Helleborus galorus

An unknown cultivar in a client’s garden

It seems odd to say this, but one of the joys of curating a maturing garden is the presence of shade: particularly the shade of deciduous trees and shrubs. Plants that adore this niche are in themselves quite adorable. 

There are many woodland plants that make the most of the winter sunshine.They carry out many of their biological functions while the canopy is clear, making use of the light to photosynthesise and to use the resultant energy to reproduce. It is also while the limbs above are bare that seedlings, from last year’s seed that has been awakened by the cold, emerge in little clusters between established clumps.

Today I am talking about the more common evergreen perennial hellebore hybrids (Helleborus xhybridus) that have developed from the acaulescent species such as H. orientalis, H. viridis, H. atrorubens etc. (Acaulescent means they don’t grow a stem.) 

These images are of the Helleborus xhybrida seedlings growing in my garden

Why are these hellebores so popular?

Their flowers are beautiful. They flower in winter. They flower over a long period. They are seemingly immortal. It is hard not to have success with them (as long as they get some moisture over summer), their foliage is green and glossy and interesting even when they are not in flower and they form a dense weed excluding ground cover. They will happily grow in the rooty soil beneath trees. There is an endless variety in the flower forms that are available. And they are easily maintained (they do need some maintenance, if they are to look their best, but more of that later).

I was given a tray of seedling hellebores twenty years ago by my friend and gardening mentor John Grenville from his own garden. I was thrilled to find as they grew and flowered (quite quickly within two to three years from seed) that they came in a range of colours and patterns: whites with a greenish tinge, white with reddish splotches, plain pink, pink heading toward purple, pink marked with purple spots. And gradations of these colours with washes and edges and splotches and stains. At some point a named variety was introduced maybe ‘Single Plum Purple’, and it has had a little influence in one part of the expanse of hellebores beneath some Japanese maples.

There are a few nurseries around the country that specialise in these adorable plants. You might have heard of Post Office Farm Nursery in Victoria or Tasmainian Select Hellebores. Their ranges of cultivars are mouth watering. 

My preference though remains for the unimproved and for the simple single flowers. Even though some species have naturally occuring double forms, I find some of the pointier doubles a little too artificial and the petticoat of petal-like sepals diminishes the classic hellebore flower shape. There. I have said it.

So I think you know where you can grow them, in soil that is rich in humus beneath a deciduous tree. I suggest you apply a composted mulch each year, but don’t cover the crown, it might interfere with flowering.

Check for insect pests like aphids and scale. These might cause distortion in the leaves and flower buds. They don’t seem to reduce the vigour of the hellebores, but I like to treat heavy infestations, with a garden oil to prevent them spreading to other plants in the garden.

The only other regular maintenance they need is an annual haircut before flowering. Craig Wilson from Gentiana Nursery tells me he mows over his larger plantings in Autumn. This removes the old leaves that can spoil the effect of the flowering in winter as they die. What about photosynthesis, I hear you ask. Well, hellebores are rather clever. They send up some brand new leaves that unfurl as the flower matures, to fuel flowering and seed production.

I wonder have you ever taken the time to bend down and have a look right into a hellebore flower’s face? It is worth getting down amongst the leaf mould in your happily maturing garden.

Guling, the orchid season

This season speaks of the reawakening of the earth from the damp, cool winter. Nodding greenhood (Pterostylis spp.) and other early-flowering, terrestrial orchids characterise this time in the Kulin calendar. And how fitting it is, for this is truly a season of flowers. While some people argue over whether this is winter or spring, I prefer the indigenous viewpoint, that the weeks in late July and throughout August constitute a unique season where the emphasis is on the blooms.

My garden really comes to life, floristically-speaking, during this moment of pre-spring. Even through our mild frosts and light flurries of snow, the early bulbs; Gordonia and Camellia; winter Kniphofias; Silver and the Snowy River wattles; red and white and coral flowering quinces; leucadenrons and banksias; wallflowers and calendula; and the highly fragrant winter shrubs such as Daphne odora and Lonicera fragrantissima, bring bright colour and vivid fragrance to the garden.

