Tibouchinas are native to south-east Brazil, where people use the massed purple blooms to decorate churches at Easter time. Here in Australia tibouchinas also make quite a statement in autumn, with their riot of purple flowers. Don looked at Tibouchina ‘Alstonville’, probably the best of the larger growing kinds, and Tibouchina ‘Jules’, a dwarf variety. Both plants were produced at Alstonville, on the New South Wales north coast, by the late Ken Dunstan. Ken also produced a wonderful dwarf bottlebrush called Callistemon ‘Little John’. His life and work was celebrated in a special song, composed in his honour.
Tibouchina ‘Alstonville’ (Tibouchina ‘Alstonville’)
An evergreen shrub or small tree which usually grows to about 5m (15′) tall. The foliage is dark green in colour with a pale reverse. ‘Alstonville’ puts on a brilliant display of violet/purple flowers in late summer and autumn. It makes an excellent street or specimen tree, and responds very well to pruning.
Tibouchina ‘Jules’ (Tibouchina ‘Jules’)
A dwarf evergreen shrub, growing to about 1m (3′) high and 1-2m (3-6′) wide. It has small velvet green leaves, and purple flowers from March to May. ‘Jules’ is the most sensitive of the tibouchinas to cold and frost. It is ideal for small gardens, used as a border, or planted in tubs or containers in warm protected courtyards.
Best climate: Tibouchinas will grow in most areas of Australia, but are not suited to cool mountain districts or inland areas. Protect plants in frost prone areas.
Care: Tibouchinas like a sunny spot and a light friable soil with plenty of moisture during the growing season. Hard prune after flowering in late winter and tip prune during spring and summer to promote dense, bushy growth. Their square stems are brittle, so they need protection from strong winds, especially when young.
Tibouchinas are available year round from your local nursery with many potted plants in flower in autumn. Plants in 200mm (8″) pots cost around $14.95.
Alstonville, on the New South Wales north coast near Lismore, celebrates its tibouchinas with a festival held in March every year.