Friday, 21 October 2016

The Generosity of Gardeners

The generosity of gardeners is a special thing. Sure, many plants grow and spread, a little can be divided off, but it's more than that, it's a sharing of something you love, 'here, have some, I want you to enjoy it too.'
I may have written before about my friend J who is probably as passionate about her plot of plants as I am, and enjoys looking around mine, and for whom I really like heaving up a bit of this or that perennial. But I can't walk around with a spade - then she says `I can't admire anything or you'll just dig it up' (my prerogative, surely?). No, a little trowel works better. J relaxes, she gets smaller pieces of plants, there pride involved? Guilt? It's such a shame.

And yet I know how she feels. I am in a garden club and have known one of its members for nearly 25 years. V has been gardening longer than me and, let's be honest, is a better gardener, too. (She doesn't get put off by mere headaches or tiredness, she does this thing called Looking After her Plants.) It just so happens that V and I love the same sorts of plants, share the same tastes, like the same colours. Too often, I seem to fall in love with one of her treasures and beg a piece...and we've both realised that we share a very similar taste, and she knows I don't bother other people (or admire their choices) half as often! So...I try to limit my enthusiasm (I don't want to be 'grabby') and if I think I have something special, I'll try to give a piece to V as an occasional thank you.
Recently I wrote an article in `Country Life Yarra Valley and Ranges' about a really lovely native garden; its owner propagated plants and whenever I visited she gave me little plants (like a native Libertia, delicate, white, sweet); so generous from a lady I didn't know. I think society is richer for these acts of kindness.
I visited a new garden-design-client this week who not only gave me a bunch of sweet smelling sweet peas, shell-pink, but, so generous! - gave me 2 fat tubers of Gloriosa rothschildiana (top) as well. She couldn't know that I have two metal tripods (hexapods, really), centred in each cut-flower bed, on which I grow clematis (beginning its spring show right now), but I've long thought that Gloriosa would look, well, glorious, on these, too.

This gardener turned out to be as passionate about plants as me, which was a likeable meeting of minds. It was simplicity itself to offer her some of my handsome variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum  `Variegatum' (just starting to bloom), below) - which probably needs dividing. I popped by the next day with some - before I forgot.
Gloriosa is from Zimbabwe; it's also known as the African Flame Lily, with flowers somewhere between claret and crimson, with a gold flame along an edge of each petal. I planted them this morning, one under each hexapod, hoping that the weather isn't too cool for doing this in my area. As with so much gardening, time will tell; you may have messed up, or happened upon a great new success - if you remember what you did!

And then you enjoy your choice plant, and remember the lovely donor.
And the act of kindness.

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, 13 October 2016

Choice Perennials in Early Spring

Bright spring sunshine has coaxed my favourite little perennials into fresh new growth, leaves, and now flowers as well. Barrenwort (Epimedium) in pink, white, yellow; semi-double bloodroot (Sanguinaria 'Tennessee Form', above), a blue Hepatica (below) and a gorgeous petite white meadow rue (Thalictrum minus if memory serves, grown from seed from the UK, third pic), all white flowers and blue-green maiden-hair foliage, barely 15cm high. A small Omphalodes with unusual lilac flowers and a Corydalis with copious sky-blue flowers over grey leaves tinged purple (some variant of C. flexuosa, second last pic).
I've just found a sweet little perennial, Uvularia sessilifolia varigata, with tiny yellow flowers, in the shadehouse and rescued it, and popped it near the front door where I can enjoy seeing it every day.

Somewhat taller, is Lamprocapnos  (formerly Dicentra spectabilis alba, below), white `bleeding heart' flowers on arching sprays as I watch it's new brother, `Valentine' (left) push up red-tinged leaves and extraordinary flowers of red hearts seemingly dripping white blood.
In the garden, romping away (says J) is a handsome variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum `Variegatum'), spreading slowly over many years, happily surviving the wet winters and dry summers.
Perennials are just so...splendiferous, at this time of year. You do nothing, zilch, zip, zero, and up they come with fresh growth, leaves that may be wonderful (pleated Veratrum, feathery Astilbe, maiden-hair Aquilegia and Thalictrum, ferny Dicentra. The leaves of Hostas, Sanguinaria and snow poppy (Eomecon chionantha) are just too beautiful to describe); and flowers, too, from tiniest Epimedium `Spring Wedding' (last pic) to peony roses, lush and richly coloured.

