Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A little row of pansies – what was I thinking?

Oh no, I've created a council style bedding scheme! No, it's not that bad at all, just odd to see a row of pansies - all a delicious lemon I hasten to add - every time I walk from house to gate, which is pretty often. It seemed like such a great idea. Let me explain.
After ridding the area of bulbous Nectascordum, a ferocious spreader in my climate, I replaced some casualties which included some evergreen spheres of Tiny Trev Lillypilly. (Sigh.) While I had some cranesbills to return between them - wonderful ground covers - there were also - joy! - some white tulips to go in. Now this area gets very waterlogged in winter and I wanted to keep a close eye on my half price (but beautiful) tulips. (I always wait for the May sales.) So I planted them in pots, sunk into the soil, each topped with a little pansy for showing the spot, and in 2 straight rows, one on each side of my front path. If I want to lift the bulbs I can, but probably won't.
I’ve done this before and when the white tulips flower they contrast with my balls of green nicely.
Most summers thoroughly dry out the soil here and so as long as the bulbs don't over heat they'll be fine. At 170m we are as warm as Melbourne in summer but distinctly cooler in winter, enough to leave tulips in the ground all year and they can still flower well.
Most important though, is that the macropod munchers are slowly retreating from the garden. It's partly the greener grass (on the other side of the fence), it's partly our fence improvements; slowly the garden feels like it’s mine. (I do wonder, though, if the roses will completely recover.)
After I planted the pots of tulips I mulched well and some of this mulch was scratched - daily - by blackbirds onto the path. I think I've solved this with an edging of Ajuga `Jungle Beauty’, taking pieces from elsewhere in the garden. It's a great plant, quickly forming a ground cover without taking over, with a texture that feels rich when you compare it to its flat cousins. I like its profusion of deep, subtle blue flowers in spring, too.
I won't use this bugle (as it’s also known) everywhere in the garden but I think I will plant it around the circular lawn. Here, too, the soil is incredibly wet in winter and very dry in summer. I've tried Bergenia here (too wet), cranesbills (true Geranium, too delicious to wandering wallabies), and even Helleborus argutifolius (the soil was way too wet). I think the bugle will be more successful but I am going to be much less laissez faire; raise the soil if need be; water occasionally in the driest summers; even consider adding water crystals to the soil. Near the house, this area deserves to look nice, as we look out at it from large windows and we traverse it each day, some days several times, to visit our hens.
So I planted my 10 pots each of 5 white tulips, 4 one side of the path, 6 on the other, each with its tiny viola plant as sentinels. But just a couple of sunny days later each violet proudly bears a standard, no, a sail of bleached cotton, sweetly primrose - all in a row. I wanted the tulips regimented but I'm not sure about the ground covers - flowering ones, anyhow - they remind me too much of council bedding schemes and whilst this sounds prejudiced, it’s for a good reason: their 2 dimensional gardens lack depth and character. The Victorian era bedding-out style of annuals twice yearly has been incredibly tenacious in this state and I can’t find a single redeeming feature in them. For me, gardens need height, even if it’s to a metre, but preferably with trees, vine-clad pergolas, or even a clichéd rose-covered arch so that I am interacting with the garden, and not just looking at it.
Tall iris behind my tulips and pansies take away the 2 dimensional effect really (and soon I’ll have my green spheres again); perhaps I’m being over-critical. When I’ve added those yellow Phlomis and deep blue Salvia (see post 16/5/14) up and behind my pansies, the dynamic will change. But I like to look, constantly, at my garden with a critical eye, so that it can always get better. I hope!

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

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