Peter Cun­dall:

Em­braces the wild ways of wind­flow­ers

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - CONTENTS - with Peter Cun­dall

Ja­panese wind­flow­ers ac­tu­ally orig­i­nated in China but have been trea­sured in Ja­pan for cen­turies

IN many ways, au­tumn is al­ways a bit of a para­dox in most or­na­men­tal gar­dens. Af­ter all, it’s a time of ex­haus­tion as many peren­nial plants which over the past few months have flow­ered and flour­ished, are now look­ing mis­er­able as they shrivel into win­ter dor­mancy.

On the other hand there are those that ac­tu­ally re­spond to low­er­ing tem­per­a­tures and fewer hours of day­light by com­ing into bloom. They in­clude some of the most flam­boy­ant and bright­ly­coloured of all flow­er­ing plants.

I’ve been gob­s­macked re­cently by the star­tling vigour and beauty of some Ja­panese wind­flow­ers (Anemone hu­pe­hen­sis) grow­ing in a half-ig­nored part of our gar­den. One or two were planted years ago, de­spite warn­ings that

they may get out of con­trol. Well they have and we’re lov­ing it.

They have craftily mul­ti­plied over the years and now oc­cupy sev­eral square me­tres of part-shade in fairly hun­gry soil, pre­vi­ously a bit of weed-rid­den eye­sore. There must be sev­eral hun­dred, knee­high, soft-pink, slightly-cupped daisies, each with a bright golden boss of sta­mens in cen­tre of each flower.

De­spite be­ing never wa­tered, these plants have now be­come so dense that all weeds — in­clud­ing twitch grass — have long since dis­ap­peared be­cause they were un­able to get enough light.

Ja­panese wind­flow­ers ac­tu­ally orig­i­nated in China but have been trea­sured in Ja­pan for cen­turies. They spread by send­ing up nu­mer­ous suck­ers from thick fi­brous roots. And to be hon­est, they are quite eas­ily dragged from the soil should they be­come too in­va­sive.

Other au­tumn flow­ers worth grow­ing in­clude peren­nial sun­flow­ers. The daisies are far smaller than the big, tra­di­tional an­nu­als, but are so nu­mer­ous they make an amaz­ing sight on a bleak au­tumn day. They love full sun and can be raised from seed or by di­vi­sions, usu­ally in win­ter and spring.

Salvias are just forms of or­na­men­tal sage and there are now count­less va­ri­eties, mostly shades of pur­ple, mauve, rose-pink or even iri­des­cent blue. The Royal Tas­ma­nian Botan­i­cal Gar­dens al­ways has a mag­nif­i­cent dis­play at this time of the year so it’s worth a visit — even into early win­ter. These plants — some­times grow­ing chest-high — are also won­der­fully drought and wind re­sis­tant, so are mar­vel­lously-suit­able for coastal gar­dens.

I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by the au­tumn-flow­er­ing ‘Obe­di­ent plants’ (Physoste­gia) mainly by the un­usual clus­ters of mauve, bell-shaped flow­ers at the tops of half-me­tre long stems. It’s true they cer­tainly do as they are told — or ma­nip­u­lated — be­cause the bells can be swiv­elled to one side and obe­di­ently stay put. This is one rea­son why they are so pop­u­lar in flower ar­range­ments. They too grow in full sun or part shade and ours al­ways ap­pear from late sum­mer to early win­ter, al­ways tak­ing us by sur­prise.

Per­haps the eas­i­est of all au­tumn flow­er­ing peren­ni­als are the asters. We used to call them ‘Easter Daisies’ be­cause this is when most of them are in full dis­play. Some­one gave us a small di­vi­sion of Barr’s Pink and they are so sim­ple to prop­a­gate we now have great clumps of these waist-high masses of daz­zling-pink daisies all over the gar­den.

In win­ter or spring the clumps can be cut a few cen­time­tres above the ground and roots lifted so all soil can be hosed off. This al­lows in­di­vid­ual, well-rooted di­vi­sions to be pulled clear for im­me­di­ate plant­ing out and they rarely fail.

Other au­tumn flow­ers in­clude the ner­ines, which like their amaryl­lis rel­a­tives pre­fer a dry sum­mer rest.

The fat bulbs even­tu­ally be­come over­crowded, but it’s no big deal to lift them for di­vi­sion any time from late spring to well into sum­mer. The white­flow­er­ing ner­ines bloom far later than the pink and red forms and are of­ten seen in full dis­play in mid­win­ter, even in frost­prone gar­dens.

The great ad­van­tage of all au­tumn flow­er­ing peren­ni­als is so many are in full bloom when most of our de­cid­u­ous trees are also chang­ing colour.

It can be a bril­liant com­bi­na­tion in Tas­ma­nia’s own won­der­ful ‘sea­son of mists and mel­low fruit­ful­ness’.

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