PLANT OF THE WEEK #66: Libertia peregrinans

I can’t understand how, after making firm decisions to avoid it, I keep falling into the trap of thinking that a Plant of the Week has to have a minimum glam-factor in order to be worthy of its place in the limelight.

For if there’s one great thing the naturalistic planting movement has done for we gardeners and planting designers, it’s to show how, by focussing on rhythm and pattern rather than floral glamour, plants of inherent modesty can make contributions to the team-work of good planting that extends well beyond their individual irresistibility.


Libertia peregrinans in a support role, with a miniature bearded iris

And hence to Libertia peregrinans.  I admit I’d grow it, and the totally unrelated Tropaeolum peregrinum (canary creeper) simply because of the specific epithet and the romantic allusion to peregrinations/travels/pilgimages – such are the irrational influences over what we grow, and the important place they have in ensuring our gardens are highly individual affairs.

But there’s more to this libertia than that.  At all times of year, and particularly this, Libertia peregrinans glows with the most curious orange suffusion.  There’s an inherent heat to it, almost as if it’s warm-blooded, and is pumping that pigment through an arterial system on high rotation.  The main artery runs right up the midrib, and the colour bleeds from there into the rest of the leaf-blade.  On days like this, with low-hanging sun, it’s illuminated into the most evident colour in the garden.  It flowers sporadically with small, white flowers held elegantly aloft on fine, wiry stems, but they’re little more than a distraction from the main game.

Libertia peregrinans purely as background colour

The ‘peregrinans’ part of the name is apt, as it runs underground, and slowly spreads throughout the surrounding planting.  In the planting in which it was established in my garden, this is precisely what I wanted to do.  Granted, the colony is a little more dense than I’d hoped, as I’d imagined it just popping up here and there, shooting up an orange flame amongst the surrounding planting, but it’s not so thick as to exclude the interpenetration of other root-runners like Verbena rigida, or self-sowers like Euphorbia rigida.  If the running worries you, grow the not dissimilarly – though not so strongly – coloured Libertia ixioides.

Libertia peregrinans would like it a little damper than it is, here.  I don’t give it any water, and our late summers can be brutally hot and relentlessly dry.  I’ve lost most of those I originally planted, and those that have thrived seem (and I’m kind of guessing) to have done best where the yellow clay was closest to the surface.

Again, in a supporting role – this time literally so – the leaves of L. peregrinans often holding up the floppy flowers of colchicums

I feel that in placing it amongst other low perennials in a naturalistic matrix of largely evergreen perennials (rather than in a perennial ‘border’), it has found its logical visual home.  But I don’t feel yet like I’ve quite nailed its contribution to the team.  I’m hoping one of you will be able to do that, then show me how.


Discussion

  1. I’m a fan, that colour is just to die for in my book. Though it skites a bit too close to orange for some, I suspect. It’s certainly an unusual colour, or at least a colour not seen commonly in plants, but that’s undoubtedly its strength!

    The best instance I’ve ever seen it used was a mass underplanting of Acacia cognata ‘Lime Magik’ – the foliage colours combined to make an eye-catching, almost eye-hurting, riot of colour. Attention grabbing, for sure, and an unexpected delight. The combination was just genius.

    To my eye it always looks best when combined with lime greens or downy blues, much like your combos above.

  2. I planted this beauty several years ago in a sloping native section of my garden. Over time, it has developed into an amazing foil to the natives, especially the leucophyta brownii and eremophila nivea. When viewed from the bottom of the slope looking up, the contrasting strappy habit and of course the colour does the trick.

  3. I am totally with you regarding occasionally buying plants by name, I have just bought some sweet pea seeds” April in Paris” , guess who misses overseas trips. I had not heard of this plant and up until you mentioned runs underground I was sold. I have an idea for plant of the week, kerria japonica “ Plenifora” , mum used to grow this many years ago and it really was a beautiful shrub, but maybe you already have done it?love your weekly emails, such a nice distraction during winter

    1. That’s a great idea Kay re the Kerria. Our neighbour has a beautiful Kerria that kind of suckers over to our side of the fence and is just starting to flower now and is so cheery. It also looks amazing cut as long stems and placed in a vase and last for ages.

  4. I actually saw that plant at a nursery just before the lockdown and thought to myself “Gee that’s a bold plant”, with my first reaction coming close to that I get looking at gardens created during the Phormium invasion of the 90’s. Then I remembered a picture you posted of your steppe garden with L. peregrinans painting warm brushstrokes among the Euphorbias and thought “I could play with this!”. The wandering nature of the plant frightens me a bit but I think I’ll give it a try !

    1. The Phormium Invasion. I love that. It was nothing but strap-leaves for a bit there, wasn’t it? (bit? more like a decade!). They so need to be the icing on the cake, and not the cake itself. Or the (applied with restraint) seasoning

  5. I love this plant, but have never seen it here. I will look out for it. last year at a plant fair I bought a single plant of Libertia ixioides ( think- it was labelled Liberta sp. 😏) and so far all I can say is it survived its first winter.

Leave a Comment

More Blog Posts

Further to the carrot comment..

One day I’ll achieve carrot germination like this (below)… ...

PLANT OF THE WEEK #53: Ammi majus

Ammi majus is one of an extremely short list of plants that could be described as almost too good to be true. ‘Typical McCoy hyperbole’ you think?  Here’s the justification for such a would sta ...

House Love: The Seduction and Destruction

I’m currently re-listening to an audiobook of a very light-weight novel about a late-teen in the mid 1950’s who’s family owns a massive house dating back to Medieval times, with a huge extension ...