Meet Kevin Collins, banksia collector
Kevin Collins and his wife Kathy grow the world’s only complete collection of banksias in their garden at Mount Barker, Western Australia.
Meet Kevin Collins, banksia collector. Photo - Robin Powell
How did the collection begin?
Our first plan was to grow and sell the flowers of a few local species. Then in 1984 the Banksia Atlas started, with the idea to understand more about banksias and their distribution and habit through data collected by volunteers. My wife and I were growing about 20 of the local species so we got involved and when it was finished they sent us a copy of the book. That’s when we found out that there were only another 50 or so to go to have every species in the world! It seemed possible to collect the set.
How did you acquire the missing plants?
School holidays developed a whole new purpose – banksia hunting. One holidays we went to Hinchinbrook Island to find Banksia plagiocarpa on the slopes of Mount Diamantina. It was dark by the time we found the plant and we had to find our way back down the mountain with the seed, finding the tape we’d tied to the trees by the light of the flashlights on our heads!
Banksia cuneata. Photo - Robin Powell
And you’re still adding to the collection.
Yes, one of the most recent is Banksia rosseriae, which was discovered in 2002. It’s named for the botanical illustrator Celia Rosser, who spent 25 years painting all of the known species of banksia. There are only 26 plants of rosseriae left in the wild, but I have one growing that has set seed. It’s one of the few banksias with pendulous round flowers, like a tennis ball, and the seedpods are a lovely velvety white.
How is it possible to grow such a wide range of banksias in one place?
Well there are 79 species and 24 subspecies, (not counting the dryandras but we won’t go into that!) Sixty-two of those species occur in Western Australia, and one, Banksia dentata, is found in Papua New Guinea as well as in northern Australia. We have just the right climate and soil to grow them all as we don’t experience extreme conditions – it’s not too hot and there’s no frost. Most like the acid soils we have, and for those that don’t I add some lime.
What is your advice for growing banksias?
Start with the local species. Next, provide good drainage and acid soil. They will do especially well if you can mulch them with banksia mulch, but any mulch will do to keep roots insulated and protected from drought. To keep flowers where you can see and enjoy them, prune back to at least four big healthy leaves. Four new branches will develop from the cut, growing a bushier plant. This is especially important when the plant is young.
You can spend some time with the Collins’ amazing collection by staying at Banksia Farm B&B. Details: www.banksiafarm.com.au