Friday, 31 July 2015

Valentine with Snowdrops (Grækkebrev med vintergækker)

 Friends were visiting on the weekend and I was casually (although with a little pride, let’s be honest) pointing out 2 kinds of crocus and a double snowdrop (Galanthus, above (single form)) flowering in troughs near the front door as they were leaving. Suddenly my Danish friend had a wave of nostalgia – for the Danish custom Grækkebrev med vintergækker (Valentines with Snowdrops). If I have this right, you send your anonymous handmade card (cut-out decoratively and with verse, below), snowdrop flower (vintergæk) inside, to your valentine and if they have not guessed the sender (whose name is made out in pinpricks) by Easter...they must provide you with an Easter egg.
(And so on this cold morning I am making a Grækkebrev med vintergækker for my friend. I hope I have done it correctly.)
`Come with me’ I ordered my friend, to where I had a few snowdrops (single Galanthus) flowering. Armed with only a trowel, I found them a little hard to dig up, only managing to find one bulb; but I didn’t pick up the spade for a reason: it scares people off. `Oh no, don’t worry’ says one friend, or another:`I can’t admire anything, you always want to dig up a bit for me’. Well, yes, it’s a magic pudding (usually). Why wouldn’t you share?
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, 24 July 2015

Cold Fact Part 2 (The Fall Out)

Celsius is like metric, all decimals and zeros and rounding to sensible 10’s.
I thought it was just a matter of ice cubes and cups of coffee but those 2 nights of temperatures below zero (-0.6°C or less) have wrought more changes in the garden than I expected. Clearly they were unusually cool (and how I love my outdoor thermometer, getting a close reading). Not just a matter of shivering in a house not quite designed for this, all large single-glazed windows and whistling doors.
Really its surprising how many plants tolerate the expansion of water molecules that freezing brings.
The bidgee-widgee (Acaena novae zelandiae, top) and other greenery looked beautiful 5 mornings ago, rimed and crackling with frost, with sheets of ice on bird baths lasting for hours, but after the thaw there was damage I’d never seen before. Tree dahlias black from the chill, all 4m height of them at once; and `self-shaping’ lilly pilly `Tiny Trev’ showing new chilblains all over, later turned brown (on the `surface’; a trim might make the plant look healthy). Some salvias smarting in self pity (such as Pink Icicles!),some suddenly hideously reduced to limp lettuce-like lumps (winter flowering Mexican sage of all things), some laughing –nervously. Clivias-under-the -veranda  with normal turgid leaves but – oh dear! – one in a feature pot at breast height like a half melted icy pole (remember those?).
I’d just been wondering whether to try an ephemeral pop art `Blue Poles’ – to trim the tree dahlias to about 2 or 2 ½ m (I can’t reach higher) and spray paint the stalks with bright blue paint for the winter months; now I’m not sure if the paint will stick. It’s still tempting to try it...decisions, decisions.

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, 18 July 2015

Cold Fact (Apologies to Rodriguez)

Is Melbourne’s freezing weather caused, still, by that `Antarctic Vortex’?
Zero degrees outside this morning and we’ve never seen a frost like it in our 2 decades in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges (our elevation is only 170m) just outside Melbourne.
What to do? Make (ephemeral) art of course!
An optimistic spring-like Fibonacci spiral swept onto the icy circle of lawn seemed just right, after I’d donned rather more layers of clothes than is usual for this latitude.

Here I’m afraid I am – on a small scale - somewhat copying the transient dew gardens of Chris Parsons ( in Buckinghamshire, UK, although making a dent in hard frost is harder than sweeping mere dew. If I’d planned this, the lawn would be mown, edged...but I’m glad my ragged bit of fun is so different from the elegant swards of Parson; it feels a lot less like plagiarism, more like inspiration.

Friday, 17 July 2015

`I’ve been given the gift of time’ says Ross wonderingly in TV series Friends  (on moving apartments, and gaining a long commute, on which he’s decided he can catch up on his reading). Perennial joker Chandler: `Ah, if only I had the gift of space, we could get together and make a continuum’.
I’ve just been away from the garden for 2 weeks and even in the depths, and I mean icy, unexpected Antarctic vortex-cold depths of winter, there’s changes to be seen.
But before I went away I decided to use this 2 weeks to see what changes would occur. Would the gift of time show many changes?
Should I weed (well of course).
Should I plant? Pot up tiny treasures? Yes and yes.

Should I sow seeds in that cold, cold soil? Why not – let’s see what happens. Well, of course no seeds germinated in the edible patch soil – not yet, anyhow. But I learn a lot from not doing what the books say, and it may be because my own garden has its own microclimate, water level, wind strengths, and hours of sunlight; the latter a particular concern in my area of gum trees, tall and...less tall.
Pea seeds went in; and sweet pea seeds I’d collected from a yummy smoky blue: fresh seeds germinate best, so I’m hoping to see little leaves pop up any day...ever the optimist. More broad bean and leek (all home collected) seeds went in along with dwarf curly kale (great torn and sautéed for omelettes) and also some little ruby chard seedlings that were sitting around needing a home. (Even old purple bean seeds were left lying around the newly redug bush-bough tripods; they’ll do their thing in spring.) The edible patch still looks a little bare (I think the 2 week time machine works best in spring) but who know what’s going on under the surface?
And the visible changes: hellebores/winter roses (Helleborus, top) were the big surprise, then peeking out, now blooming their heads off in shades of white, pink, plum and lemon.  They are scattered throughout the garden with one or 2 Helleborus niger with particularly large white flowers near the front door – in bud when I left, now one bloom past from pristine white to gentle green.
Sweet little double snowdrops are adding to the chorus of other Galanthus, too. Some correas are putting out apple-green chef’s caps flowers and – joy! – there’s enough jonquils to pick a bunch. White Daphne is coated with little flowers. (My daphne is green-leafed; I share many Australian’s general aversion to variegated leaves (other than in hostas) although this is slowly changing. I was amused when an international speaker said he wouldn’t use the `V’ word at a landscape design conference some years ago.)
And the bush nearby? Surprisingly, not so many wattles, but heath (Epacris impressa, above) beaming out like torches, in pinks pale and deep, and sometimes white; blooming before we left, but, as more buds open to flowers, turning up the wattage while we were away.
Salvias are still in bloom, mainly, but my other perennials have headed south, hunched their shoulders, pulled their hoodies over their rootstocks and glanced, in amazement, across at the daffodils pushing up flower stalks, and they think `what crazy sorts of plants are those bulbs?’
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 (

Addit. I should have asked David Tennant (the hottest of the time lords by far (as River Song would say) – from Doctor Who of course) to set my time machine to 2 ½ weeks. The gift of time worked, almost: dwarf curly kale have sent up masses of little dicotyledons – those first baby leaves – although as children of English seed I suspect they are laughing at the weather - heartily.