Sunday, 20 April 2014

Visitors in the edible patch

Yellow robins (male and female), a family of 4 fairy blue wrens (father not superb at this time of year) and, briefly, a red browed finch (one of a nearby group?), all visited my edible patch yesterday. We’d moved our girls – 7 bantam hens – on from one veg bed to another so Easter Sunday turned out to be like an easter egg hunt all day for them. (Treacle, who has been indoors on a course of antibiotics and now looks as fit as a fiddle, was luxuriating in a dust bath on Saturday and clearly adoring the treat of available bugs all yesterday. And yes, I enjoyed having a talkative, cheery house hen for 10 days.)
I dug the new bed (each about 4m by 2m) and erected tea tree tripods for pea plants: perfect launching pads for robins it seems. From the old tripods I collected purple beans - deepest amethyst, below, for their seeds; I wonder if they’ll come true. (There were butter beans too.)
From the old bed I saved a dozen plants of ruby chard in delicious shades of pink, candy and wine.
Broccoli, kale, and leek will be planted too, while the broad beans have germinated well (seed collected from last year’s plants, so very fresh) and some colourful cauliflower have come up too.
I’ve already sowed pea seeds this autumn with surprising and total lack of success; I’ve sown more – not too deeply - but I think I’ll be buying seedling too – these cold nights must seep into the ground and discourage enthusiasm. Of course they actually may increase the necessary diurnal fluctuation for germination – seeds have evolved to inhibit germination when temperature is constant, so when too deep they don’t burn up all energy resources before seeing the light – but I don’t want to spoil a (mildly) good story.
Summer was short but hot and all those tomato plants yielded very little. Yesterday I believe I discovered the culprits: black cockatoos, 4 of the noisy, but welcome, visitors, perched awkwardly and heavily amongst the plants. They have passed through before, too; perhaps we are a valued pit stop. No problem! I am happy to share with these glorious creatures.

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

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Yet more autumn bulbs

An explosion of lilac and white has brightened summer-burnt patches in the garden. Colchicum byzantinum is the tallest species with showy goblets erupting from dry soil, about a week after Colchicum cilicium began (see last post). These bulbs were planted a decade ago or more and reliably each autumn they give me joy. I’d love to plant cranesbills above them – low, gorgeous groundcovers – but this is an area far from the hose – even one connected to dam water tanks. I’ve been resistant to planting tough groundcovers here (common ones, anyway), where the mulch is pretty unimpressive most of the year beneath old tree paeonies. Reliably good drainage, at least, means I can plan drought-tolerant plants that won’t wilt in the wet years and the ones that spring first to mind are some of the different thymes: silver, lemon, common – but not, I think, the flat carpeting ones, which – for me – are too great a contrast to the large leaves of the Colchicum which will come up after those flamboyant flowers.

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