Thursday, 30 June 2016

Colour Follies Continue in the Culinary Patch

Winter arrived with a cold blast and it's suddenly fiercely cold. The mercury - or some kind of solar cell - barely bothers to reach double figures these days; it's shocking after the unusually balmy autumn.

It's June, terribly late, but I find more, yes more!, bulbs - exquisite packets of joy - and I write labels and fling them into terracotta pots or in the cold ground, hoping they'll forgive me. (Iris reticulata, Moraea, a few tulips and Narcissus. Best of all, white Gladiolus `The Bride' - lots - from Mum's garden. When I see these I nearly cry. This was what I'd most wanted from Mum's garden and I couldn't think where they'd got to - but they were badly labelled. It'll be interesting to see how they `do' and I'll have lots of these wonderful flowers - one day - maybe this spring.)
Seeds, too; it's interesting what will germinate these cold days in the soil that's, frankly, rather icy.
We've moved along the little hens three times in fairly quick succession, each time onto another 1/5 veg plot to scratch and fertilise.
My Culinary Colour Bed Eureka moment happened in autumn resulting in my pink and purple veg bed. (Confession: I've just bought a seedling punnet, this time of deep pink-red Mizuna (Japanese mustard) which looks suspiciously like finely divided `red' kale (not J's favourite vegetable, however much white wine, butter and pine nuts are added). Do I need these (in salads)...or are they just going to look good in this bed? Maybe both.) The peas include purple (podding...but I'm going to try picking `em early) and purple snow (to eat raw; colour stays intact if not cooked).
Then a month ago, during our lengthy `fall', I planted out the black kale bed with orange flowers, red flowers, burnt nasturtium leaves and more purple peas. (Red-flowering beans will be perfect when I try this in summer.) Flame against black; what a contrast.
And now the colour fun continues in the culinary patch of course.
So now our girls are scratching another patch and I dig over my new bed, 4m by 2.5m. I dig out the central path and add the rich soil to the beds each sides. I add 3 tripods of local teatree branches, nearly 2m high, at the end, like exclamation marks. Under them I plant seeds of `Golden Podded' peas from Diggers Seeds. Behind them, I do something odd; I've discovered that brassicas grow from cuttings and I stick in about a dozen of black Tuscan Kale. But then...what if they don't take? So I scatter some seeds too (I've many, home-collected), and within days they toss up their dark little seed leaves, despite the winter-chill.
At the other end of the U-shaped bed, where you enter, I've planted creamy pansies, lemon, and then yellow along the path edge. Behind them are the tiny white flowers of Stevia plants (Stevia rebaudiana, `the sugar herb' which forms a little subshrub to 1m high), and then there's a compost bin each side. And then the yellow seriously starts: chartreuse heads of broccoli `Romanesco' with Calendula `Lemon Daisy' (lemon petals, soft gold eye) in front; then as the eyes (or feet) progress, beetroot `Burpees Golden' with golden stems, yellow-stem chard behind Nasturtium `Peach Melba', (lemon with small orange blotches). At the end the eye will rest on Sweet Mace (Tagetes lucida, 70cm high with yellow-orange flowers), contrasted with blue-black Tuscan Kale.
I'm seriously impressed with the seeds that have germinated in winter. To imbue vegetative matter with human instincts is ridiculous, but a plant that germinates in winter seems to display optimism or bravado to a great degree, surely (or not)? Calendula have come up, broccoli ditto, peas under glass; my only laggard (and who can blame its hesitance?) is Nasturtium.
So now I need a cloche. Or cloches.
February was my birthday month and I received some money (thank you Mum-in-law); my mind turned to those splendid (there is no other word for them) glass cloche-like bell jars of veg gardens we associate with Victorian-era productive gardens. Cloudehill - now firmly in the Digger's Club thrall - no longer sells these superb (if expensive) items. A kindly stranger on the net directed me towards a discount store more full of cheap ugly junk than I can bear to think about. But. There I found ugly glass cake stands, with glass covers, very cheap. Could I take away the covers, or bell jars, and leave behind the stands? I could. Hurrah. I bought 6. The following week, another 6. Not quite as handsome, and not quite as large, as `real' garden bell jars but oh so pleasing. Best money spent all year!
So I have my bell jars, and now I just move them over where I planted the nasturtium seeds.
There's one fly in the ointment: the yellow peas have pink flowers. As my father-in-law says (and so they do in `Alice in Wonderland') I could paint the flowers.
There's a thought.
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 June 2016

Winter (and for our Northern friends, Summer) Solstice

It's the 23rd of June, and I'm a little late to celebrate the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Winds are buffeting the cottage and it feels bitterly cold; now is when we notice that we're higher than Melbourne, at 170m, in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges.

