Friday, 14 July 2017

OK, it Really is Winter

Yes, after a cold night (- 0.9°C), I admit it really is winter.
We're in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges so luckily this sudden frost is pretty unusual. So I'm wondering - have we ever had such a cold night before? I simply can't remember, ever, the salvias knocked off by frost - all of them (even Mexican sage, S. involucrata (above) and S. `Anthony Parker' which (usually) bloom in winter here); tomatoes like skeletons and Gloriosa suddenly sticks. Even the giant circle of tree dahlias (below) is affected, unexpectedly, and how!: one day a glorious green birthday cake topped with lilac flames, the next a ghostly circle (how Morticia would approve!).
Luckily the petite winter bulbs have started to flower: Cyclamen coum with chubby deep cerise blooms; snow-white snowdrops (Galanthus) with green markings; and sweet little pale lemon hoop petticoat daffodils (Narcissus bulbocodium grailsii).
 
Hellebores, too, one of my favourite flowers: deep pink in flower with many others throughout the garden in bud, promising blooms, some double white, soon - but I need more apple-green Corsican winter roses (Helleborus argutifolius) which start to flower so much earlier.
Before long it will be August, which feels like early spring to me - daffodils in bud, some perennials waking up, and continuing bright pink flowers of saxifrage (as my Mum called it - or Elephant's Ears: Bergenia cordifolia) - the colour welcome in winter. (There are white and pale pink and deep pink forms (the latter with red leaves in late autumn), but these ones are too shy to flower - probably too small - so far this season.) And hellebores all through the garden.
While some people go to the ski slopes and others escape to sunny Queensland, I can feel the breath of spring in the air.
But that's probably just me.
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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au).
Photos on this post by talented photographer Andrew Burgess.
 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Is It Really Winter?


Is it really winter? Yes, the outside thermometer said 3.2 degrees last night (I adore my min/max outdoor thermometer, on which I can see the extremes of the last day and night), and a few winter-flowering plants have started to bloom - native heath, correas (like C. `Little Pink Belle, above) - but many of the autumn-flowering plants are still going.
My enormous tree dahlia circle, with those giant birthday-cake-candles, lit up with mauve flames for J's birthday (in May), is still looking impressive; I love its slow growth through the warm months, by the way. Each year it grows towards this effect, getting taller and taller (and hiding the sheds, to boot), with a promise of spectacular beauty - which we have now. While the flowers look delicate, the effect is not fleeting.
Cyclamen hederifolium may have finished blooming (leaving behind carpets of the prettiest leaves, no two plants alike), but one C. purpurescens plant (above) still carries the torch to the winter-flowering C. coum - the latter still only in bud. There's one terracotta pot with a few snowdrops (Galanthus), but most are still in bud too; ditto the winter roses (Helleborus). Tiny daffodil `Tete-a-Tete' is barely pushing up buds. Narcissus `Paper White' is the only bulb in the garden to have received the memo that the shortest day is past.
Some nerines are still blooming - pink and white autumn bulbs - and there's even a few roses to pick, but above all, most (if not all) of the salvias are still flowering - and attracting the  honey-eaters. I'm slowly cutting down the pink salvia (probably `Joan', its hectic-bright flowers pleasant because they are small) outside the kitchen (it's the only one with just a few blooms left), and hoping these little birds will find the correas at its feet, which sport bell-flowers through the winter months.
How can I cut down the other salvias? I feel like doing a wintery `spring cleaning' (why do humans love neatness?) but I love the flowers, and effect of, the salvias from almost-blue `Megan's Magic', to `Anthony Parker' (which has only recently started to cover itself with showy dark blue blooms); a pink one with unusual flowers (a hybrid of S. involucrata, maybe `Hot Pink'); and one of my favourites, mauve and purple `Waverley'. Winter flowering S. mexicana (with its velvety purple flowers, and a white-blooming cultivar) is allowed, of course, to keep up the show.
But does it matter?
As Vincent van Gogh said (in 1873), `I myself almost don't know which season I like best; I believe all of them, equally well'.
I love winter but most of my perennials are having down time, woody or with browning foliage. I look around and think about how to improve the garden's structure - and maybe add winter flowers. More apple-green Helleborus argutifolius, for earlier winter blooms (compared to all the other hellebores); and some white ornamental kale which leapt into my basket at the nursery; icy-white and looking great - hopefully all through the chilly months. 
So while the winter-blooming flowers have not really begun, and autumn flowers continue, it's hard to believe it's winter. I'm just enjoying the show. Lucky me! 
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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au).

