Flowering Salvias are my new passion and are my feature plant for April, even though May has just begun!!! While I have always known about the culinary herb sage, Salvia officinalis, with its fragrant grey-green leaves and spikes of pretty mauve flowers (photo below), I knew very little about its flowering cousins. In fact, I don’t think that they were even on my radar until we lived down south. My first introduction to them was the Salvia Collection in the Geelong Botanic Gardens in 2012 (photo below), so when we were developing our new garden in Candelo, salvias were definitely on the list of desired plants! While I have bought the odd specimen, most of my salvias have been struck from cuttings from my sister’s gardens and while some of the seedlings from plants in her South East Queensland garden have since died, all the ones from her Tenterfield garden are flourishing, due to their ability to either withstand or recuperate from frost! The photo below shows my salvia collection in my Moon Bed.Salvia is the largest genus in the mint family (Laminaceae) and includes over 900 species from herbaceous shrubs to perennials, biennials and annuals, and there is a salvia for every climate, environment, season and gardening style! The photo below features salvias with their cousins Mint and Lavender.Salvias come in a huge variety of form and flower colour, including blue, mauve, cerise, pink, red, white, yellow and orange. Most types bloom from Spring through Summer to Autumn, though there are some Winter-flowering salvias from the cool, mountainous areas of Central and South America.
The genus is distributed throughout Eurasia and the Americas with three distinct hot spots of diversity with 500 species in Central and South America; 250 species in Central Asia and the Mediterranean and 90 species in Eastern Asia. Many species and hybrids easily interbreed, so new cultivated varieties are constantly appearing, resulting in its huge diversity and climatic tolerance. Below is a photo of all the different types of salvias in our garden.Types:
I have to admit I get very confused when it comes to identifying sages, but here are the names of some of the salvias we grow!
Salvia microphylla, Small-Leafed Sage or Baby Sage or Mountain Sage
One of my favourites for its generosity, being constantly in bloom, their light airy flowers complementing the roses, both in the garden and in the vase! It has tiny dark green leaves, as indicated by its species name ‘microphylla’ meaning ‘small leaves’, which have a fresh fruity fragrance like those of black currants, giving it its final name, Black Currant Sage.However, it is a very complex species which easily hybridizes, resulting in a huge number hybrids and cultivars, making it very difficult to identify accurately. It has a wide colour range from magentas to rose pink and reds. Unfortunately, because all my forms were produced from cuttings from my sister’s garden, I am a bit hazy about their names!
One variety I do know for sure is the unmistakeable bicolour red and white form called ‘Hot Lips’, though it will also throw pure white and pure red blooms. Apparently, its flower colour varies with the weather and water and nutrient availability. Cooler weather and more nutrients and water result in more red flowers, while heat and nutrient stress in warmer Summer weather results in the blooms turning white.However, I have a major problem identifying my magenta and deeper red salvias and I’m not the only one! Apparently, Salvia microphylla is often confused with Autumn Sage, S. greggii, with which it frequently hybridizes. Maybe, one of my readers can help me? Here are some photos!
The magenta variety with small fragrant leaves and dark stems:The red variety with larger more deeply veined rounded leaves and dark stems:The photo below shows the differences between both varieties: magenta on top, red on the bottom.However, I do know my Pineapple Sage, S. elegans, especially because it was labelled when I bought it from a nursery!!! I love the pineapple scent of its long, light green pointed leaves and have planted one at the top of my new herb garden next to the path, so that every time the gas bottles are changed, there will be a whiff of its beautiful fragrance! It bears spires of bright red flowers which are highly attractive to birds and butterflies and which bloom for a long time! Growing to 1.5 to 1.8 metres high, it is frost tolerant, though it is more compact in colder climates.I am a bit more definite about my blue salvias!
‘Indigo Spires’, another labelled nursery purchase, is a hybrid cross between S. longispicata and S. farinacea. It is a large shrub, at 1.5 metres tall and 1 metre wide, and has 30 to 38 cm (12 to 15 inches) long spikes of purple-blue velvety flowers, from early Summer through to late Autumn. While easy to grow, it is not frost tolerant, but it does regrow after frost.Salvia uliginosa, Bog Salvia, is another tall prolific flowerer, bearing clear sky blue flowers on long stalks all Summer and Autumn. It is one of the few salvias, which likes wet feet, though it will still grow in dry conditions, though probably not as tall and unruly!I think my third blue salvia is Salvia x chamelaeagnea “African Sky”, a cross between two South African species, Salvia scabra and Salvia chamelaeagnea. It has leathery sticky stems and leaves and beautiful soft azure blue flowers on long floppy spikes from late Spring to Autumn.Three more blue salvia species I would love to grow and photographed below in order are:
Salvia nemorosa ssp tesquicola with spikes of rich violet flowers set in large lilac bracts from late Spring until Autumn; Gentian Sage, Salvia patens, with its royal blue flowers; and the attractive Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight’ with its lime green calyces and electric blue flowers and lime green calyces.And then, there is the monstrous Rose Leaf Sage, Salvia involucrata Bethelii! This was one of the cuttings I took from my sister’s subtropical garden in South-East Queensland and because I lost its identifying tag, I mistakenly planted it in the Moon Bed, where it then proceeded to grow like Jack-and-the-Bean Stalk, engulfing my poor roses and totally dominating the garden bed! It would have been at least 2.5 metres tall, though they can grow up to 4 metres tall and 1 metre wide!It has heart-shaped, long-stalked leaves to 10cm in length and 5cm long, tubular, two-lipped, deep cerise pink flowers, with conspicuous rose-pink bracts, that give it its common name, Roseleaf Sage, and which fall off as the flowers grow bigger. The Eastern Spinebills LOVED it! This salvia does get frosted, so we propagated some more cuttings last year and this time, we planted them against the fence behind the Moon Bed, where they were free to romp to their hearts’ delight!For anyone interested in knowing more about the different types of salvias, it is well worth visiting the Nobelius Heritage Park in Emerald, Victoria, where the Salvia Study Group of Victoria has a wonderful display garden. See: http://salvias.org.au/about-us/. They have a wonderful website, with descriptions of all the different salvia varieties and their suitability for different climates (http://salvias.org.au/lists-of-salvias/) , as well as an excellent Links page (http://salvias.org.au/links/) with links to other sites like: http://www.robinssalvias.com/ (UK); and http://salvias.com.ar/ (Argentina). Another good website is: http://www.salviaspecialist.com/catalog/.
Cultivation and Uses:
Most salvias love well-drained soil and full sun or semi-shade, with some tolerating cold temperatures and frost. Many are drought-tolerant. They are long-flowering, easy to propagate and easy to grow, providing copious nectar for bees and birds. In fact, the labiate design of the salvia flower includes a bottom lip which makes a perfect landing pad for bees. For more about their flower anatomy, see: http://www.worldofsalvias.com/flower1.htm.
Our salvias are full of the constant buzz of bees from dawn to dusk every day! I particularly love watching the Blue-Banded Bees, Amegilla cingulata, which positively adore the Bog Salvia, though they will never sit still long enough for a decent photograph! Butterflies and beetles also love the salvias!So, salvias are fabulous for encouraging pollinators in the garden! I also love using them in floral arrangements as fillers and dots of delicate colour, though the flowers of the Bog Salvia often start falling the first day and the flowering stems of the Indigo Spires salvia wilt easily the minute they are cut from the plant! Nevertheless, both provide beautiful colour and contrast in both pastel and bright floral arrangements.Culinary Sage, Salvia officinalis, has a long history in the kitchen, being the main ingredient in stuffings for goose and pork dishes, as well as flavouring soups and pâtés. The leaves can be made into a tea for colds and sore throats and gum disease. In fact, ancient herbalists used salvia to cure a multitude of ailments from snake bite to epilepsy, the genus name, ‘Salvia’ deriving from the Latin ‘salvare’, a reference to the plant’s ability to heal. It is also said to enhance memory and lift the mood. See: https://www.healwithfood.org/health-benefits/sage-medicinal-salvia.php.
Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea, also has a strong tradition of medicinal use, the essential oil being used to treat menstrual pain and hormonal imbalances, depression, anxiety and insomnia, stomach and digestive problems, and kidney complaints. See: https://draxe.com/clary-sage.
Salvia chamelaeagnea is used to treat colds and coughs, colic and heartburn in the Cape region of South Africa, while the roots of Red Sage, Salvia miltiorrhiza, are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine to treat cardiovascular disease and chronic renal failure. In Mexico, Salvia microphylla is used as a medicinal and tea plant, while Diviner’s Sage, S. divinorum, is a psychedelic drug , which was used by Mazatec shamans to produce hallucinations and altered states of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions. White Sage, Salvia apiana, was also used in religious ceremonies and purification rituals by Native Americans tribes on the Pacific coast of the United States. The seed is the main ingredient in pinole, a staple food and was also ground into a sticky paste for removing foreign objects from the eye, much in the same way as the Europeans did with Clary Sage. Other medicinal uses include the treatment of colds and fevers, stomach upsets, heavy or painful menstruation and to promote healing and strength after childbirth. See: http://www.herbcottage.com.au/white-sage.html.
All in all, Salvias are a very useful and beautiful addition to the garden! Next week, I will tell you a little more about our recent trip to Victoria, in which we explored a number of gardens, including the Salvia Display Gardens, mentioned previously in this post!
