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The Use of Correas in Garden Design

Maria Hitchcock

This article was prompted by a letter from Diana Snape who wanted a list of the 'best' Correas. Since garden design is a very personal thing, it is hard to generalise. I suppose the best way to start would be to look at the most common garden types and then fit into them a range of correas which would be suitable. I shall start with the tallest ones and gradually work my way down to groundcovers.

The Bush Garden

The upper storey of this type of garden is dominated by a range of eucalypts and tall acacias, casuarinas, banksias and any other small trees. The middle storey contains a variety of plants which grow up to 3 metres, such as callistemons, melaleucas, leptospermums, kunzeas, banksias, etc. and outside edges are bordered with a range of larger shrubs. The beauty of this type of garden is that you can walk through it - like having your own private bushland.

Correa lawrenciana var. rosea would fit well into a bush garden. It is both frost and drought hardy and needs very little maintenance. Plants grow up to 3 metres in height and are very dense with large leaves that give a rainforest look to the garden. I plant them in a clump towards the edge of a bush garden where they provide a dark contrast to other shrubs nearby. They tolerate being planted close to eucalypts and I underplant them with some Correa reflexa var. nummulariifolia plants which peek out from the base and provide a dense groundcover. My plants are watered with drippers.

The Tasmanian form of Correa lawrenciana var. lawrenciana can be trained into a small decorative tree shape and looks spectacular in flower when planted as a specimen and carefully tended. It should be planted so as to allow the afternoon sun to backlight the flowers.

Correa alba
Correa 'Dusky Bells'
'Dusky Bells'
Correa 'Ivory Bells'
'Ivory Bells'
Correa lawrenciana
Correa pulchella

The Shrub Border

This type of garden is characterised by large shrubs at the back, medium shrubs in the centre and small shrubs at the front. The trick with growing an attractive shrub border is to plant fairly closely so that the shrubs grow into one another. This will shade the ground and prevent the germination of weeds. I like to mulch these gardens very heavily at first until the plants cover every bit of ground. After that they need regular watering during dry periods and the application of an organic fertiliser twice a year. I find that mixing correas and prostantheras gives an interesting and attractive look.

Correa backhouseana var. backhouseana is a very vigorous and hardy large shrub which would suit the background. It has cream-coloured flowers and rounded shiny dark leaves. Another excellent background shrub is Correa 'Marian's Marvel'. This old hardy cultivar is still a favourite and is grown widely across the country. It has pale pink and green flowers for most of the year.

The middle row is for shrubs which grow to about 1.5 metres in height. The various forms of Correa glabra fit in well. All are very drought and frost hardy, have dense foliage and require practically no maintenance. Correa glabra var glabra has pale green flowers and shiny mid-green leaves. Correa glabra var. leucoclada has yellowish flowers and apple-green leaves, Correa glabra var. turnbullii has dark shiny foliage and red and green flowers. One of the best forms grows on Mt. Barker in South Australia.

Correa alba var. alba tends to sprawl a bit so needs to be grown in between other shrubs. It is usually very hardy and reliable in cultivation and the white star-shaped flowers are very attractive. There are pink flowered forms available but not all are reliable.

All of these plants would be suitable for the centre of a large mounded garden, a style I have seen often in Victoria. You could also add the C. lawrenciana forms to your mix.

Correa reflexa Correa reflexa   
Two forms of Correa reflexa
Left: C.reflexa var. reflexa
Right: C.reflexa var nummulariifolia

Most of the more colourful correas are best suited to the front row of the shrub border. Correa reflexa has many forms and not all are reliable in cultivation. The best forms of Correa reflexa var. reflexa come from coastal areas in south-eastern South Australia, western Victoria and south-east New South Wales. They are generally low- growing plants which require regular tip-pruning in the early stages to make them bush up. All have bright red flowers.

Correa reflexa var nummulariifolia is very popular as a groundcover. It is very dense and has grey-green foliage and cream flowers with tan tips. I have seen a very small-leaved form which is highly attractive. It was planted en masse under a small grove of Silver Birch trees and looked spectacular.

Correa reflexa var speciosa is the brightest of all the C. reflexa flowers. Plants have large, bulbous carmine flowers but the plants themselves can be fairly touchy. I find the 'Point Hicks' and 'Marlo' forms very attractive but young plants need regular tip-pruning to make them bush up. I think you could plant five or six together closely to give a spectacular display. They need regular watering and feeding.

Correa pulchella is also a very variable species and has contributed to a large number of cultivars. Correa 'Dusky Bells' is a hardy favourite. It spreads over a large area and has attractive pink bells which are half-hidden in the foliage. Correa 'Pink Mist' is another favourite. The salmon-pink bells are more obvious and the plant tends to be more upright. It would also make an excellent small hedge plant. Correa 'Mannii' tends to sprawl a bit but the flowers are worth it. It needs regular pruning for shape and is best grown in between other shrubs. Correa 'Ivory Bells' has a neat habit and attractive cream-coloured flowers.

Correa decumbens has several hybrid forms which are vigorous and reliable in cultivation. They are bushier and more upright than the parent plant and flowers tend to hang down rather than poke up. Some are taller and better suited to the middle row of shrubs. Many are unnamed but one fantastic form that I have growing originated as a seedling in Royce Raleigh's garden.

Rockeries and Embankments

The plants listed for the front row of the shrub border would also suit rockeries and embankment plantings, as well as tub planting and pond surrounds.

While there are many promising cultivars on the market, it is impossible to list them all. Often it is a matter of trial and error to find the right plant for that location. However, this article may help in organising your correa garden. The nice thing about correas is that you can plant a large number of them fairly closely together and they lend themselves to filling odd pockets in the garden.

They also propagate very easily from cuttings so you can assemble a good collection at very low cost. The best thing however, is that they will provide winter nectar for small birds and if you plant a variety of correas to flower at different times through the year, the birds will stay all year and nest in your garden as well. Place a birdbath in your correa garden and enjoy the antics of our feathered friends as they splash in the water.

From the newsletter of ASGAP's Correa Study Group, December 2001.

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