Sunday, 30 November 2014

Perfect Spring Posy

 A feast for the eyes: a bunch of flowers from an artist friend. Swoon.
Appropriately including a rose named for artist/colourist Gertrude Jeckyll (the most profound influence on my garden; her surname, by the way, rhymes with treacle), my posy has flowers and leaves in the pink-purple-white-green-burgundy range with just a touch of red, bound up tightly; exquisite.
Too large for a tussie mussie (although similarly packed), almost too small for a bouquet, I think; I am calling this bunch a large posy, for it is friendly, with flowers from my friends garden, perfectly chosen and arranged.
Roses ranging from a near single coloured talcum-white to the star, full rich crimson New William Shakespeare with its rich sweet fragrance of...deep dark velvet; I could bury my nose in this forever. Little Cecile Brunner, a buttonhole of pale dolly pink; Gertrude Jeckyll, purple-pink, beautifully shaped swirls of blackberry sorbet, and other pink roses in all shades between.
White-green little florets of hydrangea peep out at the edge, white hawthorn flowers with purple leaves are matched with royal purple hebe blooms. Aeonium rosettes of bronze and apple green are balanced by the prettiest little seed head of green Helleborus foetidis. And a little added zest is given by a touch of red Alstromeria.
It’s a microcosm of my friend’s garden which is a bewitching place, a perfect balance of those 2 drivers of many gardeners: plant collecting and artful design...although charming placement rather than hard formality is her bent. It takes time to develop the artist’s garden, slowly acquiring object d’art and pots and really nice seats...and placing them really well. I’m not sure that I can do it but by heck I’ll keep trying.

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

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Double-podded broadbeans and attractive edible gardens

Spring rains have brought on a bumper crop of broad beans. I don’t know if it’s childish enthusiasm or watching nature with awe or whether I’ve caught the bug for fashionable edible gardens but I’m having a lot of fun here, particularly as I grow the broad beans from seeds collected each year from the last dry papery pods and they germinate reliably.
My mother was a great gardener but a child of the depression years so broad beans were served in my childhood years as the whole pod, no doubt boiled. Yuck.
 As peas were podded frequently I swore I’d never grow something that needed podding...but sit down in front of a favourite TV show and it’s quite soothing, the odd little broad bean getting eaten as I go. Luckily I mentioned this to my chef-sister who reminded me how to double pod the broad beans: blanch the podded beans (I popped them into boiling water for 2 minutes, then let them cool a little), then nick them with a sharp knife and give a squeeze and out come the bright apple-green inner bean, absolutely delicious! Fiddly; a garnish (if you are not a patient slow cook, and I am not), but so special from the garden.
Edible gardens are all the rage and I wonder how long the trend will last. Of course, for some people the passion will last a lifetime, and that’s wonderful. But for those who have bought those hideous above ground veg beds that look like corrugated iron, which must need copious water (so much for the slight reduction in carbon miles); surely, one day, they will suddenly consider – what was I thinking?
At last weekend’s Designfest in Melbourne I saw a pleasing raised veg garden of several beds, all curved beautifully and edged with rusted steel, in a garden designed by Cameron Paterson (below). Moreover it was separated from ornamental garden by curving hedges; such a great idea, for what veg patch does not have its down times?

A wonderful kitchen garden in the potager style belongs to Beverley Sutherland Smith. Fruit trees, flowers and herbs mingle with vegetables; while I haven’t visited there for some time, I remember enjoying the design of the garden too; exuberant and inspiring.
Alternatively an owner of a formal garden I know, which has straight lines of callery pears, star jasmine and bearded iris, has popped in tomatoes each spring; she’s a great cook and simply couldn't resist. Really, the garden should please yourself, of course.
My own edible patch has a different approach to prettiness: I let the self-sowing mustard greens – peppery green, bronze and burgundy - grow tall and let rocket and Digger’s lettuce mixes bloom yellow and cream. I love my tripods of rough tea-tree boughs, perfect for beans and beans. While I wish tomatoes grew neater (especially near their demise), I love the pumpkins developing (enthusiastic plants, beautiful fruit, handsome leaves), the zucchini flowers, the potential for fun (last time I sowed seed of lettuces I placed them to form the letters `CARPE DIEM’ because...why not?). (I am about to try purple broccoli and gourds, too.) A row of darkest grey-green Tuscan kale pleases me visually (and the growth satisfies) but would it do much for anyone else?
I think we see the minutiae of our own edible patch and enjoy the veg plants – sometimes- more than on a garden visit - unless that edible garden is at its peak or very well-designed. Or, as Bob Ellis writes, `maybe you disagree’. 
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design and garden writer who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Quamash (Camassia leichtlinii)

Quamash (Camassia leichtlinii) is one of those bulbs that I’ve just tossed into the ground maybe 10 years ago, plonked wood chip mulch on top occasionally, and left without even an encouraging bit of fertiliser – serious neglect! But up they come every year and flower around November in shades of smoky-soft-blue, white, off-white and smoky-violet; some with striking dark anthers. My favourites are those which have the widest petals.
Our quamash follow the white dogwoods that shade them in summer, but just now they are getting morning sunshine, and they obviously tolerate the dry summers very well – we don’t irrigate our poor garden at all – just a few pots get an occasional nod from the watering can.

From North America (western USA and Canada), these bulbs are said to like humus and can grow near streams. Mine are just starting to self sow; imagine the drifts of flowers (my own tiny camas prairie)! The range of colours! While many bulbs take years from seed to flower, I am happy to wait. It will be worth it.

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

Monday, 3 November 2014

Bantam hens in the spring sunshine

Did someone say compost?

Spring + compost + worms + sunshine = eggs and, I hope, happy girls.