Monday, 5 June 2017

Tidying up the Tripods and Finding Treasure

 

Sometimes being too busy is a darn good thing.
I'd been planning to trim back my clematis tripods for quite some time but last weekend the day arrived: I had time, inclination and it wasn't raining.
There's two tripods (or hexapods, lovely sturdy metal ones, with a simple design) each central to a cutting bed, each holding up 3 clematis, and (these cool months) sweet peas (from seeds, tossed in, from Chiltern Seeds), and (still green) Gloriosa.

Luckily I cut back the one in the pink/mauve/white bed first, and rather hard, before starting more tentatively on the blue/purple clematis tripod in which I found...a sweet, little, complete nest, happily used and done with. (Maybe the old home of a scrub wren.)
 
What is it about wildlife in the garden, and in our case, when they treat the garden like an extension of the bushland, that is so delightful?
 
Here there's resident wallabies and antechinas, frequently-visiting echidnas and (rarely) wombats, lizards and numerous skinks, often kookaburras and a suite of darling little birds. It's as if someone else loves our garden too; has felt welcome and made a home; and found nourishment for young ones.
Part of the reason we have birds nest here is, I think, a simple one: we don't spray or otherwise kill spiders (I sometimes feel ambivalent about this) and the house exterior can take, it seems, one day to be festooned in webs after a clean; great material for nests, to bind them. In spring we see birds collecting this - to them - gold, and we smile, knowing their secret. (Just call me Morticia.) A lack of cats here must be a huge boon too.
A nest represents home, childhood, and parental love.
And it's proof - as if we needed it - that the garden is full of the little birds.
How good is 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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au).
 

Friday, 26 May 2017

When Colours Clash - and more on Colour-Scaping the Culinary Patch.


When flower colour matters - and here at `Possum Creek' it does, boy it does - then bright pink blooms next to orange make me cringe. The flowers are swearing at each other and I'm almost physically uncomfortable.
I thought I was always careful to avoid this! - but recently it happened: my pink-and-white cut-flower bed - full of pale pink Lillium (and one or two brighter (above) - how did that happen?), then belladonna lilies (last pic) as summer turned to autumn - was perfectly adjacent to a veg bed where I'd continued my recent fun and oh-so-satisfying colour-scaping the culinary patch. This bed - we've 5, with our 6 little hens frolicking in the fallow one - had orange pansies, African marigolds and nasturtiums (all plants with edible flowers) with that wonderful nasturtium, `Empress of India', all dark leaves (edible too) and near-red flowers, at the far end of the path amongst the black Tuscan kale. Purple broccoli and peas and dark-leafed lettuces and mustard greens continued the colour along with the red stems of ruby chard and, closer to the path, red beetroot.

I might have kept it all separate in my mind were it not for the wandering habit of the orange nasturtiums (above) which have climbed the short fence, poked their heads through the wire and grinned wickedly - and dropped lots of seeds. So...there is, now, a seed bank of orange flowering-plants, alas, right by the pink-and-white north cut-flower bed. (The other, southern, cut-flower bed is full of blues (Dutch iris), yellows (daffodils) and a tiny amount of red (Sprekelia).) No matter: it's not as if I want to grow pink nasturtiums (boy is that variety a bright AND strong pink) so I can just pull out any of the distinctive seedlings - so easily done - to avoid clashes.
Next time I plant out this patch I'll try to remember to keep it in pinks and/or purples.

