Tropical Climate Gardening

Your guide to gardening in the tropics

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Growing Bauhinia x blakeana - Common name "Hong Kong Orchid Tree"

Today I visited our stockist and have bought back some beautiful stock ready for our next landscaping project, I'm wrapped in the quality and cant wait to get the next project started.

I've picked up one of my favourite tree's to grow in the Tropic's, the "Hong Kong Orchid Tree" which I believe originated from China and were once called Sheep's foot tree's due to the leaf shape looking like a sheep's foot. I personally think this tree is far to pretty to be associated with any part of a sheep's foot, Orchid Tree fits perfect! 

The Bauhinia x blakeana is said to be a hybrid between the Bauhinia purpurea and B.variegata and is actually the official emblem of Hong Kong since 1965. It was discovered on the seashore of Hong Kong Island near the ruins of a house by Sir Henry Blake who happened to be enthusiastic botanist. Its said he named the tree after his wife Lady Edith Blake.b2ap3_thumbnail_Seed-pod-Bauhinia.gif

This pretty tree will grow up to 7m- 9m tall and has dainty orchid like flowers, in Darwin we tend to have the magenta colour and can see this tree flower from February right through to November. If you are planting from seed you can expect your Bauhinia to flower from a year to two from when it was a seedling.

Bauhiana trees can be grown in full sun in fertile well draining slightly acidic soil, the tree will produce large flat legume looking pods however the tree is sterile so it wont produce seed pods. The roots are deep and don't like to be transplanted so take care when planting out into your garden. What I like to do is soak the roots in seaweed solution for a few hrs before I transplant this will reduce the shock and give the tree a head start. Its such a hardy tree just a general fertiliser twice a year is all this tree will need, in fact I have one tree that I must admit I missed fertilising one year and it looked just as gorgeous as the others without the need for a feed. When I do fertilise I just use a slow release fertiliser and organic matter such as blood and bone.   

One of the things I love is how adaptable this tree can be, it will withstand the dry seasons with dry spells and tolerate our build up we have used this tree also in our smaller landscaping projects as well as our larger ones its such a versatile tree. If you're thinking of using this tree in a smaller garden or even a large container be sure to prune it for the first few years so the canopy is shaped and your tree will keep its neat form.  I've read you can even train a Bauhinia as a bonsai which I am keen to try out on one of our commercial oriental properties, and maybe one at home for trial purposes.

Commercial location's and street scapes love this tree also as its evergreen, the tree may drop a few leaves over a month or so but the new leaves are quick to grow and replace bare branches. 

Pest's aren't really a problem as i've never had to deal with any at our place or at any other location's where we have planted the Bauhinia, its said to be free of any serious pest's and diseases. Pest's that have been known to attack but quite rare are borers, caterpillars and mites. As for diseases leaf spot, and leaf scorch may require attention but once again quite rare.





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©Lawn Ranger Landscaping & Irrigation
in Gardening 206637




Welcome to our garden!

A few times we have been asked what our gardens look like, we tend to be passionate about so many plants & trees that we cant resist trialing them on our place in Girraween.

Firstly i would like to say YES we do make mistakes, in fact our whole garden is a series of lessons learned. Each year our gardens change in one way or another, I think what makes our garden work is responding to mistakes and not being afraid to correct them. It's not uncommon for Kevin and I to spend months working on an area then two seasons later decide okay that's not working the way we planned, lets rip it up. 'If i was to give any gardener advice it would have to be make mistakes BUT learn from them. Don't be afraid to rip up plants everything in a garden is workable we have revamped gardens which contained the wrong everything into welcoming areas in a matter of days.  Another way I like to look at gardening is this; If we all read books, blogs etc.. and followed everything we read to a tea who's to say these writers were partly wrong or not tried alternative methods? I'm not saying don't read and learn (gosh i read every night for hours on the topic) but do this...take a bit of information from here and there but be original, be creative! Use yourself as the teacher life experience beats anything in writing.

Now where do we live? Rural Northern Territory on about 3acres just on the outskirts Darwin, It's a little slice of paradise we love to call our home.


Our block tends to have different landscaping concepts on the entire land, we like it this way so we can walk around home and feel a new feeling in each created space. We have the tropical area, native area, the kitchen garden, the kids area, the playing field and a recently added formal decking area that overlooks our property which we dearly love but sadly don't get much spare time to sit there but when we do its pretty special.

Having land we are fortunate enough to trail all sorts plants, trees and ideas here before getting to work on our customers gardens. Trialing has been allot fun and just about every weekend we tend to come up with some sort of idea for a particular area and before we know it our weekend has been consumed by the garden once again.

The kitchen garden was the first and major garden I wanted established as its the most useful and rewarding one on the property, nothing beats fresh produce with no chemicals!

