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Create a simple yet unforgettable centrepiece this Christmas

Picturing vases full of home-grown natives for the party season? Me too, so I visited East Coast Wildflowers, on the slopes of Mangrove Mountain on the NSW Central Coast, to pick up some tips. Here Craig Scott and his team grow some 200 different varieties of Australian plants, which are sold as cut flowers at Sydney Flower Market.

While much of the bounty is grown in greenhouses where temperature, wind, drainage, watering and feeding can be controlled to maximise the harvest, there was plenty to see outside as well.

Mulla mulla and kangaroo paw on the slopes of Mangrove Mountain.Credit:Robin Powell

Demanding immediate attention in the fields above the dam was a long dense row of dark-red kangaroo paw, glowing vivid against the burgundy foliage of Agonis flexuosa “After Dark” and the softer lilac-purple new growth of the larger growing Agonis “Burgundy”.

Rows of the winged everlasting daisy, Ammobium alatum, were just coming into bloom as was the blue lace flower Trachemene coerulea, both of which Scott reckons are criminally underused as garden plants. Grown as annuals from seed, they’ll flower all summer.

Kangaroo paw close up.

Kangaroo paw close up.Credit:Robin Powell

On the other side of the track are the festive season must-haves – flowering gums and Christmas bush. The flowering gums are all grafted forms of Corymbia ficifolia. Grafting these natives of the south-west of Western Australia means they can cope with the humidity and heavier soils of the east coast. The show starts with “Dwarf Orange” in early December, adds pink-flowered “Summer Beauty” later in the month, while the brilliant dark red of “Summer Red” joins the party early in the New Year.

Scott aims to keep the gums at a height that makes harvesting straightforward, though that’s more of a challenge with the larger growing “Summer Beauty”. After the flowering finishes, the trees are cut back to about chest height, just above the cuts from the harvest.

Christmas bush is treated equally hard. “You can be quite vicious and cut them hard”, advises Scott. “They just grow.” Water and native plant food help them take off.

Christmas bush, Cerapetalum gummiferum, flowers in spring with creamy little blooms, and then develops the characteristic pink or red sepals that hold for weeks. Scott grows the common “Albery’s Red” and is trialling a new variety called “Red Red Red Christmas” which has darker red, longer-lasting sepals. While the extraordinary colour is an advantage, the tree wants to be tall, with flowers up high and Scott is still working out how he’ll manage that.

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