Blue Rhododendrons and a White Waratah

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:

IMG_3952

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).

IMG_3852

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:

Blues

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’.

IMG_4059

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:

IMG_0322

They are reasonably hardy, and look very pretty when covered in spring snow:

8078941745_fd0e6a814e_b

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.

Happy Gardening 🙂

White Waratah

The White Waratah that I planted just as I moved in last October (Telopea speciosissima x oreades) has given me its first bloom, and it is so heavy for this rather small plant that I had to stake it!

IMG_0591

Shady Lady White

The Waratah is native to the Sydney area. The one I planted is a white ‘Shady Lady’ cultivar (Waratahs are usually a bright red).

They are hardy to USDA Zone 8, but have a rather exacting list of requirements which make them a bit tricky to grow.

For those unfamiliar with the plant,  when not in bloom the garden cultivar looks a little like a cross between a rhododendron and an oleander. They can reach 5m, but established plants should be cut back by about a third after flowering each year to maintain plant health, so in most gardens will rarely exceed 2-3m.

1024px-Telopea_comparison1_phils_cropped[1]

Typical Waratah Shrubs in cultivation (courtesy Wikipedia)

If you are outside of Australia (it is very attractive to bees, butterflies and honeyeaters) and want to grow this, then here are a few tips:

  • The plant needs moist, but very sharp, free-drained soil;
  • The plant hates phosphorous, you will almost certainly kill it if you apply normal garden fertilisers anywhere near the plant (half strength seaweed fertilisers are fine if you don’t have access to an Australian Native Plant fertiliser);
  • The plant dislikes prolonged humid heat, so coastal gardeners in USDA Zone 10 and up may struggle;
  • For Northern Hemisphere gardeners south of the 45th parallel, this plant needs dappled summer shade. Here in its natural environment it grows in open woodland – tall Eucalypts with high sparse canopies – so if you don’t have a gum tree, a birch, dogwood or hawthorn (etc) will provide the light shade that this plant likes. If you are in the UK, coastal NW Europe, Pacific Northwest of USA, then full sun is fine.

Speaking of Rhododendrons, the one in my front yard that just several weeks ago was struggling with the snow and ice is now certainly putting on a show!

rhodo

Before – all wilted and cold

And now….

IMG_0593

What a difference warmer weather makes

No prizes for guessing which temperatures this Rhododendron prefers! I’m not sure what the cultivar is, with pink buds opening to white flowers which then fade to a creamy yellow, I think this one might be called Rhododendron ‘Unique’, but perhaps a Rhodo expert might drop by to correct me!

As always, Happy Gardening 🙂