WHY are blue flowers so desirable? Perhaps because blue is relatively rare in nature.
Plant breeders still haven't unlocked the secret of a blue daylily, let alone a true blue rose (don't be fooled by those in the florist's window: their stems have been dipped in dye).
The Australian kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos) from WA is a perennial with strappy leaves and colourful sprays of tubular flowers carried on upright stems, in various shades and combinations of red, yellow and green - but not blue.
Then in 2013 hybridists at Kings Park Botanic Garden in Perth discovered a plant from a 2012 cross carrying brilliant blue flowers and history was made: teal blue Anigozanthos 'Masqueriade' is due to reach commercial nurseries this month.
Kangaroo paws have been popular garden and cut flowers for many years as they are free flowering and remain fresh in water for weeks.
There are eleven species, all endemic to WA and all available from garden centres s and specialist native plant nurseries.
In 2007 Kings Park Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority in Perth began a dedicated kangaroo paw breeding program to combat disease susceptibility and to breed hardier garden plants, kangaroo paws being prone to some soil borne diseases and to a fungal attack known as ink disease.
The program also sought extended flowering times; good flower colour and form; heat and cold hardiness; and tolerance to dry conditions with low nutrients
Senior Plant Breeder Digby Growns said that the discovery of the blue kangaroo paw was a piece of serendipity - a happy discovery that came about by accident.
"In 2013 a teal blue plant started flowering from a cross that we did in 2012," he said. "It had an absolute wow factor and I knew we had to target it."
Digby is proud of the Kings Park breeding program's environmental focus. Their hardy plant cultivars offer reduced water and fertiliser needs and provide habitat for birds, insects, reptiles and small mammals.
All kangaroo paw species do best in an open sunny, position with good air circulation and good drainage. They dislike humidity and hate having wet feet.
Those that are marginally frost hardy can be treated like cannas in cold districts: cut old flowering stems and leaves to the base in autumn and cover the plant with a thick layer of mulch for winter protection.
Older plants can be dug up in autumn and their roots divided and planted in pots while they re-establish.
I planted two kangaroo paws when we re-designed part of the garden in 2020 to be more drought hardy.
'Big Red' has scarlet flowers on 1.5 metre stems. 'Bush Surprise' is smaller, with orange-red flowers on 60-centimetre stems.
Both are happy with our red granite soil and look lovely among clumps of Poa labillardieri, a hardy, steel blue, native grass. I can't wait to add 'Maasquerade' to my collection.
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