Blooming on their own devices
DESPITE recent periods of unusually wet weather, we can still anticipate another bone- dry summer and autumn. It happens every year in Tasmania and my gardener’s antennae tells me the coming summer will be particularly hot.
So as usual, we’ll be whimpering for a decent rain by the end of March.
So it came as a shock this week when I realised some of the most spectacularly beautiful plants in our garden are amazingly drought- resistant.
About 20 years ago I planted a tiny flowering hawthorn ( Crataegus Paul’s Scarlet) one winter’s day.
It was more or less thrust into the moist soil without any fertiliser and left to fend for itself.
Now, it is an 8m tall, towering scarlet beacon composed of millions of tiny rose- like flowers.
Never once has it been watered or given any fertilisers. Nor has it been pruned. It has even survived and thrived long periods of totally saturated soil during August and September.
Another fantastic survivor is our Chinese Beauty Bush ( Kolkwitzia amabilis), also in full, 5m- tall display of countless pink bells, right down to the ground.
Every few years, I cut back a few of the old branches, otherwise it’s left to grow without any assistance.
One exceptionally beautiful small tree loves dry conditions so much I can only grow it on an exposed, impoverished bank. This is the American Wig Tree ( Cotinus
obovatus), which grows about 5m high and wide in Tasmania.
It withstands drought so well it is often the sole survivor after a long dry summer, when even aggressive weeds have long- since withered.
This is not the same as the much smaller but far more common species of cotinus known as the Smoke Bush.
In early summer our tree is covered with hundreds of enchanting, plume- like flowers that make the tree look as if it’s covered with a giant, pink wig.
Later in autumn the leaves gradually change colour to various shades of dazzling red, purple, orange and gold.
Oddly enough this tree, which has proved resistant to propagation from ripe cuttings, tends to naturally layer its lower branches which quickly form roots.
As a result, I’ve now planted a few extra specimens here and there and given away dozens over the past few years.
Propagation from cuttings can be achieved in spring, but only from soft, 100mm- long shoots inserted in moist pit sand under glass.
Pride of Rochester ( Deutzia scabra) grows to a height of 3m– 4m and ours is festooned with fuzzy flowering blobs that are a startling white. This is probably the largest of the many
deutzia species and cultivated forms. Here is another plant that appears to grow happily without any need for watering or feeding.
All I do is keep any competing weeds at bay and prune back some of the thickest, oldest branches immediately after flowering.
Luckily, extra Pride of Rochester plants are easily made from semi- ripe cuttings of new growth taken in December.
If inserted into moist soil in part- shade, they quickly form roots and are big enough to be planted out the following winter.
Perhaps the toughest of all for Tasmanian conditions are any of the several varieties of crab- apple.
They are either grown for the small, tasty but sharp apples, which make marvellous jellies and sauces, or for outstanding displays of red, pink or white spring flowers.
I planted several 30 years ago, partly because they are such outstanding, universal pollinators of ordinary domestic apple trees.
They have grown so strongly, despite being virtually ignored after flowering or fruiting, that I occasionally need to hack back some upwards- reaching branches, yet they always look wonderfully attractive in flower or in fruit.