When you own animals, it’s inevitable that they generally pass away before you do, so it’s important for every garden to have a special cemetery corner. When we first moved to Candelo in 2015, we brought our very old and much loved dog, Scamp, with us to eke out his final days. In fact, my husband had to make a special trip back to Geelong to pick up Scamp and our rose plants after the initial big move!Scampie loved the garden , even though he had limited mobility , and played a big part in its early development, often sitting right on top of a freshly dug hole for a new plant or enjoying the warmth of a pile of fallen Autumn leaves.When he finally died six months later at the ripe old age of almost 16, we buried him in the corner of the flat with a beautiful funeral service, laying him to rest on his favourite old pink blanket, covered with freshly picked blooms from the garden. The flat lies between the old shed (on the right of the first photo below) and the rainforest bank (left edge of the first two photos below), in front of the entrance steps, where he can keep an eye on all our visitors! The bottom photo shows the view of the flat from the house. Since then, Scampie has been joined by a succession of my daughter Caroline’s budgies, all of these pets playing a special part in her growing up years and much loved by the whole family.As you might know, we all love our tea, especially Caroline, so we thought this dedicated area was perfect for a tea garden, somewhere where we could sit and contemplate, chat to our animal friends and remember the good time we shared, so we planted a Camellia sinensis, the original tea plant (second photo below), along with a seat of Chamomile, with an adjoining carpet of Peppermint and Moroccan Spearmint (see photo above), which can run to their heart’s delight in this area, providing us with many future cups of delicious herbal tea. One small pot of peppermint (first photo below) is far too restrictive for my needs!!!When Scampie died, we originally marked his grave site with a native Frangipani tree, one of our favourite rainforest trees back at Dorrigo, where Scamp spent many happy hours. It has beautiful scented golden blooms, fading to white, dark green glossy leaves and interesting purse-shaped seedpods. Having seen huge specimens down in Geelong, we thought it might be able to grow here, but unfortunately, it was cut right back by the frost in the Winter of 2016. We moved it to a pot to recover and planted a new specimen, both plants growing vigorously over the following year, but again, both were hit badly last Winter, unfortunately with fatal results this time! So, I’ve given up on being able to grow native frangipanis, but then had to decide on another tree for the same spot. Below is a photo of Winter Sun daffodils, which we had planted beneath the Native Frangipani – very much in keeping with the gold colour scheme!While the thought of a Lemon-Scented Tea Tree was an attractive option, because space is at such a premium in our small garden, especially these days, it is extra important to get double the value out of any future plantings! So we decided on a golden peach, which not only satisfies aesthetic requirements, but also culinary ones! A friend gave us a whole box of homegrown peaches last year, after which we decided we had to have our own tree! While we love eating peaches, you can also make a delicious herbal tea with cinnamon and orange zest.The colour scheme of this area is very much happy golds and whites, uplifting the spirits and complementing the mature hill banksia behind in its bed of blue and white agapanthus. Above the bank at ninety degrees to the banksia, a red hedge of two grevilleas, a correa and a Red Riding Hood azalea, separates the Tea Garden from the rainforest garden.Other plants near the Tea Garden on the flat include: a Kerria japonica seedling, struck from a cutting in my sister’s garden, which sports bright golden flowers in early Spring. See: https://plantsam.com/kerria-japonica-pleniflora/, as our shrub hasn’t flowered yet!;a Golden Hornet crab apple (photos above), whose crabs turn a deep gold on maturation, underplanted with Golden Dawn daffodils;a naturalised bank of Grandma’s highly scented freesias;an entrance arch (first photo) covered in golden Noisette roses: Alister Stella Grey (second photo) and Rêve d’Or (third photo), which leads through past the cumquat trees (fourth photo) and a Lemonade Tree to the main pergola;and the back wall of the old shed with its wall of Albertine roses, trained on a frame, with their skirt hems covered in brightly coloured dahlias.While celebrating the animal friends in our lives, the Tea Garden is also a good spot to honour family members, who have also passed on, so last year, we planted a beautiful golden rambler called Maigold below the hill banksia for my dad, who passed away at the age of 91 in January 2017. Bred by Kordes in 1953, this exceptionally healthy and vigorous rose, with glossy dark green foliage, is thriving and has already produced a number of golden single blooms.It has been a wonderful season and all the plants in the Tea Garden are growing well, as can be seen in the photos below of chamomile and Moroccan spearmint. From small beginnings…. After an initial slow start with six well-spaced plants, the chamomile has gone wild and is now competing well with the original couch grass. We have been harvesting its bloom all Summer, often picking 450 flowerheads at a time to dry for chamomile tea. I have just chopped back all the flowering stems and cleaned up the bed for Autumn.While I use chamomile tea for relaxation and getting to sleep, it has numerous health benefits, as documented in: https://draxe.com/chamomile-benefits/. We have also cut and dried mint leaves, but are resisting the temptation to harvest the Camellia sinensis until it is much bigger! Below is a photo of my daughter Caroline next to a huge tea plant, taken in 2008 at the Nerada Tea Plantation on the Atherton Tableland. I probably won’t wait this long though!
And a closeup photo of the fresh foliage of Camellia sinensis, which is dried to make tea.I own a lovely book called Healthy Teas: Green, Black, Herbal and Fruit by Tammy Safi 2001, which not only discusses the history, types, methods of brewing and health benefits of tea , but also contains a number of recipes for delicious herbal tonics for energy, stress, cleansing, immunity and springtime. Another good book is Herbal Tea Remedies: Tisanes, Cordials and Tonics for Health and Healing by Jessica Houdret 2001, which specifically focuses on herbal teas with chapters on their cultivation; harvesting, drying and storage and brewing, including tea recipes for digestion; coughs and colds; zest and energy; calm and sleep; headaches, anxiety and depression; tonic teas; and fruit and flower drinks.In the back is a compendium of herbs suitable for a tea garden and I grow many of them in other parts of the garden like angelica, bergamot, black currant, borage, calendula, dandelion, elderflower, feverfew, honeysuckle, lavender, lemon verbena, marshmallow, mulberry, mullein, nasturtium, roses, rosemary, sage, strawberry, thyme, valerian and yarrow. The first group of photos below shows angelica, feverfew, calendula, borage and bergamot; while the second grouping includes rosehips, valerian and thyme, dandelion, honeysuckle and strawberry. I am quite tempted to plant a hibiscus shrub, lemon balm and some more mints, perhaps Eau-de-Cologne Mint, Pennyroyal, Apple Mint and Chocolate Mint, down in the Tea Garden. If you would like to know more about mint, a good little volume is Book of Mint by Jackie French 1993. It describes the different types of mint, their cultivation and harvest/ storage, and their uses in medicine, cosmetics, teas, sauces, sorbets and after dinner mints, complete with recipes!
Next month, we will be exploring the wonderful world of Salvias, but first, a post about Hegarty’s Bay, followed by a swag of books on Textile Printing and Natural Dyeing in my series on Craft Books!
I have always loved lavender and given its future potential use in our garden, I thought it would be useful to research this lovely plant for my feature plant post for February. Every Winter, the steep agapanthus bank between our top terrace and the main part of the garden gets badly frost-damaged, to the extent that photography of the Spring garden with the house in the background is severely compromised due to the dead brown patches, prompting thoughts about other suitable plants, which could withstand the frost and better utilise the terraced beds. In the photo below, the frost-prone area is on the bank, directly in front of the verandah with smaller recovering bulbs, couch grass and weeds. A friend suggested lavenders as they have mild frost-tolerance, a long flowering period (mid-Spring through to Autumn), a beautiful scent and multiple uses, as well as their colour being very complementary to the soft mauve exterior colour of our house.History and General Notes
Lavenders belong to the Lamiaceae (Labiatae) family, which also includes mints (Mentha) and sages (Salvia), as seen in the photo of the bouquet below. The genus Lavandula has 28 species and many subspecies, hybrids and cultivars, divided into five main groups: Stoechas; Spica; Pterostoechas; Chaetostoechas; and Subnuda. For the purposes of this post, I will be concentrating on the lavenders belonging to the first three groups, as they represent the majority of plants in cultivation and the home garden.Lavenders have a widespread distribution from the Mediterranean region (France, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal) to the Middle East; Western Asia; India; tropical Northern Africa and the Madeira, Canary and Cape Verde Islands.They also have a long history of use since Ancient Greek and Roman times, when it was used for its cleansing and medicinal properties. In fact, the name Lavender is derived from the Latin word ‘lavare’, which means ‘to wash’. The Ancient Romans perfumed their baths with the oil of Lavandula spica (photo above), while the Ancient Greeks used lavender more for its medicinal qualities. Ancient Greek physician, Dioscorides described Lavandula stoechas (photo below) as a laxative and stimulant in his Materia Medica 60 AD, stating that it grew near Gaul on the islands of Stoechas, now known as Îles de Hyères.The expectorant and antispasmodic properties of the flowers were also used in the 6th century Byzantine Empire, as well as by later Arabs, who also used them in a skin toner, a cheek rouge and a perfumed hair powder. It was introduced into France by Charlemagne in 800 AD and was grown extensively in medieval monastery gardens for its medicinal properties, scent and use in the kitchen. Sticadore (Lavandula stoechas) was one of the ingredients, along with rosemary, wormwood, rue, sage and mint, in the Four Thieves Vinegar, used to combat the plague. Lavendar was also very popular in Tudor and Elizabethan times from 1485 to 1603. English Knot Gardens were defined by lavender hedges and Elizabeth I is said to have always had a bowl of lavender conserve on the table. During the 18th Century, Oil of Spic (or Aspic, made from Lavandula latifolia, a member of the Spica group) was used in quick drying varnishes and to dilute paint colours used in porcelain painting. The oil was distilled in Southern France, especially Provence, and Spain. See: http://www.sca3p.com/en/cooperative-essential-oils-provence/production-history-perfume-plants. Lavender sellers were a common sight in the streets of 18th Century London.It was imported into Australia during the 19th Century. In Britain, its cultivation was markedly increased, along with other herbs, during the First World War for its medicinal properties. Today, it is still widely grown for its oil, its scent and its use as a valuable hedging and border plant in the garden.General Description
Lavender is an aromatic shrubby perennial with erect or spreading branches and variable size, leaves and flowering spikes, according to the particular type, as well as its location, soil type, weather conditions and climate. Generally, the width of the plant is 1 to 1.5 times the height of the plant. For ease of description, it is worth consulting the photo below from page 17 of The Essential Lavender: Growing Lavender in Australia by Virginia McNaughton 1996.Leaves: Have revolute (curled back) margins and are arranged in opposite pairs along the branches. They vary in shape from linear-oblong or spatulate to oblong lanceolate and their margins are simple and entire or dentate, pinnate or bipinnate. The leaves below have dentate, revolute margins.Inflorescences: Flower spikes are terminal, at the end of short or long peduncles (flowering stems) and are composed of individual flowers, arranged in a whorled fashion along the stem. The terminal flowers open last. They have bracts (modified leaf at the base of the flowers) and/ or bracteoles (small bract borne above the bract and below the calyx (outer petals), according to the type. The scent also varies from the sweet true lavender fragrance of Lavandula angustifolia to the more camphoraceous scent of the Stoechas group (especially L. viridis) and Lavandula latifolia.
Large petal-like sterile bracts (see photo below) on the top of the spike (rabbit’s ears); no bracteoles; and fertle bracts on the rest of the spike. They flower most of the year with short intermittent breaks (eg Christmas) and prefer warmer areas. They are more frost-tender than the Spica group (though can still survive mild frosts), but more tolerant of humidity, though no lavender grows well in areas of high humidity or heavy rain. They are also very tolerant of soil type and have actually been declared a noxious weed in Tasmania and rural Victoria.Species: L. stoechas (Italian and Spanish); L. dentata (French); and L. viridis (Green).
Has a number of subspecies:
Lavandula stoechas ssp stoechas: Italian; Mediterranean and North Africa; Dark violet, though there is a white form. 70cm bush to 1m tall in flower. Short peduncles (1-3 cm) and grey green leaves. Hardy and withstands mild frosts.
Lavandula stoechas ssp pedunculata: Spanish/ Butterfly; Portugal and Spain, North Africa, South Balkans and Asia Minor; Longer greener leaves, sterile bracts and peduncles (10-20 cm); 60 cm sprawling bush to 90 cm in flower; Rounder reddish-violet spikes; Less hardy and needs frost protection.
Other less common subspecies include: L. stoechas ssp cariensis; L. stoechas ssp sampaiana; and L. stoechas ssp luisieri.There are also a large number of Stoechas cultivars, resulting from crosses between the subspecies, especially L. stoechas ssp pedunculata (Sugarberry Ruffles; Princess and Sensation). I am only describing the varieties in my garden, with a nod to future desires or more famous varieties.
They include, in order of height:
Sugarberry Ruffles 50-70 cm; Soft pink sterile bracts.Princess: 70 cm; Pink sterile bracts; Flowers late Winter to early Summer. Avonview: 80 cm tall and long peduncles with large purple sterile bracts; Floral arrangements. Sensation (Senblu): 1 m; Blue sterile bracts;Other cultivars that I would love to get in the future include: Pastel Dreams (60-80 cm; Lilac pink); Helmsdale (80 cm; Burgundy purple); Marshwood (80cm-1m; Reddish-violet); and Pippa (1m; Electric dark blue).
