Travels…with Beatrice

Glorious Gymeas...

I’ve been away and seeing a slice of NSW since before the new year so it is really good to be home and to know there has been some rain. Hopefully, by the time you read this, there will have been more. Maybe there will be enough to make the grass grow and I may even have to get the lawnmower out!

Many years ago I remember reading a Steinbeck book called “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”. After driving from Sydney to Maclean on the north coast of NSW, I can relate to his feelings of loss. Currently, unless you deliberately turn of the expressway, the first sign of civilisation is the Raymond Terrace area. Then nothing until Coffs Harbour and then Woodburn where I turned off to come over the mountain. I never saw any of the beautiful coastline and feel sad for the tourists that drive this road – they just pass Australia by! Not even the chance of seeing straying wildlife on the roads as it is exclusion-fenced for many kilometres. So many little towns bypassed and suffering.

I did enjoy the drive over the mountains, especially as I took the scenic route and came via Tabulam, Bonalbo and Urbenville to Killarney. Some beautiful forest country, spectacular Moreton Bay Ash trees and the devastation of the burnt Tooloom National Park area. It was raining so heavily I didn’t get to see the Tooloom falls, so maybe I will need to go back.

While away I saw many beautiful Gymea lilies in flower. These are another childhood memory but back then they were known as Gosford or Illawarra Flame lilies – times change! That name, however, was probably only in my local area, as the name ‘Gymea’ is the Eora indigenous word for the plant, and the Sydney suburb and Bay are named for the plant and not vice versa.

It is endemic to the Sydney sandstone area but able to be grown in a wide area of the east coast and in the west of Australia.

It has sword-like leaves to a metre and longer, and a stem to six metres high. The bright red flowers topping this stem are spectacular but, because they are so tall, they are rarely seen up close. The individual trumpet-shaped flowers are about 10 cm across but appear in a grouped ‘head’ about 30cm across. They are very hardy once established and like deep sandy soil. They need good drainage and water while establishing but are then very drought-tolerant and also tolerant to all but heavy frosts.

They have no pests or diseases to attack them, with the only problem being occasional damage to the flower heads by nectar-feeding birds. In their natural habitat they benefit from fire as do so many of our natives. They flower much more prolifically after a bushfire apparently, with the roots protecting themselves by pulling together and burying deeper into the soil away from the heat. Because of this I expect that on my next trip to the area I will see many more splashes of red through the bush. They would grow in our area in a spot that doesn’t get heavy frost, either in full sun or part shade. So, if you have a spot that could use a spectacular, showy, large, sword-leafed plant it may be worth a try when water for gardening is again available to us.

At the risk of repeating myself I am once again going to sing the praises of the Vincas in my garden. I was away for three weeks from the end of December and we all know how little rain there was in that time, but they have survived and are flowering beautifully – the only bright spot in an otherwise fairly barren landscape! They would have to be the most drought-tolerant, showy and forgiving plant I have ever come across. I will be spreading seed further this year so the other side of my front yard will also have spring, summer and autumn colour regardless of the weather.

I have spread seed from my peony poppies for early spring colour, so even though the garden looks neglected and barren at present there is hope for the future when we get some more rain and water in our dams.

The AGM of the Warwick Horticultural Society is being held on Wednesday 26th February in the QCWA rooms in Grafton Street commencing at 8pm… see you there!

Your first stop before buying a home. View the whole picture.