Friday, 19 July 2019

In the Pink (& Purple)

I was at my garden club last week, and pricked up my ears when I heard someone mention poppies. (I Love Poppies.)
It was a rainy day and so it was good weather, I heard, to sow poppy seeds, particularly the lovely Shirley poppies, named for the place they arose. Annual plants, a form of Flander's (or Field) poppies, and oh-so-charming. I'll toss some seeds over the mulch in my pink-and-silver bed and press down, hoping it's not too darn cold for them. (They produce masses of seeds so I collect some each year - if they've germinated and grown.)
The Shirley poppy strain (below) was developed from 1880 onwards by the Reverend William Wilkes, vicar of the parish of Shirley in England. Wilkes found a variant of the red field Flander's poppy (Papaver rhoeus) (last pic) that had a narrow white border around the petals, in a corner of his garden adjoining arable fields. By careful selection over 20+ years he developed a strain of poppies ranging from white, pink and pale lilac. (Papaver rhoeus are ruderal (they grow on waste ground) and segetal (they grow in cornfields) so seeing them popping up around the Forum in Rome in late spring some years ago was magical. They filled some corn fields near Monet's garden (at Giverny) in France, too, and we sat, eating our picnic lunch, surrounded by them in May.)
I look around the winter garden and I see some pink: the lovely little myrtaceous flowers of two thryptomenes, some small cerise Cyclamen coum and the candy-pink of Bergenia. A few pink and plum hellebores are starting to peep out.
There's some pink - almost purple in the potager, too. What were bought as purple broccoli have developed into another brassica, cauliflowers with heads rather cerise-mauve, probably `Sicily Purple' (second pic). I wouldn't have bought these, because I've never had success with cauliflower, which are usually, for me, adorned with copious caterpillars and little greens critters and even soft rot. Oddly, my broccoli have never succumbed to any of these (yet). But I'm pleased to have this lovely little success with a new plant, and I'm just waiting to see if it's as delicious as it is striking. And, importantly, do the florets keep their colour when cooked? One way to find out!
So my pink-purple cauliflower changes to green when cooked, just like the (unrelated) purple peas and beans. Florets roasted with green and chartreuse broccoli (`Romanesco'), topped with grated parmesan cheese, made an...interesting side dish. But I'm chatting with a friend who mentions purple potatoes; potatoes with flesh of purple which cooks to a nice mauve. (She didn't know the type (maybe `Purple Peruvian', `Purple Majesty' or `Vitilette'), so I'm thinking of searching for one of these - and the more purple, the better.
We already have a potato bed, in an old corrugated iron tank, filled with kipfler potatoes. Maybe we need another potato bed...
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, 19 April 2019

Sowing Carrot (and Other) Seeds

I gave a talk about seeds the other day. (Please don't yawn, dear reader!)
Seeds are amazing - look at how they can detect gravity, for example (to push the shoot up and the roots downwards). And detect diurnal temperature fluctuations (so they don't germinate when too deep); when I was studying horticulture many years ago, a fellow student told me about gardeners digging up an area of lawn for a new garden bed - just where there'd been a flower bed 100 years earlier - in the Malmsbury Botanic Garden. Lo and behold, seeds, buried too deep until now, germinated; and staff could see the genus and species of what plants had been grown there (but as hybrids, so possibly not the same colour) so long ago. It seems like a little bit of magic, doesn't it?

Fortuitously, I gave the talk - by chance - in mid-April, right after some good rain, and while the soil is still warm, so I could say `plants seeds now'! (And keep well watered - the rain hasn't penetrated the soil that far yet.)
(Planting cold-weather plants and veg (not warm-weather veg: tomatoes, pumpkins,zucchini), except celery seeds which dislike warm soil and are better planted in May in Melbourne; probably in April in the highest reaches of my beloved Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, like Olinda and Mt Dandenong.)
I moved my little hens recently from one veg garden bed to another, and planted the newly manured bed (thank you girls) with winter vegetables earlier than usual. The broccoli, kale and leek seedlings are  doing so much better than when I pop them into cold soil - usually in May - which makes them just sit there, sulking, not growing roots or top growth (and who can blame them?).
Recently I had to pull out a few overgrown veg from a bed with, among other vegetables, purple carrot seedlings. (As seedling-bought plants they have suffered a brief lack of water at one point (maybe at the nursery) and so they bolted, producing pretty umbels of flowers - which I rather liked. (This is Trachymene, top, with an umbrella-like head, rather similar to a Queen Anne's Lace carrot flower umbel, from the same family, Apiaceae or Umbelliferae.) I love collecting home-grown seeds from old plants, like kale, and these carrots, that have gone to seed, and if I sow immediately, there's a very high germination rate.
So I sowed some carrot seed and kept some seeds for later. I picked some browned seed heads and popped some in a bowl, labelled, in the house to dry before storing in a cool, dry, dark place; some I scattered in the veg patch and had a wonderful germination rate (above)with too many seedlings too close. I need to move some (on a cool day) and thin them, too. I find this happens with leeks, too.
After my talk a lovely gentleman said he'd been told to plant seeds twice the depth of their length. Surely that was in my talk, I thought? But no, when I shortened my talk (keeping in flower pollinators (like my old echidna in the garden (above), moving bidgee-widgee (Acaena) seed balls or burrs (which attach itself to animal fur or feathers aiding dispersal) passively), and when to plant most seeds (autumn, to give the plant a chance to settle in before our hot, dry summer (not spring as they say in the ubiquitous English books and magazines), germination inhibitors, and even NPK ratios for feeding plants), yep, I'd left that out. Oops. (I'd discussed planting the seeds not too deeply, so that the energy reserve lasts until the first leaf can unfurl and start receiving light from the sun to become the energy source. But not: `in general, seeds should be planted at a depth of two times the width of the seed. For example, if you have a seed that's about 1mm wide, it should be planted about 2mm deep'. But for poppy seeds, I said, scatter over mulch, press in lightly and, of course, water in well. Peas and beans - larger seeds - have a larger energy source, so are planted more deeply.)
It's back in now, in case I give the talk to another garden club!
And I'm outside planting seeds myself: yellow peas, broad beans with crimson flowers, black pansies, golden chard. Just like when I was three, I'm getting so much satisfaction and joy from the subsequent little seedlings, many from home-collected seed.
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. (

