Just when you think the plant world has no more surprises in store for you (a silly thing to suppose anyway), along comes a plant which you can’t believe you’ve never encountered before. In this case it’s Grevillea victoriae, the royal grevillea, which is endemic to Australia’s New South Wales and Victoria states. It was first described by botanist Ferdinand von Mueller in 1855 and was duly named after Australia’s Empress of the day, Queen Victoria.
My first discovery of this lovely, silver-leaved shrub was yesterday at Trebah Gardens in Cornwall. Here it forms part of the planting around the restaurant area, growing in a raised bed alongside Gaura lindheimeri, Erigeron karvinskianus, Schizostylis coccinea and agapanthus. It could easily be mistaken for Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’, which has similar, willowy leaves and branches, but for the grevillea’s flowers which mark it out as something quite special. From pendent clusters of velvety-brown buds, resembling little bunches of rusty tacks, emerge coral-orange blooms. These are full of nectar to attract pollinating birds and insects. As you can see from my photographs, they are borne in plentiful numbers, all the better for being at different stages of development at the same time.
Grevillea victoriae is considered to be hardy in southern parts of the UK, especially in coastal areas. Forming a shrub up to 2m high it requires a well-drained spot with plenty of exposure to the sun. The shrub’s mountain origins mean it is tolerant of frost and snow, although I suspect its hardiness is incumbent on the sharp drainage it prefers. Mature plants benefit from regular pruning to maintain a compact shape and make an excellent screen or hedge. I imagine it planted with other sun-worshippers such as rosemary, kniphofia, and salvias in a Mediterranean-style border. A happy plant in a very favoured spot may flower all year round, otherwise you can expect those fire-cracker racemes throughout the summer and autumn months.
Quite why a shrub with so many garden-worthy attributes is not better known I don’t know, but as soon as I have the space to grow it, I’ll be sending off for seeds or plants. Do let me know if you grow Grevillea victoriae in your garden and how you get on with it.
Grevillea victoriae can be purchased from Burncoose Nurseries in Cornwall.
More on Trebah Gardens coming soon.