Of the many, many plants vying for attention in the garden at the moment, a few of the more unusual ones have caught my eye.
First up is Rhododendron ‘Blue Admiral’ which a friend gave me as a housewarming gift:
It’s a pretty thing, and its bloom seems a deeper shade this year. Now, while it isn’t ‘true-blue’, the rich violet-lavender shade is very striking and it is totally different from all of the other evergreen azaleas which always display red or white based flowers.
Last autumn I added another ‘blue’ Rhododendron called ‘Florence Mann’, and it too, lives up to the description of lilac blue blooms (the yellow poppy is a nice counterpoint).
Of course, there is still the red base in both of these Rhododendrons, as these plants simply don’t possess the blue coloured gene. The violet/lavender/lilac shades can more easily be seen by picking out and isolating the main colour of each:
But as far as blue goes, these are both quite a good job!
Another more unusual plant in my garden is the White Waratah, Telopea speciosissima x oreades ‘Shady Lady’.
This is a garden cultivar of the Waratah that is endemic to the Sydney region and the standard colour – a brilliant red – is the NSW floral emblem. I also have a couple of these that I have grown from seed, but they are tiny and yet to flower.
To see Waratahs in the bush is quite amazing, and they are most unlike many Australian plants which are demure and subtle.
Out of flower the shrub – which typically grows to about 2m – has an appearance of a cross between an Oleander and a Rhododendron, and in flower, they are possibly the most showy Australian native, so much so that it is hard to believe these plants thrive in terrible, sandy soil.
I recently had the pleasure of re-visiting a garden I designed about 15 years ago, and was pleased to see the Shady Lady Red Waratah still doing very well…here, it is literally sitting atop a sandstone rock shelf with about 40cms / 16″ of soil placed on top of the boulder. So it is a very resilient plant indeed:
They are reasonably hardy, and look very pretty when covered in spring snow:
Waratahs are easy to grow – if you have the right climate and soil.
The soil needs to be really light and free draining; heavy clay will kill it.
But the ideal climate range is very narrow: USDA zone 8a-10a / RHS zone H5-H3. These plants really struggle where summers are hot and humid; thus excluding the south-east of the USA.
This plant would work well in California/PNW coast or the southern areas of the UK/Northwest Spain and coastal France.
Waratahs are an understory plant: here they grow in the light, dappled shade of tall Eucalypts; when planting in the garden, if you haven’t dappled shade (from say, a birch tree, dogwood or hawthorn) then at least give them protection from hot afternoon summer sun.
Removing the spent blooms and cutting back older shrubs by about ¼ after flowering ensures they stay bushy and floriferous. As with all Australian natives, don’t use phosphorous based fertilizers: half-strength seaweed based fertilizers are fine.