Saturday, 26 September 2015

Tulipa `Queen of the Night' in the Silver Bed

Tulips have begun blooming as perennials wake up in this wonderful spring sunshine. In the garden bed near the back door, initially planted for silver and raspberry-coloured plants, the plum additions are showing wonderful contrasts.
Here, silver Artemesia is growing as the perfect foil for Tulipa `Queen of the Night' (other dark tulips should follow later) but there's subtle colouring going on too, from glaucous leaves of a burgundy columbine, purple foliage of Arthriscus `Ravenswing' and a form of cranesbill (a Geranium phaeum with chocolate blotches on the leaves and lovely lilac flowers).
Painter Margaret Olley once said that photographs lie: they show everything at once; while the human eye moves from one object to another. Certainly it's hard to see the cranesbill's pretty little plum flowers or the raspberry primula, and at the front is a burgundy hellebore or winter rose (Helleborus).
There's a fair bit of silver here so, while silver is banished from the rest of the garden  (I've moved a Centaurea that looked wrong and was too big, too close to a path) I seem to be planting some - but not too much - grey leaf-plants either side of the silver bed to lead in, and not have the silver-and-raspberry bed (should that be high tea bed?) a sudden, odd intrusion. Plants like interesting varieties of  Salvia officinalis, Marrubium, dwarf Lamb's ears (Stachys), a nice white Sedum and Caucasian Cornflower (Centaurea bella) with its lovely, slightly ragged mauve flowers. Even pink-flowering Californian poppy (Eschscholtzia californica) works well. One side is blues and purples; the other is pinks and a little purple (mauve, lilac).
I've added Caper Bush, for its purple leaves, towards the back, to break up the silvers and greys (Centaurea, Westringea,  Guichenotia). Best of all, a plant or 2 of Angelica gigas for its rounded heads of purple Queen Anne lace-like umbels on tall stalks.
Plum and raspberry coloured-flowers have been wonderful against the silver foliage - and the perennial season hasn't even begun. Since there are strawberry-coloured lilies too,  I am thinking of calling this garden bed a summer pudding bed. Or is that too confusing?
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 (

Ephemeral Art, Blue Poles (and Other Pop Art in the Garden)

