Wednesday, 25 November 2015

An Intriguing Scent in the Air; White Flowers at Dusk; Blood-red Lilies

A hot, late-spring day and I'm watering my pots by the back door in the early morning. I'm nowhere near any roses but suddenly there's a sweet scent in the air and I have to find out where it's coming from. I'm getting warmer, then colder...could it possibly be the hydrangeas (no), Thalictrum (no), Asiatic lilies (unlikely, and no)?

I'm sniffing about like some half-crazed blood hound until I track it down: metres away are that tough-as-old-boots evergreen shrub, mock orange (Philadelphus (named for `brotherly love') coronarius (Syn. Philadelphus mexicanus) below), many of them, all suddenly covered in down-turned cream cups exuding sweet perfume. Who knew it could waft so effectively?

What a great moment to discover, or rediscover, a creamy-white flower in the garden; I've been contemplating white flowers: I love the way they gleam at dusk.

Near the dining room door is a dwarf mock orange with sweet white flowers just now too. And beyond this is a new bed where I've been replanting dwarf white dahlias from a new path area, need to plant a dwarf white Gladiolus (a seedling of `The Bride' that I spied at Kallista market), and had that dreaded thought, what if I had a white (and green) garden. Noooo!

My brother-in-law would call this `Little Sissy' and quite right. How easy to fall into the trap of mimicking that sensational, beloved garden room at Sissinghurst Castle, the White(-and-Green) Garden where Vita Sackville-West thought aloud, so to speak, via her newspaper articles, as she planned it in the 1930's.
I'll never do it 1/10 as well as Vita and I refuse to try. And yet, the mind wanders...
I love the way white flowers come alive, and glimmer and shimmer at dusk, as all the colours recede. And this bed is between the pink-and-crimson roses and the blue-and-yellow cut flower bed (with just one other bulb bed between them as well). White separating them seems like a good idea, if a little harsh.
An email from a sister seems to set the seal on the plan: ` Do you want white bearded irises, I want to get rid of some. See you Sunday.' (I reply: ` I'd LOVE some white bearded iris, thank you. Would you like belladonna lilies, hellebores or obedient plant (tall, mauve)? I am enjoying the garden so much. Roses! Iris! Did I mention roses? And would you like some eggs?) (Please remember that my roses have never flowered before, kind reader. The munching marsupials have access, now, to only a dozen of our 13 acres. But not my ½ acre garden any longer. Hurrah.)
White iris...
My imagination takes flight far too quickly. I'm peopling the bed: peonies, poppies, Plectranthus, pansies even. All white.
This will be no grand plot but a little patch of evening glow. Let's add Bouvardia for perfume, too.
Maybe some scattering of seeds: tall perfumed Nicotiana; Cleome and cosmos for autumn; most of all, that flower I met in the Mediterranean 5 years ago, Orlaya grandiflora, with flat Queen Anne's Lace-heads unusually dappled with their outer ring of larger tear-drop petals. (I have Orlaya near the front door and must collect seeds of this exquisite ephemeral, top.)
Add bulbs like winter snowdrops, and winter and spring white daffodils, and spring and summer lilies to extend the season, all arctic white. Even Galtonia candicans, that elegant bulb, with tall stalks of clipped bell flowers, bridal-white in mid-summer; these were blooms in my sister's wedding bouquet, I believe, in the 1970's. Or so Mum used to say; I like these family stories. (I was 10.)
Suddenly my mere dozen square metres are stuffed full. I need to take some plants out again - quickly.
It needs lashings of green and so for edging, along with white cranesbills I might plant white Scaevola, neat, green with a sprinkling of small flowers which don't overwhelm. And dwarf greenish Nicotiana, below, maybe; almost invisible by day, but beaming light at dusk; extraordinary.
But...I've already planted a pale pink Thryptomene in the centre, perfect for its height and width (that sounds dreary) and its so-elegant arching branches of little myrtaceous flowers. Perhaps I'll add pale pink flowers to the white plants; a link to the adjacent pink rose bed; and hope my pale pink Astrantia (currently in pots) will like this hot sunny spot. 
No, I think a touch, just a touch of burgundy as well, amongst all the baby-doll-pink and white will lift the bed enormously. Maybe Sanguisorbia `Red Thunder' with little heads of strong hue held on wiry stems - nearer burgundy than red, I hasten to add (like too many misnamed plants). I think this will work really well.
Unlike...I too often mention my silver and raspberry bed, perhaps, expanded now with blackberry and cherry and strawberry colours to become a summer pudding kaleidoscope. It's given me a lot of pleasure this spring and I expected cherry-coloured Asiatic lilies to continue the joy. But Oh No! Blood Red! (Below.) They clash and look hideous against the raspberry Salvia, against the black (blackberry) hollyhock, cherry Nicotiana, and the various other pinks. Out they'll come tout de suite. (Maybe they need their own bed. And may the odds be ever in their favour.)
 And then I'll be back to enjoying again the plume poppy (Macleaya) in particular at the back, tossing its gorgeous silvery leaves in this breeze. (I've been longing to grow this perennial for a score years or more. (Wandering wallabies found it delicious.)) With the lilies gone I'll assess the pink-lilac Centaurea: great foliage, silver, and so perfect here, but are the flowers too mauve? Let's wait a few days to evaluate that one. 
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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