Noel Shaw | Prehistoric protea is a true survivor

One of the big advantages of proteas, those plants with the big, spectacular flowers, is that they thrive in poor soil, having evolved in soils that were low in nutrients, particularly phosphorus.

Peas produce their own nitrogen so fertilising them with nitrogen is a recipe for disaster.

Peas produce their own nitrogen so fertilising them with nitrogen is a recipe for disaster.

This caused them to form additional roots, known as proteoids, which enable them to extract nourishment from the soil very efficiently.

So it’s important not to give proteas fertilisers and don’t grow them alongside plants that need feeding.

The soils in which proteas evolved were also very well-drained and included sand, loam, shale, gravel and stony soils.

Most proteas like a fairly acid soil - a pH of 4 to 6.5. They also like plenty of sun, particularly in the morning, if they are to flower well. And they like air movement. Wind doesn’t worry most of them.

Air movement through the leaves and branches helps keep down pests and fungal diseases. They grow their roots in the winter and this is when they like rain.

Proteas will stand frosts, and more so as they grow older. If you haven’t much room you can grow proteas in tubs.

Make up a mixture of compost and coarse sand. Some gravel mixed in is a good idea.

They will provide you with spectacularly-colourful flowers every year.

They are also great favourites of honeyeaters and bees.

FLORAL DINOSAUR: The stunning protea belongs to an ancient family and has evolved to thrive in nutrient-poor soils by developing extra roots known as proteoids.

FLORAL DINOSAUR: The stunning protea belongs to an ancient family and has evolved to thrive in nutrient-poor soils by developing extra roots known as proteoids.

CRY BEAUTY

There is nothing sad about a weeping tree, in fact they give much joy in the garden.

Favourites are Cheal’s weeping cherry, with its masses of double, rosy-pink flowers in spring, and the weeping elm, ulmus glabra pendula.

Betula tristis, a weeping variety of silver birch, has a beautiful white trunk and fine cascading young branches of a soft, feathery appearance.

It is rather rare, but a gem if you can find it.

The pink rosebud cherry (prunus subhirtella pendula rubra) is another delight.

The foliage is much finer than most cherries. Its small, single flowers are deep pink in bud, opening to a soft pale pink and are produced in great profusion.

Acacia iteaphylla is a smallish wattle with fine silvery foliage and yellow blossom which has a weeping habit when mature.

Pendulous eucalypts are caesia, elata, seeparia and sepulcralis.

Plants with a pendulous habit bring a graceful beauty to any garden and many are extremely decorative as well.

Plants with a pendulous habit bring a graceful beauty to any garden and many are extremely decorative as well.

THE VEGGIE UNDERGROUND

A recipe for disaster with green peas is to dig in plenty of manure, especially poultry manure, before sowing.

Peas, being a legume, make their own nitrogen, so don’t need a fertiliser high in it, preferring instead a little superphosphate.

Too much nitrogen will make the foliage yellowish and streaky. Peas prefer the soil to be slightly alkaline, so digging in some dolomite beforehand will be beneficial.

If you sowed seeds of swedes and turnips last summer you are enjoying the results now. These root vegetables stay happily in the ground all winter.

The swede and turnip belong to the brassica family and a secret of good flavour in both is rapid growth, in a soil enriched with organic matter and a little lime.

Ideally both should be harvested before they grow too large and woody.

So summer sowing, even late summer, is best if you want them for winter eating.

If you choose the right varieties you can have delicious rhubarb right through winter.

If you choose the right varieties you can have delicious rhubarb right through winter.

WINTRY RHUBARB 

Rhubarb is a valuable plant to have in the garden because you can pick and use it in winter when all other fruit has finished, as long as you have a variety that doesn’t die down in autumn. 

Year-round varieties include giant red, overbearing ruby and wilson’s ruby. These don’t mind cold weather and grow just about anywhere.

Rhubarb grows from fleshy roots or corms which you can get from a garden centre or friend’s rhubarb patch.

Rhubarb is strictly speaking a vegetable, and well-established plants should be dug up, divided and replanted every few years. Dig in manure, compost or other organic matter.