Lavandula dentata (French Lavender)
Also known as Toothed Lavender, due to the dentate margins of the grey-green leaves. This large shrub, 1 to 1.5 metres tall, hails from France, Spain, Italy and Greece; the Madeira, Canary and Cape Verde Islands; Arabia, Algeria and Abyssinia.
It has long peduncles and 2.5 to 5 cm lavender-purple flowering spikes for most of the year. L. dentata ssp candicans has greyer soft hairy leaves and darker flower spikes. Cultivars include: Ploughman Blue; Allwood; and Monet.
It prefers warmer climates and is not frost hardy, requiring protection in cooler areas. The plant makes a good hedge or topiary specimen and the flowers are used in floral arrangements (tussie-mussies), wreaths and pot pourri.
Lavandula viridis (Green Lavender)
Hailing from South-West Spain, Southern Portugal and Madeira, this 1 metre tall bush has green sticky foliage and stems, covered in dense short green hairs; greenish-cream sterile bracts and has the strongest camphoraceous fragrance of the Stoechas group. While it survives mild frosts, I probably won’t be racing out to buy this one!!!Spica Group (English Lavenders and Lavandins)
Have no sterile bracts at the top of the flowering spike, entire hairy grey lanceolate/ oblong or linear leaves and a sweet lavender fragrance. They prefer limestone areas; light well-drained soil and warm rocky slopes and dislike areas of high humidity, so are difficult to grow in Queensland. However, they grow well here! See the photo above!
Species: L. angustifolia; L. latifolia; and L. lanata
Lavandula angustifolia ( syn. L. vera; L. spica and L. officinalis) True Lavender
Lavandula angustifolia ssp angustifolia: Western Mediterranean; 60 cm to 80cm in flower; fragrant flower spikes 3 to 7 cm long; One of earliest lavenders to flower (late November in Australia); Makes a small to medium hedge. Good for lavender bags; toiletries; pot pourri; culinary recipes and floral decorations; and lavender oil, though the lavandins yield more flowers.
Lavandula angustifolia ssp pyrenaica: Pyrenees and Northern Spain; Rare in Australia; Bracts very wide and as long as calyces (outer petals): 6-7 mm long; and hair confined to veins.
Have small to medium single unbranched peduncles and flowering spikes from lavender and violet to pink and white simultaneously or 2 to 3 weeks later than L. angustifolia. They include:
Lavender/ Violet: Munstead (45-60 cm dwarf, so good for knot gardens); Twickel Purple (60-90 cm);
Dark Violet: Hidcote (70 cm); Nana Atropurpurea (40-60 cm); Blue Mountain (60 cm, greyer foliage);
Pink: Rosea (40 -60 cm; very green foliage; early flowering; mauve pink);
White: Alba (40-60 cm; grey green linear leaves; sweet scent.
Lavandula latifolia (L. spica) Spike Lavender
Western Mediterranean and Portugal; Rare in nurseries; 50 cm high bush, whose broad oblong to lanceolate leaves are a more greyish-green and have a denser coverage of hairs than L. angustifolia. Flower spikes have long slender peduncles, up to 45 cm long or more, which frequently branch into three and have a camphoraceous smell . It was used to produce Oil of Aspic. They flower up to 3 months later than L. angustifolia (February in Australia) and can be difficult to grow and have a shorter lifespan here, so it is wise to keep some young stock in reserve. They are not frost hardy and hate cold poorly-drained soil. They can get woody at the base and along the stems.Lavandula x intermedia cultivars (Lavandins)
A cross between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia, these 1 metre tall shrubs flower 3 to 4 weeks later than L. angustifolia and have broader leaves and large flower spikes with a paler colour and a more camphoraceous smell. They are sterile, so must be propagated from cuttings and are used for cut flowers and the commercial production of lavender oil. They include:
Lavender/ Violet/ Purple:
Grosso (Masses of violet blooms late December to Autumn; Leading world producer of Lavender oil);
Seal (80 cm-1m ; Over 1000 spikes in one season and retain scent well when dried; Lavender bags);
Super (Over 1m and similar to Seal, but different shape and size; One of first lavandins to flower, continuously blooming over long period and one of the sweetest scents of all lavandins)
Alba (60-70 cm tall with 30 cm long peduncles; white corollas with grey-green calyces; sweet scent. This is the white lavender most commonly sold in nurseries.)
Grey Hedge (1m silver hedge);
Old English (over 1m and similar spikes to Seal)Intersectional Crosses:
Lavandula x allardii Mitcham Lavender : A cross between L. dentata and L. latifolia, this hybrid is over 1 metre tall and wide, has grey semi-toothed leaves and long flower spikes like Spica lavenders on long peduncles with a scent, the blend of lavender and camphoraceous.
The flowers stems can be dried for floral arrangements, but tend to droop. I suspect the lavender in the two photos above and the three photos below, grown from a cutting, could be Mitcham Lavender as it has leaves with dentate margins like L. dentata, but a flower spike on a very long branched peduncle like L. latifolia. The plant is also similar to the latter with its tendency to woody stems as the plants age.
Lavandula x heterophylla: Another cross between L. latifolia and L. dentata, this plant is similar to Spica group lavenders, being up to 1 metre tall with branched stems. It also has a sweet camphoraceous scent .Lavandula lanata Woolly Lavender
Native to the mountains of Southern Spain, this shrub, 1 metre high and wide, has 1.2 cm wide and 3-5 cm long, grey tomentose (woolly hairs) leaves with a soft flannel feel and 10 cm long narrow flowering spikes on long peduncles in late December. The individual flowers open gradually, providing a splash of purple along the spike and have a slight camphoraceous scent. These lavenders like dry chalky soils and sheltered positions and have a deep root system, so hate being moved. They are frost-tolerant as might be expected!
This group hails from North Africa and Mediterranean regions and has the largest number of species, three of which are available in Australia. Slightly woody at the base, they have multi-branched stems and fine feathery pinnate or bipinnate leaves and wing-like (ptero-) corollas when viewed from the side. All the bracts are fertile and there are no sterile bracts at the top of the spike. There are also no bracteoles and the flowers do not have the classic lavender fragrance. They are not very hardy and best grown against the house or a warm brick wall, protected from frost, as in our old garden in Geelong (photo below), where they thrived with the French Lavender.
Species available in Australia include: L. multifida; L. canariensis; and L. pinnata.Cultivation and Harvesting
So easy to grow, lavender really only has two requirements:
: Well-drained Soil
While they prefer lighter soils and thrive in a loamy gritty mix, they can grow in most soil types. English lavenders like alkaline soil with a pH of 6-8, while Stoechas lavenders are very tolerant and can even grow in slightly acidic soil. Lavenders hate poorly-drained heavy clay soils, so add compost or humus to the soil; dig in underwater drainage pipes or grow in rock gardens or on hillsides, where the water can run off. So, the steep bank should be perfect for them! They do not need fertilising, though a foliar spray of nitrogen in the Spring will increase the growth, the number of flowers and the stem length. Well-rotted compost will enrich the soil and act as a mulch to suppress weeds.: Full Sun for three quarters of the day at least. Stoechas and Pterostoechas lavenders prefer warmer climates and shelter from frosts, though the former can survive mild frosts and the occasional severe one. English lavenders like cool winters and warm sunny Summers. They are reasonably hardy and can withstand frost, though a late frost can damage the flower buds.Lavenders don’t like : Severe frosts; over-watering; drought; wind or humidity, which can cause root rot. There are few pests, except for spittle bug (hose, spray or pick off) and the odd assault by caterpillars or rabbits. Diseases include the Alfalfa Mosaic Virus (AMV), spread by aphids and causing yellowing of the leaves and twisting of young Spring growth; Lavender Leafspot; Bacterial Blast; and Shab, an overseas fungal disease, fortunately not found in Australia. Here is our garden in the depths of Winter (photo 1) Unfortunately, the frost killed off our French Lavenders (photo 2)!Spacing: Lavandins should be planted 1 metre apart (unless used for a hedge, in which case plants can be 50-70 cm apart), while L. angustifolia cultivars can be planted 30-70 cm apart. Make sure that enough room is available for the mature plant. While these lavenders marked the vertical axis of the Soho Bed, they really were much too large and I think the Soho Bed looks better in the second photo without these lavender plants.Pruning: Depends on the type of lavender and should be done to remove dead wood and encourage young growth from the base. These plants were very undisciplined (photo 1) and the Soho Bed looked so much better after a haircut (photo 2)! English lavenders should be trimmed hard after flowering and well before Winter to allow the new growth to harden. Once the stems become too woody and bare, the plant should be replaced. Unfortunately, none of the Mitcham Lavenders below survived the Winter. Normally, Mitcham lavender can be pruned to 15 cm from the ground, so I don’t think I pruned them too hard. Maybe, their new growth did not have time to harden before the cool weather set in or the plants had just become too old and woody! Fortunately, I had taken cuttings on pruning and was able to replace the dead plants, but I will keep them well-trimmed this time to a more appropriate size! Stoechas lavenders, which produce flowers more frequently, can be pruned during the Summer as well and can be pruned quite hard, due to their fast growth in Summer. I definitely have to deadhead this Lavender bush!Propagation: Usually done from cuttings to produce a plant, which is true to type, except for Pterostoechas, which is difficult to propagate from cuttings and is true from seed; and L. latifolia and L. lanata, which also reproduce true from seed, so long as the plants are kept separate from other lavenders. Below is a photo of one of my Mitcham lavender cuttings, which has developed into a new plant.
Cuttings, 5 to 10 cm long, can be made in Spring (tip cuttings) and Autumn (tip cuttings or heel cuttings of semi-hardwood growth), dipped in hormone rooting powder or honey, and inserted into a pot with a mixture of soil and sand; soil and perlite; pure perlite; or coarse river sand; and kept damp, but not wet, until established. They can be kept in cold frames or with bottom heat and misting, then transplanted into a larger pot or the garden, once the roots have reached the bottom of the pot.
Harvesting and Drying:
Harvest mid-morning on a dry sunny day after the dew has evaporated and watch out for bees!
Cut the heads when only the first two flowers on the spike have opened and strip off the leaves.
Hang flower spikes upside-down in bunches or dry on muslin trays in a dark room with good air circulation. They are dry when the stem breaks cleanly. A dehydrator/ microwave can be used too.Store in opaque containers in cupboards in a dry environment and avoid light or moisture. Use within the year before the colour fades and scent goes.
English Lavenders and French Lavender (L. dentata and subspecies) dry well, but the other Stoechas lavenders are more difficult to dry, because of the rabbit’s ears, though they do press well.
Uses of Lavender:
Garden Plant : Hedging, Knot Gardens and Topiary
: Paths, enclosures, knot gardens, outlining ornaments; statues; sundials and birdbaths.: Space plants half the width of the mature plant apart and keep regularly pruned, so the new growth is produced from the base. Trim at least twice a year and well before the Winter cold sets in. Both photos above and below were taken at Lavandula, Hepburn Springs, in Victoria.: French lavender makes a good topiary specimen, while good varieties for hedging include:
Lavandula angustifolia: Munstead or Blue Mountain (small to medium hedge or knot gardens); Twickel Purple (medium to large hedge); or a combination of Nana Atropurpurea; Rosea; and/or Alba;
Lavandins: Impress Purple or Grosso for a medium hedge; Grey Hedge for a hedge higher than 1 m.