A native garden was high on my list as I have a real love for the outback flora and fauna, I love sitting in our native garden watching all the different birds in the trees, between the parrots, cocky's and butcher birds there isn't much silence in the garden- just as well I love their harmony ha!

Living in the tropics I just had to add a tropical garden for our southern family and friends, they are always amazed at the colour in the foliage and sense of tropical feeling a garden like this brings. Whilst its not my favourite part in the garden I am always amazed by the little surprises in this garden.

Our block is a working progress, we have been out here for 5 years and basically started with a clean slate so every year as thing grow its nice to flick back through old photos and see how far the gardens have come.


I'm often asked by visitors how did we pick all the plant species and to be honest like I said our gardens were never really planned we created them one at a time based on our personality. Some days I want nature so i prefer to hang around the native side whilst other days Ive gone troppo and want to sip on cocktails surrounded by bright vibrant foliage.

Being landscapers we tend to be run off our feet so weekends are not like a traditional weekend, Kevin is off Saturdays doing irrigation and quotes for our business so its me and the kids that usually get stuck into the gardens. Afternoon time when Kevin arrives home Ive usually though up ideas and get him to work straight away before the sun disappears on us. Sunday 's we love to listen to Macca on the radio whilst on our decking (coffee in hand of course) then we discuss the days plan. We both live and breath gardening in all its forms from irrigation, landscaping and general gardening/ maintenance so our business really suits us and I can truly say i love my job.

Now when most look at our garden they usually then mention how much did it cost to do all this and i'll be honest and say- not a whole lot. Yes we get wholesale from garden nurseries but but we are just so busy doing other peoples gardens that we do not tend to  order for us at all, its all cuttings, markets and specials i may see around the place. Anyone can have a gorgeous garden in any theme if your patient. There is nothing wrong with slowly adding plants here and there over time. Stroll through the markets on a Saturday morning and pick up plants that catch your eye, you dont have know the in's and out's of it then and there. Simply ask the name of the plant your buying, then do research find that location its best suited to and get digging. Buying mass amounts is expensive if your going to nurseries or even Bunnings. I hate to see people spend enormous amounts on all these different kids of plants only to know nothing about the species and then the plants either get put in the wrong spot, die or go wild suffocating other plants- take your time and learn on the way.

As landscapers we are obviously dealing with clients who want bare spaces complete with a ready to go garden so yes we are dealing with many species to customers who sometimes no little to nothing about gardening. We have a data base now in the office so I can actually print out a little about all the selected plants for the job and then that way our customers are not getting left with a garden with no instructions on how to care for it. Its like a newborn baby in a way, we hand the garden over whilst its new,  its going to keep growing so you need to feed it with the right fertilisers and water it at the right doses.

In the years to come our garden will join the open garden scheme here in the Northern Territory, if your local we would love for you to take a wander.

Plans for 2014- Ahhh so many but what we are planning for next year is demolishing our current kitchen garden to make way for an extended grassed area for the kids, constructing a new bigger kitchen garden, creating another native area around our decking and adding lots of tropical exotic fruit trees around our oval area.


©Kylie Stephens
in Gardening 28176

There are a variety of reasons to use ground covers in your garden, we love them and encourage our clients to make good use of what is available up here in the tropics.

Ground covers will help drown out the weeds in your garden beds, give great dimension, elegance and attention to detail not to mention doing your part to prevent soil erosion.

When choosing a ground cover we have such a great selection here in the tropics however not all nurseries stock all ground covers. Online shopping can be a great tool in helping you track down the perfect ground cover.

Soil preparation is an essential part of ground covers because once the ground cover is settled in it can be quite hard to get into spaces to hand pick weeds, spraying poisons is risky and you may damage foliage of trying to get around the ground cover. Do compost with organic matter as this will kick you off to a great start.

In general most ground covers are low maintenance however a good irrigation set up will be required when establishing to ensure a good strong healthy root system.

Some of the ground covers we have used in the tropics include:

Mondo Grass (green) standard & mini

I was actually surprised to read one day in a book that the Mondo grass is not actually a grass at all but rather from the lily family.

It is evergreen with beautiful rich green foliage and spreads out in clumps. I like to hand pick dead foliage out of our Mondo's to give it a clean prestige look at all times. If your handy in the garden don't be scared to dig up clumps and start dividing, this will give you a ongoing supply.


Stripey Mondo

A stunning white and green variegated foliage growing approx 40cm in height.

Very easy to grow and quite hardy once established which is why its one of my top plants in the garden in fact i am using this type of Mondo to hedge around a garden bed which has allot of green. The silver foliage will break up the green, soften the edges and give a wonderful contrast.  



This would have to be the most widely used ground cover in Darwin, it has such a gorgeous contrast from a wonderful purple on one side of the leaf then a deep green on the other side.

