Friday, 3 August 2018

Bulbous Treasures of Late Winter

August has heralded in the first of the late winter/ early spring bulbous flowers.
Cyclamen coum (below) is a reliable little tuber with flowers all the way from cerise to white (often with crimson blotches; the pure white form is uncommon). This cyclamen started flowering a month ago, overlapping nicely with autumn-blooming C. hederifolium, the toughest, easiest and most available of the genus. (Pictured with a pretty, silver-leaf form of C. hederifolium.) Most of the genus are from the Mediterranean area and relish Melbourne's heat (in summer-shade, that is; and don't dry out the corm but keep it a tad moist in summer). I'll wait until they are dormant and plant some of these tubers between other bulbs, including C. hederifolium, in drifts.
Rod Barwick at Glenbrook Nursery in Tasmania, has been breeding Narcissus for decades. This hoop petticoat daffodil, Narcissus `Spoirot' (top), is one of Rod's; lemon, flared `petticoat' (corolla), easy to grow, flowers in winter...what's not to love? I must release it from this pot and into the garden where it could increase into a wonderful clump. Maybe somewhere between the back door and the hens, so that I can enjoy them every day.
Snowdrops (above) are very sweet, diminutive bulbs that are multiplying slowly, even in pots. (I love the (green-blotched) pure white flowers in little terracotta pots, particularly after an aged-looking patina has developed on the pot.) Galanthus plicatus, like most, is not from England (as many nurseries claim), nor is it like the weedy, taller snowflake (Leucojum). The specific epithet refers to the pleated, grey-green leaves. G. plicatus hails from eastern Europe, Turkey and the Caucasus; no wonder it's hardy and easy to grow here. (My mother grew it too, in Emerald, so it can take quite a bit of winter-cold.)
When our sweet resident wallaby wandered in - and ate - the garden, I kept many treasures in my shade-house. My garden club, the Alpine Garden Society (Victorian Chapter), sponsored UK botanist and Galanthus expert botanist John Grimshaw to come and give us lectures a few years ago. He commented that surely snowdrops wouldn't be grazed by my munching marsupials - no doubt from his experience with deer and the like. Maybe we have more in common, and fewer differences, than you would expect. Gingerly I brought my snowdrops out and, of course, John was right. (The wallaby-proof fence helps protect all my plants now, anyhow.) Now any Galanthus in plastic pots are popped in the ground - but I'll keep some in terracotta pots so that I can bring them to the front door area in winter.
Winter crocus (above) are blooming in one of my troughs, but after what, 10 years?, I've misplaced the label. It's odd, isn't it, how we like to know the names of our plants, instead of purely enjoying the show. (Although I don't want to buy the same one again...)

My home-made troughs that look (I hope) like stone, are home to many little gems. This week one of my favourite bulbs flowered amongst the saxifrages: Tecophilaea cyanocrocus `Leichtinii' (above) or pale blue `crocus'. The pure blue is hard to comprehend; so few flowers are true blue, let alone sky-blue. (Most have a touch of purple.) It's a lovely little cup or crocus-shaped flower, too. The species is an extraordinary deep blue - rare and expensive, I'm afraid - and delicious to snails!

All these bulbs are petite, which I love; fabulous harbingers of spring which are so welcome.

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, 20 July 2018

A Modern Meadow

I have a perennial garden bed in silver, green and flowers in all colours of the summer fruits - strawberry, raspberry to cherry and blackberry. Palest pink perennials to plum-black tulips, all in a bed given structure with 5 green spheres, that is to say, vegetable balls, all in a row.
About a year ago I was thinking about adding grasses for a meadow-like effect (above, the meadow at Great Dixter, Sussex) and consulted he-who-works-in-conservation. Would kangaroo grass (Themeda, below) pass the (conservation/non-weedy) test? It would. Would kangaroo grass be tall enough, upright and defining, adding a definite new element? We'll see. It took us a while to visit our local indigenous nursery (the wonderful Birdsland) and choose about 6 plants in little tubes.
Will it make an Australian meadow? Probably not; there's so many exotics: bulbs, perennials...although at least my green spheres are of one of the new dwarf native rosemary (Westringea) cultivars.
But could I make myself plant the grasses randomly? Well, no.
Four went in, in pairs, parallel to the path, between the central 3 balls. I waited a week and then popped in the last 2, nearer the path, forming equilateral triangles with the other pairs.
Have I mentioned this to J, a lover of the informal? Noooo.
Let's keep it our secret.

