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Gardening with Gael - Leafy native fills in the blanks



hange hange-969Hangehange or Geniostoma ligustrifolium is known as a ‘forest diversity plant’, which means it grows beneath an existing canopy or where pioneer species are established.

When we bought The Block the southern boundary of established native trees had been grazed for years by cattle. All of the under storey had been eaten and only established trees remained. Once the cattle had gone the new growth appeared. The first flush of glossy, bright apple-green leaves encompassed the entire forest floor.

Hangehange has a bushy open growth habit and grows mostly to about three metres although in some instances it can get to four. Tiny white greenish flowers appear in spring and consist of whorls of five parts called pentamerous. Within a couple of years other plants had established themselves and the bright green under storey was dispersed among the wide range of developing growth.

I have remained fascinated by this native plant but not considered it for any other purpose until a recent visit to Nat and Jac Spyksma’s garden. There, in between other shrubs, were beautifully cultivated domes of hangehange. Balls of bright green.

“They clip?” I asked Nat.

“Really well,” was the reply and obviously they do. The photo accompanying the article is one of the trimmed domes from their garden. Nat pointed out that they are ready for another clip but with their soft tips they are very easy to keep in shape.

“Do you have any?” I asked Rick who sells native trees at the market.

“Not really,” he replied.

I have pointed out to him the place I have discovered for this plant as a landscape specimum. Most gardens have areas below trees with dark spots that need lightening and this plant is perfect for it. He assures me he will seriously consider some. The common name is native privet and when they are young the small plants can be confused with the privet that is a noxious weed.

I have an area below my liquidambers and rhododendrons where I planted coprosma robusta or karamu, a native also found on forest margins which grows on the edge of our bush. I transplanted some hoping to keep them under control. Within a couple of years they have grown wild and leggy and need constant pruning. I now think that a better option would be the hangehange.

Both plants are tolerant of drought, something that needs consideration with our changing weather patterns. This winter there was enough rain to collect water for several droughts. They are also of a similar colour adding brightness to dark areas.

I have many karamu in the garden at the beach where they have kept their shape with a clipping once a year. They have a wider range of habitats and can grow happily in exposed areas and infertile soils. I think the sand based soil at the beach possibly inhibits their growth and keeps them more controllable in the garden.

The attractive oblong dark orange fruit of karamu provide food for tuis, native bellbirds and indigenous silver eyes, who in turn disperse the seeds.

Both these natives are highly desirable specimums and can be accommodated in any size garden.

BUSHY: Hangehange, pictured at rear, is ideal as a garden filler or can be shaped. –PHOTO/Nat Spyksma

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