Thursday, 9 November 2017

Sweet peas

Sweet peas remind me of my English aunt.
She stayed with Mum and Dad, often, when she visited Australia, and tactfully kept a low profile, never interfering in her sister-in-law's house, let alone the garden. (Nor did Dad.)
But when the sweet peas weren't being picked, she'd get, well, fidgety is too strong a word for this lovely lady, maybe a little restless, and she'd offer to pick some blooms for the house. (Mum was always pleased to say yes.)
She had a point: like any annual plant, setting seed is it's life project. So leaving flowers to set seed will mean less blooms; constant removal will produce many more flowers. Dang, the annual plant thinks, I just want to set a few seeds; is that too much to ask?

It's a case of you `should do' versus laissez-faire - often because the garden owner has a large garden (as was Mum's), and can no longer maintain it to neat suburban standards, or maybe isn't well, or the busyness of life takes away valuable (and pleasurable) gardening time.
Being contrary, I've rebelled against `should do' tasks in my garden, and not a single sweet peas has been picked - yet. Besides, I have a moderately large country garden and I don't think super neatness would suit it. As I've written before, I love Mirabel Osler's philosophy: `A Gentle Plea for Chaos' (1989), and doesn't that suit a country garden? - softness, fullness, exuberance, a bit of self-sowing of the loveliest plants so that the planting (if not the structure) is at times informal.

Simplicity and neatness can look great; it just isn't possible any longer in my flower-stuffed meadow-like garden beds. (My green spheres are a very late addition to wrangle some continuity and structure to the garden...much to J's dismay.) 
Incidentally, all the sweet peas are the same - and I haven't sown seeds for a while. So - I think - I have a Mendelian experiment going on, with all these (seeming) identical plants being progeny of other, quite different, plants. If so, their progeny may be an interesting mix of colours, as the recessive genes get paired up again, and express their characteristics.So I'll collect the seeds - or let them fall on the ground, to germinate haphazardly around the iron tripods. I know this sounds lazy, but I'm garden-time-poor, and I love the informal effects that can arise.I suspect that Mirabel Osler would approve.

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Red Flowers in the Spring Garden

I'm not fond of red flowers in the garden, usually. To me, they clash with pinks and yellows, and thus destroy my careful plantings. (Sure, yellow, orange and red can look great together; I'm just not sure that my garden has room enough for a bed like this.)
Colours that clash are more forgivable in winter and in the exuberance of early spring, when you're grateful for all the colours of the rainbow. We've had so many cool, wet days lately (not that I'm complaining) that, while it's November, it certainly feels a bit like early spring.

But right now there's two very different red blooms, and I smile every time I look at them.
Near the house I've placed a pot of perennial Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine‘ (Syn. Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine‘, above) with those red-and-white bleeding heart flowers. Bought last year, it's sent up leaves that are dark and reddish, but are now near-green. (My white Lamprocapnos in its large pot has perished. Did I let it get too wet? Too dry? Dang, I wish I knew.)
Tropaeolum tricolor, above, also, has red (and black and yellow) flowers, if much smaller, and dainty to boot - a quality I'm fond of.
A climber to 2m (so far), delicate-looking and demure (butter wouldn't melt in it's golden mouth)...but I'm surprised by a few things. One - it's there. When did I plant it? Two - how did it grow (so far) in total neglect? - I thought it was difficult! - but no, it must like being rather wet in winter and terribly dry in summer, so lucky me. Three - how did get to 2m high, laughing at me, without me noticing? (Let's not think about that one.) And - 4 - how did it tolerate close-by plantings of 3, yes, 3 clematis and even sweet peas, too?
Let's take lots of photos because, frankly, I don't trust this sweet beauty. Look at me flowering...and then watch me die - don't laugh, it's all too common in the garden at Possum Creek.
Let's enormously enjoy the ephemeral, dainty show and...just applaud wildly if it ever happens again.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (

Friday, 13 October 2017

Singing the Blues

After this (comparatively) dry winter and sudden spring sunshine, it's as if the sea has rushed in and created pools of blue all through the garden.
Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica,, above) are rock pools of summer-sky-blue with a hint of violet; they're spreading a bit too much (as many bulbs are wont to do), but it's hard to dislike a plant that flowers in profusion just when the spring warmth really arrives. They've appeared in the silver-and-raspberry coloured garden, too, but are welcome - even there. As a plant that is not treasured (and is prolific) it's one I'm happy for visiting children to pick bunches of the flowers, which is heaps of fun.

