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, (

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