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 entrée 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 redKaffir 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.