Watched "Lost Gardens" on ABC TV tonight where they attempted to rebuild a one hundred year old Japanese style garden "in only five days" - how ridiculous! The demands of television production turning gardening into a sport, a competition against the clock...... What messages are we sending out to "budding" gardeners? - That the joy is in getting the job done quickly so that they can just sloth about? The joy is in the observing, the planning, the creating, the nurturing, the adapting, the changing, the enjoying..... over a lifetime.
Last time I got "a little passionate" about the importance of trees in the landscape. In this "blong" and the next, some of my favourite Australian trees (almost two dozen in total). My criteria has been trees that have interesting features or useful characteristics, yet, please remember that I am a gardener on the South Coast of NSW, Australia in a warm temperate clime. So, let's begin,
Acacia elata"Cedar Wattle" - an unusual wattle in that it is long lived, yet, like most of this genus, it is a quick growing shade tree with showers of lovely yellow pom poms in spring and summer. (height 15-25 metres, although in cultivation it rarely gets above 10m, width 5 - 10m)
Backhousia citriodora "Lemon Myrtle" (5-18 x 8m) Its lemon scented leaves are being used in all those trendy TV cooking shows. It also has fragrant bell shaped flowers in spring but it's the zesty smell of the leaves that waft on the breeze that always grabs me on one of the properties that I garden!
Brachychiton acerifolius "Illawarra Flame Tree" (10-15 x 8m, in cultivation usually 5-7 x 4-6m) Its the show of waxy, bright red bell shaped flowers that gets this tree on the list. Looks great planted alongside a Jacaranda (non-native) as it flowers in mauve at the same time (Nov. - Dec.). The Illawarra Flame can be attacked by the Kurrajong Leaf Tier, a moth whose larvae tie the leaves together to make their camp - cut them off and dispose of them when the tree is young .
Callistemon viminalis "Weeping Bottlebrush" (7-10 x 6m) Once this was one of the only bottle-brushes planted en masse and why not? - Its such an adaptable plant! My wife Frances and I worked in Bahrain, a small island off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Every day on my daily jog I would pass a street planting of bright red bottle-brush flowers surviving through summers of 52C, my heart would ache remembering the same of it's kin planted along the streets of my home town so, so far away. This plant was one of the few planting options available for a property in the Southern Highlands which suffered from dry, rock hard soils in summer interspersed with periods of inundation. Just as highly attractive to honey eaters as the "safe bet" Grevilleas.
Casuarina glauca (12-15m x 4m) "Swamp Oak" Probably not a great tree to have too close to a house - all those 'needles' in the gutters and the roots can be invasive! Yet planted in a line on a property or around a water feature, it is the unmistakable sound that the wind makes as it moves through the needle-like foliage that makes it unforgettable and an Australian icon.
Ceratopetalum gummiferum "NSW Christmas Bush" (4-8 x 2m) A really useful and beautiful tree for even a smaller house block. The white flowers won't turn any heads but they give way to the most vibrant red or pink sepals which engulf the small tree. We have vases filled with Christmas Bush as a bit of Australian floral festive cheer each Christmas!
Corymbia ficifolia The "Scarlet Flowering Gum" hails from the south west of Western Australia and hasn't been totally reliable when dislocated all the way across the continent. Yet, smaller, hardy, grafted varieties (with names like, "Orange Splendour" and "Summer Red") are now widely available. If you're after one gum tree as a feature on your block with profuse bright flowers in large clusters, look no further!
Cupaniopsis anacardioides"Tuckeroo" another one of those versatile Australian trees. The Tuckeroo grows 7-12 metres tall by 10 metres wide yet I've seen them clipped and trained into rather large balls! Great as a windbreak, tall hedge or in "tropical" gardens. When its young train it to a single leader so that you get a tree rather than a large spreading bush.
So there you have it, the A B C of great Australian trees according to the "extreme gardener." So what do you think Richard? (aka the "Practical Gardener") Sorry for not mentioning you as a regular reader. Instead of holding out an olive branch, may I suggest gum?