Tuesday, January 22, 2008
In the middle of summer, when the heat really goes on, we need plants that are going to cope with extreme temperatures, and with lowered moisture levels. It should come as no surprise that many of the plants we look to provide us with colour and life in the mid-summer garden will be coming from the drier areas of the word – South Africa, Australia and the drier parts of the Americas.
I have a particular fondness for the various South African daisies – and there are very many different species available.
Last year’s Ellerslie Flower Show did not feature many flowers, with foliage and decorations being more predominant, but there were tubs of wonderful Osteospermums in full flower.
These flowers have only been very popular for the past twenty years or so. They are commonly called “Cape Daisies” - although they do not have that name to themselves as other members of the vast daisy family are also known by that name – and were once known under their old botanical name Dimorphetheca.
Twenty years ago there was a very restricted range available – mainly white and mauve-pink – and they were grown as seaside perennials, although they are almost hardy in our part of the world. They were also used a lot on banks and walls, as their prostrate habit made them very suitable for such use. They were sunny weather plants, the flowers not opening in cloudy days, or in poor light.
Then the whirligig varieties appeared on the market. These had many spoon shaped petals, and were quickly popular.
Then the Dutch plant breeders got hold of them, seeing a huge market for improved varieties to be used as summer bedding. They have vastly increased the colour range and have also introduced reliability and disease resistance.
The spoon-petalled varieties are released under the name of “Nasinga”, and are available as white, cream, pink and purple. The thinnest part of the spoon is considerable thinner than in older varieties and the flowers look startling – almost space age if you know what I mean. They will not be to everyone’s taste but they are certainly eye catching.
The colour range among the other varieties now includes white, pink, lavender, purple, copper-purple, yellow, cream and apricot. Many of the varieties have two-toned flowers, usually with brighter, deeper colours on the outside of the petals. “Warembo Arwen”, with yellowish flowers, and “Nuanza,” with copper purple flowers, are the ones that I like the most.
These will do very well for summer bedding, as previously stated, but they are also fabulous for growing in hot, dry beds, and, even more so, in containers. They will not mind drying out too much, and will cope in soils with poor fertility. They do not like shady areas, and demand full sun.
Gazanias are also deservedly popular daisies, and have been popular plants in New Zealand for a long time. There are many un-named forms floating around, and many seed grown forms. I like to change my containers every year, trying our new varieties to see whether they are useful for the garden. This year I planted up a pot of a new Gazania called “Stars and Stripes.” These have bright flowers with deep coloured stripes, but I have to say that they are nothing extra special, and a few cuttings from almost any wild gazanias would have done as well.
I planted these with a much more interesting choice – a cereal! I had seen the millet “Purple Spear” in a garden centre the year before and been tempted, but this time I could not resist it. It grows like a dwarf sweet corn, but with deep green foliage edged with purple. The flowers are held on deep purple stems, and are even deeper purple, with golden pollen. I planted a few of these in the centre of a pot of Gazanias, and the effect is great. This plant would also work very well if mass planted, with golden or silver foliage to set it off.
There are some stunning new Gazanias on the market, with bigger and fuller flowers, and denser growth. The best of these are from an Australian breeding programme and have been available in New Zealand for a couple of years now.
“Sunset Jane” is a lovely variety, with coloured, fully-double flowers in shades of
honey, amber and burnt orange. It forms a rounded clump with grey foliage and is s stunning plant with subtle colours.
“Montezuma” is also a fabulous plant, with glorious flowers that change as they age. When young they resemble a wagon wheel with lemon-to-gold fine petals radiating from a bold centre. As they mature, the petals broaden and open to reveal a stunning purple shade with white tips. The leaves are green in this case.