Saturday, 31 October 2015

My First Real Season of Roses

This is my first real season of roses.

How the heck a plant so prickly (yes, roses have prickles, not thorns) can be so delicious to a wallaby is incomprehensible. But it's almost a year to the day since the wallaby-proof fence started to work and the garden began to recover.

Plants grew, but also I stopped chasing Ms Wallaby and now she's fairly tame (for a wild creature), freezing on the spot if we leave the garden for, say, the carport, and only reluctantly moving off if we get too close, or we're near her for too long. We see her nearly every day - a great pleasure - and watch her joeys grow each year. (One acre - counting orchard, chickens and edible patch too - for us, and a dozen acres (and 2 dams) for her and her joeys sounds fair to me.)

Just now the garden is filled with iris - about 6 kinds - and the first roses are peeping out. (Iris are a great floral baton between the tulips and daffodils, and the first roses.) Now I've bravely, or foolishly, taken off safety netting from all the  garden plants leaving only a few upturned hanging basket frames - which don't look too bad - over little treasures.
I didn't plant roses until I was in my 40's and while I enjoyed the effect of cool yellow roses with deep blue Siberian iris last year, somehow this year my heart leapt higher with the first bloom of so-called `Princess Anne' (above), with colour calling out from across the garden. Whatever she really is, she's a stronger pink than she's meant to be, which means she will contrast too strongly with `Wisley' (top) and similarly pale `Souvenir de la Malmaison' (the latter named in 1844 for the home of the Empress Josephine - the "Godmother of modern rosomaniacs") in front of her - but this rose is more interesting, and the effect is glorious. Maybe I just prefer pink.
But - I'm still enjoying my new yellow roses (`Graham Thomas', below, fading from its gold buds), or near yellows (`Teasing Georgia' (above) - my notes say `amazing scent'; the flowers are often more yellow; is this due to soil type?) in or near the sun and sky bed.
Importantly, they are shrub roses - no lollipops in this garden (although real, huge lollipops would be fun) (even if I wanted shrub lollipops, I wouldn't introduce them: J is depressed enough right now seeing my `Tiny Trev' lilly pillies  trimmed into - close to - spheres; too formal for him, but with structure I like, that the billowing garden really needs; I tell him, consolingly, that they'll never look perfect); shrub roses that mingle nicely with iris, tulips, cranesbills. It's an English garden I guess - with the influence of my British (gardener and botanist) mother - perhaps. (An artist friend calls it a storybook garden. Her delicious garden is a tapestry garden.)
So it's my first real season of roses - with new blooms every day I am like a girl looking at Christmas presents piling up under the tree.
I love seeing roses from the house, I like anticipating their perfume (almost all are David Austin roses), each so different, and I'm holding my breath waiting for my first proper rose season as the bushes are growing and producing buds in profusion for the first time. What is it about roses that makes them so special?
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 (

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Snow - of sorts - on these Hot Spring Days

Snow - it seems - is raining down onto my stone seat and the bird bath. An impossibility, on these warm days? (And some sort of opposite tautology; can snow rain down?)
My weeping white wisteria tree, or Robinia, has pure white petals which are constantly drifting down, coating the ground. But when the rosellas visit and nip off whole flower stalks, the confetti becomes more like heavy rain than soft blossom.
Last year Ms Wallaby (pictured below) ate a lot of the fresh fallen blossom but this year I have a thick blanket of snow-white petals, particularly pleasing where new shrubs are still very small. (Any minute I expect a Hollywood movie-style wedding party to arrive.) It's extraordinarily beautiful and not what I expected or planned when we built our little wallaby-proof garden fence.
A wonderful surprise.
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 (

Avian Visitors and Residents

Have I become invisible - a part of the furniture - or like those trains in the night, loudly rattling past, that people on the line no longer notice?
Our little wrens by the back door - white-browed scrub-wrens - seem to have laid another clutch of eggs in J's old hat (see posts 5/9/15, 26/9/15, last picture) - and they've definitely hatched. But now, no longer do the adults put on hold every planned nest swoop when they see me; and even when I'm about 2m away, hanging out washing, they no longer pay me any attention. Better yet, they hop all around the clothes line above my head (if I freeze), 30cm (one foot) above me until they finish looking for danger, and decide where next to dart, foraging for morsels for their voracious young. 

Meanwhile Mr and Mrs Superb Blue Wren (above) are `flirting' by the southern window distracting  me from my work. Afterwards: preening each other, and blue-bejewelled male hopping back and forth over drab female as both looked into the house, taking `selfies'. A week later they are still flirting; surely they should be building a nest? (That blessed - there is no comparable secular word - rain has spurred on garden, weeds; and also, best of all, birds to try another clutch of eggs.)

