Pete’s Leaves & Shoots … ’19 promising newcomer grower

Agave america, a hero plant for the largest statement maker
Agave americana, a hero plant for the largest statement maker

Young growers with ‘planty’ interest are great to find, so when I came across Pete Bowen at his 3 year old growing space at Sommersby on the Central Coast last month –  I stayed to have a good look around.. !

Now dear reader, I don’t want you thinking each grower covered on DGN Blog amounts to a random roll-out of kooky plants in no particular order or use. So if you’re reading this in the hopes of expanding an existing plant offering to clients for your designs, into interesting non-general line to give your work an edge – you’ve come to the right place !! To this end I’ve made humble suggestion in pairs (or more) of how you might do this. Of course, its entirely up to you how you might use Pete’s feisty current range but as follows to inspire –

Aloe variegata 'Gator' like a triangulate 'little stiff dress' for living sculpture high contrast
Aloe variegata ‘Gator’ like  triangulate ‘little stiff dresses’ for living sculpture high contrast
Lampranthus brownii, pillar box red year round Pigs Face
Lampranthus brownii, pillar box red year round Pigs Face

So if you had a sunny patch where height restrictions at the front of the planting space were limited to less than 200mm but focal requirements high at the front door, why not crowd Aloe variegata ‘Gator’ together at 250mm centres. Then bring gauzy relief to these little stiff triangulate peaks with a species Pig Face, Lampranthus brownii. These will wind their wiry way around each crisp alligator patterned mini Aloe, with matched low water requirements and a year round blast of pillar box red.

Carex buchanii - Brown Sedge a perfect ultra fine foil for rubbery textures
Carex buchanii – Brown Sedge a perfect ultra fine foil for rubbery textures
Senicio amaniensis, flushes bright cochineal in winter
Senicio amaniensis, flushes bright cochineal in winter

Next up in height at less than 400mm or so, and still in at least half day sun might be a tawny broom straw sweep of Brown Sedge, Carex buchanii. This plant often looks intriguingly ‘dead’ but isn’t and you can get year round contrast using a  rubbery cluster of Senicio amaniensis, that has the added feature of a cochineal flush where winter’s cool night air touches it in dry conditions.

Kniphofia 'Candlelight' grassy sword supporting chartreuse mini torches
Kniphofia ‘Candlelight’ makes a grassy sword supporting chartreuse mini torches
Senicio mandraliscae rug cover of soft blue fingers
Senicio mandraliscae rug cover of soft blue fingers

Succulent blue foliage can be difficult to reconcile with other planting into the garden. Somehow it often looks marooned in its blueness. Use of chartreuse flowers or gold foliage always looks fresh though. Dwarf Pokers in a sunny 350mm tall like Kniphofia ‘Candlelight’, against thick rugs of Chalk Sticks, will give your design ‘high pop’ just where you need it for extra feature on converging sight lines. Be sure to use Senicio madraliscae, avoiding S. serpens that tends to black over with rot by late February humidity.

Agave america, a hero plant for the largest statement maker
Agave america, a hero plant for the largest statement maker

These young plants haven’t developed their distinctive mid point white stripe on each leaf. Long before they do you’ll want to be sure to give plenty of elbow room to expand out into an impressive 3 m wide statement maker and about as high ! Super sharp spikes on each leaf apex and armed with sawfish-like teeth on the leaf margins, these are not so recommended for a pool surround or front door approach. If you’re looking for a hero plant however with gravitas, to anchor your design to a distant but featured corner in challengingly poor unirrigated soil , THIS is the plant for you !!

Euphorbia cotonifolia, a beautiful humidity loving alternative to Cotonis coggyria - Smoke Bush
Euphorbia cotonifolia, a beautiful humidity loving alternative to Cotonis coggyria – Smoke Bush

Requirement for small trees less than 5 meters with featured deciduous foliage is not something that’s going away any time soon. Increasingly limited available space for our designs and a tendency for most winter deciduous offerings to wildly exceed this height limit, can make responding successfully to this request challenging. Especially when most suggestions purportedly a fit for this requirement, come from a far cooler climate than the cool to warm sub-tropics in Sydney Metro.

