Bloom­ing in win­ter

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Leisure - HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

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.

HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

The Illawarra Gre­vil­lea Park is set be­neath the Bulli Pass, south of Syd­ney

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