Growing New Zealand Plants In Southern California

Cordyline 'Festival Grass'

I think I've mentioned this previously, but my basic rule for all New Zealand plants is: morning sun, afternoon shade. New Zealand is not Australia. Think of a Los Angeles climate for most (not all, just most) Australian plants, but for New Zealand, think San Francisco: cooler, moister.

Phormiums, Coprosma, Pittosporum, Metrosideros, Cordyline. Five wonderful New Zealanders to contemplate.

I'm not as completely thrilled with Phormiums as I used to be, because the moderately sized, colorful selections have often reverted to green, overly vigorous monsters. Or they die from root mealies, which are plentiful here. But some have done well, the best in morning sun, afternoon shade. Shade preserves their brightest color and prevents sun burnt spots on the strappy leaves. This is the first year mine have ever had flowers--possibly due to the whopping 20" (50 cm) of rain we got this winter. Orange flowers, purple stems, I swoon:

Phormium 'Pink Stripe'
Phormium flower

I may be the only person on earth who adores Coprosmas. I show them to visitors and the reaction is always "Meh." Well, fine! More left for me. I think these will take full sun--given more water than I am willing to provide. But with afternoon shade they do well with a moderate amount of water.

"Meh." Seriously?!?

Coprosma 'Tequila Sunrise'
Coprosma 'Tequila Sunrise'

I got this Native Sons selection, 'Painters Palette' for 50% off. The center stem had reverted to plain green. I cut it out, leaving all the color. If it reverts again--well, colorful or plain green, it's still going to cover up that drain pipe behind it.

Coprosma 'Painters Palette'
Coprosma 'Painters Palette'

Pittosporum tennuifolium varieties and crosses have become maybe overly popular the past few years. In my neighborhood these can be touchy--I killed the cute (and not cheap!) little 'Golf Ball' twice, and I've seen a surprising number of dead Pitts of various kinds on my walks. When buying, I check the root system before I buy the plant--too small, skip it. Too root bound, skip it. Most especially, been sitting in blazing sun on hot concrete at the garden center too long, skip it.

Perhaps they are an exception to the afternoon shade rule--100% full sun here in Sunset 23 seems okay for them, but some afternoon shade seems to make for better looking foliage on a smaller water budget. Lovely 'Marjorie Channon' I could wish a little denser, but otherwise no complaints. 7 or 8 feet after 5 years. They'd probably be a little bigger with more water.

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Marjorie Channon'
Pittosporum 'Marjorie Channon'

I had two Metrosideros excelsa 'Gala' languishing in pots for a year. They were Not Happy. Potted in full sun they were even less happy, but in the ground, this plant may be another exception to my afternoon shade rule. I finally found them a reasonably sunny spot after they, trapped in their pots, mostly defoliated and crisped.  This torture-by-nursery-pot instigated another rule: Buy any plant you want, if you have a spot in the ground for it.  At least in the case of Metrosideros, they survived torture-by-pot:  in the ground they bounced back and have bloomed for the first time. Nice! I should have treated them better from the start.

Metrosideros is another plant that seems to draw the "Meh." reaction, but live with it a while, and your affection grows. A mature, large (20 meter) tree develops air roots that reach down into the earth and become secondary trunks, like the Banyan.

Metrosideros excelsa 'Gala'

Metrosideros excelsa 'Gala'

Metrosideros excelsa 'Gala'

And Cordyline. I consider not the typical palm-like red or bronzy Cordyline, or 'Torbay Dazzler', or even the delightfully lurid 'Electric Pink'. Rather, the shrubby, glossy wine-dark red 'Festival Grass', which is one of my favorite plants, despite not being a rose. I keep it in a pot for a couple of years, until it starts to look unhappy. As with Phormiums, afternoon shade prevents sunburned foliage. Then into the ground where it regains its zest for living and produces flowers that twinkle like little stars against the rich red foliage. Ah, I swoon again.

Cordyline 'Festival Grass'

I would like to visit New Zealand, based solely on the wonderful plants. In a way, I've already been there: I haven't traveled New Zealand, but I've grown New Zealand. What is a few days in a hotel compared to that?

Comments

  1. I love reading your posts -- my head bobs in recognition nonstop. Yes, I love coprosmas (County Park Red current fave), yes, I want to visit New Zealand, yes, I've been put off phormiums but testing the waters again...but I've never grown metrosideros! And I've had the reverse experience with festival grass -- languishes in the ground then recovers in a pot. And my golfball pits are flourishing, fingers crossed. So we're nearly on parallel tracks.

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  2. Thank you Denise, you are very kind! I do envy you your living 'Golf Ball' Pitts. Such a cute plant. Do you have any success with Hebes?

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  3. Hebe pimeleoides 'Quicksilver' shares pot space with an agave. It's been abused and doesn't have that silvery zip at the moment but is still alive. That's it for hebes currently. Have killed H. pinguifolia 'Pagei' a few times though.

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  4. Hebe pimeleoides 'Quicksilver' shares pot space with an agave. It's been abused and doesn't have that silvery zip at the moment but is still alive. That's it for hebes currently. Have killed H. pinguifolia 'Pagei' a few times though.

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  5. Can we grow hebes? I thought we had a nematode or a fungus or something that killed them dead.

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  6. I've seen them here and there, but have never tried Hebes myself. I think along the coast (cool, damp) is best, most similar to NZ conditions, though to my great surprise I just saw one several years old and doing well in hardly cool and damp Claremont.

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