This year I have been delighting in my pot of miniature daffodils, Narcissus ‘Tête-á-tête’. Many of my other pots of narcissus have been quite underwhelming in terms of number of flowers this year. I probably was too generous with fertiliser when I repotted them and they have put a lot of energy into new growth. Maybe next year. This miniature daffodil however once again filled its pot with the most perfect, bite-sized blooms that nod in the breeze as all daffodils should. 

Narcissus tete-a-tete

Also a star of the Guling bulb show is the common grape hyacinth that has been growing and flowering in a bed beside the drive even before my arrival over twenty years ago. I potted up a dozen or so 14cm pots of these Muscari aremeniacum last year, planning to drop them into gaps in clients’ gardens right now. Since I can’t get out to work for my city garden clients, they were languishing in the nursery when I decided to bring them up en masse to the courtyard outside the sitting room windows, where I have assembled them on an old, pot-plant rack, creating a little wave of cascading blue and green.

Grape hyacinths and lambs ears, Clear Springs

And who can forget, it is the time of an interminable list of gardening chores: the fruit trees and the roses need to be pruned; the perennials require a good cut back and a thorough application of mulch; the last of the planting of ornamentals must be completed; lawns start to grow again and will demand the mowing regime resume; the vegetable seeds need to be propagated for the summer garden and all to be concluded in between showers of rain, hail and snow. No wonder it is so invigorating. 

The nesting birds enliven the garden too during these lengthening days of Guling and, like them, we carry on singing our song in the hope of better days ahead. 

March is a season all its own

March is a season all its own according to the Kulin calendar. Iuk, the eel season.

On top of this hill, I don’t see many eels, no doubt the Bunurong, the Gunnai/ Kurnai and the Wurundjeri, the people who traditionally own the lands on which I live and work, would have made their way to wetlands and rivers at this time of year to find them and feast on them. Perhaps they still do. Out West at Budj Bim, on the lands of the Gunditjmara people, the eel harvesting network of channels and traps has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Eels are in the DNA of southern Victoria. I have memories as a kid hanging out with mates at a dam in a back paddock with our fishing gear, not having a clue what we would catch and landing some fat slippery eels, that we each took home to mothers bemused and unimpressed. What were they supposed to do with them? There had been no transmission of food culture from indigenous to non-indigenous cooks in the Bass Valley. Not even the dogs seemed interested when I threw them to the kennels. What a waste! Now I buy smoked eel at the farmers market and wonder why I haven’t always eaten them.

This precious little month long season is like a cushion between the end of summer’s hot winds and the long damp season of the wombat, Waring.  The month of the autumnal equinox is a brilliant time in the garden. Especially this year when the summer has been so generous with rainfall in this small part of the world.

Parthenocissus henryana silver vein creeperDeciduous shrubs and trees look well this year. The early harbingers of Autumn are daily changing colour and now at the end of eel season some are already beginning to let their burgundy and crimson leaves fall to the ground: the claret ash and the Virginia creeper. But some are holding on to summer for as long as they can. A silver vein creeper in one garden we designed comes to mind. The trellis we put up is now perfectly covered, with dense and diffuse sections, not yet a complete takeover. The white, blue-green and burgundy are yet to give way to imminent rust.

Anemone hybridaAlso of note this year are the herbaceous perennials. Sometimes plants like Japanese windflower, Persicaria affine and P. ‘Red Dragon’, can be looking drab and wilted after a long hot summer, even in the middle of their floral display. This year, they are powering on. I have never seen so many flowers on my pink Anemone hybrida and it is a rare treat to have them rising up from a healthy substructure of dense green leaves. rather than a mess of  weather beaten rags.

The vegetable garden has not been a great success this summer. After a good start in early summer, the plants never really became as rambunctious as one would expect due no doubt to a lack of care on my part. The cool end of summer has meant slow ripening and fruit in lower number than usual. My annual three sister planting of corn, climbing beans and pumpkin was uneven to say the least. Although the corn grew to great heights producing many cobs, they completely extinguished the climbing beans and out competed the pumpkins to a large extent as well. No doubt, I will need to go back to the drawing board on that one to get the spacing right for next year.