It's a wonderful change from many years ago when Mr Wren would fight his own reflection in the windows (`What's he doing in my patch?'). We'd put white paper strips here and there on the lowest 10cm of windows where the wren seemed to be fighting most which calmed things down. Don Burke used to say that birds got used to windows and stopped fighting their reflections. I didn't believe him then but now (after 20 years), I think they finally do (Sorry Don). This couple don't even seem to be visiting this odd foe in the house (and the female used to look for extra...activity from the mythical male), they've finally decided there's no risk, even - it really seems - they've realised it's their reflection and they like to watch themselves cavort on a window sill with just the right width.
They also visit me when I'm digging in the edible patch, looking for little bugs I guess, which is usually the role of yellow robins. Where are the robins? 

Precisely the other side of the house, to the north, I've mown my circular lawn again, but this rain has kept the annual grass going and there's still masses of seed. Often flocks of around 10 red-browed finches will move through the garden and they love the lawn at the moment. I felt a twang of guilt mowing yesterday but loads of short, seed-bearing stalks remained. Balancing a `Land for Wildlife' property with a human's often natural desire for neatness makes for an interesting conflict now and then. 

With wood ducks - and ducklings - along our street; powerful owls hooting at night; tree creepers and crimson rosellas in our trees; and honey eaters darting about the garden from flower to flower, the garden (and bushland) is wonderfully full of avian visitors (and some residents - a fantastic new phenomenon). All I have to do is top up the bird baths and remember to avoid using my raincoat by the wren's nest. No problem! 

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, 18 October 2015

Cistus and Sisters

I miss my sister.
At a dozen years older, she was my wise elder, like an `auntie' at times, and in fact, my godmother too. A wicked sense of humour and a love of gardens, along with a huge dollop of charisma, were just a few of the traits that made her stand heads above the rest of us.

We used to visit gardens together (admiring, discussing; even when she was sick), often, and we both had garden beds of blue and yellow, that lovely pairing, not quite absolute contrasts, not quite complementary, just a perfect contrast. (Another sister has a kitchen and small living room of these colours (revolving around a cherished exquisite tapestry of those colours by an adored aunt) but my country garden, really, has plentiful other colours, too.)

This sister generously gave me (and my siblings) some money and of course mine went into the garden, onto this handsome flying duck, twirling in the wind, a crazy creature that J and I love (as does every visitor so far). He now needs his 3m pole obscured (at least partly) and - as it's near the sun and sky bed -  I've thought long and hard about evergreen shrubs to about 2m height - but not wide (it's too near the path) - with blue (or yellow) flowers. They need to be pretty drought-tolerant, too.

As Eccles would say: `thinks':...
Blue: Plumbago: too wide (and untidy; even when pruned (hard or gently)), blue Clerodendron: too frost-tender. Plectranthus ecklonii - too purple, and too shade-requiring for this spot.

Yellow: Hypericum: has berries, and is thus weedy when you consider we are near bushland; Mahonia aquifolia would be too wispy; Acacia myrtifolia - too short-lived I suspect. A yellow grevillea: too wide.

So maybe white flowers...Osmanthus heterophyllus...too slow growing (although think of the glorious scent..); Carpenteria californica, ditto; Pittosporum tobira...too tall. Dwarf lilly pilly: too boring (perfect, though, elsewhere).

Eureka - I have it! That lovely tall Cistus, `Bennett's White' (below), with large, pure white flowers of tissue-crepe about a gold centre (and no blotches - which I don't like). And so I am day-dreaming plants as I am driving and - can you believe it? - a few metres along, in the median strip, are a swathe of this exact cistus ,or rock rose, gloriously flowering. I had thought this variety were a rather uncommon plant; it's one I haven't seen in years, and rarely available for sale. Which town planner in Casey was responsible for this terrific planting?
So later I am driving past again and, in the dark and with feelings of guilt, stop to take some cuttings - just 2 sprigs from maybe 100 or more mature plants along a stretch 250m long, I hasten to add.

Will the gold centres of the flowers link the shrub to the surrounding sunny plantings? I think it will, and even better, as this cistus has a touch of grey to its leaves (which gives the plant a Mediterranean look), it links it to the next bed, the gentle transition to the blues and purples and greys before the silver bed.

Houston, I think we have a solution.
And how I wish I could tell my sister.

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, 10 October 2015

The Garden is Suffused with Blue.

The Garden is suffused with blue.

It's as if pools of sky have dropped to earth, and little inlets of sea have arrived, and an oasis lake here and there, in tarns and swathes, all tying the garden together, even in the cut flower beds.

