It stands at the front gate of our holiday house in Jervis Bay in all of its 30’ majesty exuding the health of the well-fed and well-watered, a welcoming beacon to all comers. The Flowering Australian Christmas Bush is one of the few original trees (or more accurately, shrubs) planted when His Nibs and I first built here over 26 years ago
The Flowering Christmas Bush, like the Flowering Gum, was always going to be on our ‘to plant’ list when we came to design (using the word loosely) our garden. These trees were an ever present part of my childhood along with mondo grass, parsley growing everywhere like weeds, agapanthus, clivias and gardenias. The christmas table was always decorated with the red flowers of the Christmas Bush punctuated with the purple of the agapanthus, and the scent of the gardenias transcending all.
Irony in nature doesn’t immediately spring to mind when considering plants. Mother Nature’s sense of humour is a given when considering the birds, bees, fish and beasts. Anyone can suggest a giraffe, a dugong, the dodo or peacock and a wry smile emerges at their weird evolutionary bizarredness. But plants – no, nothing readily comes to mind. This is probably more an indictment of my pathetic lack of knowledge of the plant world. What little Australian flora and fauna I recognise comes more from May Gibbs than any gardening tome
So over the last 26 years, towards the end of each year, I have carefully scanned our Flowering Christmas Bush to see if there was any evidence of a floral tribute. No, nothing, always nothing. The tree has always been, and still remains, disgustingly healthy, but no flowers have been forthcoming. For 20 years there have been many discussions about what to do, google has been unsuccessfully searched, any and all bush remedies considered.
The most drastic remedy was forcefully suggested each year by my mother. (God I miss Bet). A 5’2” pocket dynamo whose sweetness of demeanour and ready humour belied the gypsy warrior woman she was. “Burn the bloody thing” was her solution; “Set fire to the base of the tree and let it rip” was her instruction. Each year with the absence of flowers, and my tearing my hair out at this botanical recalcitrance, Bet would emerge with a box of matches ready to do the dreaded deed. The fact that we live on the Jervis Bay National Park bush line, and to light a fire at anytime of the year even in a snow storm (which historically we have never had except during the last ice age) would result in legal consequences too dire to contemplate, was dismissed by her as a mere bagatelle. We’d hose Bet down, and no match, lit or unlit, was permitted within the immediate vicinity of ‘the tree’.
We’ve cut said tree back at those ‘special’ times of the year, and when the moon was full, when waxing, when waning, when the moon was doing both simultaneously, during a planetary lineup, the passage of Haley’s comet, all to no avail. Special concoctions were prepared to ‘feed’ the tree. One year an entire packet of Epsom Salts was watered into its root system resulting in more luscious looking leaves, but still no flowers.
The Christmas after Bet died, some seven flowering seasons ago, the tree gave forth eight individual flowers. Those of you who are acquainted with Flowering Christmas Bush will know just how teeny weeny the individual flower is. The splendour of the Christmas Bush is the clumping together of individual flowers resulting in huge and splendid ruby red splashes of colour that grace so many Australian gardens. I came in so excited to inform all and sundry I had eight individual flowers on the Christmas Bush. His Nibs wanted to know their names. Bastard! Since that memorable year it’s been a floral wasteland.
I gave up. For years now we’ve done nothing at all to the tree content to let it grow, and prune it when it became too big. Friends asked us if it really was a Flowering Christmas Bush (it is) and why didn’t we cut it down. The tree has become a haven for the little birds: the sparrows, finches and Mr & Mrs Wagtail, old friends for whom we’re happy to provide a home.
It was with profound shock, when we arrived at Jervis Bay this year, to find that our sentinel had flowers, a crop of them. One small branch had flowered. Why? We have absolutely no idea. This floral blemish on an otherwise beautifully green leafed tree even occasioned comment from our neighbours who, to add insult to injury, have three magnificent examples of fully functioning Flowering Christmas Bushes, all in that glorious dark red colour. Over the years they’ve watched with much amusement at our various attempts to get the tree to flower, and commiserated with us when it didn’t.
Of course nothing is ever easy. The branch with the flowers attached is too high to pick as decoration so, of course, I’m left with no option other than to purchase my Flowering Christmas Bush flowers at outrageous cost from happy florists. If ever there is an example of the definitive botanical raspberry this tree is responsible for it. Bastard of a tree! Will we ever cut it down? Never! It has become another eccentric member of our extended family – a tree with personality and attitude.
Ain’t nature grand!?