But as ever the most productive veggie garden performer is the zucchini, producing innumerable healthy fruit of all sizes. They have been as plump and welcome as a southern eel at the end of a line.

Autumn colour

IMG_8164The lurid pink flowers of a naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, rises up from parched ground and bone dry grasses in an unmown corner of my garden. These bold trumpets on the end of slender stems create for me an iconic image. A visual moment that long ago informed my gardener’s mind. For me they have always been associated with age and neglect, of the long abandoned garden of a farmhouse that has decayed, been destroyed or disappeared. A reminder that this space was once held separate from the cattle or the sheep or the arable fields, and was cared for. It is a reminder too that autumn, here in southern Australia, is a time for the ending of things and it is also a great time of renewal and replenishment.

The adaptation that gives the naked ladies their drama is the fact that they lie dormant over the hottest and driest part of the year. Then their flower buds emerge from the ground as though rising from nothing. Their leaves appear afterwards, growing after the flowers are spent, to gather energy over the autumn, winter and spring when conditions are more conducive for growth. They store this energy in their bulbs, which enables their dormancy and the great floral exuberance in Autumn. 


These Nerine sarniensis are not intimidated by the strident Agave desmettiana variegata and the overhanging pomegranate. This part of the garden receives no irrigation.

And they are not the only members of the Armaryllidaceae to grow in this way. At least four species of Nerine are summer dormant. Although for Nerines the leaves usually being to appear with the flower rather than waiting for the flower to die down completely. Two of the summer dormant nerines are fairly commonly found in gardens here: the clear pink Nerine bowdenii and the brilliant and in my experience vermillion N. sarniensis. A less common variety, the modest N. pudica, whose white flowers bear markings of faded cerise, is also available in specialist nurseries. (I have no experience of the fourth,  N. ridleyi. I would love to know if anyone grows it here.) Also, there are countless cultivated varieties of summer dormant nerines ranging in colour from white, through pink and red.

Nerine pudica

Compared to the outrageous colour of some of the other nerines, the delicate colour and form of Nerine pudica show that its name is well deserved, ‘pudica’ coming from Latin, meaning pure or modest. 

All will grow in a well-drained soil and where they are not ruthlessly irrigated over summer. I have been growing the more common species in the ground in South Gippsland for years as everyone has and they are perfectly happy. Their love of good drainage means they are happy growing in pots too. I am slowly building up my numbers of Nerine pudica in a pot so that I can start to plant it out in the garden without fear of losing it.

Nerines and Haemanthus

Blood lilies (Haemanthus coccineus) harnessing the light of Autumn to bring it some attention from pollinators

The most stunning of the Autumn flowering South African bryophytes in my opinion is the blood lily or Haemanthus coccineus. Red goblet shaped flowers emerge from the barren ground at the start of Autumn unadorned by any foliage. Ross Uebergang used this species to great effect in his show garden at the Melbourne Flower Show (MIFGS 2018), emerging from a flawless mulch of granitic sand. As a child, however, I remember being more fascinated by the enormous, glossy strap-like leaves that emerge from the bulb once the flowering has finished. My most successful clump grows under a deciduous shrub. 

Lycoris aurea

Lycoris aurea is probably waiting for an upgrade to a more fabulous pot. I am waiting for it to produce more bulbs. We both know it doesn’t love being disturbed. 

Lycoris aurea the golden spider lily is another plant that grows like the above southern Africans. The Lycoris tribe, however, come from Asia: limestone country in China and Japan.  It has developed an almost identical form to the nerines and has similar adaptations to cope with dry summer conditions. They too arise in autumn with a display of  flowers that glows in the mid to light shades of gold, hence both its scientific and common name. After two years, I am still nursing this one along in a pot. Sources of information vary about how happy it is in more acidic conditions. Soon, I hope to have a few more bulbs to experiment with in my garden’s soil.


