Thursday, 28 November 2013

Frogs calling at dusk

Last night I heard another new frog as I tried to sleep. Two males, presumably, each perfectly replicating a swatted tennis ball, thwack thwack, thwack thwack, they went, but not quite synchronized. Striped Marsh Frogs, it seems.

I love these long late spring evenings but at bedtime the frogs are calling noisily: it’s rained again, the dam is full, and who doesn’t want to mate?
After a score of years, each seemingly introducing a new variety (memorably the high-decibel-`mi mi mi’ frog (as I call – possibly - the Victorian Smooth Froglet) for 2 insomniac years)

And they call all night. 11pm, 4am, 5am…why do they stop at 6.30am just as light creeps into this human’s bedroom?
And then there’s this handsome fellow (maybe the southern brown tree frog). When I move (plastic-potted) plants about from inside handsome pots I need to take care; some dry summer days I find a frog in every single one of these moist, cool spots. (I’ve just done it again; hellebores belatedly moved away from the front door and a Hosta – all huge, handsome leaf - thrust into each one.)
Frog presence is rather like a lucky charm; implying ecosystem health, you can look around the garden and bushland at honeyeaters (busy at the Salvia flowers), languorous butterflies and darting skinks, with misplaced complacence and say `see, I haven’t screwed it all up with my gardening and that tiny bit of herbicide (which shall remain – be strong - for the intractable)’.
Today it’s the turn of the Pobblebonk frogs (that’s their call: `bonk, bonk, pobble pobble bonk’) (aka Eastern Banjo Frog) and they are loud. If there is a female within a kilometre I think our dam will get pretty lucky tonight.

Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design ( working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Purple Iris Purple Gate

I planted these luscious Japanese Iris years ago in a boggy spot and pretty much forgot them; they are flowering well this wet, wet spring. Our lilac gate seems to match them perfectly; a happy accident.

Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design ( working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Grassy Trigger Plants

Dozens of Grassy Trigger Plants (Stylidium gramnifolium) are flowering along my road; I think they started in August but in wet springs they continue for months and I rejoice when I see them.
I wrote about their fantastic trigger - one of nature’s strange and incredible tricks - in my post one year ago (22/11/12).
Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design ( working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Edible Patch and a New Attitude in the Garden

I’ve had an arthroscopy today, and it was to fix up a (somewhat) gardening injury. Now this sounds like I’ve been performing extreme gardening doesn’t it? (Applaud now.) It’s really just that I’m a pretty clumsy person who has a knee that doesn’t – unsurprisingly – like having most of 70kg fall 1m (that’s 1000mm!) onto it. Actually it could have been so much worse, really.

So, sure, the foot is up right now, and movement is pretty limited for a couple of days, but the last 3 weeks have brought out a new spirit, culminating in pre-dawn potting up of zucchini seedlings this morning, pre-operatively.
`Put off until tomorrow’ was my middle…err…phrase (please don’t judge me, constant (mild) migraines are a buggar) but with knee splint firmly on I’ve actually gardened a little almost every day of the past 2 or 3 weeks, and it’s heavenly (even  when it’s just a minor encounter with potting mix at dawn).

Kneeling, my preferred stance, is out, so I’ve bent and leant and tripped and walked like a zombie in this spring weather; I’ve planted tomatoes and beans (J likes `em) and sown more sweet corn seed. (Note to self: when planting the first batch of sweet corn seeds don’t use really old seeds if you would like some to germinate.)

