Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Plant Profile: Hoistus hillii

The Hoistus hillii is a wonderful Australian native tree. It was so popular in the 20th century that it was planted in almost every suburban garden. The plant's heyday was probably the 1950s and 1960s, but it is really starting to fall out of favour now as back yards shrink too much even for this high-performing small tree. To my mind, that means that there is something wrong with the back yards, and not with the tree.

That is not to say that all gardeners like it. Edna Walling famously disliked the Hoistus, and if her clients insisted on its retention she would usually try to conceal it. In earlier generations, however the tree was usually given pride of place. In older gardens, it is often on the sight-line from the back door, in order to show its smooth grey trunk to advantage.

Hoistus hilli reaches about 2-3m in height but spreads to about 4m. Foliage is sparse. The real beauty of the tree is in its large, multi-coloured blooms, which occur all year round. They droop elegantly from the branches and have a faint, pleasant fragrance reminiscent of sunshine.

Hoistus hilli was first selected from the wild by the industrialist Lance Hill (for whom it is named) in South Australia in 1946.

My own specimen is planted in the canonical location, straight out the back door. It has plainly been there a long time, but is not yet in decline. Indeed, it is well-grown and floriferous.

This small tree is definitely worth a second look! And as Autumn is the right time to plant trees and shrubs, you might want to consider purchasing your own Hoistus hillii this April Fool's Day.