The bulbs of each species mentioned above do multiply over time, although not so rapidly that they ever become too much of a good thing. They are perennial; they persist. Each year they return to prompt reflection on the change of season, to consider what has passed and to contemplate what is to come.


The dry weather since Christmas has created a pale landscape of washed out paddocks. The eye is naturally drawn to vestiges of green, coming often from unlikely sources.  Thickets of blackberry the size of haystacks, erupting out of neglected pasture. The manifold shades of green shrubs shimmer below the canopy of the bush. The steadfast trees of shelterbelts and roadsides hold it all together, such as blackwoods and elderberry panax. This is the season of the woody plant, which has the resources to outlast the heat while many herbs and grasses fade slowly away. 

These remnants of green can be compared to the evergreens surviving a northern winter in a denuded wood. The colour green as a marker of life. The last signs of photosynthesis engendering hope that life will be refreshed when the season changes. The holly and the ivy celebrated in European winter carols. Similarly, in our gardens, the evergreens are holding their own in the face of the late summer heat. 

Prunus lusitanica

In a Melbourne garden the Portuguese laurel hedges belie the dry hot January they have just survived.

In clients’ urban gardens, I am finding myself rather thrilled by the stalwart Portuguese laurel, Prunus lusitanica. It has a very appealing deep green leaf with red stems. In one of the gardens we maintain, this laurel is grown as low hedging, dividing up the space and creating unity and cohesion. Here the laurels demonstrate a wide range of light tolerance: full sun, dappled light and deep shade, in which they are able to flourish albeit demonstrating some variance in habit. In the deep shade, they have deep green leaves and sparser growth; in full sun their leaves show a lighter green and carry much denser growth.


Cherry laurel in a vibrant tapestry hedge in South Gippsland. The mown grass is nothing more than a ghost of the green lawn it was in December.

Its not too distant relation Prunus laurocerasus, the cherry laurel, is similarly tough, reliable and seemingly invincible. The glossy green oval leaves seem like a perfect antidote to the bleached mown grass that stands in for a lawn in my own neglected garden. And I would like to make more of this contrast, maybe with a portion of the hedge in which it grows, emerging from a swathe of washed out grasses and herbs, such as the spent blue devils (Eryngium ovina) and tussock grasses (Poa labillardierei, P. rodwayi and P. sieberiana).


Late summer is the period of stillness and decay for indigenous grassland plants, as can be seen in this new planting of Poa spp. and Eryngium ovina.


Prickly paperbark clipped into a hedge. The hottest weather brings its most vigorous growth.

There are many indigenous woody plants that clip well. My personal favourite is the prickly paperbark, Melaleuca styphellioides. Prickly tips to the leaves make them rather unfriendly to maintain and don’t try walking around them in bare feet. Even though this variety is grown often as a street tree (the white bark and broccoli form either loved or hated), I find that it can be cut into a marvellous medium sized hedge. Mine has been clipped for over ten years and is keeping its shape and size at just under two metres. I am yet to cut back really hard into the old wood to see how it would cope with a full scale renovation, which it might need eventually. They cope with all soil types including some compaction and come alive only once the weather has really warmed up, which means it sits for many months over winter in perfect shape.

Other tough evergreens include the lilly pilly, members of the Myrtaceae. The most common garden plants are cultivars of Waterhousea and Syzygium. These are quite versatile plants with forms being chosen in recent years to fulfil the demand for plants that will block out the sight of neighbouring properties in our ever diminishing gardens. Some of the Syzygiums,  such as ‘Pinnacle’, make excellent narrow hedges with glossy new leaves, interesting new growth, colourful fruit, and less need of clipping than similar types of hedging.  Their greatest drawback is the chance of being the victim of the incessant nibbling of the lilly pilly leaf eating beetle, Paropsides calypso.

Waterhousea floribunda, another rainforest tree of Eastern Australia, has attractive salmon new growth in late spring and early summer and is really wonderful, growing quickly and tall to block out neighbours and unpleasant views.

