Blooming in winter
WHILE the shorter, darker days of winter may dampen spirits, the garden in any season offers much to excite and enthuse, and, perhaps most important of all, engage. Among the pleasures of winter is the vast array of native plants that bloom throughout the coldest months, filling the air with the scent of honey and encouraging native birds to set up a constant chorus of song.
Fragrance greets when you visit the Illawarra Grevillea Park, set beneath the Bulli Pass, just over an hour’s drive south of Sydney. This 20ha park of landscaped gardens and rainforest walks houses one of the most comprehensive collections of grevilleas in Australia, and they are all flowering now. The park provides a great design lesson for anyone dreaming of a garden of indigenous species, a haven for native fauna. Happily for us, it is open to the public over two weekends next month.
The park was created by Wollongong nurseryman Ray Brown, who has grown most of the species in the garden from seed sourced in the wild. Careful documentation is kept, as a great number of grevilleas are on the rare and endangered list.
The diversity of the large grevillea genus, part of the Proteaceae family, and the myriad ways these easygoing plants can be used, is demonstrated throughout the garden. Among several exciting sections of the park, the long border, employing only grevilleas, is among the most informative. The tall-growing G. ‘Sandra Gordon’, G. ‘Claire Dee’, G. ‘Moonlight’ and G. ‘Honey Gem’, several developed from large-flowered subtropical east coast species G. banksii, form the backdrop. These hybrids and varieties also make beautiful loose hedges or screens. G. ‘Ned Kelly’, growing to about 2m in height and flowering orange and red, fills the middle section of the border. ‘Judith Anne’, ‘Peaches and Cream’ and ‘Coconut Ice’ are also low growing. The popular G. ‘Robyn Gordon’ and ‘Superb’, with its yellow and pink racemes, masses out at the front of the borders, along with the pink ‘Bulli Beauty’, which appeared as a natural seedling. The newest grevillea in the garden is G. simplex, with teale green foliage and delicate cream blossom which has a fragrance of banana custard.
Many of the steep banks throughout this sloping site support the cascading Banksia integrifolia, which is hardly ever without its umber candles. In a recent hot summer, Brown says, this species survived 50C heat. The ever-popular Grevillea ‘Poorinda Royal Mantle’, with its toothbrush-like red blooms, is also a good choice as a ground cover, or to assist in stabilising banks. These smaller growing, prostrate types rarely need pruning.
A new section of the garden, at the apex of several paths, is contained in three massive cement barrels, ensuring the perfect drainage that most Australian native species require. The acid-yellow hybrid G. ‘Golden Lyre’ flowers for months from mid-winter, along with the groundcovering Scaevola ‘Purple Pride’, a mass of brilliant blue flowers.
Other Australian native species to provide scent and colour throughout winter include the callistemons, or bottlebrush, flowering with red, pink, purple, green or cream cylindrical spikes; the melaleucas, or paperbarks; and, of course, the wattles, or acacias, members of the Mimosaceae family. Their bright blossom, glowing each July and August, promises that winter is nearly over, although for some they herald the hay fever season. About 900 species of wattle occur naturally in Australia: they bloom with yellow or cream, pollen-filled heads or plumes of blossom that attract bees and birds. Take care with your choice, however, as some wattles are on the weeds list. And for those who hanker after a look of the tropics, the native hibiscus ( Alyogyne huegelii) flowers throughout winter.
I read recently that we need just three things to ensure happiness: something to love, something to do and something to look forward to.
The garden, in any season, fulfils those requirements, doesn’t it? Ray Brown advises that grevilleas can be pruned hard in spring. ‘‘Even if they have grown leggy,’’ he says. ‘‘They’ll come back.’’ The lower-growing cultivars like ‘Robyn Gordon’, ‘Superb’ and ‘Ned Kelly’ can be cut to 10cm above the ground. Largegrowing cultivars such as ‘Sandra Gordon’, ‘Moonlight’, and ‘Honey Gem’ can be cut back to half a metre above ground. Water well after pruning and feed with a lowphosphorous fertiliser. Take care: some grevilleas, particularly those with G. banksii parentage, can cause skin rashes.
Illawarra Grevillea Park is open on the weekends of July 16-17 and 23-24, 10am to 4pm. Grevillea Rark Road, Bulli. Entry is $5 for adults. A handout is available to guide visitors on the rainforest walks. Plants, and gardening books, for sale. Phone: (02) 4284 9216 Follow daily garden tips and tricks on twitter.com/hollykerforsyth. Holly Kerr Forsyth’s new book, Seasons in My House and Garden, is out now.
The Illawarra Grevillea Park is set beneath the Bulli Pass, south of Sydney