I'm not trying to be `tasteful' but follow my own heart. I remember well looking up the British Yellow Book of gardens in 2010 to try to find open gardens in London while we were there. All of them sounded the same that week, and my memory, probably inaccurate, is of only `tasteful, colour-co-ordinated gardens'. No wonder (the late, great) Christopher Lloyd rebelled and planted, as he called it, colours that clashed...only with a masterful hand. You might think this skill takes 3 score years to achieve, were it not for Fergus Garrett, his (younger) head gardener, who maybe surpasses Lloyd in his skilfulness with plant combinations. It's worth, I think, dreaming up and trying out really interesting plant associations - considering leaves and texture and height and habit as well as that fleeting flower colour. (If I remember this right, he annoyed people when he announced that he'd planted pink flowers with yellow...only they weren't yellow, they were a gorgeous chartreuse, very different! (See `purple' and `yellow', above - contrasting colours, usually, that here - sing. Importantly, there's loads of green.) I guess when you have an old garden like Great Dixter, often open to the public (who have been told, repeatedly and erroneously, that it was designed by Edward Lutyens (who worked on the house with Christo's father)) and you write about it, then people feel that they own it to some degree. He could be provocative...and ahead of the crowd. I loved his story about the meadow at Great Dixter (below), perhaps one of the first, and - unusually - right at the garden entrance where there'd previously been lawn. (I saw this magical meadow in June, full of wildflowers, orchids and, I think, butterflies.) Apparently Lloyd heard some men say `he hasn't even mown his lawn! I'm not paying to go in there!' which made him chuckle. J and I loved this meadow and I'm currently designing 2 meadows with year-round flowers for country gardens to Melbourne's east.)
Since we last spoke, dear reader, I've begun a new edible patch, again in the hot colours, further down the hill. But instead of nasturtiums overwhelming the marigolds and pansies, I've kept to pansies alone as an edging to the path, for my edible flowers. Hopefully the growing vegetables behind will quickly take away any whiff of civic-like planting-style. Besides, they are deliberately not in a perfect straight line, just a rough line that fits with the path of wood-chip-mulch and the rustic wig-wams of teatree or paperbark branches (for peas) that arise from occasional clearing between house, fire pump and dam.
(Speaking of branches: we've had to cut down, early, a few tree dahlia canes - 2 or 3m long, and mulching them hasn't happened yet...and so, on Mother's Day, we had perfect, impromptu jousting sticks, or so my great nephews thought. I love an unpolished country garden where these happy chances can happen. This was after I got puffed playing chasey with these boys...yes, I am in my 50's. They also collected eggs from my hens and played - their idea - spoon and egg games. Outside.)
What's really different in my veg patch this time is that the colours include a lot of black, not just the Tuscan kale. The pansies go from orange to red to black. And the vegetables include a handsome black-leaf pak choy and a dark red-black mizuna with lacy leaves at the far end. There's also, near the start, kale with red stalks (home-collected seed; probably `Redbor') and scattered here and there, red onion seed (J: `You don't eat red onions.' Me: `But I will'. J: `You chose them for the colour, didn't you?' Me: `Of course!') and red beetroot and red-stalked ruby chard. (And purple broccoli.)
Home-collected seed labelled `mustard greens or black kale' has turned out to be very much the former, so I need to label the packet; but there's so, so much of it coming up persistently anyway that I think I'll pull it all out and replace with something dark and mysterious (and more useful); I just have to think what, here near the pea tripods.
Now some of you may be muttering that beetroot is red.
Well...down in my yellow patch (cream, lemon and yellow fading to gold patch, actually, thank you) there's a golden beetroot (I wonder what it tastes like?) along with chartreuse broccoli. There's yellow and gold-stalked chard (a plant I used to weed out vigorously...how times change) and pretty yellow peas (doing well) on rough tripods. I really like this bed, with its exuberant lemon nasturtiums (leaves and flowers picked for a salad last weekend). I'm curious to see just how cold it gets before the nasturtiums turn up their toes this winter...and maybe I'll put a cold frame over some - my plastic, easily moved one.
So my next bed might be pink and purple again: pink at the start of the path, leading to purples including rustic tripods for purple peas.
(A rainbow bed just didn't work, visually. Maybe my edible plots of about 4m by just over 2m with either a central path (J's choice) or a few bluestones as stepping stones (my preference) are too small for such a complex combination.)
I started colour-scaping the culinary patch a year or 2 ago and I think I'm addicted, as I think up new colour schemes and need to consider time of year - and plant or sow - summer or winter vegetables. As I'm collecting a lot of my own seeds it's getting cheaper, too (especially for the handsome kale that act as a backdrop but frankly don't get eaten much).
And I'm sowing lettuce seed mixes, frequently, for picking baby leaves for impromptu salads whenever we want.
Bon app├ętit!
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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Five Shades Of Blue


