Australia’s Eremophilas: Changing Gardens for a Changing Climate
Over the years I’ve purchased many reference books on gardening and there’s also been many that I’ve looked at and put back on the shelf.
One of the things I’ve also learnt is that there’s plenty of gardening books out there that are just basically a compilation of glossy photos and useless information that can quite easily be sourced anywhere on the internet for free. They are quite often written by famous or celebrity gardeners trying to make a bit of extra “pocket money” just off their own name. They always tend to come out just before Christmas and are rather light on for substance and as a consequence quite often only get read once.
So have you ever felt disappointed after you’ve bought one of these books? Well I know I have and as a result I’ve become very selective on what I now buy and recommend. So basically for me whenever I now buy a gardening book it has to have information that isn’t easily found elsewhere, it has to have lots of colour photos and it has to be as complete as possible in it’s content about the subject it’s about.
Therefore when I came across the book, “Australia’s Eremophilas”, while surfing the internet mid last year it caught my attention straight away.
As a home gardener, I’d been growing Eremophilas for some years and had been attracted to them because of their reputation as drought tolerant plants. Having started off with just a few plants I saw how they not only survived in drought conditions but actually thrived as they outperformed other garden plants not just for there ability to grow without very much water but also because they flowered prolifically as well.
Therefore I suppose you could say I was hooked on Eremophilas which led me to buy more and more different species and cultivars, and the more I bought the more I became aware of the diversity and scope of the Genus Eremophila. It also became apparent to me that it was more than possible to create a diverse drought tolerant garden and fill it only with Eremophilas.
Therefore like I said, when I first came across “Australia’s Eremophilas” I was attracted to it straight away but I was still unconvinced. You see I was desperate for it to live up to my expectations on what a gardening book should be so I read the description which went something live this.
“An up to date Reference of Australia’s Eremophilas written by Experts. Contains a brief description, extensive cultivation and growing hints and additional notes for each of the 216 described species of Eremophila. Also includes many hybrids and cultivars with information on pests and diseases, propagating from cuttings, seed and how to graft. It contains 270 pages of information and is packed full beautiful glossy photos.”
This was fantastic! It appeared as if it contained everything I was after in a reference gardening book.
Firstly it contained lots of information not readily available elsewhere. It was as close to complete as you could get as it covered 216 species, as well as many hybrids and cultivars, plus how and where to grow them.
It had information on pests and diseases and how to propagate them, not only by seed but by cuttings and grafting as well. It also had colour photos of all the species, cultivars and hybrids.
And finally the thing that impressed me the most was it said it was written by EXPERTS. Not by gardening celebrities, but by people that I had never heard of before. People that I’m sure most gardeners have never heard of before, but to me that didn’t matter as it confirmed that what I’d already read was correct and that it was a book with substance. So I went ahead and checked their credentials and this is what I found.
Norma Boschen, Maree Goods and Russell Wait have all been growing Eremophilas since the 1970′s and are all members of the Australian Eremophila Study Group which is a part of the Australian Plant Society. Therefore what better credentials are there than that.
So having read the review I then felt confident enough to go ahead and order the book online and I must say, I am glad that I did. Australia’s Eremophilas is just jam packed full of glossy colour photos that really do show off the diversity of the Eremophila. It has more than lived up to my expectations before I ordered it.
There are just so many Eremophilas displayed in this book that I’d never heard of before and as consequence it has now turned me into even more of a collector. It has allowed me to view photos of Eremophilas and then check their description to see how well they are suited to my garden conditions, as well as identify species that I’d bought that were mislabeled in the nursery. It even inspired me to go ahead and create this blog.
So if you’d like to discover more about how to grow Eremophilas in the home garden then please take some time to read my blog. It’s written from the perspective of a home gardener and is not intended to be a complete work on the Genus Eremophila. I am not an expert but my intention is to merely provide information that may not be easily accessed anywhere else.
If you are after a complete work on the Genus Eremophila or just a great gardening book (packed full of colour photos), that would make a fantastic gift for someone, then Australia’s Eremophilas is your answer.
I sincerely hope you find it of interest and please feel free to write and leave a comment below.
If you’re new to the magical world of Eremophilas then Eremophila Maculata is probably one of the best choices to start with. It’s fairly easy to grow, readily available in most nurseries and the other great feature is it comes in a variety of flower colours due to the fact there are several different sub species and hybrids to choose from.