I’ve lashed together rough saplings of tea tree in 5’s this time, not tripods, but…pentapods. There I’ve planted butter beans and green beans and then, just to confuse everyone I’ve found seeds of purple beans to plant too. These are great for the busy cook, my chef-sister tells me; they are the only kind she grows `cos she can see them, especially at dusk at the end of a hard day’s work. In they go. (Green beans cunningly hide amid the leaves.) Hard work, those tripods, tripping countless times but oh so satisfying. Scarlet-flowering beans tempt too: this is the line where the edible patch crosses over into something attractive (hopefully); it’s no longer utility alone, is it? With my usual crazy optimism I tossed in seeds of tall-growing snow peas too; it was a cool day and summer felt far off; why do I garden at times by instinct, leaving intellect slumbering? Will the beans shade them enough and will the irrigation system (from rainwater tanks, like all our water) irrigate them adequately? Probably not.
My friend’s rainbow chard finally made it into the ground: all the pinks and crimson-stalked ones were planted and I’ll see if I really have room before planting the yellows. (I don’t like much too much pink in the garden these days, preferring purple, white, blue and a little lemon, but I love these chard over the yellow and muddy oranges; moreover they are a lovely mix and the plant is mainly green leaf and only a fraction is coloured stalk:  the contrast of ruby stem to deep jade leaf is very attractive.)
About 20 tomato plants made it into the edible patch, in the sunniest part, and I am keeping them watered in.
Nearly 40 of the kale – some red, some dwarf green -  are pricked out now; these germinated well from fresh English seed sent promptly from Chiltern Seeds. (More to do, of course.) I have even weeded and sorted out some pots in my shadehouse. (Some Erythronium (trout lily) have gone to the shadehouse in the sky; one was found escaping through the holes at the bottom of the pot due to the contractile roots – but it had the manners to multiply first.)
I’ve moved semi-mature cabbages into a line that I’ve decided looks French (bear with me) om a veg bed/hen run about to have our girls let loose and then rescued from there about 10 Tuscan kale as well. (Periodically the hens are moved to a fresh veg bed – we have 5 – and I plant the fabulous tabula rasa with fresh plants. J added mulch to the path and sugar cane mulch around plants – while I am less than usually mobile - but not where seeds were sown.)
Vegetable gardening has that huge added bonus of being companionably close to the hens – 3 in the scratching run just now, inches away (`What are you doing, food lady? Anything for us?’) - and listening out, I can hear Freddie and her 3 tiny week-old chicks in the henhouse nearby.
Just now we are picking lots of snow peas, some broad beans (picked very young, so different to how my mother did, feeding a family of 8), a little silver beet, celery (truth be told, from one old plant), and for the chickens, armfuls of mustard greens and Warrigal greens (Tetragonia). But we have done this before.
It’s partly how it’s done.

Potagers are attractive (see photo from Garden of the Five Senses, Yvoire, France, top): with borage, heart’s ease (little Viola), marigolds and other edible flowers popping up around the vegetables, softening the straight lines, adding `pretty’; these I like. (I read about potagers first in the 1980’s.) Those  blues, purples, bright yellow and, if you wish, tangy orange, look so well together and with bold-yellow crucifer flowers of the brassicas too should they flower and give you seeds; and with the many greens of the vegetable’s leaves. Our edible plot is just above almost intact bush along a wet-weather creek so to grow known heavy seeders like these would be pretty irresponsible. I think if I’d had a potager I might have embraced veg gardening years ago. (I’ve done veg gardening but not loved it; and not harvested like now, the other side of the coin from the planting I’ve generally liked.) But with these strong restrictions, it has taken until now to really get the bug.

Why is it all so satisfying? I’ve grown veg for over 25 years (`J heart J’ was planted in lettuce seeds when I was a young gardener, for fun, but it was some time ago) and I’m a bit annoyed with myself for – I think - responding to the latest fashion. Worse, for doing so right now. My darling sister and godmother Caroline was a passionate cook-gardener who reveled in veg gardens and loved to visit those of other people. I’ve missed an amazing opportunity to share this with her but must remember the great times we had looking at ornamental (that is, roughly, flower) gardens together (Bickleigh Vale Village last year was a highlight); enjoying, discussing, mostly agreeing. Caroline’s garden was special and I’ll ask my chef-sister S (owner of another special kitchen garden) about her and about all the bottling, freezing and creating sauces. And discuss S’s edible patch, often tucked prettily amongst the ornamentals; visit gardens with keen friends; and enjoy my new passion: remembering to ignore the light headaches (and put work commitments aside for a half hour) and get out there every day.

Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design ( working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Too much Pink?

 `Lady gardeners tend to use a lot of pink, but it’s too sweet for me’ says Dutch gardener Lumine Swagerman in The Garden (June 2010).
Until I read this my nebulous negative feelings towards pink seemed wayward but this simple statement encapsulates my position perfectly; it’s often difficult when one feels apart from the norm. My post about Rhodohypoxis (21/10/13) almost gave me indigestion with its large pictures of pink flowers, particularly that strong cerise one – but I was surprised how people loved the flowers.
I’ve just seen a pink David Austin rose, probably `Wife of Bath’, and it is a saccharine experience. The solid candy pink of Nerine bowdenii is pretty indigestible too. Why do we keep them?

