The surprise of the wattle

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Flowering wattles, Flinders Ranges, Australia, October 2018

In October, it seemed that wherever we went, there was yet another flowering wattle in action.  The genus Acacia is a wide church really.  Here in South West France, the ordinary thorny Acacia is considered a pest, not what you want in your garden, rampant, painful to deal with, and invasive.  But, in the dry conditions of Australia, the wattle is not only the national emblem but even has its own celebration day, Wattle Day on 1st September.  The Aboriginal people use wattle bark extracts as medicine and carve the hard wood.

This Dagger Wattle, Acacia siculiformis, with dramatic, slim, pointed phyllodes, not in fact leaves but flattened stems, matches the danger of the points with delicate, small, pale coloured pompoms of a creamy yellow.  I was lucky to see one, it is not very common and is endangered in Tasmania.

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The Dagger Wattle, Acacia siculiformis, Jindabyne, NSW, Australia, October 2018

In complete contrast, Acacia havilandiorum, found in the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra, just dripped softly with flowing bobbles of yellow- almost like lampshade trimming.  Commonly called the Needle Wattle, but no sharp dangers here.

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Acacia havilandiorum, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

In the bush near Jindabyne, in the Snowy Mountains, perhaps the cooler conditions favoured small, or even tiny flowers.  These flowers below were so small that from a distance, I thought that they were berries.

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Unknown wattle with tiny flowers, Jindabyne, NSW, Australia, October 2018

Wattles are sometimes cream-coloured, but I only saw one.  Flowering heavily, with the additional yellow bobbled buds, it was a magnificent bush or small tree .  Difficult to be sure from just one photograph, but I think it is most likely to be the Bramble Wattle, Acacia victoriae.

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Cream flowered wattle, I think it is Acacia victoriae, somewhere in Australia, October 2018

This small, spreading bush wattle, had fabulous almost triangular paired leaves, and really tiny flowers, only in bud when I saw it.  Another Snowy Mountain find, near Jindabyne, I think it is Acacia pravissima.  If the photos on the link are true, the flowers would have become an explosive yellow- rather smart with the angular, emerald green foliage.

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Acacia pravissima, Jindabyne, NSW, Australia, October 2018

You can see how obsessive the slight changes in form, leaf and flower can be!  But it’s a bit of a needle in a haystack job to identify one from the other.

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Possibly the Box-leaf Wattle, Acacia buxifolia, somewhere in Australia, October 2018
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Wattles en masse, Flinders Ranges, Australia, October 2018

But just one tree can illuminate a landscape. Magnificent.

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The brilliance of one Wattle, Flinders Ranges, Australia, October 2018

The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney

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Walking through the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

These gardens are so perfectly located- right in the heart of Sydney, a few minutes walk from all the big views of the Opera House and the Harbour.  We were walking through, rather than visiting, but there were so many fabulous plants and trees to be seen, that I was frequently dawdling and photographing- and we did have time for a quick much-needed cup of tea in the tearoom, near the shop, which also got a fly-through.  So, what follows is not a studied look at the botanical offerings, but rather what we saw as we walked through, but none the worse for that.

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Actinotis helianthi, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

This Actinotis helianthi positively sparkled with shimmering grey foliage, and these spikey, upright white daisy flowers.  It is a Sydney area native.

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Alloxylon flammeum, Red Silky Oak, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018
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Better photograph from Brisbane, Alloxylon flammeum, Red Silky Oak, October 2018

Alloxylon flammeum is a stunning medium-sized tree, with all of the Australian chutzpah that native shrubs seem to have- dazzling colour, spidery form and good tree-shape.  In the wild, this tree would be much taller and is becoming endangered.  The world would be a poorer place without it.

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Calliandra, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

Another flowering tree with chutzpah, Calliandra, no labelling help other than the species name, is astoundingly from the pea family.  These powderpuff flowers are wonderful, fine and delicate, but make an astounding show to European eyes.

