Unusual plants: the Telopea
For many years among the "new" proposals for plants that we find in the nursery, some plants originating from Australia peep out; among these is the Telopea (aboriginal name Waratahs), a genus that includes a few species of evergreen shrubs, characterized by large roundish leaves, thick and leathery, covered by a thin pruinose layer that makes them greyish. Starting from late spring these shrubs produce large inflorescences, subtended by large bracts, which enclose numerous tubular flowers, to form a wide colored cap. Generally the telopees are fiery red, but there are some hybrids with white or yellowish flowers; each single flower takes about a month from the moment of the hatching to complete withering. They are definitely showy shrubs, which develop preferably in an open area, not disturbed by other plants. They produce roots similar to lignified tubers, from which plants that are heavily ruined by external factors can re-sprout. Although the Australian climate is not completely identical to the European one, the cultivation of telopees in our continent takes place around the end of the 1700s; in all these years, plant producers have been able to select varieties with compact and limited development (in nature, telopea shrubs can reach four meters in height) and that are well suited to the climate and soil present in Italy and in other states Europeans.
Cultivating the telopea
These beautiful plants are certainly not suitable for those who do not want to spend some time on the garden; in fact, their cultivation is almost a challenge in the heavy and calcareous soil present in most of Italy, and the combination of needs of these plants, makes them quite difficult. Not that these are plants with bizarre needs, or that they do not support the common conditions present in our gardens; surely they can endure some variation to their ideal climate and terrain. Clearly, however, as with all plants, if they are not cultivated with a little care, they tend to get sick and be easy prey for parasites.
The telopees love well-lit positions, possibly sunny; they can withstand short frosts, of slight entity, but preferably it would be appropriate to protect the plants from the wind, especially in winter, even only with the woven fabric. They prefer a deep and loose soil, possibly acid, as they do not like the presence of limestone in the ground. In general, they love the rather poor, stony and very well drained soils, but at the same time they need regular watering. This is because, in the country of origin, the rainfall is very high, and the plants live in a rocky soil; the result is excellent drainage, but almost daily rains. Obviously they can withstand short periods of drought, and they do not like the excesses of water or stagnant water in the ground. Therefore, in order to grow them at their best, it is advisable to water them with a little water but very often. They are evergreen, but during the cold months, it is advisable to avoid watering, unless the night minimums are sufficiently high.
They tend to have a compact and fairly slow development, and therefore do not require pruning, unless they are damaged by the weather. The telopees do not like excesses of mineral salts in the soil, therefore they tend to supply fertilizer mixed with the water used for watering, every 15-20 days, in half the dosage compared to the one found on the fertilizer packaging.
Australia is a fascinating continent, whose discovery and exploration has involved European explorers for decades; over the centuries, the exotic-looking flora has attracted naturalists from all over the world, to study their strengths and virtues. Some plants of Australian origin are all very common to us, such as Acacia, and Eucalyptus; they have been cultivated in Italy for centuries, so much so that in many areas now almost naturalized, for many people the acacia is considered a small tree belonging to the Mediterranean flora and its distant origins are hardly known. In recent decades other plants have been introduced in Italy, some of which were brought to Europe by the first explorers who reached Australia; these are grevillee, chamelaucium, metrosideros. Even these shrubs are now "normal" in Italian nurseries, even though some gardening enthusiasts still view them with suspicion. Lately we are trying to include other splendours of the Australian flora, such as the banksiae and the telopee, large shrubs with huge and colorful flowers, to which we Europeans are not very used.
From Australia to Italy
Besides these, there are many Australian plants that can be grown in Italy. Clearly the Australian continent is very large, and therefore in its extension it presents a lot of variety in the climates; plants that have been introduced into nurseries until now, also available for common gardening enthusiasts, and not only for botanical gardens, are generally plants that we could define as Mediterranean. That is plants that can withstand short frosts, but do not like intense cold, preferring the summer heat. The biggest problem that we encounter when we want to grow plants that come from so far away, concerns watering, because in general, many plants of Australian origin, prefer to be watered with small amounts of water, but very frequently, differently for what happens for the plants of Mediterranean origin. Fortunately, breeders tend to produce hybrids of Australian plants more resistant to drought and winter cold.