The other advantage of some of these glossy evergreens is that they can give definition to the delightfully diaphanous haze of plantings dominated by perennials and grasses. Solid masses of these trusty plants provide a solemn contrast to this effervescence and can anchor the composition, defining it and accentuating the diverse forms of the grasses and herbaceous perennials. I am reminded of the Escallonia hedge used by Simon Rickard as a boundary for his perennial borders in the central highlands of Victoria. 

High time for some changes


The Gordonia axillaris, or fried egg tree, has begun the new season with a new look

High Summer has come along in fits and starts, as all the seasonal changes seem to do in southern  Victoria. The first day of December yesterday was a celestial day of heat, sunshine and endless blue sky. The changeability of our weather is legendary, so it was with no surprise that during the night we were woken by thunder booming directly overhead and a flood of rain that would lift the ark.

The rain will keep the garden, and the paddocks beyond, green through until January, which is a blessing in a year that is still set to be named, El Niño. Who knows what the place will look like in Late Summer? For now we are thankful and revel in the green. 

And are busy keeping the green in check. Amazing spring growth has now to be taken in hand with the hedge trimmers and brush cutter being the tools of choice. And I have been busy too making a few changes in my garden.

For most garden designers, the best type of gardening is the creation of a new garden from scratch, approaching a tabula rasa with a grand vision and implementing it. I am no different. I feel the thrill of creating a place that did not exist before, the joy of giving a garden to a client when they had none.  

Nevertheless, a garden is a most ephemeral and fluctuating work of art. Time brings growth. It can also bring a diffusion of the original aim and vision. The care of the garden might have led it to a dead end; a cul-de-sac of neatness and despair. For, as managers of such a dynamic phenomena, gardeners need to do more than merely trim the box and cut crisp edges. We need to make ongoing decisions: to cull, to shape, to replace, to introduce. 

As has been said before, it is the people who maintain the garden who are the real custodians of any garden design. Good gardeners are able to tap into the intent of the garden’s original design. They are challenged by an ageing garden to decide with their client the best way forward: restoration, rejuvenation or reinvention.

I delight in refining an older garden’s design and planting plan to interact with the change that time brings to it. Particularly in my own garden. And I would say my approach is one of perpetual rejuvenation, where I try to get back to my original intentions but within the limits of what nature has decided will actually happen. 

Much of my ornamental garden is made up of mixed borders consisting of shrubs and trees growing amidst perennials and annuals. The conditions are constantly changing. Picture the Gordonia axillaris, which for many years was a slender exclamation mark in its bed surrounded by irises, Francoa, Campanula and Anthriscus.  Over the years it has developed a middle age spread, squeezing out the undergrowth. Furthermore, it was also making a mess of the lawn as its skirts billowed over edging, shading the grass and destroying the shapes of the bed and the lawn. 

Following a conversation with a dear friend whose own garden I have long admired, I decided to remove all the lower branches of the Gordonia, up to about 800mm, so that stone edging would be revealed, the lawn given a fighting chance and the overall form would dominate less. Interesting new opportunities also arose.



Danae racemosa, the poet’s laurel with Iris foetidissima in the background

A great quantity of space under the Gordonia for shade loving plants came into view! Finally, a few impulse buys that had been languishing in the nursery were to find a home: a low shrub, Danae racemosa, the poets laurel, from Stephen Ryan’s nursery, with deep green glossy leaves should bring a rounded form to contrast with the scrappy leaves of the neighbouring iris; Polygonatum multiflorum or Solomon’s seal have been introduced so their elegant arching stems will draw the eye into this new garden beneath the canopy. 


The naked limbs of the Gordonia with Polygonatum multiflorum getting ready to spread


The newly revealed limbs catch the late afternoon sunshine, the lawn is yet to recover

The rains have helped all these late plantings along no end. But now I might just take a break from the renovations as new plantings really do have to stop now until we are on the other side of the long summer months ahead.