This magnificent clump of Candelabra Aloe was just beside the ladies loo and the Shop.  It was the best clump that we saw in the whole garden, and perfectly positioned for a close-up, even if it did look as if I was stalking someone into the loo.

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Candelabra Aloe, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018
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Detail of candelabra Aloe, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

More often seen as a yellow cultivar apparently, this Aloe ‘Southern Cross’ was definitely labelled as such.

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Aloe Southern Cross, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

Dietes robinsoniana comes from the Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, and this particular Dietes is not only stately and tall, but has the most lavish flowers of the genus.  It was collected in 1869 on Lord Howe Island by Charles Moore, the Director of the Botanical Gardens in Sydney,

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Dietes robinsoniana, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

Melbourne had the flame-red Erythrina x sykesii that we saw later , but Sydney had Erythrina latissima– perhaps a less flambuoyant tree, but nonetheless very striking.  The flowerheads are smaller and a paler red heading coppery-brown colour, and the leaves appear after flowering.

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Erythrina latissima, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

I am almost certain that this rather gorgeous, golden-yellow centred creamy white flower comes from a Michelia, a shrub closely related to the Magnolia.  But no label!

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Unknown Michelia, I think, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

This was a very cheery plant- Isopogon anemonifolius.  This was a junior plant, it is closely related to the Grevillea family and will make a wide shrub of 2m or so.  You can see the family connection in the pinnate leaves and the flower shape.

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Isopogon anemonifolius, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018

And at the end of my Sydney photo pile, I think that this is a cousin of the very first plant in this post, but I will stand corrected by any more knowledgable folk.  I’d lay money on it being an Alloxylon, possibly pinnatum.

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Another Alloxylon, maybe pinnatum, The Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, October 2018


Cold snap…

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Hard frost with sun coming, Tostat, January 2019

Two nights now of -6C which arrived all of a sudden but at least the freezing fog has gone and we have bright, even brilliant sunshine during the day.  Our old house is not liking this, and it is back to bedsocks at night for the first time since February last year.  I may have been a bit cavalier about the frost protection- we will see when the temperatures come back up a bit next week.  But frost has its own beauty as Ali, the Mindful Gardener observed today.  Rosa LD Braithwaite has taken quite a few years to decide that she likes me, and only this year has begun to resemble a rose bush more than just a twig.  The very last rose wears the frost rather well, like a celebrity Chopard necklace.

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Rosa LD Braithwaite, Tostat, January 2019

I may end up rueing leaving Pelargonium sidoides outside- I do hope not, but I had forgotten that I had planted it in amongst two roses that I had submitted to intensive care in pots.  If this is the end, it is looking very beautiful all the same.

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Pelargonium sidoides, Tostat, January 2019

My new Australian-inspired arrivals, still in their pots, Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’ and Callistemon sieberi ‘Widdicombe Gem’ are frozen solid, but foliage still looking good.

I have had this Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’ since the first year we were here- and although it is not a looker in the flowering department, I love the crinkled leaves and the greenness of it- a really vivid emerald.  Every time I think that I have lost it, it pops up somewhere else, so there is determination about this plant.  With the frost, it is clearly impersonating a low-lying conifer.

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Tanacetum vulgare ‘Crispum’, Tostat, January 2019

The night is drawing in, as my mother used to say in August in Scotland, and this cold just has to be sat out- damage to be inspected later.


Seeds and cuttings…

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Pelargonium quercifolium Photo credit:

This is a stunning plant.  A mystery pelargonium until today, when, what with the continuing freezing fog, I brought it in, took cuttings and then had a bash at identifying it and got it on the button- Pelargonium quercifolium.   A friend gave me a piece way back in our hot, relentless summer, which I potted up with no real hope of it rooting.  But it did.  It grows straight and tall, no flopping, and it should have small pinky-mauve splashed flowers at the end of autumn roughly.  I adore the rough, crinkle-cut leaves with the maroon splash in the centre as well as the strangely medicinal scent of the leaves when crushed.

