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.

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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

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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.

The brightening

Cold days persist. Snow may still fall in the hills and on the tablelands. But as anyone who is spending time in the garden will tell you, things are starting to move. It is pre-spring, that brief period between deep winter and true spring when Muyan, the silver wattle (Acacia dealbata) blooms. The lemon yellow and silvery green of its flowers and foliage are colours bright in my mind’s eye, which I see through still, chill air, beside flooding creeks and rivers. An early plant that stirred me to awe: how I wondered at its flowering amidst the bleakest of days. It is far too large for any garden and is prone to fall apart or just drop dead full of borer, but you might be lucky to see it flowering along the river still. The photograph below was taken along the Yarra River (Birrarung) as it flows somewhere through Kew and Abbotsford. Penleigh Boyd painted this yearly phenomenon further up at Warrandyte and elsewhere. Someone once referred to them as scrambled egg paintings. I can see why.

Acacia dealbata

For if there were any colour that could represent this season, at least in my garden, it would have to be yellow. The first daffodils, the other early flowering wattles, some of the Kniphofias, even the Aeoniums, all send out striking yellow flowers at this time. Less stridently, but still apparent in late July and throughout August, there are primroses and phebalium and bulbinella, all cheerfully proclaiming the season. I lost my primroses during a few hot years when I didn’t water the ornamental garden. I lament their loss, but don’t pine for them.  Phebalium squamulosum, the forest phebalium (not much of a common name, I’m afraid), on the other hand, a small shrub native to south eastern Australia, has proven to be much longer lived in comparison. Tucked in amongst Mahonia, Phormiums and Plectranthus, it holds its own against theses bigger brutes; its bronzy foliage waiting quietly for its moment of sunshine: stars bursting from brown buds.

Phebalium

You might not be like me, confusing the native bulbine lily (Bulbine bulbosa) with Bulbinella (Bulbinella spp.). Both members of the Asphodelaceae, they are bright and cheerful and can cope with less than favourable conditions. I am growing the former in a client’s nature strip in Northcote and the latter in my unkempt ‘meadow’ in South Gippsland. Bulbinella is a much showier beast, with more gold in the flower and the composition of the flowers seem to make them vibrate with colour, a stunning display on a smaller scale than a Kniphofia, a plant it usually reminds me of. The little bulbine lily in contrast is a clearer yellow and more modest, but no less delightful, especially amongst the kangaroo grass and the vanilla lilies of a grassy woodland. I hope to grow more of it.

Bulbine Lily

I have grown many wattles over the years, many of them have flourished and passed away. One of my favourites is the sticky wattle Acacia howitii, which lives up to its name having leaves rich with a gum like secretion. I haven’t found it to be very long lived. On the other hand Acacia floribunda, I can’t kill. Even when I chop it down with a chainsaw, it will burst back to life vigorously from whatever stump I leave behind. The most successful wattle in my garden though is the Snowy River Wattle, Acacia boormanii, which has become a relatively long-lived thicket ( it must be about eighteen by now) that shows no sign of weakening. It suckers, hence the thicket, but in such a gentle and unprepossing way. It is probably only a bit over two metres tall where I have it. It comes out a little earlier even than Muyan, a yellow froth of blossom amidst the dark, dark green foliage. A perfect plant to edge a country garden with to provide protection and create a microclimate amenable to more fragile plants within.Acacia boormanii.jpg

So much yellow, it’s hard not to be cheered by it and the lengthening days.

Deep Winter

There is nothing like the silver light of a wet Melbourne day to remind us that it is winter time again. Most of the colourful leaves of deciduous trees have been raked and dealt with by now and although one or two trees wait until the very last minute to flourish in a fire of red, like Chinese pistachio (Pistacia chinensis), or smoulder in smokey yellow, like the liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua), the main event has passed us by for another year.

In this intermediate time, as the leaves fall, our gardens have been reawakening with colour since the Autumn break and are reaching a marvellous crescendo just now. Sasanqua camellias are stunning during May and throughout June. Their flowers bring life into any wintry garden scene. The white ‘Setsugekka’ is highly popular. Its petals undulate into a slight ruffle and are plentiful and suitably fragrant. How would you describe the scent of a sasanqua camellia? Powdery is always the first word that comes to  mind, whatever that means. Something alluding to vanilla and gardenia. Perhaps.

Camellia setsugekka

Some of the pale pink cultivars are worth finding a home for. You know the ones that look like the silk ribbon of a 1950s flowergirl? Or the icing on your grandmother’s sponge cake? I have one in my garden of this particular hue and it always lights my heart up when I see it. It seems to be particularly fragrant, or is it just that it is in a sheltered spot, where the air is trapped against a north facing wall. I call her Enid as mentioned in my previous ramblings and would love to know if anyone else grows her.

