Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Cyclamen in Early Spring

I'm preparing a talk about cyclamen, or sow's bread, for a garden club...and looking afresh at my delicate-looking-but-hardy, petite species cyclamen.
Cyclamen coum (above) is known as a winter species so it's not surprising to have a few still blooming.
But looking closer at a white-flowering one, dang, it's got propeller-like petals, like C. alpinum (Syn. C. trochoptantherum) (above). How nice to discover a new species in the garden (well, a pot), and such an idiosyncratic one at that. It's white, too. (How could I have missed this? - has it not flowered before? Or did I just glance at it, enjoy it, but never really think about it?)

Being in a pot, the seeds end up forming little seedlings around the tuber, so I'll be able to collect them over time, and plant them throughout the garden in semi-shade. (Cyclamen in the garden (and in the wild) tend to form drifts because of myrmecochory, which is a fancy way of saying that seeds are spread around by ants (which love the sweet coat, then discard the seeds up to 3m away).)
About a year ago I found Cyclamen (Super Series)`Petticoat’ (below) in the nurseries, with pink and white forms. Looking at its propeller-petals, surely it has C. alpinum genes? Tell me, dear reader, do you like it?
Don't eat the tubers! - they are quite poisonous. But cyclamen seeds remove sorcery according to Dioscorides (~50AD) - and you can't get enough of that.
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. (

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Mum's Red Camellia

A whiff of a particular fragrance can take you back years, sometimes to happy childhood memories.
For me, plants can do this too, or they remind me of a person - often Mum, of course, who gave me the garden and plant-loving gene.

I was giving planting plan advice in a country garden last week when I spotted this old variety of camellia, a true red touched with a tiny hint of pink. The shape and tint took me back to my childhood home in Melbourne's south-east where Mum planted this variety by her bedroom window...and something I did, but never owned up to.
Back in the 1970's `Go outside and play' may have been a much more common saying, and I loved the 20 or so fruit trees, the 2 tree houses, my chickens, and, when I was very young, wet soil for mud pies which were always decorated with flowers or berries.

But I was playing one time and picked a white camellia flower (from another shrub), which I placed on this red-blooming bush - and it looked very natural. (And the other way, but the red flower fell off the white bush.) I was just having fun but Mum thought that the shrub had thrown out a sport - and she got excited that her plant had had a genetic mutation occur (she was a botanist and she knew all about genes & DNA - even if  Crick & Watson hadn't worked out the structure of DNA until 1953, some years after she completed her science degree). Mum watched the camellia shrub eagerly for some time, to my dismay. I'd just been playing...but I never `fessed up.

(Speaking of camellias and hybridising, the oldest camellia in Australia is at Camden Park in NSW (the garden surrounding Camden Park is the largest and most intact Australian early colonial garden) where John Macarthur bred sheep from 1805 and his son, Sir William Macarthur, grew 'anemoniflora' or 'waratah' camellia (Camellia japonica var. anemoniflora), and bred some of the country's first hybrids including Camellia 'Aspasia macarthur'. Camden Park was horticulturally important and has always been associated with camellias.)

 I have another childhood memory of Mum and camellias - a happy one. We'd gone up to Olinda to see a flower show in late winter and there was a bank of - it seemed - hundreds of camellia blooms in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. Did Dad politely (and not interested, to be honest) ask us which flower was our favourite? Or was it chance that led Mum and me to point to the same flower at the same moment and exclaim `that's my favourite!'?
Mum and I enjoyed small flowers while one of my sisters always, but always, prefers the showy bigger ones, whether they are clematis, camellias or perennials.
It's interesting to think which genes came from whom. (My genes, not the camellias.)
I'm so lucky to have the gardening gene. 

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. (

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Early Spring in the Edible Patch

It's early spring, the little hens have moved on to a another veg bed to scratch about in, and I'm planting the vacated veg bed. I've looked through my home-collected seed and decided that this bed will be white, pink and purple: with soft green lettuce (seedlings from the compost bin), pale-stemmed chard and green (dwarf, curly) kale at the start of the path, leading to pink chard, deep pink-flowering broad beans, `red' kale (a lovely mauve, probably `Redbor'), and at the end, those attractive purple peas (with delicious pink flowers as a terrific bonus, above) on rough tripods, with purple broccoli (below) at their feet. The mauve flowers of chives would work well here, too.

In another bed, a purple carrot, with pretty umbels of flowers, is, hopefully going to set seed soon. I can toss these seeds about in the newly planted bed - but the leaves don't seem to show the colour of the subterranean bits. However there's satisfaction in knowing that these plants will fit into this garden patch, even if no one else can see, or know about the fact of the carrot colour.
How much of the happiness we derive from our gardens is in our minds? (Those shrubs will hide the sheds soon, or those dull plants have superb flowers in winter, or those tiny flowers have a superb fragrance, for example.)
I've `done' pink and purple edible patches before, but not with white (and green) veg on either side of the start of the path. I'm looking forward to seeing how this one turns out!
I'm loving my other veg beds: the lemon, yellow and gold bed (complete with yellow broccoli); and a fairly new bed of orange, red and black (with black kale, of course).
Those ones have pansies - edible flowers - along the path edge. But...while they are pretty, and emphasis the colour beautifully, for some reason I'm changing my tack. For one thing, it's hard to get the shades I want, of pale pink and good pink-purple pansies to show the gradations of colour (although white, then pink, then purple ones might work - but would not show subtle changes). And I get so tempted to buy pansies in pots, not the cheaper punnets. I should be patient, but while vegetables generally grow well, there's just a little too much shade from the growing gum trees to the north and north-west. And...let's see if I can make the garden work without the obvious (pink) traffic lights.
We have 7 (yes, 7) compost bins and I'm finding that a globe artichoke - all glorious, tall silver leaves - is half-hiding one of the plastic bins, and hopefully distracting the eye. In go a few more to soften the look of the others. I'm adding dwarf lavenders too (I was given 2 plants), but I don't anticipate year-round attractiveness from these...which are therefore on probation. 
Having fun in the edible garden means I've definitely neglected the orchard. Finally, last weekend, I picked the last of the apples, and began picking tangelos and limes for muffins and marmalade (below). Yum!
(My chef-sister gave me the mouth-watering citrus muffin recipe which is so easy:
Simmer 2 oranges (or varied citrus to ~ ½ kg), just covered with water, for an hour (or 3 tangelos for ¾ hour in our case), drain and allow to cool. Cut into quarters and remove pips. Add  6 eggs and purée. Add 250g of castor sugar and 250g ground almonds and 1 tsp baking powder & stir. Pop into muffin cases, cook for 10 - 15 minutes in a medium oven and voilà!)
Maybe I'll make apple pie with those old apples. Double yum.
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. (