Stoechas group: Italian lavender (low hedge); French Lavender (1.5 m hedge warm areas); and L. viridis.
Medicinal Properties of Lavender Essential Oil
Useful for the treatment of a wide range of conditions:
Skin conditions: Burns, bruises, wounds and leg ulcers; eczema, dermatitis and nappy rash; boils and herpes; stretchmarks; bee and wasp stings; fungal infections; acne; dry skin; and sunburn. It can be used as an insect repellent (a few drops added to olive or safflower oil) and a skin toner.
Muscle, joint and back pain : 1 part lavender oil to 6 parts massage oil for a relaxation massage.
Migraines and Headaches.
Hair: When added to shampoo, it can reduce dandruff, and in the past has been used to eliminate head lice. It has also been used to treat ear ache.
Sore throats, stubborn coughs and mouth infections: Gargle with lavender oil /honey in boiled water.
Lavender Oil is produced by steam distillation (photo below was taken at Balingup Lavender Farm, Western Australia).
Lavender Water: 4 tbsp lavender oil to 2 litres warm water: Good antiseptic cleanser;
Lavender can also be used in furniture oil and polish; in lavender bags (photo below) to protect clothes and linen from insects and moths; and can be burnt or simmered in water to induce relaxation.Culinary
Lavender vinegar can be used in salad dressings, for cleaning, to reduce bruising and as a hair rinse.
Lavender sugar can be used to flavour desserts, biscuits and cake icing;
Lavender tisane (L. angustifolia ssp angustifolia) to relieve extreme fatigue and physical exhaustion. It obviously had an uplifting effect on my husband at the Bella Lavender Estate, South Australia.Fragrance: Lavender bags, fans and bottles; scented writing paper and ink; pressed flowers; pot-pourri mixes; sleep pillows; soap and toiletries; incense and candles; tussie-mussies, wreaths and floral arrangements.Lavender has also been used in healing and purifying rituals; deterring evil spirits (Tuscany); in love potions and spells. Lavender is a symbol of love, affection and acknowledgement; cleanliness, purity and chastity; longevity and perseverance; protection; and peace. My mum embroidered this beautiful bag below for a birthday gift.
And obviously, our garden here in Candelo, once I have decided on which varieties to grow and we have established our new plantings on the bank! There are three terraces, so I will probably grow Bearded Iris at the top and bottom, with taller lavenders in the middle terrace; shorter pinks, whites and purple lavenders on the top terrace; and medium lavenders in the bottom terrace. Ross has started to clear two paths between the terraces. Placement is dictated by the frosty areas on the right looking up at the house from the garden, so English lavenders and Lavandins will be in these areas, while the Stoechas group will be further to the left, where there is more shelter and protection from the frost. Here is a view from the top lawn, showing the area damaged by frost. I will finish with a sea of lavender from our visit to Lavandula, Hepburn Springs.Next week, I will be introducing you to Bithry Inlet, one of our favourite spots to visit in Summer!
My first monthly feature plant for the year are the beautiful, bountiful buddleias, which are in full bloom this month. Also spelt Buddlejas and known as Butterfly Bush, due to its popularity with butterflies; Summer Lilac and Bombsite Plant (see later), they were named by Linnaeus after Reverend Adam Buddle (1660-1715), an English botanist and taxonomist, who produced 36 volumes dedicated to British native flora (volumes 14 to 36 about mosses alone)!They belong to the Foxglove family Scrophulariaceae (Buddlejaceae), with the genus containing at least 100 species (some sources number 140) and numerous decorative cultivars. They hail from four continents: Asia; North and South America: 60 species from Southern USA to Chile; and Africa, with no buddleias native to Europe or Australasia.Please note that because I inherited my buddleias, which were already well-established in our garden, when we arrived, I do not know their names, though I assume they are all forms of B. davidii, hence my photographs will be identified solely by their colour!
While I will try to be consistent with my spelling, generally restricting myself to using ‘buddleia’, the odd ‘buddleja’ might still slip in, especially when the latter spelling is used in the names of plants or plant collections!
Large, sprawling, deciduous (temperate climes) or evergreen shrubs (tropical areas) shrubs, usually less than 5 metres tall, though they can reach 9 metres tall.Long, narrow, lanceolate leaves, arranged in opposite pairs, except for B. alternifolia, in which the leaves are arranged alternately. Leaf size varies from 1 to 30 cm long. The leaves are often crepe-textured with pale, sometimes downy, undersides. Some species are silvery grey, while others are a dull matte green.Buddleias are grown for their flowers. Many have long, nectar-rich flower spikes, but some occur in spherical heads or loose clusters. The Asiatic species have terminal panicles, 10 to 50 cm long, and tend to be pastel pink or mauve, while the American species have cymes, forming small globose heads, which are often red, orange or yellow. Many cultivars have deeper colours, including a rich reddish-purple. Each individual flower is tubular and divided into four spreading lobes (petals), 3 to 4 mm across. The corolla length again varies according to the species. Asiatic species have a 10 mm long corolla, while American species vary from 3 to 30 mm, the latter having long red flowers, pollinated exclusively by hummingbirds. Some species are fragrant and strongly honey-scented, attracting not only butterflies, but also moths and bees.Flowering times vary according to the species, but generally they flower from Spring to Autumn. We had our first bloom in mid-November last year.The fruit is a small capsule, 1 cm long and 1 to 2 mm diameter with numerous small seeds.
Use and Care
Buddleias are usually grown for their flowers, as a feature plant and as a butterfly food plant, though B. davidii yields dyes (black and green from mixed flowers, leaves and stems, while the flowers alone produce an orange-gold to brown colour); and B. officinalis and B. asiaticum are used in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine and. See: http://www.chineseherbshealing.com/butterfly-bush/.
They are extremely hardy and tough, the deciduous species being hardier than the evergreens, though none will tolerate prolonged severe Winters. They are incredibly easy to grow and undemanding, tolerating salty air, drought, shade, urban pollution and most soil types, though they have a preference for chalky and limey soils.
Best in full sun on a moist, fertile well-drained soil, they grow incredibly quickly and some species can become invasive (more later).
They spread easily by seed and can be propagated easily by half-hardened soft wood cuttings taken in late Spring and early Summer. Cut a 15 cm new shoot, just as it is beginning to harden up, trim below the leaf node and nip out the top, then remove any large leaves. Dip the cut end into hormone rooting powder or honey (though it really doesn’t need it!) and plant in a 50/50 mixture of horticultural sand and compost.
They should be deadheaded constantly throughout the flowering season to encourage more flowers and prevent self-seeding and then pruned back to within 3 to 6 inches of the old wood in very early Spring, around crocus time, removing all dead wood. I am referring to the most common Butterfly Bush, B. davidii, here.
Pests include capsid bugs, caterpillars, nematodes (when grown in sandy soils) and red spider mite (especially during droughts). Neem Oil is a good organic treatment for all infestations. Buddleias can also experience root rot, if growing in swampy ground, and downy mildew, if grown in a cool climate with extended periods of rain.Species and Cultivars
Buddleias are mostly 20th century plants, except for Buddleja globosa, which was introduced to Britain from Chile in 1774. It is semi-evergreen, 5m tall and wide, and produces highly fragrant, honey-scented, orange globular inflorescences on branches from the previous season’s growth.
A 2.5 to 4 metre tall, early Spring-flowering, semi-evergreen shrub, native to East Asia and Western China, whose flowers (dried or fresh) are used to make a tea used in the treatment of ophthalmic conditions eg Corneal Opacity; Glaucoma and Nebula. The leaves, flowers and roots contain a large variety of flavonoid, triterpenoid and iridoid glycosides, which have been shown to repair damaged cell membrane of lens, prevent protein denaturation in the lens, reduce lens opacity and restore vision.
In traditional Korean medicine, the flowers and flower buds are also used to treat eye problems, as well as cramps and spasms caused by problems with the intestine, bladder or stomach eg Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The leaves are used to treat gonorrhoea, hepatitis and hernias.
The flowers of B.officinalis are also used to dye rice yellow in sticky rice dish, Hao Leng, and Five Coloured Rice, Wu Se Fan.B. davidii (B. variabilis)
The most popular cultivated Buddleia species and a semi-evergreen, open arching shrub, 1.2 to 4.6 metres tall and wide. It is native to Central China (Sichuan and Hubei provinces) and Japan.
It was introduced to Kew in 1896 (180 years after Buddle’s death) and was named after another clergyman, a French missionary called Père Armand David (1826-1900), who travelled over 7000 miles by foot in Asia and was the first European to see it flowering on stony rocky slopes in China. David collected 1500 plants in his travels, including 250 new species and 11 new genera, including the Handkerchief Tree, Davidia involucrata.B. davidii is highly invasive and colonises dry open ground very quickly, including railway track sidings (see http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28196221); derelict factories and urban bombsites, hence its name, the Bombsite Plant.
Both the species and its cultivars have been banned in many states in the United States of America (eg Oregon and Washington), and it certainly has naturalised very successfully in Northern Australia.
There are interspecific hybrids like Buddleja ‘Lochinch’, a cross between B. davidii and B. fallowiana; and B. x weyeriana, a cross between B. davidii and B. globosa; and at least 180 B. davidii cultivars.Some of the most popular garden cultivars are Royal Red (rich magenta), Black Knight (dark purple) and Empire Blue (small blue spikes), all three being taller older varieties, as well as Sungold (golden yellow) and Pink Delight, the latter bred in Holland in 1990, a compact shrub with silvery foliage and fragrant long, pure pink flower spikes. Dartmouth is another tall hybrid, 5 metres tall, with magenta-purple hand-shaped blooms, whose spikes radiate from one ‘palm’.
There are compact varieties, suitable for smaller gardens, like the pink Peacock ; Purple Emperor; Adonis Blue; Marbled White; and Camberwell Beauty (like a dwarf Dartmoor), the last four named after British butterflies. Nanho Blue (blue) and Nanho Purple (purple) are both dainty hybrids, only 1.5 metres tall, with delicate long slender flower spikes.
The Shapcott Barton Estate, East Knowstone, South Molton, Devon EX36 4EE. Tel. 01398 341664.
