Friday, 13 October 2017

Singing the Blues

After this (comparatively) dry winter and sudden spring sunshine, it's as if the sea has rushed in and created pools of blue all through the garden.
Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica,, above) are rock pools of summer-sky-blue with a hint of violet; they're spreading a bit too much (as many bulbs are wont to do), but it's hard to dislike a plant that flowers in profusion just when the spring warmth really arrives. They've appeared in the silver-and-raspberry coloured garden, too, but are welcome - even there. As a plant that is not treasured (and is prolific) it's one I'm happy for visiting children to pick bunches of the flowers, which is heaps of fun.

Shorter but with impressive leaves is Jungle Beauty Bugle (Ajuga `Jungle Beauty' (above) - so much nicer than the low, flat leaves of Ajuga reptans), awash with deep blue-violet blooms on 15 - 20cm stems; a groundcover that looks good all year and grows fast - what's not to love?

Visiting the bushland at Baluk Willam Reserve last weekend, we saw spots of blue there, too. Two plants stood out: on the forest floor, blue squills (or blue stars, top, Chamaescilla corymbosa) opening tropical-sky-blue, petite blooms; and scrambling through low shrubs, love creeper (Comesperma volubile, below) - a deeper blue, surely, than any other flower, even in bud. Why is this climber called love creeper? I'd love to know!
(We saw orchids, too, but ones I've seen before.)
As in other years, we were wandering through bushland, 10 minutes from home, with a friend - in strong spring sunshine.
Then cake and coffee.

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, 5 October 2017

Wonderful Wattles

Spring is in full swing now: Trillium in pinks and purples, Mexican orange blossom is laden with perfumed white flowers, and there's plenty of Spanish bluebells for picking with a very young great nephew (`Let's pick a bunch for Mama'. The  watering can was very popular too).

The wattles seem to be more floriferous this spring - from the early ones in winter to the Prickly Moses (Acacia verticillata, above) flowering now. J thinks there's just more wattle shrubs than there used to be, but my friend K (a wonderful gardener) agrees with me: there's more flowers on each shrub than usual. Drive along Wellington Rd, east from the gymkhana near us, and the blooms have been a knock-out.
(Can I share a wee bug bear? We all know that a little knowledge can be a bad thing. And while it was great to have (as I often do) landscape design clients who didn't want environmental weeds in their garden, never-the-less, blackwood wattles (Acacia melanoxylon) would have been perfect at the foot of their steep slope (for screening, indigenous plant, and fire-retardant to boot) but the client thought that I was recommending black wattles (a different species (A. mearsii) - an environmental weed in my part of the world). He simply couldn't believe it was a different plant entirely, or accept that I might know a bit more than him. It was rather frustrating!)

In the bushland that surrounds our garden, along the drive, we have a little copse of self-sown Prickly Moses. I was thrilled to find that one shrub has deeper yellow flowers than the others (above). Are the flowers bigger too? - I think so. A tiny piece of my horticulture course from years back surfaces in the brain: that plants can - and wattles were particularly cited - have tetraploid forms, and these plants can have deeper coloured flowers and larger plant parts. Only one extra chromosome can blight an animal (or human, of course) but double the chromosomes in each cell of a plant and boy, can the result be spectacular.
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, 27 September 2017

Cyclamen in Early Spring

I'm preparing a talk about cyclamen, or sow's bread, for a garden club...and looking afresh at my delicate-looking-but-hardy, petite species cyclamen.
Cyclamen coum (above) is known as a winter species so it's not surprising to have a few still blooming.
But looking closer at a white-flowering one, dang, it's got propeller-like petals, like C. alpinum (Syn. C. trochoptantherum) (above). How nice to discover a new species in the garden (well, a pot), and such an idiosyncratic one at that. It's white, too. (How could I have missed this? - has it not flowered before? Or did I just glance at it, enjoy it, but never really think about it?)

Being in a pot, the seeds end up forming little seedlings around the tuber, so I'll be able to collect them over time, and plant them throughout the garden in semi-shade. (Cyclamen in the garden (and in the wild) tend to form drifts because of myrmecochory, which is a fancy way of saying that seeds are spread around by ants (which love the sweet coat, then discard the seeds up to 3m away).)
About a year ago I found Cyclamen (Super Series)`Petticoat’ (below) in the nurseries, with pink and white forms. Looking at its propeller-petals, surely it has C. alpinum genes? Tell me, dear reader, do you like it?
Don't eat the tubers! - they are quite poisonous. But cyclamen seeds remove sorcery according to Dioscorides (~50AD) - and you can't get enough of 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. (

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Mum's Red Camellia

A whiff of a particular fragrance can take you back years, sometimes to happy childhood memories.
For me, plants can do this too, or they remind me of a person - often Mum, of course, who gave me the garden and plant-loving gene.

