Tuesday, 30 December 2014

New Path in the Edible Patch

Our 5 edible patches surround the hen run and one is always fallow for my sweet bantam chickens – 7 at present - to forage in.
Moving them to a new one is always fun: they get to eat new greens and scratch for a myriad insects; I get to plant new vegetables near their happy clucking; they stay near me, the food-lady. But first I dig the newly-fertilised soil (thank you, girls) into raised beds and add mulch – a bit of a waste – as a central path.
Two of my beds now have a more efficient system – and more attractive, too, I think. I’ve heaved some old bluestone blocks – some already on the property from prior owners – and used them as stepping stones. I’ve dug them in to make them firm and safe to walk on. At present I’ve lettuces planted between – a much more efficient use of space, even if planting, with my dodgy knee, is a little more interesting!
The new bed has red kale (`Redbor’ from English Chiltern Seeds), black jack zucchini, red mignonette lettuce, and 2 kinds of purple beans on tripods of paperbark boughs. Self-seeding, to my delight, are mustard greens (with their bronze leaves) and ruby chard (I’ve nearly eliminated all the yellow- and orange-stems of the rainbow chard keeping my favourites, the pinks, from rosé to crimson. I couldn’t have planned a better a better colour scheme if I’d tried – and why shouldn’t the veg patch be pretty, or attractive?) Where will I pop in the cucumbers, grown on into bigger pots? Now there’s a question.

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

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Oriental Lilies

Oriental Lilies or Golden Rayed Lilies of Japan are a flower I definitely think of as a January bloomer but out they come now, crisp white, delicious pale pink or deep pink (a cerise that is not my favourite); strongly scented, almost cloyingly. A huge flower that looks great in a vase. Another early bloomer – December this year - due to climate change maybe? – as I read that the hottest 14 out of 15 years since the industrial revolution (with its massive output of carbon dioxide) occurred this century.
Like so many lilies they enjoy `head in the sun, roots in the shade’ but I’m afraid mine actually thrive on neglect.
They reside in my cut-flower beds and it’s hard to cut them for a vase; I love them too much where they are.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Excitement in this Ennui-filled World (or is that too harsh?)

 I have clematis flowering! It’s very exciting.
Another first in this (formally, fingers crossed) wallaby-ravaged garden that I’ve tended, with virtually no success, for about 20 years.
This southern cut-flower bed (above) has blues and yellows (daffodils, Dutch iris, white lilium) so the central metal tripod – or octopod – has clematis in blues and white and a royal purple here, C. `Rhapsody’ (below) mingling with smoky blue-mauve sweetpeas and palest pearly-blue C. `Blue Angel’. Mauve-blue `General Sikorski’ is yet to flower.

My northern cut-flower bed of pink, mauve and white has an identical central octopod, also with 3 new clematis, these with smaller flowers, in the accompanying colours. Clematis venosa violacea has pretty flowers edged purple, centred white (above); C. viticella alba luxurians has little white flowers tipped green while C. v. `Emilia Platter’ has tiny flowers of pale mauve-pink. When the clematis are not blooming this bed is filled with white jonquils, belladonna lilies, lilum and ismene.

Some of these clematis are said to grow to 3m high while my tripod is nearer 2m high and no, I don’t want the plants waving gustily in the wind at the top – like a sail - whenever there is a tiny breeze. So I am winding them clockwise around the octopods; when they think they are 3m tall they will really be 2m high.

I sourced my Clematis from 2 specialist nurseries in winter and Alameda Homestead Nursery, in particular, stands out. Larger, more expensive plants, sure. But they took off like rockets and look like they have been in the ground for years, and are putting on a huge floral show.
A show not destroyed by Ms Wallaby, joey or teenager (as we call her - Joey + one year old – a cheeky macropod, very much at home), who seem to finally respect the garden fence.

So I am loving these flowers in my garden, thrilled, in an age of ipads and iphones, boredom and ennui. Is it gauche in a 51 year-old? Bad luck.

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

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Saint Catherine’s Lace, Giant Hogweed and virtual Hemlock

I was shaken from complacency recently after giving an innocent – I believe – plant to a friend who commented a few days later that I’d given him the virtual equivalent of Hemlock. And I could have, so I need to be more careful.
I bought seeds of Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), or so I thought, a decade or more ago. Fortunately they were not! My seedlings grew into wonderful plants, 2m high, with many green branched stems holding aloft panicles of pure white Saint Catherine’s Lace flowers. But I never questioned the name. So I gave him one of these, labelled, wrongly, Giant Hogweed (with my usual enthusiasm). Wrongly, for it does not get to 4m, does not have red stems, has different leaves, does not have one central stem...
It’s important, too, because I read Heracleum mantegazzianum contains phytotoxic chemicals so even contact with the leaves, let alone the sap, can be a problem for some people. Obviously I have not had this potential skin blistering.
Should I start wearing gloves when I handle this Heracleum, and move the plants that are too near the path further away, to be cautious? Probably. Not just for visitors, or for J. The stems are hairy, and remind me of zucchini plant hairs (my sister is allergic) and of Primula hairs (I became allergic to Primula hairs the year I worked in a nursery, getting worse over time). Phytotoxic chemicals may be different to general allergens but are very serious. So...the plant by the path gets dug out immediately after it finishes flowering.
Now Heracleum sp., my Saint Catherine’s Lace – too large to be called a Queen Anne’s Lace – is still a wonderful plant for the garden with its size, exuberance and purity. It’s almost as wide as it is high and showing off its large umbels of delicate white flowers just now, in huge clumps.
It’s perfect in the large country garden.

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

Friday, 5 December 2014

Fringe lilies

 Fringe lilies (above) are one of those delicious little wild flowers that you could just eat. The late spring rains have kept the garden nice and I’d noticed the pink trigger plants were still blooming madly in the bush, but today when one of my nieces posted this little lily relative on facebook I realised it was still flowering, too (although not still in our bushland, I think).
My wildflower and garden loving genes come, very definitely, from my botanist mother. Did they skip a generation to my niece? She‘d worked out that its botanical name was Thysanotus tuberosus. Go Fi!
A close relative is Chocolate lilies (Dichopogon strictus, syn. Arthropodium strictum) which is similarly coloured, not fringed, and scented (to me) of vanilla rather than chocolate – but lovely none-the-less. One that Kuranga Native Nursery probably sells, and great in the Christmas stocking.

Tiny mauve flowers of Vanilla lily (Arthropodium milleflorum) are flowering in the garden, too.
I love the way that gum trees hang their scythe-like leaves (thus avoiding some of the beating summer heat and reducing transpiration), thereby allowing sunlight to reach the many species that grow under the canopy. Consequently the understorey is studded with jewels in spring. Many orchids thrive in this species-rich area but I love most the little wildflowers such as Chocolate lilies, Blue stars, Milk maids and, of course, Trigger plants (above, and showing the touch-sensitive column `triggered’, below, see post 22/11/12).

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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)