Peter Moore (http://bredbypetermoore.co.uk/) of Longstock Park Nursery (https://leckfordestate.co.uk/nursery) has been breeding more compact (1 to 2 meters tall), sterile buddleias for over 20 years, which flower for a longer period without self-seeding. He produces 50 Buddleia crosses each year, trialling the most promising hybrids in the garden, and spends 10 hours every week, deadheading all the Buddleias in the collection. Longstock Park Nursery has two Plant Heritage Collections, one of Clematis viticella, the other of Buddleias, as well as holding the Gilchrist Collection of Penstemons.The Buddleja Collection started as a deer- and rabbit-proof screening hedge along the old tennis court and now contains 160 species and cultivars, some of them tender. The aim is to conserve, grow, document and celebrate buddlejas growing in the United Kingdom. See :https://leckfordestate.co.uk/nursery-plants/buddleja-stock-list for the stock list of Buddlejas held.The collection includes:
Sugar Plum: a compact form of B. davidii, with the reddest flowers of all buddleias;
Pink Pagoda: a pale pink form of B. x weyeriana;
Blue Chip: 0.6 to 0.9 metre high compact shrub with lavender-blue flowers with sterile seed; and
What better way to celebrate the start of Summer than with a feature post on the wonderful exuberant Sunflower, Helianthus annuus! Sunflowers belong to the daisy family, Asteraceae, and the genus Helianthus has over 70 species, most of them native to North America, except for three species from South America. Most are ornamental, frost-hardy herbaceous perennials, like the Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, but the Common Sunflower, familiar to most people, is an annual, as indicated by its species name: ‘annuus’. The genus name Helianthus is derived from two Greek words: ‘helios’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘anthos’ meaning ‘flower’.Mythology
In Greece, the sunflower is a symbol of the water nymph Clytie, who was turned into a sunflower after she lost her love Apollo, and constantly faces the sun, awaiting the return of his chariot. The visual similarity of the flower to the sun makes it a symbol of worship and faithfulness in many religions. In fact, the Incas used South American sunflowers to worship the sun in their temples, where priestesses wore necklaces of sunflowers, cast in gold, as well as sunflower crowns. The Hopi Indians of North America also used sunflowers in their tribal rituals, as well as for food and a purple dye. In China, the sunflower is an auspicious symbol, denoting long life and good luck, its bright yellow colour symbolising vitality, intelligence and happiness. Vincent Van Gogh is famous for his series of paintings, depicting sunflowers in vases, one of which sold for $39 Million in 1987. Here is my daughter’s sunflower painting- just as special and always makes me feel happy.Habitat and Distribution
Native to North America, the sunflower was first domesticated in South-Western USA over 5000 years ago and soon became widespread throughout the Americas. Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizzaro, saw large crops in 16th century Peru and the sunflower was carried back to Spain, where it was cultivated and hybridized. By the 19th century, it was being cultivated on a wide scale in Russia, the Ukraine and the Caucasus regions for the manufacture of vegetable oil. The sunflower is the State flower of Kansas and the National flower of Russia. Mostly grown in temperate areas, it is now also grown as a commercial crop in the United States, Argentina, India, China, Turkey, the European Union (mainly France and Spain) and South Africa. In Queensland, it is widely grown in the Central Highlands and on the Darling Downs, as seen in the photo below.Description
Helianthus annuus is an annual forb, which grows up to 5 metres tall, with a well-developed tap root, which extends up to 3 metres into the soil. There are now a number of cultivars, varying in colour (yellow, orange, rust red) and height, from dwarf varieties less than 1 metre tall to taller cultivars over 3.5 metres tall. The tallest sunflower ever recorded was 7.76 metres tall, though there is a German record of 8.23 metres tall! There is also a discrepancy in growth rates: one source states 30 centimetres in one day, while another estimate is 2 metres in 6 months- that’s 182 days. For mathematicians, that’s 2000 centimetres in 182 days or 11 centimetres a day! Suffice to say that they are one of the fastest growing plants in the world! Our Burgundy Spray sunflower reached 2 metres last year and was harvested and ploughed in at 20 weeks- that’s 5 months- but we did use plenty of manure! The erect stem is rough and hairy and is branched in many wild varieties, but unbranched in cultivated varieties. The petiolate leaves are dentate (toothed margins) and sticky. The lower leaves are opposite and ovate or heart-shaped, while the leaves higher up the stem are arranged spirally.
Blooming in Summer, the inflorescence is a terminal head (capitulum), 10 to 50 centimetres in diameter, with a world record of 87.63 centimetres. Each flower head is surrounded by three rows of bracts (phyllaries)- see photo above- and is composed of sterile outer yellow (or orange/ rust red) ray florets, which attract pollinators, and fertile inner brownish disc florets. A single flower head may have up to two thousand disc florets, each with the potential to develop into a seed. If there are multiple flower heads on the same plant, the number of disc florets per head will be much lower. The disc florets open in sequence, beginning at the periphery of the disc and moving inward. The disc florets are arranged in spiral whorls from the centre of the flowerhead, according to the famous Fibonacci sequence, which allows for the uniform packing of the maximum number of seeds on a seed head without any central overcrowding or bare patches at the outside edges. The Fibonacci sequence is a number set, in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers: ie 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610 and so on, and was described by Fibonacci (also known as Leonardo of Pisa) in his book : Liber Abaci in 1202.
In the case of sunflowers, count the clockwise and counterclockwise spirals that reach the outer edge, and you’ll usually find a pair of numbers from the sequence: 34 and 55, or 55 and 89, or—with very large sunflowers—89 and 144. Another interesting mathematical fact is that each floret is oriented to the next by the Golden Angle, 137.5 degrees. Botanists have not yet been able to determine a mechanistic model that fully explains how the sunflower seed patterns arise, as some plants don’t always show perfect Fibonacci numbers. A study published by the Royal Society Open Science on 18 May 2016 of 657 sunflower photos revealed one in five flowers had either a non-Fibonacci spiralling pattern or more complicated patterns, including near-Fibonacci sequences and other mathematical patterns that compete and clash across the flower head. See: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/5/160091 . Another interesting link is: https://plus.maths.org/content/sunflowers. Click on the first article in the search results: ‘Citizen scientists count sunflower spirals’ by Marianne Freiberger.
For more information about sunflowers and the Fibonnaci sequence, see :
and https://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/nature-golden-ratio-fibonacci.html.Another fascinating fact about sunflowers is their heliotropism (sun tracking) when young. During growth, sunflower leaves and flowers tilt to face the sun during the day, accounting for their French and Portuguese names: Tournesol (French) and Girassol (Portuguese). As the buds open, the flexible part of the stem tissue (the pulvinus) hardens and heliotropism ceases, the sunflower blooms permanently facing east, thereby acting as a living compass! Sunflowers are pollinated by bees, though some modern varieties are fully self-fertile. The following website has some interesting information about sunflower pollination, which highlights the importance of bees. See: http://www.pollinator.ca/bestpractices/sunflowers.html. Initially, each floret is male, the pollen-bearing anthers extending above the rim of the floret, then later on, the style emerges and the stigmatic lobes spread, opening the receptive surfaces for pollination – see the photo below. If there is enough pollinator activity, the pollen is removed from each floret before the stigma opens, reducing the chances for self-pollination. The resultant seeds are 15 to 25 mm long and vary in colour from white to brown and black and even striped.Growing Conditions and Propagation
Heat and drought-tolerant, sunflowers are very easy to grow in most climates, so long as they have full sun all day (6 to 8 hours) and well-dug, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. They are propagated by seed. Dig the seed bed well with plenty of manure/ compost, as they are heavy feeders, then rake the soil level. Broadcast the seed and rake into the surface or plant seeds individually to a depth of 2 cm. In cool temperate climates, sow seed in Spring after the last frost (we sowed our Burgundy Spray sunflower seeds on 7 October last year); in warm temperate climates, from late Winter to late Spring; and in frost-free subtropical and tropical regions, seed can be sown all year round, though Autumn to Spring is best. Sunflowers prefer long, hot Summers and hot wet humid Summers increase the risk of fungal diseases like downy or powdery mildew or rust. Mulch the seedbed with chopped sugar cane or lucerne to retain moisture, keep the soil cool and deter pigeons or mice. As the seedlings develop, thin them according to the size of the plants. Giant Russian sunflowers grow to over 4m high with a flowerhead of 5o cm, so require 1.5 m between each plant. Water or foliar feed weekly with seaweed extract in the morning, so that the foliage is dry by sunset, also reducing the risk of fungal mould and rot. For show flowers and maximum seed production, apply two handfuls of poultry manure per square metre when the seedlings are 15 cm high and a 4 cm layer of well-rotted cow manure and compost when they reach 0.5 m in height. Stake the stems when necessary- old pantihose are good. The dwarf varieties should flower within 10 to 12 weeks of sowing, while the taller varieties take 12 to 16 weeks to bloom. Our Burgundy Spray sunflower had its first bloom open at 12 weeks, just in time to celebrate the New Year! We harvested the seeds on the 23 February 2016.
If your plants are affected by fungal disease, a general fungicide can be applied. Slugs and snails love browsing on the stems and leaves of sunflowers, so spray the seedlings with an organic snail bait or a mixture of 1 part espresso coffee to 3 parts of water, then mulch, repeating after heavy rain or irrigation. Bees and butterflies love the flowers, while birds, rodents, squirrels and deer are attracted to the sunflower seed, though large amounts are fatal to the latter! There are numerous insect pests, most of which attack other plants as well. More information on these insects and their management can be found on :http://ipmguidelinesforgrains.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Sunflower_IPM-Workshops_north-March2013.pdf and https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/pests/e1457.pdf Seed heads should be harvested when very dry ie once the back of the flower heads are turning yellow or brown. Tie paper bags over their heads, then cut the stems and hang upside-down in a dry, well-ventilated place till fully dry. The seed head can be sharply struck or rubbed across an old washboard to release the seeds. To process sunflower seed for consumption, soak them overnight in a bucket of 1 gallon (4.5 litres) water and 1 cup salt. Redry in a 250 degree Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius) oven for 4 to 5 hours and store in airtight containers.For replanting, the seeds are viable for 5 years, according to: http://tcpermaculture.com/site/2013/06/14/how-long-will-seeds-last-stay-viable/, but if you want to check their viability before planting, see: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/check-sunflower-seeds-viable-68389.html.
Sunflowers are grown extensively throughout the world for human and animal food and sunflower oil production. There are two types grown. The first is oilseed, a very small black seed with a very high oil content , which is processed into sunflower oil and meal and is also the seed of choice of most bird feeders. The second type is non-oilseed (confectionery sunflower), a larger black and white striped seed used in a variety of food products from snacks to bread. Sunflower seeds are rich in healthy fats, oil, vitamin E, protein, fibre and minerals and can be eaten raw or roasted for a savory snack or ground into a seed paste (SunButter) like peanut butter. They are excellent for promoting heart health and lowering cholesterol. The seeds can also be ground into a sunflower meal and used as a substitute for wheat flour in breads and cakes and the seed husks can be ground into a coffee-like beverage. Sunflowers are also widely used as an animal food, mainly for birds (seeds) and cattle (forage crop or a high protein meal, which is a by-product of sunflower oil extraction and is often blended with soya bean meal). The seeds can also be pressed to make an oil, which has been used in salads and for cooking, margarine production and in industry : as drying oils for paints and varnishes and in beauty products like soap and cosmetics. However, readers should be aware that there is some research about health risks associated with cooking with vegetable oils. See these links for further information: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11981884/Cooking-with-vegetable-oils-releases-toxic-cancer-causing-chemicals-say-experts.html and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20886885. The cooking oil is recycled as a biofuel. For more on the commercial industry overview of sunflowers in the United States, see: http://www.sunflowernsa.com and http://www.soyatech.com/sunflower_facts.htm. Sunflower oil can also be used in medicine: for constipation and lowering bad LDL cholesterol or applied directly to the skin for poorly healing wounds, skin injuries, psoriasis and arthritis and as a massage oil.Native Americans also grew sunflowers for food and oil, medicine, fibre and dyes , as well as to provide shelter for crops of maize, pumpkins and beans. The juice from the stems was used to treat wounds and an infusion of the plant in water was used to treat kidney and chest pain. The fibre from the stalks could be made into cloth and both the seeds and flower heads yielded a dye: purple, blue and black from the seeds and a bright yellow from the flowers.Sunflowers can also be grown as a green manure crop, the plants being dug into the ground once the seedlings reach a height of 30 cm. The plants can bioaccumulate heavy metals in contaminated soil, like lead, arsenic and uranium, and were used to remove nuclear fallout after the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.And finally, sunflowers are commonly used in floristry and are often given on the third wedding anniversary as a sign of adoration, strength and loyalty. Stems should be cut early in the morning before the flowerbuds are fully open- preferably ½ to ¾ open. If buying them, the leaves should be a strong green colour and the stems should be strong. They must be sold with a water source, as they shock easily. Remove any foliage below water level and cut the stems on a sharp diagonal (2 to 4 cm from the stem ends), under water if possible to avoid air blockages in the stems. Do NOT bash the stems. Use a preservative to maintain open flowers and change the vase water daily. The flowers have a vase life of 7 to 10 days. The leaves will wilt and die before the flowers, so only retain the upper leaves. To help prevent leaf drooping, add 10 drops of household detergent to 5 litres of water and leave in this solution for 1 to 3 hours, but no longer than overnight. If the leaves do start to droop, immediately recut the stems up to 6 cm and place in deep water with preservative for up to 3 hours. If the flowers droop completely, recut the stems and place them in boiling water to clear the blockage quickly (though the lifespan of the flower will be halved).
