Thursday, 29 November 2018

Spring Flowers...and a Strange Season


What a strange year it's been in Melbourne: autumn and winter droughts, little rain in early spring, now torrents in late spring (no complaints from me). Our lime tree nearly died and the Garrya `James Roof' looks haggard (and it refused to flower in winter; I sympathised with this strike; better no flowers but a plant surviving, particularly a good 3m high evergreen shrub. This Garrya somewhat blocks the view of the henhouse from the house, so it's arguably the most important plant in the garden (at least until the shrubs planted to screen the sheds have grown another metre or 2).
Yes, I should have watered them.

But the spring flowers are so lovely this year: masses of bluebells, bugle and a few paeonies (top) one minute, glorious species gladioli (mainly petite The Bride...nearly a species) and fragrant English roses (such as `Molineux', last pic) the next. Clematis (above), too, one or 2 up a birdhouse pole and others including `Prince Charles' climbing a large shrub (or `thrown up a tree' as the Brits say) (I love the soft blue of this one even as my sister teases me, an Australian republican (in a non-US way) about its inclusion in the garden). Meanwhile little purple iris dotted all along the front path beautifully matched our purple gate.
And in the bush? Recently, myriads of pandorea (wonga vine, P. pandorana, above) flowers, and masses of exquisite clematis (starry C. aristata, below) blooms, both climbing up gum trees, conferred lacy white smocks and sometimes bonnets too.
Were they flowering so prolifically because of the green drought?

These native climbers are over now, but we have a lovely surprise by our gate (where there's some remnant bush): a grass tree (below) which has flowered once before, has sent up 4 showy spikes of white florets...that smell like semen. Yes, really.
This is Xanthorrea australis, the eastern species with a subterranean trunk, unlike the remarkable ones found west of Melbourne across to Western Australia, each with its grassy clump atop a dramatic, above-ground black trunk.

So...did the drought cause this floriforescence (if that's a word)? I think so.
I'm enjoying the much.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Spring, Glorious Spring

How I love this time of year - for the profusion of flowers and the soft sunshine. Well, and rain today, which is a Very Good Thing.
Melbourne's springs are spectacular and, at 170m altitude, we're not too different.
This week's joy has been a trio in the raspberry and silver bed. About 5 clumps of Queen of the Night tulips have opened their blackberry petals; an evergreen cranesbill is attired in pink-purple little blooms (a variety of Geranium phaeum, possibly `Alec's Pink'); and Anthriscus `Ravenswing' is opening dainty Queen Anne's Lace flowers above plum foliage (below).

In another part of the garden, further from the house, dazzlingly white lacecap flowers have opened on a favourite shrub, Viburnum plicatum `Mariesii', a paragon growing slowly in poor soil and never watered (last pic). Nearby, Spanish bluebells, yes, a bit weedy, are tying in with the lovely azure flowers of large bugle, Ajuga `Jungle Beauty' (below). I like these blues together but I should add some white or, better yet, lemon to make this picture sing.

And so many perennials are popping their heads up, cautiously: `is winter really over?' they seem to be asking. A lovely perennial from the cool forests of eastern North America is bloodroot (Sanginaria canadensis, top) with pristine snowy flowers over handsome, slightly glaucous oak-leaves which last until late autumn. Like many perennials, it's pretty easy to divide (be careful to avoid the poisonous orange latex or juice) to create more clumps and, to my great surprise, a piece I planted last year (which promptly died down in objection to my dry-ish, unwatered garden) has risen like Lazarus with both flowers and leaves.
How can I go on holiday now, I ask J, and miss all this bliss?
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Cool Coloured Edible Flowers

