Friday, 30 January 2015

Not just for the Birds: Bird Bath Central

 Sitting on a stone seat in the garden is a birdbath I love; made by my pottery-teacher mother-in-law, it’s made bird-friendly - even for all the little ones - by a large stone in its deep centre. Its rough `floor’ is probably an asset too.
Like the pink Salvias – bird magnets - in the bed to the north (now trimmed back), it’s a fave view from the kitchen whenever we wait and watch for the kettle to boil. (Placed under a white weeping wisteria tree (Robinia) it collects blossom in spring.)
Blue wrens come to drink and bathe; and white browed scrub wrens, red browed finches and grey fantails. Those connoisseurs of the disturbed garden as we weed, dig, and plant, the yellow robins that follow us, especially in the edible patch. Tree creepers walk backwards into the birdbath; clown-like, their big, awkward feet don’t allow the usual entry technique. (Do the other birds laugh?)
Birdbaths are supposed to be shallow for the birds (for safety) but our only correct one dries out too fast and the birds seem to prefer a more reliable source of aqua pura. Nearby branches, too, are perfect for a good look about for predators before a quick splash.

Until recently Ms Wallaby used the birdbath too – at least in the horrid summertime heat. For drinking.
About twice per week I refill this birdbath, tossing out the stale water making a rivulet onto...a patch of dry white belladonna lilies. If the vegetable world could think, then these bulbs would surmise that the autumn rains had come a little early and up they have thrust their spears of flower stalks. (Below are some pink ones; it’s easy to see why they are also called Naked Ladies.)

Many bulbs flower when the autumn rains come – rain lilies (Zephyranthes, Habrathus, Cooperia), some Cyclamen, belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna), some crocus and some Sternbergia. And no doubt others.
Currently I am writing a lecture about bulbs and, of the many fascinating facts, the ways bulbs are triggered to grow or to flower can be extraordinary. 
Snow melt induces some crocus and, I imagine, most snowdrops (Galanthus); spring or summer warmth brings forth the flowers of most bulbs; and for some Australian bulbs, the summer rain season (Proiphys) or flooding of river flood plains (Crinum).
Day length affects tree dahlias. Dutch iris, of course, just need a certain length of time from immersion in planting medium. Fire, too, can affect flowering: just as with our grass trees (Xanthorrhoea), after fire, in the next flowering season, there can be a prolific, wonderful blooming.
But Colchicum always seem to come early – about February – for an `autumn’ bulb- so what sets them off?

Blue salvias are flowering more day by day. Honeyeaters flick past then hover at the lemon Phygelius but I don’t see them at the birdbath. But it’s used by many others. My spring-time friends, the yellow robins, may have somewhere cooler now and only sometimes visit the garden. The fairy blue wrens seem to be here year-round, the garden and property big enough for their needs, while red-browed finches only pass through – frequently, a joy. All, I think, are enticed or encouraged – or it’s even made possible for them to be here in summer – by the reliable supply of clean water in a fairly cat-free place.

And now the flowers like it too.
Jill Weatherhead is a horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

Friday, 23 January 2015

Summertime Blues

We’ve been enormously lucky with a bit of rain once or twice a week most weeks, it seems, until now, but the lawn is seriously browning off (a badge of honour) and the spring blooms are starting to fade away. Who can blame them? The soil is starting to get very dry indeed.
Penstemons are slowing down, along with some roses (although some roses are gearing up for the next show), while pink salvias are wispy-topped. They need a trim...but I love to watch the visiting honey-eaters so much. What to do?
Well, looking out a different window may do it. The pink-mauve (and a bit of) purple beds around my circular lawn are just outside the kitchen and we love to watch the honey-eaters and blue wrens whenever we wait for the kettle to boil. But we could look out the opposite way – to the south – where there is my sun and sky (blue and yellow) bed. Here the lemon Phygelius has just begun a new flush of flowering and honey-eaters sit on a sculpture – a rusty treble clef – then fly up to hover and sup the nectar.

