Bloom­ing on their own de­vices

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

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.

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