Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’

Becoming a Plant Collector

I admit, I am not a traditional gardener. While I share some common motivations with other people, like finding gardening to be therapeutic, relaxing, a reasonable level of exercise, excuse for getting out of the house, etc. – I also see gardening as a challenge.

Gardens around the World have often seen the garden as man exerting control over nature – the more formal, the more controlled, the better. That is not me.

Gardeners are often corralled into using certain plants because that is what everyone else uses, so they are plentiful in the garden stores and that creates a self-fulfilling circle. That is not me.

Do I like a challenge – certainly, but not in the manner of trying to fight nature. I do not want to spend hours and dollars trying to modify my soil as we are told to do all the time in books, magazines, and TV programs. Oceanside Garden has very sandy, impoverished soil that holds almost no water.

Becoming a Collector

I have become a plant collector, but what is the point of a collection if it isn’t somehow special or has a certain level of difficulty associated with it? Perhaps no one initially expects to be a plant collector, but when you become hooked on something, it becomes a passion.

I am a believer in giving nature every opportunity to survive in a World of climate change. Nature evolves on its own. Plants can either move slowly towards the poles as the climate warms or seek out higher elevation. They can also become more tolerant of the changing conditions. But that takes time and climate change is moving at a pace never before seen on this planet. Evolution, quite frankly, doesn’t stand a chance right now. I can help with that.

Many of these factors drove me to look at a family of plants from South Africa. They have a climate very similar to mine on the coast, the plants are very happy in the type of soil I have, they are difficult to find in this country and plants from South Africa are under extreme threat right now. Not only climate change but also development of their habitat.

South Africa is one of the seven floral kingdoms of the world and the number of species in that kingdom exceeds the total number of species in the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. Those plants can’t gravitate towards the pole because there is only sea between it and Antarctica. Could they survive and thrive in Oregon? They grow in California and Hawaii, but they are both much warmer climates than here on the Oregon Coast.

I did have a few proof points. They do grow in San Francisco that tends to much cooler than most of California. There are some that exist in botanical gardens as far north as Seattle, but I am sure they are highly pampered. Then I found a nursery in Portland that did have a few members of the family in the genus Grevillea. That got me started. They not only survived in my garden – they thrived.

The Start

How perfect – a plant that loves impoverished soils, blooms almost year round, doesn’t need watering in summer, doesn’t need to be fertilized, highly attractive to birds, bees and other wildlife, disliked by deer, and very pretty!

That is when the collector in me kicked in. I wanted more. Not just Grevilleas but the other members of the family – all the way up to the amazing Protea. If you have ever seen one of these flowers you will know what I am talking about.

I started to import seed from South Africa and Australia, New Zealand and places in Europe that had similar climates. These are not easy seeds to germinate, and plants take years before they get to blooming size. That did not deter me. I did manage to find a few somewhat mature plants available online and gobbled those up. Earlier this year, I also discovered that UC Santa Cruz had an importation program with Australia to bring some of their hybrids and cultivars into this country for trials in California. I was a gardener in a plant store. You have never seen a car packed with so many plants heading up I-5.

But through all of this a few big questions remained. Does my garden have enough heat to get some of these plants to set flower buds? I also do not have any plantable areas that have full sun in Winter. Neighboring trees cast a lot of shade when the sun is not that high in the sky. When I asked in online forums, they were skeptical.

Early Success

One of the genera, Leucadendron, can be grown purely for their leaves, which are often multi-colored or variegated. Many of the Leucadendrons I have were cuttings obtained from florists stems. Just after Easter I noted that one of them had a single flower on it. Leucadendron’s actually have very small flowers and are surrounded by large bracts. That means they tend to be “in flower” for a long period of time and that one blossom is still on the plant in June.

Leucadendron floridum 'Pisa'
Leucadendron floridum ‘Pisa’

About a month ago, my Leucospermums started to put on their growth spurt for the year. Lots of buds started to form on them. It is often difficult to tell at first if they are growth buds or flower buds, but as they developed it was clear that on two of the plants, there were two different types of buds. I still didn’t want to get my hopes up because Protea are well known to drop their buds if they don’t like the conditions. Now, at the beginning of June I am the proud gardener of Leucaspermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’ in bloom.

Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’
Leucospermum ‘Scarlet Ribbon’

So, I can grow them, and I can get them to bloom. Two important members of the family have yet to tell me they can bloom here – the Protea and the Banksia, but I am now much more hopeful than I was. Now I know I am safe to collect more plants and that they will be quite happy here.

Related Plants

  • Loretta Epp

    I too live in Oregon (Roseburg) and have been bitten by the Protea collector bug. I obtained numerous rooted cuttings on line last year and my first Leucospermum is now in bloom (Goldie) I would appreciate any information about getting larger protea plants in Oregon you might be willing to share😊

    1. gardener

      Congrats Loretta. They are such amazing plants. Given that you are closer to California, I would highly recommend checking out the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek or Norries at UC Santa Cruz. Both sell Protea and at reasonable prices. I picked up a 3 Gal Protea ‘Red Baron’ and a Protea neriifolia x magnifica from Norries back in February for about $30 each if I remember correctly. Road trip!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.