Shorter but with impressive leaves is Jungle Beauty Bugle (Ajuga `Jungle Beauty' (above) - so much nicer than the low, flat leaves of Ajuga reptans), awash with deep blue-violet blooms on 15 - 20cm stems; a groundcover that looks good all year and grows fast - what's not to love?

Visiting the bushland at Baluk Willam Reserve last weekend, we saw spots of blue there, too. Two plants stood out: on the forest floor, blue squills (or blue stars, top, Chamaescilla corymbosa) opening tropical-sky-blue, petite blooms; and scrambling through low shrubs, love creeper (Comesperma volubile, below) - a deeper blue, surely, than any other flower, even in bud. Why is this climber called love creeper? I'd love to know!
(We saw orchids, too, but ones I've seen before.)
As in other years, we were wandering through bushland, 10 minutes from home, with a friend - in strong spring sunshine.
Then cake and coffee.

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Wonderful Wattles

Spring is in full swing now: Trillium in pinks and purples, Mexican orange blossom is laden with perfumed white flowers, and there's plenty of Spanish bluebells for picking with a very young great nephew (`Let's pick a bunch for Mama'. The  watering can was very popular too).

The wattles seem to be more floriferous this spring - from the early ones in winter to the Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata, above) flowering now. J thinks there's just more wattle shrubs than there used to be, but my friend K (a wonderful gardener) agrees with me: there's more flowers on each shrub than usual. Drive along Wellington Rd, east from the gymkhana near us, and the blooms have been a knock-out.
(Can I share a wee bug bear? We all know that a little knowledge can be a bad thing. And while it was great to have (as I often do) landscape design clients who didn't want environmental weeds in their garden, never-the-less, blackwood wattles (Acacia melanoxylon) would have been perfect at the foot of their steep slope (for screening, indigenous plant, and fire-retardant to boot) but the client thought that I was recommending black wattles (a different species (A. mearsii) - an environmental weed in my part of the world). He simply couldn't believe it was a different plant entirely, or accept that I might know a bit more than him. It was rather frustrating!)

In the bushland that surrounds our garden, along the drive, we have a little copse of self-sown Prickly Moses. I was thrilled to find that one shrub has deeper yellow flowers than the others (above). Are the flowers bigger too? - I think so. A tiny piece of my horticulture course from years back surfaces in the brain: that plants can - and wattles were particularly cited - have tetraploid forms, and these plants can have deeper coloured flowers and larger plant parts. Only one extra chromosome can blight an animal (or human, of course) but double the chromosomes in each cell of a plant and boy, can the result be spectacular.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Cyclamen in Early Spring

I'm preparing a talk about cyclamen, or sow's bread, for a garden club...and looking afresh at my delicate-looking-but-hardy, petite species cyclamen.
Cyclamen coum (above) is known as a winter species so it's not surprising to have a few still blooming.
But looking closer at a white-flowering one, dang, it's got propeller-like petals, like C. alpinum (Syn. C. trochoptantherum) (above). How nice to discover a new species in the garden (well, a pot), and such an idiosyncratic one at that. It's white, too. (How could I have missed this? - has it not flowered before? Or did I just glance at it, enjoy it, but never really think about it?)

Being in a pot, the seeds end up forming little seedlings around the tuber, so I'll be able to collect them over time, and plant them throughout the garden in semi-shade. (Cyclamen in the garden (and in the wild) tend to form drifts because of myrmecochory, which is a fancy way of saying that seeds are spread around by ants (which love the sweet coat, then discard the seeds up to 3m away).)
About a year ago I found Cyclamen (Super Series)`Petticoat’ (below) in the nurseries, with pink and white forms. Looking at its propeller-petals, surely it has C. alpinum genes? Tell me, dear reader, do you like it?
Don't eat the tubers! - they are quite poisonous. But cyclamen seeds remove sorcery according to Dioscorides (~50AD) - and you can't get enough of that.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Mum's Red Camellia

A whiff of a particular fragrance can take you back years, sometimes to happy childhood memories.
For me, plants can do this too, or they remind me of a person - often Mum, of course, who gave me the garden and plant-loving gene.

I was giving planting plan advice in a country garden last week when I spotted this old variety of camellia, a true red touched with a tiny hint of pink. The shape and tint took me back to my childhood home in Melbourne's south-east where Mum planted this variety by her bedroom window...and something I did, but never owned up to.
Back in the 1970's `Go outside and play' may have been a much more common saying, and I loved the 20 or so fruit trees, the 2 tree houses, my chickens, and, when I was very young, wet soil for mud pies which were always decorated with flowers or berries.

