Grevillea galore…

Grevillea hookeriana Canb Bot 1018
Grevillea hookeriana, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Ten years ago, when we cleared out what was accurately called ‘The Snake Pit’- to make the New Garden, completing the wrapping of the garden round the house, I planted a small Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’.  As we did the annual bramble attack 10 days ago on a lone sunny day, I realised once again that it really is a gem of a plant.  Evergreen, with fine needle-like leaves, it makes a solid, but not too solid, presence now measuring nearly 3m by 3m.  It starts to flower round now, with tiny red spidery flowers that open out from claw-shaped buds, and it flowers in a big flush now until about May or June, then sporadically after that.  It requires nothing from us.  And we are so used to it, that it can easily be forgotten- but that’s our fault, not it’s.

In Australia, the Grevillea is a seriously important group of plants, both wild and cultivated.  Ranging from the ‘toothbrush’ group which includes Grevillea hookeriana pictured above, to tiny spidery flowers and fat waxy leaves, to slim, fern-like foliage and firework-shaped flowers- the Grevillea is a workhorse plant, coping with hot, dry conditions as well as occasional flooding- and there may be much more interest in the Grevillea from Europe as climate change continues to bite. While there, I became more than a bit obsessed by finding them as we travelled.

Grevillea monticola Canb Bot 1018
Grevillea monticola, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018
Banks Canb Bot 1018
Bust of Sir Joseph Banks, entrance to the Australian National Botanic Garden, Canberra, October 2018

Joseph Banks, travelling with Captain Cook, on his first voyage of discovery in 1768-71, was the first to collect seed and specimens of Australian native plants, which were all collated back at Kew Gardens in London.  The plant pictured at the top of the post, Grevillea hookeriana, pays tribute in name to Richard Greville, co-founder of the Royal Horticultural Society, and William Hooker, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew at the beginning of the 19th century.  Australian plants, including Grevillea, had a period of intense fashionable interest, which lasted until the growth of the temperate glasshouse and the switch of fashion to tropical plants from other parts of the world.  In some ways, European interest in Grevilleas has remained at the specialist rather than popular interest ever since.

Grevillea monticola is a smaller plant, about 1.5m all round- and with interesting holly- like prickly leaves and a delicate, creamy yellow inflorescence.  Grevillea steiglitziana similarly has holly-like prickly leaves, and this fabulous firework-style flower, so intricate and such a piece of natural engineering.  This is a rare shrub, native to the Brisbane ranges.  It grows in rocky gullies and dry forest and was only formally identified in 1956.

Grevillea steiglitziana Melb Bot 1018
Grevillea steiglitziana, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, October 2018

Grevillea Poorinda Royal Mantle could be a real doer for us in Europe.  A sprawling, low-lying groundcover plant, with finely shaped leaves and the ‘toothbrush’ flower, it is frost-tolerant, drought-tolerant, and will spread quickly to 6m.  According to Shoot, it has a cautious H4 frost rating, which would do for most gardens in Europe except at altitude.

Grevillea Poorinda Royal Mantle Canb Bot 1018
Grevillea Poorinda Royal Mantle, Australian National Botanical Gardens, Canberra, October 2018
Grevillea capitillata Cnb Bot 1018
Grevillea capitellata, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Grevillea capitellata is another low-lying shrub, but grows in poorly drained soil and swamp margins south of Sydney.  It is considered a good plant for revegetation, and, again, in Australian terms is hardy- but probably untested as yet in a European context.

Grevillea anon Canb Bot 1018
Anonymous Grevillea, possibly Grevillea longistyla, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Grevillea longistyla is a native plant that is a hot contender for horticultural use, largely because of it’s neat, open habit, the almost fern-meets-seaweed foliage, and the flowers.  Growing to about 2m high and wide, it’s a garden-sized plant.

Unknown grevillea Canb Bot 1018
Probably Grevillea speciosa,  Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra, October 2018

Grevillea speciosa was first cultivated in the UK in 1809- many thanks to the Australian Native Plants Society for their very useful paper on Grevilleas.  Trouble-free for the gardener, but like mine, able to fill a difficult hole with ease.  Most Grevilleas are also excellent food sources for birds and insects, which make them really worth considering from the ecological perspective.