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

White Bulbs

I have a garden bed in whites, greens and a little grey. Oh, and a pale pink Thryptomene, giving a bit of body, and catmint with softest mauve flowers in spring. All I had planned here was pretty much cool colours to separate the pink rose garden, around my circle of grass (rather brown just now), from a bed with some yellow barrenworts (Epimedium) down the hill a little.
Being a hot, dry spot, it's been ideal for some spring bulbs and a few lovely white bearded iris - with great silvery sword-like foliage - from my sister.

Late spring brought on a swathe of sweet dwarf gladioli ('The Bride', below); finally I have enough to make a splash, which you need in a country garden. (I think just one of this or that, if small, looks spotty in a large garden. Trees are different, of course.) They're just where visitors - or us in the kitchen - can see the oh-so-pretty display, which is very welcome.
Flowering now, in summer, we have tall cape hyacinths (Galtonia candicans, top) lending bridal purity to this bed. Almost literally - these pretty bells were in my sister's January wedding posy, or so Mum used to say.
I've recently added the white form of the trailing convolvulus; it's rather hard grey leaves (colour-wise) adding another shade to the bed; I expect blooms in spring.
It feels like the garden is coming together, with this area showy now, then another area having interest later, and so on. The wandering wallabies have been excluded from the garden for what, 6 years now? And the growth is a lovely thing to behold - with the garden giving me joy.

(We still see the munching marsupials most days, nibbling just outside the gates. They can disappear silently, or eye you up and down, then resume their meal. The other day I reached the garden gate, then noticed, a metre away, a mumma wallaby with tiny joey. I snatched my hand off the gate and did an about turn, smartly. Glancing back, she seemed pretty nonchalant...and my shadehouse did not get a water that day. Not a problem!)
Gardens, those areas of nature and contrivance, can give so much pleasure.
And joy.

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 January 2019

Snowflakes and Moonlight

I'm sitting in my living room looking out through a south-facing window.
Sometimes the colours outside are yellow and blue (roses, iris) but right now they are peaceful and calming - in the colours of ice and moonlight.
Flowers of double oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia `Snowflake', below) have pure white florets emerging from soft green buds, in cone-shaped bunches - double flowers and oh-so-pretty. The panicles are a long, long way away from the old, big mop head type hydrangeas that aren't...subtle. These oak-leaf hydrangeas have been flowering for a month or 2 now and barely needed a haircut. Looking closer at the flowers, you see a little soft apple-green, too; exquisite! I love the autumn foliage too: a few red leaves, but most leaves kept on, green, through the winter months.

Tall lilies (probably Lilium auratum hybrids, top), have opened large blooms of soft primrose; I love them. In morning sun, they've not gotten sunburnt like some other lilies in the garden and they're tolerating the hot weather well (nearly 40°C the other day). These, the packet said, were about a metre high. Imagine my dismay when they didn't fit into the planned garden scheme but poked their heads up high, swaying over the Anemone sylvestris and Trollius, enjoying the view. But...I can enjoy them from my window, and when the flowers are over, I'll cut them down to about a metre high or less. They still flower each year with this treatment - perhaps with less flowers, but then, luckily, I don't like them top-heavy, falling over, with huge bunches of flowers.
However, there's only 2 plants. So maybe in winter I'll dig up the bulbs and pull off a few scales (modified leaves, like the rings in an onion) to make more plants. (This way of propagating isn't just cheaper; it leads to swathes of identical plants, for great effects and the less-is-more design principle: not too many types of flowers.) In my country garden I need several of each type of plant to avoid spottiness and to create great garden pictures.
Lemon cape fuchsia (Phygelius aequalis, above), further back, is nearly 2m high and spreading; moreover its blooms bring in the honeyeaters. I'm quite ambivalent about this plant; I don't like the woodiness - especially in winter, after it's had a trim. It's starting to spread, too. I often consider removing it but then I think about its mid-green foliage in the warm months (it doesn't seem to burn and needs not a skerrick of water), and most of all, its bird-attracting qualities (in summer, too!). This lemon-flowering species is so much prettier than its salmon cousins, and its colour is delicate - a good thing now, while the subshub is covered in flowers. I like luring honeyeaters near the windows (with Salvias, Correas, and this cape fuchsia) along with the little birds that come to the birdbaths. All I can do is cut back the cape fuchsia hard in winter, pull out suckers, and - enjoy it now.
And I am.
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, 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. (