Distictis or Mexican Blood flower.  The vine growing as shelter over the deck is D. buccinatoria, which if you can get over the tedious name, is a member of another large plant family, the Bignoniacea  clan.  I ‘discovered’ this conspicuous and vigorous climber from a Belvedere in Ravello looking down to the pergola below, while driving along the spectacular Amalfi Drive south of Naples.  Gloriously in bloom among pink roses and violet morning glories in joyful Italian excess, it made such an impression I added it to my ‘must-have’ list.

 Vigorous and hardy here in my frost-free hilltop, I remember those glorious days as I drove around back country roads in southern Italy.  I have been watching our active Tui visitors pierce the tube like flowers looking for nectar.  Severe pruning is recommended when winter comes.


Euphorbia, a member of the large family of so-called milk weeds that through 1600 varieties ranges from tedious ground level weeds, to tree-like form; the Christmas Poinsettia for example.

In my garden right now is E. characias sub species wulfenii, making a long lasting show, and great as a cut-flower, providing you like green flowers.  As the name suggests, the plants bleed a milky white juice, to be aware of, as It can cause blisters on sensitive skin.   As a cut flower, dip stem ends in boiling water for a few seconds to seal them.  In this variety, new stems of blue-ish green foliage emerge when the old flowers are cut back.

There are several other appealing members of the milk weed family, notably, a red-orange flowered form, E. griffithii, with a selection, ‘Fireglow’, a terrific edition to the hot border.  Then there is something different, a subtly shaded variegated form called in the nursery “Silver Swan’, or E. variegata with  greyish leaves, cream bordered, and its flowers almost wholly cream,  perfect as a refined cut flower.

Lapageria - The national flower of Chile

With spring moving swiftly into summer, garden maintenance is all important; Pruning can still be done while trimming and generally tidying up the garden is what keeps me busy. I discovered the fearsome mealy bug had decided to attack the young growth of the Lapageria and its neighboring Stephanotis (native to Madagascar) and I decided it was time to tackle the beast. Repeated spraying with conqueror oil takes care of this potential disaster.

Lapageria occurs naturally in the forrest of southern Chile's temperate rain-forest areas. This evergreen climber with leathery leaves has a peculiar growing habit vines twine counter clockwise in the southern hemisphere and clockwise growing in the north. The flowers have 6 thick waxy tepals (petals) usually a light cherry red with small white spots flowering here in the late summer through February and my now mature plants produced fruit, like the size of an oval tomato, containing myriad seeds. In nature the plant is pollinated by hummingbirds and sadly is increasingly rare in the wild due to over collecting.

The flowers are normally red with others in shades of dark pink and there is a very lovely and rare white flowered form L. rosea var. albiflora which is growing happily in my car port. This is a choice and delightful flowering vine if you can provide hospitable growing conditions, semi shaded trellis or through the branches of an open bush. 

Cabbage Tree - Cordyline australis

The cabbage tree is a branching monocot endemic to New Zealand. It was known as a food source by the indigenous Maori people. The leaves provided fibers for textiles, ropes and mats. Fruit of the post flower phase- is a favorite of native pigeons. This conspicuous tree grown as an ornamental garden plant and appears spontaneously throughout the length of New Zealand. It blooms for 4-6 weeks with a sweet fragrance and flowers usually in alternate years but sometimes as for example this year a bumper crop of flower heads are produced attracting birds, insects, geckos, and lizards gathering nectar. The Tui is a steady customer along with bell birds, saddle backs and New Zealand robins.

Farmers report that a heavy flowering usually follows a dry season as we had last summer. This cordyline is a familiar icon throughout the country has many uses beyond its fibers and Maori's found many uses including an ingenious rain cape. Importantly the growing tip of the plant or meristem was valued and cooked as a bitter vegetable served with fatty foods hence the allusion to cabbage.