I was giving planting plan advice in a country garden last week when I spotted this old variety of camellia, a true red touched with a tiny hint of pink. The shape and tint took me back to my childhood home in Melbourne's south-east where Mum planted this variety by her bedroom window...and something I did, but never owned up to.
Back in the 1970's `Go outside and play' may have been a much more common saying, and I loved the 20 or so fruit trees, the 2 tree houses, my chickens, and, when I was very young, wet soil for mud pies which were always decorated with flowers or berries.

But I was playing one time and picked a white camellia flower (from another shrub), which I placed on this red-blooming bush - and it looked very natural. (And the other way, but the red flower fell off the white bush.) I was just having fun but Mum thought that the shrub had thrown out a sport - and she got excited that her plant had had a genetic mutation occur (she was a botanist and she knew all about genes & DNA - even if  Crick & Watson hadn't worked out the structure of DNA until 1953, some years after she completed her science degree). Mum watched the camellia shrub eagerly for some time, to my dismay. I'd just been playing...but I never `fessed up.

(Speaking of camellias and hybridising, the oldest camellia in Australia is at Camden Park in NSW (the garden surrounding Camden Park is the largest and most intact Australian early colonial garden) where John Macarthur bred sheep from 1805 and his son, Sir William Macarthur, grew 'anemoniflora' or 'waratah' camellia (Camellia japonica var. anemoniflora), and bred some of the country's first hybrids including Camellia 'Aspasia macarthur'. Camden Park was horticulturally important and has always been associated with camellias.)

 I have another childhood memory of Mum and camellias - a happy one. We'd gone up to Olinda to see a flower show in late winter and there was a bank of - it seemed - hundreds of camellia blooms in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. Did Dad politely (and not interested, to be honest) ask us which flower was our favourite? Or was it chance that led Mum and me to point to the same flower at the same moment and exclaim `that's my favourite!'?
Mum and I enjoyed small flowers while one of my sisters always, but always, prefers the showy bigger ones, whether they are clematis, camellias or perennials.
It's interesting to think which genes came from whom. (My genes, not the camellias.)
I'm so lucky to have the gardening gene. 

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, 16 September 2017

Early Spring in the Edible Patch

It's early spring, the little hens have moved on to a another veg bed to scratch about in, and I'm planting the vacated veg bed. I've looked through my home-collected seed and decided that this bed will be white, pink and purple: with soft green lettuce (seedlings from the compost bin), pale-stemmed chard and green (dwarf, curly) kale at the start of the path, leading to pink chard, deep pink-flowering broad beans, `red' kale (a lovely mauve, probably `Redbor'), and at the end, those attractive purple peas (with delicious pink flowers as a terrific bonus, above) on rough tripods, with purple broccoli (below) at their feet. The mauve flowers of chives would work well here, too.

