Friday, March 31, 2006

Lenore Lindsay's Radio Talk No 2
(reproduced with Lenore's permission)
Topic: Groundcovers and hanging pots and baskets

Good morning listeners. Lenore Lindsay from the Society for Growing Australian Plants here again.

Just a reminder that our meetings are held on the fourth Friday of the month at 7.30pm in the administration block of the Frenchville State School, and besides the usual business, there is always plant related discussion, and usually a speaker or presentation of some sort.

Excursions are the first Sunday of the month. Listen for the community announcements, or ring 49283699 or 49282862 for details.

Now, let’s talk groundcovers and hanging pots and baskets, as the same sorts of plants are often suitable for both, and there are some lovely Australian natives that make excellent subjects.

Remember the plant I mentioned last month , Warrigal Greens? It’s a good groundcover, and grows in a pot, but it’s not particularly decorative as the flowers are insignificant, and you need quantity if you’re using it as a vegetable. While fresh green might be great for a useful ground cover, you probably want something a bit more eye-catching for a hanging basket.

Plants in hanging containers near walkways, on balconies and verandahs etc can be easily monitored and cared for. Because they have limited space in which to develop roots, they need more attention than plants in the ground – more frequent watering, slow release fertilizer, re-potting in a reasonably well drained potting mix, (and remember to mulch when you do), sometimes pruning and shaping. (But you will be repaid for your work by the visual results).

Rainforest natives make good specimens for shaded areas eg hanging under a tree or indoors, as they can usually be happy in a low light situation, though they will look best in a well-lit spot. Full or part sun areas need plants that like those conditions, and these are usually ones that tend to give the best floral displays. Plants indoors or on sheltered patios need to be taken outdoors and thoroughly watered once a week, including hosing off the foliage. This removes dust from leaves, which can sap their vigour, and ensures a thorough flushing to remove any buildup of excess salts. Time under the shower can be a reasonable substitute. Plants outdoors need to be watered more frequently, sometimes daily in really hot dry weather, especially if in full sun.

A spectacular flowering vine is the Red Hoya or Hoya macgillivrayii from Cape York. It is one of the most spectacular of the hoyas, with large waxy red, pink or maroon flowers with a beautiful perfume and thick fleshy leaves. It can be grown in the ground, but is best presented in a large hanging basket. When there’s a metre or so of vine, wrap it round the bottom of the basket and back up again so that the basket eventually becomes covered by a mass of vine. Although it’s tempting, try to avoid cutting the flowers, as they come from special stems that take a couple of years to grow. There’s a white hoya too that will take more sun, Hoya australis. Its flowers are smaller, but still very attractive and sweetly scented. It grows wild in central Qld, and is common in places on the coast and in the dry scrubs.

A small to medium easily managed vine that needs full sun to flower successfully is the Native Red Flowered Passionfruit, Passiflora aurantia. The unusual flowers are cream at first, changing to red after a day or so, and while the fruits are not edible, it will attract butterflies when used as a groundcover in an exposed situation, in a large hanging basket coiled around the container, or more conventionally on a trellis or climbing up the outside of a tree where birds can reach it too. It’s a food plant for the Glasswing and Cruiser butterflies. This is a good hardy plant for suburban gardens as it’s not rampant, and is ideal for beach gardens and drier inland areas too.

A small hardy ground cover for a dry shady corner is the native Rock Peperomia, Peperomia leptostachya. This is a succulent with small spikes of tiny flowers and minute fruits, grown for its foliage, similar to the exotic introduced Peperomias. It will rot if over-watered, so on a poorly drained or clayey site, it may be best grown in leaf litter or well composted mulch. It also makes an excellent pot plant. You often find it growing wild in the rocky
vine scrubs round Rockhampton.

For a floral display, I can recommend the various species and cultivars of the Scaevola or Blue Fan Flower. It gets its name from the flower’s resemblance to an open fan. The local variety is hardier, but some of the named cultivars are probably easier to obtain, and make a beautiful purple-blue display in a hanging basket. They do need a bit more TLC than the local though. Once you have a big healthy plant, you can propagate more from cuttings.

Another lovely purple flower is the False Sarsaparilla or Purple Coral Pea. The small pea shaped flowers of the twining evergreen Hardenbergia violacea make a lovely show. It needs a well-drained frost free site, in a sunny or semi-shaded position, and responds well to pruning. The most widely grown variety in Australia is Happy Wanderer, and there is a pink cultivar, Rosea, and a white one, Alba, but these are not as hardy.

A lovely groundcover is Yellow Buttons, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, a low hardy herb with grayish woolly leaves and little round bright yellow button flowers. Its had a name change recently, so might still be labelled Helichrysum apiculatum. It’s hardy, spreads quite well, and can be transplanted. For sun or part shade.

If you want a more architectural or geometric look, you might consider some of the plants with strappy or spiky grass-like leaves. These can look particularly effective with a mulch of gravel or river stones, and look good in both an informal bush garden and in a more formal situation as well.

The Lomandras or Mat Rushes make a strong, virtually indestructible statement once established, and there’s a new fine-leaved cultivar just out called Tanika, which is smaller, more compact, and just as tough.

Another favourite are the Blue Flax Lilies or Dianellas, with grey-green leaves and blue to purple flowers on spikes, followed by shiny blue edible berries containing a single seed. There are a number of varieties around. There’s even a local variant with whitish fruits. Dianella attraxis or the Rainforest Flax Lily has crowded flowers on a fairly short stem, and is best in well-watered semi-shade. Check it out at the Kershaw Gardens. While others such as caerulea or the taller revoluta are best in full sun. Cultivars such as Cassa Blue and Little Rev are small and tough, but need good drainage. Try Little Jess or Breeze for less well-drained areas. These are popular plants for median strips, factory sites, and similar areas where really hardy plants are required.

There’s even a tough, drought tolerant tufted native grass, a Poa, with blueish foliage that can stand some humidity as well, that’s been introduced into cultivation. It’s called Eskdale.

And don’t forget the possibilities presented by the annual everlasting or paper daisies sown en masse.

Till next time, happy gardening!

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