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, 12 July 2018

Winter Clematis

One of the gems of the winter garden is Early Virgin's-Bower or Fern-leaf Clematis (Clematis cirrhosa) and its varieties, all delicate-looking  but hardy evergreen climbers.
As always, I love the petite flowers: dangling bells in the prettiest shape (rather than the huge, spring-flowering C. jackmanii hybrids). (See blog post 12th June 2012 for other winter-flowering clematis.)
Two stand out for me: Clematis cirrhosa `Wisley Cream' and C. `Lansdowne Gem' (above).

C. `Lansdowne Gem' was my favourite for a long time, with burgundy insides to the campanile blooms. I have one `thrown up a tree' as they say in the UK; planted (with little care, to be honest) next to a 25-year-old deciduous tree, a Robinia; it's now romping up with abandon and flowering enthusiastically where I can see the bells from a kitchen window. I like this combination: white wisteria-like flowers in spring; yellow autumn leaves, and winter clematis blooms on a climber so dainty that the tree's spring flowers are not obscured. When it's grown taller, the effect will be very pretty as you walk along the nearby path, look up, and see the burgundy interiors easily. (A bit like growing hellebores, with their nodding flowers, along a bank by a path.)

Clematis cirrhosa `Wisley Cream' (above) became, I believe, available in Australia much more recently. The blooms are a clean, palest apple-green; it flowers profusely, and although the bells are petite, I can see this climber - some distance away - from my kitchen window. Planted at the base of the post of my ornamental (rather than practical) `birdhouse' (a birthday present from J some years ago, (see below); bought at Salamanca Market in Hobart; the rose mallow (Lavatera) pictured didn't make it through the millennial drought), it's climbing the post slowly but surely - one of the successes in my unwatered garden after this shockingly dry autumn. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised about a plant (Clematis cirrhosa) from the Mediterranean doing so well, but I still feel like applauding. 
(Clematis need a trellis for climbing - they are not self-clinging - but use twining leaf stalks to aid their upward growth. So there's some garden twine, behind the post, for this plant to cling to; and occasionally I pop some twine around the growing stems, and attach to the support, to teach the recalcitrant climber what vertical means! Hopefully it will cover the post in time, although a new nearby fragrant olive (or false holly, Osmanthus) - a slow-growing evergreen shrub with amazing fragrance - will also soften the look of the post, or hide its base, at least. Maybe the garden needs a couple more Osmanthus (different species to lengthen the flowering season considerably) in front of the post. Hmmm.)

A snow-white variety called Clematis cirrhosa `Jingle Bells' (named for its English time of flowering rather than its colour) is particularly lovely. There's a couple of good Australian mail-order clematis nurseries (Alameda Homestead, Clematis Cottage) so I'll keep my eye on their digital catalogues, hoping that they've imported - and grown - this exquisite plant. The bridal blooms contrast with the dark green foliage wonderfully. 
Another cultivar, C. `Freckles', has been available for a long time, but the pink dots inside the flower just don't do it for me - maybe it's the slightly dirty-looking cream on the outside of the bell. My mother grew this one outside Dad's studio, and my sister grows it too (due to taste? Sentimentality? But not ignorance - I've told her about the two I like best!). C. `Freckles' looks quite similar to the wild growing Clematis cirrhosa var balearica, also spotted within, and named for its home in the Balearic Islands. The latter, like most of the varieties here - has a gentle fragrance. 
Clematis cirrhosa has dark green, ferny foliage, so if screening is your aim, add more clematis to the garden, choosing ones for flowers almost year-round.
But it's the winter flowers that are so welcome, and hold a special place in my heart.
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, 29 June 2018

Tree Marigold

I found a little plant in a nursery the other day, covered in pretty blooms (which is pretty impressive these cool mornings; 1°C two mornings ago; brrr). `It flowers all year' said the nurseryman, `although it needs an annual haircut to stop it getting leggy'.
David Glenn writes that it is a `terrific plant for colour and fragrance in the depths of winter'. It tolerates light frosts without damage, I'm told, and it's drought-tolerant, too.

