Friday, 12 January 2018

Some Hardy Perennials

Both garden and I wilted on the recent oven-like 42°C day.
Well, most of the garden. Some plants are extraordinarily resilient, taking heat & dry soil with aplomb. (Here we have tank water the garden gets almost zero a Mediterranean climate.)
Blue salvia (probably Salvia chamaedryoides `Marine Blue', pictured above), is holding up well, and should flower right through the warm months (up until late autumn), like the rest of its tribe. Both the salvia and the nearby Phygelius are looking at me, saying, superciliously, `What Heat?' - and both attract myriads of birds seeking nectar. (Phygelius might be a bit messy to have near the house, but the constant avian activity that we can see through our windows makes it worth the pain.)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, above) is surprisingly happy in pots - these are kept watered - and I'm looking at them afresh. I'm preparing a talk on poppies and, to my surprise, bloodroot is in the handsome poppy family. Every single species in Papaveraceae seems to have the prettiest of flowers (and sometimes, as here, wonderful leaves)! Like all the other wealth of poppies - which grow from the cold Arctic to the heat of South Africa - bloodroot produces a fluid - latex - which contains alkaloids (interesting ones in the opium poppy).
Cut a stem and out comes the fluid, orange in this case but fancifully named as blood-like.
Speaking of poppies, my Papaver `Lauren's Grape' (pictured in my last post) is setting seed and I've carefully cut off three seeds heads, as they've ripened, with the ring of pores open to release - it seems - thousands of tiny seeds from the pepper pot-like seed heads. Don't pick them green! - the seeds will not be ready. I've only had the one variety growing so the next generation may have, again, that wonderful purple.
 True lilies (Lilium, top), too, are flowering their heads off.
I love it when the garden gives you a truly wonderful  surprise.
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. (

Sunday, 31 December 2017

A sweet friend has asked for more purple flowers, so I've wandered the garden, camera in hand.
Now this is a woman with a serious purple-loving syndrome. (If she's only wearing one lilac or violet item I quiz her - only to be assured that hidden clothes are purple too. I always make it clear that I believe her and no, I do not need to see her underwear.)
Surprised, I find a few violet blooms - and foliage, too. Splashes of purple have come with the heavy rain.

Clematis are doing their spring-thing a bit late (above, no complaints from me), pentstemons (last pic) have started their warm weather flowering, and the saffron crocus pot has had its summer addition of opal basil (below). The tiny crocus are in this pot so that they don't get lost in the hurly-burly of the garden, but the pot looks too bare in summer...enter opal basil with its dark purple leaves. (Pop a sprig of this basil into a bottle of vinegar and voilĂ , you have a pink culinary treat or present.) My purple basil is joined this year with cinnamon basil, new to me, and with green leaves that, when crushed, have a basil fragrance with, after a few seconds, a strong hint of cinnamon.

I'm also enjoying the last of my Papaver `Lauren's Grape' (top), a tall and stately plant with flowers of fairly deep purple in that wonderful poppy shape that's so pretty and elegant, and beloved for this reason. I am preparing a talk on poppies and dang, I love the poppies with their delicate petals, particularly when the plant is single (4 petals), not double (8 or more). And, boy, I Love the effect and contrast with my Papaver `Lauren's Grape' amid loads of silver foliage (mostly Plume poppy (how apt!), Macleaya cordata). An effect to repeat, as I watch the poppy seedpods for ripeness, to collect before the fine seeds are tossed out.
(Speaking of poppies, several years ago, we saw carpets of red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeus, or Corn Poppy) in France; a feast for the eyes...and I forget that it's a symbol of death (& rebirth) and WW1, and simply enjoyed the scene for its colour, effect and joie de vivre - and also rejoice that this flower seemed plentiful, as various meadow species round the globe are pushed to the edge by farming and housing.)
Poppy seeds are tiny, and a friend tells me to scatter the seed over mulch (rather than shallow burying) in autumn, to get good germination rates - and sow thinly. Certainly planting seeds in situ is usually far more successful than transplanting plants or seedlings.
Great advice for autumn!
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, 20 December 2017

Southern Summer Solstice and looking back at a Strange Spring.