But it's the summer solstice for my Northern hemisphere friends and some have celebrated in style. This is why I like social media so much: to share gardening stories, flower pictures, bulb insights. I see, just a little, into the lives of people I've admired from afar (often geographically), authors, nurserymen, plantsmen, gardeners, plant hunters, seed collectors, designers, and that new breed, garden critics.

Jānis Rukšāns' name pops up; a plant collector, author and bulb grower from Latvia, well known, with surely the most charming traditional celebration of the longest day and shortest night. As he says: ` Last night was summer solstice. We celebrated it together with folk group at bonfire starting with last rays of sun up to sunrise this morning. All the time we were singing folk-songs from pagan times [greeting] sun, moon, garden crops etc. etc and dancing folk dances under music of old strings, bagpipes. It is named Janis day, although by nowadays calendar it will be only night between 23rd and 24th of June, but we celebrated it by nature calendar. In Latvia they still are holydays and there are [made] special beer and special cheese - named Janis cheese. On picture Janis cheese prepared for me by my wife Guna. Today returned to harvesting of bulbs.'

(Lynn (who I don't know) replies `in Sweden...Midsummer eve...herring, new potatoes and dancing around the "Maypole"...strawberries for dessert'.)

Australia - white Australia - seems, suddenly, very barren, although I realise this is purely my ignorance in this multicultural land. Last Saturday evening, not 5km away in Belgrave, there was a cheerful Lantern Festival; Vietnamese New Year is big in Keysborough and Richmond each year; and imagine if we celebrated local indigenous culture as well as we might.

Yes, we have seasonal chocolate eggs, hot-cross-buns (and my English mother made buttery saffron-infused Easter biscuits, rather brittle, but delicious - a cultural tradition), Christmas trees; but so much commercialism. And for this vegetarian, I dislike so much emphasis on ham and turkey! So I like this cheese, and I love the flowers, and the joie de vivre. I love the celebration `by nature calendar', not as directed by TV's commercials - or so it seems.

It's not cheap nostalgia (I'm all too aware of antibiotics, vaccinations and contraception (and thank you science, by the way, very much) which have transformed my life for the better) but a closer connection to the garden, farm, magic dirt and matters vegetable; and away from the shops, factories, cities and matters plastic, throw-away or monetary.

But it's the gardener in me that really responds to Janis' post; both celebrating a season but also decorating that cheese with simple - found not bought - flowers.
Back to nature. Earthiness maybe.
Or simplicity.
A chance to stop and be grateful for the garden, perhaps. Your patch of magic dirt.
And what you have.
(And yes, I am singing a Magic Dirt song in my head now. Of course!)

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 (
(Photograph by Jānis Rukšāns reused with permission.)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Winter Snowdrops

There's some lovely little bulbs that flower in winter - or they do in our Mediterranean climate. This is where I go from relishing the `coolth' (come on, that should be a word!) in the Dandenong Ranges (and tulips do well here, how lucky am I?) to admitting that, yes, I'm really in the foothills so it's pretty warm really, much like Melbourne in the summer months.

So we have Cyclamen coum and Galanthus (above) amongst the bulbs, Garrya and daphne amongst the shrubs, hellebores and Euphorbia `Rudolf' amongst the perennials and heck of a lot of wildflowers, too, blooming through the coldest months. The floral wattage is never turned off.

So why am I thrilled by this tiny pot of petite snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii `Sam Arnott')? Especially this year; the autumn warmth has resulted in some spring flowers out now, some roses are still blooming, salvias still covered in bright colour and of course lots of hellebores are putting out fat buds too.

It's a petite flower so lovers of large blooms may not `get' this.

I love small flowers and I'm often interested to see if people fall into the large bloom group (my sister) or small flower group (me and my mother); large clematis/ camellia/ gladiolus (what I call huge or blousy or unsubtle and usually hideous, to be honest) or a person may be in the small flower group: small clematis/ camellia/ species gladiolus (what I call subtle or sweet and they call boring or insignificant - what are you growing that for? Do you want a bit? No!).

Also I've never experienced a British winter, the real thing, where you relish coloured bark, and a tiny bulb like this snowdrop is (more) understandably greeted with joy.

Why am I pleased as punch?
One of those inexplicable things?
But joyous, all the same.

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, 11 June 2016

Silver-Foliage Wormwood

There's more silver in the garden, and less.

Well, I've pruned back the tree wormwood (Artemisia) and other wormwood, hard. And moved them. And, joy!, given myself lots more room in the raspberry-and-silver bed.