Cutting back, letting go

Spring in the garden is an ongoing unfurling of new petals, the bursting of rounded buds, the seemingly endless succession of novelty, freshness and delight. It is so easy to become  intoxicated by this fragrant cocktail. So easy to wander around taking photos for Instagram. So easy to forgot there are still chores to be done. Space needs to be made for the growth that is coming.

This is really the perfect time for the clearing of the decaying old growth from last season that has been pleasing the eye all through Autumn and Winter with its warm earthy tones. Now, amidst the green flush of spring, these tones are out of sorts and the new growth at the base of the herbaceous perennials such as Miscanthus, Kniphofia and Nepeta and the similar subshrubs like Pervoskia and Agastache, is keen to get on and grow. The cuttings make excellent mulch. I have stock piled all the miscanthus for use in the vegetable garden over the coming months. Other, less pliable, more twiggy cuttings have found there way to the slow compost heap, where they will sit for the next couple of years before being put back on the garden. If I had a mulcher I could speed up the process.


The before shot of the large centre bed at Clear Springs that has glowed warmly all through winter and is now ready for its annual prune


The after shot. Cutting back the chrysanthemums has revealed an unruly clump of Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ and the last three flowers of the champion Kniphofia ‘Winter Cheer’

This is the last chance to get plants in the ground to have a chance to be established before summer. Usually October is the cut off mark for me, but this year I think we are having an earlier season. My friend Peter at Hill Top Hives has already collected a swarm of bees for his apiary, a clear sign that spring has truly arrived in South Gippsland. I have planted many new plants this year already and am keen to see how well they do over the coming months and years.

I still have room for some more plants. Especially after the clearance of a few dead or dying shrubs that have lived out the term of their natural life. One of them was a very robust and vigorous Grevillea victoriae. A great section had started to die back last year,  and I had been hoping it wouldn’t spread, but other branches were dying, so I decided it was time to let go of what had been a very successful shrub for a dozen years or more. I have little success with the bigger grevilleas for any longer than that. They blow out or die back. Live fast, die young seems to be their motto. I would love to know if anyone has any longer living favourites in the medium to large shrub range? The smaller varieties, like the stalwart Grevillea lanigera ‘Mt. Tambouritha’ (sometimes marketed as Mt. Tambo), G. baueri, which strikes readily from cuttings and is worth growing for the foliage alone, and my favourite G. rosmarinifolia, shown below in its broad leaf form.

Broad leaf Grevillea rosmarinifolia, Clear Springs

Grevillea rosmarinifolia (broad-leaf form)

None of these will suit the purpose of the new gap in the native hedgerow along the western boundary of the garden. Maybe it’s a chance to put in a different type of native flowering shrub. This is a bird friendly section of the garden that is alive with wattle birds  for much of the year sipping nectar from the banksias and with black cockatoos ripping Hakea sericea fruits to pieces for the seeds within. These seem to be more long-lived in this climate. I had better make up my mind soon. In the meantime, I’m off outside with my camera.

Sweet, deep winter

Being a gardener in winter is quite a privilege and a lark. For sure, there are mornings when you think your fingers will turn black from frost bite, or afternoons when you count down the minutes until you can get home to change your rainsoaked and filthy clothes. But then there are days like today when the sun shines, albeit weakly, and the fragrance of the winter flowers floats in the gentle breeze and reminds you of the times you have caught that scent before. 

Scented plants that are flowering in the gardens I care for at the moment are many and varied. In one garden, parts of the birch wood have been colonised by the ground hugging violet. Viola odorata flowers come in different shades of purple and there are white varieties as well. I never have the time to pick them, but they make a great little bunch for a small vase. If there are children within earshot, I usually ask them to pick me some, their fingers being better suited to picking the filament-like stems, on which these symmetrical flowers grow. 

Other wonderful scented plants for winter are sweet daphne (Daphne odora), which everyone knows. Maybe less well known, but still fairly widely grown are the native daphne, once known as Eriostemon myoporoides and now called Philoteca myoporoides. Like daphne their flowers are white with a hint of pink on the outside of the petals, and they have sweet scent, although I would say quite different to the exotic daphne. 


