Sunday, June 6, 2010

I'm in love with my libertia

It's always a surprise to me that libertia is so little known to gardeners. It's one of the least temperamental plants I know: it's evergreen, it has lovely flowers, it's tough, it will grow in shade or sun, it will grow in the ground or in a pot. And all without any effort on my part whatsoever. I have three varieties in my garden - Libertia grandiflora, Libertia ixioides 'Taupo Blaze' and Libertia ixioides 'Goldfinger'. The most free-flowering is L. grandiflora (seen left against a backdrop of Cotinus coggygria foliage), which as its name suggests is also the biggest plant, with the biggest leaves.
If you can imagine a small phormium (about 2ft high) with white, orchid-like flowers held on long stems, that's a pretty good description. With 'Taupo Blaze' and 'Goldfinger', the leaves are slimmer and grassier, and the flowers are smaller. 'Goldfinger', as the name suggests, has brilliant copper-gold foliage, while 'Taupo Blaze' has brownish leaves.

'Taupo Blaze' in flower around the frog pond

Libertia also pretty reliable as to flowering time. Normally it's in full froth by 14 May. Having said that, this year it only got going towards the end of the month thanks to the late spring.
So what's not to love about libertia? Well, L grandiflora seeds itself all over the place. It seems particularly to like seeding itself into the lawn. The leaves have a habit of looking rather tatty rather quickly, and while you're supposed to be able to divide it (like many other perennials), I've never had any success with this. Seedlings are a much more reliable way of propagating it.
L ixioides is much better behaved, but doesn't flower in the same exuberant way.

You can stop libertia seeding itself about by cutting off the seedheads, of course. But when you've got as much of it as I have, this is quite a time-consuming operation and it's impossible to catch them all.
Besides, when the flowers are newly shed, the seedheads are quite attractive, like a small bunch of green berries. I always think they look so nice, I'll leave them for a couple of weeks and then - oops! - two months later they've ripened and are busy finding new little homes for themselves. I still love them, though.