Heart's Ease (above) is what my English mum, gardener and botanist, called those pretty, small Viola known here in Australia as Johnny Jump Ups. Also known as wild pansy, Viola tricola is a sweet, hardy annual but rather fond of self-sowing with abandon, otherwise I'd grow it - the lovely dark purple form grown in the 1970's without too much yellow (or other colours) as well. Just pick to add to salads or decorate cakes; the flowers can be eaten whole. 
Larger Viola - pansies (above) - in all the colours of the rainbow (bar true blue or bright red) just don't self-sow as much, if at all. So I can grow them in my edible patch which is a hop, skip and a (Johnny) jump from lovely bushland. We're lucky enough to live amongst the gums and the wattles and many wild orchids, so we try to be responsible.
And it's so much fun to add lemon pansies to a gold chard bed, and black ones amongst Tuscan kale and purple broccoli. (The yellow crucifer kale flowers are probably edible...I'll keep you posted.) Pansies are large flowers so perhaps use sparingly.

Lavender flowers (above) can be eaten too; just pull apart the clustered blooms and sprinkle onto chocolate cake....mmm. The tiny flowers can be added to drinks too, but in moderation - they have a strong floral flavour. I like having lavenders in the veg patch; not just pretty and edible plants, they attract bees too.

Bergamot, or Monarda didyma, is sometimes known as bee balm and has pretty pink or red flowers in summer, occasionally mauve. Pull off the petals then add to cakes, drinks and salads. I haven't tried the young leaves but these are said to be edible too and when dried can make a herbal tea.

Borage is well known for its edible flowers. The starry sky-blue flowers can, famously, be frozen into ice cubes and, yes, added to drinks. Like lemon, lime and bitters. Mmm. Borago officionalis is an annual herb and (sadly for me) flings seeds around generously. But if you grow it, then salads will look pretty with a sprinkling of these pretty blooms, or use a couple of sprigs to decorate cheese platters.

Anise Hyssop, or Agastache, a mint relative, is a perennial with pink or lilac flowers in summer and autumn, which attract butterflies. The mauve-flowering Agastache foeniculum  has edible flowers (and the soft, anise-scented leaves are said to be used as a seasoning, as a tea and in potpourri). Pull off the tubular petals and scatter in salads or in drinks for a dash of colour and mildly liquorice flavour. This perennial is handy as it blooms after many other herbs have declined, but I am not sure if the hybrids, like this pink variety `Sangria' (above) are edible too. Munchers beware!
Lastly English daisy (above), Bellis perennis, a small plant with sweet little flowers, white and pink-backed. I love seeing this sweet perennial scattered through a lawn but as a fairly prolific generator of new little plants, it, obviously, doesn't grow here at Possum Creek. I enjoy it in the gardens of city friends who use the tiny petals (the whole flower is edible, if bitter). But I'd use the whole flower on cakes; they're just so pretty.
So jazz up cakes, soups, drinks and especially salads with some of these edible flowers. Some in moderation, but some, like Heart's Ease, can be scattered densely and look oh-so-wonderful!
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. (

Monday, 20 August 2018

More (Petite) Bulbous Treasures of Late Winter

 Spring seems just around the corner, with more bulbous treasures popping up every day around the garden.
Narcissus `Dove Wings' (below) is fading; the cups (corollas) opened bright lemon but a week later they're cream; still very pretty. I love the look of these sweet clumps and this little daff seems to be increasing nicely.

Showing off are the lilac blooms of Crocus tommasinianus `Pictus', a hardy corm (top). The flowers open up in warmth, and in sunshine. I can't have put more than 3 corms in this little pot so each is blooming superbly.
For the first time I'm growing velvet-black and apple green Iris tuberosa (Hermodactylus tuberosus, Morning Widow Iris, Snake's Head, above), a tuberous perennial from the Mediterranean, so it should do well here.
Greenhood orchids - tuberous perennials native to south-eastern Australia - are still emerging. Nodding Greenhood Orchids (Pterostylis nutans, above) have a long flowering season from late winter to late spring and dot many a bushland reserve, so look out for these sweet harbingers of spring. I've also bought a couple of tubes of Nodding Greenhood in the past, and they've filled up a nice pot (now by the front door).
Many of these treasures remind me of the wonderful Mr Harvey. Marcus, we miss you. 

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, 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. (