Blue salvias, too, are flowering here and there. Pale Salvia `African Sky’ (above) is a nice little one that sits like a petticoat at the feet of the yellow roses while the row of Salvia `Anthony Parker’ is too tall and needs removing – or is it?; the roses, some of them, are starting to fling themselves above this limit. Elsewhere, tall Hummingbird Sage (Salvia guaranitica, Syn. S. ambigens, left) formed a wonderful patch with those deep blue flowers for many years until it overran the bed. It was a great cover for a wild blue-tongue lizard we called Russell (he rustled) for 2 years but the patch was too near the house and gave J claustrophobia. Salvia semiatrata (top) is an absolute beauty – deep blue and near-black – that doesn’t wander, is a good height, and might look great just here instead.
I love intimate gardens; I long for (shady) courtyards; J loves `wide open spaces’ as the Dixie Chicks sang. You can be married for 20 years before realising this. I also like symmetry...

Meanwhile almost the only rose that flowered through the dark years – when wallabies ate all my garden plants – is heavily infected with black spot and looking very sick (one plant is a scarecrow – not a good look at any time). A shame; the flowers of Rosa `Glamis Castle’ (left) look gorgeous, smell wonderful, and there’s that problem, too, that a rose planted where another rose has been, fails to thrive. So I ask my good friend Kay, who really introduced me to David Austin roses, and we discuss removing the rose, taking out a good amount of soil and adding lots of compost.
A nice replacement would be Rosa `Blanche Double de Coubert’ (left) which I love for its memories; it’s in the Garden of the 5 Senses in France, a wonderful jardin on the shore of Lake Geneva. This rugosa rose is hardy and perfumed with a pretty shape.

And sometimes one just has to be sensible.

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 ( 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Cherry Pink Lilies

`If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily’ – Chinese proverb.
Or in my case, if you are down to $2 at the Melbourne Flower Show with your sister and she is buying a packet of deep cherry-pink perfumed oriental lilies – you beg one bulb. (I’m joking of course; it’s just that it gets to a point where it feels unseemly to buy another bulb or plant as if, Cleese-like, with one more wafer-thin chocolate, one will explode...mentally. Or maybe the purse will go on strike. Or the conscience leaves forever.)
And now that wheedled cherry-pink lily is flowering. Swoon.
This large, lustrous lily has just unfurled into a fragrant nonpareil. Yes, it beats even the pure whites I love so much – for now. (I wish I knew her cultivar name.) And why do I love this deep cherry-pink when I detest her neon-lit carmine cousins so?
Later in the season I’ll be tempted to dig up the bulb and twist off a couple of scales to get some identical – if small – bulbs growing; or maybe the underground stem (above the bulb) has some bulblets – perfectly formed little bulbs – growing along it. (If I had deep mountain soil I could plant deep for a long stalk and this would produce many bulblets along it each year, so the books tell me. But I’ll keep mine shallower in my Lysterfield clay to keep it from rotting. Slow increasing is just fine by me.)
She (this bulb seems very feminine) would survive better in the garden, and would look sensational amongst the silver foliage of my silver and raspberry-coloured bed – a bed grown, alas, to comprise not just plum as well and some deep pink but some near-reds as well and odd-pinks that only a blind nurseryman could call raspberry.
As  this bed develops I’m learning that any plant called `Ruby something’ (and some `Rasberry ...’s too) will have too much red – the pinks and reds clash and swear and fight – so despite any avarice and misplaced optimism I must resist buying these plants. A raspberry to the nurserymen who name these plants so poorly. I can see why silver and purple gardens are becoming popular; they look a lot easier to make. Purple, mauve, violet and amethyst don’t clash at all; it seems almost effortlessly beautiful.
I remember well this bulb-hunting plant-laden sojourn at MIFGS, last autumn. It’s enormously fun with a sister (`buy this crocus, it flowers in winter!’), but last year, anyhow, mutually exclusive from slowly photographing the show gardens. Back I went, very early, on the last Sunday morning when it was still quiet. The garden I remember best was suitable unattainable and called, I think, The Gardener’s Library. The garden ended with a large room, all windows, and filled gloriously with botanical paintings, books I remember a large old fashioned globe? Elegant wooden table and chairs loaded with ancient tomes completed the enviable picture. Outside were hedges to imply perfect peace, some lawn, enough to feel restful; flowers, enough to give interest, seasonal, changing and pretty (I remember purple flowers and dark-leafed hellebores); and still water, enough for glamour. I wonder if my photos will bear this out. Does this matter? No.
My own study feels one step closer this week (and I can dream of a wall of books to add to my grandfather’s antique desk with his (very English) water colours along another wall; two other sides have windows and a door to the balcony with views to our bushland). At Christmas I received a wonderful gift: a botanical illustration of Cyclamen by my friend, painter Kay Craig. Then last week we had air conditioning installed into our 2 hot upstairs rooms – one is our study - my future study. We just have to decide where J’s study/office will go.
I have a lot of books – true riches – so will my large bookcase have room for a stand-up botanical painting (or two – like in The Gardener’s Library)? Is there any point trying to emulate such elegance? Heck, yes. That’s why it was there, to inspire. I’ll give it a shot.
So back to the cherry-pink oriental lily which will enrich the garden of silver and raspberry in January, a difficult month. I am wondering if the addition of plum was a mistake; but at least it all sounds delicious, pie-like.
And those ruby flowers – shall I grit my teeth and pull them out and fling them on a sacrificial pyre? (Hardly – it’s bushfire season. Let’s not get carried away.) Where else could they go? Friends or compost?
Along with those dirty mauve pentstemons of the rose circle, now that we have roses, pink salvias and nicer pentstemons blooming, it’s time to be ruthless, particularly as they clash with all the pinks. The compost bins are going to get very full.
Miracle-like, the David Austin roses are flowering for a third successive month. For about four wonderful months no munching marsupials have leapt the fence to devour them so despite the season - it is mid-summer in a Mediterranean climate - it’s still so exciting to see all those flowers blooming. As my sister kindly says (so they remain too heavy to jump and too fat to squeeze through the circles in our purple gate): “may your wallabies remain pregnant”. Yes, indeed.

