Sunday, April 18, 2010

Christchurch plants

I was standing at the counter in my local supermarket when a lady came up to me, asking me to identify a plant she had seen on a garden tour.  She did not have it with her and could only give a vague description – it was a perennial with blue flowers and did not grow very tall.  I was very confused at first, but then she gave me the crucial piece of information – the flowers were sort of everlasting.
I knew then what it was – but it took a bit of head scratching before I finally managed to dig the name out of the dark recesses of my mind – Limonium perezii.  It is not a plant I had seen for a few years, but at one time it was very popular.
In the late eighties there was a bit of a passion for growing everlasting flowers for the market, and lots of small paddocks were planted with row upon row of everlasting daisies and annual statice plants.  The fad did not last very long and the paddocks were returned to ponies, or perhaps upgraded to alpacas.
But the craze did engender a bit of interest in some of the more unusual members of the statice, including this intriguing plant, so I was intrigued to see clumps of this Canary Island native in a perennial border in a recent visit to the Christchurch Botanic Garden on a recent visit.
The border stretched along a long stretch from the museum entrance down towards the hot house, and featured a great range of cool climate perennials, as well as a few warmer ones.  It was long past its best, with lots of dead flower heads on view, but it still had lots of interest.
Limonium perezii is sometimes called Prez’s sea lavender, and is one of many valuable garden plants from the Canary Islands.  It has a woody rhizome, from which tough bright green leaves about 30 cm long, emerge, followed by a stiff panicle of flowers.  The flowers are small, with purple sepals and white petals, but they are carried exuberantly.  They look fine on their own, but even better when grown in clumps.  They associate well with other Mediterranean plants like lavender, rosemary and bearded irises.
As a matter of interest, these have slightly naturalised themselves in warm parts of California.  I do not think they would be a problem here, but I also know they are relatively easy to grow from seed, as I have done it!
There are many species in this genus but not that many worth growing in the garden.  The very best is almost impossible to buy in New Zealand – the wonderful pink flowered shrubby South African species I knew as L. roseum, but now called L. peregrinum. This grows to about two metres and with bright green leaves.  It is covered with panicles of pink flowers, which fade as they age.  It is very difficult to grow and not even easy to propagate, but it is a thing of rare beauty.  I grew some from seed gathered from a friend’s plant and was able to sell them all very quickly.

1 comment:

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