aloe hybrids
Plants I love

Flaming aloes

The people up the road have a plant that’s forcing me to take much longer to get to the bakery than usual. I find it impossible not to stop and gawp at its brilliant orange spires, which on a cold day look like flames leaping from the bluish rosettes of foliage. It’s an aloe, specifically Aloe arborescens or candelabra aloe. There is not much else in the front garden, and the aloe’s considerable bulk and many flower spikes suggest that it’s been there for a few decades, no doubt planted the last time aloes were fashionable. You’d have to try hard to find arborescens at a nursery these days. But you might find this:

Aloe 'Super Red'

It’s a relatively new hybrid of  A. arborescens called ‘Super Red’, photographed in the garden of Greg Kinman at Peregian Beach, which I visited recently on a Tastings:Noosa tour. The new aloe hybrids, with their longer-lasting, more prolific flowers are contributing to an aloe renaissance. Here’s another one from Greg’s garden, ‘Big Red’, another member of the new arborescens clan, this time still in bud.

Aloe 'Big Red'

Aborescens is one of the grander members of a big family. There are some 400 or so aloes, most of which originated in southern Africa and the nearby islands. Best known of the family is Vera, famous for her healing juices. Undaunted by a lack of rigorous scientific evidence, numbers of supermodels attribute their glowing good looks to A. vera, whether swallowed or slathered. Vera may not be the only nurse in the family either; preclinical studies have found promising evidence of superior wound healing using aborescens.

The best reason to grow aloes in the garden though is for a different kind of remedy – flower deprivation. Most aloe species flower in winter, providing much-needed food for bees, butterflies and birds, and a hot shot of invigorating colour for us. South African nurseryman Leo Thamm has bred a host of new cultivars, with flower colours ranging from creamy whites to firebrand scarlet, and in all sizes from low-growing edging material to grand feature plants. Through careful selection and breeding over 35 years Thamm has developed about 150 colourful, floriferous and easy-to-grow aloes. In Australia these Sunbird Aloes are grown and sold by Aloe-Aloe. Here’s a bunch of them, shot at the Collectors’ Plant Fair earlier this year.

Aloe-Aloe hybrid aloes

Gorgeous aren’t they, and aloes are trouble-free garden plants. They withstand dry conditions and wilful neglect, which is pretty much what my down-the-road neighbour offers. In fact, Aloe arborescens is so tough it was used to fence stock enclosures in southern Africa, and can still be seen marking the boundaries, the animals long-gone. While they are terrifically hardy, aloes respond enthusiastically to generous hospitality. Grow them in the garden or in containers, ensuring that the container chosen fits the ultimate size of the plant. For best results, choose a position in full sun, and in summer feed with manure and water during dry spells.



4 thoughts on “Flaming aloes

  1. There a great long hedges of these throughout the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, Robin. Amazing.
    Not for me in Woodend, though. The inimitable Attila Kapitany gave me a plant of Aloe spinosissimum to try a few years back, assuring me of its frost tolerance. It was gelatinous – like a old raw chicken breast found at the back of the fridge – after the first crusty night outdoors. I guess you can’t have aloes AND galanthus, and that’s all there is to it, but having achieved the latter, I lust after the former

    • Robin Powell says:

      Michael, I’m worried. There’s old raw chicken breast in the back of your fridge? I can see the appeal of spinosissimum, especially if you can’t have it, but the sculptural one I hanker after is plicatilis, with that weird two-dimensionality. I’ll have to save up, they seem to cost a bomb.

  2. Loved those sculptural plants like the Aloe you pictured Robin especially in the garden at Peregian Beach and the one in your neighbourhood they are standouts in the garden and that’s what we need I learnt so much when we were away at Noosa you have to create interest in the garden in different seasons and winter is a great time for the Aloe candelabra in flower I’m going to plant one!

    • Robin Powell says:

      I’m thinking the same thing Diane – must have one! It’s not enough to rely on walking past the neighbour’s. I have one of the little hybrids, called ‘Sparkler’ with gorgeous green-tipped pale yellow flowers. It’s in a pot and makes me smile whenever I go by, but I fancy one of the big red ones like Greg has. I know just the spot…

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