Friday, 26 May 2017

When Colours Clash - and more on Colour-Scaping the Culinary Patch.

When flower colour matters - and here at `Possum Creek' it does, boy it does - then bright pink blooms next to orange make me cringe. The flowers are swearing at each other and I'm almost physically uncomfortable.
I thought I was always careful to avoid this! - but recently it happened: my pink-and-white cut-flower bed - full of pale pink Lillium (and one or two brighter (above) - how did that happen?), then belladonna lilies (last pic) as summer turned to autumn - was perfectly adjacent to a veg bed where I'd continued my recent fun and oh-so-satisfying colour-scaping the culinary patch. This bed - we've 5, with our 6 little hens frolicking in the fallow one - had orange pansies, African marigolds and nasturtiums (all plants with edible flowers) with that wonderful nasturtium, `Empress of India', all dark leaves (edible too) and near-red flowers, at the far end of the path amongst the black Tuscan kale. Purple broccoli and peas and dark-leafed lettuces and mustard greens continued the colour along with the red stems of ruby chard and, closer to the path, red beetroot.

I might have kept it all separate in my mind were it not for the wandering habit of the orange nasturtiums (above) which have climbed the short fence, poked their heads through the wire and grinned wickedly - and dropped lots of seeds. So...there is, now, a seed bank of orange flowering-plants, alas, right by the pink-and-white north cut-flower bed. (The other, southern, cut-flower bed is full of blues (Dutch iris), yellows (daffodils) and a tiny amount of red (Sprekelia).) No matter: it's not as if I want to grow pink nasturtiums (boy is that variety a bright AND strong pink) so I can just pull out any of the distinctive seedlings - so easily done - to avoid clashes.
Next time I plant out this patch I'll try to remember to keep it in pinks and/or purples.

