Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Beckoning Wood Lilies

Last week, briefly, I was in a heaven of sorts. Trillium whispered the sign enticingly outside the nursery and like one drugged before and anticipating a shot, I hit the brakes, parked the car and salivated unbecomingly…over Wake Robins or Wood Lilies (Trillium) at Australian Bulb Nursery in Silvan on the hottest day imaginable. Sweating under the afternoon sun (at an unpleasant 29 degrees), my headache fell away as I gazed at dozens (100’s?) of this very special woodland bulb, all topped with gorgeous flowers over the leaves, some tall, a few dwarf, some dappled of leaf, some blooms white, some burgundy.
I chose the sweetest pink-burgundy I’ve ever seen in this genus (a dwarf form of Trillium chloropetalum); a white, almost purely so but for a hint of pink at the base of the full, attractive, non-twisted petals (Trillium albidum or White Toadshade, above); and a tall one with particularly handsome leaves, dappled seemingly by the hand of an artist (Trillium ludovicianum, Louisiana Wake Robin, below). (A yellow Trillium eludes me still.)
Of course it’s a treat to bring home some exquisite plant now and then (and I’m lucky that I can) but it does make me wonder how I’d behave at this nursery should I win tattslotto.

Usually I try to be patient (a virtue in the garden) and I grow a lot of interesting and beautiful plants from seed (which means numbers as well as thrift). Growing a plant from seed and then seeing it flower is like some magical trick. Did I do that?  (Well no, I just facilitated the process.) I’ve grown some good Trillium and I bring the flowering ones out of the shadehouse each spring (into an area barricaded from munching marsupials) so that pollinating insects can reach them resulting in, hopefully, fertile seeds; in this way I can one day have drifts of these beauties. I pick up each pot and gaze at the rather magnolia-like flowers although they are not leathery nor in parts of 6 to 9; Trillium are in parts of threes (hence the name) yet most hold themselves upright just like some of the neater burgundy Magnolias and are similarly coloured. In many species these 3 petals stand erect atop 3 handsome leaves; unmistakable.

Why do certain sizes, shapes, colours turn the legs to jelly, the brain to mush, or open the wallet so completely?
It’s the proportions…the jizz…and the vibe (apologies to The Castle).
I like roses, for example, but not with the passion of many people. For some unexplained reason, my horticultural loves are those of the woodland floor: Barrenwort (Epimedium), Trout Lilies (Erythronium, above), Winter rose (Helleborus, arguably of the meadow, but requiring some shade generally here in Victoria), Cyclamen species and Trillium, also known as Wake Robin, Toadshade, Wood Lily, Trinity Flower.

I have a very soft spot for other shade lovers too like Primula, Hepatica, Anemonella, the smallest Hostas and some of the tiny windflowers like Anemone nemerosa, easy to grow here. And latterly the tall shade-loving perennials too, with their lettuce-fresh new leaves each spring: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria above; its fleeting white flowers are outclassed by the leaves still unfurling) and the smaller Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa), Arisaema and forms of Soloman’s Seal, Paris and Kirengeshoma; even that rampant thug, kept in a pot, Snow Poppy (Eomecon, below) - as beautiful as it sounds. A new one for me is Anemone sylvestris, just 45cm high with dazzling white spring blooms atop a clump of leaves; no sign (yet) of errant rhizomes. Shade-loving bulbs too:  sweet Martagon Lily, fragile Fritillaria, petite Chionodoxa.

One of the best perennials is a relative of the Trillium: Podophyllum(below). Sumptuous leaves of lime flesh dolloped by chocolate mousse hide the sweet white flowers – often called shy – which droop under the canopy of dappled foliage, fresh just now, perfect. As it spreads gently, I can envision sheets of this charmer in time; drifts of them all.

But these fresh leaves are yummy to our vegan visitors. So do we change the fence, its height, its porosity…? Yep. And be grateful to those little skinks that eat snail eggs rendering them almost extinct here: at least our Hostas are usually handsome each year, rarely eaten to shreds by the other – relatively - big-(but one) footed creatures. Surprisingly, this makes a friend envious! I really must remember this before I complain again.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The second half of spring

As far as I’m concerned, we have just entered the second half of spring. Evidence? Exhibit 1: Last week's temperature was 28 degrees here in Selby. Exhibit 2: the washing is dry. Exhibit 3: a sleeping wallaby 2m from the door. Exhibit 4: honeyeaters darting under the veranda, collecting spider webs so it must be nest-building time. Exhibit 5: Tulips are flowering. Exhibit 6: to my great pleasure, the `paths’ – and I use this term loosely – are starting to dry out. When getting to the sheds entails donning old trousers and boots, and wading through mud 6-inches deep – how I wish I was making this up! – a change is very obvious. C’mon El Nino! (Sacrilege? Probably.) My drought-tolerant plants can’t tolerate too much more of this bogginess. Note to self: plant everything (everything!) in raised beds.

Monday, 8 October 2012


I am slowly coming down from my horticultural (and altitudinal) high. I saw more than blossom alone in the Blue Mountains: some good gardens, a wealth of spring bulbs, woodland perennials (I bought more than a couple) and best of all, chat with similar gardeners with a bent for some of my favourite plants: Trout Lilies (Erythronium), Barrenwort (Epimedium), Cyclamen species…
First David’s Clover Hill in Katoomba. A really pretty sloping garden holds some seriously lovely plants…and plants for sale. (I wonder what the motel cleaner thought of the pots and loose soil in the rubbish…but I did get on the plane home with my acquisitions…phew. Potted up again, they are recovering nicely.) I’d wanted to visit David for some time; I think that we 2 are the maddest of the Epimedium lovers in Australia. His garden is a mix of formal and informal, hedges and soft plantings, stonework and gravel; it’s charming. There seems to be 2 sorts of woodland gardeners: those like David and me, who concentrate on the delicate-looking plants, and others who go all out with rhododendrons (you know what I think of them), the huge lilies and hydrangeas. Libby at Merrygarth, Mount Wilson is in the second group, but still has lots of tiny treasures like Trillium and trout lilies, even swathes of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria) with its fleeting white flowers. Her large garden gets away with its dwarf inhabitants by the sheer numbers. I used to want a big garden too, but I think that – until I retire – I’d rather have a smaller plot to keep the scale right.

