Friday, 31 January 2014

Summer’s searing heat and sunflowers

Summer’s searing heat has wilted those spring-like blooms and long lush growth spoilt by spring rains. Summer swooped in quickly here and suddenly the lawn browns, the roses disappear, the garden looks tired. Rather like us.

But miraculously, it seems, where there’s a little shade, the hydrangeas lift their heads of mainly white little florets and Crinum (below) open their satin tulip-like bells adding a light fragrance to the garden. (South African Crinum x powellii is a handsome plant with presence when flowering, at nearly 2m tall, but I can never see it without looking at its dirty petticoats and remembering my favourite horticultural lecturer’s words about the foliage of this plant as being like `a badly made compost heap’! - Professor James Hitchmough.)

Today I discovered the first of the sunflowers, a charmer called `Ice Spray’ (top), suitably pale, but not washed out. I’d planted a row in front of the veg patch and I am hoping, very much, that they are not a traditional, one-flower-per-stem variety but a generous plant that has branches of flowers that may go on until the cool winds arrive. What I particularly like is the pale centre; I don’t warm to a black centre which is particularly inharmonious when teamed with white petals.

Some are planted amongst Jerusalem artichokes, from a friend, which look like they are planning to flower soon, too; the combination will be interesting...
From the veg patch I've been happily collecting seed: kale red Russian and black Tuscan; ruby chard; mustard greens; and from the flower garden white umbellifers – lacy heads if they weren't so large - giant hogweed (see post 15/12/13) and Orlaya. I've even found some old pods of broad beans; it’s intensely satisfying (if a little untidy in the kitchen as they dry). This sunflower is so pretty that I’ll try to collect seed from it too.
Nectarines have ripened on our dwarf tree near the kitchen and I suspect we donate a high percentage to visiting birds (below). (Our first peaches, too: delicious.) I've brought a few in, a little firm (nectarines, not parrots), and eaten them when ripe but it’s not a perfect system yet. Off to the iron worker for some good hoops I think, and (very important) some good netting that won’t entangle the native birds.
The soil is already quite hydrophobic but still the newly wallaby-proofed fence continues its magic and (some) plants are still growing: I have flowers instead of dry sticks; it’s very exciting after 20 years, you see.

Jill Weatherhead  is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead  Garden Design. (

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Lilies in the Summer Garden

Another joy of the exclusion of munching marsupials from the garden is the flowering of the late lilies – true lilies, or Lilium. Just as various Narcissus give us blooms all through winter and beyond (`Paperwhites’ in June, gold `Soleil d’Or’ in July, perfumed creamy `Erlicheer’ in August and sunny daffodils and glistening white pheasant’s eyes in September), so the lilies give us flowers from late spring until mid-summer.
My sister was asking me about the different types and although there are now more groups, I like to think of these branches of the family that have been in the gardening world, spreading their joy (and often their perfume) these many years.
Asiatic lilies (below) start the show in November, varying from pink, yellow, orange, to white and red, with short-stemmed, often spotted blooms that stare at the sky and look wonderful in a vase. Hardy, easy; a good bulb to plant in Victoria.

Christmas lilies (Lilium longiflorum, below) are next with their cool white trumpets, delicately scented (to me; they may be stronger to others), pale green in the centre of the flower. The slim trumpet ends with tips that roll back elegantly.

Similar but heftier are claret-backed Lilium regale and other trumpet types which – to me – lack the ethereal colour and delicate demeanor, yes, even when there are 10 blooms on a stalk of a Christmas Lily;  Lilium regale will bow over royally in the garden and I detest the appearance (and work) of stakes.
January brings Lilium auratum varieties (below, bred from the Golden-rayed Lily of Japan) from white, gold-banded white, pale pink to deepest pink and outrageous cerise. Lightly perfumed, these can be tall in the garden, up to 2m, and have a real presence.

Another lily to brave summer’s heat is the Tiger Lily, Lilium tigrinum (below). If you are reading this, then the chances are good that you have seen this tangerine lily with reflexed petals, in an old garden; in an abandoned Australian garden it may be the last survivor (although silver Wormwood and pink autumn-blooming Belladonna Lilies may be keeping it company).
There are about 80 species and who knows - 1000s of varieties? But the main bulb companies show the colours well in their catalogues and sell new varieties each year; I might buy a couple that complement the garden where the bulb will have shade and the flower can reach into the sun and they should flourish.
And I have just broken the rules (it’s only slightly more expensive, though); I’ve bought a flowering pot of delicious moonlight lilies (top), a tiger lily cross I’m told. It will enhance my Sun and Sky bed wonderfully. That’s what it’s about.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Spring in mid-summer (and goodbye - at last - to Skippy?)

Spring’s enduring rains combined with the new garden fencing (goodbye Skippy – so far) have lent a spring quality to the garden. Each day a new type of flower blooms, often bringing with it appreciative honeyeaters – although that doesn’t explain the grooming of the prolific, and – surely not still reproducing? – superb blue wrens. But it feels cool, green and moist here in the foothills so maybe they are following instinct as I did when I sowed pea seeds in spring – foolishly, I afterwards thought – only to be rewarded now with slim sweet pods. Instinct not intellect was spot on.
Honeyeaters love the Salvias of course but a new treat for them here is the large patch of moonlight Phygelius, handily by a sculpture from which to launch their nectar quests. This is in my sun and sky bed, filling with salvias azure and cobalt; Coreopsis bright-primrose and guinea gold; Anthemis lemon (yolk-centred) and white (gold-centred `Sauce Hollandaise’); deep amber Trollius chinensis, blue Siberian Iris and palest yellow Achillea or Yarrow. Gold Bidens weaves up through midnight blue buds of Salvia `Anthony Parker’ with sunny Gaillardia `Mesa’ (above) and soft blue Lobelia triconocaulis (below) at its feet.

In the sun and sky bed I try to keep the blues true; no purple to muddy the picture. Johan von Goethe wrote in Theory of Colours (1810) `As yellow is always accompanied with light, so it may be said that blue still brings a principle of darkness with it. This colour has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye. As a hue it is powerful, but it is on the negative side, and in its highest purity is, as it were, a stimulating negation. Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.’
More on blue flowers soon.

The newly replaced garden fence, less porous to the hungry herbivores, those wandering wallabies, is just a week old. Already effective elsewhere (excitedly I watch delicious pink roses weave through raspberry salvias, white campion, valerian, burgundy-budded Campanula and purple wallflowers), the yellow roses here are less forgiving, or too brow beaten. Expecting flowers immediately is probably unrealistic if not outrageously optimistic but do I need to wait until next – true – spring for yellow roses? (I hasten to add that wallabies are very welcome throughout our bushland; it’s just in my small country garden that they are unwanted.)
These are David Austin roses (such as `Graham Thomas’, below) so I am feeling quite hopeful for some summer roses here now that the munching marsupials have moved on. Let me know what you think of my chances. 

Jill Weatherhead  is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead  Garden Design (