I really enjoyed researching my last feature post for this year. The sunflower is a fascinating plant and I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I enjoyed writing it. If I have whetted your appetite to know more, it would be worth trying to source ‘Sunflowers: the Secret History’ by Joe Pappalardo. See: http://www.overlookpress.com/sunflowers-the-secret-history.html.
It’s Poppy Season again! Our first Peony Poppy opened overnight, while we have had plenty of wild purple single poppies for the last fortnight.Poppies belong to the family Papaveraceae and subfamily Papaveroideae . Papaver is derived from the Latin word ‘pappa’ for food or milk and alludes to the milky sap produced by some poppies. There are a number of different genera and cultivars listed below:
P. rhoeas: Field or Corn Poppy Cultivars: Shirley Poppy
P. commutatum ‘Ladybird’
P.somniferum: Opium Poppy: Flore Plena cultivars- semidouble and double, including Peony Poppy: Paeoniflorum/ Laciniatum groups
P. setigerum: Poppy of Troy
P. orientale: Oriental Poppy: Flore Plena cultivars- semidouble and double
P. nudicaule: Iceland Poppy
E.californica: Californian Poppy
M.cambrica: Welsh Poppy
M.grandis: Himalayan Blue Poppy
M.napaulensis: Nepal Poppy or Satin Poppy
M. betonicifolia: Tibetan Blue Poppy
Romneya: Matilija Poppy or Tree Poppy
Stylophorum: Celandine Poppy
Argemone: Prickly Poppy
Canbya: Pygmy Poppy
Stylomecon: Wind Poppy
Arctomecon: Desert Bearpaw Poppy
Hunnemannia: Tulip Poppy
Dendromecon: Tree Poppy
Poppies have a very long history. The Opium Poppy, P. somniferum, was domesticated by the indigenous people of Western and Central Europe between 6000 BC and 3500 BC. There are images of opium poppies in ancient Sumerian artifacts from 4000 BC. Ancient Egyptian doctors prescribed the chewing of poppy seed to relieve pain. The Ancient Minoans also made and used opium. The Ancient Greeks later called the sap ‘opion’, which then became ‘opium’ and opium poppies were used as offerings to the dead in both Greek and Roman myths. They are used as emblems on tombstones, symbolizing eternal sleep and its flower and fruit is depicted on the coat-of-arms of the Royal College of Anaesthetists.In fact, all poppies are seen as a symbol of sleep, death and peace: Sleep, because of its sedative effect, and death, because of the blood-red colour of many poppies. P. rhoeas, the Flanders Poppy, grows wild on the First World War battlefields and is a symbol of remembrance of the soldiers, who died in the Great War. Ironically, they were also the subject of the First and Second Opium Wars of the late 1830s to the early 1860s between China, France and the British Empire. China tried to stop Western traders from selling and later smuggling opium from India into China. On the other side of the coin, in Persian History, red poppies symbolize ‘eternal love’.The poppy is on the coat-of-arms of the Republic of Macedonia, while the Californian Poppy is the state flower of… yes, California! For more interesting facts about the history of the poppy, see: https://www.deamuseum.org/ccp/opium/history.html
Herbaceous ornamental plants, including annuals, biennials and short-lived perennials.Most flower in late Spring/ early Summer and have blooms with 4 to 6 showy petals, which are crumpled in the bud, then open out flat as they mature, before falling away.
The two sepals fall away as the flower bud opens up. The centre of the flowers is a whorl of stamens and the ovary has 2 to many fused carpals. The pollen of Oriental Poppies is dark blue, while that of Corn Poppies is grey to dark green. Most poppies secrete a milky white latex when injured.Flowers are followed by attractive unilocular seed capsules, capped by the dried stigma and containing many fine black seeds , which escape through tiny holes below the stigma disc with the slightest breeze. Some species are monocarpic, dying after flowering. Many species self-seed freely and can become an agricultural weed.There are 70 to 100 species in Papaver genus alone, so I will be discussing the more common garden varieties.
Annual herbaceous plant up to 70 cm tall.Symbol of agricultural fertility in the ancient times and of remembrance of the First World War casualties. We drove past fields of wild poppies in the Cevenne region of France.Papaver, also ‘pappa’, is the Latin for food or milk and rhoeas means red in Greek.Habitat: Thought to be native to the eastern Mediterranean region, and probably introduced to northwest Europe in the seed-corn of early settlers. Now widespread throughout Western Asia, Europe and North Africa.Description: Flowers late Spring with blooms, 50-100 mm across, with 4 vivid red petals with a black spot at their base.
The flower stem has coarse hairs and the seed capsules are obovoid. They contain the alkaloid rhoeadine, which is a mild sedative.
Cultivars (all available from Lambley Nursery) include:
Shirley Poppy ‘Angels’ Choir’: Double, semi-double and single flowers, many of which are bicolors, in cream, pastel pink, rose, salmon, peach, apricot, lavender and dove grey;
Shirley Poppy ‘Double Mixed’: Double flowers ranging from white to pale lilac, pink and red.
Shirley Poppy ‘Dawn Chorus’: Flecked and edged in many colour combinations, these crinkled satin flowers range in colour from pure white and vanilla to soft pink, apple-blossom, scarlet and slate blue.
Papaver rhoeas ‘Bridal Silk’: New strain of P. rhoeas with white flowers
Papaver rhoeas ‘American Legion’: Heirloom red flower with white cross in the centre
Papaver rhoeas’Pandora’: Burgundy-red to pinkish-red flowers
Papaver rhoeas ‘Mother of Pearl’: Strain developed by Welsh artist Cedric Morris in his Suffolk garden ‘Benton End’. Soft smoky colours include white, grey, lilac, mauve, pink and soft orange. Many of the poppies are flecked and there are some picotees.
Seeds should be surface sown in a sunny spot late Autumn to mid-Winter, then thinned to 10 to 40cm apart. Forms a long lived soil seed bank that can germinate when soil is disturbed, so is virtually a weed in parts of Europe.Papaver commutatum: Ladybird Poppy
Erect annual 45 cm tall and 15 cm wide with 8cm diameter bright red flowers with a shiny black splotch at the base of each petal in early Summer. Self-seeds easily.
Native to North Turkey,North-West Iran and the Caucasus, Papaver comutatum was developed using a species introduced from Russia in 1876 by Mr William Thompson, the founder of Thompson and Morgan.
The species name commutatum comes from the Latin commutata, meaning ‘changed or changing’. It is used for a species that is very similar to one already best known. In this case, ‘similar to’ the common poppy Papaver rhoeas.
Surface sow seed late Autumn/ early Winter.
Papaver somniferum: Opium Poppy
Habitat: Originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, but its origin has been obscured by ancient cultivation throughout Europe and South-East Asia. It has naturalized in Britain and other temperate climates throughout the world. It is the only poppy, grown as an agricultural crop on a large scale, primarily for opium and poppy seeds.Name: ‘Somniferum’ is the Latin word for ‘Sleep-inducing’.Description: Annual herb up to 1m high. All plant parts are glaucous (grey-green), the stem and leaves sparsely covered with coarse hairs, the lobed leaves clasping the stem at the base. The flowers are 120mm diameter and have 4 white, mauve or red petals, which can have dark markings at the base. They flower in Spring and early Summer. The hairless, round seed capsule is topped with 12 to 18 radiating stigmatic rays and contains many fine black seeds.There are many subspecies and varieties and cultivars, so great variation in : flower colour; petal number and shape; number of flowers and fruit; number and colour of seeds; and production of opium, though most varieties, including those most popular for ornamental use or seed production, have higher morphine content than other poppies.There are two subgroups grown for ornamental use in the garden :
Paeoniflorum Group: Peony Poppies: very double flowers of many colours;Laciniatum Group: very double, deeply lobed flowers, which look like pompoms.Lambley Nursery sells the seed of a variety of Peony Poppies for the garden: Double Coral; Double Red; Double White and Double Mauve and Pink, which I grew last year- I suspect some of them may have been Laciniatum strains as well! Seed should be sown in situ 3mm deep or just sprinkled on the soil surface from mid-Autumn to mid-Winter, then the seedlings thinned to 20 to 30 mm apart. They self-seed easily, with many seedlings appearing spontaneously in the Soho Bed and I have also sown last year’s seed in the Cutting Garden in rows. Lambleys also sell a Peony poppy called ‘Danish Flag’, a bright red single flower with a central white cross.
Papaver setigerum: Poppy of Troy/ Dwarf Breadseed Poppy.
Herbaceous annual plant, closely related to and sometimes classified as a subspecies of P. somniferum. Native to the Mediterranean region and grows wild in pastures and fields in southwestern Europe (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece) and in North Africa.Species name ‘setigerum’ derives from the Latin word ‘saetiger’, meaning ‘bristly’, referring to the short bristle on the top of the lobes of its leaves.The flowers have four pink-purple petals, with a dark purple blotch at the base and bloom in late Spring/ early Summer, followed by glabrous seed capsules, 2 to 3 cm long.Papaver orientale: Oriental Poppy
Perennial flowering plant.
Native to the Caucasus, North-east Turkey and Northern Iran.Grows a mound of finely-cut hairy foliage in Spring, followed by flowers. After flowering, the foliage completely dies away, an adaptation allowing survival in the Summer droughts of Central Asia, to be renewed after Autumn rains.
Originally a scarlet-orange, there are a number of cultivars with colours ranging from white with black blotches to pinks and salmons to deep maroon and plum. Some well-known cultivars are: ‘Beauty of Livermere’ (red); ‘Cedric Morris’ (pale pink and black) and ‘Perry’sWhite’ (white with dark purple splotches in the centre).
Oriental Poppies do not produce any narcotic alkaloids like morphine or codeine.
They like a light calcerous soil and full sun or partial shade. Sow the seeds at a depth of 1 cm after the frosts have passed, when the days are 21 degrees Celsius and the soil has warmed up. Germination takes 10 to 20 days. They do not handle transplanting or over-watering well. Mulch in Winter to protect the plant from frosts.
