I am continuing my theme of New Zealand plants, completely by accident, with an intriguing shrub that I discovered at Glasnevin the other day.
At first glance Olearia virgata var. lineata doesn’t have a great deal going for it. The leaves are small, thin and rather like rosemary and are carried in pairs on very thin, rather square branches. So it looks like a very stretched, dull rosemary. The habit is very elegant and ‘willowy’ and it arches pleasantly. When I saw it at the weekend it was covered in flowers but because these are tiny and dull greyish buff they would not make much of an impact if it wasn’t for the sheer number of them! But I would never have given it more than a passing glance if it wasn’t for the amazing fragrance of these tiny blooms. It was one of those cases when I walked into a cloud of perfume and just had to find out where it was coming from. It didn’t take long to find that the sweet, vanilla perfume was coming from this otherwise unexciting plant.
It is native to the South Island and is rather rare in the wild, reaching 8m high though the plant at the Botanic garden is only half that. Images of it in the wild show it as an elegant, airy tree and I hope the plants in Glasnevin can attain this size. It is probably not hardy enough to withstand a UK or Irish winter except in mild areas (though it is reported to be hardy to -5c) but it is tolerant of salt spray and would surely make a wonderful seaside plant for hedges and screens. It has a similar look to tamarisk and would make a wonderful companion. There are a few suppliers in the UK and I think this is a plant that deserves to be more widely known and grown.
Olearias are shrubby daisies, often known as daisy bushes. They grow well in Ireland and are sometimes seen in the milder areas of the UK. The most commonly grown is Olearia x haastii which I have always disliked because it is dull and always looks as though it needs hosing down to get rid of the dust. There are lots that are much more attractive and exciting.