23 March 2010

Tough plants in tricky spots

All around my garden you will find collections of 'filler' plants, little clumps of stalwarts that have managed to grow and even prosper in difficult spots where their more exotic predecessors long ago gave up the ghost. Living as we do in a sub-tropical climate where these plants are pretty mundane, they aren't often photographed and visitors rarely notice them. But I often stop when passing to admire their tenacity. And on occasion I have had to defend them when a casual observer has suggested I  'get rid of that thing'. No, I say, these are survivors who have served me well. I can afford to let them have a piece of otherwise unproductive clay. (Secretly now and then, I even throw them a dollop of fish emulsion!)

Here, then, are some plodders.


That's an alternanthera above – not sure which one because my 5-metre row of this little hedge came from offshoots given to me by a friend. It occupies a tough edge alongside the front terrace, in full sun for much of the day during summer and so sometimes quite dry, but also getting lots of run-off from the terrace in big rains. A lime tree and other shrubs nearby don't spare these plants much sustenance, but they soldier on regardless, giving a multi-colour display all year round where other perennials and less hardy annuals have failed.

This abelia thrives in two difficult spots. They, too, live in a patch that alternates between dry-as-a-bone and soggy-wet. Under one of these shrubs, in a narrow strip between the pool and a retaining wall, a duck once laid a clutch of eggs. Sadly they were raided by (I think) a lizard before hatching. The little bell-shaped white-and-pink flowers go on and on all summer and beyond.

Here are two versions of the same plant – a variegated dracaena or cordyline – which I keep for no reason except that they have thrived in a spot where it took a long while to establish my gardenias. 
And though the gardenias alongside are now doing well (their leaves even poking through the low-growing one above left), there is something about the delicate pastel colours of these strappy leaves set against the background of darker greens in the distance that continues to earn them their keep. But the shape is all wrong for this bed now, so this autumn I will take them out and use the tops to start a new clump in some other difficult spot.
I don't frankly know if the flowers at left are those of heliconia (false bird-of-paradise) or strelitzia (real bird-of-paradise), but given their modest single colour I suspect they're the false one. Once again, the plants are offshoots from a friend's tropical garden. But they're doing well under the dappled shade from a big old ti-tree where other plants have failed. This little clump alongside the parking area makes a pretty picture when viewed from my studio windows down there on the other side of the driveway.
Another real bonanza along the driveway is a tough old mandevilla vine, whose overhanging branches bearing big yellow blooms I must, regrettably, trim away very soon if we are to continue to be able to open and close the front gate.

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.