Papaver nudicaule: Iceland Poppy
Boreal flowering plant, native to the subpolar regions of Europe, Asia and North AmericaHardy short-lived perennials, often grown as biennials.Large papery bowl-shaped slightly fragrant flowers on hairy curved stems, one foot long, in late Spring/ early Summer. Wild species is white or yellow, but the cultivars range in colour from white, cream, lemon and yellow to pink, rose, salmon, orange and red and even bicolors. Last year, I grew ‘Excelsior’. Other cultivars include: ‘Matilda’ and ‘Oranges and Lemons’. They are the best poppy for cutting, the blooms lasting several days in a vase.Feathery blue-green foliage. All parts of the plant contain toxic alkaloids and are poisonous.The seeds are extremely tiny and should be scattered on the soil surface in situ, as their long tap roots resent disturbance, in Late Autumn and Winter. They like a well-drained garden bed in full sun, but do not handle hot weather well, so are best in climates with cooler Summers, where they can last 2 to 3 seasons.Eschsolzia californica: Californian Poppy
The Eschsolzia genus has 12 annual or perennial species and was named after the Baltic german/ Imperial Russian botanist, Johann Friedrich von Escholtz (1793-1831).Leaves are deeply cut, glaucous and glabrous, and mainly basal.Flowers are funnel shaped and terminal with 4 yellow or orange petals and 12-numerous stamens. There are a large number of cultivars, whose name generally reflect their colour: Orange King; Tropical Sunset (sunset colours- red, orange, gold); Tequila Sunrise (mandarin, red and cream); Dusky Rose and Buttercream.
They are borne alone of in many cymes and close in cloudy weather. The two fused sepals fall off as the flower bud opens. The seedpods are long and pointy and split when ripe to release many tiny black seeds. They self-seed easily, but do not breed true to type, which leads to some interesting combinations and chance surprises. Compare the photo above of the original plantings (only orange) with the photos below (2nd generation plants in the same spot). I was delighted to discover second-generation bright orange poppies under my deep purple Rugosa roses, while their butter-cream sisters chose to carpet the ground under my salmon-pink Vanguard rose, even though I originally only planted the orange form (see photo above and compare to photo below). Definitely the garden devas at work!Californian Poppies like warm dry climates, are drought-tolerant and can withstand some frost. They grow in poor or sandy soils with good drainage and are easy to grow. In fact, once you have them, you will never get rid of them! They can be quite invasive. Their taproot gives off a colorless or orange clear juice, which is mildly toxic.
Name derives from the Greek words : ‘Mekon’ meaning ‘Poppy’ and ‘opsis’ meaning ‘alike’.
Shortlived perennials, which like partial shade and are heavy feeders.
The Welsh Poppy, Meconopsis cambric, is indigenous to England, Wales, Ireland and Western Europe. It has yellow or orange flowers, self-seeds readily and likes damp shady places and rocky ground.
The 40 other species of Meconopsis are all found in the Himalayan region, including Meconopsis grandis: Himalayan Blue Poppy, the national flower of Bhutan, M. betonicifolia, the Tibetan Blue Poppy and Meconopsis napaulensis, the Nepal Poppy or Satin Poppy. Most are monocarpic and difficult to maintain in cultivation. For new growers, some good sites are: http://www.meconopsis.org and http://www.gardenershq.com/meconopsis-grandis.php.
Romneya: Matilija Poppy/ Tree Poppy
Native habitat is Southern California and Northern Mexico.
Perennial sub-shrubs with woody stems, 2.5m high and 1m wide.
Silver-green deeply cut leaves and 13cm diameter flowers with an intense yellow centre, resulting in its other name of ‘Fried Egg Plant’.
Grow in a warm sunny spot with fertile well-drained soil. Not easily grown, but once established are difficult to remove. Often sprout after fire in its native habitat.
Ornamental garden plants
Poppy seeds are edible and are an important food source, being rich in oil, carbohydrates, calcium and protein. The seeds are harvested from P.somniferum. Poppy seed production is largest in the Czech Republic, followed by Spain, Hungary, Turkey, Germany and France in that order. Poppy seeds are used widely in traditional pastries and cakes in Central Europe, as well as in a Poppy Seed Cake in Turkey and Kutia (a grainy pudding) in the Ukraine. They are also used in curries and sprinkled on bread. Poppy Oil is used as a cooking oil, in salad dressings and in margarine, as well as being added to spices for use in cakes and bread.
Papaver somniferum is also the source of the drug opium, which contains powerful medicinal alkaloids called opiates, which include morphine, thebaine, codeine, papaverine, noscopine and oripavine and has been used as an analgesic and narcotic medicinal drug, as well as a recreational drug.
Widely cultivated throughout the world, its production is monitored by international agencies and every country has its own rules and regulations about its growth and production. For medicinal crops, it was traditionally produced in Turkey and India, but is now also grown in Australia, especially Tasmania. Incisions are made in the green seed pods and the latex, which oozes out is collected when dried and opiate drugs extracted from the opium. Opium was dissolved in alcohol and/or water to make Tincture of Opium or Laudanum, used widely in the late 1800s. It has been used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions from pain to asthma, stomach complaints and even bad eyesight!Floristry: Both flowers and seedpods. Cut or buy when 1 to 2 flowers are opening and the rest of the buds are showing some colour (photo below). The ends of the poppy stems can be scalded with boiling water to stop the leakage of sap, otherwise wear gloves when handling the flowers to avoid skin irritation. Condition in a separate container of water for 24 hours before recutting the stems and arranging in a vase with floral preservative. Will last up to 5 days.Miscellaneous:
Poppy products are also used in paints and varnishes, as well as cosmetics.Finally, the last feature post request for my talented daughter Caro- a quick study of some of our garden poppies, which would make great cards. December’s feature post plant is based on one of her early watercolours. Thank you so much darling for all your wonderful paintings! I really appreciate and treasure all your work! And to finish this post, a dramatic photo of a sunlit peony poppy, which I took yesterday!
My feature plant for October is the Iris and our first Dutch Iris bloom has just opened, right on time! They are such beautiful regal flowers and definite confirmation that Spring is here to stay and the long cold Winter is over!Irises, commonly known as ‘flags’, belong to the family Iridaceae and the genus Iris, which contains 260 to 300 species, many of which are natural hybrids. The number of different types be quite confusing, but the first and major difference is whether they are rhizomatous or bulbous. Rhizomes are horizontal underground stems that strike new roots out of their nodes down into the soil, and that shoot new stems out of their nodes up to the surface. Most iris in this group are evergreen, but some go dormant, usually in late Summer/Autumn. Rhizomatous iris are either bearded or beardless. Bearded Iris have a tuft of short upright filaments down the centre of the blade, while beardless iris usually have a flash of colour, mostly yellow, at the top of the lower petals (known as falls), called a ‘signal’. Beardless iris include: Pacific Coast, Louisiana Iris, Siberian Iris and Japanese Iris. Bulbous iris have a small bulb like an onion and are dormant and lose their leaves for part of the year. They include Dutch, English and Spanish Iris, as well as Iris reticulata. The photo above is a Dutch Iris. There is an excellent diagram on the Iris Society of Australia (http://www.irises.org.au/TypesIris.htm), which clarifies the situation in a simple form. I will discuss some of the major groups in more detail later in this post. The photo below shows my Dutch Iris in the cutting garden last year.Habitat: Temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere from Europe to Asia and across North America. They are found in a variety of habitats from dry semi-desert to colder, rocky, mountainous areas, grassy slopes and meadows and even bogs, swamps and riverbanks.History:
Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow, referring to its wide colour range. It is also the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow, who was the messenger of love, thus iris are symbols of communication and messages. In the language of flowers, iris generally means ‘eloquence’, after which its meaning depends on its colour : purple iris represent wisdom and compliments; blue iris symbolize faith and love; a yellow iris means passion and a white iris represents purity. The photo below is a bed of Bearded Iris of mixed colours.The iris first appeared in artwork in the frescoes at King Minos’s palace on Crete and date from 2100 BC. It became the symbol of King Clovis of France (466-511 AD) on his conversion to Christianity, the iris being known as one of the Virgin’s flower. The fleur-de-lis, a stylized representation of the iris, was the emblem of the House of Capet, which ruled the Kingdom of France from 911-1328 AD, and was also adopted as a symbol by King Louis VII in 12th century France. A red fleur-de-lis is found on the coat of arms of Florence, Italy, where it has been their symbol since 1251, as well as that of the Medici family, while yellow irises are depicted on the Quebec flag. The iris is also one of the state flowers of Tennessee. It is even found on Japanese banknotes! The back of the 5000 yen banknote depicts “Kakitsubata-zu”, the most renowned painting of irises in Japan. It was painted by Ogata Kouri, one of the most famous Japanese painters . See : http://jpninfo.com/17450. Another famous artwork ‘Irises’ was painted in 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh and was sold at auction in 1987 to Alan Bond for a record $53.9 Million. It was resold in 1990 to the Getty Museum for an undisclosed amount. Iris flowers have also been painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, Durer, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin and Monet, as well as my daughter Caroline, especially for this post!Garden cultivars were found in Europe by the 16th century. There was a big boom in breeding from 1830 on and by 1930, the American Iris Society listed 19 000 iris species and hybrids. There are now literally thousands of cultivars of Bearded Iris – over 30,000 Tall Bearded Iris alone! Compare the following photos to see the difference between the old (1st photo) and new (2nd photo) iris blooms.
Unfortunately, like many other plant species, hybridization to produce increasingly large, dramatic frilled blooms of a huge colour range has been at the expense of fragrance, but there are conservation groups, for example : the Historic Iris Preservation Society ( http://www.historiciris.org/ ) in America, which specializes in the preservation of heritage iris varieties, which are over 30 years old and are tougher plants with less frills, but more fragrance. New Zealand also has a Heritage Irises blog with links to Iris gardens and growers throughout the world. See : http://historiciris.blogspot.com.au/. The Presby Memorial Garden (http://presbyirisgardens.org/wordpress/) in New Jersey is a living iris museum with over 10 000 iris plants, while the largest garden in Europe is the Giardino dell’ Iris in Florence, Italy, (http://www.intoflorence.com/giardino-dell-iris/), which has 1500 varieties in its two acre garden and hosts an annual international iris festival in late May.
In Australia, irises are best seen in October/ November at specialised iris nurseries like:
Sunshine Iris, Lockhart, west of Wagga Wagga, NSW in the Riverina : 300 varieties and specializes in older vintage Bearded Iris: http://www.sunshineiris.com.au/.
Riverina Iris Farm, Lake Albert, is another Iris nursery, just south of Wagga Wagga, which specializes in Tall Bearded Iris : http://www.riverinairisfarm.com/. It has open gardens on the weekends from the 8th of October 2016 to the 6th of November 2016 from 10 am to 5 pm. They are also open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and other times by appointment.
Iris are handsome, herbaceous, evergreen perennial plants, which grow from creeping rhizomes (rhizomatous iris) or bulbs (bulbous iris).
They have long, erect flowering stems, which are simple or branched, solid or hollow and flattened or with a circular cross-section, depending on the species. The photo below of my gold Bearded Iris shows the basic structure of the plant.
Rhizomatous iris have 3-10 basal sword-shaped leaves, which form dense clumps, while bulbous iris have cylindrical basal leaves.Iris have 6 symmetrical lobed flowers, which grow on a pedicel or peduncle. The 3 sepals drooping downwards are called ‘falls’ and have a narrow base (haft), which widens into a blade, which may be covered in dots, lines or veins. In Bearded Iris, the centre of the blade has a tuft of short upright filaments to guide the pollinating insects down to the ovary. The blades of the iris act as a landing stage for flying pollinators. There are also 3 upright petals called ‘standards’, which stand behind the base of the falls. All petals and sepals are united at the base into a floral tube above the inferior ovary and the style divide towards the apex into petaloid branches. The Bearded Iris in the photo below is much frillier and larger than my gold Bearded Iris, shown above.
