsalis will grow in full shade though growth will be slower and flowers less likely. In full sun the foliage, which is the real point of the exercise, yellows and looks sick. Too much water is worse than not enough, especially in winter. For best growth, keep it watered but not soaked through the warm weather, a little drier in the cold, and offer slow-release fertiliser.
As well as hanging in baskets from pergolas or from the branches of mature trees, use rhipsalis to spill over the edge of a large pot to soften its impact and balance whatever is growing upright. Or take a leaf from Moar’s copybook and use rhipsalis as a curtain, veiling a view with a shimmer of green.
It’s time to
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The speaker program is a drawcard for Queensland Garden Expo and this year there are more than 100 lectures, demos, q and a sessions, advice clinics and workshops. July 8,9,10, Nambour Showgrounds, Sunshine Coast. www.qldgardenexpo.com.au
Trim liriope to the ground to allow fresh new growth to rejuvenate the plant.
Use a soluble fertiliser on spring bulbs you plant to keep for next year.