`Solstice' (Latin: `solstitium') means `sun stopping' (and changing) as we celebrate the longest day.
For the English, summer starts on 21st June unlike us in Australia who consider the first day of December to be the beginning of serious heat; sun, surf and beaches; Christmas and summer holidays.
But I'd like to look backwards today, and think about the odd spring we've had.
It's been an extraordinary spring; every plant singing and so many birds and animals doing their spring thing in overdrive, from honey eaters (along with the usual suspects) collecting spider webs from under the veranda roof for making their nests (I've never see this before - usually they are `just' supping nectar from the correas and salvias, constantly) to wallabies boxing, and J's  straw hat used again, by scrub wrens for nesting.
We have a new resident: a kookaburra has decided - rightly - that the garden at Possum Creek is full of food (like the skinks we love) and magpies strut the little lawn. Both have such character and purpose.
Wood ducks spend a day or two at our dam before marching on, ducklings following closely behind. Also called maned geese, they are handsome and prolific (not rare, anyhow) so I don't worry about them (will dogs get to them? Foxes?) but can just enjoy these frequent visits.
Our resident wallaby has her usual joey, head just out, both grazing grass and indigenous herbs.
And what's spring without some new chicks? Yes, Freddie (above) got clucky again and, after an egg-free winter, we decided to add to our half-dozen strong flock of bantams. Does she think that she's a clever hen, just sitting on one egg for 2 days before 2 chicks, 3 days old, miraculously appear under her at night? And do the other hens think `Her again? - not fair'!
It may sound like I'm anthropomorphalising terribly, but Freddie seems happy being a mumma (and it snaps her out of her broodiness) and the chicks seem much happier, or more settled. Under a hot light they wanted to dive under each other's wings; now they have big wings to shield them - the natural way of things (and - who knows? More comforting). They also cheeped, it seemed, in distress more; now any sharp cries (`I'm cold') make Freddie sit down and fluff up her eiderdown so the chicks can dive under at once. Such a good mumma.
Now we have to figure out good names for the cute chicks. (How the heck do parents of real children get through this thorny problem?)
Our silver chick is developing fluffy slippers and the other's new coat is a rusty-rufus colour - so Fluffy and Rusty they are becoming. I love ridiculous names for the hens, so cat and dog names are not only tickling the funny bone gently, but also the 2 who arrived together have similar - or similarly absurd - names.
The flower power this spring has been stunning, both flowers in the garden and blooms of wild plants in the bushland, on our property and around my area in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. Wattles, tea trees (see first pic)...covered, prolifically, in flowers (now or earlier).
But why - The `dry' winter? The cool spring with it's odd hot days?
I always like an explanation for weird events in the natural world but here I think I'm going to just sit back and enjoy the show - enormously.
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, 9 December 2017

Late Spring Flower Fragrance

Don't you love the late spring garden, flower-filled, when suddenly you think - where's that delicious fragrance coming from?
Poet's daffodils (Narcissus poeticus varieties); mollis azalea; dwarf lilac; English roses?...or, probably most potent, mock orange (Philadelphus sp, the shrub named for brotherly love (cue `Ode to Joy')). One of my favourite of the mock oranges is good old Philadelphus coronarius (Syn. Philadelphus mexicanus) or evergreen mock orange (above).
All the Philadelphus species have these unusual squarish flowers - and usually amazing fragrance. Evergreen mock orange is so, so drought-hardy but so are the dwarf ones and the 3m+ P. `Natchez' (bought from Dicksonia Rare Plants many years ago) which flowers prolifically in spring in my unwatered garden. Some varieties have white, blushing blooms, although I prefer the many pure white ones, and most are deciduous.

