So I declare, straight up, that PGA (Plant Growers Australia) occasionally gives me plants to try out. They’ve never asked me to write about them, and I’ve never offered to, let alone promised to.
I’ve killed an embarrassing number of them. A substantial proportion of them aren’t sufficiently frost hardy to survive where I am. PGA themselves rarely know exactly how frost tolerant their plants are, so it’s useful information for them, even if sobering for both them and me. Drought tolerance, rather than frost tolerance, is rightly the focus of many of these plants.
Amongst them are some real performers, and some real survivors.
There’s been a lot written about Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’, but much of it comes from those with a vested interest in its success. I have no such interest. Furthermore, I admit that I was, at first, both sceptical, and critical. From first sniff, I was in doubt about its value as a scented shrub, and particularly the honesty surrounding the reputation it borrows from its much, much more attractively scented cousin – the old and well-loved Daphne odora. But three or so years down the track, I’ve had to rethink.
For a start, it’s incredibly tough. Early last summer I planted two very young plants and one very pot-bound plant in close proximity, and in full sun. Being pot-bound is a much bigger impediment than most realise, and I really didn’t expect the bigger plant to survive with the only very, very occasional watering I could give them. All three survived. The younger two thrived. This summer they’ve had absolutely no supplementary water, and never even looked like they needed it. Following a heavy spring flowering, they’ve hardly ever been without a reasonable smattering of flowers.
In full sun they form a very dense dome of foliage. You can clip them for further definition, but they have something of a clipped look anyway.
The other part of my reassessment regards the scent, which I’ve discovered is altogether more appealing on the air than when you stick your nose in the flower. In truth, the scent is the same either way, but when it takes you by surprise on an evening wander around the garden, it’s delicious.
Another plant that has really got my attention is the dodgily named Agastache ‘Candy Pink Fiesta’. Nearly all the agastaches we’ve seen appearing on the market in the last few years are generous and determined flowerers, but with a fuzz of small flowers, to my mind they work best as back-up colour. To me they’re co-stars, rather than A-listers. A. ‘Candy Pink’ on the other hand has a distinct upright cat’s-tail form, which takes it to another place. Furthermore, once the flowers fall, you’re left with the cat’s tail of dark burgundy bracts. It leaves me wondering whether I like it best during, or after flowering. This makes for a very long show – the bracts of the old flowers carrying you through, almost until its subsequent flowering several weeks later.
And finally, there’s the unbelievably long flowering Tulbaghia ‘Fairy Star’. Like all tulbaghias, severe dry will result in a diminution of flowering, but from my experience T. ‘Fairy Star’ will flower happily until the dry is unbearable. The flowers are tiny, and all parts of the plant are small, so it’s not an easy plant to find a suitable context for. It’d be great in pots, and is absolutely sensational when planted into a stone wall, as it is at my place.