When all else fails and you feel like throwing in the trowel, these garden keepers will lift the confidence of even the brownest thumbs.
Our garden has somewhat lacked attention lately and it’s brought mixed feelings about some of the choices I’ve made there. I’ve rued my decision to put in some beautiful flowering specimens that have turned brown, leggy and nasty from my neglect. But I’ve rejoiced in those others who continue to shine and star without — or despite — me being there every day to praise and cajole them.
These are what I call the middle children of the garden — well adjusted, low maintenance, get-on-with-it types who forgive your maintenance oversights and just keep performing and turning up to do their best season after season, with the minimum of fuss and carry-on. I love the surprise these tough little mothers give me when I least expect it, popping up in flower year in, year out, no matter how often they get wet or the secateurs visit.
Duped and disappointed
More often than I care to admit I’ve been seduced by garden books with photographs of beautiful spreads from cooler and more temperate climes and bought all manner of delicate flowers and groundcovers with dreams of having their verdant growth spilling over my lawns. But most just don’t transfer to the sub tropics — even those that have been labelled sun hardened. To really flourish here, they call for more patience and expertise than I have.
In a Noah’s Ark moment — that is, culling my garden down to just six plants — this is what would make the cut. It’s a Gardening for Dummies checklist of plants that won’t break your heart. If you’ve been dispirited by garden failures, or if you’re keen to begin gardening, but want to go AWOL from it occasionally without major setback, listen up.
Six of the best
Plant Bromeliads. They’re exotic, interesting, surprising, numerously various in size, shape and colour, hardy, self-propagating and lush and tropical. These natives of the Americas grow in shade and in sun and even upright on a vertical support – like an air plant. They come in all shades of green, pink and brilliant red and variegated types. If you want more reasons to choose them, bromeliad babies can be twisted and snapped off the parent plant and replanted so you have the gift that keeps on giving with one purchase. They scarcely need any soil, change colour depending on available light, throw some truly awesome flower spikes when you least expect it that can last for months, clump into a stunning mass planting and have a care scale of about 1 out of 10. The worst thing you can do to them is overwater, so if in doubt, don’t wet.
Bougainvillea If you’re driving about Brisbane at present and see sheaths of cascading bloom hanging over fences, that’s the bougainvillea showing off. And if you notice them flourishing on public roadsides, you’ll understand this ornamental vine delivers on negligence. They’re great in pots, come in a stack of colours – I think the white are particularly stunning. Some people put several varieties in one big container. I’ve alternated the colours in pots and along the front fence. The pleasure I get from my bougies in bloom far outstrips the pain of losing the daphnes, roses, violets, lavender etc and it lasts and lasts. Some flower for 11 months of the year. Actually, Bougainvillea’s beauty owes little to its insignificant little white flower. Their colour is the leaf bract surrounding it.
They’re thorny, so when you’re pruning – only lightly – after flowering, take care. But it’s this viciousness that keeps predators off them – hooray.
Succulents Flapjack (kalanchoe luciae) and Desert Rose. The flapjack is one of the most dramatic looking plants in my garden. Also known as the Desert Cabbage and Paddle Plant, it grows in a rosette of flat, round jade leaves with red margins and it too propagates itself numerously, so you get lots of offspring to spread and replant for nothing. It takes v little care, looks spectacular, particularly in a pot. Mine at the front entrance draws comments from most visitors. They also look great in a clump at the base of taller plants, such as bird of paradise, or palms and interspersed with other succulents, such as Desert Rose.
Which brings me to my other pet succulent, the Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) a fat, swollen leaved plant on a stubby stem that ranges in colour from green to soft grey, grows easily in pots and the ground, even indoors, as long as there’s plenty of light. I’ve poked the numerous offspring of my plants into tops of pots and hanging baskets, around base of shrubs and they thrive wherever they land.
Rhoeo (tradescantia spathacea) or Moses in the cradle is another that sprouts colourfully high and low, hanging baskets to edging and solid groundcover and adapts to wherever it’s placed. It’s a short stemmed tender foliage plant that grows in attractive clumping rosettes. Its 15 – 20cm long sword-shaped leaves are green on top and purple underneath and it’s fast-growing and resilient, even sprouts in cracks in the pavement or walls. It has a tiny white flower that sprouts deep inside a purple “boat’’ like structure. It likes sun and shade and when it gets over exuberant, just hack it out and replant.
Hippeastrum Even when they’re not in flower, the hippies’ glossy, strappy green leaves look attractive and lush. These Central American natives grow from large fleshy bulbs, come in about 90 species and 600 hybrids and thrive on neglect. In spring, their big bold, voluptuous trumpet-shaped blooms are breathtaking. They flower on 40cm hollow stalks and multiply in situ, or you can slice and replant to get a whole row or garden bed happening en masse – or put several of the same or various colours in pots for a cheery moveable feast. They come in single, double and miniature and in colours ranging from salmon pink to deep red, rose pink, lemon, lime and clear white. Some have contrasting stripes, petal edges or throats. Hippies will live in average soil and are virtually indestructible.
And because we love to grow edibles … Tommy tomatoes are the pick for busy people, beginners and small gardens. They’re fast growing, disease and pest resistant – and very tasty. With little care and attention, and at least six hours of sunshine a day, you’ll get a bounty of fruit. Once they start flowering, feed them fortnightly with fish emulsion or seaweed and tap the flowers in the morning to encourage pollination. Save the seeds and you’ll never have to buy more than your first plant.
Bok Choy also known as Bok Choi and Pak Choy, an Asian green leaf vegetable (brassica chinesis) is classified as a cabbage but it looks nothing like the round European cabbages in the supermarkets. Its white stalks resemble celery without the stringiness while the dark green crinkly leaves of the most common variety is like Romaine lettuce. It’s a cinch to grow in the cooler months and needs three to five hours of sun a day, preferring part shade. Needs moderate watering and only thing to watch for is the cabbage moth that sneaks into its middle.
It’s ready to pick 35 – 40 days after planting. If you don’t know what to do with it apart from stir fries, eat it raw in salads or sandwiches.Pick the leaves as you need.