Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Antique Flowers

 Oddly, there's really only a few perennials or bulbs, from Mum, in my garden.
My gorgeous bearded irises - all blues, lilacs and a sumptuous black (last pic) - are from specialist nurseries (probably Tempo Two) while a few pure white ones came from my sister.
But why do I have one or two dull purple ones with touches of brown, like those I remember in my childhood home? Did Mum give me this one? I'm afraid there's no room for sentiment: these will be pulled out (along with a dull yellow iris and a brown, yes brown, iris). Besides, I think they came from my sister, and were thought to be white ones (oops).
Similarly, many of my daffodils are (more) recent acquisitions in sulphurs and whites - and not so many of the gold `King Alfred' style.
There's one exception, and I'm loving it.
Once Dad sold the house, he (finally!) let us take a little of the bulbs and perennials in Mum's garden. (It was autumn so I now have a few nerines, one of the autumn-flowering bulbs that don't do well here. How I yearn for some of Mum's snowdrops (Galanthus)!)
One of the best plants I dug up (but replanted most) was good old Gladiolus `The Bride' (above) which I've loved since the 1980's, when it was fashionable. It remains my favourite among the `cottage gladioli', those sweet flowers only one step away from the species, shorter with smaller flowers than the Dame Edna type, all in perfect proportion.
(Gladiolus carneus, blushing bride gladiolus, is in naturalistic clumps in the silver-and-raspberry bed, flowering profusely amidst the pink perennials and silver Artemisia's. Maybe this is bulb easier to grow?)
Mum had a story about her petite gladioli. She'd started to plant the garden before house building commenced, and one of the builders asked her: What was that attractive plant? `That's a species gladiolus [close to it, anyhow!] before they started breeding and improving them [into the large Dame Edna-type hybrids].' Wonderingly, he replied: `Why did they ever bother?' Yes indeed-y. (Cue clashing cymbals.)
But then she and I always liked small flowers.

Gladiolus `The Bride' isn't petite, to be honest, but significantly smaller than Dame Edna's favourite flower; they are certainly large enough for panache, especially in my large clumps.
Gladiolus x colvillei `The Bride' was a wonderful hybrid that arose by accident in 1871; long enough ago that I'm calling it an antique flower. It's still close to its South African forebears; it's like a granddaughter that's married into the aristocracy. (Gladiolus x colvillei was bred in 1823 or earlier, in the UK, from South African species G. tristus and G. cardinalis. While gorgeous (petite lemon flowers on upright stems), G. tristus can be weedy in Victoria and Tasmania. Aren't all the best bulbs a bit weedy? (Don't start me on that horrendous bulb, often for sale, Nectaroscordum. It's a monster! Don't plant it! - you have been warned.) OK, not Onion Weed (Allium triquetrum); no one (sane) could want to plant this smelly, well-named thug.)

This spring `The Bride' gladioli have opened myriad milky blooms; they are not too tall; and like the best plantings, there's 3 clumps near each other with other sweet plants around them, to give year-round flowers. Maybe they are doing well because they were large corms compared with ones I've bought in the past.
And it reminds me of Mum - and her last garden.
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, 9 November 2017

Sweet peas

Sweet peas remind me of my English aunt.
She stayed with Mum and Dad, often, when she visited Australia, and tactfully kept a low profile, never interfering in her sister-in-law's house, let alone the garden. (Nor did Dad.)
But when the sweet peas weren't being picked, she'd get, well, fidgety is too strong a word for this lovely lady, maybe a little restless, and she'd offer to pick some blooms for the house. (Mum was always pleased to say yes.)
She had a point: like any annual plant, setting seed is it's life project. So leaving flowers to set seed will mean less blooms; constant removal will produce many more flowers. Dang, the annual plant thinks, I just want to set a few seeds; is that too much to ask?

It's a case of you `should do' versus laissez-faire - often because the garden owner has a large garden (as was Mum's), and can no longer maintain it to neat suburban standards, or maybe isn't well, or the busyness of life takes away valuable (and pleasurable) gardening time.
Being contrary, I've rebelled against `should do' tasks in my garden, and not a single sweet peas has been picked - yet. Besides, I have a moderately large country garden and I don't think super neatness would suit it. As I've written before, I love Mirabel Osler's philosophy: `A Gentle Plea for Chaos' (1989), and doesn't that suit a country garden? - softness, fullness, exuberance, a bit of self-sowing of the loveliest plants so that the planting (if not the structure) is at times informal.

Simplicity and neatness can look great; it just isn't possible any longer in my flower-stuffed meadow-like garden beds. (My green spheres are a very late addition to wrangle some continuity and structure to the garden...much to J's dismay.) 
Incidentally, all the sweet peas are the same - and I haven't sown seeds for a while. So - I think - I have a Mendelian experiment going on, with all these (seeming) identical plants being progeny of other, quite different, plants. If so, their progeny may be an interesting mix of colours, as the recessive genes get paired up again, and express their characteristics.So I'll collect the seeds - or let them fall on the ground, to germinate haphazardly around the iron tripods. I know this sounds lazy, but I'm garden-time-poor, and I love the informal effects that can arise.I suspect that Mirabel Osler would approve.

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, 2 November 2017

Red Flowers in the Spring Garden

I'm not fond of red flowers in the garden, usually. To me, they clash with pinks and yellows, and thus destroy my careful plantings. (Sure, yellow, orange and red can look great together; I'm just not sure that my garden has room enough for a bed like this.)
Colours that clash are more forgivable in winter and in the exuberance of early spring, when you're grateful for all the colours of the rainbow. We've had so many cool, wet days lately (not that I'm complaining) that, while it's November, it certainly feels a bit like early spring.

But right now there's two very different red blooms, and I smile every time I look at them.
Near the house I've placed a pot of perennial Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine‘ (Syn. Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine‘, above) with those red-and-white bleeding heart flowers. Bought last year, it's sent up leaves that are dark and reddish, but are now near-green. (My white Lamprocapnos in its large pot has perished. Did I let it get too wet? Too dry? Dang, I wish I knew.)
Tropaeolum tricolor, above, also, has red (and black and yellow) flowers, if much smaller, and dainty to boot - a quality I'm fond of.
A climber to 2m (so far), delicate-looking and demure (butter wouldn't melt in it's golden mouth)...but I'm surprised by a few things. One - it's there. When did I plant it? Two - how did it grow (so far) in total neglect? - I thought it was difficult! - but no, it must like being rather wet in winter and terribly dry in summer, so lucky me. Three - how did get to 2m high, laughing at me, without me noticing? (Let's not think about that one.) And - 4 - how did it tolerate close-by plantings of 3, yes, 3 clematis and even sweet peas, too?
Let's take lots of photos because, frankly, I don't trust this sweet beauty. Look at me flowering...and then watch me die - don't laugh, it's all too common in the garden at Possum Creek.
Let's enormously enjoy the ephemeral, dainty show and...just applaud wildly if it ever happens again.
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. (