Thursday, 26 September 2013

Landscape Design Conference and the Australia Garden, Cranbourne

Another landscape design conference and unusually I was looking backwards as well as forwards with writer Anne Latreille’s `Garden Voices’ lecture covering important Australian designers both past and present. American landscape architect Ken Smith showed exciting projects (`Sky to Ground’) and US tropical garden designer Raymond Jungles spoke of water and nature in the garden and his admiration for Roberto Berle Marx. I particularly loved – and found relevant (in our climate and with today’s enthusiasm for edible patches) – Canadian-born French-based Professor Louisa Jones’ Mediterranean Gardens and will expand on this anon.

 It is exciting to look at Australians for inspiration. Usually it’s a ground-breaking Martha Schwartz (admittedly back in 1989, but wonderfully seared in the memory), or Topher Delaney, or the international images of landscape critic Tim Richardson that blow me away (his Avant Gardeners is my favourite book. Truly). (Ken’s were good to see. And I may have missed some important ones by Mr Jungles when my migraine got too awful on Sunday.)

Anne put up a mirror to Australia and I liked what she revealed; it certainly wasn’t the ridiculous Anglophile picture that Monty Don showed the world in about 80 seconds a while ago. Why didn’t he go to the gardens of Jim Sinatra and Phin Murphy, Talor Cullity Lethlean, Meg Ogden, Craig Burton, or to extend the concept to true landscapes, McGregor Coxall? Or the garden I’d most like to see in our entire land: that of Kate Cullity and her late partner Kevin Taylor in Adelaide. Or even just a boisterous bushy big boys boulder garden as I think of them (and it’s interesting how many women clients come to me and say I don’t want that style of garden at all and I don’t want to be told that’s what you want, love).

Friday’s pre-conference garden tour took us to some wonderful places: Burnley’s modern Green Roofs (did I really study horticulture there 24 years ago?, by HASSELL and MSLE led by Dr Nick Williams, John Rayner), Sorrento’s delightful Karkalla (Fiona Brockhoff) and Offshore (Jane Burke), the 10-acre misnamed (or so it seems to me) Musk Cottage (Rick Eckersley and E-GA); and the Australia Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne (Taylor Cullity Lethean with Paul Thompson - plant advice; it contains only Australian plants).
I have lightly touched on the latter before (see post 22/11/12) but will add a little more here; all pictures are from this garden.

I wonder if The Australia Garden, with its journey of water, and deep red soil and lunettes at the centre, was built for Australians (intentionally or not). Just as when I visited Uluru as a schoolgirl, and felt a visceral connection to the heart of our country, our land; so I feel deeply moved and reminded of my connection to country when I begin my journey in this garden; now that is an extraordinary achievement, and it happens every time. Is this spirituality? If so, to what, Mother Earth? Or is it notions of identity and rare connectedness? (It’s not dissimilar to my reaction to seeing Yothu Yindu on television the first time: I was seeing my own country really represented in this medium for the first time and it felt exhilarating, powerful, almost primal; I was shocked by my reaction as a young adult who knew no indigenous people and nothing of their culture. It felt absolutely wonderful.)
I found it fascinating to hear reflections of landscape architects from other countries; that this part is like a Japanese garden in that you cannot enter the centre of this garden but can only observe from the periphery (and that you suddenly observe a large part of it); and another (American), who found the vastness alienating (while it spoke to me of my country, of inclusiveness; the opposite). Again, the latter shows its effectiveness at representing the heart of our country so well.

And I wonder, do you need to experience rain after drought to appreciate my favourite part of the garden, and I think most hidden, little-known piece of genius. Maybe you need to be Australian.
Tell me you are not moved.

Go to the end of the rock pools.
Past the vast rust monument to King’s Canyon.
Wait where the water falls off
(don’t take the flow for granted, mate)
Every half hour the water stops
just for ten minutes
and gradually the flow over the square rock pools
slows to a drip or 2 and then ceases.
Wait. Not long.
Water starts flowing again as a whisper, a trickle
then splashy, it rushes along, becoming ever more exciting, it’s rain!
flood after drought!
Crashing loudly off square rocks,
shouting, gushing and roaring toward you,
you sitting waiting at the end;
water rushes and pours over the bank;
a little miracle,
a crop saved, a farm back from the brink, a wild bird seeking a mate.