However, Euphorbia cotonifolia (after Cotinis coggyrifolia – Smoke Bush that it looks quite like, sans the high humidity intolerance), is a great fit for this category. It ticks most boxes for feature foliage colour, height and regular shape. You may have to stake a young tree against lurching over during summer storm strength wind and reduce its tendency to multi-stem by removing all but the strongest leader while still less than a year old. Past these, it has no predator I know of and the pretty claret red high spring canopy usefully sheds by late July to prevent winter gloom for companion planting.

Synadenium grantii rubra, Red South African Milk Bush small tree for paces of limited space
Synadenium grantii f. rubra – Red South African Milk Bush small tree for places of limited space

Last but not least, another feature small tree coming from tropical eastern Africa remains an excellent red and or apple green splashed feature for the courtyard. Being warm sub-tropics, canopy with drop by end of August and its convincingly  combined with bromeliads, euphorbias, kalanchoe, hibiscus, phymosia, brugmansia, iochroma, solandra, ensetes/musa, heliconia, hedychium, dichorisandra, hoya, ruellia and many other cool to warm sub-tropics. Yes, don’t put your hand to your face while pruning it to shape as the white sap is irritating to eyes and some people also experience hive-like reaction. Short of these a more beautiful small tree with feature foliage would be hard to find.

Expand plant offering, support a grower with interesting alternatives to production grown lines while giving your work a distinctive edge !! Pete’s range is expanding, call him to discuss your requirements for a design made from plants.     

Pete’s Leaves & Shoots – Peter Bowen 0400 134 404‬

64 Ghilkes Road
Somersby (Central NSW Coast) 

Peter Nixon – Paradisus & Convenor Designer Growers Network Blog 0418 161513 Insta Facebook             

o418 161513







Paradox Pleasures …for your design

Puya chilensis alluring metallic turquoise flowers
Puya alpestris alluring metallic turquoise flowers

Allure in the garden, can be hard to find but never fails to intrigue. Bromeliad grower Ray Henderson from Paradox knows this and that’s why plants like Puya alpestris raise their early summer metallic turquoise torches. Nought degree winter overnight temps, spring hail and now the prospect of another fierce summer with some days exceeding 40 C are unusual for Ray’s Glenning Valley growing location. But as he says, ‘If its one day or twenty, they still have to be up for it.”

And so they are, like Billbergia vittata ‘Domingos Martins’

Billbergia vittata 'Domingos Martins' a good tough for seniors to full sun
Billbergia vittata ‘Domingos Martins’ a good tough for seniors to full sun

Contrary to popular belief, this bill is not a shade dweller like many of its cousins and will revert stubbornly to flowerless green in the gloom. In semi-shade to full sun, even facing harsh west, this densely crowded pup former makes a bright chocolate purple patch of excellent weed suppression. Jockey silk coloured flowers are a high spring bonus.

Neoregelia 'Persian Tiger'
Neoregelia ‘Persian Tiger’

Hybrid Neoregelia ‘Persian Tiger’, just one of many neo hybrids Ray has does show sun burn ‘patching’ but soon grows out of this and without this bit of scorch, won’t form its beautiful blush colours. Use in your designs wherever perennial interest is required to bring energy charged foliage colour against mid greens and or interesting textural contrasts using with ultra fines like grasses like Miscanthus transmorrisonensis.

Cotyledon compact hybrid
Cotyledon compact hybrid

Not all non-general line planting at Paradox are bromeliads. Many succulent plants combine most sympathetically with them though, like this rather nice compact form Cotyledon with chocolate margin. I’m never sure why combinations like this succeed but in countries like Brazil they often appear together in habitat and especially with rock.

Senicio amaniensis
Senicio amaniensis
Senicio amaniensis showing pendant thistle-like brushes
Senecio amaniensis showing pendant thistle-like brushes

Flowers from this senecio amaniensis, are one of the best butterfly attracting plants here in my home/work garden at ‘Sea-Changer’. Coming in over the November/December garden, its dainty orange brushes are also strangely alluring, not unlike the Puya alpestris … I bet this combination would be a super interesting in your clients design too.

Ray Henderson Horticulture 0490 263 416 and  

Glenning Valley on the NSW Central Coast

Peter Nixon 0418 161513 and for Paradisus and      Convenor Designer Growers Network Blog,

 …bridging the gap from Designers to Growers !