Flowering occurs from late Winter through to late Summer, depending on the species. There is a good diagram on: http://gardendesignforliving.com/a-guide-to-growing-iris-blooms-all-season/ , giving a guide to flowering times for the Northern Hemisphere. Basically, Iris reticulata starts the iris flowering season in late March to mid April, followed by Iris pumila for 2 weeks in early May; then Crested Iris for 1 week in mid to late May. Tall Bearded Iris also bloom in mid to late May for 2-3 weeks, overlapping with Siberian Iris, which are slightly later and have a shorter blooming period. Japanese Iris bloom in late June to mid July, then the iris season closes with reblooming Bearded Iris in August and September. In Australia, Dutch Iris flower in early Spring (September) and Bearded Iris bloom in October/ November.
The fruit is a capsule, which opens into 3 parts, revealing many seeds. In the desert dwelling Aril Iris, the seed bears an aril.
Iris are divided into 6 subgenera, which are then divided into a number of sections, but I will mainly focus on the more common garden iris, including the varieties I grow in our garden. All of the subgenera are from the Old World, except for Limniris, which has a holarctic distribution. The largest subgenera are marked with an asterisk *. Here are the names of the 6 subgenera:
eg Iris reticulata: white, blue and violet: see photo below from the Portland Botanic Garden.Bearded Iris
The most common iris in the garden, which is a result of a cross between an early German hybrid, Iris 5 germanica and other naturally occurring European hybrids of Iris pallida and Iris variegata, as well as wild species like Iris aphylla. There are so many hybrid cultivars, but they are divided into groups based on size:
Tall Bearded Iris Over 71cm: Largest iris and the last to bloom.
Border Bearded Iris 38-71 cm tall: Similar size flowers to Tall Bearded Iris, but shorter stems.
Miniature Tall Bearded Iris 38-71 cm tall; Smaller flowers to Border Bearded Iris; Also called Table Iris, because they are very dainty and suitable for small arrangements. Similar growing conditions to other Bearded Iris.
Intermediate Bearded Iris 38-71 cm tall. Very prolific. Cross between Dwarf and Tall Bearded Iris and require a bit more cooling and a bit more watering than the latter.
Standard Dwarf Bearded 20-38 cm tall and the shortest Bearded Iris; Suitable for borders. Dwarf Bearded Iris are easy to grow, but do require full sun and frosty Winters and loose, well-drained soil. Do not allow to dry out totally over Summer.
Miniature Dwarf Bearded Up to 20 cm. Suitable for rockeries only.
Aril Bred Iris: Arilmeds: 45-75 cm. Cross between Tall Bearded Iris and desert Aril Iris. They like very well drained soil and may die down in Summer.
Beardless flowers in blue, lavender, yellow and white in late Spring/early Summer. The flowers are smaller than those of Bearded Iris and the foliage is very decorative. They do not grow in water and are not bog plants, but are very tough and can be planted in Spring and Autumn. They need a frosty Winter to flower well. Flowering time is usually November in Australia. The best situation is a damp, sunny spot and they are dormant in Autumn to early Winter.
Japanese Iris: Iris ensata
Once called Kaempferi Iris, they have been cultivated in Japan for more than 500 years and were once grown exclusively for royalty. Flowers are purple, pink and bicolours and both the sepals and petals are flat. They do not actually live in water, but like the same moist conditions as ferns. Flowering in November to December, they like damp, acid soil with cold Winters and will be dormant from Autumn to Winter.
Large Blue Flag: Iris versicolour
Grows in boggy areas and swamps in North-Eastern USA and comes in blue, violet and white.
Yellow Flag: Iris pseudocorus
Native to Europe, where it grows in swamps and boggy ground, but naturalized all over the world. Very invasive and aggressive growth, so should not be planted near waterways. Much safer contained within a walled garden like this one at Dalvui, Noorat, Victoria!
Pacific Coast Iris
From west coast of USA, they are low growing, extremely drought-hardy irises, that need a sunny spot with acid soil. They must only be moved in late Autumn to early Winter .
From the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River area of USA. They are evergreen and one of the few irises that like tropical areas, although they will grow in most of Australia. Has flatter flowers 4 to 6 inches across and bloom in October to November in Australia. Likes similar conditions to Japanese Iris: moist rich acid soil and partial shade.
Spuria Iris :
Come from Central Europe. They usually go dormant for a while in Autumn. They grow in a wide range of soils (especially alkaline), but need a cool Winter and dislike extreme Summer humidity. Flowering in Australia is in October to November.
Dutch Iris: Iris x xiphium 70 to 90 cm tall
Beardless bulbous iris, with royal blue, white and gold flowers in Spring. A favourite with the florists. The blooms last 5 to 7 days.
Growing Conditions and Propagation:
Basically, iris like a well-drained soil, with at least 6 hours of sun a day. Full sun all day is even better, but darker-coloured varieties are probably better with protection from the hot afternoon sun. Because of the wide geographical distribution, cultivation requirements vary greatly and there is an iris for every situation.
Most Iris like to be chilled in Winter, in fact some Dwarf Bearded iris actually require frost to bloom. Bearded Iris are grown in Zones 3-9, while Dutch Iris can be grown in Zones 5-9.
Bearded Iris likes dry Summers and cool to cold Winters and a neutral to alkaline soil, which is moist during their active growth and flowering, but dry after that. Siberian Iris like damp boggy soil, shade and a frosty Winter. Pacific Coast Iris like a dry Summer, a cool damp Winter and an acidic soil, while Louisiana Iris also like a damp, wet, acidic soil. Rockery Iris like moist, perfectly-drained gritty soil. Iris reticulata likes a good porous soil in a sunny or shady spot with leaf mulch in Winter. None of them like too much nitrogen.
Plant Dutch Iris bulbs in the Autumn for Spring flowering. Last year, we ordered and planted 5 bulbs each of Discovery (Royal Blue); Hildegard (pale blue); Lilac Beauty (violet); Casablanca (white); and Golden Beauty (gold) from Tesselaars. Plant bulbs 10-15 cm deep and 10-15cm apart, pointed end up. Lift and divide every few years to avoid overcrowding. I planted them with cornflowers to hide their dying foliage after blooming.
Propagation is usually by division, more rarely seed. In the following paragraph, I will describe the cultivation of Bearded Iris:
Divide the clumps in Summer every 2to 3 years, when they become congested. Separate the rhizomes by hand or with a sharp sterile knife if necessary. Check the rhizomes for borer attack, to which they are susceptible, and discard any infested ones. A good rhizome will be the thickness of a thumb with healthy roots and 1-2 leaf blades. Plant bare-rooted in late Summer in an open sunny position. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rhizome should still be visible on the surface of the soil, where it can absorb the sun’s warmth, but in Australia, they can be covered with 1.5 cm soil to avoid scorching. My gold Bearded Iris came from our rental place and last year, we discovered some forgotten Bearded Iris clumps growing under the shade of the cumquat trees, so we divided the clumps and replanted the rhizomes singly along the edge of the Moon Bed. Already, they have multiplied profusely and I cannot wait for them to flower this Spring, so that I can discover their colours!Uses:
Highly ornamental plant, which is fragrant, low maintenance and multiplies readily. Good as a feature plant, in a border or in a rockery. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love them!
Floristry: Buy when the colour is visible beneath the sheath, but before the petals have started to unfurl (see photo below). They do not like preservative, as iris do not like sugar, so only use a few drops of chlorine bleach in the vase water. Do not arrange with daffodils unless the latter have been conditioned, as the daffodils’ toxic sap will affect the iris stems.
Perfume Industry and Medicine:
Grown for the production of irone, orris oil and orris root. Irone is a methylione odorant, used in perfumery, which is derived from orris oil and has a sweet floral, woody, ionone odour. Orris root is used in perfumery, potpourri and medicine and is actually the rhizome of Iris germanica and Iris pallida. The rhizomes are harvested, dried and aged for up to 5 years, during which time the fats and oils degrade and oxidize, producing fragrant violet-scented compounds, which are valuable in perfumery. Aged rhizomes are stem-distilled to produce iris butter or orris oil. This essential oil is used as a sedative in aromatherapy. The dried rhizome has also been given to teething babies to soothe their gums. Orris root and iris flowers are also used in Bombay Sapphire Gin and Magellan Gin for its flavour and colour. In the past, iris has been used to treat skin infections, syphilis, dropsy and stomach problems, as well as being used as a liver purge, however it should only be used by a qualified practitioner, as the rhizomes can be toxic. Iris contain terpenes and organic acids, including ascorbic acid, myrsistic acid, tridecylenic acid and undecylenic acid. The Large Blue Flag, Iris versicolour, and other common garden hybrids, contains elevated amounts of toxic glycoside iridin, which cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and skin irritation, though it is not normally fatal.
The Yellow Flag Iris, Iris pseudocorus, used to be grown in reed bed substrates for water purification, as they consumed nutrient pollutants and agricultural runoff, but they are extremely invasive and have become a noxious weed, clogging up waterways.
Finally, a brief description of some other types of iris in the Iridaceae family:
Peacock Iris: Moraea aristata: Endemic to Cape Town, South Africa
Rare Winter-flowering bulb, with large white blooms (5 to 7cm across) with a deep, iridescent blue eye on each petal. Their undersides are also white, but covered in decorative blue freckles. They have no scent. Easy to grow, they are best left in the ground to naturalize. The foliage and flowers emerge Winter to Spring and they are dormant through Summer. The flower stems grow 20to 35cm tall and the narrow foliage grows to 40cm. Can easily be cultivated in sunny gardens with sandy or clay soils , but prefers well-drained, humus-rich soil. Grow in full sun to light afternoon shade. Water in and keep moist during active growth and keep relatively dry during dormancy. Critically endangered in the wild.
Dietes, also called Wild Iris, Butterfly Grass or African Iris: Dietes iridioides
A clump-forming, rhizomatous perennial, also from South Africa. Dietes have dark green, strappy foliage and white (marked with yellow) and mauve, iris-like flowers on tall stems in Spring. The flowers have six free tepals, that are not joined into a tube at their bases and only last one day. The flowers are followed by 3-celled capsules, containing numerous seeds, on stalks, which bend right down to the ground for easy propagation. Grow in full sun or part shade. Although tolerant of tough conditions, Dietes will perform best in well-drained soil, rich in organic material. Fertilize occasionally and water during dry spells. Do not remove flower stems, as they continue to flower for several years. Propagate by seed or by division of established clumps.
Native Iris or Silky Purple Flag: Patersonia sericea
Densely-tufted, perennial herb with short rhizomes. Endemic to the east coast of Australia and first described in 1807, Patersonia grows in dry sclerophyll forests, woodland and heath, preferring sandy, well-drained soil on the coast and ranges. Up to 60cm tall, with stiff grass-like grey-green leaves and three-petalled, blue-violet flowers in terminal clusters, enclosed in two large papery bracts, in Spring and Summer, which last less than a day. Frost-tolerant and thrives in hot, dry situations. There are 6 other species in the Patersonia genus.