Tell me you are not moved.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

New Memories

A bat squeak of an echo in time is how Audrey Niffenegger puts it in The Time Traveller’s Wife: when a whiff of information (or it could be a faint sound or a fragrance) resonates down a vortex in time and space and seemingly (in this case) beyond the grave too.
Mum was botanist, gardener, horticulturist, intellectual, teacher. (And she was the fungi lady of Emerald, too.)
I have been admiring the wattles blooming with their lemon rods or golden balls and remembered Mum showing me the local plants when I was a little girl; of the 6 of us, I think I was the most interested in plants, I loved my little garden, I basked in the rare attention, and I soaked up the names and lore: Dusty Miller (`See, it looks like a baker has wiped his floury hands here’), Trigger Plants (`See, this is how to trigger the flower, just like you are a visiting, pollinating insect, isn’t that fun’(see Stylidium 22/11/12)) and Prickly Moses (below), a wattle flowering right now, its lemon rods covering the shrub. Why it’s named that I don’t know, although it is prickly, of course. So many weekends were spent in the Dandenong’s that when J and I bought our property here with its little patch of bush it felt like I was coming home. I use the parochial names with great affection and sentiment, and the many plants we didn’t know she identified for us; we were fortunate to have a pocket botanist (who was, truth be told, larger than life). So I already had Mum in mind.
Yesterday my sister visited, bringing a fragrant posy from Mum’s old garden, pale gold freesias with a few azure blue grape hyacinths; these were Mum’s favourite flowers, she said. (A bat squeak of an echo; a newly formed memory.) Why didn’t I know this? But I was glad to be told; glad to hear that this complex woman, often seeking respect over liking from people (it seemed to me), was at heart either a country woman or a poet; I am not sure which.

Mum’s father was a painter and colour is important to many of us. Moreover this freesia is particularly pleasing: short, upright, softly old gold with little grey; and oh so fragrant.
I am sentimental at times and could instantly resolve to plant these very bulbs in a sunny spot come autumn – but I won’t – it wouldn’t pass the committee, and quite right.
Freesias, like watsonias, anomatheca, oxalis, sparaxis, chasmanthe, monbretia (Crocosmia), and gladioli are from hot, dry southern Africa or nearby (agapanthus) and they love south-eastern Australia too well, flinging about their seeds, rhizomes and bulbils with unwanted generosity. As a conservationist, there are some plants that J cannot abide in our garden (rather a lot, it sometimes seems; foxgloves and columbines are especially missed); they would embarrass him if a colleague visited, too.
Living adjacent to unspoilt bush brings both joy and responsibility. I get that.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Winter Roses

Late winter and early spring bring hellebores and a trek to Post Office Farm Nursery near Woodend becomes my annual pilgrimage.

Also called winter roses, Helleborus are evergreen perennials which flower from early winter (Corsican) or August and they are still colourful now; Peter Leigh has bred wonderful strains which are world class. Some species have particularly handsome leaves and Helleborus foetidus can take fairly deep shade.

I love the single flowers but my camera only seems drawn to the new, neat doubles…and now I have one I can truly call double black; superb.
The nursery is open Sundays until the end of September.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sudden Spring Forte

It’s a bit scary, frankly.
Spring has whooshed in with unaccustomed ferocity, more Mrs Bennet (a beauty, if briefly, in her youth, and can’t you see her putting on every jewel she owns and her mother’s too?) than seemingly-meek Jane Eyre (with barely a ribbon to adorn her).
Daffodils blown over in a flash. New plants flowering each day, some way too early, like tulips, while camellias still flashily bloom, wattle gleam with gold and flowering quince shine red, pink or white.
Australia has just had the warmest year on record, and the warmest winter, following the warmest summer.
I thought it was premature to anticipate another warm summer but no, we’ve barely seen out the first week of spring, and here are serious bushfires to Sydney’s west just 3 days after the country has elected as new Prime Minister a man who says he will repeal our carbon tax.
What will we tell our grandchildren?