Saturday, 30 May 2015

Giant floral birthday candles and lilac flames.

I planted tree dahlias (Dahlia imperialis, a tuber from Mexico, Central America and Colombia) in a circle a few years ago and the effect, come flowering, is like some weird magnified candle-and-potassium flame effect (to my eyes, at least), just in time for J’s birthday. It’s the last day of autumn now but these lilac flowers, beaming at 5m high (it can reach 10m), towering over half the garden, are bringing gentle but somehow bright colour into the cool, often damp garden.
`We’re here – the show’s arrived!’
But I reckon too many people plant one tuber amongst other, relatively dwarf, perennials and shrubs, so the effect is of one triffid lurking in a corner of the garden, horribly out of scale. So please, plant them near trees, or if you are lucky enough to have a country garden like I do, then plant a few. Or none.
Of course the tree dahlias are in my part of the garden so wishing J Happy Birthday with them is quite a conceit.
More appropriate for my conservationist were the many trigger plants (Stylidium, why were some flowering so early?) and `dippy’s’ (as we call Diplarrena moraea) that I gave him.
Why are these little spring wildflowers blooming now - in late autumn?
Before we built our cedar cottage the paddock below - almost a wildflower meadow - was like a tapestry in spring, studded with jewels: spires of pink trigger plants, and white flag (or `dippy’s’) gave an effect like many pure white butterflies hovering at nearly a metre high. The area - which unromantically had to house our septic runs - now is our orchard but we are slowly returning these wildflowers to their home, in the grass, amongst the trees.
In areas of bush around our garden we delight in these blooms and other indigenous plants. But never do the trigger plants bloom in autumn. I bought these from local indigenous nursery Birdsland. So...was it the poly house? The sunshine? The frequent watering? It's hard to know.
One of those many anomalies to just enjoy.

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 (

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Riches from the Earth and the Air

I began growing Jerusalem artichokes and gourds near the edible garden for the first time this year – both for decorative reasons, really.
Barely 6 Jerusalem artichokes went in, I think: knobbly tubers from a friend, which sent their sunflower stalks up 4m or more, shading the edible patch and barely flowering – so much for a perennial sunflower.
But digging up the bounty from where just one was planted yielded more than 50 tubers, an extraordinary harvest.
Similar enthusiasm came from a gourd; I bought a little plant from Belgrave market and let it clamber through the kiwi fruit over the chicken run in a sunny spot. Yesterday we rescued the gourds hanging from their long-deceased vine; 8 fruit plucked from the air; now to discover how to preserve them so that they look attractive in a basket in the house through the winter months.
I grow globe artichokes too and again it’s for aesthetics: I love the silvery leaves; the green globe buds or purple thistle flowers are just a huge bonus.
But globe artichokes (a thistle) are so different from Jerusalem artichokes (a sunflower with a tuber eaten like a potato) – so the names seem very confusing. How did this happen?
Globe artichokes (Cynara cardunculus) grow wild in the Mediterranean region and so were known to all the early European plant hunters and global explorers. David Attenborough (`New Life Stories’, 2011) attributes Columbus “and the settlers who followed in his wake” with tasting the wild plants of the New World so strange to them; when one reminded them of one familiar, like artichoke, then it might be called artichoke too, or `girasole’ (a plant that turns with the sun: sunflower) artichoke...eventually known in English as Jerusalem artichoke.
I just hope next summer I can keep mine a bit shorter by planning to trim them once in spring, and promote flowers with the right fertiliser...hopefully where I can see them too at 2m, not 4m high.

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 (

`I am the green, the growing, the day'