What is this floriferous paragon you ask? It's tree marigold (above, Tagetes lemmonii) , Mountain Marigold or Mexican Mary's Gold. And gold it is: a bright amber, not quite orange and not pure yellow.

I'd actually planted one in my yellow edible patch a little while ago, and then been surprised that my little hens didn't eat it to death or scratch it up when I moved them onto that bed. The deliciously scented leaves are not to their taste and let's face it, if they don't eat it, it's probably inedible to humans, too...a pity, I'd started thinking about making a tea from the fragrant leaves. (Will anyone be my guinea pig?) But like other marigolds, the pretty flowers are edible, I'm told (pick them early in the day), and wouldn't these petite blooms look great in a salad?

So I've moved my tree marigold (which it tolerated well) from what's now become a purple bed (purple peas and purple carrots, `red' kale and black...), and tossed it into the end of the yellow bed (behind the wigwams for butter beans or, just now, yellow peas) and popped another three in there too.

They will reach around 1.5m high and about the same across.

So...I'm going to let them flower madly through the relatively dull days of winter...and maybe trim them in spring when there's so much else happening in the garden.
I love this effortless way to make the veg garden, as you walk along the path, go from cream to lemon, yellow to gold.
Along the path edge, adding to the colour scheme perfectly, are pansies and I'm trying snapdragons too. Low  chamomile is planted between the bluestone pavers: with little poached egg daisy flowers in spring over soft green, aromatic, rather delicate-looking leaves. (This herb can have a `soothing' tea made from the foliage.) It's lawn chamomile, so it'll take a bit of walking on, though I'll avoid that as much as I can.
Some soft green Chinese cabbages like Won Bok (above, growing well from their mid-autumn planting, while the soil still had some warmth) look just right behind the path edging of edible flowers (I chop it up for a stir fry, see below) and there's some golden chard, too.
And my tree marigold? Folklore has it that marigolds repel a number of insects; and the flowers can be used in salads, cakes, and teas.
 But much more important: how wonderful to know that there are some perennials (subshrubs, really) that are permanent in the edible patch - not just the lavenders and globe artichokes. So...the veg garden is getting more and more pretty.
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. (

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Crazy, Confused Culinary Patch - and Compost.


Of course it's me, not the veg garden, that's completely confused.

You see, it's the colours, and while they give me joy, they also require thought. You know, yellow beans along with chartreuse broccoli, gold-stalked chard (below) and yellow pansies (actually lemon pansies, then yellow, then gold, as your eye travels along the path). Or lemon Nasturtium with edible flowers and leaves, great in salads. For instance.

The problem is that every so often we move our little hens along from one patch to another - great in theory, and great for adding good loam and nutrients to the soil.
Once you've made something approximating `pretty', it's hard to see it destroyed - even by happy scratchers with names - who even produce eggs; valuable creatures. (`Happy' sounds terribly like anthropomorphising but when our girls rush out the door when it's opened in the morning, and scratch for insects all day, make happy noises of excitement periodically, and are hard to coax back into the large (permanent) hen run in late afternoon, then it's hard  to not see them as enjoying themselves.)
I'm partially keeping the features - the ones that hide my compost bins. Yes, there's 7 bins (not enough, actually) spread through the 5 veg beds; plastic (useful, above) but ugly.
(A note on composting. Years ago we read about how to nearly fill the bin, then add a layer of soil, about 10cm (4 inches) thick or a bit more if you have it. Water the contents, then add, not the plastic lid, but wire mesh atop which lets in the rain; then ignore for a while. Works a treat! Good compost is the reward in a couple of months, longer in the cool months.)

So...I am hiding my ugly compost bins with the glorious, silver leaves of globe artichoke (above; Stevia, tried twice (in one bed), does not like our winters) and, as you enter the patch, a white or blue, usually dwarf, lavender is stationed on each side, as sentinels. Or curry plant (Helichrysum italicum - which hens like to nibble a little), with little gold button-like blooms, in the yellow patch. How to keep them? Just a few old bricks are placed around the feet, to stop enthusiastic scratching. As I've found out recently, it works - hurrah! Now I'm leaving the bricks in situ after the girls have been moved to another patch, and covering the bricks with mulch - and it all seems to be falling into place nicely. Now to work out the pansies (or other edible flowers - that's the rule). Plant in pots, remove the pots later and trim the stems, hard?
As Eccles said, `thinks'.
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, 25 May 2018

J's Birthday: The Garden Celebrates!