There's also a tiny Osmanthus in the garden but I think it's too small to flower, and it's probably too late in the season for one of this genus, but it, too, has the reputation for such fabulous fragrance that people detect the perfume a long way from the plant...and then, irresistibly, follow their nose.
If my garden was a little larger I'd have at least 3 species (or cultivars) of Osmanthus to have them wafting their strong scent from about mid-autumn until about mid-spring (and much of the year).
Osmanthus x fortunei has white flowers in autumn, with a strong perfume, and reaches 2m high; Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Rotundifolia' (False Holly) for winter blooms; Osmanthus delavayi ` Heaven Scent' has perfumed white flowers winter-spring; and Osmanthus fragrans (`Fragrant Olive') for spring & late summer blooms (depending on climate). Osmanthus x burkwoodii, also, has perfumed white flowers in spring.
Then again I could plant them, keep them trimmed - and besides, they are slow growers.
Seriously tempting!

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, 22 November 2017

Antique Flowers

 Oddly, there's really only a few perennials or bulbs, from Mum, in my garden.
My gorgeous bearded irises - all blues, lilacs and a sumptuous black (last pic) - are from specialist nurseries (probably Tempo Two) while a few pure white ones came from my sister.
But why do I have one or two dull purple ones with touches of brown, like those I remember in my childhood home? Did Mum give me this one? I'm afraid there's no room for sentiment: these will be pulled out (along with a dull yellow iris and a brown, yes brown, iris). Besides, I think they came from my sister, and were thought to be white ones (oops).
Similarly, many of my daffodils are (more) recent acquisitions in sulphurs and whites - and not so many of the gold `King Alfred' style.
There's one exception, and I'm loving it.
Once Dad sold the house, he (finally!) let us take a little of the bulbs and perennials in Mum's garden. (It was autumn so I now have a few nerines, one of the autumn-flowering bulbs that don't do well here. How I yearn for some of Mum's snowdrops (Galanthus)!)
One of the best plants I dug up (but replanted most) was good old Gladiolus `The Bride' (above) which I've loved since the 1980's, when it was fashionable. It remains my favourite among the `cottage gladioli', those sweet flowers only one step away from the species, shorter with smaller flowers than the Dame Edna type, all in perfect proportion.
(Gladiolus carneus, blushing bride gladiolus, is in naturalistic clumps in the silver-and-raspberry bed, flowering profusely amidst the pink perennials and silver Artemisia's. Maybe this is bulb easier to grow?)
Mum had a story about her petite gladioli. She'd started to plant the garden before house building commenced, and one of the builders asked her: What was that attractive plant? `That's a species gladiolus [close to it, anyhow!] before they started breeding and improving them [into the large Dame Edna-type hybrids].' Wonderingly, he replied: `Why did they ever bother?' Yes indeed-y. (Cue clashing cymbals.)
But then she and I always liked small flowers.

Gladiolus `The Bride' isn't petite, to be honest, but significantly smaller than Dame Edna's favourite flower; they are certainly large enough for panache, especially in my large clumps.
Gladiolus x colvillei `The Bride' was a wonderful hybrid that arose by accident in 1871; long enough ago that I'm calling it an antique flower. It's still close to its South African forebears; it's like a granddaughter that's married into the aristocracy. (Gladiolus x colvillei was bred in 1823 or earlier, in the UK, from South African species G. tristus and G. cardinalis. While gorgeous (petite lemon flowers on upright stems), G. tristus can be weedy in Victoria and Tasmania. Aren't all the best bulbs a bit weedy? (Don't start me on that horrendous bulb, often for sale, Nectaroscordum. It's a monster! Don't plant it! - you have been warned.) OK, not Onion Weed (Allium triquetrum); no one (sane) could want to plant this smelly, well-named thug.)