Landscape architect Martha Schwartz is a hero of mine; she came crashing into my consciousness, along with postmodernism and the use of pop art in the garden, or landscape, way back in 1989 at Melbourne's first landscape design conference (there was another last weekend). What I vividly remember was not so much her famous bagel garden (which horrified people when she made it!) as her garden on a balcony outside a gene-splicing laboratory: the garden was spliced too: half French, half Japanese-inspired, made with astroturf, and had topiarised trees coming out perpendicularly from the walls. I fell in love with this innovative and trail-blazing woman.
Readers of this blog will know that I've been tormented by wallabies chomping all my garden plants for 20+ years. It may have been the lack of actual plants in some places that made me start thinking along the lines of my hero a couple of years ago; along with inspiration from many speakers at landscape design conferences and delving into my own way of seeing the world.
How do I see the world, you ask, politely? As I majored in biochemistry at university, it's hardly surprising that I see the world mainly through a prism of chemistry:  atoms, molecules and electromagnetic radiation.
So, long before I read about the Garden of Cosmic Speculation (in the UK), I wanted a magnified DNA (more along the lines of a double helix you can walk through, and grow creepers on; not bright steel sculptures that can be viewed as...ugly and arguably out of place in a flower garden. Sorry Charles).
As I had a large circular area, of course I created a magnified atom a couple of years ago. Who wouldn't? (I am still figuring out the perfect plants for around my (large) central proton sphere and (smaller) electron spheres: this spot is very boggy.) What type of atom to make? Lithium, an antidepressant, with its one outer electron pointing to north, or Mecca, or Uluru, was an idea, fairly appropriate. But more appealing visually is carbon, with 4 outer, equally spaced electrons, and how deliciously political. Plus, we are carbon-based organisms...
And I would love a magnified apple (maybe, one day); I've settled for a small wooden sculpture of an apple, 35cm high, complete with rusty leaf. Why? Well, I love that some people might interpret this as representing fruitfulness; or as the Garden of Eden (and thus maybe sin or a garden as paradise or religiously); or just an attractive shape. But no; for me (bear with me), it's reminiscent of that very unlikely story of Isaac Newton and the apple and therefore the theory of gravity...and thus the Age of Reason, Science (even, maybe, the new, militant atheism).
Another scientific idea I've had for a long time is a rainbow; the product of light refraction from a prism (as studied by Isaac Newton and others). (Years ago, I even worked out indigenous plants for this, for J's garden area, below the house, with waves of light (semicircles of lower then taller plants): Correa reflexa (red), Platylobium (orange), dwarf or tall goodenia (yellow), Astrotriche (green; insignificant flowers), Wahlenbergia (blue) and Tetratheca (purple). But J wasn't keen.)
Maybe I'll make this rainbow with flags, instead, and like my atom, there's a political edge: it says I support gay rights, with an emphasis on the current issue of equality: gay marriage. Suddenly a subtle idea we'd barely see ourselves (mostly low plants) becomes blatant; and perhaps welcoming, too, if I place bright flags in a gentle semicircle near the gate as visitors approach the garden.
Three major ideas are probably too many (birds; science; and I have a rusty treble clef, too, in a little garden room of its own) in my garden but I still have plenty more I'd like to use, and have to restrain myself, for 2 reasons.
A cluttered garden is not attractive; and too many themes (more than one!) detract from the meaning, the unity, the strength of feeling the visitor gets (I can dream).
 I love birds and there's already the small birdhouse, a sandstone kookaburra, birdbaths and 2 whirling birds (or bird-like sculptures). There's even 2 little plastic flamingos which I love (to J's amazement). And other (small) avian ornamentation. But there's also my magnified atom, apple, and, one day, pergola of DNA. So there is now more than one theme to the garden; is this forgivable? Certainly I shouldn't add more - it's not like the garden is 20 hectares and well-divided into garden rooms.
As `The Age' garden writer Megan Backhouse commented the day she interviewed me at home, after the cyclamen book was published: `You do have a lot of garden sculpture' while she looked about the front patch. (It wasn't complimentary.) She's right - just there. I need to have a good look around and think what can be changed in this area that holds elements both J and I have contributed to.
More importantly, I'm afraid of repeating what I see as a mistake I saw at Veddw House in south Wales (still a special garden I hasten to add).
The heart of that garden is modern, crisp, well-designed by the owners (particularly self confessed `bad-tempered gardener'  and garden critic Anne Wareham) but it feels like it has been plonked in the middle of a country flower garden. Maybe Anne started a country garden then, like me, began thinking of exciting fresh ideas...but (to me) it seems like there's a disconnect. My garden will likely have this problem; I don't exactly want to rip out the roses, perennials and have a pebble garden(say) just because I have 3 small areas that allude - in a gentle way - to science. No, the `science' areas can be pretty. The atom can have rings of plants (all year) - tall ones (like Lillium) where the electrons have rings of high energy, of course. (It was going to be subtle but a combination of: the area being too boggy for my plan of white hellebores and small bulbs year-round (requiring more sunlight, and better drainage)isn't working; and I have lots of perennials in the shade house that need a damp place to be planted, has conspired to make me plan to make this area instead, I think, into an area of lovely woodland perennials.)
It may have been Phaidon's excellent `The Garden Book' which alerted me to the Dew Garden of Chris Parsons (See blog post 19/7/15) in the UK. I think this is the first time I really thought  of an ephemeral garden (although elements of a bulb meadow are, too).
And so I realised I could have fun in the garden and if it didn't look great, well, if it was ephemeral, who cared? So last winter I painted more than a dozen huge pumpkins engine-red and lined the front path with them, a welcoming sight (I thought) in the drear months. This has a nod to Martha Schwartz, too.
This winter I tried something quite different. After I cut down my circle of tree dahlias (see post 31/5/15), after their glorious autumn flowering season was over - about 25 of them - to about 3m high, I painted some of them sapphire-blue, bright blue. It's quite a sight. Of course it references abstract expressionist painting  `Blue Poles' by Jackson Pollock (in name only - and I have a personal reason for this) and they are blue when we are feeling `blue' yet the skies are not. In the stark winter garden it adds height and colour but, remembering Veddw House, they'll be cut down the minute that there's a strange clash between `modern art' and `flowery garden'. (It's influenced by Claude Cormier's Blue Stick Garden (2000, 2004) too (actually blue and red; it ` blurs the boundaries between design and art, nature and artifice, the real and the surreal '; bulbous Fibonacci spiral in the lawn (below) is flowering, another ephemeral feature. I love the little flowers, the curving pattern, even while there's only a few: many bulbs may have rotted in the boggy soil. Never mind. When the drainage is improved, I'll replant my spiral for early spring flowers each year. This is one ephemeral feature that is a delight, that `works', and that I look forward to it each year. 

