Thursday, 21 June 2012

A woman’s house is her castle but today we have a full blown moat as well. Seriously.
Yesterday was the year’s shortest day and the gods knew it: heavy rain – over 20mm - ushered in the winter solstice after a day when scarves were flung horizontal and the cold wind ate into the soul. After torrential and constant rain yesterday the dams are fuller but again we have floods in Victoria. Our moat is nothing to complain of and even the hens don’t seem to mind cold feet today as the rain has slowed, the white clouds brighten and – joy! – a little blue appears in the west. Spring will return; superstition seems normal today; my offering is a few winter flowers (what else?) from the garden.
Dazzling white snowdrops (Galanthus) brave the sleet each winter and I pick one and study it: petals are narrow, it’s green blotch unusual, my breath catches. I pull down my mother’s Galanthus monograph from the shelf: it’s G. rizehensis surely, she spoke of it! Or, heart drops, just G. ikariae? No, it’s G. rizehensis! Mum was a botanist (I am not) and she spoke of G. rizehensis with pleasure after collecting seeds in Turkey. Like most bulbs I expect it took 7 years to grow from seed to mature, flower-producing bulb; I know it gave her joy. Was this the one she collected that she spoke of as hanging out over a fast-running stream? I wish I remembered.
My offering also comprises two winter clematis, `fern-leaf clematis’ (C. cirrhosa var balearica, `Freckles’) with dainty, dangling 4-petalled (sepals to the pedant) flowers which sway in the breeze; and – seemingly more vigorous – C. nepaulensis, unscented, flowers perhaps interesting rather than beautiful. Of the two I prefer the first and prettier still is C. cirrhosa `Lansdown Gem’, cream without, claret within, as if those red freckles have all joined together. But in a month the demure blooms of C. nepaulensis will be open and their reddish-purple stamens burst out from their cream petticoats, if temperatures remain above freezing. That’s my kind of girl. And like a Melbournian at the beach, she oftens loses her clothes (leaves, anyhow) in summer. No manners at all.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Rose dreaming…it’s June, it’s cold and the rose bushes are sticks. This is good: I can tinker with their positions and consider additions.
I have a `Sun and Sky’ bed with flowers of blue – caerulean, china, sky…pure blues – with primrose, lemon, sunny yellows and a touch of gold, used sparingly, but no white; masses of green however, to ground it all and not a splash of pink or red to spoil it.
It’s all held together by a double row of Euphorbia wulfenii which leads the eye to the focus: a 1 metre-high rusty treble clef statue. Behind each row is a narrow bed and the sunnier one has 5 roses including David Austin’s pale tea-coloured `Comtes de Champagne’ and apricot-cream `Crocus Rose’ – old world-looking roses with great perfume. I decided some time ago to add the famous sunny `Graham Thomas’ with its fresh Tea Rose fragrance to the mix; there is not enough room for these taller English Musk roses really, but I like to have mingling flowers of different shades. There’ll still be a definite order though; colour drives my garden and these roses fade from yellow to cream at each end of the straight row with deepest colour at the centre. Smoky-blue bearded iris add upright texture. A carefully thought-out but soft-looking arrangement.
As always I aim for flowers year-round too; it’s near the entrance of my country garden and they are almost expected; they add colour and soft informality which suits a spot so near the bush with its decided lack of neatness.
Today I found 2 bare-rooted `Graham Thomas’ for sale and they hopped nimbly into my car. (I find bare-rooted trees and roses almost the only option to maintain any sort of budget.) Over a long season `Graham Thomas’ will give us big fat flowers of rich butter fading to full cream (perhaps this should be named Julia Child), resulting in a wonderful two-toned effect which feels softer and less formal, beaming pure sunlight into the garden.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Wandering wallabies continue to munch the garden. One in particular, last spring’s joey in fact (daughter of our sweet resident wallaby), is a fearless teenager (so to speak) which pops by every dusk and dawn.
A little background information: about 20 years ago we bought a few acres of beautiful bushland in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, with a small clearing and here we built our little house over 6 years. We are incredibly fortunate to have visiting wallabies, blue-tongue lizards and occasionally echidnas and wombats along with superb blue wrens, honey eaters and even iridescent opal-blue beetles the size of ladybirds; initially (and still, ambivalently) charming. (Also wasps.) Despite much effort, the garden is still primarily only the unpalatable winter roses (Helleborus), salvias, mock orange and a few daffodils; all else is devoured by wallabies.
Last year we put up a fence around about ¼ of an acre, surrounding the cottage, completed by a gate we designed. (It’s purple; as the hardware man said: Everyone will know it’s your gate!) I thought that we had slowed down the munching marsupials but – despite salvias being (seemingly) not to their taste – a sage which I’d bought for the herb patch was eaten down to 2 old dusty leaves, in one night. And yes, it was, of course, culinary sage. Yep, near the delicious garlic chives. I think we can all learn something here.
Leek seedlings were nibbled down next; foolishly, I cried. Plants cost a bit, but still it was an overreaction; let’s face it, this has been happening for about 15 years. So J, dear man, has added wire, stakes and even trellis to those parts of the fence where our greedy guests (there’s heaps of green grass on the other side of the fence!) clearly slither under or through the wire.
Waterworks were contained today, but only just: Fresh roo poo had appeared and the large gardenia by the front door has become a sorry scarecrow. To deter the hungry herbivores I have just 2 words: chili and powder (scattered over leaves); it’s not pretty, is it?