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 (

Friday, 9 January 2015

Roses – Experiments and Colour Mistakes

Rosa `Sharifa Asma’ (above), I’ve read, is fairly shade-tolerant, but how much? I’ve planted a lemon scented verbena shrub (Aloysia citrodora Syn. Lippia triphylla) near the kitchen herb garden (I still love the idea of gathering 2 sprigs for a delicious pot of tea) and south of it, so it will receive only some morning sunshine from the east, I’ve planted Rosa `Sharifa Asma’. It’s a nice soft pink rose, opposite the silver and raspberry bed and near some oak-leaf hydrangeas. I hope it does well so I can enjoy flowers with `beautiful fragrance’ as the David Austin site tells us, `with fruity notes reminiscent of white grapes and mulberry’. And assess it too.
It was inevitable, I suppose: buy a rose or 2 `on spec’ and regret (but only a little) at leisure.
Roses `Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (above) and `Wisley’ (below), planted together, are too-matched in colour, both palest pink, but will reach different heights (1m and 1.5m respectively), so the effect will be odd, to say the least. Oops.  Nearby, to make it worse, there are tall stalks of icy vervain (true Valerian) and clumps of snowy, grey-leaved campion (Silene): all very pale. A taller rose, darker pink, behind, might save the picture. (The so-called White Garden in Sissinghirst Castle in Kent has lashings of green (maybe 80% - it’s crucial); maybe I just need to add lots of unflowering – at this time - shrubs behind my roses.)
Meanwhile flowers in one of the 2 semi-circular cut flower beds are swearing at each other. Which bloody bulb company gave me hot pink oriental lilies instead of the advertised sweet pale pink ones (they are just next to the central obelisk of soft purple and white clematis)? Let’s face it, like many bulbs, unless I pull out masses of soil, they’re probably there for good – and I don’t even like them. Dang! Perhaps I’ll just pick them each year for a friend, but it feels like a waste of space – and a disappointing area. Back to buying lilies, I think, and planting in pots to check the colour (orange instead of white one year – ouch!), then planting in the garden later when I’m satisfied. (Or buying them potted when in flower.)
In the other cut-flower bed, Christmas lilies and crisp white oriental lilies are opening at the foot of the obelisk with mainly violet clematis flowers and some soft mauve sweet peas (reminding me of my mother’s garden); enchanting (one ignores the few dying daffodil leaves at the very base of course...); purple heads of globe artichoke behind make it perfect. It’s much too hard to pick anything to spoil the picture, of course.

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 (