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9 Resilient Plants That Have Disappeared From Gardens

Holly cow batman. Have a look around. Gardens are filling up with a boring repetition of cordylines, buxus and lomandra. 

Our gardens are resembling council roundabouts. How did we let this happen? Where are all the prettiest shrubs with the historic references we love so much? Where are the plants from our childhood? Here are our vintage favourites we hope never completely disappear.

1. Camellia japonica ‘Aspasia Macarthur’

At one time this unusual Camellia japonica with a large, white and/or pink flower (it’s a bit of a lucky dip, really) was widely available in Australia. But where is it now? Many of Aspasia Macarthur’s ‘sport’ varieties, such as ‘Margaret Davis’ are available, quite popular, and popping up all over Sydney. But it seems only the true die-hard camellia lovers have secreted away this little horticultural time-capsule. 


Speckled Camellia Asapsia Macarthur blooms in Graham's garden. Photo - Linda Ross

2. Yesterday today and tomorrow, Brunfelsia latifolia, syn B. australis

Perhaps it has something to do with the deadliness of this vintage flower (particularly for your pets), or perhaps it’s the way those lavender-blue flowers conjure a vision of dear old Nanna’s last hair do. Whatever it is you just don’t see as many ‘yesterday today and tomorrow’ as you once did. Blue-rinse hair jokes aside, this versatile, shade tolerant shrub has beautiful sweetly perfumed flowers that appear from September to late November. When they first open they are a violet colour, fading to lavender blue and then white. Three flowers for the price of one!


Yesterday today and tomorrow. 

3. Rondeletia

Loves the sun, especially on the coast, frocks up in lovely salmon flowers, alluring perfume that you can’t ignore, it can handle the dry and the wet, and it’s resistant to pests and disease. Not Rhonda, the 21 year-old surf lifesaver from Maroochydore, its Rondeletia. And like Rhonda, it’s a name not common anywhere on the east coast since the mid 70’s. But with vital statistics like this I can’t imagine why she isn’t still the bell of the ball, and at the top of every gardener’s most eligible list. Best privacy hedge ever.


Rondeletia amoena

4. May Bush, Spirea cantoniensis

Among the easiest flowering shrubs to grow, Spirea’s cascading flower-show should never have gone out of fashion. But it’s easy care nature and white waterfall of flowers hasn’t kept this spring /summer blooming shrub from slipping out of Sydney gardens. For impact and ease of care nothing could fit the bill better. And what a hedge! Some varieties will grow to 10 feet tall and wide. Perhaps Sydney gardens just aren’t big enough anymore. There is a trick to pruning arching shrubs like May Bush. But it isn't rocket science.


An awesome performer, the May Bush. Photo - Sandra Ross

5.Camellia japonica ‘Anemoniflora’ 

Yet another Camellia japonica, the ‘waratah’ camellia, ‘Anemoniflora’, the Chinese flower with the Aboriginal name, is ironically rarer in Australia than its native name-sake. And what a crying shame! This incredible flower bears a striking similarity to the stunning red waratah bloom we Aussies know and love. Of course, the popularity of this flower should never have waned. I’ll just dial my local camellia dealer right now.


The beautiful red waratah camellia. Photo - Scott Hill © Sydney Living Museums

6. Rhododendron

The Rhododendrons of my Blue Mountains childhood would have little trouble dwarfing anything in most Sydney gardens. But given the huge number of rhodo species out there, rhododendrons just aren’t common around Sydney. The one rhodo that could handle the heat was warm climate tolerant Rhododendron ‘Broughtonii’ and all others fell to the wayside of climate change. Hugely popular, they were usually purchased in the 1940-50’s at Hazlewood’s Nursery in Epping. What would George Forrest, the Indiana Jones of the plant world, think? Forrest was one of those brave souls of the 1800’s who risked life and limb to bring Rhododendrons, among hundreds of other plants, out of the wilds of china and into the botanic gardens of the world. George alone is reason enough to bring back ‘Broughtonii’ into Sydney gardens, and perhaps pith helmets and enormous moustaches too.


Rhododendron buds. Photo - B Isnor/ 

7.Ginger Meggs, Streptosolen jamesonii

Just because Ginger Meggs would be 95 years old if he were an Australian gardener, doesn’t mean the plant that bears his name should be relegated to the annals of history. A tough little shrub with a ginger mop of flowers. Worth growing matched with Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’, variegated mother in laws tongue, Sedum 'Gold Mound' and lemon Clivea.


Ginger Meggs Streptosolen

8. Cecile Brunner rose

A pretty little rose bud of a flower like Nana has cross stitched each little flower on herself. A rambling rose over a fence or archway. Bring her back we cry! Have your own rose bud cottage.



Cecile Brunner Rose

9. Saxifraga, Bergenia cordifolia

A die-hard ground cover for shade with lolly pink spires of winter flowers, leaves resembling elephant ears. This definitely needs to be resurrected and used more often, it's a pest free ground over that lights up in winter. And it handles dry weather like a boss.


A mass of Saxifraga on the hillside below Prague Castle garden. Photo - Sandra Ross 

Can you think of any other plants that are not used as much as they should be?