Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Spring Excitement

It really, truly is spring. Wattles are flaring gold against the green (those Olympian colours) flagging spring throughout bushland and my home of the Dandenong Ranges; it's gold riches, promises of sunshine warmth.
Daffodils are nodding and tossing wilful sulphur heads in the garden.
Culinary garden plants are moving again: purple peas, crimson-flowering broad beans, broccoli (purple, chartreuse), kale; and those edible flowers: calendulas (pot marigolds or, as I knew and grew them as a child, African marigolds (my first garden: collecting the moon-shaped seeds and forever re-sowing and growing the plants, with the cheerful yellow and orange daisy-like flowers)), pansies and nasturtiums. Rocket has flowered, brightest-spring-sunshine-yellow. Peas are mainly purple, a few fruiting, odd to see; with glorious pink-and-purple flowers (below). `Are they sweet peas?' I'm asked.
Hens are starting to lay again and take dust baths in the sun. 
There's fairy-floss-blossom on dwarf fruit trees near the kitchen, pink and white bells on correas, and delicious fragrance from the white daphne, too small as yet for cutting for a vase. But I've been picking Narcissus for vases for several weeks (mostly perfumed `Erlicheer' - what a great cultivar).
I glance amongst my pots and there's a nicely aged terracotta pot bursting with special hoop-petticoat daffodils (Narcissus bulbcodium obesus) from a friend (above - with my latest bit of fun. By the way, these shoes are too tiny to wear - even for me. (Thank you St Vinnies.) The succulents are a reminder of Attila Kapitany's interesting garden (bought not stolen) from the weekend).
Most exciting of all, is the tree peony from Mum's old garden, a 2m monster heaved, really, as a side branch from Mum's large plant when Dad left the house, and popped vertically into a large pot with a large dose of optimism. It lives! It grows leaves! It has 9 fat buds (below)! Back to earth...
There's even a leaf coming up from the crown of my dwarf waterlily in the water garden.
Now that's warmth.
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, 29 August 2016

Gardening Sisters

Garden visiting is often pretty fun (if you've done your homework, the gardens are good, and also interesting to you), and maybe most fun when you take a buddy - and your buddy is a gardening sister.
One of my sisters is an artist, so we talk design; and one knows plants; how good is that? And both, both are free for some serious garden-visiting (and plant-buying, I suspect) this spring. (Will Digger's run out of seeds? Let's hope not.)
But there's another level to having my garden-loving sisters - and it's happened twice now. S came over yesterday (she is also a chef, is that good? Only fantastic) bearing not only mandarin and almond muffins (yum), but also, from her little flower-filled city garden, a bunch of winter flowers for me: Mum-style flowers (which is pretty darn generous). Mum spent nearly 30 years in Emerald - pretty cold compared to Melbourne, really, so it's a September-like bunch: Leucodendron, red Alstroemeria, and jonquils in white and yellow and a little orange. `Mum used to pick these flowers to put with her Leucodendron' I was told. How did I not know this? I think I'm just too focussed on gardens, really, and have less interest in cut flowers, and simply didn't notice what Mum did with the wealth of flowers from her country garden. Even though, city or country, Mum had flowers in the house, always, and at all times beautifully arranged. That I do remember.
And how wonderful to be told (again) about one of Mum's arrangements, that she loved, and to have it in my home, where I can almost caress the blooms.
Mum had an eye for artistry; honed by discussions with her painter-father. (His quintessentially English landscape paintings, say family lore, enrich most British embassies around the world.) She had a good eye for colour and cared about height and texture in the garden, too. In her country garden, my sister reminds me, Mum might let us pick flowers  (we were adults by then) but they must be beyond sight of the house. The flowers in view of the house might not be sacrosanct, quite, but were certainly more precious.
S seems slightly bemused by this, still. In her city garden it's all visible from the windows, and winter flowers can be picked for a vase, maybe denuding the garden...
But I totally agree.
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, 19 August 2016

Wild Orchid Hunting

Late winter is really early spring in outer Melbourne, so, for us, it's time to look for local wild orchids. We're a stone's throw from Victoria's most orchid-rich spot (lucky us!): Balluk Willam Conservation Reserve by the appositely named Orchid Road.

