Bower Vine, Grevillea, Queen Victoria Agave

Every now and then I see a plant that I must photograph right then and there, come what may.  It might mean climbing a tree and precariously straddling a branch, or parking on the shoulder of a freeway with cars zooming by.  For me, at least, a plant blooming in all its glory is tangible proof of God’s presence, expressed most eloquently yet simply in the closing verse of Psalm 150, the last psalm that King David composed:  “Let everything that lives praise the Lord.”

bower vine, Pandorea jasminoides

How appropriate that bower vine (Pandorea jasminoides) should so powerfully evoke the divine.  A bower is a leafy arbor or rustic retreat, a place to get away from it all and return to your essence.  Bower vine’s flowers are indescribably pure, backlit by the glow from its effulgent foliage.

Yet a rustic retreat may not always be close at hand, and the appropriate conditions for growing bower vine may be somewhat of a challenge to find as well.  Sunset Western Garden Book, the gardener’s Bible for those living in Western states, wisely suggests that bower vine be planted in “partial shade in hottest climates.”  Others recommend giving it half a day of sun, and preferably morning sun at that.
No matter where you plant it, keeping its roots in the shade — by planting it in a side yard between houses, for example — will immensely benefit bower vine or any other tropical plant for that matter.  Bower vine is native to Queensland and New South Wales, roughly equivalent to Florida and the Southeast.  Sorry, Antelope Valley, bower vine cannot handle more that a few consecutive hours of frosty (32 degrees or less) temperature.
San Fernando Valley dwellers will probably want to plant it up against a wall so that, on cold nights, it will benefit from radiant heat accumulated in the wall during the day or from heat leaked (if there is a central heating system on the other side) through the wall all at night.  If you live almost anywhere in Orange County, on the other hand, you can plant bower vine with confidence that it will grow well as long as its location is not smitten by the hottest rays of summer’s afternoon sun.
So yes, as its name implies, bower vine is really meant for growing up and over an arbor or a gazebo to create a leafy retreat, but it is also suitable for growing up a trellis or a chain link fence.  Aside from its silky pink or white trumpets — which may be fragrant, depending on variety — bower vine has luminous dark green foliage.  Its growth is less dense than that of  more aggressive vines such as bougainvillea, honeysuckle, and many other trumpet vine species so that you will not be overburdened with pruning it.  Even though its origins are tropical, bower vine is basically drought tolerant, needing no more than one or two good soakings per month, once it is established in the garden.

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’

Grevillea ‘Robyn Gordon’ flower cluster

Most of the Australian plants found in our gardens come from the dry western part of Australia, as opposed to the wetter eastern part.  One of the most famous Australian genera that feel at home in Southern California is Grevillea.  Species range from the arboreal silk oak (Grevillea robusta), whose orange flowers are among the first to appear in the spring, to ground covers such as Grevillea ‘Magic Lantern’ that stays below three feet tall, spreading to ten feet in diameter.  ‘Robyn Gordon’ is a widely grown Grevillea shrub, with huge red, spidery blooms.  Where these dry climate Australians are concerned, make sure not to fertilize with phosphorus which can lead to their quick demise.

Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) in bloom, photo by Martha Fedel

Tip of the Week:  Martha Fedel, who gardens in Fullerton, sent a photo of a Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) in bloom.  The body of the plant is not more than 18 inches tall at maturity, while its flower stalk, signaling the death of the plant, can grow up to 15 feet in height.  Varieties of Queen Victoria agave include the smaller ‘Compacta,’ reaching only 10 inches tall, ‘Golden Princess,’ with gold-edged leaves, and ‘White Rhino,’ which has thick cream-colored leaf margins that frame dark green leaf centers.  Unfortunately, Queen Victorias almost never produce offsets or pups for propagation purposes.  To propagate agave from seed in small plastic pots, mix equal parts perlite and sphagnum peat moss and place seeds just below the soil surface.  Place pots in a container with water at half the depth of the pots.  Once pots are saturated with water, after allowing them to drain, cover them with plastic wrap secured with a rubber band and place on a sunny window sill.  Within two weeks, you should see close to 100% germination of your seeds.

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