Forgiving spots of colour

By Beatrice Hawkins

This continuing dry weather is starting to get annoying as we move in to spring. Gardens are not looking good. A good deep watering has revived mine somewhat but it is still a long way from flourishing.

Maybe it is time to consider a change of direction and put some succulents and gravel in dry areas.

I do have one ground cover that is really doing very well in a dry spot so maybe I need to plant some more of these. I saw it for the first time last year at the carnival of flowers in Toowoomba and hunted one down at a local nursery here. It is the Lotus berthelotii “red flash”. I have also seen it in a yellow colour and although the tag says a 30-50cm spread mine is covering about 1.5 metres and flowering beautifully with no special care.

Actually I put the pot where I knew it would get a little water but not exactly where I was going to leave it, intending to attend to it later, and it just took off. I have yet to cut the pot away as the roots have gone out through the drain holes and I won’t be shifting it! Good thing it is in a place that needed such a ground cover! As I have said I am no expert gardener and this just goes to prove it … very neglectful sometimes!

I saw this plant growing in hanging baskets and it looked great but was also told it was widely used in roundabouts as a ground cover and really tolerated dry conditions. I can now vouch for that.

It is a soft trailing plant with grey/silver foliage and spectacular red/orange flowers that resemble parrot beaks. Supposedly it flowers in summer but mine is covered with blossoms right now.

When I bought mine I was led to believe it was a native. It isn’t. It is native to the Canary Islands but does very well in our area. It will tolerate light frosts (-1.5) so needs some protection in our area. It likes well drained soil, a sunny position and not a lot of water. It likes to dry out between waterings so the experts say. I would agree with that given the conditions under which mine is thriving.

I will definitely try and propagate some of these and that seems as if it will be relatively easy whether by tip cutting or seed. If the seeds are to be collected it is best to leave the pods on the bush as long as possible without them bursting and you losing the seeds. Pick the pods in late morning or early afternoon on a sunny day, put them in a paper bag for three or four days until they have completely dried out then gently open them. If they are not allowed to dry completely they will go mouldy or rot. Sieve or pick the hour glass shaped seeds out from the other plant matter with a pair of tweezers.

Put them in a sealed plastic bag filled with peat moss and pop them in the vegie drawer of the fridge or any cool dark place for a short time. They should be planted within three to four weeks from collection. I certainly will be giving it a try but also hoping that some will self seed right where they are.

If trying by cutting, take a tip cutting and strip off the lower leaves and pinch out the tip to make it branch out. They will require humidity to take root so maybe a plastic bag or plastic hot house would be a good idea. Resist the urge to pull a cutting up to see if roots are developing. Wait until roots can be seen coming through the drain holes. Re-pot to a larger pot and wait again until it is ready to put out in the ground or into a pot or hanging basket in any good free draining potting mix and enjoy a beautiful plant.

An all-purpose slow release fertiliser at planting time will be of benefit in a pot or basket but in the ground mine has flourished with no special care. I will give it a feed soon though to keep it performing.

I will also be looking out for the yellow flowered variety as a contrast to the beautiful red.

As to succulents, if you have a dry area or rockery there is such an amazing range in size, shapes and colours it may be a useful idea to try.

In another town in a past life I had some friends who had just such an area and filled it with a wide variety of these plants and it really looked spectacular. It was a dry bank from their high block down to the road and these plants succeeded where all other options had failed to hold the soil and provide colour and interest as you pulled up curb side.

Colourful pig-face in different colours and leaf sizes provided huge splashes of brilliance and a mixture of sedums and echeveria of various sizes and colours and different coloured flowers completed the picture and was very easy care.

I’ve just had my attention drawn to some beautiful sedems in a catalogue with green leaves with pink edges, pink and mauve leaves and all with pink flowers on red/pink stems. The common blue grey rosette succulents I have in a pot that seem to thrive on neglect and send up lovely spikes of red and yellow bell flowers are Echeveria and come in an amazing range of colours from blues to deep red, bright red and a whole range in between. Some of the hybrids have frilly pink edges to the leaves and others have bright red tips. I have an area adjacent to the house that is probably an ideal place to have some as it is very difficult to keep watered for most other plants.

When I was a child, the “Mother of Millions” was a common garden plant until it was realised it really was true to its name! It now presents an environmental problem out in the Goondiwindi area and probably other areas that I haven’t seen, growing freely along the roadside and in adjoining paddocks.

They do look spectacular with their lovely red flower heads standing tall as you drive by. As they grow from every little leaf segment they are almost impossible to eradicate in a paddock where livestock graze or native animals inhabit as they attach to them and spread widely as they move about.

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