Gardening Articles by Russell Fransham

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Tibouchina granulosa rosea

Tibouchina granulosa (mauve form)



When we talk about Autumn colour we're generally referring to autumn leaves but in Northern NZ the Autumn palette has a much broader range with many late-flowering subtropicals to choose from. In recent years a splashy new entrant in the Autumn colour stakes has been spreading its gaudy dazzle through our warmer gardens; it is the Brazilian Tibouchina granulosa, sometimes worryingly called 'the Glory Bush', which at the moment conjures up alarming echoes of war, Empire and fictitious presidents.

For generations we have grown Lasiandras, the shrubby multi-stemmed ones with big tarty purple flowers that seem forever to be breaking their leggy branches, but this new one grows more like a small tree up to three or four metres with a definite trunk and a more elegant, sturdy structure. Its Autumn flowers are much smaller and smother the tree in 30cm terminal panicles, opening rich purple then fading to a softer mauve so that both shades occur at once on the tree. This sumptuous display goes on and on through early Winter in a frost-free spot. Often mine continue till July or even August.

The distinctive drooping leaves are long, deeply veined and a dark velvety green which makes a great background for the spectacle of the massed flowers, though at the peak of flowering the leaves almost disappear under them.

Just recently a pink form 'Rosea' has been appearing in nurseries here. It seems to grow less vigorously but is otherwise similar to the purple T. granulosa. Its flowers start several weeks earlier. When they open they are a rich, deep pink which, like the purple variety, fade to a softer paler shade. Strange that this pink form should still be so uncommon here because for years it has been a major component of Sydney's Autumn colour scheme just as Jacarandas are the dominating feature of its Spring gardens.

One thing that all the Tibouchinas need is full sun.

When young they are frost tender much like the other lasiandras. And similarly, the Glory bush (I refuse to capitalise that word) is brittle and prone to breaking in the wind. However they have a remarkable ability to re-grow from ground level after being snapped off, and consequently respond well to hard pruning.. I promise I'm not actually trying to comment on global politics.

While muted cool colours are generally the basis of an atmosphere of tranquillity in a garden, I have increasingly become convinced that there is also a need for a touch of loud and trashy spectacle somewhere in a garden; an outdoor equivalent to the rumpus room where you want a bit of seasonal high-energy razzle-dazzle. Imagine using Robinia Frisia massed behind a group of Glory (bush) trees. Pink and gold could look as wonderful together as the purple and gold. You could even grow a mass of pink or dark red Iresine around and under your Tibouchinas as a way of really turning up the bass.

After all this I've decided I'm going to give myself a break and try calling them Glory shrubs.

(Copyright Russell Fransham 2003)