Waxing lyrical about best-selling Australian wildflower
Australian wildflowers are grown commercially as cut flowers both here at home and in countries including Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Israel and the USA. They are hugely important internationally and the best-seller of them all is the geraldton wax (chamelaucium spp).
These beautiful shrubs come from Western Australia, where they occur naturally on and near the coast from Perth up to just north of Geraldton.
They grow to about 2m tall, with many slender branches bearing fine, needle-like foliage. The overall effect is quite soft and wispy. They flower in late winter and spring, when each of those wispy branches becomes covered in simple, five-petalled flowers about 1-1.5cm in diameter, in shades of white, pink or mauve.
Although they are from Western Australia, they will also grow in coastal NSW and south-east and central Queensland if conditions are right.
For geraldton wax, this means well-drained light to medium soil in a sunny or partially shaded position. Very sandy soil should be enriched with organic matter before planting. They will not survive in heavy or water-logged soil but will grow well in pots.
Avoid the temptation to over-pot or choose a pot that is too large for the plant. This makes it hard to control the moisture content and can lead to over-wet areas, which will increase the risk of root rot. The ideal pot size would be no more than twice the size of the one the plant is currently in.
Most of the varieties on the east coast are hybrids, bred for larger blooms, heavy flowering, compact growth and longevity.
Strawberry Surprise is a mid-pink variety featuring a pretty frilly petal formation. Chantilly Lace has frilly white flowers with a crisp lime-green centre. Sarah's Delight has vibrant pink blooms with a crimson centre. My Sweet Sixteen is particularly lovely, with masses of pure white flowers maturing to a rich red shade, so all shades appear at once when the plant is in bloom. There are heaps of others and all are beautiful.
Geraldton wax responds really well to pruning. The best time to do this is in spring, immediately after flowering. You can prune quite hard, taking off about a third each year. Of course, you can "pick to prune”, removing stems when they are in bloom and enjoying them in a vase, where they will last for up to 12 days. Never prune back into old wood with no green growth as this will almost certainly kill the plant.
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