Friday, 14 July 2017

OK, it Really is Winter

Yes, after a cold night (- 0.9°C), I admit it really is winter.
We're in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges so luckily this sudden frost is pretty unusual. So I'm wondering - have we ever had such a cold night before? I simply can't remember, ever, the salvias knocked off by frost - all of them (even Mexican sage, S. involucrata (above) and S. `Anthony Parker' which (usually) bloom in winter here); tomatoes like skeletons and Gloriosa suddenly sticks. Even the giant circle of tree dahlias (below) is affected, unexpectedly, and how!: one day a glorious green birthday cake topped with lilac flames, the next a ghostly circle (how Morticia would approve!).
Luckily the petite winter bulbs have started to flower: Cyclamen coum with chubby deep cerise blooms; snow-white snowdrops (Galanthus) with green markings; and sweet little pale lemon hoop petticoat daffodils (Narcissus bulbocodium grailsii).
Hellebores, too, one of my favourite flowers: deep pink in flower with many others throughout the garden in bud, promising blooms, some double white, soon - but I need more apple-green Corsican winter roses (Helleborus argutifolius) which start to flower so much earlier.
Before long it will be August, which feels like early spring to me - daffodils in bud, some perennials waking up, and continuing bright pink flowers of saxifrage (as my Mum called it - or Elephant's Ears: Bergenia cordifolia) - the colour welcome in winter. (There are white and pale pink and deep pink forms (the latter with red leaves in late autumn), but these ones are too shy to flower - probably too small - so far this season.) And hellebores all through the garden.
While some people go to the ski slopes and others escape to sunny Queensland, I can feel the breath of spring in the air.
But that's probably just me.
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 (
Photos on this post by talented photographer Andrew Burgess.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Is It Really Winter?

Is it really winter? Yes, the outside thermometer said 3.2 degrees last night (I adore my min/max outdoor thermometer, on which I can see the extremes of the last day and night), and a few winter-flowering plants have started to bloom - native heath, correas (like C. `Little Pink Belle, above) - but many of the autumn-flowering plants are still going.
My enormous tree dahlia circle, with those giant birthday-cake-candles, lit up with mauve flames for J's birthday (in May), is still looking impressive; I love its slow growth through the warm months, by the way. Each year it grows towards this effect, getting taller and taller (and hiding the sheds, to boot), with a promise of spectacular beauty - which we have now. While the flowers look delicate, the effect is not fleeting.
Cyclamen hederifolium may have finished blooming (leaving behind carpets of the prettiest leaves, no two plants alike), but one C. purpurescens plant (above) still carries the torch to the winter-flowering C. coum - the latter still only in bud. There's one terracotta pot with a few snowdrops (Galanthus), but most are still in bud too; ditto the winter roses (Helleborus). Tiny daffodil `Tete-a-Tete' is barely pushing up buds. Narcissus `Paper White' is the only bulb in the garden to have received the memo that the shortest day is past.
Some nerines are still blooming - pink and white autumn bulbs - and there's even a few roses to pick, but above all, most (if not all) of the salvias are still flowering - and attracting the  honey-eaters. I'm slowly cutting down the pink salvia (probably `Joan', its hectic-bright flowers pleasant because they are small) outside the kitchen (it's the only one with just a few blooms left), and hoping these little birds will find the correas at its feet, which sport bell-flowers through the winter months.
How can I cut down the other salvias? I feel like doing a wintery `spring cleaning' (why do humans love neatness?) but I love the flowers, and effect of, the salvias from almost-blue `Megan's Magic', to `Anthony Parker' (which has only recently started to cover itself with showy dark blue blooms); a pink one with unusual flowers (a hybrid of S. involucrata, maybe `Hot Pink'); and one of my favourites, mauve and purple `Waverley'. Winter flowering S. mexicana (with its velvety purple flowers, and a white-blooming cultivar) is allowed, of course, to keep up the show.
But does it matter?
As Vincent van Gogh said (in 1873), `I myself almost don't know which season I like best; I believe all of them, equally well'.
I love winter but most of my perennials are having down time, woody or with browning foliage. I look around and think about how to improve the garden's structure - and maybe add winter flowers. More apple-green Helleborus argutifolius, for earlier winter blooms (compared to all the other hellebores); and some white ornamental kale which leapt into my basket at the nursery; icy-white and looking great - hopefully all through the chilly months. 
So while the winter-blooming flowers have not really begun, and autumn flowers continue, it's hard to believe it's winter. I'm just enjoying the show. Lucky me! 
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 (