Retired college lecturer Dr Judy Clark may have been born in Australia, but her enthusiasm for growing Australian plants only started many years after she settled in the UK in 1977. “I liked our native Australian plants, but was never interested in growing them when I was young,” said Judy. “I did a chemistry degree, then travelled around the world, finally coming to England where I completed my postgraduate education and eventually became a lecturer and researcher.”
Correa decumbens are from Eastern Australia
The young woman from Melbourne eventually came to reside in the coastal town of Hastings, in Sussex and in 1996 she and her partner bought a house with a good-sized back garden. She started gardening by learning from friends, growing typically English garden plant, such as irises, roses and geraniums. where she developed her first garden and starting selling plants, particularly roses and geraniums with a friend. Then by accident she bought a bottle brush shrub, or callistemon and became hooked. Her curiosity aroused she sought other Australian plants, but there were few available. She asked her mother in Melbourne to send her some seeds of Australian native species and managed to raise some more bottlebrushes, silver banksia, Banksia marginata and kangaroo paws or anigozanthus, planting them outdoors and finding they thrived ‘more by luck than judgement’, in a warm sheltered spot in her clay soil, with grit added to improve drainage.
“I then joined the ‘Australasian Plant Society’ which opened up a whole new world and met its inspirational founder Jeff Irons, who really encouraged me to try a wider range of species and introduced me to the delights of correa in 2003. They are enchanting shrubs, with colourful bell-shaped blooms that I just adore.” Trips to Tresco gardens in the Isles of Scilly, Logan Botanic gardens in South West Scotland and Wakehurst Place in Sussex were also influences, where the range of tender plants they grew further fired her enthusiasm for the exotic. “On a trip to Tresco I was advised to experiment and try different things, and that advice stuck with me,” she said. After taking early retirement in 2006 her interest burgeoned and Judy now grows many plants from Australia along with others from the Southern hemisphere in the various habitats she has created in her south east-facing sloping garden. “I was surprised by the kangaroo paws. If they are cut back by frost they just re-sprouted from the rootstock in spring. Among other things she has tried from seed are the honey-myrtle or melaleuca, the claw flower or calothamnus, many small daisies and an interesting a small tree or shrub, the Australian blackthorn, Bursaria spinosa in the pittosporum family with clusters of small white fragrant flowers. “It ought to be better known as it’s easy to grow, very floriferous and insects love it,” said Judy.
She now has 26 varieties of correa in the National Plant Collection she holds for conservation charity Plant Heritage, which she joined in 2011, also recently becoming a Plant Guardian, looking after more than 25 other plants she grows that are rare and infrequently found in nurseries. Over the years she has learned by trial and error. “ The key to growing Australian plants successfully is good drainage. It’s valuable to research where things come from and try to create similar conditions in the garden and you must be prepared to experiment and to loose plants. But it’s great fun and you get a great sense of achievement when you succeed.”
How you can be a plant hero
You can help preserve unusual plants in your garden! The Plant Heritage charity works to conserve the nation’s garden plants through the National Plant Collection Scheme and Individual Plant Guardians, and is looking for Garden news readers to get involved with its crucial work.