This spring `The Bride' gladioli have opened myriad milky blooms; they are not too tall; and like the best plantings, there's 3 clumps near each other with other sweet plants around them, to give year-round flowers. Maybe they are doing well because they were large corms compared with ones I've bought in the past.
And it reminds me of Mum - and her last garden.
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, 9 November 2017

Sweet peas

Sweet peas remind me of my English aunt.
She stayed with Mum and Dad, often, when she visited Australia, and tactfully kept a low profile, never interfering in her sister-in-law's house, let alone the garden. (Nor did Dad.)
But when the sweet peas weren't being picked, she'd get, well, fidgety is too strong a word for this lovely lady, maybe a little restless, and she'd offer to pick some blooms for the house. (Mum was always pleased to say yes.)
She had a point: like any annual plant, setting seed is it's life project. So leaving flowers to set seed will mean less blooms; constant removal will produce many more flowers. Dang, the annual plant thinks, I just want to set a few seeds; is that too much to ask?

It's a case of you `should do' versus laissez-faire - often because the garden owner has a large garden (as was Mum's), and can no longer maintain it to neat suburban standards, or maybe isn't well, or the busyness of life takes away valuable (and pleasurable) gardening time.
Being contrary, I've rebelled against `should do' tasks in my garden, and not a single sweet peas has been picked - yet. Besides, I have a moderately large country garden and I don't think super neatness would suit it. As I've written before, I love Mirabel Osler's philosophy: `A Gentle Plea for Chaos' (1989), and doesn't that suit a country garden? - softness, fullness, exuberance, a bit of self-sowing of the loveliest plants so that the planting (if not the structure) is at times informal.

Simplicity and neatness can look great; it just isn't possible any longer in my flower-stuffed meadow-like garden beds. (My green spheres are a very late addition to wrangle some continuity and structure to the garden...much to J's dismay.) 
Incidentally, all the sweet peas are the same - and I haven't sown seeds for a while. So - I think - I have a Mendelian experiment going on, with all these (seeming) identical plants being progeny of other, quite different, plants. If so, their progeny may be an interesting mix of colours, as the recessive genes get paired up again, and express their characteristics.So I'll collect the seeds - or let them fall on the ground, to germinate haphazardly around the iron tripods. I know this sounds lazy, but I'm garden-time-poor, and I love the informal effects that can arise.I suspect that Mirabel Osler would approve.

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, 2 November 2017

Red Flowers in the Spring Garden

I'm not fond of red flowers in the garden, usually. To me, they clash with pinks and yellows, and thus destroy my careful plantings. (Sure, yellow, orange and red can look great together; I'm just not sure that my garden has room enough for a bed like this.)
Colours that clash are more forgivable in winter and in the exuberance of early spring, when you're grateful for all the colours of the rainbow. We've had so many cool, wet days lately (not that I'm complaining) that, while it's November, it certainly feels a bit like early spring.

But right now there's two very different red blooms, and I smile every time I look at them.
Near the house I've placed a pot of perennial Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine‘ (Syn. Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine‘, above) with those red-and-white bleeding heart flowers. Bought last year, it's sent up leaves that are dark and reddish, but are now near-green. (My white Lamprocapnos in its large pot has perished. Did I let it get too wet? Too dry? Dang, I wish I knew.)
Tropaeolum tricolor, above, also, has red (and black and yellow) flowers, if much smaller, and dainty to boot - a quality I'm fond of.
A climber to 2m (so far), delicate-looking and demure (butter wouldn't melt in it's golden mouth)...but I'm surprised by a few things. One - it's there. When did I plant it? Two - how did it grow (so far) in total neglect? - I thought it was difficult! - but no, it must like being rather wet in winter and terribly dry in summer, so lucky me. Three - how did get to 2m high, laughing at me, without me noticing? (Let's not think about that one.) And - 4 - how did it tolerate close-by plantings of 3, yes, 3 clematis and even sweet peas, too?
Let's take lots of photos because, frankly, I don't trust this sweet beauty. Look at me flowering...and then watch me die - don't laugh, it's all too common in the garden at Possum Creek.
Let's enormously enjoy the ephemeral, dainty show and...just applaud wildly if it ever happens again.
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. (