I dislike the term `cottage garden' but I do acquire plants like a bower bird, sometimes (and with a similar single-minded colour sensibility, I might add). Perennial beds (and mixed beds), mostly, is closer to the mark.

As any long-term reader of this blog will know, my raspberry (colour)-and-silver bed has tones of strawberry, plum and cherry, too. (A `summer pudding' bed.) But getting oh so crowded, now, and with some Artemisia sadly grey, rather than the desired silver. I am not a fan of dull grey leaves. Recently I found at the nurseries, in small pots, Artemisia arborescens, with its silver filigree leaves, making a burgeoning idea suddenly very easy: move the positive space of silver - 2 groups of 3 plants - back (a lot).

So I've pulled out the grey wormwood (so less silver); but these are such hardy plants, and there's blank `holes' in other spots in the they go more silver (or grey). But carefully; I really don't want the whole garden to be full of silver or grey, however hardy or drought-proof (with the exception of my lovely row of globe artichoke by the veg garden (left). The huge leaves are sensational).
I love green!

Adding the pink hues has been fun, and continues, with various masterworts (Astrantia, ruby, pink ones) going in recently.

In a corner of my study I've just found a few Lilium bulbs (some `Asiatic' for late spring, some `oriental' (top) for mid-summer), magically still alive, cherry-coloured, and a few black tulips (`Hero') (close to blood plum skin - yes, it still fits) and in they go in the new space. Yes, it's early winter, but they'll live.

(Scabiosa  atropurpurea  `Midnight' (left) adds more of this wonderful plum-black in later spring, too.)

What I'd forgotten was that absinthe is made from Artemisia absinthium and vermouth might contain this ingredient too. (I designed a Mediterranean edible garden a while ago and it was fun exploring the extent of the brief. We did find a source of Artemisia absinthium to plant for one of the borders.)

Do I call this garden my absinthe and raspberry bed (confusing people enormously)?

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, 3 June 2016

Hot Colours in the Edible Patch

I'm having so much fun in the garden. And it's in the edible patch!
I consider myself a colourist, but until recently hadn't thought of applying these principles to my vegetable garden. Recently I planted the pink (and purple) edible patch; now I've planted a bed where hot red sits against black Tuscan kale. But a whole bed (about 4m by 2.5m with a central path) dedicated to red is a lot; and we only have five. In fact, because my little hens are always scratching in a fallow bed, enriching it (thank you girls), we can only ever plant out four beds at one time.
So - a hot colour bed instead. 
Just as with my pink veg bed, which deepens in hue flowing from soft pink to ruby to purple as the eye progresses, so here, too, the eye (and either side of the feet) progresses from soft apricot and travels through orange to bright red and dark blood-red.

J was consulted - a little! - and the parameters decided, that all plants must have an edible part, so flowers that may be eaten are included along with vegetables. This makes it fun, a challenge, prettier...and hopefully a colour scheme that's beautiful, sings even.

So my little garden has soft apricot pansies and orange Calendula (`Green Heart Orange'), lettuces green and red, nasturtiums of orange and red and Beetroot `Moulin Rouge' which will likely have stems of red. Behind these: purple heads of broccoli `Red Arrow' and then the picture culminates with dark kale `Cavolo Nero', tall wigwams of teatree planted with peas (`Purple Podded Dutch'; we still want lots of peas; there's no red ones, I believe; besides, I like my rustic teatree tripods) and in front of them: Nasturtium `Empress of India': red blooms over dark (almost blood-red, I hope) leaves.

Little Viola at the `start' - the sweet ones my (English) mother called Hearts-ease, but Australians call Johnny Jump-Ups, were planted in soft orange (and soft yellow, a mistake, really) but (conservationist) J recalled that these can self-sow too much - and this area is rather near lovely bushland. The Hearts-ease were replaced with pansies - all apricot-orange - and much better. Most of the colours in the bed are shades of orange or red now. And green - as ever - of course.

I'm not sure why it's so important for me to start with a soft colour and then gain momentum into the deepest hue. It just feels right, and it gives the eye impact as it travels along the bed, which Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) - surely the greatest garden colourist ever (author of `Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden', which I devoured in my 20's. After reading it, I could only garden with an eye for colour, see last picture: my first hot-colour-bed, circa 1988) with her painterly eye - would (I think) agree with.

These are all winter vegetables or winter-growing plants, of course; it will be fun to do it all again in spring for the summer veg.

Just as with the ornamental garden, now I have a colour sensibility, I don't think I can ever lose it or shake it off (not that I want to).

The next bed? Yellow and...well I just love that black kale. We'll see. 

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 (