Many are rhizomes, like my pale pink lily-of-the-valley, Trillium, Anemone nemerosa and many iris; they are diageotropic (grow perpendicularly to the force of gravity), which is all a fancy way of saying that the thickened roots grow horizontally.

The dahlias - tubers - haven't shown a spark of life yet but that's fine; they are heat-loving creatures of summer. I'm enjoying the spring show, the early perennials that follow the bulbs, the daffodils and tulips. It's like the first act has started and I'm bouncing in my seat with anticipation, knowing all the later perennials are still to come, and humming along to the first movement of my favourite symphony. (The poets daffodils, fragrant, the last ones, are still blooming; and the tulips are still flowering, too: white pink, plum, 'black', so beautiful, I almost gasp as I look at them. Really.)
It doesn't get much better than this.
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, 7 October 2016

Springtime, Football, Planting Tomatoes and Rainbow Rights

Melbourne is my city yet I'm not remotely football-mad - but heck, it was good to see the underdogs, the Bulldogs, the team from the west suburbs - win against Sydney. (After 62 years!) I hate myself for it, but it seems I'm hopelessly parochial after all. Even the garden was barracking for my home team: amongst the white tulips and blue Anemone coronaria a red tulip popped up, unbidden, to bestow the right colours on the day (then the rogue was pulled out pretty darn quickly).
They made the sun shine (for a day)! Spring came roaring in the day after the AFL Grand Final: bright sunshine, warm gusty winds, temperatures above twenty degrees at last. And then again on Thursday. And maybe, who knows, this weekend too. Perfect for tomato planting.
We threw off the second doona and I'm out to check out the garden. The early bulbs are over but a few late daffodils are still softly lemon and white; tulips pink and darkest plum; hellebores gently green.

It's time to plant tomatoes, classically, in the Emerald city - Melbourne - between Grand Final Day and Melbourne Cup Day.

Call me crazy, but my new, fourth veg bed - dug over after moving the pretty little hens onto the next-door patch of Warrigal greens and spinach - is a chance for planting an edible patch in another colour scheme. (My first was pink, purple and green; the next orange and red with black kale; the most recent, and already quite colourful, is lemon, yellow, gold against (again) darkest kale. All these were winter (edible) flowers and vegetables. It's so much fun.)
This is my first summer bed since starting to experiment and play with colour in the culinary beds. I felt like having a rainbow; partly to fit in all my tomatoes, yellow, orange, red, purple-black, and purple beans; and partly because I want to toss rainbows everywhere, in a joyous show of solidarity with the LGBTI community as we - maybe - inch towards a plebiscite on marriage equality, and if so, unleash hate speech like never before. I'll be wearing rainbows, and planting them, and thinking them. I'll make rainbow flower chains. Rainbow cakes. (Maybe wearing rainbow hair. Hmmm.)

My rainbow veg bed is like refracted light, I like to think, and I am looking for dwarf white English lavender to have at the `start', on either side of the path. Next are some lemon-coloured French marigolds I've planted, while I've scattered seed of more. Behind the path edging of low edible flowers (marigolds, pansies, calendulas, nasturtiums) are taller plants, and vegetables, beginning with tomatoes `Wapsipinicon' (`Yellow Peach'), then orange `Sunrise Bumblebee', red `Periforme Albuzzo' and `Sweetbite' (J's favourite) culminating, at the end, with `Black Cherry' and `Black Russian' (my favourite). Yellow zucchini , red capsicum, purple eggplants - they'll fit into the rainbow. A rainbow for rainbow rights.

So I seem to have started with masculine football and ended somewhere different, and political (not for the first time, see posts 8/7/13; 27/9/15).

Just as the current fashion for edible garden is actually underpinned by a concern for carbon miles, so does much of my garden have underlying ideas. Only not, often, in the veg patch. Nor, too often, political. As garden critic and feminist Germaine Greer says, `Gardening can be – should be – conceptual, which is simply a way of saying that gardens should have ideas in them and the ideas should be perceptible.' I love gardens with themes and ideas, making the garden experience richer, like other art forms. Read more at

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 (