Late autumn, and many of my beloved perennials are yawning and shuffling off to bed for their winter sleep. But not salvias, with maybe 20 kinds, of blue, purple and pink throughout the garden continually flowering, adding colour, mainly in petite blooms, and a magnet for honeyeaters.
Some of the blue Salvias are true blue, a rare colour in the vegetable kingdom, and reflect the sky, or replicate it, just as it clouds over on these chilly days.
But  how did I end up with five different blue Salvias, all near the lilac front gate? And why have I just noticed?

Well, it's autumn, when sun-loving sages peak and some, like midnight Salvia `Anthony Parker' (below), have just started to bloom. How I wish this one would start flowering at, say, the summer solstice (and continue for 5 months) but no, here at `Possum Creek' at 170m elevation it is not a team player but arrives like some self-important diva only to glance around disdainfully and disappear after (it seems) 5 minutes. I've pulled several plants of it out from in front of the yellow roses - it was too tall - and plonked the plants uphill where their quite neat sub-shrubbery works well and lack of floral decoration matters not a bit. And yes, now that it's flowering, nearly all is forgiven - for those dark, velvet blooms.
It's quite boggy near the front path and although Bog Sage (below) does not require this, nor does it mind it, either. Salvia uliginosa is one of those rather non-neat cottage-y perennials from the 1980's that still linger in some gardens - mainly, I suspect, for its glorious cool-climate-sky-blue flowers, and these have been blooming atop 1.8m stems for several months now. It's a plant I'm ambivalent about (at present very happy with); the random, almost wispy nature is forgiven as it wends about yellow Phlomis and purple iris without overwhelming either. (Yes, it wanders, but is so easily pulled out that it's no trouble. Maybe I like it now because there's enough of it for a reasonable impact.) I like having happy neighbours that flower at different times or in complementing colours, or effective contrasts. And it's also won me over by being neater than, and superior to, Salvia `African Sky'.
Salvia `African Sky' is at first glance a nice little perennial: it doesn't spread and it grows fast into a soft subshrub covered in little, mid-blue flowers for a good chunk of the warm months...but then looks just a bit too messy. I liked having a few along my front path over summer but they obscured (and competed too much with) other plants, got a bit tall and straggly over autumn and now almost overshadow the path. (I rather like its riotous laughing - but not along the edge of the front path, the only place where I want to keep a semblance of neatness.) I've started cutting them back and it's great to see the double row of green balls again, my spheres of Syzygium `Tiny Trev' which give this area structure amongst the softer perennials as we walk along the path to the front door. I will pull out the salvia (I'd rather have the iris and Phlomis flower) but...I have visitors coming in a week's time. I don't want this area messy and I like having some flowers here, they welcome people...so the execution date has been postponed. They don't need replacing; there's the Phlomis and iris, but, in front, also large leaved bugle (Ajuga) grows luxuriantly between the lilly pilly balls, a perfect marriage of carpet to feature, straight man to...star, as it were.
It's a long time since I acquired Salvia chamaelagiana; I believe I propagated and sold it when I had my mail order nursery of rare bulbs and perennials, Possum Creek Perennials, in the 1990's. It's stiffly upright which might work en masse but in small numbers can look self-conscious. I like the flowers of soft blue and white but they can look washed out from a distance; but it does have them for at least 2 months, maybe more. Currently it's uphill in awful clay soil, not complaining, just adding to the backdrop of pleasant perennials I've exiled from the garden proper. A dreadnought, as my hero, James Hitchmough, would say, and they are bloody useful.
There's one or 2 Salvia `African Sky' near the roses and they are too tall, too. So, how about Salvia chamaedryoides `Marine Blue' (above), a pretty little thing? On close inspection, the flowers have a touch of violet, although they look like a delightful fairly deep blue from a distance, over slightly silvery foliage. I'd like them at the feet of the roses, to hide their petticoats (so to speak) but I'm worried that this one is too messy and, because it needs cutting back in winter, won't do the job year-round. But...I love this garden of yellow and blue, and I think S. `Marine Blue' is probably the best candidate. (Alternatives could be: Salvia nemorosa (below)? Deep blue - but too short. Convovulus cneorum? Too small and silver. Correa? Too large and competitive...et al. But my existing S. chamaedryoides `Marine Blue' is goldilocks just right for height (reputedly 30cm, but almost twice that so far), colour, ability to blend in with that quality of perennials: it won't compete too much with the roses (physically or to the eye).) So...we cut back the Salvia when the other perennials are awake in spring, and distracting the eye, minimally at least. Let's see.
So my 5 salvias are very different. Salvia `African Sky' can be moved uphill, relegated to `The Gods' as my mother called the cheap seats at the theatre, high, high up above the real action. With a garden carved into the side of a hill, the flat areas are at a premium and plants relegated to the `batter' above are rather like undesirables cast outside the city walls.
I'll fertilise my Phlomis and iris and ask for forgiveness (these are just behind the green balls). Bog sage will continue its gentle invasion (and I'll continue its easy restraint). Over the path, in my garden of sunshine and sky, Salvia chamaedryoides `Marine Blue' will be trialled in front of the roses.
But it had better be good.
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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Purple Haze


