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. (

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Five Seasons

`Five Seasons, the Gardens of Piet Oedouf', is a film I saw yesterday. (It's playing at Belgrave Cinema today, too.)
A venerable designer in the Dutch wave or New Perennial movement, Oedouf designs gardens with a matrix of grasses with perennials in, often, blocks as opposed to naturalistic meadows. Tall perennials must have good structure and features, like attractive seedheads, so that the winter months have subtle beauty with texture in tones of brown and grey. The perennials and tall grasses are mown down in late winter.

Oudolf began his garden style in the 1980s when he and his wife Anja opened their nursery, in Holland. His early work with perennials consisted of block-type groupings based on structure and texture. More recently Oudolf's gardens have developed into a more naturalistic look, often using blends of species, with the `change in style...described as a shift from a painter's perspective to one informed by ecology'. Oedouf is probably best known for designing the plant matrix on New York's The High Line (2006), the ex-train line converted to a long raised garden, high up in the city.

Oedouf's work reminds me of Wolfgang Oehme & James van Sweden who began a somewhat similar love affair with tall grasses and perennials in the late 1970's. Inspired by American prairies, their the `New American Garden' style developed as a reaction to the anodyne lawns to be found in much of the US, and the ubiquitous box edging and roses.
I left the cinema and ran into a gardening acquaintance. `Are you going to change your garden?' he cried, moved more than me by the cinematic experience, which had lovingly lingered on the brown stalks of hibernating perennials, directing our gaze to the subtle beauty of Oedouf's plants. (Successfully - I challenge anyone seeing this film to not be moved by grasses with delicate cobwebs, perennials rimmed with frost and seedheads touched by snow.)

Well, no. But I feel so much better about the untrimmed Sedum (above; see post 17th March also) which have been bugging me. I loved my pale pink ones through much of the garden but I didn't think that the flowers retained their soft pink for long enough. They turned pink-red for a short time (and I really dislike pink and red together (and detest the similar salmon; we're all so different!) in the garden) then deep brown - all too soon. Was this plant worth it?
Moreover - I'd planned to trim the perennials before today's Mother's Day visit from in-laws (who have a neat and tidy garden-and-house aesthetic). A few untidy perennials (like sprawling obedient plant (Physostegia; if only it was!)) and old belladonna lily stalks got tidied up; good. But I haven't started on the sedum nor the tall stalks of Drymis maritima (Syn Urginea) (although I've cut down a few of the latter to collect seeds).
Snow is very rare and we don't get much frost here in Selby. Will the perennial seedheads, deteriorating over winter, look silly or beautiful? (The eye of the beholder - just J and me - is fine.)
I'm reminded of the gorgeous meadow you see as you enter Great Dixter (UK; above) where owner Christopher Lloyd overheard visitors exclaim that they weren't paying to enter the garden because `he hadn't even mown his lawns'! (Maybe I need to escort visitors around the garden and explain the new strategy.)
Professor James Hitchmough (my favourite lecturer at Burnley long ago) grows meadows of annuals in the UK with skill. (And remember the sweep of annuals, including sunflowers, near Fed Square, so beloved of Melbournians a couple of years ago?)
Oedouf's gardens are less naturalistic than Lloyd's meadows, and less subtle with large sweeps of high grasses and tall perennials; a different aesthetic and quite different result.
An aesthetic that doesn't rely on flowers (alone).
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, 10 May 2018

Late Autumn Bulbs & Seeds

April departed, leaving us reeling with a meagre 16mm of rain (down two thirds) after a hot summer, dry in the latter half. And now - glorious rain.
Despite the dry start to the season, some autumn bulbs are growing well: Cyclamen hederifolium (above)and some crocus (top); while the nerines (pink, red, white (N. flexuosa alba, below)) still have that magic touch - from Mum's green thumb. Nerines have never flowered well here, despite a sunny spot and letting the bulbs crowd together near the surface - but the ones rescued from her garden (we left most behind for the new owners) are still, after 2 years, somehow, doing much better than ones I've grown for a decade or two. I'm not sure how this is happening, but I'm sure as heck not complaining.
What seems unique this year is the prodigious production of fat, round seeds on the belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna) and blood lily (Haemanthus coccineus, last pic), both in the Amaryllidaceae family. Has anyone noticed that deep pink belladonna lilies produce deep pink seeds, darker than usual?
And yesterday the Mexican tree dahlia flowers started to peep out.
As we Game of Thrones tragics like to say: `Winter is Coming'.
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, 17 April 2018

Autumn, Vegetables and a New Hydrangea.

Autumn has swept in with gusty, decisive coolness in what one comedian has called Melbourne's (famously) bipolar weather, and the sudden cold winds have transformed the edible patch overnight. A friend reminds me that only last week we had 25 degrees at 6AM yet it is almost winter now - well, relatively - with house fires lit, coats piled on and the mercury dropping to 4.5 degrees - seriously cold - this morning. 
Summer gave us loads of cherry tomatoes, our best year yet (the (likely) key? We remembered to water well nearly every day, with a timer, this summer). How can all those ruby droplets vanish overnight? - birds? All that's left are tiny jade pear-shaped fruit. (Do we net next year?)
The zucchini plants have fallen into a limp mess a month early, and beans - missed ones - are drying, deep amethyst pods, all over the tripods.
All this is good; it gives me space to plant some winter veg in mid-autumn. The cold-tolerant vegetables need a month or two, ideally, to get their roots get down well, into the soil before the really cool weather hits. They don't normally get it: I can't bear to pull out productive veg until late autumn; and then plant winter veg that sit miserably small all through the cold months.