Look out for them.  The juniperina and rosmarinifolia varieties are thought to be the toughest in terms of frost hardiness in the UK, but maybe more varieties will be made available from Australia as we learn to appreciate a different aesthetic with global warming.

Living between the micro and the macro…

Julie G Grevillea Goldrush 1018
In Julie’s Canberra garden, this could be Grevillea ‘Goldrush’, October 2018

Having fulminated more on than off in the last 2 years about the basketcase that is Brexit, last year we both became French citizens.  It is very touching to become a part of a country that we have lived in for 15 years, and have made our home here.  But, the mind belongs to the UK, and particularly Scotland.  So, switching off from all the Brexit pantomime is not really an option.  And so, it occured to me this morning that life has taken on an-on-the-edge feeling of shifting uneasily between the macro big-stuff political and economic world, and the micro of the garden, daily life here, and very dull stuff like housework.

Yesterday, four Tostatenfleur volunteers, our two commune part-time employees, Sebastien and Marc, and I planted up Tostat’s version of the Promenade Planté.  Clearly, not so grand as Paris, but a good 60m stretch of roadside planting, six 6m x 3m squares of perennial and some shrub planting, interspersed with squares of seeded grass.  If you are in Tostat, you need the Route d’Escondeaux and you will find it.  The morning started out a fairly chilly 3°, but warmed up later to a very pleasant 14° in the sun.

Our only problem was cutting the special eco-bache, designed to protect the plants and impede weeds.  Fabulous though it will be, especially as it will degrade into the soil over 3 years as the plants mature- it is a pain to cut!  Meaning that only 2 of us had enough arm-power to force our cutters through it, and this made planting a bit fraught to start with.  But we made it- and as always, the jokes and ribaldry kept us all going and laughing as well as the odd, supportive toot from passing cars.  Photographs to follow in the Spring when growth gets going.

Today, with no tennis elbow amazingly, it feels really good to have finally pulled off this project, which has been 2 years in the planning, including pulling together the dossier to apply for the funding at inter-communal level, and waiting for answers, plants and the weather to allow us to proceed.  Of course, it all looks very tiny and insignificant, but you just wait for next year….

Of course, by then, whatever happens will have happened with the Brexit nonsense.  Maybe that is the only way to live on the macro-micro edge- invest in the micro to combat the effects of the macro.

MJ and JP 1118
MJ and JP on their knees in the first planted square, Route d’Escondeaux, Tostat, November 2018
Heads down
Heads down, going for broke, on the last planted square, Route d’Escondeaux, Tostat, November 2018

Back to the micro….

Meantime, back in Canberra, Australia, where I spent a lovely hour talking plants with Julie, the Head Gardener of her mainly-Australian-natives garden, some stunning grevilleas were in bloom…the first photo in this post, is, I think, likely to be Grevillea ‘Goldrush’.  A recent addition to Julie’s garden, it has sensational golden flowers with just a hint of red, and seems to be a modest grower to maybe 1.5m rather than the more giant Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’ which I grow and is now nearly 2m tall and wide.

Grevillea CB
Grevillea ‘Canberra Gem’, Tostat, 2017- on the old camera…

This adorable apricot Grevillea was also just coming out, as well as a very delicate pink one. Bit of a Grevillea heaven really.  They are such good and undemanding shrubs as long as you can offer some shelter, though rosmarinifolia varieties seem to me to be really tough.  The range of colours available in Australia is a revelation to those of us used only to traffic-light red.  I have searched and there are some appearing in the UK, if not France.  Burncoose offer a soft yellow Grevillea juniperina Sulphurea, which would probably be hardy enough for us to grow with ‘juniperina’ in its name.

Julie G Apricot Grevillea 1018
This apricot Grevillea was just coming out, Julie’s garden, Canberra, October 2018
Julie G Pink 1018
Delicate, powder-pink, more spidery, Grevillea, Julie’s garden, Canberra, October 2018

Another pretty thing in Julie’s garden was, I think, a Prostanthera, an Australian shrub from the mint family.  These are more widely available in the UK- usually making a neat, rounded shrubby shape of about 1m high and wide, sometimes with a tumbling habit.  Crocus, for example, offer as ‘an alpine mint’ Prostanthera cuneata, with pure-white flowers.

That feels better…

Julie G Prostanthera 2 1018
Prostanthera unknown, Julie’s garden, Canberra, October 2018