About 4 years ago we started a new tradition; one I love. J had met 4 lovely people of varying ages who appreciate the bush as much as we do, through a nearby conservation group, and with them - one a great photographer, and 2 are `birdo's' - we visit this famous reserve to look for orchids every spring. Ideally we visit every week for 6 weeks, but that, of course, does not happen. Initially we were asked by I and D, I suspect, to identify plants (our forte - and some (a few) I know better than does J) while our friends can tell any birds by their call and can raise their binoculars faster than a senior sheila raising a shandy on a hot summer afternoon.
So we stroll and stop and point, ooh and aah, photograph and identify, chat and laugh, kneel and stretch. Then coffee and biscuits. On Sunday we introduced a garden-loving friend to this special place and we kept to the paths (there are some trampled informal `paths' where plants need to regenerate). 
It's been a warm late winter with magnolias, for example, flowering early, so it wasn't surprising to see lots of greenhood orchids and I think my favourite (this visit!) was Large Sickle Greenhood (Pterostylis falcata, top).
I have a large pot of greenhood orchids flowering at home. They're either always or often available at Kuranga Native Nursery and mine just keep multiplying despite absolute neglect, so they are very easy to grow (and cheap to buy, in small pots). The wild ones are protected. 
We also saw yellow guinea flower (Hibbertia, below) and native heath (Epacris impressa, above) in shades of blush pink, hot pink and snow white. Also (well named) white scented sundew (last picture) with flowers that seem too large, showy and, well, pretty to belong to this group but no, look at the sticky leaves below: it can be no other plant.
Baluk Willam is on the way home from Melbourne for me, so occasionally I've stopped for a quick look in early spring and one of these times I had a nice experience...which might bamboozle my city friends. It was a few years ago and I was clearly flower hunting, eyes scanning the forest floor, but said hello in a friendly way to a gentleman of perhaps 70 who was also orchid or flower hunting. `Do you like orchids?' he asked. `Oh yes!' I after establishing that I would neither pick nor dig up these precious plants, this pleasant man showed me a rare orchid he'd found, and then we wandered along companionably for a while together in our shared quest.
Was it a kind of greenhood?
I don't remember. 
So you can take your woman out of the city (20 years ago)...and she'll hopefully act like a friendly sensible country woman.
And enjoy life more.
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, 12 August 2016

Winter Species Cyclamen

Late winter and my Cyclamen coum (above) are blooming well in their pretty little terracotta pots, many with a nicely aged patina. I have a number of these pots thanks to my mum-in-law (they probably came from her mother-in-law) and they set off my dainty bulbs so well; winter species cyclamen just now. 
Cyclamen coum flowers tend to be cerise or white, and so are these; one is very handsome with white blooms with a carmine 'nose'. 
I love that cyclamen can flower year-round if you choose enough species: chubby Cyclamen coum for winter, tough-as-boots C. hederifolium for autumn, C. repandum has elegant deep pink blooms in spring and round-leaf C. purpurescens flowers in summer. Hailing from central Europe (unlike the others - Mediterranean and summer-dormant) the latter is evergreen and if I let mine dry out they sulk stubbornly for quite some time. (Does this spur me to keep them watered? Well, I do try.)

If you'd like to see some of my favourite cyclamen plants check out Gardening Australia on iview; the 5 minute segment aired on 21st May '16. I showed off my C. hederifolium with completely silver leaves (above) amongst others.
Where to buy these treasures? Try Gentiana Nursery (Olinda),  Dicksonia (Macedon), Hillview Rare Plants (the latter is mail-order, good news for main-landers).
They're easy to grow from seed, too - and get interesting ones from (amongst other places) the Cyclamen Society.
Most of my Cyclamen coum have lovely dappling on the leaves, sometimes forming a Christmas tree pattern.
Why have plain leaves if you can have - for cyclamen, anyhow (I'm not a big fan of the variegated, normally!) - that gorgeous marbled foliage?
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 (