So it’s dark and dingy out in the garden. The rain lashes against the windows, and when it is safe to get out into the garden there’s nothing really to see. The snowdrops are wisely keeping their heads under the ground, and the buds of the trees and shrubs are still tightly packed. Spring is still a while off, but for the adventurous gardener Correas may be the answer.
These shrubs flower in winter or early spring, and produce delightful long bells, mostly in shades of pink and sometimes white. The genus Correa consists of between 10 and 20 species of shrubs or small trees, native to Southern and Eastern Australia (and Tasmania). They are naturally found in open ground or scrubby forest, from mountain ranges to the exposed coast. The classification of Correa is made complicated by their natural hybridisation, hence the wide ranging estimates of the number of species! In their native environments many Correa species are visited and pollinated by birds.
For those who collect vaguely interesting facts the genus Correa is named after Jose Francisco Correa de Serra, a 19th century botanist from Portugal. In the garden their main threat is frost- they will take -5deg C occasionally, but not too often. For most of the UK they would make excellent greenhouse shrub, but in the milder areas they are well worth growing outdoors. They thrive in neutral to acid, well drained soil, and will take full sun or part shade. An Australian reference book I have recommends that gardeners shade their roots from hot sun, but it’s hard to say for certain if this would apply in the UK. Correa reflexa and C. pulchella prefer a mildly alkaline soil. If you grow your Correas under glass they will take pruning after flowering. Correas can be affected by scale insects, which love the exudate (felty layer) on the leaves, shoots and in some cases, flowers.
The other main problems encountered with Correas are the result of overwatering- careful attention to drainage is the key to success. Seed of Correa is hard to find and is a nightmare to germinate. Cuttings root reasonably easily, but you must be careful to make sure that the rooting medium is the same pH as the parent plant! In some cases my information is sketchy- you may want to consult the Australian Cultivar Registration Authority who, rather usefully, have a website.
One of the most popular Correas must be ‘Dusky Bells’ (above). This small shrub will usually only grow up to 3ft (90cm) tall and produces seemingly thousands of warm-pink flowers. Tolerant of shade, this is a very adaptable cultivar.
Correa ‘Gwen’ (above) is similar, but with longer, more slender flowers. I particularly like this cultivar; the dark pink flower fades to almost white at the base. Again, not a huge cultivar at just over 3ft (90cm) tall and wide. Believed to be an artificial cultivar between C. alba and C. reflexa which originated in Canberra. It may be reasonably adaptable, but accurate information is not freely available.
Similar to ‘Gwen’ is ‘Marian’s Marvel’- the flower starts off pink then fades further down. The difference is that ‘Marian’s Marvel’ fades to a light yellow. This, on a shorter and stockier flower gives ‘Marian’s Marvel’ a particular charm. Unfortunately I do not have much information about this cultivar- it is probably a recent one!
Correa ‘Freedom Bell’ (below) is similar to ‘Marion’s Marvel’ but with stronger colours. Also the pink doesn’t seem to fade into the yellow as much- the two colours appear quite separate (almost like a pink flower with a yellow stripe at the base). Again, not much information from me! Correa ‘Mannii’ (above) has quite a distinctive vase shaped flower in a deep red/pink. The petals reflex at the base; this cultivar is particularly notable for it’s strong colour. Slightly bigger than many other popular Correa cultivars at about 4ft (1.2m) tall. Believed to have originated in a Melbourne garden. Often mistaken for ‘Dusky Bells’.
Correa pulchella (below) is a prostrate shrub, but ultimately quite big (5ft (1.5m) tall). Aside from preferring alkaline soil there’s nothing particularly exciting about this species, except that it sometimes shows a tendency to ‘climb’ if planted near a warm wall. It may be a little hardier than some of the cultivars.
Correa alba (below)- and now for something completely different! This white flowered Correa is my favorite- the pure white slender bells are very attractive. If you can get it you must grow it!!! Pink forms can be found naturally on the north coast of Tasmania. The leaves of this species were apparently used by early settlers as a substitute for tea- but try this AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!!