In its native South Africa, it would make a handsome shrub of about 1.5m by 1,5m- it won’t be so big here, I don’t think.  According to the sites I have read it is frost-tender.  I think it will be tougher than that, as it was showing no signs of panic after 4-5 days of freezing fog- but I won’t chance it now that I have nailed the identification.  There is a  bred variety,  ‘Royal Oak’, which has favoured flower production with bigger flowers and lower growth, but I fancy sticking with my donated plant.  I am hoping to have it sprinkled all over the hotter, dryer parts of the garden in a couple of years, adding real style with its sophisticated leaves and proud bearing.  And it will have to be trialled in the ground over winter, with a spot of insurance fleece.

In Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, there were many delights, of which more another time especially if the fog continues- but here was something which really caught my eye as a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland plant, and it was to be found, oddly enough, on the edges of the Childrens Garden.  It is an ornamental asparagus, Asparagus densiflorus Myersii.  I have bought seed for the variety, ‘Mazeppa’, which seems exactly the same but a little smaller at 60-90 cms.  It should be ok in the ground here but with some protection if we get below -7C, so I will chance it in the hotter, drier bits of the garden.  I am on a hotter, drier mission, you can tell.  Seed to be sown end of the month indoors.

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Asparagus densiflorus Myersii, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, October 2018

Another welcome surprise last year was the come-back of a plant that I was sure I had lost.  Nestled amongst tall companions, and in the damper bit of the garden, I had planted three small Eupatorium coelestinum a couple of years ago.  They vanished without trace, or so I thought.  They re-appeared in August roughly, immediately recognisable for their powder-blue powder-puff flowerheads, which was the reason for me buying them in the first place.  Since then they have undergone a name-change and are now identified as Conoclinium coelestinum, but I bet you will you will still find them under the old Eupatorium label, as per the link.  Here is a link to a University of Arkansas article that explains the change of name- Eupatorium had become too much of a dumping ground apparently.

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Conoclinium (Eupatorium) coelestinum, Tostat, August 2018

I really love it- such a great colour and presence, though it is true that nothing much happens until the flowers appear.  I am going to try for volume from seed.

You can tell I am itching to get started. Got to wait though…bit more daylight needed and then I can crack on with seed sowing indoors for a sustainable temperature.

Happy New Year!


Foggy bottom…

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Foggy Tostat, January 1st 2019

I love a New Year.  All that fresh thinking, new ideas, new plants to try out, new projects simmering is one big energy rush.  But today rather let me down- we have been surrounded by fog for the last 3 days, not unusual in the winter as we are in a river valley- but winter has suddenly turned up and is making a rather glum job of it.  Having decided to risk some more on-the-tender-side things in the garden since we came back from Australia, I rushed out this afternoon with fleece and secateurs, cutting back luxurious growth and fleecing the riskier items.  I have a feeling that they will be just fine, and I was sad to cut back Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’ which has been magnificent since October probably, though we missed a large slice of it.

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Only the merest hint of cold on the leaves, and all these fabulous flowerheads still going strong, Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, 1st January 2019

But he is a Californian, and so it was too much to expect that the show could go on- but I am hoping that staying in the ground might get him off to an earlier start this year.

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Salvia ‘Amistad’, Tostat, January 1st, 2019

I am leaving Salvia ‘Amistad’ a bit longer as it is a good deal more tough than ‘Anthony Parker’.

These are isolated moments of flowering I hasten to add- 90% of the garden is looking brown and winter-worn, but the star of the moment is a real surprise.  I bought a rather spindly, much reduced specimen of Cestrum elegans rubrum last winter, and put it just underneath the great over-hang of the pine tree with a wall behind it for some warmth- figuring that the over-hang will give it some frost protection as it is not that robust.  But right now, it is covered with flowerheads, and looks really good from the foliage point of view.

