Kylie Treble: Where to find free plants
These plants are rarely stocked in retail nurseries, so sourcing these old stalwarts may depend on your aptitude for stealth.
Often the best way to come across these plants is at old house sites or roadside garden refuse dump sites. You know the ones, they emerge when Harry says to Merle, “I’ll just wheelbarrow those rose prunings across the road Dear!” or Stuart says to Delvine “Dumpling, I’ll take those aggies up to the vacant block when it gets dark!”
More often than not these places become a mecca of hardy garden treasures – but they can also spur plant invasion and are not be encouraged.
Consequently I feel that it is my duty to forage these sites to reap these hardy plant rewards, but my other associates feel the line is blurry and fear that by simply putting a shovel and secateurs into action, we are breaking some roadside law.
So last week when I had a borrowed ute (for reasons other than plant treasure hunting) and I mentioned to my family that we should go roadside plant hunting they groaned not inwardly – but a full outward audible display.
To their credit they rallied, and volunteered to drive the get-away vehicle and to bail me out of jail if necessary: fortunately neither were required and I have extended my plant portfolio.
Here are a few plants to look for along with how to divide and plant them with success:
Daylillies (Hemerocallis sp.)
These are a useful find, not only do they form thick clumps for frogs and beetles to hide in, but their young shoots, tubers and unopened flower buds are edible, including when steamed and tossed into a salad. As Daylillies grow in dense clumps you are best to section off pieces with a sharp shovel performing as if a karate specialist with a shovel (I even find making some sort of karate yell helps). It is important to divide out pieces which have a strong section of root and leaves intact: don’t be fooled by pieces with only the stem and leaves so dig deep. Similarly when planting at home, dig a deep hole inserting the plant down to the leaf growing intersection and water well.
Society Garlic (Tulbagia violacea)
Not your typical garlic, but a great year around fall back option as both leaves and flowers provide garlic flavour in soups, stews, omelettes, salad dressing etc. For best transferring results, dig a large clump and don’t divide until well established. Society Garlic can make a useful dry area, full-sun garden edge.
We all know the virtues of Aloe vera (recognisable from its succulent leaves edged with serration and waxy bloom when young) in soothing burns, hence the small pot at my back door. A roadside find of Aloes is equivalent to the casual kicking over of an alluvial gold nugget. Successful division involves digging deep (I didn’t say this would be easy) underneath the spiky rosette edges to retrieve some of the fibrous roots. Aloes are tolerant of dry shade, but prefer a location with afternoon sun. Water only a little but regularly for the first six months to help establishment.
Red Hot Pokers (Kniphofia sp.)
Try to find a winter or spring flowering species as this is when the lovely nectar bearing flowers are of greatest value in your garden. The food source that they provide feeds a wide range of pest consuming birds and insects, building their numbers for summer. Older plants form dense clumps, so use the same karate chop as you did to remove the daylilies with a spade into the side of the clump. You should be able to remove several yellow stemmed tillers ensuring that they have a root or two at the base. Plant these in a deep hole and water frequently until you see side tillers emerge.
Hardy, sun-loving ground covers these daisies produce roots along their stems with relative ease. Pluck long stems from the parent plant and poke the stems into a pot filled with one third compost, two thirds soil. Water sparingly as the cuttings can rot. Plant your new plants in full sun on challenging sites such as rocky slopes, where clay dominates and along the edge of a footpath.
Catch up on Kylie’s earlier columns here…