Michael McCoy spills the beans on one of the cool climate, autumn-flowering gems that turn temperate gardeners green with envy.
It was exactly 20 years ago that I first laid eyes on the yellow wax-bell, Kirengoshoma palmata.
The setting alone was unforgettable: a small, private garden just outside Pitlochry, Scotland, built around a chilly, tumbling creek that exploded from
beneath an ancient arched stone bridge on an overgrown lane. Every plant was in that state of rude, turgid health peculiar to cold climates. With only
a few short months of growing season, plants in these climes know to seize every precious day, and fill them with outrageous growth and thumping fecundity.
Amongst this jostling, hyperactive mix, Kirengoshoma palmata stood out. It wasn’t in bloom; what I saw, photographed, and scribbled notes of was
a dome of the most delicious, perfectly spaced, maple-like foliage. It might have been mistaken for the vigorous re-shooting of a maple stump, except
it had that indefinable quality that makes herbaceous perennials so desirable – the unique freshness and ephemerality that no woody plant can match.
I took it as a foliage perennial (like a hosta, for instance), but in the autumn saw it in bloom. The flowers are as unique as the foliage, being shuttle-cock-shaped,
and of pale, butter yellow. Their poise is a perfect match for the foliage, hovering over it on dark, slender stems.
I’ll leave you to imagine how much I yearned for it. Soon after returning to Australia, I was singing its praises over dinner with one of our best-known
perennial growers. He disappeared for a while, and returned with a plant, as a gift – one of those moments when you don’t think life can get much better.
Its peeping out top right with the maple shaped leaves.
Here’s what I have learned about growing it. Oh, and one more tip - keep a label handy as everyone who visits your garden and sees this plant will want
to know its name.
- Kirenogoshoma can be planted any time. Choose the coolest part of your garden. Shade can help, but what kirengoshoma really likes is light as well
as cool. Only a really cool climate (like the Southern Highlands or the Dandenongs) can provide light without heat.
- Improve the soil with as much organic matter as you can. A 200mm layer of compost incorporated into the soil wouldn't be too much.
- Ensure adequate moisture at all times. There's nothing drought-tolerant about Kirengoshoma.
- After a few months establishment, feed regularly throughout spring and summer with an organic plant food, such as pelletised chook manure.
- Kirengoshoma can take several years to produce a plant big enough to cope with the rough and tumble of garden life, so keep other plants around
it under control to make sure it isn't swamped.
- Cut right back to the ground in early winter, then mulch well.
- Protect emerging shoots in spring with snail bait.
Where to buy
Raithby Nursery, Tasmania
03 6326 2583
Text: Michael McCoy