Of course, this does reflect the warm temperatures we have been having, from 9-19C in the last month during the day, so we will see.  I don’t think it is a great looker from the foliage end of things, but the flowerheads are big, carmine, and long-lasting- very exotic-looking.

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Cestrum elegans rubrum, Tostat, January 1st 2019

I have a bit of a thing about Abutilons.  Some might find them a bit rangy and straggly, I don’t, but I know what the decriers mean.  But I love the way that the flowering stems swag, and this year I mean to do more to give them support that will show them off better.  This unknown orange abutilon is more bushy than most and so gives a solid, but not dull, presence in a sunny, hot spot.  It is still covered with flowerheads.

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Unknown orange abutilon, Tostat, January 1st 2019

There are more isolated flowerheads on Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’ which is much more of a straggler.  But the flowerheads are like threads of party lanterns- and the bright yellow combined with the dark fuchsia pink is very pretty.  I need to get some more rebar to bend into supports for it this year.  And new to me last year was Abutilon ‘Red Trumpet’ which has produced a new flowerhead despite the fog.  It looks to me as if this variety will be more bushy in form.

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Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’, Tostat, January 1st 2019
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Abutilon ‘Red Trumpet’, Tostat, January 1st 2019

So, with cuttings to settle in from ‘Anthony Parker’ and seeds coming in the post, there is plenty to look forward to.  Gardening is such a kind activity, it forgives your mistakes and let’s you start over.  That is a good thought to face the fog with.

Canberra and home…

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Canberra scene, October 2018

Canberra was an extraordinary place- specially-created as the capital city to avoid tensions between Melbourne and Sydney, with architecture from the inspired end of concrete brutalism that is pretty much all of a piece in the city centre.   This photograph taken close to the National Museum of Australia sums up the strangeness of it, the Prisoner-like hovering ball art installation, a solitary car, one person.  It was like no other capital city I have ever visited.  Healthy middle-class professionals jogging round the paths and lakes of the city centre juxtaposed with the dug-in determination of the 46 year Tent Embassy Aboriginal protest outside the old Government House- these colliding presences seemed to capture something of Australia.  A country struggling with the tensions of colonialism still.  But from a British perspective,  I felt shame for our overlord activities, and some pride that Australia shows its tensions openly- heart on sleeve.

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The Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest camp outside Old Government House, visiting schoolchildren posing for their teacher, Canberra, October 2018

There is huge pain in the Aboriginal Memorial, 200 hollow log coffins which commemorate the thousands of indigenous people who have lost their lives since 1788 in defence of their land and their ways of life.  I was deeply moved and shamed by it simultaneously.

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The Aboriginal Memorial, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, October 2018

The museums are world-class and absolutely to be recommended.  Three hours was not long enough to take in the history of white settlers and indigenous loss, but history can smack you in the face and overwhelm sometimes.

Later in the afternoon, with warm golden sun shining, we visited the Australian National Botanic Gardens.  The world’s largest collection and archive of Australian flora did not disappoint- there was so much to be seen that was new and strikingly different from European flora that I was a little bedazzled.  We were yet to see the incredible flowering wattles later in our trip to the Flinders Ranges, but there were some fabulous varieties on show in the Garden, a feast of yellow.  And orange and red…without a botanical label I had no chance, and I have tried via the internet, but maybe Jane from Mudgee can help with this Banksia, as she kindly did in confirming the Grevillea robusta from the previous post.

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Unknown Banksia, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018
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This one was labelled! Banksia integrifolia subsp integrifolia, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

And three views of the simply gorgeous Dendrobium falcorostrum– I defer to the Rock Lily Man here (follow the link)- he says it all about this fabulous plant- which, if you need a short-cut, is an epiphytic orchid.  In other words, a non-parasitic plant that fastens onto other plants but is, in fact, air and water-fed- the host simply provides an anchor.

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I loved the starkness of the Red Centre– the part of the Gardens that re-creates the harsh, elemental conditions of central Australia.  The stunning grass clump to the left of the photograph is Triodia scariosa.

