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 (

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