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, 25 September 2015

Bird Life - from Iridescent Parrots to Invisible Wrens

Nearly 3 weeks with no discernable birdlife about the little nest in the old hat by the back door (below). J was castigating himself - leaving the light on, looking too closely (there was strong winds, too) - but 2 days ago we could hear a tiny, light chirrup through - unromantically I'm afraid - the open laundry window. (It would begin about 2 minutes after I'd stopped making any noise.)
Out to investigate and there's a (mature) head of a white-browed scrub-wren poking out: we have chicks!
Interestingly, while there was no attempt at hiding their nest-building, now I cannot see them darting out to feed; they are incredibly discreet. I think I was lucky to catch sight of one at all.
I am hoping these chicks grow to maturity - we discourage cats and dogs strongly from our property - and I wonder how many other nests we don't see. Certainly, in early spring, we often see birds collecting useful cobwebs from under our veranda. I know many people like to spray spiders (which I think is a pity) but certainly we have many (call me Morticia); I don't mind the webs too much and love the thought of them binding little nests together. Maybe I should plant some prickly shrubs, too - just what the little birds like, I believe, for nesting; but near the back of the borders.
Meanwhile visiting fairy wrens - the young male ones - have tails becoming more and more dark blue with these longer days; king parrots visit the vegetable patch; and crimson rosellas (top) visit more and more frequently - are there more of them? They loved the apple trees in fruit, they enjoy the edible patch, and today they are nipping off grass seeds; how lucky that I'm a lazy gardener and, at the moment, the `lawn' is unmown. 

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, 18 September 2015

Sunny Daffodils, Wattles; and the Genius Loci


Sunny daffodils have followed moonlit hellebores like day following night.
(Peter Leigh, of Post Office Farm Nursery, produces winter roses of wonderful colours and shapes; his `primrose' ones (last picture) gleam like moonlight.)
Then spring is suddenly with us, with barely a dawn, it seemed, and now daffodils spill sunlight in delicious pools, promising warm weather to come.
Just now, whenever I drive from Melbourne out to my little patch of bushland, through the outer suburbs and then through bush in the Yarra valley and up into the Dandenong Ranges, I see more and more wattles heavily laden with golden blooms as I go outwards, none more so than one that grows in my own patch: myrtle wattle (Acacia myrtifolia, below), a sweet shrub growing to about my height or a little higher (it can reach about 1.8m; this is the taller of 2 forms).
Some wattles have lemon-coloured blooms, some gold, but  the balls on myrtle wattle seem to be exactly daffodil-yellow. But when I reach home there is a disconnect: wattles in the bushland surrounding the garden and daffodils (and gold dwarf Forsythia) within; the change seems too abrupt. I've plonked my mainly-exotic  garden down without completely considering its surrounds, its genius loci, the `genius of the place'*. How I'd love to plant daffodils along the drive! But J is a conservationist and believes that the exotics should stay in the garden (and generally I agree). So the mountain must go to Mohammed...I'll visit our local indigenous nursery at Birdsland Reserve, hopefully getting plants from the right gene pool, and plant some myrtle wattles (nothing larger) in the garden, particularly near the front gate where the transition is so abrupt - and obvious, because there's a wire fence, not an opaque wall. Or I could wait for our shrubs in the bush to set seed, let it mature, and then scatter it about. (The plants won't have transplant shock and will always `do' better. And it's free.) No, I'm much too impatient. (Don't you love indigenous nurseries with their local plants and passionate volunteers...and cheap plants?)
What's so appealing about wattles? Is it the bright colours dispelling winter gloom? The bright reminder of native plants, of the bush, maybe of camping and childhood holidays? I, for one, don't normally like a shrub covered in yellow flowers: give me one, well, a large one, in summer and I'll not thank you. But just now...I really think it's the season, the start of warmth, a celebration of spring; we are getting near the spring solstice, says the psyche. It's no wonder that Australia's official sporting colours of green and yellow derive from the wattle. But just as yellow daffodils throughout the garden are a joy just now, when later only pinks are allowed in the pink, burgundy and white area, for example, so too are wattles welcome when blooms are few (let's pretend camellias and early rhododendrons don't exist for a moment). Moreover, in the bush they have the most perfect foil imaginable: the dull green of gum tree leaves; a wonderful pairing, a diva and a chorus.
So if wattles can be divas, I'd better not have too many flowering at once in the garden.  I'll just start with a couple - of small ones - or so. (And hope the daffodils don't make it all seem too over the top.)
* Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744) made the genius loci an important principle in landscape design and wrote:
 Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th' ambitious hill the heav'ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th' intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.
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, 11 September 2015

