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 (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au).