The front garden path is edged with a lovely bugle, as is my round lawn: Ajuga `Jungle Beauty' (last picture): handsome dark leaves - not flat like its brothers - topped just now with innumerable spikes of smoky blue flowers: not showy, precisely, just heart-warming. Behind these, and elsewhere, are pools of cool Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica, above), standing upright (enough to pick for a vase. They don't last long but something I found interesting was that they are like a daffodil - no, hear me out! - if you pick them carefully, with a pull, you can get a long stem, for a showy vase-full). Soft blue Anemone coronaria and Pulmonaria add to the picture and a few iris are beginning too. Of the native blue flag, sky-blue (a cold, English sky-blue) Orthrosanthos laxus has burst into bloom while O. multiflorurus, darker, smoky, is still in bud. (The latter make a stunning sweep by the main roundabout in Belgrave while a week ago - in cooler Kallista - a huge display of deepest blue Dutch iris took my breath away - in the roundabout; something I'm tempted to copy in my garden - in the yellow and blue area.)

What's surprising is that all these blues don't detract, but instead enhance, the giant blue poles (see post 27/9/15) and if, like me, you know that within the blue poles circle is the magnified atom with its shiny deep blue `nucleus' (larger, central) and (outer, smaller) `electrons' then it's rather satisfying.

But, and it's a big but, I promised myself to cut down the blue poles when the pink tulips, or other flower-power began and the garden looked incongruous: pop art next to flower garden.

Will I?

Two factors are staying my hand. Or three.

The blue is fading and the poles are shooting. The 3m-high poles will give quicker screening between house and sheds - their original purpose - if I don't cut them down to ground level.

While I've planted 2 Magnolia `White Caviar' to do the screening long term, these may take a little time to reach the 3 to 4m I want. (Magnolia `White Caviar' is said to be an evergreen cross between Magnolia figo (with its wonderful scent) and Michelia yunnanensis, a plant I love for its perfect white flowers. This cross has perfumed, cream tulip-like flowers and can reach 4m high (while being a useful mere 2m wide).)

And...this week, the pink and white tulips in the rose garden, around the rondel, or circular lawn, well, there's maybe 10 flowering now, just out, and still the blue poles looks `nice'; still I want to keep them. Then again, the roses are in bud; can roses - the epitome of a flower garden  - look consistent in front of a large pop art feature?...No!

Maybe I have to paint the poles green.

Moreover, J has made an interesting point, as partner of a would-be artist. One pop art installation in our country garden at a time is enough, a garden which (discounting orchard and edible patch) is probably less than ½  acre (very, very roughly ¼ hectare). It's probably a great rule...and as I'm itching to try a new idea...I think Blue Poles has had its day.

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, 3 October 2015

Time to Sow Seeds

Spring weather has really arrived - it's time to plant summer vegetable seed: tomatoes, pumpkins, and maybe zucchini. (Plants that cannot tolerate cold.) But I live at an elevation of 170m so...we are noticeably cooler than Melbourne in winter, and the soil takes a while to warm up in early spring. Luckily I have a little glasshouse to pop in pots of seeds and potted-on tomatoes; yes, I was at a nursery last weekend and - despite the chill winds - like a child at Christmas, simply couldn't resist a punnet of tomatoes: `Heirloom Mixed' with its picture of fruit: red, yellow, striped, black and even green. Irresistible! (And overheard at the nursery between 2 elderly shoppers - `If you've lost the will to garden, then you've lost the will to live'. I should add that the sun was shining, mitigating that Antarctic blast.)

I love my little glasshouse that J made for me out of polyflute about 25 years ago, when I'd been seriously gardening for about a year. (Both of us look a lot older now, both glasshouse and me.) I think of it as 4 foot by 6 (so 1.2m by 1.8m); seriously small; but I can shove a lot in. Cuttings go in here;  seeds and seedlings at this time of year; and J's propagating indigenous plants too, although it's too hot in summer for most plants.

I'll be sowing a lot of home-collected seed this spring. It's very satisfying to collect seed; it's free; I collect from the tastiest veg; and there's the theory that the subsequent plants will be ones that are best suited to your patch, your microclimate; that natural selection has, to some extent, occurred.

One of my best collections each autumn has been broad bean seeds and it's going to be difficult, I think, to resist doing it this year; but I'll try on one proviso: that I can obtain seeds of broad beans with pink-crimson (not white) flowers.  They make for attractive plants - or so I think. Planting them near ruby chard - the pinks, not the reds - could look rather nice.

My mother grew a bean that had orange flowers, and it climbed a rough arch each year; perhaps it was what she called her 7-year bean. It gave her satisfaction; but I won't replicate it; I just don't like orange very much. (And I pull out any yellow or orange chard.) Yes, even the edible patch has to look nice, and follow my colour rules!

The orchard might be extended soon and there's a chance we'll have room for another garden bed. J's idea is to plant pumpkins here, where the sprawling bushes will clamber over grass, not other vegetables; it's a good idea. But I long for a strawberry patch; maybe the new bed can be half and half? 

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 (