I'm not trying to be `tasteful' but follow my own heart. I remember well looking up the British Yellow Book of gardens in 2010 to try to find open gardens in London while we were there. All of them sounded the same that week, and my memory, probably inaccurate, is of only `tasteful, colour-co-ordinated gardens'. No wonder (the late, great) Christopher Lloyd rebelled and planted, as he called it, colours that clashed...only with a masterful hand. You might think this skill takes 3 score years to achieve, were it not for Fergus Garrett, his (younger) head gardener, who maybe surpasses Lloyd in his skilfulness with plant combinations. It's worth, I think, dreaming up and trying out really interesting plant associations - considering leaves and texture and height and habit as well as that fleeting flower colour. (If I remember this right, he annoyed people when he announced that he'd planted pink flowers with yellow...only they weren't yellow, they were a gorgeous chartreuse, very different! (See `purple' and `yellow', above - contrasting colours, usually, that here - sing. Importantly, there's loads of green.) I guess when you have an old garden like Great Dixter, often open to the public (who have been told, repeatedly and erroneously, that it was designed by Edward Lutyens (who worked on the house with Christo's father)) and you write about it, then people feel that they own it to some degree. He could be provocative...and ahead of the crowd. I loved his story about the meadow at Great Dixter (below), perhaps one of the first, and - unusually - right at the garden entrance where there'd previously been lawn. (I saw this magical meadow in June, full of wildflowers, orchids and, I think, butterflies.) Apparently Lloyd heard some men say `he hasn't even mown his lawn! I'm not paying to go in there!' which made him chuckle. J and I loved this meadow and I'm currently designing 2 meadows with year-round flowers for country gardens to Melbourne's east.)
Since we last spoke, dear reader, I've begun a new edible patch, again in the hot colours, further down the hill. But instead of nasturtiums overwhelming the marigolds and pansies, I've kept to pansies alone as an edging to the path, for my edible flowers. Hopefully the growing vegetables behind will quickly take away any whiff of civic-like planting-style. Besides, they are deliberately not in a perfect straight line, just a rough line that fits with the path of wood-chip-mulch and the rustic wig-wams of teatree or paperbark branches (for peas) that arise from occasional clearing between house, fire pump and dam.
(Speaking of branches: we've had to cut down, early, a few tree dahlia canes - 2 or 3m long, and mulching them hasn't happened yet...and so, on Mother's Day, we had perfect, impromptu jousting sticks, or so my great nephews thought. I love an unpolished country garden where these happy chances can happen. This was after I got puffed playing chasey with these boys...yes, I am in my 50's. They also collected eggs from my hens and played - their idea - spoon and egg games. Outside.)
What's really different in my veg patch this time is that the colours include a lot of black, not just the Tuscan kale. The pansies go from orange to red to black. And the vegetables include a handsome black-leaf pak choy and a dark red-black mizuna with lacy leaves at the far end. There's also, near the start, kale with red stalks (home-collected seed; probably `Redbor') and scattered here and there, red onion seed (J: `You don't eat red onions.' Me: `But I will'. J: `You chose them for the colour, didn't you?' Me: `Of course!') and red beetroot and red-stalked ruby chard. (And purple broccoli.)
Home-collected seed labelled `mustard greens or black kale' has turned out to be very much the former, so I need to label the packet; but there's so, so much of it coming up persistently anyway that I think I'll pull it all out and replace with something dark and mysterious (and more useful); I just have to think what, here near the pea tripods.
Now some of you may be muttering that beetroot is red.
Well...down in my yellow patch (cream, lemon and yellow fading to gold patch, actually, thank you) there's a golden beetroot (I wonder what it tastes like?) along with chartreuse broccoli. There's yellow and gold-stalked chard (a plant I used to weed out times change) and pretty yellow peas (doing well) on rough tripods. I really like this bed, with its exuberant lemon nasturtiums (leaves and flowers picked for a salad last weekend). I'm curious to see just how cold it gets before the nasturtiums turn up their toes this winter...and maybe I'll put a cold frame over some - my plastic, easily moved one.
So my next bed might be pink and purple again: pink at the start of the path, leading to purples including rustic tripods for purple peas.
(A rainbow bed just didn't work, visually. Maybe my edible plots of about 4m by just over 2m with either a central path (J's choice) or a few bluestones as stepping stones (my preference) are too small for such a complex combination.)
I started colour-scaping the culinary patch a year or 2 ago and I think I'm addicted, as I think up new colour schemes and need to consider time of year - and plant or sow - summer or winter vegetables. As I'm collecting a lot of my own seeds it's getting cheaper, too (especially for the handsome kale that act as a backdrop but frankly don't get eaten much).
And I'm sowing lettuce seed mixes, frequently, for picking baby leaves for impromptu salads whenever we want.
Bon app├ętit!
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 (

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Five Shades Of Blue

Late autumn, and many of my beloved perennials are yawning and shuffling off to bed for their winter sleep. But not salvias, with maybe 20 kinds, of blue, purple and pink throughout the garden continually flowering, adding colour, mainly in petite blooms, and a magnet for honeyeaters.
Some of the blue Salvias are true blue, a rare colour in the vegetable kingdom, and reflect the sky, or replicate it, just as it clouds over on these chilly days.
But  how did I end up with five different blue Salvias, all near the lilac front gate? And why have I just noticed?

