I have had an up and down relationship with olearias, those shrubby Antipodean daisies. The first species I really noticed was O. semidentata, probably at Logan (SW Scotland), or somewhere similar, when I was a student. I was enraptured by its large daisy flowers in beautiful, pale lilac with darker centres. Of course there is a problem with this species, which will have been guessed by anyone who has visited any of the ‘Gulf Stream’ gardens in the west of the UK and Ireland, it is not hardy. So that one is not an option in most gardens.
When the genus contains a beauty such as this it is inexplicable to me that the most widely available olearia is O. x haastii. This natural hybrid, first found in the Canterbury area of New Zealand more than a century ago, is available in every garden centre. It is the toughest and most hardy of them all but just because something doesn’t die doesn’t make it a good plant. I dislike everything about it. The dark green leaves are downy when young and the branches and reverse of the leaves retain this, something that is common in the genus. It has a dumpy habit and in July it produces lots of greyish white flowers and these have a pleasant smell.
As I write this I am wondering why I dislike it so much. I think it is because it is often planted in filthy urban areas where the evergreen leaves are covered in grime and the flowers offset by crisp packets. So should I pretend to like it just because of its background? Should I forgive David Cameron for destroying the UK just because he went to Eton? No, emphatically not *. So O. x haastii will never find a place in my garden.
To my plant of the week (at last), which is O. macrodonta. It is found wild on both islands of New Zealand and is a tall, multi-stemmed shrub up to 7m high. It has pleasant peeling bark when mature and rather angular young stems. The leaves are rather like holly and dark green but the ‘spines’ are soft and not prickly. The flower clusters appear in autumn at the ends of the new growths and they may get damaged in a bad winter.
They open right now and it is amazing that the stiff little clusters that start to expand in spring can become such abundant displays. I confess that they are a rather grey white, like most of the clan, but they have a lovely, honey-like scent that has been filling the air on these hot days.
I admire the rather random shape of the plant but it can be trimmed as a hedge if required. I like it best when lower stems are removed and it can become a small tree.
Cuttings root easily from semi-ripe shoots in August and I have some young plants ready to go in my ‘seaside’ garden if it ever gets done! This is a perfect seaside plant, tolerating wind and some salt but not extreme cold. It is hardy enough to try in most areas though.
* I did say I might not be able to control my fury! Why has the Queen not summoned and beheaded Cameron.