Deidre Mowat had a dismayingly large box of labels from plants she had killed before revelation struck. “It was when Christopher Lloyd ripped out the rose garden at Great Dixter,” she recalls. “The ideal of the garden changed.” Inspired, she retained the English garden style of harmoniously toned borders but ditched the cool climate perennials she had always dreamed would do well in her Beecroft garden and didn’t, and started to focus on plants that really did do well. On her new list were plants from Sydney-like climates in South and Central America, South Africa and parts of Asia.
Cool climate gardens look tired by the end of summer, but Mowat’s warm-temperate and sub-tropical beauties are at their most vivid and abundant from February through April. There are salvias and dahlias, pentas and gaura, abutilon and cupheas, and in the shade, plenty of justicias.
This sub-branch of the Acanthaceae family is often seen in old gardens. Indeed, Mowat picked up the cuttings of many of her plants from generous older gardeners. She pays forward their generosity by passing on cuttings to friends and garden club members, and by sharing her knowledge and experience on her always informative blog, iGarden.
Justicias are untroubled by pests and diseases, easy to propagate and fabulous through late summer. Best-known of the gang is the shrimp plant, Justicia brandageeana. This reliable trouper grows and flowers in sun or shade, pretty much all year. Choose from the common terracotta version, lime green ‘Lutea’, ‘Big Red’ or ‘Fruit Salad’.
Also familiar is Justicia carnea, commonly called plume flower, which comes in a pastel pink; dark carmine with burgundy-backed leaves; handsome but less robust white; or gold. These wilt in the sun but are perfect shaded by trees or large shrubs. Deadhead blackened flowerheads to promote new blooms. Mowat cuts her shrimp plants and plume flowers back by at least half at the end of winter to defeat any lanky tendencies, and follows the chop with a good feed.
Also desirable is 1m tall J. brasiliana, which holds a fan of pink flowers in its leaf axils so that they appear to be cascading down the branches. And I just can’t leave the wonderful exuberance and beautiful colour tonings of Mowat’s garden without a cutting of, Justicia scheidweileri, a groundcover justicia sometimes called purple shrimp plant. It lights up shade with its silver-streaked leaves, and has burgundy and purple flower spikes all year except in the worst heat of summer.
All of these plants are easy to grow in Sydney, but are not easy to find in garden centres. Track them down at the Growing Friends plant sales, Monday – Friday 11am-2pm and Saturday, 10am-2pm at Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney; at the Collectors Plant Fair, Hawkesbury Racecourse Clarendon, April 9 and 10; and at garden clubs (check www.gardenclubs.org.au for your local). And if you see them in a friend’s garden, beg a cutting.
It’s time to
See Central Coast gardens
Planty Fierce is a garden day out on the Central Coast next Saturday March 5, 10am-4pm. See four never-before-open gardens, and pick up some new plants. Entry to the gardens is free. Find details and addresses at www.my opengarden.com.au.
Jan Iredell has been breeding dwarf bougainvillea for years. Her new release is ‘Babybino Mimipur’, a true pot bougainvillea, which grows to just 60cm high. Expect three protracted bursts of flowering a year covering the plant in magenta-purple.
Sydney’s newest garden centre, Honeysuckle Garden, at 500 Military Road, Mosman, won Best Retail Nursery in the country in the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia awards last week.
Hibiscus are always hungry; keep the flowers coming with a dose of flower-promoting fertiliser. Like big flowers? Look for the Summerific range of hibiscus, which boasts flowers up to 10cm across on a deciduous shrub to just 1m.