Diamond Head, Crowdy Bay National Park,
S of Port Macquarie,
Immature seedpods in the wild
Image: Wikimedia Commons
|Growing Christmas Bells
There are a few different species of Blandfordia - the well known Christmas Bell
Blandfordia grandiflora is a subtropical species growing naturally from Sydney north to Fraser Island. This is the species that is known as the NSW Christmas Bell. They flower between November and February and are a protected species. Commercial growers must be licenced.
They normally grow in sandy swamps but the roots are above the water table. The general life span is about 10 years.
Blandfordia nobilis grows along the coast south of Sydney.
Blandfordia cunninghamii occurs in the Illawarra and Blue Mountains.
Blandfordia punicea is endemic to Tasmania and easier to grow.
All should be grown the same way. Growing in tubs is preferable to growing in the ground.
1. Buy 5-6 plants. They look like slender grass but are a native lily.
2. Use a large wide-mouthed ceramic tub and place it on a stand so that water drains freely.
3. Put a square of newspaper or flywire over the hole and cover with about 3 cm of scoria gravel.
4. Fill the pot with a premium grade native potting mix.
5. Plant the Christmas bells spaced out evenly in the tub.
6. Water thoroughly.
7. Sprinkle some slow release native plant fertiliser over the top of the soil and cover with a light layer of scoria gravel.
8. Water regularly. Tubs can be placed in full sun or in light shade.
9. Fertilise occasionally with liquid potash to encourage flowering.
10. After flowering when the pods develop, you can collect the seeds and grow more plants. Seedlings take about three years to flower.
11. Plants can be divided after a few years like other lilies.
Christmas Bells plants are not easy to find as few nurseries stock them. Colour forms are very variable ranging from yellow through to deep red.
Image: Australian National Botanic Gardens
Ceratopetalum gummiferum 'Johanna's Christmas'
|Growing Christmas Bush
Ceratopetalum gummiferum (NSW Christmas Bush)
This very popular species is grown widely in the cut flower trade. Thousands of bunches are sold for Christmas each year and the tradition has a long history in Australia. You can grow your own if you wish.
It is a sub-tropical shrub growing up to 5m in the bush but smaller in gardens. I have it growing in a large tub in my courtyard where it is protected from hard frosts. The shrubs have dark green divided leaves and reddish new growth. Flowers are white and insignificant but they are followed by rusty red calyices which eventually close over the seeds.If you want to grow the seeds, sow them covered with the calyx.
They need a well-drained sandy to loamy soil (pH5-6.5) which is kept moist and an annual application of a slow-release fertiliser. The best way to keep soil moist is to apply a deep mulch of woodchips and water in the evening. Fertiliser granules should go under the mulch.
This species can be susceptible to root diseases especially during wet humid conditions. Plants in the wild probably have a fairly short life span but they self sow ensuring a new crop of seedlings each year.
There are two cultivars - 'Albery's Red' and 'Johanna's Christmas' which only grows to about 1.5m and appears to be hardier than the straight species. It is also readily available in mainstream nurseries.
Telopea 'Shady Lady Red' growing in a Blue Mountains garden.
|Growing Hybrid Waratahs
Hybrid Waratahs are crosses of T. specisosissima (Sydney waratah) with T. mongaensis (Braidwood waratah), T. oreades (Gippsland waratah) or T. truncata (Tasmanian Waratah).
They require dappled shade and protection from westerly sun and wind. They also require good drainage but they have shallow roots which need to be kept moist. If you have deep soil, mound it up slightly, surround the plant with large rocks and mulch well around the rocks. If you have a stony site it might be worth taking the bottom out of a large plastic tub and bury it slightly in the ground. Fill the tub with cheap potting mix (no fertiliser added) mixed with some sand. Surround the tub with large rocks and deep mulch. Plant into the soil and cover the top of the soil with scoria gravel. Hybrid waratahs sometimes flower twice a year in Autumn and Spring. They don't like a lot of competition so don't plant them in an established garden among other shrubs.
Fertilise your waratahs in early spring and in autumn with a light sprinkle of Blood and Bone which has been watered in around the plant. When your hybrid waratahs finish flowering, you need to cut off all the old spent flowers. Leave at least two leaf buds on each cut stem. The plants will then sprout multiple shoots from the cut stems ensuring a bushy plant and more flowers in seasons to come. Add more mulch around the plants as they put on fresh growth.