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The Red Centre Garden, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018
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Triodia scariosa detail, Red Centre Garden, Australian National Botanical Garden, Canberra, October 2018

And the postman has just knocked with my Australian- inspired parcel- my order of Callistemon sieberi ‘Widdecombe Gem’, a medium sized  frost-hardy (to about -8 hopefully) Callistemon with a lemon yellow flower, and three massive Dianella caerulea ‘Cassa Blue’– which I have just re-potted to make 8 smaller plants to over-winter.  Australian heaven.

Here and there…

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Colquhounia coccinea, Tostat, December 2018

Since we came back about 4 weeks ago, we have had only tiny frosts and some really warm, up to 20C, days.  It seems quite weird to be looking at flowering shrubs and plants that have been flowering non-stop since mid October and still are.  Colquhounia coccinea was a new addition in early Spring this year.  The link takes you to Louis the Plant Geek, who is also in love with this shrub. A bit of a risk as it is not reliably hardy, probably not to -10C which is my normal benchmark for hardiness- but I thought I would try it, keep an eye on it, plant against a southerly wall though facing North, and be prepared to dash out with the fleece as soon as it flags.  It is quite a big beast, already nearly 2m tall and about 1.5m wide, so no chance of a pot-solution.  So we will see, but right now it is flowering beautifully and we have warmish forecasts for the next week.

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Colquhounia coccinea detail, Tostat, December 2018

From the detailed photograph, you can see that it has felted stems, and certainly the growth pattern is very similar to a buddleia.  The colours are sensational, stacked on each stem so the bush is covered with flowers- really unexpected so close to winter.

I have some salvias that I am very fond of, that grow really big at the very end of the flowering season, and this year I am risking them staying in the ground and having the fleece to hand.  Once they get touched by the frost, I will cut them back to half the size to protect them from wind and then get fleecing.  Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’ won’t make it through without all this help, and it may not be enough, so I am planning on sprouting some cuttings in a jar of water tomorrow.  Same goes for Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’.  Both plants can easily reach 2m x 2m, so pots just get too heavy and unwieldy.

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Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, Tostat, December 2018
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Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’, Tostat, December 2018

Other than that, I am waging early winter war on my blasted Michaelmas daisies.  I have no idea what variety they are, and you might think that they have been sent to torment me.  They were here in the garden when we arrived, and, mistakenly thinking that they were rather bonny, I spread them about a bit.  In Scotland, they were quite mild-mannered, but here in France, they are no respecters of decency at all.  They will burrow under, swamp from the sides and generally bully, any other plant that you care to name.  Getting them out, or trying to, is usually a Spring ritual- but this year I thought I would hit them while they are still standing and, even though I won’t 100% succeed, I will throw my best at them.

Back in Australia, picking up on the sensational colour-theme, there were so many incredible plants to be found, although I haven’t been able to identify all of them.  Here are some of my favourites to warm up early winter for us all.

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Erythrina x sykesii, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, October 2018

This coral tree, Erythrina x sykesii, was a knock-out flowering against a brilliant blue sky in Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens. The oldest specimen in cultivation is actually in the Australian National Botanical Gardens in Canberra, where it has been growing for over a hundred years, but somehow, I missed it there.

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Erythrina x sykesii detail, Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens, October 2018
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Acacia havilandiorum, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Raining golden bobbles, this was one of the showiest wattles that we saw in the whole trip.  The slender, curving leaves encase the flowers- and the flower colour is exactly that brilliant yellow as in the photograph.

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Golden Grevillea, variety unknown, Grafton, NSW, October 2018

This very fine Grevillea was draping itself gracefully over a garden wall in Grafton, New South Wales.  It could be Grevillea robusta…perhaps.  if it is, it has an AGM from the RHS and is surprisingly hardy, down to about -8C, and is recommended for xeric gardens.  But topping out at 22m or so, makes it a big choice for most of us gardening in more ordinary circumstances.  But doesn’t that colour make you glad that it exists?