I wonder how many garden writers are going to be spending time over the next few weeks pondering whether we are having an early spring or not. It seems to me we are – there are Magnolias in full bloom and I have buds on some of my irises that should not be in flower for months yet – but I would not be so sure that spring is nearly here. It does not take too much to make the God of Spring withdraw again until a more appropriate time.
I have been enjoying the slightly milder weather though, walking to work most days, taking circuitous routes so I can check up on some different gardens and see what is doing well this year and I have noticed a couple of Phylica pubescens bushes putting on great displays.
These flannel flowers, or featherheads as they are also called, are South African shrubs, from the buckthorn family although they have more than a passing resemblance to some of the many African proteaceous plants, in that their true flowers are hidden in the middle of (in this case, slightly) showier bracts. The whole shrub has attractive almost-grey foliage, and is a welcome addition to the shrubbery for that fact alone, but over the winter flowers (and the bracts) are formed and by now the the hairy leaves are topped with golden flowers. It is a fabulous plant for the winter garden, and anyone who likes picking flowers for the house will love this, as the flowers last for weeks in the vase. In the garden it prefers conditions pretty much like those you would expect a South African to prefers– dry, well-drained and not overly rich soils, in an open situation. They look tender but seem to be able to cope with most frosts our conditions throw at them, growing to about 1.5 metres high and the same around. Like many South African shrubs, they are not long lived, but should last more than ten years.
I think they go really well with some of the other South African plants that are in flower now – the Leucodendrons and Proteas look similar enough, but also different enough, to blend well with these shrubs. Thespecimen I photographed this week is growing in dampish soil in an open position in the middle of a lawn – not the sort of location I would have recommended but it is doing fine.