In the Blue Mountains waratahs grow in deep litter - fallen bark twigs and leaves which gradually rot to provide nutrients for growing plants. The Sydney Waratah (Telopea speciosissima) and the Gibraltar Range waratah put up new stems from a ligno-tuber below the ground. It takes two years for these stems to flower. When they have finished, cut them back almost to ground level. New shoots will take their place. They are a bit touchy in the ground and need lots of leaf mould dug in to an elevated and well-drained garden. The alternative is to grow them in large pots.
Waratahs don't like boggy conditions but they are also not very drought hardy. Deep water in the summer time and during dry spells to encourage roots to go down rather than spread. They will survive dry conditions better. Hybrid waratahs such as the Shady Lady series are much tougher and reliable than the T. speciosissima.
Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens have a Waratah Festival at the end of September each year. They usually have racks of competition blooms which are truly magnificent. There are pure white forms then pale pinks and a gradation of colours through to the deepest reds. It's possible to purchase some of these new colour forms during the festival.
Actinotus helianthi 'Fairy White'
|Growing Flannel Flowers
You need fresh seed if possible no more than 2 months old. Older seed up to 2 years is less viable but you may get some seed to germinate. Store it in the fridge after collection. The best time to germinate is when the daytime temperature is about 20C daytime maximum – Autumn or Spring.
Add 3 drops of Wettasoil to 1 cup of tepid water (or smoke water) in a jar. Add some seeds. Put on the cap of the jar and shake. Leave for one hour. Leave for 1 – 2 hours.
Make up a seed raising mix of perlite:peat:vermiculite (1:1:1 ratio). I use fine perlite and vermiculite. Fill some punnets with this mix. Alternatively use some commercial potting mix.
Put the punnets in trays and water from below by capillary action. Now sprinkle the seeds on top and cover with a very light cover of perlite. It usually takes about 4 weeks until seedlings appear.
Leave the seedlings in the punnets until they have developed a few pairs of leaves. This could take some time as they grow very slowly during winter.
Prick out the seedlings into tubes filled with good quality native potting mix. When the plants start to show roots coming out of the base of the tube it is time to plant out.
You can plant out into the garden if you have a light sandy soil. Alternatively plant three plants together in a large unglazed ceramic pot filled with good quality potting mix.
Sprinkle some slow release fertilizer on top of the pot and water in with Seasol (or substitute). Cover the soil with fine white gravel.
Feed occasionally during the warmer months with liquid potash to encourage flowering. As flowers die off collect fresh seed and store. Plants usually live for about 3 years.
Xerochrysum bracteatum 'Kimberly Sunset'
|Growing Paper Daisies
Paper daisies flower for a long period during the warmer months with a peak in summer. Many of them will self sow before they die back in winter. If you want to collect seed to spread around your garden, wait until the flower head is spent and the seed starts to fall away. Collect this seed in a paper bag or envelope (plastic will sweat and rot the seed). You can then spread the seed elsewhere. It will germinate in spring. Seed can also be propagated into punnets but this is usually done in Autumn so you will need to store your seed in a cool dry place until then.
Sprinkle the seed over the top of a punnet filled with moist seed raising mix and barely cover it with more mix. Sit the punnet in a tray of water and keep the mix moist but not boggy until the seeds germinate. Paper daisies don't mind heavy soil and they are quite drought hardy. Some of the large flowering varieties come from the coast and are not very hardy in a frosty climate. You will need to treat them as annuals. You can grow them from cuttings as well using some of those jiffy pots. During the season, cut dead flower heads off regularly to ensure more flowers during the rest of the season. They are easy care plants which will self sow and naturalise. The coloured forms tend to gradually become white with succeeding generations. If you want pinks and reds you will need to propagate these from cuttings.
Although Grevilleas are probably the most popular native plant they do not survive in every garden. They prefer a well-drained dryish position and will die if water-logged. Gardeners with heavy soils tend to mound their native gardens to improve drainage. A small ditch at the base of the mound will allow water to seep into the ditch and drain away. Put a small pond at the end of the ditch to capture the water.
Grevilleas come from a wide range of eco-systems in Australia so you need to choose wisely. The small or narrow-leaved forms tend to be hardier than those with large leaves. Those tall varieties with large flowers clustered at the end of long drooping stems tend to be frost tender.
Grevilleas prefer a full sun position and will attract a large number of small birds to the garden.
They are also very sensitive to fertiliser and will die if given an overload. Sheep manure should be avoided. Use a slow release native fertiliser. Dynamic Lifter is also safe. People with old gardens may find the soil is too rich for Grevilleas. Experiment with a few cheap plants before splashing out on some expensive species.
Grevilleas benefit from an annual prune. Cut out any dead stems and trim back any untidy branches. Some Grevilleas have sharp tips which can cause skin irritations. Wear long gloves when pruning.