So after a hot, dry February and March - so, so dry - some gum trees are dying along with one or 2 shrubs in the garden, although the garden isn't looking as miserable as you'd expect. A tiny dollop from the hose (from tank water) occasionally really has made a difference.

And then this sudden heavy rain of the last couple of days: a lifeline to shrubs sitting in parched soil, barely breathing as they longed for happy times. I don't know who or which is happier about the glorious rain: me or the thirsty plants. 

So I look out and see the late autumn garden: subtle salvias (with Lucy, our fabulous bird-like, silvery creation by artist Daniel Jenkins; turning with the winds, above), the summer vegetables saying adieu and the dwarf, round lilly pillies covered in fresh green shoots.

Enormous Hydrangea paniculata has flowers dulled to soft apple-green and pale rose in those elegant panicles (a long way from the mop-head varieties). So tall (3m or so) that they give me a little shade on hot mornings when I'm potting up near the back door (and I'm starting to plant Epimedium and cyclamen at their feet).

A new variety, H. paniculata `Sundae Fraise' (above) is flowering now, with panicles of white blooms turning, yes, a soft strawberry pink. Best of all, it only reaches 1.2m high and spreads the same. (I'll plant it when the rain has really soaked into the ground.) The late blooms are very welcome.
At the same time I found, at last (I'd seen it in a friend's garden), Laurus `Baby Bay', a truly dwarf Bay tree (or shrub) to 1m high; not the `dwarf bay tree' you often see, which reaches 3m - a very different prospect. Let alone the species bay tree (Laurus nobilus (the first Latin name I learnt!), meaning `noble') which reaches 7 or 8m - too big for most suburban gardens. Recent history has gardeners placing bay trees in herb or vegetable gardens only to replace them every 10 years. I prefer a permanent solution!
My new bay will be perfect in a pot, hopefully producing a good sphere if I trim it well. If I had a formal herb garden, then this shrub, planted in a large handsome pot, would be perfect for the centre, where the paths meet.
Our herbs are near the back door - great for dashing out while cooking - but our garden is probably too sloping for a formal herb garden.
As J dislikes formality so much, I must tell him how he dodged a bullet on that one!
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 March 2018

Dahlias and MIFGS


My sister and I are going to MIFGS this week - the annual flower show in Melbourne - where we buy bulbs, chat, and admire/discuss the show gardens.
This year S is looking at Dahlias: medium height, `self-supporting' ones, like she's seen in my garden; she's over having to stake tall ones and plans to pull hers out.
We both love the dusky leaves of the Mystic series and of, almost ubiquitous, `Bishop of Llandaff' with red flowers over that almost-black foliage: stunning.
I've been watering my potted Dahlias but neglecting those in the dry garden - a mistake, as it turns out.
S said she'd be looking at dahlias at the show and I remembered those that I bought last year: pink `Mystic Dreamer' (see post 17/3/18). I search the silver-and-raspberry-colour garden and find 2 little shoots from what were 2 good-size tubers. Well, I don't need to buy more, but look after what I have.
Dahlias hail from Mexico (it's the national flower) where there's summer rainfall; of course they need watering in summer! I think I've been spoilt by my dwarf, single dahlias (white, below, and yellow) which I can ignore for long periods of time - even leaving some tubers in the ground over winter some years.
 But my gorgeous ` Mystic Dreamer', a plant that has very pretty single flowers and is self-supporting, needs cosseting. I'll feed the 2 tubers when we get some good rain, and I'll try to water them well until then. And maybe I should have fertilised them in spring.
In gardening, we keep learning, don't we?
And that's just fine.
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, 16 March 2018

A Challenge and an Opportunity

On a cool morning you'll often find me watering - by hand - the big pots of dahlias, hostas and (smaller) cyclamen around the front door (Dixter Midi, if you will).
We have tank water only so we need to be careful doling out the rations...and we've just had the driest month for 27 years; and a hot dry summer despite a La Nina system.

Last year when I watered I rebelled against the chore but for some reason, this year, as I irrigate I'm thinking about the garden with an eye on losses and looking at holes in the plant matrix as good places to pop in, say, a few tulips here (under a tough ground cover), some nice perennials there. But always, always, the question: how to make the garden or planting mix look better this time next year. Yes, I know: drought-tolerant plantings. Very.

Interestingly, some recently-moved Ajuga was wilting just when our electricity was off this week (after that gusty day, so hard on the garden) and water hard to access. I was able to dribble a little on the plant - hardly any! - but magically the Ajuga unfurled from its misery and looked around with a wan smile.

Speaking of drought-hardy plants (and flowering now, when it's still so hot and dry), recent visitors pointed out `Cauliflower Plant', a moniker new to me, for flowering Sedum (above, with tall Drimia maritima); and completely appropriate when the flowers are still in bud. Yes, it needs cutting back in late autumn. Yes, it looks insignificant in winter (when hellebores are doing their floral thing, so no problem there). But I love the freshness each year of perennials, usually in spring, but in this case, in summer-autumn.

I have a very attractive soft pink form of Sedum, which ages to pale pink-red, in that less-is-more phenomenon that happens when you slowly multiply lots of plants from just one original plant (so less types of plants through the garden). It's very satisfying (and cheap!) and as I've moved pieces about, it helps give the garden unity.

A friend offered me some Sedum a while ago; from memory, probably a colour closer to red than pink. Would it suit the garden, if kept away from the others (in fact near the sheds, so it would be far from the hose)? And in time, a big group of just that one, showy and enlivening the rather sorry, late summer garden. A stronger colour would work well in this part of the garden, too.
I need to ask myself around for a coffee while his Sedum is blooming, and eye off the plant, to see how much I like it. No garden is big enough for a plant you really don't like. Even a fantastically drought-hardy one that flowers when all else is dry, dry, dry.
I guess...

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. (