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There are other colours, the deep cerise of ‘Hiryū’ ( the flying dragon ) is loved by many and I have had it growing for many years happily in amongst a band of bossy buddleia. More deeply coloured again, the red of ‘Yuletide’, to me looks malevolent. I though this recently as I was eating a pie in my ute. I had bought the delicious pie from the bakery in a small country town that I pass through regularly on my travels. The windscreen overlooked the road and the neat gardens opposite and there, in full flight, were the dark green leaves and the bloody red flowers of this particular cultivar. It’s flowers are far deeper and darker than the tomato sauce on my pie. They seemed to confound the light and create shadow where light could have been.

As winter deepens, I prefer to keep things light. There is such a lot to do at this time of year and fewer hours to get all the chores done. Winter pruning, dividing, mulching and clipping all lie in wait and of course this must be balanced with time spent by the fire dreaming of the spring that is yet to come.

 

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2017 Part 2

DSC_0036 (1)Maybe it’s a reaction against the glamourous outdoor lifestyle gardens of recent times, with their monochrome colour palettes, their outdoor kitchens hinting at a life of material ease (‘you wish’) and suggesting that at any moment one could dive into the oscillating reflection of the ubiquitous swimming pool, before retiring without a care to the professionally-finished powder-coated perforated metal arbour to look out and admire the polished bluestone pavement. Or maybe it’s a reaction to the overbuilt urban context in which so many of us live these days, accompanied by our anxiety for the destruction of the natural world. I can’t be sure, but this year at MIFGS the judges in each of the three categories, were very much rewarding a more natural approach. The winning gardens incorporated a rich diversity of plants, with an emphasis on indigenous species that will offer homes to native insects and animals. They uses natural materials and ‘improved’ them by adding intricate details to those materials.

As in the best in show garden,  Phillip Withers “I See Wild” (see my previous post), the theme of wild nature recurred in a garden produced by Stem Landscape Architecture and Design. Stem’s Emmaline Bowman’s ‘Wild at Heart’ was the winner of the Landscaping Victoria Boutique Garden Award and could almost be viewed as a companion piece to the winning show garden by Withers.

This was a sensual and experiential garden: the naturalistic water feature, the resident rainbow lorikeet, the pobblebonk soundtrack, the subtle interplay of colour of flowers and foliage, the swinging bench with cushions and throw rug inviting the visitor to the garden to rest and relax.  All combined to create for me the most engaging garden of all of this year’s offerings.

DSC_0039The planting was mostly indigenous, with exotic food and medicinal plants topping up the display. The designer created interesting artistic vignettes within the overall ‘wild’ feeling of the planting. From within what at first seemed a fairly routine interpretation of a native bushland arose the energetic tousling of the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and Billy Buttons (Pycnosorus globosus), which was delightful in terms of both form and colour.  Nearby was an elegant study in creamy white, mauve and grey-green. White brachyscome, Ozothamnus diosmifolius, and the ground hugging native violet (Viola hederacea) were enlivened by some glaucous foliage of poa. The delicate beauty of Wahlenbergia stricta and Vanilla Lily (Arthropodium sp.) completed the picture with a few small blue and purple flowers. Such attention to detail seemed to be part of the winning formula this year.

These plants grew from the midst of volcanic boulders and interestingly shaped pieces of natural timber that gave the impression of a bushland scene as well. However, this garden made clear that it was not without refinement. The whitewashed timber of the ‘retaining wall’ and the structure of the swinging chair gave a hint that natural materials can be enhanced by artifice. I was particularly transfixed by what appeared to be handpainted geometric patterns on the risers of the recycled hardwood steps. Curvilinear patterns had been drilled into the recycled timber fencing, too.

Withers and Bowman are obviously part of a zeitgeist whose influence could also be found in the achievable gardens section.

There is much enthusiasm and passion spent by design and horticulture students in the Avenue of Achievable Gardens. ‘Awash with Nature’, a collaboration between Ross Peck, Liz Beale and Dale Johnson from Swinburne won the award for excellence. Here habitat for inscects was integral to the design as it was also in ‘Wild at Heart’. Bee hotels abounded. The pavement of sawn bluestone boulders embedded confidently in granitic sand created a calm feeling. This was reinforced by a restrained choice of native plants and the sparing use of recycled  and repurposed materials. Such discipline of design was a standout feature of this garden. But this time, the restraint did not mean boring lack of detail.

