My newly established perennial garden in the back area of our section is all abuzz, and it is not from the range of new and special perennial plants, although it is exciting to see the first of the flowering for the first time. No, the garden is buzzing with the hundreds of bees making a beeline for the bright red flowers on the tall specimen of the bright red manuka, Leptsospermum ‘Electric Red’ that is at its peak right now.
I do not know whether this is one of the forms of manuka with the special health giving attributes that are passed on through the honey, but if it is there out to be some very healthy and happy honey eaters in the vicinity, as there bees fly in and out of there like it is Los Angeles airport on a busy day.
Manuka is so ubiquitous on the dry and hungry lands of New Zealand, and thrives so well on recently disturbed soil, that it will come as a surprise to most New Zealanders to learn that this species actually arose in Australia where it has many relatives living, and is a relatively recent arrival in our country, having made its way across the Tasman as seed. When New Zealand was well forested it was an uncommon plant, but following Polynesian discovery of Aotearoa, and the subsequent fires and open ground, it managed to make a strong foothold.
It appears in many forms in the wild. On exposed coasts it assumes an almost prostrate growth form, while dwarf growing forms are also recorded from very exposed and nutriment poor locations. Wairarapa gardeners (and farmers) will be well acquainted with the usual form of the species in our district, a compact medium sized shrub with masses of white flowers. In the north there are populations with pink-flushed flowers – I recall a fabulous morning exploring the vegetation at the head of the Hokianga Harbour, where low growing pink flowered forms abound – while forms with pure red flowers have been found in the wild, and a range of hybrids has been bred for the home garden.
I think the bright red ones are the most popular, including the ‘Electric Red’ form I have in the garden, which is apparently a hybrid with an Australian species, but looks very much like the old favourite ‘Red Ensign’, with pure red single flowers. I was always a fan of the double flowered ‘Red Damask’, which had masses of frilly double flowers from late winter right through into summer. ‘Red Falls’, which has single red flowers, does not fall quite as much as the name might lead you to think – it does have some branches that scoot along the ground, but others will gently arch upwards as high as a metre. It works very well if planted on top of a bank and also makes a very effective weeping standard.
There is a pink coloured form called ‘Pink Cascade’ , offered somewhat mischievously by some nurseries as a native (including at least two well-known “native” nurseries) when it is in fact a hybrid between two different Australian species. If you are interested in growing a pink flowering shrub with a prostrate habit, and are not concerned about it not being a native, then this would be a good choice. It is tolerant of a range of soils but performs best in moist, well drained soils in full sun or light shade.