Part of the pleasure of an established ornamental garden is greeting old friends (I'm talking about flowers, here) season after season. I couldn't be happier to see my blousy perennial phlox towering over dependable astilbe, or old-faithful-the-wallflower chumming up to sedum spectabile. And to this week lay eyes a seedling of the pale lemon-green hollyhock I thought I'd lost, not only growing but in flower, was sheer joy. But this week, I was in for another, even bigger, surprise. On the border of my garden, tucked in beside the olive which never produces fruit and a well-spread garrya elliptica, was a glorious grey-green leaved medium sized tree covered in perfumed white flowers.
I can't recall ever having noticed it before and I have no idea how it got there, but I do know it was so covered in rich creamy-white flowers, all with attractive orange anthered centres, that it took my breath away. And the bees! It was simply covered in them – honey bees and bumbles all busily buzzing as they crawled over the flowers. When I picked a sprig to smell the perfume, I realised the attraction – the blooms smelled as much like honey as the real thing. In fact, asa bee keeper, I can assure you that had I been blindfolded and asked to distinguish between a comb of fresh honey and the flowers on the tree, it would have been impossible.
I dashed to my Reader's Digest Gardeners' Encyclopaedia of Plants & Flowers. (This is a must-have book for anyone with an interest in ornamentals. According to size of plant, colour of flower, and season of interest; it leads you to a swift identification of whatever you are trying to track down.) And there it was (or at least an unmistakable cousin): Gordonia. My ignorance was understandable when further research on the Internet informed me this family of shrubs and trees is rarely grown in home landscapes, appearing more commonly in parks and gardens.
Commonly known as the 'Fried Egg Tree', there are over 40 varieties of Gordonia and I am yet to firmly establish just which mine is. Few flower during autumn so I am taking photos and will, some day in winter, make a pilgrimage to the Dunedin Botanic Gardens to talk to those who know, about just which of the Gordonia's mine is.
But in the meantime, may I encourage you (unless you live in areas where winter temperatures drop below -12 C degrees) to find one for your own garden, especially an autumn flowering variety. In frost-free climates blooming continues right through winter, a rarity in flowering shrubs. Gordonia are unlikely to attract pests or disease, and enjoy rich organic soil. And even better for someone like me who lives on the edge of a rainforest, Gordonia enjoy acidic conditions and a healthy dose of moisture! What are you waiting for – dig out the plant voucher you got for Christmas and go hunting!