A curtain of tassel fern frames a doorway in a garden at the Singapore Garden Festival. Photo - Robin Powell
Cool green curtains dripping delicate leaves from fine stems are mesmerising.
Reversing the trend of growing upward to the light, plants that grow down, and hang around are jewels for gardeners.
I’ve been dreaming of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Ever since I saw Brendan Moar’s winning garden at Australian Garden Show Sydney last year, (and his follow-up this year at Singapore) I’ve been thinking hanging gardens. The Babylonian original was apparently built by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife Queen Amytis in 605BC. It was a mountain dripping with cascading plants and fed by a fancy aqueduct. You can see why the world was enchanted! My own plans are on a smaller scale.
Rhipsalis, chain of pearls and tradescantia make a cool curtain in a Sydney garden designed by Brendan Moar. Photo - Brendan Moar
On my journey to fill the air with curtains of green I have rediscovered a few old favourites, last seen in macramé plant hangers and half-coconut planters in the ‘70s! I’m talking donkey tails, hoya and devil’s ivy. The fact that these plants laugh at neglect only increases their value.
Succulents like Donkey's tail, (Sedum morganianum) and String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) are hardy plants but with a very delicate structure. Try to repot donkeys tail, for instance, and it will fall part in your hands. String of pearls, which makes a lovely beaded curtain of green, is easier to share as it be propagated with the smallest section of stem. Both are easy to grow. Pot into a free-draining, sandy gravel mix in a small pot. Larger pots hold too much moisture and facilitate rot. Being originally tree-dwellers these plants prefer high levels of light, but no direct afternoon sun, so position accordingly. Be aware that they prefer dry autumns and winters.
Look out too for all the hoya species, some with twisted or variegated foliage, and all with waxy flowers held in large heads. Chain of Hearts (Ceropegia woodii)
is a native of South Africa and should only be watered when it dries out. It can be grown inside or out. Devil’s ivy (Epipremnum auream),
a native from the Solomon Islands has heart-shaped lime leaves that bring light and life to bathrooms and living rooms as well as gardens.
Donkey's tail, Senecio morganianum. Photo - Libby Cameron
Hoya flowers. Photo - Jiggo_thekop/Shutterstock.com
The hanging cactus
You imagine an upright spiky thing when you hear the word cactus, but the Mistletoe Rhipsalis family have a wonderful soft weeping habit, in a variety of leaf shapes and textures. They are also hardy, and tolerant of shade, erratic watering and general neglect. Even better, they are easily propagated to be swapped or given away. Perhaps its this generosity that endeared them to an older generation of gardeners, like my neighbour Vern. Vern is a senior member of the tropical and bromeliad societies and is feeding my desire to collect rhipsalis. He often drops little pieces over for immediate potting up. At last count I have 14 species and I am very willing, once they’re big enough, to continue the tradition at Garden Clinic swap meetings in the future.
Rhipsalis are best grown in the usual garden variety potting mix topped with fine gravel. Fertilise with a controlled release fertiliser and hang from trees or balconies. Hardier species can be attached onto branches, and if watered regularly initially, will naturalise just as they do in the wild.
The texture of the stems and their weeping form is the reason why I grow rhipsalis, however many have surprisingly pretty puff-ball flowers or soft-coloured berries in white, cream, pink and red. I particularly like the green, cordlike leaves of Rhipsalis baccifera which develops pearly white fruit along its stems. I’ve also become very fond of the muppet hairiness, furry white flowers and the pink hairy fruit of R. pilacarpa. R. teres f. capilliformis has a mass of fine foliage that’s like an unruly mop of hair; R. houlletiana has flattened foliage, and that of R. cereoides and R. triangularis is triangular.
Most fashionable of the hangers currently, and a big favourite of Brendan Moar’s are the mistletoe cactus, rhipsalis. The fine green cords of Rhipsalis baccifera develop pearly white fruits, which add to the appeal of its long time tressses. Photo - Robin Powell, Brendan Moar Singapore Garden Festival
Tillsandia sp., hung from string. Hang plants from pots, ropes, troughs, walls and trees. Photo - subin pumsom/Shutterstock.com
Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, forms twisted curtain of silver. Its Tillandsia relatives are also great options for sky plantings. Other tillandsia species are velvety silver starbursts which make beautiful living decorations. I’m thinking of stringing some up with fishing line in front of windows and doorways for Christmas!
Spanish moss, Tillsandias usneoides, forms a silver curtain behind bromeliads. Photo - Moolkum/Shutterstock.com
To create long hanging veils you’ll need hooks, hangers and long handled-watering cans or watering wands. Plastic pots are notoriously ugly so I’ve been also been pot-shopping at Garden Life, Top3by Design, Tait, Koskela, and Hunting for George. Looped steel wire frames fashioned from coathangers are a good way to hang small pots at eye level.
And now for the plants. Start is your local nurseries, then venture out to the plant fairs. Don’t miss the Plant Collectors Fair next April at Hawkesbury Racecourse and the Plant Lovers Fair in Kariong come September. Look for our friends from Coachwood Nursery. The big city garden shows in Melbourne and Sydney also have wholesale growers with a great selection of these plants.