Tuesday, 12 February 2013

My Favourite Flowering Shrubs

Whether they are part of the understorey beneath our palms and other trees, a stand-alone specimen or part of a screen along our fence-line, shrubs play important roles in Missy’s garden. With an acre to fill we needed to garden on a larger scale than you would when planning a courtyard garden or even a small backyard, so shrubs become a staple component. We had lots of spaces to fill when the garden was new and water restrictions meant that we could choose only the hardiest of plants. Some of the shrubs I chose didn't cope with our conditions. Others have thrived. Some have been removed and replaced because they thrived a little too well and needed constant pruning. If trees are the framework of a garden then shrubs must be the walls.

What makes a shrub one of my favourites?
  • It must look good for most of the year.
  • It must be suitable for our sub-tropical climate - able to cope with long dry spells as well as the occasional drenching and with heat as well as the occasional frost.
  • It must be low maintenance. I don’t have time for constant preening and fussing.
  • Ideally, it should grow from a cutting. I like the idea of buying one or two and propagating more.

1.    Golden Candles (Pachystachys lutea) is quite an old fashioned plant.  The floral spikes consist of golden yellow bracts with white flowers. The bracts remain on the plant, retaining their colour, long after the flowers have fallen.   Two of my Golden Candles are planted in a lightly shaded spot in the garden and are almost continuously in flower. I have another in denser shade should move it because it has spindly growth and very few flowers. Small honeyeater birds love this shrub. 

2.    Allamanda cathartica Stansill's Double', a cultivar with double flowers
This plant is not a climbing plant but it lends itself really well to being tied to some kind of support. The long, trailing woody branches can be easily directed and tied up to look like a vine. Without support, you can prune it into a gorgeous shrub. They need to be pruned heavily in spring and summer to keep their shape and encourage flowers. You can grow new plants from the prunings. Alamanda also come in single & double flower, white, purple, pink or orange.
3.    Brazilian Red Cloak (Megaskepasma erythrochlamys) In flower this is a brilliant plant. Mine flowers in late summer and autumn. It’s relatively easy to grow but is quite weak-stemmed and can
suffer damage in storms. Again, you can grow new plants from cuttings, and it's surpising how quickly they grow.
4.    Justica carnia like at least part shade and will survive some neglect but seem to respond to regular watering and fertilising (or a good downpour of rain) by flowering profusely. Mine are under frangipani so have winter sunshine but part-shade in summer. Justicas (in general) come in a wide variety of colours and flower types - lots to collect. Most can be propagated from cuttings.
5. Hibiscus – hibiscus rosa-sinensis
What’s not to like. Dark green foliage and beautiful flowers in a huge range of colours. Some can grow to around 5m if not trimmed.
They are pruned each Winter.  Flowers can be single or double.  Foliage can be variegated eg "Snow Queen". 
They like a full sun and well drained soil. It's important they don't get wet feet. I fertilise my grafted bushes with a specialised hibiscus food to promote flowering, but the older varieties seem to flower without any special care. I have some as feature plants and some along a fenceline as an informal hedge.

6.    Calliandra tweedii is a smaller growing calliandra (up to 2m). For most of the year it is covered in red pompoms – at its best over winter. It’s a tough plant and will tolerate dry conditions. An occasional trim keeps it in shape. (I haven’t grown one from a cutting but they self-seed)

7.    Mussaeandas have been my greatest challenge to grow but they are a favourite because they are spectacular and I know they do well in this area – I just need to learn how to grow them and get them established. When they are deciduous in winter they should be kept dry but need frequent watering when the weather is hot. I currently have two and I’m hoping that since they’ve survived a winter and a summer they are in my garden to stay. (the photo is from someone else's garden - mine is still quite scawny)
8.    Ixoras (ixora coccinea) bloom for much of the year and look good even when not in bloom. I have a few different colours (pink, orange and coral) but there are more I’d like to collect. They seem to do equally well in sun or shade.
Although ixoras can grow to 2m in height, mine are about 1m or less in height. A couple are dwarf varieties. They rarely need pruning, will grow from cuttings and add great colour.
9.    Mock Orange (Murraya paniculata) has rich, glossy, green foliage and makes a great hedging shrub.  It grows in full sun to part shade and will tolerate most soil types.  I’ve propagated them from both cutting and seed. Very easy to grow but requires trimming to maintain height otherwise can become quite large.  Highly scented, white flowers are prolific after rain.
10. Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulchemima) A favourite because they provide bright colour in winter. If you want a plant that will grow easily from cuttings, these are the best. They need to be pruned heavily at the end of winter and should be pruned again in February to keep their shape. We have a red double and a white poinsettia. They also come in pink and yellow and even with variegated leaves.