Blue and White Windflowers

Moving up to the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges from Melbourne had nary a negative side, garden-speaking (let's ignore wallabies chomping my favourite plants for a moment, shall we?).*
The cold winter days are great for many of my favourite spring bulbs, particularly tulips (which I can now leave in the (cooler) ground all year - good news for a lazy gardener); and cold autumn nights are good for glowing autumn foliage on deciduous trees and shrubs. And we receive more rain than the western suburbs get: fantastic!
Summers are just as hot - where I am, at just 170m, as central Melbourne (with its sea breezes) - but winters are colder, and so one bulb behaves noticeably differently - so far.
Amongst the little daffodils near the front path - blooming profusely in shades of beaten egg just now - I've popped in a mixture of blue and white shades of Anemone coronaria (above), reputedly a spring bulb (or tuber, really), which have been in bud since July and flowering since August, their mainly single flowers gazing at the sky. I love the blue-black centre and the ring of smoky blue anthers.
When I lived in Melbourne I gardened on sandy loam - the key perhaps - and left Anemone coronaria in the ground all year and they would pop up in autumn, begin flowering then, and continue the show right through winter and spring. This windflower- sometimes called poppy anemone - is a very cheap bulb which means I can try the experiment here, too, even though this area gets a bit boggy at times which most bulbs do not like (excepting the alpine ones - and only at snow melt time).
Anemone coronaria comes in red (delicious in the wild, I'm sure, and (to me) very like Marcus Harvey's `Dancing windflower', Anemone pavonina,; and hectic pink too so I choose the bulbs carefully in autumn.  A mix of all the colours is hard on the eye; and even deep blue and white are harshly different so I love the new(ish) mix of blue, white and white-suffused blue sometimes available (occasionally, if memory serves, called Seaside Mix). These are single ones, in the De Caen group: hybrids cultivated first in the districts of Caen and Bayeux in France in the 18th century. Single ones, to my eye, are elegant where the doubles are (relatively) messy;  taste is always an interesting attribute to observe.
My mix has thrown up a double blue and a soft amethyst; shall I be strong and pull them out? And the tubers of deep blue ones I found in a cupboard: shall I toss them in the ground here and hope for even more flowers this season? May be yes and yes. 
*We came up here from the suburbs 20 years ago for the space, the peace and quiet, the wildlife, the cooler climate, to live amongst the handsome trees and bushland...and (of course) the serenity. All that doesn't completely explain it; I just love being here (and still feel delight in my good fortune). My Mum and Dad had a bush block in the Dandenong Ranges, too, when I was a child so maybe that's why I felt like I was coming home when we  purchased our property. (A friend calls Melbourne a concrete jungle. I try to not be so impolite.) Within the comforting cloak of 12 acres of bushland chock-block full (I hope) of gliders and owls is a roughly one acre scotch egg of house, exotic garden, and orchard of heritage apples and pears and frost-tolerant citrus trees. I suppose I am just not a city person (although being on Melbourne's fringe has its benefits). And having space for a bigger garden is...pretty awesome.
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 (

