Hibiscuses are the roses of the tropics. Like roses, breeders are mixing up thousands of varieties, resulting in any colour permutation you can imagine (even grey, brown and mauve), and all sizes, short to tall, small blooms to enormous dinner-plate-sized things, singles, doubles – the possibilities are endless.
When we moved to the beach in June, I inherited a tropical garden brimming with unloved bromeliads, ferns, palms and towering ginger plants, not to mention frangipanis. I love tropical plants, but I’ve always leaned toward cottage gardens – roses, pansies, primula, dahlias, zinnias – so this has been a learning curve.
I’ve found hibiscuses to be every bit as finicky as roses, and as susceptible to bugs and blights. My small white hibiscus nearly carked it when all its leaves dropped off. Fortunately, I met a hibiscus grower who put me onto sulphate of potash. Voila! Instant turn around. I don’t have a before-shot, but here she is about two-three weeks after the cure. Three months on, and she’s leafy and thriving.
My Current Catalog of Beauties
My Calypsos, straight orange and straight yellow, came with me from our old house. I potted them together so it looks as if one plant throws two colours – very tricksy. It’s fooled a few people. I also brought the small white one (that’s slowly morphed to more of a cream or pale yellow, which shows in the photo above. Still quite pretty even though it’s not blazing white).
There’s also an established but neglected bush that is quite sick in the yard. I tried pruning it back by one-third two months ago in the hopes of ridding a pest that was infesting it. It healed up and started budding and flowering with lovely, ruffled peach blooms. The problem is still there though, and it’s ugly – all bumpy and nodey, like botanical smallpox.
It turns out the problem is Erinose mite, a microscopic parasite that deforms the leaves and all new growth. The bush is riddled with it, so we took a saw to it yesterday and cut it back again by two-thirds. We disposed of the branches and leaves to avoid the spread of disease and doused the plant with a product to kill the pest.
Bad experience there. The brand new hand-pump we bought for the job backfired and failed, and Paul got covered in the stuff. Freaked me out. He says he’s fine, but I keep watching for sneaky signs of the Spiderman Effect. If he starts shooting silk from his wrists and swinging from telephone poles, I’ll make sure my readers are the first to know.
If the serious nip-n-tuck doesn’t do the trick, we’ll have to pull the sick plant out. I hope it comes good because the flowers (below) are gorgeous! I didn’t know the name of the variety, so I tracked down some experts to find out.
Paul and I took a drive to Hibiscus World at Caboolture to meet Chris and Patricia, a self-proclaimed ‘ma-n-pa’ gardening duo and royalty in the Hibiscus World. They’ve been in the business for decades, with heaps of expertise to share. While we were visiting, Chris was hard at work, filling mail orders to ship their plants to places around Australia. Patricia showed us the staggering array they grow.
Narrowing down my choices was tough, but in the end, I decided on three varieties to complement the shrubs I already have.
Believe it or not, this classic Hawaiian beauty has a medium size bloom. It’s showy but not OTT. I am so excited to see what it produces.
There is something special and unexpected about a white hibiscus, and Amber Girl is definitely arresting. This one is a showstopper, with enormous blooms as big as a dessert plate. The dark, glossy foliage provides the perfect foil for the pink and white.
I stumbled upon this variety online and was instantly intrigued, though the name doesn’t do it justice. Such an exotic flower deserves an equally exotic name. If I was in charge of nomenclature, I’d christen this beauty Long Tou /loong tow/, Mandarin Chinese for Dragon Head. How cool is it? Mr Google tells me it’s originally from tropical East Africa. Apparently, the shrub will grow to two metres with a cascading habit.
I didn’t buy this one, but I wish I had. Patricia plucked a bloom off for me, and I wore it over my ear. It’s such a gorgeous thing, with a hot pink throat and some subtle yellow stripes. She had them available as standards, which I reckon would look amazing potted in one of my glossy black urns surrounded by a sea of violas.
Hibiscus World‘s products are available for purchase via their website and eBay, and they also sell from the Sunday Caboolture Markets. They’ve lovely, knowledgeable folks, well worth having a chat with if you have any trouble with your hibiscuses.
Lots of planting ahead! I’ll be sure to post photos when things get interesting!
Aloha and Amber Girl via Hibiscus World, used with permission
All other photos are O.M.Garden’s own