GARDENING COLUMN: All about grevilleas this week
Over the last 50 years plants like Grevillea Robyn Gordon and Grevillea Honey Gem have become some of the most popular sold in nurseries. But most gardeners would not have selected a Grevillea Honey Gem because it was a cultivar, they selected this plant because it flowers well, it attracts birds, it is very hardy and requires very little maintenance.
Grevillea Honey Gem is one of my favourite with its masses of orange honey laden brush like flowers. It is vigorous evergreen large shrub with attractive fern like foliage that produces large orange flowers most of the year. This Grevillea also has a long life. I still have the very first Grevillea Honey Gem planted in Central Queensland growing at my place.
The name cultivar is an acronym for cultivated variety, these are hybrids that have happened either by natural causes or have purposely been developed. There are hundreds of Grevillea cultivars growing in Central Queensland home gardens these days. But botanically are Grevillea cultivars worth preserving for future generations?
I think this question was best answered by the late John Wrigley Author, Botanic-garden Designer and Curator, Foliage Exporter, Australian Native Plant Enthusiast and publisher of a series landmark books on the horticulture and general botany of Australian flora, working in collaboration with photographer and illustrator Murray Fagg.
During the launch of his publication Banksias, Waratahs and Grevilleas, John paid credit to the role that the Grevillea cultivars with their varied colours, unusual shapes and unique qualities played in turning the tide from a preference for European flowers to Australian plants. For this reason John acknowledged Grevillea cultivars and their history in the book Banksias, Waratahs and Grevilleas and championed the preservation of these Grevillea cultivars.
One of the best examples of a gardener finding a unique Grevillea cultivars growing in the garden was David Gordon, founder of Myall Park in Glenmorgan, Queensland. The plant David found in his garden was to be known Grevillea Robyn Gordon, in fact the first hybrid plant officially registered in Australia. Many native plant enthusiasts believe it was this plant that turned the tide from a preference for European flowers to Australian plants, with their varied colours, unusual shapes and unique qualities.
Robyn Gordon is a hybrid between Grevillea banksii, a Queensland native and Grevillea bipinnatifida, a Western Australian native. This hybrid occurred as both parents’ plants were growing in the same garden. Grevillea Robyn Gordon is a sprawling evergreen shrub growing to 1.5m with a similar spread. The leaves are dark green fern-like with a silky underside. Masses of crimson birds attracted to the flowers are produced at intervals throughout the year. The name honours David’s daughter Robyn, who sadly passed away at the age of 16 in 1969.
The original Grevillea Robyn Gordon is still growing in the garden at Myall Park. Which dispels the myths that Grevilleas are short lived. Like any plants Grevilleas will live on if they are given basic maintenance and care.
The following are some of the Grevillea cultivars that have been grown in Central Queensland for many years that have interesting histories;
Grevillea Austraflora Canterbury Gold is a fast growing semi-prostrate shrub 50cm x 2-3m across with soft green foliage. Yellow claw flowers appear all year round. It requires a sunny well-drained position and is quite hardy. It is also attractive to honeyeaters. This plant was found growing in a front garden of a home in Canterbury Road in Blackburn, Victoria in 1971 and was marketed throughout Australia by Austraflora Nursery.
Grevillea Boongala Spinebill is a small to medium sized shrub 1-1.5m x 1.5m with deeply serrated dark green foliage and deep red toothbrush flowers all year. It requires a sunny well-drained position and is very attractive and hardy. It attracts honeyeaters and is suitable for use as a low hedge or screen. It is also beautiful as cut flowers. Grevillea Boongala Spinebill was first produced by the late Sid Cadwell from his nursery ‘Boongala’, which he operated in the 1960s near Annangrove, New South Wales. The hybrid became very popular in nurseries throughout the east coast of Australia between 1970 and 1990 but gradually disappeared from nursery outlets in the 1990s.
Grevillea Bronze Rambler is a fast growing semi-prostrate shrub 50cm x 2-3m across with deeply lobed leaves with bronze new growth. It produces masses of dark red toothbrush like flowers in spring attracting honey-eating birds. This plant arose in the garden of Bill and Lyn Wilson of Moe in Victoria. It was released in 1985 at Victoria’s Garden Week. There is a sad side to this plant as hope for the future, with a royalty from this plant going to the Royal Children’s Hospital in memory of the Wilson’s daughter Jennifer who died of Leukaemia
Grevillea Canberra Gem is a fast growing, medium growing, rounded evergreen shrub and produces an abundance of small pink to red spider-like flowers during spring. Hardy in well-drained sites in full sun, it is frost hardy and suitable for seaside planting. Grevillea Canberra Gem was developed by the then Chief Nurseryman at Yarralumla Government Nursery Mr P Moore in 1966.
Grevillea Clearview David is an evergreen medium to tall dense shrub with a vigorous growth habit and dark green prickly leaves and rosy red flowers during winter and spring. It likes an open sunny well-drained position and is frost tolerant. It attracts nectar-feeding birds to the garden and can be lightly pruned to shape. This plant was developed by one of the countries pioneering native nurseryman, Bill Cane at Clearview Nursery in the late 1940s and named after one of his sons.
Grevillea Pink Parfait, an exciting hybrid growing 4m x 2m with pink red flowers up to 15cm long throughout the year with the heaviest flowering in winter. It is an excellent specimen shrub that attracts birds and requires a well-drained sunny position. It responds well to pruning and is frost tolerant. This plant was grown from seeds collected from a Brisbane garden and grown by Townsville’s John Donahue in the early 1980s.
Grevillea Poorinda Adorning, a low, evergreen spreading shrub growing up to 1m high and 1.5m across, it is an excellent rockery plant. It does require well-drained sites in full sun and is frost hardy and suitable for seaside planting. It produces clusters of woolly golden flowers in winter and spring. Leo Hodge first grew this plant in 1965 at his Poorinda property in East Gippsland in Victoria.
Grevillea Shirley Howie is a small compact shrub 1-1.5m x 1.5m with narrow dark green leaves. During winter and spring masses of dark pink spider flowers cover the plant. It will attract honeyeaters and requires a sunny well-drained position. Grevillea Shirley Howie originated at Howie’s Nursery at Coopers Plains Queensland and was named after Jim’s wife Shirley.
John Wrigley publication “Banksias, Waratahs and Grevilleas” would make a great edition for any Grevillea enthusiast library.