To my delight, Nooroo, a garden steeped in history, was open; perfect simplicity in the rolling lawns adorned only (other than the well-known white summer house) with wooden seats and blossom trees, and one or two sheets of bluebells. I clearly need to return to see the famous Wisteria court (created circa 1970 by Peter Valder, author of the definitive Wisteria monograph, and his family) when it’s in bloom.
Mount Tomah was next but I was too tired to properly explore this botanic garden.
Sunshine lured me to a couple of gardens on Sunday.
Everglades is a large hillside garden in Leura which I think I’ve seen before; what a difference 25 years, better health, seasons (spring this time) and awareness for good design (by Peter Sorensen) make! I fell in love with the stone walls, some curving like flourishes, the drifts of bluebells (below), the framed views and terraces, particularly the cherry terrace where a pair of wood ducks bonded beneath the cascading blooms. A hellebore walk near the top shows an English sensibility but great Italianate terraces (Lilac, garden theatre) lead down to some white-trunked gums, bush and a lookout over the escarpments of the mountain range. One problem, however, are some brick walls; the stone ones are beautiful, these are not. Planting creeping fig at the foot of these would hide most of the only blight in this otherwise superb garden.
En route to Sydney I briefly popped into a hideous open garden, and then fled to the airport.

At Everglades I looked carefully at the bluebells; I was interested to see that all of them (thousands!) curved over a little, a cross between the elegant English Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, left) and the robust and upright Spanish Bluebell (H. hispanica, right): a hybrid bulb that grows well and is attractive. Is this a metaphor for the multicultural garden, like this one, like many Australian gardens? Or is that just too cute?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Sweet bulbs of Spring

An engine-red tulip has just opened its bright buds: Tulipa eichleri is a large flowered species; other than its rather short stature I would have thought it a Dutch hybrid, particularly with its – to my eye – attractive petals lacking the expected gold stripe on each outer petal. Hailing from south-east Transcaucasia and north-west Iran, it’s a bulb that grows in cornfields as well as dry slopes; perfect for south-east Australia. I have an idea where I’ll plant this potted bulb in autumn; I know I’ll add lots of green to counter the brightness. But it’s still early spring and I can live with this cheery colour right now; in summer when I am red-cheeked, it’s a different story….maybe I’m less tolerant then.

A little less harsh on the eye are little gold Narcissus cyclamineus (above) and the deep yellow trout lily (below), Erythronium tuolumnense, both made prettier by the contrasting soft blue nearby. From north-west Portugal and north-west Spain, this tiny daffodil with its swept-back, cyclamen-like petals is a favourite but I need to find a place where it won’t be lost in the hurly burly of the garden; some light deciduous shade would be perfect.

From California (and hardy in the Dandenong’s), this trout lily is, I think, the tallest of the species and while I like the deep yellow flowers, the leaves are the least interesting because they are not dappled with attractive cinnamon-brown markings like most of its brothers. However a friend (Craig of Gentiana Nursery) has combined it with china-blue flowers of Navelwort (Omphalodes) which creates a stunning tableau.
Of course trout lilies, one of my very favourite flowers, is a delicacy for wallabies…and we had one in the garden yesterday. Time to raise the height of my fence, methinks.


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Drunk on blossom

Innumerable blossom trees overcame all other impressions in the Blue Mountains last weekend; I was intoxicated by the dainty fly-away petals everywhere. Serried sylvan rows of white blooms here and there, scattered trees of pink and white, sporadically white alone. Luscious double blooms of the Mount Fugi (Shirotae, above) cherry which I remember in my childhood garden, flowering for my sister’s birthday, and tiny blooms of (I suspect) fruit trees. Delicate white petals had fallen onto still water, dappling the dark surfaces, and onto stone paths and lawn.
While blossom trees are not in the garden at Possum Creek (yet), they will influence it. Our trees include a weeping white Robinia (or wisteria tree), a couple of superb white dogwoods and effectively 2 other trees: two large shrubs with perfumed white flowers: Philadelphus `Natchez’. Walk out to the orchard and half of the heritage dwarf apples and pears are covered with the delicate petals of true blossom – depending on your point of view.
Soft chamois-like flowers of Magnolias, waxy citrus blooms, spidery Grevilleas; I just can’t call them blossom. But while the flowers – blossom - of orchard trees enchant, it’s a good moment to think about the best and consider an addition to the garden.

Petticoats of flowering peaches are so very ruffled; crabapples with the trifecta of showy blooms, fruit and autumn tints can be too flashy (especially the hot pink flower forms), but modest ornamental pears (Pyrus) have delicate white blooms, often with a hint of young leaves to confer the air of a little clothing; a satisfying subtlety.
I’d planned a crabapple walk for my garden but `it didn’t get past the committee’ as my sister says. Hellebores, spring bulbs, woodland perennials to clothe the floor each side of a path of flagstones and a feature at the end, maybe a very simple statue or a fairly plain wooden seat.
Possum Creek has evolved into a very different garden than I’d hoped for 20 years ago, and a straight double row of crabs is just too formal for J who – in any case - likes his trees a safe distance from the house. But some small informal blossom trees (and perhaps a curving path) – that I can work on.