When I started to write this post I intended combining flowering and non-flowering shrubs but I have so many favourites I’ll cover non-flowering shrubs in another post.
What are your favourite shrubs?



  1. Hi Ros, Just what I needed to see, I would love to grow more tropical plants, but I am worried about slight frosts, I just planted a franjipani and an hibiscus and an strelitzia in the sunniest part of the backyard. Do all the plants you have featured tolerate cold and mild frost in winter. We are in Sydneys outer west and quite a lot of tropical plants grow reasonably well out here. I have an Ixora in a pot which I would like to plant out in the garden, but they are not supposed to flower well in shade, do these plants tolerate light frost as well?.

    1. We get a few days of frost most Winters (down to -3 or 4), being in the outer west of Brisbane. We also get a few days in Summer over 40. I have a couple of Ixoras in shade and they do flower but not as well as those in suny spots.

  2. We have Murraya here and it does have a delightful fragrance, I actually just did a post on it, but most of the plants in my garden are tough and hardy flowering and foliage plants, that can withstand the extremes of heat and cold and sometimes frost we get here, I long to have something a bit different from nandinas and camellias and the like. I like the Calliandra and there is one in the nursery, will it withstand a light frost and full sun?

    1. My calliandras are in full sun and quite exposed and don't seem to mind our light frosts. They flower most in Winter.

    2. Thanks for the info Ros.

  3. Ros,
    You have featured some lovely shrubs here. I think I should maybe move my golden candle into a sunnier position - maybe that is what is wrong with it :)

  4. Yes, you are right, they are candidates for your criteria. They all grow here too and we have some of them. Our golden candles i plant at an angular side of the street to cover the space and minimize further erosion of the side street, that side now is a long flowering hedge and lovely. I just cut them at the start of the rainy season for more organized growths. Ixora, mussaenda, hibiscus, ixoras i have them too. You should include the Heliconia rostrata that despite neglect will flower and stay there for a long time. By the way, our garden is a self supporting one!

  5. A great selection there, all so exotic (for us anyway)! Favourite shrub....hmmm...so much to choose from....at the moment I can think of Pittosporums.

  6. Ros, this was a lovely post...lots of nice flowering plants in your garden.
    Don't worry about the Mussaeandas, they will settle down and grow big and strong. They always start out looking quite spindly.
    Love the great shot of Missy on the top right of your blog....so adorable.
    Pity I can't send her some of Brownie's birthday cake that I baked for him yesterday to mark his first year of being here with us.

  7. HI Missy
    I have all of the above shrubs! They do very well in my garden too. The double alamanda is the best in my garden; I find the others survive but can be a bit temperamental. As for Ixora, the most common one in Sydney is the 'Maui yellow'. It grows slowly for me but generally flowers for most of the year too.

    Museandas arent nearly as delicate as some people think; mine have been growing well. I have to water them very heavily, because I have lost two from underwatering. I may post some more pictures of them soon.

  8. Some great choices, Ros. I have a real soft spot for the Ixoras. They flower well, are trouble free and fit in with different styles of garden.

  9. I don't think any of my favorite shrubs grow in your climate. Pointsettias are tender house plants purchased for color and greenery at Christmas here. I love all of your selections, especially the allemanda and the red pom pom shrub. The red shrub reminds me of callistemon, or bottle brush plant.


I would love to know what you think and appreciate your comments.


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