Where on earth (ahem) did I read this quote (which I’ve casually popped on Pinterest), a line I like so much?
Green is my colour and it’s permeated the house – along with wood (cedar, oregon) and sandstone-like floors – so that I can fancy that I live in a forest – a very comfortable one. (Big windows look out to garden, gum trees and sky. (A dell in the dwelling?)) I love having a vase of flowers, too. So when friends were suddenly invited around, a week ago, I raided the the rather bare garden for a bunch of blooms. This pretty tobacco – Nicotiana langsdorffii – has soft lime green flowers, not large, but the sheer size of the bouquet (the whole plant) rendered the installation a rather too-large infiltration into our living room-kitchen. Or did it? The soft colour of the flowers recede and after a day or two I took pity on J and trimmed off some stems so that making coffee was once again possible... and yes, the leaves here have drooped after a whole week in a vase (and seeds started to drop all over). UK perennial-grower Sarah Raven describes this chartreuse flower wonderfully as a “puffy Shakespearean purse flowered tobacco” but I’m surprised to see how long these flowers have lasted and I love to rest my eyes on the various green shades and hues: flowers and leaves, along with apples from the garden, and feijoas from friends.
Nicotianas come in pink and white, tall and short, too, some perfumed; with a lovely range of seed available from Chiltern Seeds. Deep pink-almost burgundy-edged  Nicotiana (an annual) would look well in my garden bed du jour, my passion, the silver and raspberry bed. Just beware the hundreds of seeds these tobaccos produce.
Tesselaar’s catalogue was tossed into our letter box last week and Lilium, in particular, catch the eye – for this part of the garden. Raspberry and cherry ones look too big and bold somehow but lilies of strawberry-colour and of my mothers handmade strawberry icecream, well, they are just irresistible. The size of the blooms will surely give them chutzpah and (hopefully) forgive any perceived insipidity against the silver foliage; this requires careful thought – and even more careful placement. (So now this garden bed has flowers in the colours of plum, raspberry, cherry and strawberry...and even blood plum: black tulips. Delicious! As well as balls of green; structural spheres have at last been planted here...thank you to my generous nephew for these plants.)

It’s not as if the silver and...ruby garden bed is wall to wall silver; there’s also blue-grey leaves of Aquilegia and grey leaves of  pink California poppies; green leaves of Agastache and peony, silver-grey leaves of miniature lamb’s ears and darker grey leaves of the handsome large leaf form. Pelargonium sidioides (left) magically has flowers of  ruby-plum over leaves of silver-grey.
Silver shimmers and sparkles; there’s only 2 areas of large (1m high) subshrubs of silver in this jewel bed, which advance to the eye, as does the strongest of the pinks here, while the other colours , particularly grey, retreat. There’s also white: plume poppy (Macleaya cordata) which when ruffled in the wind, tosses its grey-green leaves so the white underneath is strongly contrasted.
Grey foliage is a great foil: set a flower against it for maximum impact. But some people find grey foliage dull and I am one of them, so there’s not too much grey here and none elsewhere in the garden. Grey can provide the eye with rest after a strong colour but I’d rather use green - used between areas as an intermezzo if you will.
(Roger Spencer writes in `Growing Silver, Grey and Blue Foliage Plants’ (1987) that we might plant grey foliage plants in our gardens as reminders of “pleasant holidays” by “salt air”,...“white scrub in the interior or the silvery herbfields of our alps.” My most major criterion for my garden is not a reminder of holidays, domestic or abroad, but beauty.)
But green is the most important colour in the garden (just look at hectic gardens that are wall to wall flowers; they are set to induce seizures or severe nausea at least) and the green in my silver bed will set off the pink lillies well. (Too much silver would look un-natural and jarring; there is plentiful green in my silver bed.)
Think of green colours: sea green, forest green, moss green, eucalypt green, sage green, grass green; they refresh the soul, they are needed in our lives.
Green is the colour of life, nature and growth, and said to be the colour of harmony and fertility. It’s the colour of spring, of renewal, of rebirth. Green “renews and restores depleted energy” I read; but it’s restful, too.
So as I hack back my perennials I plan a few more evergreens for winter greenery but plan for lots of green year-round too. I might even water my little circle of lawn a bit (we have tanks) in summer.

