Thursday, 29 May 2014

Cutting back mock orange – and trusting `the experts’

Every November we trim back the small shrubs nearest the house in a small quest to decrease bushfire flammability. The chef’s caps correas (Correa bauerlenii) respond well and still look great but a dwarf mock orange (Philadelpus) is a bit too tall and ratty just now and looks out of place; I’ll just check my books I think: if it flowers on new wood I’ll cut it back hard now; if on old wood I’ll leave it until its pure white blooms have done their perfumed bit for the spring garden.
But why my reliance on the expertise of others? I wander over to Philadelpus `Natchez’, now 3m high and sporadically producing white flowers since the main spring show. The flowers are very clearly on new, very green, shoots (below). Surely I can cut back now. So why my great desire to check the books as well? Don’t I trust my sight, my interpretation of what I see; or am I just too trained to most trust `the experts’?
My garden doesn’t get any watering at all and can look a pretty sorry sight in summer; Philadelpus is almost the only genus to soldier on and flourish, let alone give me perfumed flowers come spring.
Near the low shrubs I’ve been popping in – where there is room – one or 2 medium-size salvias for some late autumn – much needed – colour – and these will protect the roses from the munching wallabies, too.
A friend’s daughter, barely 15, visiting the garden last weekend, asked if this tall mock orange was a camellia. Wow: 10 out of 10 for a good guess. She and her younger brother loved seeing the honeyeaters enjoy the salvias; soon the birds will be enjoying the correas, too. I found great delight in showing her my successes in flower and edible gardens with none of the apologies I use when (reluctantly) showing an adult around the weedy bare bones of my intentions. An exciting meeting of minds made amusing by her strong reaction to her father’s comments of gardens being best of green concrete – something he’d get an (identical) rise from me 25 years ago, but no longer; now it’s her turn.

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

Friday, 16 May 2014

A sage Irid compromise?

Irises – or the ones near my gate - are one of those groups of flowers that merrily sit there, don’t ask to be fed or watered, and flower magnificently each year. (OK, they need some sunshine for this, and I’m mainly talking about the deciduous varieties). Importantly too, they lend upright texture to the garden most of the year.
But J just doesn’t like their leaves.

I have lots of irises between the front gate and the front door and I luxuriate in the spring flowers: blue, purple, white; Japanese, Louisiana, Siberian, and who knows what other types (and varieties). I had no idea how much this troubled him. So…let’s try cutting back the leaves early, keeping the swathe of iris narrower and planting other plants behind them. And, yes, of course there’s an agenda here. This is over the path from my sun and sky bed and just how many large yellow-flowering perennials – sun-loving – can I stuff in?  I have run out of room. And I get cross when people call it a cottage garden. (It’s a country garden. See the row of Choisya? Of Hydrangea quercifolia? The focal point…and so on. Oh alright, yes I do pop in one of this and that too, but what plant lover (with a budget) doesn’t?) So the sun and sky perennials are going to leap o’er the path so as we walk along it we’ll be charmed (I hope) by the softly contrasting yellow and blue on both sides – which makes more sense, too.

I popped into Heronswood (home of Diggers Seeds) recently on a drizzly day and I’m surprised by my new and continued interest in various Phlomis (not all labeled there alas); I love the sage-like grey-green leaves which remind me of the colours of shrubs of the Mediterranean (its home). Having tough, drought-tolerant plants near the edges of the garden, where hoses barely or cannot reach, just feels so right.
Imagine, if you will, behind the irises and up the dry slope, a row of Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa, above): subshrubs to 1m with flowers of gold in the centre flanked by yellow and lemon varieties (such as `Lemon blush’, below) at the sides.

And maybe behind and further up: another row of shrubby perennials, but of indigo Salvia `Anthony Parker’ (see post 7/5/14), which may relish the sunnier spot and hopefully begin to flower while the Phlomis is still blooming - unless I decide on a cooler blue to softly contrast with the butter-rich Jerusalem sage.
Along this front path is the only linear part of the garden and at 7m long it just obeys the rule of looking along, not at, your perennial border, which gives far more impact.
It all makes the garden sound very regimented which it’s not; amidst the gardens mainly soft curves, these orderly dreams are a symbol of the control I can only aspire to.

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

Friday, 9 May 2014

Autumn Colour

I love the Dandening Ranges at this time of year.
This glowing maple isn’t from my garden but, with a swathe of white Japanese windflowers at its feet, I just had to stop and take a photograph.
Note to self: plant a maple; but think about which autumn colour I like best – yellow, orange, red, even purple. And go choose one now while I can choose one that I really love – while it’s showing off its handsome autumn plumage, so to speak. Yamina Rare Plants is still the best place for choosing from a great range of Acer species and hybrids.

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

Monday, 5 May 2014

`Anthony Parker’ Sage – wise, tall, dark and handsome – is that enough?

Deep darkest indigo blue flowers have opened – at last! – on an old favourite, Salvia `Anthony Parker’. I have been watching this big fat space filler and tapping my toe imperiously, I’m afraid. Salvias are for summer and autumn, surely, not for waltzing in at a metaphorical midnight – late autumn – after hiding the low roses and even the Mexican orange blossom for months. Was it the short summer? A teensy bit of shade? And now they have the effrontery to be dark against a dark wooden wall, barely seen.
So when the flowers are over, I shall either chop them back so hard they’ll be grateful they are not Salvia officinalis (culinary sage) or relocate – which will expose ugly legs of yellow rose bushes. It’s tempting to just up the ante with taller yellow roses (enter `Graham Thomas’ stage left) particularly as the salvias do keep the odd persistent wallaby (don’t laugh) off the roses somewhat.
And those nectar-rich blooms attract honey eaters, a joy, not far from the window. Let’s see how long the flowering season keeps up.

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