Blossoms from the south

Two visits to the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto, one a few weeks ago, one last week, netting wonderful plants from the Southern Hemisphere (South Africa to Australia and New Zealand): Westringia fruticosa ‘Smokey’ and Tulbaghia simmleri ‘Cheryl Renshaw’ on the first visit, a species of Bulbinella (possibly Bulbinella nutans) on the second. All winter-blooming here in Palo Alto (though their blooming times are variable, in both hemispheres).

Meanwhile, we’re having a continuation of winter, with all its plants (including various magnolias, camellias, citrus fruits, cymbidium orchids, leafy greens and brassicas of all kinds, cyclamens, hellebores, pansies and violets, and so on). Meanwhile, the onset of spring comes in January, with narcissus / daffodils (now in great spreads of bloom), the first leafing out of deciduous trees, and then the flowering fruit trees in the genus Prunus (now blooming gorgeously and dropping their petals everywhere). There are seasons, but they overlap. Very soon: the first roses.

Westringia. From the San Francisco Chronicle on 1/1/12, “Westringia fruticosa greens up winter” by Erle Nickel, a little hymn to the plant:

This time of year, when our gardens are largely at rest, there are still categories of plants available to add interest. Near the top of this list would be evergreen shrubs, and one of the prettiest is Westringia fruticosa ‘Morning Light.’

This Australian native maintains a modest size, 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, making it a perfect selection where a smaller shrub is needed. It features whorls of narrow, lance-shaped leaves to 1 inch, mid-green bordered attractively with cream. White undersides accent the variegation.

An erect, bushy shrub when young, it will open up as it matures but still retains a largely rounded form. Half-inch, tubular white flowers, showing just a hint of violet, appear fall through spring. It will probably be the charming foliage, however, that draws gardeners to this tough little shrub.

And tough it is, earning its common name Australian or coast rosemary. This variegated form of the larger westringia species has a variety of uses. It is drought tolerant enough to participate in a dry garden but, as long as the drainage is good, can also thrive with regular water. It’s an excellent choice for gardeners wanting to add a pretty, variegated shrub to a bed but is utilitarian enough to use as a low hedge. Because of its modest size, ‘Morning Light’ can also be used as a focal point in a decorative container.


That’s the variety ‘Morning Light” in close-up. What we saw at the Gamble Garden was the very similar variety ‘Smokey’, seen here en masse:


From Wikipedia:

Westringia fruticosa, the coastal rosemary or coastal westringia, is a shrub that grows near the coast in eastern Australia.

The flowers are white, hairy and have the upper petal divided into two lobes. They also have orange-to-purply spots on their bottom half. This shrub is very tough and grows on cliffs right next to the ocean.

The plant’s tolerance to a variety of soils, the neatly whorled leaves and all-year flowering make it very popular in cultivation.

Westringias are labiates (Lamiaceae, aka the Mint family). The genus is named after J. P. Westring, an 18th century Swedish physician.

Tulbaghia. From Wikipedia:

Tulbaghia (wild garlic or society garlic) a monocotyledonous genus of herbaceous perennial bulbs native to Africa, belonging to the Amaryllis family. It is one of only two known genera in the society garlic tribe within the onion subfamily. The genus was named for Ryk Tulbagh (1699-1771), one time governor of The Cape of Good Hope.

Most species are native to the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. As is common to many members of the onion tribe, when their leaves are bruised they produce a distinct garlic smell, hence its common name. The flowers are borne in an umbel. Each flower has six narrow tepals. A characteristic of the genus is that there is a “corona” – a raised crown-like structure – at the centre of the flower. This may be small and scale-like or may be larger, somewhat like the trumpet of a small narcissus.

What we saw at the Gamble Garden was Tulbaghia simmleri ‘Cheryl Renshaw’, seen here in close-up:


(The species is pretty clearly named after someone named Simmler, but more than that I don’t know.)

Much more common than the species simmleri is the species violacea, with flowers in the pink to purple range. Seen here en masse:


Very pretty they are, especially in what is locally winter.

Bulbinella. (The genus name is transparently ‘little bulb’, so we can get that out of the way.) From Wikipedia:

Bulbinella is a genus of plant in the family Asphodelaceae, subfamily Asphodeloideae, first described as a genus in 1843. Many species are endemic to Cape Province in western South Africa, confined to the winter rainfall area. Other species are endemic to New Zealand, where they are most common in the central Otago region which enjoys a similar climate to the Cape Region of South Africa.

They are characterised by the presence of a dense terminal raceme of flowers, often yellow but also white, pink, yellow or orange depending on the species.

One raceme of B. nutans, seen in close-up:


And the plants seen en masse:


(The plant family #57 in the inventory on this blog, the Asphodelaceae, or Asphodel family, was until recently known as the Xanthorrhoeaceae.)

The plant we saw at the Gamble Garden was merely identifed as a species of Bulbinella, but it looked just like B. nutans, and that species is very commonly planted, so I’m going with that one.

(The species name nutans goes back to a Latin verb form meaning ‘nodding, gesturing, signaling’.)

Bulbinella plants are visibly — also actually, though those two things don’t always go together — closely related to Kniphofia, or red hot pokers (discussion on this blog here), both in the Asphodelaceae.

2 Responses to “Blossoms from the south”

  1. Yanglish Says:

    Marvelous flowers.

  2. [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky looks at Southern Hemisphere flowers in his California garden and notes […]

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