Tag Archive | Flowering trees

Rainforest plants for a difficult corner

Lemon myrtle

Above: Lemon Myrtle – a lovely garden shrub


Plants from the rainforest are the best way to turn a difficult corner into an asset.

Just about every garden has a trouble spot where the soil is poor or the sun doesn’t shine – often a combination of both.  The fastest, easiest and most satisfying way of dealing with this is to fill it with a selection of flowering rainforest plants.

Why?  Because these plants not only look good but are perfectly adapted to the vagaries of our climate. They tolerate poor soil, sudden temperature changes and drought.  What’s more, they happily handle both sun and shade – deep shade will make them tall and straggly, full sun will make them more compact – and as a difficult corner may offer both these extremes, depending on time of day and season, rainforest plants are the ideal choice.  And they only need minimal management.

It’s important to select just the right plants so here is a selection of those that suit small gardens.  They are selected for suitable size, ease of growth and attractive flowers and foliage. Plant as wide a variety as space permits to create a mini-rainforest – but don’t overcrowd:

Lilly pillies – This name is given loosely to trees and shrubs in the Syzygium genus.  Best choice for the home garden are Blue Cherry (S. oleosum), the hybrid ’Cascade’ and the original “lilly pilly” S. smithii.  Riberry (S. luehmanni) is a good choice for larger gardens – in a small garden it must be regularly pruned.  Syzygium wilsonii has lovely powder puff flowers and is also small enough for a garden corner. The most commonly available lilly pillies are the many forms of S. australe, sold under a variety of names.  All are excellent plants but susceptible to infestation by an insect that distorts the leaves.

Other good garden choices are Golden Penda, Eleaocarpus reticulatus ‘Prima Donna”, Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), Gossia ‘Blushing Beauty’, Native Fuchsia (Graptophyllum), Ivory Curl (Buckinghamia),  Pink Euodia (needs pruning when young for denser growth), Tulipwood (Harpullia pendula – a popular street tree), Native Frangipani and Diamond Laurel (Auranticarpa rhombifolium).  An attractive shrub for the understorey is Cat’s Whiskers (Orthosiphon aristatus) and if you want a ground cover you can’t go past the Native Violet (Viola Hederaceaea) which bears little mauve flowers for most of the year.   Your best bet when you decide to deal with that difficult corner is to visit a specialist native plant nursery or a garden centre with a good native plant selection, explain your needs and get expert advice.

Once established, your rainforest corner will look good, add to your garden’s biodiversity by attracting birds and beneficial insects, and require very little watering, no feeding, and no maintenance beyond perhaps some annual pruning for size and shape.

Pink Euodia

Pink Euodia


What always looks gorgeous without any effort?  An Australian garden tree, that’s what!

Any tree in the home garden needs to be small and well-behaved, unless you have at least half an acre.  Australia, land of mighty gum trees and giant rainforest species, surprisingly produces many beautiful small trees that are perfect for home gardens all around the world because they tolerate a range of conditions.

These trees also bear splendidly large and colorful flowers.  I’ve grown most of them over the years and here is my Top Ten selection –  chosen for their beauty, toughness and good garden behavior.

Ivory Curl

Ivory Curl (Buckinghamia celsissima) – a wonderful home garden tree that can grow to 8 – 10 metres but takes many years to get that big.  Grows well (but more slowly) in poor soils and tolerates light frosts and temperatures down to zero (Celsius)/32 °F for short periods once established.  Tolerant of heavy rain and long dry periods. Cut back after flowering to maintain good shape.


Callistemon  (Melaleuca viminalis) –  The prettiest of the callistemons because of its willow-like dropping branches and generous flowering for much of the year.  Tolerates most conditions from water-logging to drought.  Comes in various shades of red and pink as well as cream.  Don’t prune except to get rid of untidy branches.

Golden Penda

Golden Penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) – A tropical tree which will tolerate light frost and short periods of temperatures down to zero (Celsius)/32 °F.  Likes plenty of water in summer but will tolerate long, dry periods in winter and spring.  Attractive foliage and) shape year round as well as big, fluffy yellow flowers.

Corymbia “Summer Red”

Flowering gum – The hybrid cultivars Corymbia “Summer Red” and “Summer Beauty” are the best for home gardens because of their small size and large, gorgeous, bird-attracting red or pink flowers.  They tolerate most conditions from zero (Celsius)/32 °F temperatures for short periods to prolonged heavy rainfall and drought.

Blueberry Ash “Prima Donna”

Blueberry ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) – A very tough small tree or large shrub which bears masses of tiny fringed pink or white flowers, like ballerina skirts or lampshades. The pink-flowering “Prima Donna” is best-known to gardeners.  Can grow to 15m but is best if kept cut back to maintain density.  Tolerates most conditions except extreme cold, heat or aridity.

Lemon Myrtle

Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) – My signature plant – a small tree or large shrub with fragrant lemon-scented leaves that are marvelous as a food flavoring, especially in Thai dishes.  Makes a good lemonade too, or liqueur.  Bears large heads of creamy flowers.  Can be trained to tree size and shape (with single trunk), and pleaches well.  Needs a warm climate (warm-temperate to tropics) and plenty of water but will tolerate short periods of low temperatures (down to zero Celsius/32 °F), and drought to about 90 days if in good, well-mulched soil.  Prune well after flowering.


Wheel-of-fire (Stenocarpus sinuatus) – Another tough Queensland tree with interesting-shaped leaves, a columnar habit and lovely red flowers that are born well inside the foliage.  Tolerates the same sort of conditions as other trees in this article and is best  tip-pruned regularly when young to make it more bushy and compact.

Australian Flame Tree

Kurrajongs (Brachychiton species). – The gorgeous scarlet-flowered Flame Tree (B. acerifolius) is the best-known of these but grows rather too large for the average garden.  The lesser known B. discolor (pink flowers) and B. bidwillii (crimson) are smaller trees when grown in full sun and regularly pruned to control height and promote bushiness when young.  The latter, in particular, has proved popular in the southern United States.  All are tough trees that will grow in sun or shade but flower best in full sun.

Fruit and flower of Syzygium australe

Lilly pillies (Syzygium australe, smithii,  luehmanni and tierneyanum) – These are marvelous home-garden trees for most climates (except the coldest and driest) because they tolerate such a range of soils and conditions and need little care.  Riberry (S.lueuhmannii) is the most attractive because of its weeping foliage habit – it can grow quite large where underground water is available but is easy to control if regularly pruned when young.  All the garden-friendly lilly pillies have attractive year round foliage, exquisite new growth in shades of pink, bronze and copper (depending on species), delightful flowers and colorful fruit.  They are good hedging trees, too.  In some countries the many varieties of S. australe are subject to psyllid attack that blisters the leaves but doesn’t injure the tree.  If you want an easy-care garden with lots of shrubbery, team these trees with lilly pilly shrubs such as “Cascade” (a hybrid of S. leuhmanni and S.wilsonii) and blue lilly pilly (S.oleosum) which has fragrant leaves.

Australian White Oak

Australian White Oak (Grevillea baileyana) – This is a very handsome small tree for warm temperate to tropical climates.  The large, shiny leaves are lobed when young and have bronze undersides which glow brilliantly when tossed by the wind.  The long white flower spikes are like those of the Ivory Curl Tree.  It grows in most soils and likes regular watering, but will tolerate drought for up to 90 days.

All these trees give of their best when given good drainage, regular watering, moderate pruning for shape and the tender loving care of the home garden.  However, they will do perfectly well without any attention at all once established.  And if you have any questions about one of these lovely trees, contact me through this site or email me at jrlakemedia@iprimus.com.au.