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, (

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