Goodbye, Grevillea 'Flora Mason'

In July 2016, Jo O'Connell, owner of Australian Native Plants Nursery, gave a workshop on hardy Australian plants at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Jo is a walking encyclopedia of plant knowledge, and her presentation was fantastic. She'd brought a selection of Australian plants to sell; I bought several, including a Grevillea 'Flora Mason'. It was just a wee thing in a #1 container, but after I put it in the ground in the backyard, it grew quite quickly.

This is what our Grevillea 'Flora Mason' looked like in March 2021:

Grevillea 'Flora Mason' inside the backyard fence (left) and outside (right)

'Flora Mason' usually starts blooming in January, continuing into April. This year it's flowered more profusely than ever before. The yellow and coral-red flowers are quite pretty up close, but from a distance they don't stand out that much against the foliage—not that the leaves aren't pretty enough on their own.

Grevillea 'Flora Mason' flowers

If our property were larger, I'd never have dreamed of removing 'Flora Mason', but with space in short supply (especially premium spots), and it having grown taller than expected, and me not loving it fully and unconditionally, I made the difficult decision to take it out.

Here's the after-image:

Side yard after I removed Grevillea 'Flora Mason'

I must admit, I felt pangs of regret (and doubt) right after I'd dug out the root ball. I could have trimmed it instead of resorting to such a drastic measure. But unfortunately, there's no Undo button in real life.

After taking a deep breath, I planted the replacement for 'Flora Mason': Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola'. It's long been one of my favorite grevilleas, and I suspect subconsciously I'd been hoping a space for it would open up in the garden.

Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola' looking pitifully small and lost

Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola' 


Do you ever second-guess decisions you make in your garden? Or do you not move ahead until you're 100% certain you're doing the right thing? I feel I'm a bit overeager at times. As I've mentioned many times before, patience is not my strong suit.

┉ ┉ ┉ ┉ ┉ ┉ ┉

Grevillea 'Flora Mason' is a hybrid between two Western Australian species: Grevillea pinaster × Grevillea olivacea. It's very similar 'Winpara Gem' but supposedly showier and a bit smaller. While the flowers are nice enough, this hybrid is mostly grown for its foliage. Size is 4-8 ft., depending on the source. Ours was way past 8 ft. and didn't look like it was slowing down. Hardiness is near 25°F, maybe a bit lower. When I bought our 'Flora Mason' from Jo O'Connell, this hybrid was quite uncommon, but it's become more available. 

Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola' is a different beast altogether. As the species name suggests, it has grayish foliage that is reminiscent of lavender—much denser than 'Flora Mason'. It's a vigorous bloomer and covers itself with reddish flowers in the winter and spring, with occasional flowering possible at other times. 'Penola' refers to the town in South Australia where this form was originally found. Hardy to the low 20s. 

As Monterey Bay Nursery, the wholesaler where our Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola' came from, says on their website: “['Penola' is] a five star winner, one of the very best of all Grevilleas, which is saying a lot since there are at least 15 or 20 that I claim as my very favorite plant in the whole world. It's the closest approximation of possibly the best of all, G. lavandulacea 'Tanunda,' which is a notoriously difficult and unforgiving production and garden plant.” This according to Luen Miller, President of Monterey Bay Nursery and one of the most respected nurserymen in California.

For comparison, here's Grevillea lavandulacea 'Tanunda' at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum:

Grevillea lavandulacea 'Tanunda' at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum; as you can see, the flowers are slightly more pink than on 'Penola'

I bought a small 'Tanunda' from UCSC a few years ago, and I recently discovered it's still alive even though it had been completely smothered by other plants near the Acacia cognata 'Cousin It' along the sidewalk. Ironically, and to my joyful surprise, it's proven to be quite forgiving in our garden!


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Comments

  1. Once a plant is gone, I usually move on. I hope you love 'Penola' more after 5 years than you did 'Flora Mason'. I haven't grown the latter but 'Penola' has been part of my garden since 2011. I underestimated its size and initially had 3 (!) in the same general area. I pulled one of these relatively early on and, sadly, lost the second to a combination of high winds and heavy rain several years ago after it shifted in my sandy soil, exposing some of its root system. The remaining plant is situated along a fence, nearer to the concrete stairway that leads to the slope than it should be but I cut it back fairly hard each year to keep it within bounds. The bees absolutely love the flowers.

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    1. I remember you had to take out a 'Penola' and lost another. But I'm glad to hear your third one is doing fine. I plan on doing a better job shaping it than I did with 'Flora Mason', may she rest in peace in our yard waste bin.

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  2. It is interesting you mention second guessing in today’s post. When I moved into my current home in a suburb of Phoenix fifteen years ago, there was a native creosote bush in the small back garden. I took it out because I wanted to plant another plant in the spot. I had no idea how important native plants are to the environment. Today actually I went to a garden center and purchased another one to plant again. All these years I have been second guessing my decision to get rid of it. The most I learned about the Sonoran Desert native, they more I wanted to replace it ... and today I did! Makes me so happy!

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    1. I think your experience is not uncommon. Personally, I think creosote bush is a beautiful plant, but then I like desert plants much more than many California natives (which tend to be on the plain side).

      I feel a bit better knowing that I'm not the only second guesser :-)

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  3. Patience may not be your strong suit, but you have no choice BUT to be patient till your new Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola' fills up the space you made available for it. This is something gardening is teaching all of us: patience. You just can't hurry nature. I for one think the new Grevillea will have a magnificent presence and blooms, much more satisfying than the one you removed.

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    1. You're right, there's no hurrying up the growth of plants. They do what they do. And I have gotten a bit more patient as I've gotten older--which isn't saying a lot, ha ha.

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  4. I act both ways but when I have a little voice saying "wait, don't do that" I try to hold off and at least sleep on it. Sometimes I wake and can't wait to get out and make the change I was considering. Sometimes I lose the sense of urgency and decide to put it off even further.

    Grow little grevillea!

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    1. The problem is that sometimes I don't realize I should have waited a little longer until the deed is already done. For me, that's part of gardening though.

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  5. Second guessing, hmm, never happens. When I spend too much time waffling my husband steps forward to do the deed. He is far less forgiving than I am. My hesitation usually revolves around how much time and effort have gone into a plant. Reluctant to cut my losses.

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  6. Second guessing, quite often especially if they were doing fine in the first place. Not an easy thing! It won’t be long before the pangs of removing the Flora Mason will be gone as you admire its lovely replacement.

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    1. True, especially since the plant I was removing *was* a good plant in its own right. Refining means making small tweaks, not huge improvements. That's why the decisions involved aren't as easy or clear-cut.

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  7. I have a question about the new one. Isn’t the new one going to take up a lot more of your previous space because it grows wide and not tall?

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    1. Very good question, and one I will have to confront. There's plenty of room on either side of where I planted 'Penola', but not so much in the front, towards the (small) patio. My plan is to keep it nicely shaped so it hides as much of the fence as possible without becoming a gray blob. We shall see.

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