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.
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.
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.
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.