This ground cover is very hardy, adaptable to most soil conditions and propagation is dead easy.

Requires little water, prefers full sun to part shade i have these in both but must say the Rhoeo that is in part shade has a richer color than the ones in full sun.

Fertilise regularly to keep Rhoeo looking at its best and don't over water will grow approx 30cm in height.


Stromanthe Purple

White and green upper leaves with a gorgeous purple underneath.

Grows well in shady or part shady positions, fertilise regularly and add organic mulch to see this ground cover at its best.

Approx 40cm in height


Aglanomea Silver King

A Great ground cover for shady areas and likes to be kept well watered, fertilise regular and add organic mulch to keep this one looking in top shape.



These carry some of the most interesting flowers to be seen, there are so many stunning varieties that i will have to make a post just one this topic to show you what is around. In Darwin we are spoilt for choice with all good garden nurseries stocking many variety as well as most of our weekend markets having selections at great prices.

Very easy to grow and propagate, just keep in the center of the broms- i like to give them a good hose down to clean the center out every now and then so the water is flushed clean.


Liriope (purple)

A dainty looking evergreen grassy leaf ground cover with perfect little purple flowers, very hardy and adaptable to most soil conditions.

Grows well in both sun and shade, approx 25cm.


Aloe Vera

Widely known for its medicinal properties these are very hardy growing in well drained soils, approx 30cm.

Leaves are dark grey/green with tiny blunt burs, flowers can be a yellow/orange, lightly fertilise.


Ruby Leaf

Year round deep ruby/ burgundy foliage, gets little cream flowers but mainly grown for the foliage colour.

Ive currently got this one in the garden but have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of it, it requires regular pruning to keep it looking neat and i find the sap seems to react with my skin. When Ive been a bit busy to cut it back it looks very twiggy and almost weed like in appearance. Can be grown in full sun to part shade and reaches half to a meter tall. Quite hardy requires little water.


Blue Marguerite

Bright blue daisy like flowers that look great scrambling over rockeries, full sun to part shade.

Water regular and best suited in free draining soil, approx 30cm in height



Coastal Morning Glory

A native ground cover with purple flowers, very hardy and grows well in sandy soils.



Seaside Daisy

Masses of dainty pink and white flowers, quite a hardy perennial ground cover growing well in full sun.

Slow growing however can get quite invasive so if growing this one keep an eye on it and cut back regularly, approx 40cm  


 Dichondra Repens

I love seeing this ground cover creeping in between pavers and cracks in concrete, it has a very dense clover like leaf and can grow in full sun to part shade conditions.

We have used this one as a full lawn substitute in the past with great success, low maintenance approx 15cm in height


Spider Lily

Another well known and seen plant in Darwin used for ground covering.

The strap leaves emerge from bulbs forming underground, they will grow in tight clusters and have a six spider like petals on flowers which will appear one and off all year round up here.

Very low maintenance, let the stems and leaves die off naturally then hand pick them out.

Fast spreading approx 60cm in height.


Creeping Vitex

A native ground cover with grey green leaves and a gorgeous purple orchid like flower which grow in clusters with a spicy fragrance.

Will grow well in a variety of soil conditions.


Heucherella Spotlight

Burgundy veins flow through bright green leaves, a winner if looking for striking contrast in part shaded areas.

Keep well watered and divide every now  and then to remove any dead foliage and keep it looking fresh.

Butterfly attracting, approx 20cm in height


Cut Leaf Daisy

This is a sweet little daisy that comes in a variety of colours and is very hardy,  requires very little water once established.

Prefers free draining soils but ive had this one also in a few different soil conditions with success.


Canavalia Rosea

A decorative trailing ground cover with thick leathery leaves aad attractive purple/ pink flowers.

Grows well in a variety of soils, pest and disease resistant and requires no fertilising.

Harshly prune as this one can get away and grows quite rapid, Ive seen a few places in Darwin that have let this one go wild and its ended up in quite a mess and taken quite a bit of work to get under control. I have a book that says this one is slow growing but from my experience i'ld class it in the fast growing category maybe its my soil but i find myself always cutting it back.



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©Kylie Stephens
Tagged in: ground cover
in Gardening 334082



I think its pretty safe to say you can drive down any street in Darwin and know there will be at least one garden in the street with Heliconias. They are such a popular tropical plant adding spectacular color, interesting foliage and double up as one of the most sort after cut flowers. The leaves look allot like banana leaves, an interesting fact is the Heliconia flower isn't really a flower at all, its actually a group of colorful leaves  called "bracts" its the tiny flower inside the bracts that is the true flower of the Heliconia plant its here that the pollen and stamen are.

Heliconias are related to the canna, gingers and the banana there is over 100 species  with a large number of these all having all sorts of cultivars and hybrids. 