Monday, 7 September 2015

Time to remove the (wallaby-proof) cages from the rose bushes


After 20 years, the bright day has arrived!
It's nearly 11 months since wallabies roamed the garden amidst a smorgasbord of plants (and I swear, the most expensive plants were the most delicious. All those imported Epimedium...ouch).
The roses are shooting - spring seems to have come early - and so, at last, off came the protective cages of the roses and some hydrangeas; hideous wire or plastic netting that have come and gone; now hopefully gone for good.
Penstemons were trimmed a little, a few green winter roses (Helleborus argutifolius) went in and 2 very sad or demised roses noted - maybe they'll be replaced. (The pivotal deep yellow rose at the centre of a line of roses, fading to cream on either side, is particularly important to this scheme - which has deep blue iris at its feet just when the roses are at their best.)
Heck, it looks better.
(And J is quietly pleased - I think - but it feels like there's a touch of East Lambrook as the only mutterings are along the lines of `bloody roses'.)
We still see wallabies on our property - almost daily. It seems they've got used to going around a fenced-off acre (counting the large orchard, edible patch and hen run too) and I think they enjoy a property that's dog-free. (Our property is around 13 acres or about 5 hectares and it's in the  Land for Wildlife scheme; I think that I acre for us and 12 for the wildlife is fair. It's also a good balance: with lots of natural, or indigenous food, possums don't eat my garden (although rats - maybe native ones - sometimes eat delicious sweet corn on the cob if we don't net the plants - and who can blame them?).
Moreover, the rules are now clear. Crazy lady doesn't shoo the wallabies sometimes, inconsistently, from near the house but not further out or when they are outside the fence (did they ever get the distinction?); I don't shoo them at all now! If they are next to my car, say, they often stay there, frozen,  until I actually drive near them, or walk past them multiple times. `Dang', you can hear them thinking as they lope off slowly, `I was enjoying that patch of grass/pool of sunshine'.
So we've been here 20 years, had a garden perimeter fence for about 3 (thank you J), had a working one for one year. Now I can see tulips in bud! I am very excited about this spring, unfolding before me like the best book I have ever read, in glorious (to mix metaphors wildly) technicolour anticipation.
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, 4 September 2015

Dancing a Strange Dance around the Wildlife (or We are Going to Have Babies)

Not half a metre from our back door, amongst rain coats, a leather hat and a broom, is an old straw hat of J's. A disreputable hat, I would have said, old and holey, yet today it has become very precious.
Two white-browed scrub-wrens have decided to make a nest in it. (See pic above; photographs from a sunny spot into veranda-gloom)
In the birds zoom, under the veranda, beak filled with moss and other treasure, and look about. No one? Then up to the hat, in the hole in the `top', a few seconds to arrange the new mattress material, then out to find more bedding. We should have realised sooner; why was there so much bird activity, and moss and detritus on the paving, and straw (or what looked like it - clearly the latest in wren fashion) hanging out from the hat?
And me? Oblivious, of course. It's between the door and our craftily placed washing line, also under the veranda. Today I was hanging out sheets with gusto, less than a metre from our brave little birds - until, a little later, J whispered `come and look' - and so the next washing load was hung out very differently; a dance, if you will.
Here I am hanging up some trousers and our wren flies near. So I move 2 metres away so that she feels safe enough to enter the hat, and I wait until she leaves.
Then I move back, finish hanging out that item and begin another until her mate flies down with a beak-full. I move away again...and again...
J and I gardened today and passed the new nest a dozen or 2 times. I think these little birds have decided that the lumbering humans are not harmful, in fact, they can be darted around.
Now after about 3 days it's the most perfect little nest, rounded, cosy, ready for eggs. There's wren activity still: they're keeping an eye on their sweet home and - who knows? - fertilising eggs (now there's a polite euphemism for you).
I just need to remember to not move the broom and those raincoats... or hang up my disgraceful old gardening trousers there for a while.
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 (