Sunday, 20 November 2016

Wild Blue Sun Orchids in Spring

One of those many, many reasons that I love living in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne is the countless spring wildflowers, and the blue sun orchids are maybe the pinnacle (along with other wild things like our rather-too-friendly marsupials). Thelymitra ixioides is also known as Spotted Sun Orchid and it makes me smile for another reason...when it actually opens, that is, and pollinates with other flowers in the species, when it's very sunny (otherwise it self-pollinates).

I smile because it grows on my bushland property (High 5!) and was identified by my botanist mother when we bought our patch of paradise 20 odd years ago...and she said (with some sort of pride, I think), that we had the rare unspotted form (High 5! I guess).  But J and I don't want to seem to boast, especially about this, and (until now!) have kept quiet about this piece of luck. (This blue sun orchid is spotted and I photographed it near home, when orchid hunting with friends - a surprisingly enjoyable pastime each spring.) Besides, it becomes a burden of responsibility, doesn't it - to keep out neighbouring cattle or horses, for example, to preserve the species (or subspecies) along with other people who own bushland (and appreciate it) and National Parks - if heavy-footed foreign creatures are kept out. One day we might put a covenant on our bushland with Trust for Nature to protect it forever, which will still allow us our cleared (non-bush) area for garden/ animals etc.
I forget exactly, but I think we've found 16 species of orchid in just 13 acres/ 5 ha (including an albino beard orchid). That's sure worth protecting. Forever.

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, 17 November 2016

Ode to a Little White Hen

Our Light Sussex bantams are the prettiest birds imaginable; John's choice, if memory serves; they are flashy, bright white and banded black, firm of beak and fast of wing.
My choice, I think, were the softly coloured wyandottes, feathered with darker lines; with names like Toffee and Treacle, you can imagine the colouring.
Five years ago we started off with 2 of the Light Sussex bantams and I called them my Blondies, so (of course) they were called Debbie and Harry. (I love punk music, and pop music of the late `70's.) (Later joined by blond-tressed Gerri (Hall. Remember the `Let's Stick Together' video? Coolest model ever.)

All my girls have been raised from day-old chicks which makes them darn special. We've seen them learn to roost, learn to find the very best nest box, learn that I'm the Food Lady. Even learn my cough from the bedroom - which brings on a `we want pizza' sort of call. They've decided that Warrigal greens is their favourite of the greens. We've cracked it when they get clucky.
When the favourite (mercury-coloured Freddie, friendliest Freddie) got sick, we crossed that threshold, and took her to a vet. A few days of a chatty chook in a box in the house - boy, did I enjoy that, oh yes - a daily pill popped into the struggling beak and voilĂ , we have a happy layer again. Money well spent thank you.
So today was a bit different. Debbie had been a little off colour; then she couldn't get up to the roost at night (but that day was a public holiday);  today she was having trouble walking. Off to the wonderful bird vet. Is it infectious? (Hopefully not.)  Is it easily fixed? (Sadly, no.) Is she suffering? (Well, maybe, and not for any time longer.) Euthanasia please.
The wonderful vet goes to organise her things and this gives me time to stroke Debbie's white rump and those fabulous black feathers at her ruff.  It's a quiet chance to say good bye, it's peaceful, sweet, even.
Do we want to bring her home? Yes. She gets a pet's burial, of course, under a special shrub that will never be disturbed. And I have a white David Austin rose in a pot, bought when on a nursery visit with my sisters, that needs planting. (Rosa `Windermere', a creamy rose with `a strong fragrance with a hint of citrus', that reaches 1.2m and flowers forever.). Perfect.
I dig out some belladonna lilies and `plant' them both (pet then shrub) at the back of a border where there's lots of grey leaves (large-leaf Lamb's Ears; an unusual Ballota) and white, pink and purple flowers.
I have some black mondo grass in pots, too (from Mum's garden). They'd remind me of Debbie's beautiful ruff but...would they look nice or...I suspect, awful, under the rose. Packets of `black' and white tulips can look great, but it's a powerful combination which should be used with care, maybe amongst lots of green, and not permanently, like I'm proposing. Hmmm. I think Geranium phaeum instead, or Mourning Widow as it's known, with its little dark flowers over pretty, rounded clumps of greenery would look much better. And if the colours are only meaningful to me? No matter.