So if you’re looking around for it the most common variety you may come across is the red form which flowers mostly over winter and into spring. There is also a deep pink form as well which in some circles is said to have cerise flowers. I have one of these growing in my garden and I’ve found it to be a very prolific flowerer which one year started to flower in winter and then continued through spring and summer, before finally having a short break in autumn to then again flower up again in winter. When I bought this particular Eremophila it’s label identified it as Eremophila Maculata subsp brevifolia but on closer inspection I’m not sure if this is completely correct as I believe the leaf shape on brevifolia is more of a rounder leaf.
If you live in the USA, though I do believe that brevifolia is known as “Valentine” due to the flowering reaching it’s peak in February.
Eremophila Maculata also comes in flower colours such as Apricot, Orange, Pale Pink and of course Yellow.
So if you’re into yellow flowering plants there are two that are worth having a look at that are equally worth while but also slightly different.
The first is Eremophila Maculata “Aurea’. This variety forms quite a rounded attractive bush especially if regularly pruned. It will flower over winter and also sporadically throughout the year. The flowers are quite attractive but the only real downfall of this Eremophila from my perspective is it doesn’t appear to be as prolific a flowerer as some Eremophilas.
The other yellow flower form is Eremophila “Winter Gold”. This also flowers over winter and has yellow flower buds en mass which persist for a couple of months before finally opening into a pale yellow flower. For my way of thinking they don’t actually form as brilliant a feature as those of Aurea but the bright yellow buds are quite prolific and do persist for quite a while before opening so depending on your taste this may be the highlight of this form.
This other point to make about Winter Gold is that it doesn’t grow as uniform as Aurea but if you prune it each year after flowering it is possible to easily shape it into quite an attractive bush.
Another form of Eremophila Maculata I have, or maybe should say had, growing in my garden is the apricot flowering form. This plant recently got blown over from a recent downburst from a thunderstorm. The apricot flower colour on this variety though, was a colour that I wasn’t really all that taken by. The colour was a bit dull and it wasn’t really all that prolific. I probably could have taken some cuttings before I finished off what the thunderstorm didn’t quite finish but I felt it was a bit inferior. Therefore if you do come across an apricot form make sure it’s in flower if you’re considering buying as I’m sure there may be some apricot forms that do have a more superior flower colour.
Another flower colour to keep an eye out for is the purple variety. The one I’ve got in my garden is called Eremophila “Thundercloud”, which for me is a bit ironic because the wind from the thunderstorm that flattened my apricot form also split the trunk of “Thundercloud”. This has very attractive purple flowers but just like Aurea it isn’t a particularly prolific flowerer but if you have a look around I know there are some slightly different varieties of Thundercloud so some of these may be more superior.
What I have done though, is to prune my Thundercloud back to the stump to see if it reshoots. Maybe it will of maybe it won’t but if it doesn’t it can be easily replaced as Eremophila Maculata is a reasonably quick grower, tolerates most soil types and responds really well to hard pruning if need be.
So for if you come across the cerise flowering form of Eremophila Maculata you really can’t go wrong and along with Eremophila “Winter Gold”, both are very prolific flowers but I’m sure anyone who’s grown Eremophila Maculata has their own favourites. But if you’re new to Eremophilas, Eremophila Maculata is a great one to start with keep an eye out for it at your nursery and it might just be the first of many Eremophilas you’ll grow in your garden.
If you’re going to grow Eremophilas successfully in your garden then one of the most important tasks you can do is to prune them when required and the great thing about Eremophilas is that most respond really well to pruning.
But firstly why would you want to prune your Eremophilas in the first place? Well, one of my favourite things to do is go Open Gardens that grow Australian Native Plants and one of the things I’ve discovered is many gardeners don’t bother pruning their Eremophilas and as such many don’t grow into the most attractive garden plants. They can grow rather untidily which I supose doesn’t really give the uneducated gardener any real incentive to go out and plant some Eremophilas in their own garden.
Therefore I’ve often wondered why a plant that responds so well to pruning and shaping gets such neglected treatment in so many gardens? Is it because a lot of gardeners don’t know how to prune properly or is there another reason?
Anyway what I’ve discovered over the years is that if you do prune your Eremophilas correctly and when required, you can very easily transform them into very attractive garden plants that flower a lot more prolifically, can be maintained in a more attractive and manageable size and will probably live many years longer.
