Sydney's summers are very prettily bookended with purple showers. In spring (November usually) backyards throughout the city shimmer with the pale-purple blooms of magnificent, spreading jacaranda trees. And now, in autumn, it's the turn of the tibouchinas to provide a similar carnival of colour to farewell the summer. You can find tibouchinas in bloom in virtually every street here right now, and their version of purple is a stronger, bolder, more tropical hue, and the plants themselves are a fair bit smaller than the stately jacarandas.
The problem for me is that until now, I have run out of space in my garden and don't have anywhere to plant a tibouchina, but now all that has changed. A very small dwarf form has just been launched on the market, and I just planted one this morning. And my darling wife Pammy is so very pleased about all this, as it's another one of 'her' plants in our garden.
If some of you are saying to yourself "Tibouchina, never heard of them" perhaps their former name of Lasiandra might ring a bell? Like the jacarandas, tibouchinas are also originally from South America, but they are very much at home here in Sydney's warm climate, and they love things to get even warmer, thriving all along the subtropical coastline up to Brisbane and beyond. When in bloom, the trees are virtually covered in these simple, open blooms which are about two to three inches across.
This one belongs to my neighbour across the road and it's the typical size you see here, about 3-5 metres tall on average, but some species can grow a fair bit bigger, say 8-10 metres, in an ideal spot.
While jacarandas are a popular street tree in many cities and towns here in Australia and also overseas (eg, Pretoria in South Africa), tibouchinas are not used so often in this way, but about two suburbs away from me there is one street lined with tibouchinas, and this is how it looked this morning. It's no wonder Pammy likes these plants, but we just don't have space for even one extra 4 metre tall tree. And then I worked on an article in our magazine about the new dwarf tibouchinas, and when Pam saw little 'Groovy Baby', that was it. We were getting one.
This is such a new release that it's only coming out in limited numbers this autumn, and more are scheduled to be produced in time for next spring. In fact, none of our local nurseries had even heard of it, but I tracked down the supplier, spoke to the sales guy, gave his details to our local nursery, waited two weeks, paid $10.95 for it on Thursday, and I planted it today.
'Groovy Baby' promises to grow just 60cm (two feet) tall and 80cm wide, but I don't trust or believe plant labels, and so I am hoping it might even stretch to 80cm tall and 1m wide if I look after it very well. There are other dwarf tibouchinas around here in Australia, such as 'Jules' which reaches about 1 metre tall (but often exceeds that) and the new Jazzie and Carol Lyn, both of which are a bit larger than Jules (about 1.5 to 2m). All of them would be too big for the spot I have available.
Planting was easy, but I do have one or two little planting tips for shrubs which might be useful to someone about to plant a shrub or tree.
1. Don't add anything to the planting hole: no fertiliser, no compost, nothing. Sometimes too much fertiliser can burn tender young plant roots, but at other times an over-fertilised planting hole simply stops the roots from growing down and out in search of food. If roots are already surrounded by food, why go elsewhere?
2. The ideal size for a planting hole is the same depth of the pot's root ball (in this case about 6-8 inches) but at least twice as wide as the pot's root ball. So, don't dig too deep but by all means loosen all the soil around the plant, get rid of rocks, weeds etc.
3. Don't cover over the existing root-ball's soil surface with any more soil. Try to get the plant into the ground so its soil surface is the same as the surrounding soil.
Having managed all that, I watered the plant in well with a watering can mixture of a seaweed solution (in this case, Seasol), then I mulched the whole area. I won't be feeding the plant at all until it shows some signs of growth. At that point I'll give it some slow-release fertiliser. It has a few flower buds on it, so we're hoping for a early splotch or two of purple from our little 'Groovy Baby'.
And right now, when I say 'little' I mean teeny weeny. When it grows up it's going to fill that space, and so my job will be to regularly trim back the ever-encroaching grevillea on the left, and the thyme motherlode that's just barely visible on the right, to give Groovy Baby the space to get going.
Autumn is probably the very best time to plant things here in Sydney. It's a mild season and the soil is warm, so plants settle in well. Later on, our winters are mercifully mild and so by the time spring comes around I am hoping Groovy Baby will really get growing, and by this time next year Pammy will finally have that dazzling purple patch she has waited for so long.