But I was playing one time and picked a white camellia flower (from another shrub), which I placed on this red-blooming bush - and it looked very natural. (And the other way, but the red flower fell off the white bush.) I was just having fun but Mum thought that the shrub had thrown out a sport - and she got excited that her plant had had a genetic mutation occur (she was a botanist and she knew all about genes & DNA - even if  Crick & Watson hadn't worked out the structure of DNA until 1953, some years after she completed her science degree). Mum watched the camellia shrub eagerly for some time, to my dismay. I'd just been playing...but I never `fessed up.

(Speaking of camellias and hybridising, the oldest camellia in Australia is at Camden Park in NSW (the garden surrounding Camden Park is the largest and most intact Australian early colonial garden) where John Macarthur bred sheep from 1805 and his son, Sir William Macarthur, grew 'anemoniflora' or 'waratah' camellia (Camellia japonica var. anemoniflora), and bred some of the country's first hybrids including Camellia 'Aspasia macarthur'. Camden Park was horticulturally important and has always been associated with camellias.)

 I have another childhood memory of Mum and camellias - a happy one. We'd gone up to Olinda to see a flower show in late winter and there was a bank of - it seemed - hundreds of camellia blooms in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. Did Dad politely (and not interested, to be honest) ask us which flower was our favourite? Or was it chance that led Mum and me to point to the same flower at the same moment and exclaim `that's my favourite!'?
Mum and I enjoyed small flowers while one of my sisters always, but always, prefers the showy bigger ones, whether they are clematis, camellias or perennials.
It's interesting to think which genes came from whom. (My genes, not the camellias.)
I'm so lucky to have the gardening gene. 

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Early Spring in the Edible Patch

It's early spring, the little hens have moved on to a another veg bed to scratch about in, and I'm planting the vacated veg bed. I've looked through my home-collected seed and decided that this bed will be white, pink and purple: with soft green lettuce (seedlings from the compost bin), pale-stemmed chard and green (dwarf, curly) kale at the start of the path, leading to pink chard, deep pink-flowering broad beans, `red' kale (a lovely mauve, probably `Redbor'), and at the end, those attractive purple peas (with delicious pink flowers as a terrific bonus, above) on rough tripods, with purple broccoli (below) at their feet. The mauve flowers of chives would work well here, too.

In another bed, a purple carrot, with pretty umbels of flowers, is, hopefully going to set seed soon. I can toss these seeds about in the newly planted bed - but the leaves don't seem to show the colour of the subterranean bits. However there's satisfaction in knowing that these plants will fit into this garden patch, even if no one else can see, or know about the fact of the carrot colour.
How much of the happiness we derive from our gardens is in our minds? (Those shrubs will hide the sheds soon, or those dull plants have superb flowers in winter, or those tiny flowers have a superb fragrance, for example.)
I've `done' pink and purple edible patches before, but not with white (and green) veg on either side of the start of the path. I'm looking forward to seeing how this one turns out!
I'm loving my other veg beds: the lemon, yellow and gold bed (complete with yellow broccoli); and a fairly new bed of orange, red and black (with black kale, of course).
Those ones have pansies - edible flowers - along the path edge. But...while they are pretty, and emphasis the colour beautifully, for some reason I'm changing my tack. For one thing, it's hard to get the shades I want, of pale pink and good pink-purple pansies to show the gradations of colour (although white, then pink, then purple ones might work - but would not show subtle changes). And I get so tempted to buy pansies in pots, not the cheaper punnets. I should be patient, but while vegetables generally grow well, there's just a little too much shade from the growing gum trees to the north and north-west. And...let's see if I can make the garden work without the obvious (pink) traffic lights.
We have 7 (yes, 7) compost bins and I'm finding that a globe artichoke - all glorious, tall silver leaves - is half-hiding one of the plastic bins, and hopefully distracting the eye. In go a few more to soften the look of the others. I'm adding dwarf lavenders too (I was given 2 plants), but I don't anticipate year-round attractiveness from these...which are therefore on probation. 
Having fun in the edible garden means I've definitely neglected the orchard. Finally, last weekend, I picked the last of the apples, and began picking tangelos and limes for muffins and marmalade (below). Yum!
(My chef-sister gave me the mouth-watering citrus muffin recipe which is so easy:
Simmer 2 oranges (or varied citrus to ~ ½ kg), just covered with water, for an hour (or 3 tangelos for ¾ hour in our case), drain and allow to cool. Cut into quarters and remove pips. Add  6 eggs and purée. Add 250g of castor sugar and 250g ground almonds and 1 tsp baking powder & stir. Pop into muffin cases, cook for 10 - 15 minutes in a medium oven and voilà!)
Maybe I'll make apple pie with those old apples. Double yum.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (