Ornamental manoeuvres in the dark

I’m hip to the food forest concept but there’s only so much food you can grow in the shade.  Naranjilla, tamarillo, monstera, babaco, finger lime, warrigal greens – ticked all those boxes.  But at a certain point, you’ve just got to give up the dream of a waving field of wheat outside your kitchen window, and actually plant something that’s going to grow there.  Even if it means going over to the other side, down the slippery slope towards… the ornamental garden.  The garden you can’t eat but which ameliorates the existential despair of staring down at yet another sinkful of dishes.  Gardening in the terrain between utility and futility.

Just now quite a few of those spirit pleasing plants are in bloom.  Libertia Paniculata has made me very happy: a lovely native that flowers in the shade, and is even named after a female botanist and mycologist, Anne-Marie Libert (or Marie-Anne, depending who you ask).  Okay, you can’t eat it, and you couldn’t describe it as flowering copiously in its sheltered spot under the pittosporum (also blooming now).  But the delicate white flowers when they come – some in May and again in August this year – linger, picked out in the odd beam of light that makes its way between the ferns.

Plecanthus argentatus has been a stalwart too, sprawling a bit unless snipped back now and then, but you can’t have too much silvery-grey foliage in my view and it’s a rarity in shade-loving plants, so sprawl away, I say. It copes  well with dry weather and even produces small sprays of tiny white flowers in autumn.  I’ve had less success with indigofera australis which I hoped to plant alongside it – one cheap but sickly plant finally croaked recently after sitting there rather miserably for a year or so, and I failed to get any of the seedlings I sparked up from seed bought online to survive in the garden.  But I’ve noticed new growth on a second plant, put in last year, so I’m hopeful I’ll see some of its purple flowers eventually.

Vines are a good bet for shade, since they are usually happy to climb towards the light. I’ve got two varieties of pandorea jasminoides swarming up a trellised fence, entwined with Tecomanthe hillii.  The Fraser Island Creeper has done nothing flower-wise, which may well be a good thing, since I’m not wild about the hot-pink colour scheme (it was an impulse buy), although I do like the mauvy-purple of the new shoots.  There’s been a bit of action from the “Bower of Beauty”: though it’s decided to set up its bower of trumpet-shaped flowers on the neighbour’s side of the fence (in the sun, dammit!).

Pandorea pandorana, the wonga-wonga vine, flowers for a only couple of weeks a year – just about now – but with the occasional bit of cow poo it has done a good job of disguising the shonky engineering of our garage. Having seen “old man’s beard” going the full Ned Kelly in sandstone country up the way, I was a bit nervous about putting Clematis aristata over the car port, thinking the extra weight on the roof might crush our car like a bug.  But no – after a couple of years it’s barely hanging on.  I suspect that lime from nearby concrete might be the offender.

The correas seem to have done their dash more or less, so no pics.  Correa glabra, quite an upright small bush with fresh lime-green leaves and pale yellow flowers, and Correa bauerlenii, with greeny-white flowers in the shape of an implausibly towering chef’s hat, shiny dark leaves and reddish stems, have both grown well and flowered in a gloomy spot, though Correa alba struggled, never really growing much at all and finally giving up the ghost.  Another “Chef’s cap correa” did really well for a while out back but succumbed during a very wet February, so drainage seems to be a thing.

The correas apparently attract birds, but the plant growing in the shady front yard that has attracted the most attention, not just from our “house” birds, the red and little wattlebirds who dangle upside down to sip its nectar, but even the occasional beautiful visitor like the gorgeous rufus-chested Eastern Spinebill, is not a native but the abutilon, the chinese lantern.

I didn’t plant the chinese lanterns, but as time passes, I come more and more to like Val Plumwood’s idea of garden that is convivial – accepting the presence of foraging animal visitors and plants – local, native and imported – as long as they don’t go feral.  She was fond of daffodils – in part because the wombats and other critters that visited her garden didn’t eat them, and in part because they didn’t do a runner into the bush.  She was a smart lady: you have to respect anyone who survived a death roll with a crocodile.

Beyond the out-and-out baddies to be found in the noxious weeds list and the excellent Grow Me Instead booklets, it’s actually pretty hard to work out what to avoid if you don’t want to become notorious as the “Typhoid Mary” of the next generation of weeds.  I only know not to plant freesia, which I love, because of the fact they pop up everywhere at this time of year – in the wheel rut zone in the drive and the dog poo zone along the street.  The smell of murraya is gorgeous and it’s not listed on the plants to avoid pamphlets for around here but murraya paniculata “exotica” is a serious weed in South Eastern Queensland.  All sorts of scary things are for sale in garden centres and online, and there’s plenty to be worried about in my garden already (I’m going to have to hypnotise my neighbour if I want to uproot the avenue of seed-shedding agapanthus between our drives).  I try to grow local, but if all you can buy are hybridised natives, provenance unknown, perhaps you might be better off with some well behaved, hard working refugees from a South American rainforest or an English country garden.

4 thoughts on “Ornamental manoeuvres in the dark

    • Just shows how unoriginal I am – thinking in cliches!! Cheers for the positive vibe. Have you ever used Libertia Paniculata in any of the gardens you’ve designed, Juke? It’s a goodie.

      • No, you are very original . It’s just me that has to relate everything back to 80’s bands. Really like Libertia Paniculata, I just don’t think I’ve ever intentionally used it in my gardens. But looks like there may be changes after reading Berowra B’Yard.

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