Gardening / In praise of kangaroo paws

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The oh-so-delicate blooms of kangaroo paws.

Gardening writer CEDRIC BRYANT shares his love of kangaroo paws. 

ANGUS Stewart is possibly the best-known plant breeder of Anigozanthos or kangaroo paws and it’s easy to see why gardeners in Australia here and, increasingly, overseas are fascinated with this Aussie plant. 

Cedric Bryant.

A look at the intricate detail of the flowers shows why it is also a favourite of botanical artists and for floral art arrangements. 

Kangaroo paws are a summer feature in the Botanic Gardens, but are they easy to grow? The simple answer is yes.

I will use the common name, kangaroo paws as the botanical name can be a tongue twister. They are classed as a strappy-leaved perennial with a rhizome root system similar to the tall, bearded iris. 

Due in particular to Angus Stewart, there is an ever widening range of varieties and colours growing from 50 centimetres tall to 1.5 metres. Choosing a particular variety will depend on the size of the garden. 

No garden? No worries: they can be grown in pots using the newer dwarf varieties. 

Two essential points to successful growing are good drainage and preferably full sun, although they will tolerate some shade for part of the day. They die back in winter and, like hellebores, the old flower stalks and leaves can be cut back to ground level after flowering in the autumn. In addition, they are great for attracting birds to the garden.

WITH the ever decreasing size of suburban gardens, there is a constant demand for low-growing, evergreen, flowering shrubs. 

Here are some of my favourites, which I have grown in our garden for more than 25 years – and I know they are tough. 

As an example, Escallonias, originally from the Andean region of South America, have to be tough to survive there! Some grow to more than two metres, but here I am discussing the dwarf varieties such as red knight, which has glossy evergreen leaves and rich cerise flowers. 

It grows to 1.5 metres tall, although can be clipped after flowering to keep it to one metre as a low hedge. Similarly, pink pixie (also sold under the label of “Hedge with an Edge”), which grows naturally to only 80 centimetres.

Then there’s the large Osmanthus family, which grows to more than three metres. For smaller gardens, heaven sent’s tubular white fragrant flowers are set off against its dark green leaves. While this can grow up to 1.5 metres tall, I have kept ours as a dwarf hedge to just one metre tall and half a metre wide, growing in front of camellia sasanqua Sarah. Osmanthus originates mainly in China, where the climate can range from drought to heat but certainly has no problem with our climate here.

Camellia sasanqua can be given a haircut now to encourage more flowers next year. I recommend up to a third off. This will not cause any harm and they start forming buds for next year’s flowers almost immediately.

Just how long will hellebores last in a vase? In the garden, in general, the flowers tend to hang down and yet, when placed in a vase, they rise up to show off. How long do they last as a cut flower? This vase of hellebores in our dining room (with ducted heating) is now well into its fourth week, with regular changes of water.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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