Meet: Maria Hitchcock, correa collector
Photo - Maria Hitchcock
We chat to Maria about her transition from 'Wattle Lady' to 'Correa Lady'.
Your new book on correas makes you the Correa Lady, but before that you were the Wattle Lady. How did that come about?
The process to have the golden wattle gazetted as our national emblem had been started around the turn of the century, but then the wars intervened, the original activists died and it just never happened. I think people just assumed the wattle was our national emblem. So I set that process in train again and it was gazetted in 1988, along with September 1 as National Wattle Day. I published a book about the history of the Wattle Day movement, and I’m actually working on a second edition of that book, Wattle, now.
Back to correas – you hold a registered living collection in your Armidale garden. How many plants does that involve?
I haven’t counted, but there are probably about two hundred different forms of correa squeezed into the acre I have under garden.
One of the things we love about correas is that they attract birds into the garden. Who has moved in to your place?
We have a lot of resident birds now: blue wrens, honeyeaters, eastern spinebills, wattlebirds. There is a history in New England of massive clearing for grazing, as well as some dieback, and we lost a lot of understorey plants that provide bird habitat. During the ‘70s we noticed there were very few small birds in the countryside, so the Australian Plants Group encouraged people to grow understorey shrubs to provide thickets and nectar for small birds in autumn and winter, when nothing else is flowering in the district. Traditional gardens in this area are English in style, which tend to be bereft of bird food at that time.
'Marian's Marvel'. Photo - Maria Hitchcock
Beyond the birds what other advantages do correas have as garden plants?
They are absolutely brilliant garden plants for temperate areas! Most are frost-hardy and long-lived. They create a fairly dense shrubbery, and as long as the drainage is good, they’ll just keep flowering. Some are total neglect plants – you just put them in along the fence line and walk away.
Not just one! The red-flowered Correa glabras from South Australia, like ‘Mount Barker Beauty’ make a wonderful hedge with shiny, green, very aromatic foliage, and red and green bells. They give a real lush look to the garden. And I’m just looking out the window now at Correa alba ‘Pink Stars’ and it is a mass of star-shaped flowers. I get the cordless hedge trimmers and give everything a trim (early summer is the best time to do it) and this plant has really responded!