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|
|Side yard after I removed Grevillea 'Flora Mason'|
|Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola' looking pitifully small and lost|
|Grevillea lavandulacea 'Penola'|
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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