Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Naked Ladies, deep rain and the kindness of a stranger

Summer seems to have turned a corner, or is it a brief cosmic joke?
Cooler – much cooler - temperatures bring a sigh of relief and heavy rains seem to bring this Colchicum (above) to bloom. (It was open the morning after the first heavy rain; surely a coincidence.)
Also known as Naked Ladies, and occasionally as Naked Boys, this handsome goblet has a floral tube arising from the corm (or bulb) well before the leaves emerge, hence its perceived nudity. But Belladonna Lillies (Amaryllis belladonna, below) are more commonly called Naked Ladies as they, too, arise right now as welcome flowers in the parched garden with no greenery to clothe their feet.

Colchicum are often also called autumn crocus but true Crocus (below) are much smaller and have neat little leaves at flowering time.
Common names, again, let us down, as the two Naked Ladies (and what a great moniker!) are very different in the garden; the first beautiful and hardy in great swathes, the second – hardy too – great for picking for a vase.

Both, too, are harbingers of autumn, when my garden starts to recover from the heat and dryness of summer. And maybe we start to have relief from bushfire danger. I can’t help but let out a sigh of relief and pleasure.

And speaking of hardy plants, Plumbago is a tough old shrub found in many a `70’s garden. How tall is it? – well -how high can that resident clip it? Seriously though, in this perfect example of familiarity breeds contempt, Plumbago auriculata can reach 2 or 3m depending on how good your soil is (and if you irrigate well). Baby blue is a horrid way to describe a flower colour so I’ll call it `sky of far northern Europe’…which is far too wordy; the flowers contrast well against the deep green foliage. But a plant that flowers through a Melbourne summer and requires little watering earns respect.
I was in a queue at the green grocers last week when the owner was given 2 sprigs of Plumbago with smoky azure flowers by a nice customer. (You can imagine my excitement.) I admired them but I swear, that’s all. I was offered one to take home for cuttings and was delighted. I asked the cultivar name - `Oh, Mercy Hospital Garden form I call it’ she replied guiltily. I shot back that she was spreading the joy around. (A small cutting off a large shrub is simply not in the same league as (say) digging up a rare bulb or a wild orchid.)
So, is it time for cuttings, and sowings, and plantings?
No, I am sure we will have still many hot days. But I am enjoying these cool days so very much.

Jill Weatherhead  is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead  Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, (

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