Every year the garden lights up lilac candles atop giant stalks. Always, reliably, from mid-May onwards, so by today it's dramatic & spectacular, a ring of tree dahlias (above) 6m across and about 4 or 5m high.
Now, I say that this is the garden wishing J a Happy Birthday. But J is an indigenous-plant-loving he doesn't agree. More shy chocolate lilies than hydrangeas; or dainty climbing apple-berry (Billardiera scandens) over...roses.
It's not just that, with my bad eyesight, I can see roses from the kitchen window; it's also trying to create a garden that's photogenic (I can dream).

I'm fond of apple berry, (obliquely & literally, above) actually. There's the palest green flowers, hanging, dainty, tubular with elegant flaring tips, rather like tiny tutus. They provide nectar for many petite avian visitors. Green, sausage-shaped fruit are edible, and we must try them. We have a plant of this shy climber on the wiry orchard fence, slowly greening up about 2m of fence. One of those rare climbers that don't take a mile when given an inch! I'm tempted to call it by another of its common names, apple dumplings, which shows its roots as a traditional bush tucker plant: when purple, the fruit can be eaten raw, I'm told; but if picked green they require roasting.
But I also like the Latin moniker, named for French botanist Jacques Labillardiére, who published the first (Western) flora of Australian plants, between 1804 and 1807.
Being a white person who grew up in the 1970's, it seems surprising that Joseph Banks (who named Botany Bay), who sailed on James Cook's Endeavour expedition (1768 - 1771) wasn't the first botanist to publish an Australian flora. But Banks was notorious for collecting, but not cataloguing, the masses of plant material he...amassed. (Of course I was taught that Cook `discovered' Australia, ignoring 60 thousand years of local inhabitants, with the oldest living culture. That, thankfully, has changed.)
No, it was Labillardiére who published the first work, including exquisite prints of Australian plants. Whatever you think of dismantling books, it has been done, and I have been a lucky beneficiary. From one (hopefully, a late edition) is a print that J gave me for my 30th birthday; and it's of one of my - our - favourite indigenous plants, butterfly flag (Diplarrena moraea, above). It's not just that it's a pretty, white irid (iris relation); it's not just that the flowers hover like butterflies nearly 1m above the ground in spring; it's also that when we bought our piece of heaven (5ha/ 13 acres of bushland on the edge of Melbourne), butterfly flag, along with pink trigger plants, were prolific and flowering in the grassland below where we'd build our cottage. That area is now orchard-and-septic and most of these wildflowers are long gone. But I love a meadow, and flowers amongst the fruit trees, too. We Must grow some of these sweet spring bloomers from seed collected on our `block' and plant them in the orchard.
This is a planting scheme we are both passionate about!
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, 18 May 2018

Autumn Trees

A friend asked me about `small trees with red foliage in autumn'.
I pointed out my dogwood just outside, a small tree aflame - although with quite a few green leaves amongst the rather drooping branches of bonfire-red (below). Some garden designers might `tut' at this lack of commitment by the tree, but I think (and hope) that the show will last longer, which is fine. A naturalistic look, too, which I like.

I didn't get a chance to show him a spring photo of the dogwood flowering. Cornus `Eddie's White Wonder' is one of the best of the genus, with large bracts around the insignificant flowers, pure white and prolific (above). Autumn began dry but my dogwood is as fiery as usual; and I'm in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges so a tree that colours up well here is a gem.

It's good to wander the garden season by season and think how to better the plot. Autumn tints are a joy as the nights cool and I'm reminded that plants which hold onto the autumn leaves for a long time are special. One such is Enkianthus, a shrub not often seen, and I've been wanting for, oh, a couple of decades. I need to search it out and squeeze one into the garden! Somewhere near the house so I can enjoy the sealing-wax-red on rainy days; and enjoy the flowers in spring, too.
New deciduous trees could be planted to the west of the house or a seat so that I can enjoy the effect of the neon sun behind, backlighting the jewel leaves.
For my friend I suggested that I make a list of trees: Acer (of course!), Fothergilla, one of the medium-size crepe myrtles, Nyssa and many more. I'd plant them all in my plot if J agreed.
But that's another story.
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. (