In another bed, a purple carrot, with pretty umbels of flowers, is, hopefully going to set seed soon. I can toss these seeds about in the newly planted bed - but the leaves don't seem to show the colour of the subterranean bits. However there's satisfaction in knowing that these plants will fit into this garden patch, even if no one else can see, or know about the fact of the carrot colour.
How much of the happiness we derive from our gardens is in our minds? (Those shrubs will hide the sheds soon, or those dull plants have superb flowers in winter, or those tiny flowers have a superb fragrance, for example.)
I've `done' pink and purple edible patches before, but not with white (and green) veg on either side of the start of the path. I'm looking forward to seeing how this one turns out!
I'm loving my other veg beds: the lemon, yellow and gold bed (complete with yellow broccoli); and a fairly new bed of orange, red and black (with black kale, of course).
Those ones have pansies - edible flowers - along the path edge. But...while they are pretty, and emphasis the colour beautifully, for some reason I'm changing my tack. For one thing, it's hard to get the shades I want, of pale pink and good pink-purple pansies to show the gradations of colour (although white, then pink, then purple ones might work - but would not show subtle changes). And I get so tempted to buy pansies in pots, not the cheaper punnets. I should be patient, but while vegetables generally grow well, there's just a little too much shade from the growing gum trees to the north and north-west. And...let's see if I can make the garden work without the obvious (pink) traffic lights.
We have 7 (yes, 7) compost bins and I'm finding that a globe artichoke - all glorious, tall silver leaves - is half-hiding one of the plastic bins, and hopefully distracting the eye. In go a few more to soften the look of the others. I'm adding dwarf lavenders too (I was given 2 plants), but I don't anticipate year-round attractiveness from these...which are therefore on probation. 
Having fun in the edible garden means I've definitely neglected the orchard. Finally, last weekend, I picked the last of the apples, and began picking tangelos and limes for muffins and marmalade (below). Yum!
(My chef-sister gave me the mouth-watering citrus muffin recipe which is so easy:
Simmer 2 oranges (or varied citrus to ~ ½ kg), just covered with water, for an hour (or 3 tangelos for ¾ hour in our case), drain and allow to cool. Cut into quarters and remove pips. Add  6 eggs and purée. Add 250g of castor sugar and 250g ground almonds and 1 tsp baking powder & stir. Pop into muffin cases, cook for 10 - 15 minutes in a medium oven and voilà!)
Maybe I'll make apple pie with those old apples. Double yum.
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 August 2017

The Garden Awakens

I've been away, on holiday, for 2½ weeks - in winter.
But I don't count August as winter; no, it's when the bulbs all start to shoot up and open the early spring flowers - here in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges.
And it feels sudden: leaving behind a slumbering winter garden and returning to find, almost unexpectedly, daffodils in full swing, masses of Narcissus `Tete a Tete' (last pic), all golden on short stems, cyclamen, Iris reticulata and even a little pink gladiolus. Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis, below)continues the show. Correas and crocus (above), too. (Winter-flowering snowdrops (Galanthus) have finished blooming and, hopefully, are setting seed.) One of my favourite perennials, Helleborus, or winter roses, are everywhere, in shades of green, yellow, pink, white, burgundy and claret (the peach-coloured ones don't thrill me). Even lilies are shooting - and the bantam hens have started to lay again.
And, in August, I'm surprised to see red Tropaeolum blooming beautifully - on a clematis tripod. Some plants thrive on neglect, but I wouldn't have expected this climber to be one of them. (Years ago a kind gardening acquaintance gave me a few seeds of the rare, and delicious, blue Tropaeolum. Two germinated but I lost them when repotting - some plants dislike any root disturbance - and my friend told me this - too late. I should have just repotted, carefully, into a larger pot. But that's gardening - always learning.)
Other bulbs and sleepy perennials are just starting to wake up; the garden is full of promise.
It's my favourite time of year.

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, 14 July 2017

OK, it Really is Winter

Yes, after a cold night (- 0.9°C), I admit it really is winter.
We're in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges so luckily this sudden frost is pretty unusual. So I'm wondering - have we ever had such a cold night before? I simply can't remember, ever, the salvias knocked off by frost - all of them (even Mexican sage, S. involucrata (above) and S. `Anthony Parker' which (usually) bloom in winter here); tomatoes like skeletons and Gloriosa suddenly sticks. Even the giant circle of tree dahlias (below) is affected, unexpectedly, and how!: one day a glorious green birthday cake topped with lilac flames, the next a ghostly circle (how Morticia would approve!).
Luckily the petite winter bulbs have started to flower: Cyclamen coum with chubby deep cerise blooms; snow-white snowdrops (Galanthus) with green markings; and sweet little pale lemon hoop petticoat daffodils (Narcissus bulbocodium grailsii).
Hellebores, too, one of my favourite flowers: deep pink in flower with many others throughout the garden in bud, promising blooms, some double white, soon - but I need more apple-green Corsican winter roses (Helleborus argutifolius) which start to flower so much earlier.
Before long it will be August, which feels like early spring to me - daffodils in bud, some perennials waking up, and continuing bright pink flowers of saxifrage (as my Mum called it - or Elephant's Ears: Bergenia cordifolia) - the colour welcome in winter. (There are white and pale pink and deep pink forms (the latter with red leaves in late autumn), but these ones are too shy to flower - probably too small - so far this season.) And hellebores all through the garden.
While some people go to the ski slopes and others escape to sunny Queensland, I can feel the breath of spring in the air.
But that's probably just me.
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 (
Photos on this post by talented photographer Andrew Burgess.