Monday, 11 June 2012

Sweet bells of soft cherry-red, tipped parchment-lemon, are gracing my correa (C. reflexa or native fuchsia) near the back door; I am hoping it’ll grow to 1m high and so shade some little woodland treasures (my first love) skulking underneath. This is the local variant - green flowers also occur - and the offering of nectar (with its handsome package) for honeyeaters will continue until the spring equinox and beyond. Other birds are said to poke a hole through the flower, near the base of the bell, to get their shot from the barista. It’s odd, though: renowned as a refreshment stop for the avian ones, I don’t see them there, yet every day I’m delighted by fluttering Eastern Spinebills working through the salvia flowers (particularly Salvia microphylla hybrids) outside the kitchen window. It may just be serendipity, but I’d like to plant another Correa reflexa near all the activity and see how they compare there; hardly scientific but I am in the kitchen (seeking nectar myself) quite a bit!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Cold weather has seen budding winter roses or hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) and the first bold white bud has opened despite lashing rain throughout the night – some areas are flooded – and nights down to 2 degrees. It’s all very metric and decimal: 100km/hour wind speeds over Melbourne, flooding on 10 rivers in the state after 10mm rainfall overnight and 10cm of snow on the mountains.
Despite the storm, throughout the Dandenong’s today lemon leaves are gently cascading from elms, buttery foliage fluttering slowly from liquidambers and light gold drifting from silver birches; all a slow entrĂ©e to winter and concurrent to blooming camellias of white to impossibly pink `Hiryu’, its glowing flowers brightening the gray days. My favourite horticultural lecturer, Englishman (now Professor) James Hitchmough spoke of Melbournian winters as `rather make-believe’; I read of English winters with a shudder dispelled by disbelief; it’s as if the gardens there cease to exist for many weeks each year. (The avalanche of British books and journals show a decidedly different place.) My visiting English aunts are astounded in spring to see camellias, azaleas, roses and all manner of bulbs all exuberantly waving about their colourful reproductive organs. (They forget, perhaps, that our summer is not gentle and plants wilt in the heat; the show must precede it.)
But now, too, we are blessed with a wealth of flowers: the last white nerines overlap with the first Narcissus, the seemingly fragile `Paperwhite’ jonquils; thryptomene’s arching branches are laden with small, pale pink myrtaceous flowers while correas display bells of red and green or white on shrubs either indigenous or bred. Magenta and deep blue salvias magically draw in honeyeaters to the garden while cleome stretch to 2m with a few royal purple buds atop the stalks, clinging on as the jubilee progresses. The tree dahlia circle shines like a huge birthday cake with surreal lilac sparklers and red
Kaffir Lilies flame near the ground. Closer still are little primroses in shades of palest lemon and the first winter cyclamen, Cyclamen coum, with chubby flowers of white, pink or cerise; even summer-flowering C. purpurescens has one last bloom; evergreen here, it graces the front door entrance all year. A sunny wallflower is throwing out its first flowers and native rosemary (Westringea) gleams soft lilac amongst the fine silvery-gray leaves. No doubt my daphne should flaunt its bouquet-laden blooms were it not for its delicacy as a wallaby snack but wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) is opulent in its gift of perfume: nothing else can throw its scent so far, and from dull waxy flowers of dirty cream. It was a favourite in my mother’s garden so it’s redolent of memory too. Gardens are 4-dimensional (time is the 4th dimension) but memories – negative time if you will - almost create a fifth.