Thursday 17 June 2010
Among the many rather tender plants finding shelter in the protected enclave of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London is a small tree of Eucalyptus leucoxylon subsp. megalocarpa, currently flowering prolifically. In yesterday's brilliant sunshine it looked beautiful. It is a native of southeast South Australia and its great point of interest is that it is the hardiest of the red-flowered eucalypts. This individual is one of only a tiny number known to grow and flower outside in this country, where it is only just hardy in the mildest corners.
All the eucalypts usually grown outdoors in Britain have white flowers, and while these can be abundant and attractive, lack the wow factor seen in some of the red-flowered species in Australia. The tree at the Chelsea Physic Garden is not a beauty, consisting of three leaning trunks from which the branches hang. Rosie Atkins, the Curator, told me that she believed that her predecessor, Sue Minter, had finally got tired of having it a pot and had put it out to take its chance. As eucalypts very quickly develop girdling roots in pots its leaning posture may be a consequence of a not very adequate root system in the ground. They should always be planted as young as possible to enable good establishment, but in this case the fact that it was an older plant with natured wood may have permitted it to survive where a seedling might have perished.