Landing in the letter box, Lambleys latest list includes a picture of silver Artemisia `Powis Castle’ with Salvia `Raspberry Royal’ and I am less than enamoured - it’s too pink, or cerise, somehow.

Silver and raspberry were the colours - raspberry flowers foiled by silver foliage - that I was planning for a new garden bed but now I’ve had second thoughts.
Either I’ll change my plan to using plum with my silver - mainly Artemisia types, silver, not grey (which I find dull) - or rework the bed and add to the flowers of raspberry: plum (oriental poppy, Dierama atrata (seeds available at last!); pink-plum (Allium, dark Fairy’s fishing rods); soft plum (Lepechinia, Penstemon); dull pink mauve (Phlomis tuberosa, Caryopteris `Pink Chablis’); and perhaps a little delicate blush pink (Clary Sage with those wonderful furry silver basal leaves) along with soft pink lilac (Centaurea bella (leaves hopefully tending towards silver rather than grey) and Iris pallida `Amethystina’).
Why did the small flowers of bright raspberry-pink dismay me so? Pink is a popular colour and a little can look lovely in the garden particularly when teamed with burgundy or soft purple and a little white. The flowers were tiny, not like the big roses with their solid unrelenting assault on the cones. (Gertrude Jekyll might politely call it saturation.)

Maybe pink, or some pinks - like red and orange - need to be used with great care in the garden. It is late spring, too; we are past that early, post cold-winter period, when we welcomed any flower and all flowers, all colours, jostling in all hues of the paint box at once.

This rose is one solid colour; that is its primary fault. Lashings of green around, soft pink cranesbills at its feet, burgundy salvia or deep green hedge behind, standing back 100m: nothing can redeem it.
Unlike these pink-cerise Gladioli in the garden of Christopher Lloyd (who was the best male colourist I know): small bright flowers that are transient are offset by a large amount of deep green: the balance is perfect. 
 Small flowers and delicately coloured ones are easier to take. One of the sweetest species roses is Rosa rubrifolia with single pink flowers, white centered, foiled by grey foliage. The 2-toned effect is repeated in this farm hedge I saw last spring with its lovely mixture of 2 different pink roses; here the scale was right; a blur of colour to motorists in the horticulturist strip of Silvan. 

Bizarrely, my problem is possibly – partly - political: my dislike of the over pink-ification of girls and girl-women and their (our) infantilisation or seeming frivolity. Gender stereotyping in marketing has become more pronounced this century. It’s reflected in the current government’s inability to realize that it’s a boys club; men unable to see merit in terrific women. (MP Barnarby Joyce thinks that Tony Burke can’t praise a woman’s merit because he is a man! Oh dear!) But I digress.
Too much bright pink in girls toys, girls and women’s clothes and other products and it seems too often brash and virulent, a colour that says we are a species apart, unfortunately; let alone those companies cynically slapping on some pink to their products for a quick sale, however unrelated to the charity they purport to support (breast cancer for instance).

I’m over it.
It has turned me away completely into wanting a majority of purple (with some blue) in the garden; it’s partly my feminism, my rejection of commodification and not just sheer indigestion of all that dreadful hot pink: in society and also the disappointment of roses like `Wife of Bath’ or `The Mayflower’ (solid candy pink with no subtlety) that I’ve finally introduced into the garden. (J was prejudiced against roses and I gardened for 20 years without any roses before planting some David Austin types, perfumed and pretty.)

I still love gentle roses like blush pink Scepter'd Isle when carefully placed, and the passion of crimson The Squire is an event; yet the garden beds of purple perennials woven with blues, white and perhaps a little lemon or chartreuse is more intricate, satisfying and interesting.
(I get over-warm too often to want hot colours - red, orange, even strong yellow - near the house but a red and grey bushfire garden is planned to the north, out of sight from the house.)

Some people clearly love the colour pink and long may they enjoy the many shades and tints. But please don’t expect me to be enthralled by pink because of my gender, oh no. It’s never that simple.

Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design ( working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.