So how do you prune your Eremophilas?
Well firstly it should be stated that Eremophilas aren’t unique in how you go about pruning them and most of these methods can be used for pruning other Australian Native Plants, as well as most other garden plants in general for that matter.
So the first thing you should do is tip prune your Eremophilas when they’re young, whether you’ve grown it from a cutting, propagated it from seed or bought it from a nursery. This is one thing that is often overlooked especially with nursery bought plants. Quite often when you buy your Eremophila from the nursery it will be covered in flowers and your first instinct is to plant it is the ground and admire the flowers. My advice is if you really like to look at the flowers (and who doesn’t) then you’re better of tip pruning it and then waiting for the flowers the following season because they will be more prolific then than if you don’t tip prune it.
The other advantage from tip pruning your Eremophila when young is it will put less pressure on the roots to support it and hold it upright when young. Can I ask you how many times you’ve planted a nursery bought plant or even one you’ve grown from a cutting, removed the small stake and it’s nearly fallen over. The roots still haven’t had a chance to develop in the pot so they still aren’t strong enough to support the weight of the plant.
Of course you can always leave the stake in place and then risk one of the following happening. Either you will forget about and it eventually becomes part of the plant as the plant grows around it or you remember and one day remove it and the plant just falls over anyway as the plant has grown up using the stake to support it as the roots have had little incentive to grow and support the plant as they should.
Therefore what I do is remove the stake and then tip prune the Eremophila which reduces the weight of the plant above ground level so it can then (in most cases) be easily supported by the under developed root system. You will then find that roots will develop as the top half of the plant develops and as a result you will find that the Eremophila will develop a strong root system that will easily support the weight of a fully developed bushy Eremophila.
So what if I live in a really windy area I here you say?
Well firstly when you prune your Eremophila you’ll find that there will be less of the plant exposed to the effects of the wind and secondly if you really need to you can always add a temporary flexible tie and attach it to a small stake that is away from the plant. The intention here is to give the plant just enough support to stop it from blowing over but not too much support so that it won’t still move around in the wind. Remember it is this movement in the wind which will help make the roots grow and develop strong. As a very famous man once said, “you can’t fly without gravity”.
So if you tip prune your Eremophilas right from the start you will get them off to a good start.
The next general rule I use is to prune them after they finish flowering. How hard you prune them will then depend on the individual plant, your preference and how old the plant is. Eremophilas, generally speaking can withstand some very harsh pruning. Therefore if you have older bushes that are looking quite tired you may be able to cut them right back to bare branches that will regrow again. This could be a great way to rejuvenate an older bush. Younger bushes might just need another tip prune for there second prune and then more mature bushes may respond from pruning up to 2/3 of their size if you want to limit their overall size.
The most important thing about pruning is to get to know your individual species and hybrids. Some will respond slightly differently and the best way to find out what is best for a particular plant is to experiment. When pruning, prune part of the Eremophila back more than you feel comfortable and then wait and see how it responds. If it grows back then you then know that in the future you can prune it back really hard if you need to. If it doesn’t then you know that it’s best not to prune it back below the green growth where it normally grows back from.
When to prune you Eremophilas is very important as well. If you prune late in autumn there is a fair chance that the plant won’t start to grow again until the following spring. I have a pink form of Eremophila Maculata growing in my garden that flowers quite prolifically over winter and most years will get quite a harsh prune in spring to keep it to a reasonable size that I’m happy with. During the spring of 2008 though, it just kept on flowering and then continued to flower right throughout summer and then into early autumn. I just couldn’t bring myself to prune it until early autumn and then I only got around to pruning the back part of it because the front half still had flowers on it. When the front finally finished flowering I then pruned the rest of the bush in late autumn. By this stage the back of the plant had started to regrow and then stopped because the weather had started to cool. The rest of the bush then didn’t regrow until the following spring but amazingly it still did have some flowers on it over winter, it’s normal flowering season.
Therefore pruning during autumn should be avoided unless you know for certain your Eremophila will still continue grow throughout winter. Of course your local climate will some effect on this as well depending on how harsh or mild your winter is.