You know those happy chances, where plants conspire, it seems,  to flower all at once with colours complementing perfectly, in a way you couldn't have planned?
As I look out from my kitchen window, on this cold wet autumn day, over the path I'm seeing one of these little vignettes that give such joy. The flowers are purple, but all in different shades and tints.

Uphill is a large shrub: chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus, below), which is covered, just now, in tiny pale lilac flowers. Just below this is a perennial daisy on tall, firmly vertical stalks: purple Boltonia (last pic), which is oh-so-slowly forming a good clump, with intense shots of purple.

Next to this is one of my favourite of the ornamental sages, Salvia `Waverley': soft-lilac and purple blooms on a subshrub that doesn't spread (some salvias spread just a little too enthusiastically), along with a pelargonium I really like: one that tolerates half-shade, with leaves of silver-green, soft velvet, not dull, plebeian, rough felt (like many pelargoniums (or "geranium" in the Australian vernacular)). I have no idea of its name, but I love its effect: the handsome leaves year-round; the contrast to the flowers; the `volume' when some of the perennials slumber in winter (gardens need space and voids and volume).
There's a bit of a gap and I know exactly what is needed here: good old Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha, above): solid purple flowers that seem to be made of velvet. There's one further along the path and a couple more will - come next April - add some panache and continuity.
Well, that's the plan.
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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)
 

Friday, 14 April 2017

Autumn bulbs (remind me of Mum).


