Sunday, 31 December 2017

A sweet friend has asked for more purple flowers, so I've wandered the garden, camera in hand.
Now this is a woman with a serious purple-loving syndrome. (If she's only wearing one lilac or violet item I quiz her - only to be assured that hidden clothes are purple too. I always make it clear that I believe her and no, I do not need to see her underwear.)
Surprised, I find a few violet blooms - and foliage, too. Splashes of purple have come with the heavy rain.

Clematis are doing their spring-thing a bit late (above, no complaints from me), pentstemons (last pic) have started their warm weather flowering, and the saffron crocus pot has had its summer addition of opal basil (below). The tiny crocus are in this pot so that they don't get lost in the hurly-burly of the garden, but the pot looks too bare in summer...enter opal basil with its dark purple leaves. (Pop a sprig of this basil into a bottle of vinegar and voilĂ , you have a pink culinary treat or present.) My purple basil is joined this year with cinnamon basil, new to me, and with green leaves that, when crushed, have a basil fragrance with, after a few seconds, a strong hint of cinnamon.

I'm also enjoying the last of my Papaver `Lauren's Grape' (top), a tall and stately plant with flowers of fairly deep purple in that wonderful poppy shape that's so pretty and elegant, and beloved for this reason. I am preparing a talk on poppies and dang, I love the poppies with their delicate petals, particularly when the plant is single (4 petals), not double (8 or more). And, boy, I Love the effect and contrast with my Papaver `Lauren's Grape' amid loads of silver foliage (mostly Plume poppy (how apt!), Macleaya cordata). An effect to repeat, as I watch the poppy seedpods for ripeness, to collect before the fine seeds are tossed out.
(Speaking of poppies, several years ago, we saw carpets of red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeus, or Corn Poppy) in France; a feast for the eyes...and I forget that it's a symbol of death (& rebirth) and WW1, and simply enjoyed the scene for its colour, effect and joie de vivre - and also rejoice that this flower seemed plentiful, as various meadow species round the globe are pushed to the edge by farming and housing.)
Poppy seeds are tiny, and a friend tells me to scatter the seed over mulch (rather than shallow burying) in autumn, to get good germination rates - and sow thinly. Certainly planting seeds in situ is usually far more successful than transplanting plants or seedlings.
Great advice for autumn!
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, 20 December 2017

Southern Summer Solstice and looking back at a Strange Spring.

`Solstice' (Latin: `solstitium') means `sun stopping' (and changing) as we celebrate the longest day.
For the English, summer starts on 21st June unlike us in Australia who consider the first day of December to be the beginning of serious heat; sun, surf and beaches; Christmas and summer holidays.
But I'd like to look backwards today, and think about the odd spring we've had.
It's been an extraordinary spring; every plant singing and so many birds and animals doing their spring thing in overdrive, from honey eaters (along with the usual suspects) collecting spider webs from under the veranda roof for making their nests (I've never see this before - usually they are `just' supping nectar from the correas and salvias, constantly) to wallabies boxing, and J's  straw hat used again, by scrub wrens for nesting.
We have a new resident: a kookaburra has decided - rightly - that the garden at Possum Creek is full of food (like the skinks we love) and magpies strut the little lawn. Both have such character and purpose.
Wood ducks spend a day or two at our dam before marching on, ducklings following closely behind. Also called maned geese, they are handsome and prolific (not rare, anyhow) so I don't worry about them (will dogs get to them? Foxes?) but can just enjoy these frequent visits.
Our resident wallaby has her usual joey, head just out, both grazing grass and indigenous herbs.
And what's spring without some new chicks? Yes, Freddie (above) got clucky again and, after an egg-free winter, we decided to add to our half-dozen strong flock of bantams. Does she think that she's a clever hen, just sitting on one egg for 2 days before 2 chicks, 3 days old, miraculously appear under her at night? And do the other hens think `Her again? - not fair'!
It may sound like I'm anthropomorphalising terribly, but Freddie seems happy being a mumma (and it snaps her out of her broodiness) and the chicks seem much happier, or more settled. Under a hot light they wanted to dive under each other's wings; now they have big wings to shield them - the natural way of things (and - who knows? More comforting). They also cheeped, it seemed, in distress more; now any sharp cries (`I'm cold') make Freddie sit down and fluff up her eiderdown so the chicks can dive under at once. Such a good mumma.
Now we have to figure out good names for the cute chicks. (How the heck do parents of real children get through this thorny problem?)
Our silver chick is developing fluffy slippers and the other's new coat is a rusty-rufus colour - so Fluffy and Rusty they are becoming. I love ridiculous names for the hens, so cat and dog names are not only tickling the funny bone gently, but also the 2 who arrived together have similar - or similarly absurd - names.
The flower power this spring has been stunning, both flowers in the garden and blooms of wild plants in the bushland, on our property and around my area in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. Wattles, tea trees (see first pic)...covered, prolifically, in flowers (now or earlier).
But why - The `dry' winter? The cool spring with it's odd hot days?
I always like an explanation for weird events in the natural world but here I think I'm going to just sit back and enjoy the show - enormously.
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, 9 December 2017

Late Spring Flower Fragrance

Don't you love the late spring garden, flower-filled, when suddenly you think - where's that delicious fragrance coming from?
Poet's daffodils (Narcissus poeticus varieties); mollis azalea; dwarf lilac; English roses?...or, probably most potent, mock orange (Philadelphus sp, the shrub named for brotherly love (cue `Ode to Joy')). One of my favourite of the mock oranges is good old Philadelphus coronarius (Syn. Philadelphus mexicanus) or evergreen mock orange (above).
All the Philadelphus species have these unusual squarish flowers - and usually amazing fragrance. Evergreen mock orange is so, so drought-hardy but so are the dwarf ones and the 3m+ P. `Natchez' (bought from Dicksonia Rare Plants many years ago) which flowers prolifically in spring in my unwatered garden. Some varieties have white, blushing blooms, although I prefer the many pure white ones, and most are deciduous.

There's also a tiny Osmanthus in the garden but I think it's too small to flower, and it's probably too late in the season for one of this genus, but it, too, has the reputation for such fabulous fragrance that people detect the perfume a long way from the plant...and then, irresistibly, follow their nose.
If my garden was a little larger I'd have at least 3 species (or cultivars) of Osmanthus to have them wafting their strong scent from about mid-autumn until about mid-spring (and much of the year).
Osmanthus x fortunei has white flowers in autumn, with a strong perfume, and reaches 2m high; Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Rotundifolia' (False Holly) for winter blooms; Osmanthus delavayi ` Heaven Scent' has perfumed white flowers winter-spring; and Osmanthus fragrans (`Fragrant Olive') for spring & late summer blooms (depending on climate). Osmanthus x burkwoodii, also, has perfumed white flowers in spring.
Then again I could plant them, keep them trimmed - and besides, they are slow growers.
Seriously tempting!

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. (