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 (

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Colours of Autumn

 There’s chill in the air; we’ve had a few nights around 3°C and the garden is definitely winding down for winter. But the garden is still full of colour (surprisingly pink in fact). Some plants are throwing a late party (dahlias), some have just arrived (fungi - honorary plants, I guess) and some have only just germinated (broad beans, lettuces, peas and mustard greens seedlings).
Dahlias started their long flowering season in early summer and I started by growing only dwarf, sunny yellow (years ago), then dwarf white as well, perky plants to barely 45cm requiring absolutely no staking – a strict rule – for dahlias, anyhow. But recently Dahlia `Bishop of Llansdaff’ (left) with dark, smoky leaves and rich, velvety red flowers has made its way into the garden – in pots, for now. Reaching over one metre (so far) what stands out is that there is still some flowers now in May on tall, firm un-staked stalks; truly a fine plant. The dwarf ones require lifting and storage over winter (our soil is wet, wet, wet) but I’m hoping just to move my 3 pots of Dahlia `Bishop of Llansdaff’ to a dry spot during this time. Mid-spring might see me unpacking the biggest pot: that is the time to split your dahlia tuber clump, just before replanting.
Over summer I planted a favourite annual: cosmos (above), a handsome daisy which blooms in autumn. I prefer the tall ones but this year has exceeded expectations with 2.5m triffids towering over nearby salvias (deep pink and mauve ones) and roses (soft pink and white ones); while they’d look great in a vase, I can’t bear to rob the garden.
Roses are still flinging out a bloom here and there. Crimson. Pink. White. Yellow. Delicious shapes and scents.
This and last month were exciting for seeing the first blooms on some new roses – always a fantastic experience.
Rosa `Princess Alexandra of Kent’ flowered last week: placed to contrast with white `Wisley’ (rather strongly) it’s a most perfectly shaped bloom and, as with other recently bought roses, has a strong perfume, said by David Austin’s handbook of roses to have “a delicious fresh Tea fragrance which changes to lemon, eventually taking on hints of blackcurrants”.

A tall sage the colour of an English summer sky, Salvia uliginosa, still bobs up with a colour so pure that – luckily the bed is deep – you can forgive its wandering and unsteady nature. I just banish it from the front foot or 2, or about 50cm: the `neat’ zone for bulbs, bugle (Ajuga) , clumps of white tulips and short blue salvias.

Spirea and dogwoods are flaming up in hot leaf colours – virtual bonfires here and there – but the plant that still surprises each autumn is a perennial, Tweedia caerulea; possibly known best for its starry little flowers of porcelain blue in spring. Completely herbaceous, the leaves turn butter-yellow before the perennial dies down for winter; an additional charm, outweighed a little by the need to cut back the stalks soon afterwards.
Yes, it’s chilly but there’s plenty to see.
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 (

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Mystery Rose

`If it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck and it walks like a duck...then it probably needs longer in the microwave’ (anon). (Yes, I am still a vegetarian. Thank you for asking.) Or it is a duck.
Let’s face it, my rose in a pot by the back door, flowering on a long stem flung out, searching for the sun, is possibly that gem, `Jude the Obscure’; it looks like it and the fragrance is equally wonderful (“a very strong and delicious fragrance with a fruity note reminiscent of guava and sweet white wine” – David Austin’s handbook of roses) (although this rose is 2m so far, not 1.2m high). Did I forget I bought it? Really?
The rose by the back door (first image) was – I thought – a dead red rose (a present, oops) with a shoot from the rootstock. I have been watching this stem elongate with some fascination.
I don’t have many roses and would surely remember buying a pale apricot coloured rose – which is usually not my thing. The rose has finally opened, however, into a round shape with incurved petals like some of nicest David Austin roses, with a heavenly and strong scent, like the best DA roses – could this possibly be by accident? It seems unlikely. Me forget something? Very likely! But what a lovely surprise, and now to attempt to identify this ring-in...and maybe plant her near `Teasing Georgia’ (a lemon-yellow rose with lovely fragrance).
Ideally this mystery rose – colour-wise - would be planted by `Comte de Champagne’ or `Crocus Rose’ (second picture), not lemon `Teasing Georgia’, but space dictates otherwise and, importantly, `Comte de Champagne’ is in a row with other roses: deep gold at the centre fading to soft yellow at the ends, all at the same height (in front of a green hedge). A tall apricot rose would spoil the picture terribly – a picture that – may I say? – looked very pretty last spring with several clumps of deep blue Siberian iris at the feet of the roses.
My mystery rose will be near my definite (named) `Jude the Obscure’ too and where I can let her spread those large prickly wings but somehow where I can easily and often get a whiff of these glorious blooms.

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 (