How do Heliconias grow?

Heliconias grow from a vigourous underground system of rhizomes which looks allot like the root of ginger that you would buy from the market or supermarket.  You can also grow from seed however the most common way is by rhizomes which is quite easy even for the beginner.

How to Grow Heliconias?

Heliconias like the sub tropical and tropical climate areas and thrive in free draining soils that are rich in organic matter.  You can grow these in full sun or partial shade, in my experience I find the ones that get shade tend to grow taller and look a bit fuller than the ones out in full sun. Watering requirements are quite heavy, they will need a good watering during the dry season as well as mulching which will also help produce organic matter into the soil. Fertilising can be done just with a general purpose fertiliser or home made orb2ap3_thumbnail_Rhizome.jpgganic one.

Each stem will only produce one flower, so once you have a gorgeous flower simply cut it then cut the stem out. Cutting the stems out will give air flow through the plant, encourage more flowering and lmprove the overall appearance of the plant. We are often called out to garden cleanups which have masses of Heliconias that havent had any attention, its resulted in dead stems and leaves and looks rather  unattractive.  There is basically two types of growing styles the clumping and spreading so when choosing the right plant for you consider a clumping Heliconia if your restricted on time in the garden. Psittocorums are the small fast growing heliconias that you see flowering all year round.

There is also two flowering styles the erect style and the hanging type flowers which some call pendant flowers.  The most popular and my fav of the hanging Heliconia is the rostrata (hanging lobster claw)  the flowers are large with striking red and yellow.  

When it comes to dividing the Heliconias you need to dig and take a rhizome which is the thick woody horizontal root from which the leaf stems grow up from. This can then be divided into pieces as long as there is eye growth on it, its the eye that the new plant will grow from.  After this stage i like to soak my rhizomes in a lit of liquid fertiliser, i water the fertiliser down so its not to strong. The rhizome will absorb the water and fertiliser and be hydrated to plant out.

Plant out your rhizome with the eye pointing upwards, depth should be roughly the same depth as it came out the ground as a guide. Cover will soil (not to heavy) and water the soil down to remove the from around the rhizome this will help keep fungus away. After this stage you can cover with organic mulch to protect it from the sun. Once you have planted do not disturb as the roots and shoots are quite fragile at this stage. As for time to shoot it could be days or months, never give up watering ive had one take so long to shoot that i was convinced it was dead but out of the blue i saw a shoot and from there it bloomed into one of my best plants yet.

Containing Heliconias

For spreading Heliconias the best way to contain is either plant out in pots or simply use a root barrier its fairly cheap to buy and easy to install.  We like to use root barrier made from 100% recycled plastic at 1mm thickness.

Popular Psittocorums                     Popular Erect                                      Propular Hanging

-Golden Torch                                   - Bihai Claw 2                                        - Sexy Pink

-Red Gold                                         - Bihai Nappy Red                                  - Sexy Orange

-Daintree                                          - Carabea Red                                      - Rostrata

-Red Cross                                        - Bihai Yellow Dancer                             - Collinsiana

-Tropica                                           - Champneiana Maya Blood

b2ap3_thumbnail_red-heliconia.jpg                b2ap3_thumbnail_Heliconia_bihai_Claw_III.jpg                  b2ap3_thumbnail_Heliconia-rostrata-6inch.JPG


©Kylie Stephens
Tagged in: Heliconia Tropical
in Gardening 313931



This is a bit of a late post, i have been busy re designing this new website so we can share more to our viewers. I'm no web designer but i am very stubborn when it comes to learning every aspect in our business which includes web design. 

Darwin recently hosted  the 2013 Tropical Garden Spectacular at the Botanical Gardens in June in which we were a part of.

For those of you that are in Darwin or planning to be in Darwin during the dry season come along and enjoy what the Territory has to offer.  The event is all about creating inspiration and full of entertainment.


Kevin the irrigation guru was there all weekend doing irrigation demonstrations & talking all things irrigation. We also had a display this year which took a bit of planning and last minute madness but was well worth it. Our theme was children in the garden, we basically wanted to show what you can do yourself with DIY projects using recyclable materials. Displays included a pencil fence, poly rainbow, the hungry caterpillar, scarecrows, birds, paper flowers, sea saw and much more. When i am on top of things in the office i will add some how to posts for those of you that would like to out a few of the projects.

The much loved Costa from Gardening Australia was at the event this year, sadly i didn't get to meet him but Kevin had a good chat with him and got come great photos together. Its great to see such well know garden celebrity's coming along to our Top End events. Costa spent a week in the Tiwi Islands the week before checking out what the guys have been up to out there. Last Saturday Gardening Australia had an episode showing the Islands, it looked beautiful and some amazing work happening out there even a boasting nursery which i didn't know existed out there.  



in Gardening 63131