Well, it's autumn, when sun-loving sages peak and some, like midnight Salvia `Anthony Parker' (below), have just started to bloom. How I wish this one would start flowering at, say, the summer solstice (and continue for 5 months) but no, here at `Possum Creek' at 170m elevation it is not a team player but arrives like some self-important diva only to glance around disdainfully and disappear after (it seems) 5 minutes. I've pulled several plants of it out from in front of the yellow roses - it was too tall - and plonked the plants uphill where their quite neat sub-shrubbery works well and lack of floral decoration matters not a bit. And yes, now that it's flowering, nearly all is forgiven - for those dark, velvet blooms.
It's quite boggy near the front path and although Bog Sage (below) does not require this, nor does it mind it, either. Salvia uliginosa is one of those rather non-neat cottage-y perennials from the 1980's that still linger in some gardens - mainly, I suspect, for its glorious cool-climate-sky-blue flowers, and these have been blooming atop 1.8m stems for several months now. It's a plant I'm ambivalent about (at present very happy with); the random, almost wispy nature is forgiven as it wends about yellow Phlomis and purple iris without overwhelming either. (Yes, it wanders, but is so easily pulled out that it's no trouble. Maybe I like it now because there's enough of it for a reasonable impact.) I like having happy neighbours that flower at different times or in complementing colours, or effective contrasts. And it's also won me over by being neater than, and superior to, Salvia `African Sky'.
Salvia `African Sky' is at first glance a nice little perennial: it doesn't spread and it grows fast into a soft subshrub covered in little, mid-blue flowers for a good chunk of the warm months...but then looks just a bit too messy. I liked having a few along my front path over summer but they obscured (and competed too much with) other plants, got a bit tall and straggly over autumn and now almost overshadow the path. (I rather like its riotous laughing - but not along the edge of the front path, the only place where I want to keep a semblance of neatness.) I've started cutting them back and it's great to see the double row of green balls again, my spheres of Syzygium `Tiny Trev' which give this area structure amongst the softer perennials as we walk along the path to the front door. I will pull out the salvia (I'd rather have the iris and Phlomis flower) but...I have visitors coming in a week's time. I don't want this area messy and I like having some flowers here, they welcome the execution date has been postponed. They don't need replacing; there's the Phlomis and iris, but, in front, also large leaved bugle (Ajuga) grows luxuriantly between the lilly pilly balls, a perfect marriage of carpet to feature, straight man, as it were.
It's a long time since I acquired Salvia chamaelagiana; I believe I propagated and sold it when I had my mail order nursery of rare bulbs and perennials, Possum Creek Perennials, in the 1990's. It's stiffly upright which might work en masse but in small numbers can look self-conscious. I like the flowers of soft blue and white but they can look washed out from a distance; but it does have them for at least 2 months, maybe more. Currently it's uphill in awful clay soil, not complaining, just adding to the backdrop of pleasant perennials I've exiled from the garden proper. A dreadnought, as my hero, James Hitchmough, would say, and they are bloody useful.
There's one or 2 Salvia `African Sky' near the roses and they are too tall, too. So, how about Salvia chamaedryoides `Marine Blue' (above), a pretty little thing? On close inspection, the flowers have a touch of violet, although they look like a delightful fairly deep blue from a distance, over slightly silvery foliage. I'd like them at the feet of the roses, to hide their petticoats (so to speak) but I'm worried that this one is too messy and, because it needs cutting back in winter, won't do the job year-round. But...I love this garden of yellow and blue, and I think S. `Marine Blue' is probably the best candidate. (Alternatives could be: Salvia nemorosa (below)? Deep blue - but too short. Convovulus cneorum? Too small and silver. Correa? Too large and al. But my existing S. chamaedryoides `Marine Blue' is goldilocks just right for height (reputedly 30cm, but almost twice that so far), colour, ability to blend in with that quality of perennials: it won't compete too much with the roses (physically or to the eye).) So...we cut back the Salvia when the other perennials are awake in spring, and distracting the eye, minimally at least. Let's see.
So my 5 salvias are very different. Salvia `African Sky' can be moved uphill, relegated to `The Gods' as my mother called the cheap seats at the theatre, high, high up above the real action. With a garden carved into the side of a hill, the flat areas are at a premium and plants relegated to the `batter' above are rather like undesirables cast outside the city walls.
I'll fertilise my Phlomis and iris and ask for forgiveness (these are just behind the green balls). Bog sage will continue its gentle invasion (and I'll continue its easy restraint). Over the path, in my garden of sunshine and sky, Salvia chamaedryoides `Marine Blue' will be trialled in front of the roses.
But it had better be good.
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 (