Sunday, 29 April 2012

What to do with too many plants? - Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)

When we bought this house, there were four bird's nest ferns planted out in a few urns in the backyard. The urns were past their best and they went - but the plants growing in them stayed. I wanted to keep them - the problem was they were so big I had no idea where to put them. This is how some of them sat for a while until I worked out where to accommodate them:

                              The width of the plants is impressive - almost two metres!

The bird's nests went on a merry-go-round of plantings around a yard which really didn't have a spot for them. Of course, parting with them wasn't an option (I could hardly throw them out!) but they continued to spread making my small garden seem even smaller.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize (until I did some research) that these ferns are both lithophytic and epiphytic (meaning they can grow either on rocks or on tree branches).  They derive nourishment from the fallen leaf litter that decomposes in their centre, so aren't as dependent on good soil or the like for food (they are shaped like a giant funnel which helps channel the leaves into it's centre). With that in mind, I then proceeded to mount the four birds nests in various places in my trees: 

I'm quite happy with the result; I think they look a lot like they do in their native area (which is North-Eastern NSW & South East Queensland).

This last one was the greatest challenge - it was quite a feat grasping to the trunk with one hand and a heavy plant in the other while on top of a tall ladder (and a windy day too!). So not only was I afraid of losing my balance, but I had soil and other organic debris fall from the fern and sting my eyes!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

White Allamanda - allamanda cathartica

Gardening in a marginal climate has many surprises. Sometimes, even pleasant ones. One such surprise is my Allamanda cathartica 'Alba', or the White Allamanda. This plant has flowered very well for me, despite our cool and wet summer - even performing better than the common yellow variety:

The bloom is a creamy-white color and is smaller than the yellow or pink varieties.

The plant likes a sunny position with plenty of water (as with most allamandas). My one is in partial shade and still blooming prolifically.

Allamanda "Siam Snow" was released onto the market in 2009 and is still relatively uncommon. It is smaller growing than the other types but a prolific bloomer - definitely one that deserves a place in any garden!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Frangipani blues - frangipani rust disease

If you were to search on houses for sale in Sydney, you would see that the city is littered with frangipani trees. They are everywhere, especially in the older inner-city suburbs:

Some more:

Yet increasingly these trees are being attacked by an orange invader - Frangipani Rust. The rust lives on the underside of the leaves and spreads along the leaf by rupturing. As it does, it goes from leaf to leaf, causing the leaves to discolor and drop from the tree early:

The trees end up looking bare except for their flowers (which are unaffected by the rust). The appearance of a rust-affected frangipani in full bloom is not unlike a frangipani in the dry season in a truly tropical climate - that of few leaves and many blooms, The picture below shows a rust-affected frangipani in the background in Randwick (with few leaves left) while the one in the foreground (a pink cultivar) appears less affected:

It is believed that the rust has been in Australia for around 10 years already, probably introduced from a cutting brought in from Florida (where the disease was first observed). The disease does not kill the plant, but does cause significant defoliation. This weakens the plant as specimens that are continually leafless cannot properly photosynthesize and convert sunlight into energy (which is needed for growth and flower production).

Not all frangipanis are affected equally. The common yellow and white ('Celadine') variety seems to get it worst. The pink and red cultivars don't seem to suffer as badly, while Plumeria obtusa ('Singapore White') doesn't react at all to the rust (mine does have rust on its leaves, but they do not discolor or drop prematurely).

There are sprays on the market to combat the rust, and it may be worth pursuing. The rust thrives in hot, humid conditions and is thus worst in late summer and early autumn. In places like Cairns the rust ensures that frangipanis remain leafless pretty much all year round, while the dry air in Western Australia has helped keep it at bay so far. To control it, it is important to clean away any fallen leaves that are rust affected to keep it from spreading - not much help if your neighbors don't clean theirs though!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Heliconia psittacorum "Andromeda" - was it destiny?

I love heliconias. I have several growing in my garden; all doing quite well. Getting hold of them has always involved driving for hours or fighting with flight hostesses. You can then image my surprise when I found Heliconia psittacorum "Andromeda" sitting in a 7 Eleven store in the Melbourne CBD on a recent trip:

I have psittacorum 'Golden Torch' and 'Nikki' as they are reputed to have some cold tolerance. I did a quick google search on 'Andromeda' (the convenience of an iphone!) and found it too is a possibility in Sydney.

For those who don't know, Melbourne's climate is a cold one and not a place where you would expect to see even the humble frangipani - much less a heliconia. Having said that though, I find many of the most dedicated tropical plant growers tend to be found in less than ideal climates - it must be that lust after what one can't have that sustains them - so perhaps this find was indicative of some very dedicated gardeners and thus there is a market for them.

How I managed to find it in a convenience store while holidaying in Melbourne I'll never quite understand (destiny?). They certainly aren't common plants south of the QLD/NSW border so finding it was a stroke of luck. I had no problem bringing it on the plane back (they wouldn't dare try to part me with it!) and now it is sitting in my garden waiting to be planted out:

All my heliconias have exceeded expectations, particularly rostrata. I haven't provided them any special treatment but they grow well all the same. As for the psittacorums, there is a lot of conflicting advice on where they will grow and which varieties are the more cool tolerant. I find keeping them quite dry over winter is all that is really needed to ensure they grow well in this climate.

Hopefully as people become more aware of them down here we will start to see more appear in local gardens!
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