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, 3 November 2016

White Flowers (and Other Colours in the Garden)

Yes, colour (or its absence) in the garden again.
I've just been chatting to an enthusiastic gardener - Merryn Maher of Banool, who I interviewed for Country Life Yarra Valley and Ranges, and found that roses were not her favourite plants, as I'd been led to expect, but a more subtle effect. No, as the weather warms, and her (large) garden becomes another room to live in, the hydrangeas begin flowering and she has white ones including oak-leaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) and Hydrangea arborescens `Annabelle', planted in masses in beds designed by renowned designer Paul Bangay. These are her favourite plants - in her favourite time of year. White flowers under large shady trees; a garden of green and white. (And her favourite rose? A David Austin rose, `Abraham Darby', which has large cupped flowers of pink-apricot, which she loves for its rich fruity fragrance. Like other roses and flowers near her front door, it's chosen for its colour, its likeness to the honey-colour of the old stone house. `Abraham Darby' has a long flowering season, and the first flower has just come out on the sunny spring day I visit. Merryn picks a flower and we both inhale deeply with appreciation.) 

After the interview we reminisced about our favourite British gardens and discussed Hidcote Manor (the first serious garden of colours, and a great example) and then "The White Garden" at Sissinghurst Castle - and the importance of green (and lots of it) and structure in a white garden. (Should anyone else try a white garden? Now that's a whole extra story.) 

Unusually this gardener is keen on interesting plants (Paris, Trillium) yet employed an outstanding designer too, for structure and for plant palette too (and `masses, large numbers for quick effect').

Coincidentally she tells me of her love of white flowers just when my own garden has been filled - surreptitiously, it seems, by a glorious surfeit of dazzling bridal blooms (I notice when I get home) - the heavily-fragrant Mexican orange blossom (Choisya), the snowy Viburnum plicatum (top) and the dogwood laden with large flowers of purity, named - unfortunately - `Eddie's White Wonder'. There's the last of the Narcissus too (the Poet's daffodil, N. poeticus - why does this always make me think of the northern England's daffy-down-dilly, Wordsworth's daffodils, which are probably N. pseudonarcissus? The wildness, the simplicity, or the fact of being a species? Or just a love of very local common names; and they don't get much better than daffy-down-dilly).
Grey leaf campion (Lychnis) has white flowers just beginning its spring season; it's a sweet, subtle little plant that seems to be perennial for me, and self-sows so prolifically that it could easily become a weed - but I don't let it get a firm foot hold in. (There's the very pretty rose campion with deepest pink-cerise flowers but once you have that in your garden - it's there forever, and for me, when it's next to orange flowers, the effect jars badly; the flowers are swearing at each other. No, I may have very few red or orange flowers in the garden, but only the white form of campion for me, thank you. Just in case.)
Pure white are the first of the bearded iris, too (above), which have just unfurled their flags; these came from my sister. I love them.
(There's still lots of blue too: bugle (Ajuga (left) - covered in orange butterflies), Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and the first of the iris: mauve Pacific coast types, deep purple ones and a tall lilac iris, delicate-looking, tolerating the damp soil well and oh-so-pretty by the soft purple front gate. Along the front path, amongst the bugle, are windflowers (Anemone coronaria, so hardy) blue and white and single, my preference, and the last of the white tulips.)
So I'm looking at my white flowers, and my garden, with a fresh eye, which is always useful. For some people white is a non-colour, I know, and a let-down. But think how they (the flowers, not the people) emerge at dusk with a flourish, a `Here I Am' as the other colours recede.
For the lovers of green-on-green gardens, any flowers are a distraction; and if they're exotic flowers then lovers of native gardens - still so in vogue - will be against so many of them, which seems such a pity. (Indigenous is different, to me. There's a meaningful purpose to an indigenous corner of a garden, making it a wildlife habitat, perhaps, if plants are chosen carefully; but native gardens of plants from all over Australia? (Including plants from deserts and rainforests.) And no other country? Why? By the way, I use Correas and Scaevolas in my designs - because they are great plants - I am not averse to native plants of course.)
It's mid-spring - and the plants seem to know it. The Mexican orange blossom is so laden with blooms that the branches are arching over in a way I've never seen before, the Viburnum is dazzling and the dogwood (below) is cascading with its unusual flowers, each with 4 white bracts, more than ever before. Do I say thank you to the copious rain that never seems to stop?
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 (