From dainty-looking ivy-leaf cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium, above), to  flamboyant white belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna alba), for me, autumn bulbs each have a story to tell.
Mum used to tell me that she bought her first cyclamen tuber around 1960 or 1961 and from the 1980's on had a great sweep of them, under deciduous trees, along her drive. After a while, ants spread the seeds to the nearby lawn so the beautiful leaves were turning up everywhere - to Dad's dismay.
At Macedon Joan Law-Smith grew it in ''sheets of pink and white'' at her wonderful garden at Bolobek. She once described the autumn-flowering C. hederifolium, with its dark green leaf and silver mottling, as ''a perfect example of nature's artistry in matching leaf to flower...No two are alike in size, shape or colour."
Both Mum and I grew cyclamen species from seed (mainly from the UK) to get a range that would give us flowers over a long period. In my 20's I read `The Urban Woodland' (1986)  by Suzanne Price, in which she describes cyclamen flowering year-round (in SE Australia) by growing C. hederifolium blooming in autumn, C. coum in winter, C. persicum in spring and C. purpurescens in summer - although I prefer C. repandum for spring flowers. I grow C. purpurescens by the front door and visitors (if gardeners) are often puzzled by the summer flowers; occasionally I get a non-gardener saying `I've got that' and I can't help but reply, about this rarity, `really, are you sure?' Most (of the plants, not the visitors) have patterned leaves that are very, very pretty - and (for this species) evergreen.
Just now my Cyclamen hederifolium are starting to bloom really well, while my white belladonna lilies have finished for the season.

I had just started to really enjoy gardening in my early or mid-twenties when I visited a bulb farm in Gembrook, not too far from my parents new home in Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. It was March 14th, my mother's birthday, and I bought 2 of these white belladonna lilies (above) - rare or uncommon bulbs - then, anyhow - (one for me, one for her) and was thrilled when the delightful farmer dug them up and left attached the perfect flowers, in enormous umbels, a heavy bunch on each stalk. I think he enjoyed my enthusiasm, too.
Most bulbs multiply well, which is part of their charm.
I tried counting my bulbs the other day. I'd picked 2 bunches at different times to enjoy inside and this left about 2 dozen flowering size bulbs (and many smaller). A good friend would be offering them around but I won't on two grounds: they are very top-heavy, making the pink one look elegant by comparison. I'll share that one. But also: I am using my white belladonna lilies for a massed effect, so I need the numbers. (Do other (lucky) owners of country gardens feel like this?) I love to share my garden plants, but some things I can't spare. (But I do give away hellebores, iris and obedient plant constantly.)

I still remember that day around 1988 driving into `Patnitop', as Mum and Dad called their property (after a mountain pass they loved in Kashmir), opening the boot, and delighting Mum with her showy birthday present, also called Amaryllis belladonna alba, with its heady sweet scent.

Then Dad sold `Patnitop' last year and we were allowed to dig up just a few of her bulbs - and it was autumn (see post 23/4/16).
My sister R and I spent a lovely hour in Mum's garden where the autumn bulbs had decided to put on one last hurrah; especially nerines in shades of red and pink, neon-lit and traffic signal-hot (and we oh-so carefully kept our unearthed treasures separate and labelled).
I've never had much success with nerines (yes, I know: the bulbs need the necks exposed, they need full sun, and the bulbs flower best when crowded). But Mum not only grew them well, but her magic lived on for several years and even into my garden - many are in bud, or flowering, now, despite my thinking a year ago - `should I really take these? - they won't do well!' It really feels like a bit of her green thumb wizardry is in the garden now that these are flowering. Some are bright raspberry pink, but with delicate slim petals that in no way dominate. They just add the tiniest spot of colour to the raspberry-and-silver bed, just as its perennials wind down with the cooler weather. Red ones (Nerine `Fothergilla Major', above) are further from the house but also add that welcome splash or dash of colour.
But what is this magic of Mum's gardening, that made nerines flower?
Well, Mum took her gardening seriously. (Plus she had good mountain soil.)
Maybe I just need to fertilise more regularly, garden, not just play and tinker.
There's a thought.
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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)