IMG_8745I can’t wait to see how this natural garden revival plays out over time.

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 2017

IMG_8704It seems to me that one of the many challenges of creating an instant garden at something like MIFGS 2017, is that the garden designer must strike a balance between including some showstopping features (ahead-of-the-trend hardscaping and furnishings;  intricate detailing and visual diversity; idiosyncratic and expertly composed panting schemes), while at the same time creating a calm space with a sense of unity of design that does not appear over-stuffed or over the top. And, of course, all within a week or so with all the other limitations of the show ground site.

For me this year the better gardens were those that were not only able to provide sensual interest, but also to create a sense of place within the few square metres at hand, that helped the viewer to dispel disbelief and imagine that yes, this is a distinct, integrated space, that looks like it has its own identity and that looks like it has been here for years, or could grow on as a real garden after the carnival is over.

The winners in all three categories this year in particular provided this sense of balance for me. All used natural materials and used them in a sophisticated way that showed the hand of artistry, without taking away from the intrinsic beauty of the natural materials used. I only have time to write about one today. IMG_8714

One of these was Phillip Withers’ ‘I see wild’ creation, which won the only gold awarded this year and the best in show. His use of bluestone here was interesting. He manipulated one material in a variety of ways. Sawn basalt paving was executed in strict geometric patterns next to some crazy paving in the same material creating a fascinating interplay of movement. There were whole pieces of natural basalt that grew into a serpentine drystone wall, which gave definition to the garden’s boundary.

The most stunning use of this material, was in the low benches or tables, which were sizeable natural pieces of stone that were sawn at the top and formed a seat or table top. This occurred three times and accentuated the stone circle that had as its focus the rusty steel fire pit. At different points in the garden, where the stone had been given a smooth surface, it had then also been etched with fascinating designs that added another element of interest, but did not take away from the overall unity that use of this material engendered.

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Hard materials were kept to a minimum and, overall, were used to excellent effect. Granitic sand proved a fitting backdrop to the bluestone and timber was used as well. The timber totem poles in a cluster were somewhat eye-catching, but lacked the drama such a feature should have set into play. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to see a cubby hut built into this cluster, barely noticeable from the various vantage points in the garden where adults might gather. What child wouldn’t love such a hidden spot?

The planting of Phillip Wither’s garden was a vibrant mixture of natives and exotics, edible and ornamental plants with some very stylish colour work that set glaucous foliage of Agave salmiana against mildly orange flowers of achillea, helenium and agastache. The rambunctious positioning of hoop pines, banksias, eucalyptus, podocarpus and grass trees gave a strength via their visual density and the tonal consistency across a very diverse planting selection. And I have to say, I was thrilled to see a lawn at the centre of this garden, happily and subtley dealing with an odd level change, while providing a purposeful void to balance the design.

 

Stay tuned for more words and pictures about the other gardens that caught my eye.

 

 

 

Sunshine and succulence

 

Cotyledon orbiculata var. oblonga macrantha

So familiar that it has gathered around it an entourage of common names (pig’s ears, paddle plant, navelwort) this sturdy and humble succulent is a survivor. It can cope with South Gippsland winters (although only happily if it is kept safe from frosts and its root run is not sodden) and it thrives in Melbourne where I have it growing under the eaves where it flourishes on it’s thick stem and its fleshy, vibrant leaves shine. I find that if it gets too much moisture in the winter, its leaves can become spotty and its flowers are less strident. Hence the eaves, or maybe under trees as long as it has access to a goodly amount of sunlight. This makes perfect sense, when you remember that it comes from southern Africa, where it is found in hot, free draining locations, like rocky hillsides and cliff faces and in the sand of coastal flats. Check out the links below if you want to find out more.

http://www.amjbot.org/content/92/7/1170.full

http://www.thesucculentgarden.com.au/index.html

http://www.operationwildflower.org.za/index.php/albums/genera/cotyledon/cotyledon-orbiculata-var-oblonga-637

 

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show

'Equilibrium' by Nathan Burkett Design

‘Equilibrium’ by Nathan Burkett Design

The Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show is an exciting celebration of the horticultural industry in Victoria and is adored by professional and amateur gardeners and garden lovers who flock in large numbers every year to see the latest design gardens, products, and plants.

'Quietude' by Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens

‘Quietude’ by Cycas Landscape Design and Lisa Ellis Gardens

The show gardens are my favourite thing to see. I am always astounded by the amazing planting and design ideas. And sometimes I just stand there wondering how they did it. How in a very few days are they able to assemble gardens that realistically would take months if not years to achieve in the real world? The skill involved in creating these show gardens is extraordinary. My favourites have been included above and below.