I am reluctant to use jonquils in planting plans as once you have them, you will have them forever (I have been trying in vain for years to vanquish a clump of scrambled egg yellow jonquils from one of my beds and no matter how many times I claim to have dug up all the bulbs, there are always some left behind). However, if you have a garden that doesn’t already have some, they will grow well in a pot and have a great winter scent in the garden. 

There are so many more scented plants, but the last one I will mention is Lonicera fragrantissima, the winter honeysuckle. The small clear cream flowers are small but the scent is large, a spicy lemony version that would be familiar to lovers of the spring and summer flowering varieties. I don’t often see it about, but it is on my wish list for must have plants.


I like to observe the renaissance in the garden caused by autumnal showers. Having a garden filled with flowers as the leaves change colour is not that hard to do. There are quite a few genera that choose this season to bring on the floral fireworks.

Many of the ornamental sages are in flower during Autumn, such as the ever reliable Salvia leucantha, with it’s fluffy flowers and felty foliage. 

Under the great shade trees at Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens in Cape Town, the gardeners make the most of their shade loving species of plectranthus, often planted with cliveas, a winning combination. In Melbourne gardens I have used some interesting new cultivars like Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’. These seem to flower over a longer period than older varieties. Their mauve flowers glow from the shadey recesses.

My favourite plectranthus, though, is our native P. argentatus. It has delicate spires of white flowers each of which is marked with royal purple and supported by a redder purple in the calyxes and stems. It grows frighteningly easy from cuttings and seems to have a wide range of light tolerance.

Camellia sasanqua
The autumn garden is filled with the powdery vanilla scent of Camellia sasanqua cultivars. And the bright blotches of colour are welcome indeed as the strength of the light dims. The sasanqua camellias under my care seem to attract hordes of European wasps, which is a downside, for sure. The cultivar pictured below came with a label ‘Enid’ but I am not sure exactly what it is, as I don’t think it is the cultivar Enid-Alice with semi-double flowers. Maybe one of my readers knows?




And then there is the perpetual question of what to do with all the fallen leaves. In theory we should let them lie on the ground beneath the tree so that they can break down slowly over the years feeding the insects and microbes, and adding humus to the soil, all for the benefit of the tree itself and other plants nearby. A great theory if your garden is in fact a forest or a very large country garden where many square metres can be given over to this natural process.

In smaller, urban zones, there are other factors to consider. Roads, footpaths, driveways and buildings simply get in the way of this decomposition and ultimately plumbing gets clogged, byways become dangerously slippery and we have people upsetting themselves over the messy appearance of it all. Not to mention the garden beds and lawns, which, if covered in leaves, are soon smothered and starved of light.

Leaves must be dealt with.

Thankfully, the days of setting fire to dampish piles of raked leaves and filling the suburbs with eye-stinging smoke have disappeared. Now we have our green waste bins, which strain at the quantity of discarded foliage they are expected to carry. The green waste bins are collected and processed into compost or mulch by such organisations as Back to Earth and The Green Centre

This is the most sensible way to keep green waste out of landfill and to ultimately reduce the progress of climate change, not only by reducing the amount of methane produced when green waste is sent to landfill, but also by putting the carbon stored in the green waste back into the soil, which is the best place for it. That’s a good thing to remember when you are composting and mulching your soil. Thumbs up.

If you don’t have access to  green waste collection or you want to cut out the middleman, there are a couple of options available:

  1. Run over the fallen leaves with the lawn mower and mulch them up a bit and compost them (the lawn clippings make up nitrogen rich ‘green’ component of the compost: the leaves, the ‘brown’). I make temporary piles of this impromptu compost at the back of shrubberies. Low and long piles that break down quietly while no one is noticing. Although, like with all compost, turning it regularly will speed up the process.
  2. Another option is to create leafmould. You might have the space to rig up a leaf cage (four star pickets and some old chicken wire will do the trick or a ring of stiff wire mesh) where you pile up the leaves and let them sit for twelve months or more to break down into a humus rich supplement for your garden.