It will give your garden
vertical punch … New Zealand
Sunset, June, 1984
"Big, bold, and glamorous" are
the words one landscape designer
uses to describe New Zealand flax
(Phormium). Anyone looking for
a plant to put vertical punch and
unusual foliage color into a garden
is likely to agree.
These striking plants are easy to grow and are not fussy about soil or soil moisture.
Native to New Zealand, where the Maoris used its tough-fibered leaves n many ways, Phormium tenax thrives in low-elevation Western gardens from San Diego and Tucson to Bellingham, Washington. It's surprisingly hardy and can stand up to salty coastal winds and smog. West of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, a prolonged dip below freezing may kill plants--especially those in containers, whose roots may get frozen. But plants nipped back to the ground by frost are likely to send out new shoots with warming weather.
Some kinds grow too large for small gardens. The wide (up to 5-in.) sword-like leaves of common Phormium tenax often reach 6 feet, sometimes climbing to 9.
These plants look especially good on slopes, springing up from low-growing ground cover, or near pools.
Several varieties offer foliage colors other than green. 'Atropurpureum' has reddish purple leaves; 'Aureum' has green leaves with broad yellow stripes; 'Variegatum' is striped cream and white; 'Veitchianum' has broad cream stripes; and 'Rubrum' has bronzy red leaves. An old selected variety, 'Tricolor', has exocit red, cream, and green leaves.
Less common is P. colensoi. It has less rigid leaves and tops out at about 5 feet. Varieties of this plant, which tend to stay small (some of them only 12 to 18 inches tall), include 'Tiny Tim', 'Bronze Baby', and 'Rainbow Hybrid'. You may have to shop arboretum and plant society sales or ask your nurseryman to order some kinds. Grow plants from seed or set them out from 1- or 5-gallon nursery cans. For best results, plant in loose, fast-draining soil in a spot with full sun--though plants can tolerate light shade and all but the soggiest soils. Broadcasting a high-nitrogen fertilizer at the base twice a year helps ensure a robust plant and good bloom. Under ideal conditions, each plant will send up a handsome 7- to 10-foot stalk (something like that of an agave) with small dull red or yellow flower clusters along its branching stem.
Cut off tattered old leaves, one by one, near the plant's base; shearing plants can cause a brush buildup at the base that's hard to get rid of. Use cut leaves in flower arrangements or to make stake ties.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
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