Another technique I often use during the growing season is to pinch out the growing tips of branches to encourage even more branching. Say for instance if your Eremophila flowers over winter you will probably prune it during spring and then by mid or late summer it should have put on quite a considerable amount of growth again. You may also find the some of the branches on the new growth are protruding above the rest of the growth. As a consequence, if you want, you can then go and tip prune this protruding growth which will encourage more growth below where you’ve pruned and in turn increase the flowers it will produce during the upcoming winter. The important consideration here though is you should make sure you don’t do this too late in autumn for the very reasons I mentioned earlier.
So these are just a few basic pruning tips. You don’t have to prune your Eremophilas every year. The best tip is to tip prune right from the start as this will get your Eremophila off to a good start and you will find that in many cases if you’ve pruned well, you may not have to prune again the following year. The advantage with this is that many Eremophilas will put on a second flush of flowers and some will just continue to flower right through spring and into summer.
So pruning can be a personal thing. Not all gardeners are into it but if you are and not sure how best to go about it then I hope you’ve found this short article of interest.
One of the biggest trends in gardening over recent years is the move toward drought tolerant plants and drought tolerant gardens. With many areas of the planet experiencing drought or lower than average rainfall never has there been a better time to look toward garden plants that can survive on a minimal amount of water, flower prolifically over an extended period and are relatively easy to maintain.
Enter the humble Eremophila. With over 215 species and subspecies and an ever growing quantity of hybrids and cultivars, there is an Eremophila to suit nearly any position in the garden or the personal preference of even the fussiest gardener. So it would be safe to conclude that with so many different varieties to choose from then it would not be easy to answer the question……….
“How do I grow Eremophilas?”
Well probably the best way to go about answering this question is to go about it in a general manner and then understand that there will be exceptions to these rules.
Firstly most Eremophilas do like reasonable drainage. They don’t like to be planted in an area where water will sit for some time after rain. Therefore plant them in a well draining soil or if you have a heavier soil or one will a clay subsoil plant them on a slope or a raised garden bed.
This is something that can be overlooked as quite often Eremophilas are turned to in times of drought and as a consequence can be planted in inappropriate places. Therefore they can survive quite happily for many months and even years surviving quite happily on very low rainfall right up until the drought breaks. Then all of a sudden they find the soil they are growing in is wet and boggy and as a consequence they start to deteriorate and because most of the water may be in the sub soil it may not be apparent to the gardener and all of sudden the gardener starts scratching their head wondering what the problem is. Therefore where you plant your Eremophilas can be quite important.
Generally speaking most Eremophilas also prefer to grow in full sun. In their natural environment they tend to grow in open arid areas devoid of larger trees that could provide shelter so in the home garden they will perform best in an area that gets sunshine for the majority of the day.
Most Eremophilas respond well to pruning as well and as a consequence well pruned Eremophilas will flower more prolifically and make a much better garden specimen. The best time to prune is after flowering but with some species care should be taken in Autumn as you may find that some will then not grow again until the following spring.
Mulching is a practice that is also beneficial as it will maintain water near the roots where it needs to be. Many gardeners have a tendency to use organic mulches and these can be beneficial as they do break down and provide nutrients to the soil. I have a preference for inorganic mulches though as they don’t absorb rainfall and allow water to run off and into the soil below. Lets face it, organic mulches are great for keeping water in but if you live in a low rainfall area you must accept that quite a bit of the precious rainfall will be absorbed by the organic mulch and it will only be the excess rainfall that will eventually make it’s way to the soil below.
As I said organic mulches are great for keeping water in but next time you get some light rain (say 5mm) go and check just how much of that rainwater actually made its way to the soil below. Therefore the thickness of your organic should reflect your rainfall and watering habits. I use 20mm stones as mulch, as the rain just runs straight off them and into the soil below plus they look great as well.
Most Eremophilas will withstand some frost as most grow naturally in open areas that do experience freezing conditions over winter. If you live in an area that gets regular heavy frost though you may have to protect your Eremophilas as there aren’t many varieties that will stand up to these conditions. If you do live in a frost prone area then select your plants wisely as not all varieties do withstand frost.
Wind can be a problem for some Eremophilas as well as some varieties do have very brittle branches but you will find that most are tolerant of average wind conditions and some make great windbreaks as well.
Therefore these are just some of the basics about growing Eremophilas. I’ve got over 20 different varieties growing in my garden and have found them all to be hardy and easy to grow, so over a period of time I’ll get around to writing about them all but in the meantime if you haven’t got an Eremophila growing in your garden then keep an eye out for them when next in a nursery and maybe you’ll end up falling for them as well, just like I did.