"Crossroads" by Ian Barker Gardens

“Crossroads” by Ian Barker Gardens

And the organisers of the Show realise that the show gardens are really unachievable for the majority of gardeners, or at least their budgets. Hence the other competition gardens that are much smaller and known as the “achievable” gardens. These were also highly inspiring. They are achievable in the sense that the home gardener would be able to create something like them, with reasonable budgets and readily available materials. My favourites were the ‘Rousseau Jungle’ by Heather Forward and ‘The Crossroads’ by Ben Newell.

'The Crossroads' by Ben Newell

‘The Crossroads’ by Ben Newell

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‘Rousseau’s Jungle’ by Heather Forward

Another category was the boutique gardens, which fits somewhere in aspiration and budget somewhere between the other two categories. I liked the winning entry ‘Pipe Dreams’ by Alison Douglas.

'Pipe Dreams' by Alison Douglas

‘Pipe Dreams’ by Alison Douglas

And of course there are the amazing flower arrangements in the Exhibition Building, which are amazing and creative and are inspiring to the gardener in many ways, including in the colour and texture combinations that the florists come up with.

There are also some great displays by businesses who are there to promote their products, including nurseries. These are always the greatest temptation and I see gardeners walking away with trolly loads of plants. This year, I was able to restrain myself and I only bought a few corms species tulips. Thankfully I had travelled to the show on my bike!

Phillip Johnson's field of poppies.

Phillip Johnson’s field of poppies.

Check out the winners and other information about the show at http://melbflowershow.com.au

Sunny Autumn Day

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Robinias were a favourite of mine back in the nineties, when they seemed to be in fashion. Bright and cheerful, the golden leaves of the cultivar Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ were and are a joy to behold. But there is more to this medium tree than colour. Sauntering through Batman Park in Melbourne yesterday, I came across this specimen, which has the most elegant form. The sinuous spreading of the limbs as they curve upward into the foliage was captivating. The sun in the golden leaves simply amplified the brilliance of the sunshine of the perfect autumn day.

Melbourne Grasslands

The artist, Linda Tegg, has reminded Melbourne of its own history in her installation, Grasslands, which graces the steps of the State Library of Victoria.

Grasslands shows the citizens of Melbourne the predominant flora, the grassy woodlands, that extended across much of what is now inner urban and suburban Melbourne. The juxtapositioning of the installation against one of the buildings that most reminds us of our European cultural heritage is asking us questions about change, colonial contact with indigenous culture and the devastation of pre European indigenous landscapes. When both library and grassland are considered in the context of a modern city and its relentless taste for development, the reminder of a long forgotten natural world is like a breath of fresh air.

It’s on until the 23rd November and after that time the plants will be given away to winners of the #librarygrasslands Instagram competition.

A great swathe of indigenous grasses that would once have grown naturally across much of Melbourne before 1835.

A great swathe of indigenous grasses that would once have grown naturally across much of Melbourne before 1835.

Redmond Barry looks down on the kangaroo grass and other species. I'm not sure whether he approves of not.

Redmond Barry looks down on the kangaroo grass and other species. I’m not sure whether he approves or not.

It's not all about the poaceae; these bulbine lilies and trigger plants contribute to the tapestry.

It’s not all about the poaceae; these bulbine lilies, dichondra and trigger plants contribute to the tapestry.

This young blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) forms a subtle focal point amidst the ebb and flow.

This young blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) forms a subtle focal point amidst the ebb and flow.

Brunonia and anthropodium twinkling from amidst the grasses.

Brunonia and anthropodium twinkling amidst the grasses.

Torches, torches

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The thyrsus was a symbolic implement from ancient times made of a rod with a pine cone fixed on the top. It was associated with Bacchus or Dionysus, and in the midst of this silly season and the Spring Carnival in Melbourne, when Dionysus’ bacchanalian cult seems to be active at every Cup Day barbecue and racing event, it is quite fitting to be reminded of it by a rather upright planting in the Fitzroy Gardens this sunny spring afternoon.

The radiant golden racemes of the Wachendorfia thyrsiflora (where the thyrsus reference comes from)  are in full splendour at the moment. The timing of this planting to coincide with the stunning Doryanthes exelsa’s flowers (towering above on their immense stem) is impressive.

Both are fairly tough plants as long as they have adequate water (I find the Wachendorfia won’t flower if it dries out). If you want to find out more, check out the links below.

http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantwxyz/wachendorfthyrs.htm

http://www.anbg.gov.au/gnp/gnp12/doryanthes-excelsa.html