Thursday, 29 March 2018

Dahlias and MIFGS


My sister and I are going to MIFGS this week - the annual flower show in Melbourne - where we buy bulbs, chat, and admire/discuss the show gardens.
This year S is looking at Dahlias: medium height, `self-supporting' ones, like she's seen in my garden; she's over having to stake tall ones and plans to pull hers out.
We both love the dusky leaves of the Mystic series and of, almost ubiquitous, `Bishop of Llandaff' with red flowers over that almost-black foliage: stunning.
I've been watering my potted Dahlias but neglecting those in the dry garden - a mistake, as it turns out.
S said she'd be looking at dahlias at the show and I remembered those that I bought last year: pink `Mystic Dreamer' (see post 17/3/18). I search the silver-and-raspberry-colour garden and find 2 little shoots from what were 2 good-size tubers. Well, I don't need to buy more, but look after what I have.
Dahlias hail from Mexico (it's the national flower) where there's summer rainfall; of course they need watering in summer! I think I've been spoilt by my dwarf, single dahlias (white, below, and yellow) which I can ignore for long periods of time - even leaving some tubers in the ground over winter some years.
 But my gorgeous ` Mystic Dreamer', a plant that has very pretty single flowers and is self-supporting, needs cosseting. I'll feed the 2 tubers when we get some good rain, and I'll try to water them well until then. And maybe I should have fertilised them in spring.
In gardening, we keep learning, don't we?
And that's just fine.
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 (

Friday, 16 March 2018

A Challenge and an Opportunity

On a cool morning you'll often find me watering - by hand - the big pots of dahlias, hostas and (smaller) cyclamen around the front door (Dixter Midi, if you will).
We have tank water only so we need to be careful doling out the rations...and we've just had the driest month for 27 years; and a hot dry summer despite a La Nina system.

Last year when I watered I rebelled against the chore but for some reason, this year, as I irrigate I'm thinking about the garden with an eye on losses and looking at holes in the plant matrix as good places to pop in, say, a few tulips here (under a tough ground cover), some nice perennials there. But always, always, the question: how to make the garden or planting mix look better this time next year. Yes, I know: drought-tolerant plantings. Very.

Interestingly, some recently-moved Ajuga was wilting just when our electricity was off this week (after that gusty day, so hard on the garden) and water hard to access. I was able to dribble a little on the plant - hardly any! - but magically the Ajuga unfurled from its misery and looked around with a wan smile.

Speaking of drought-hardy plants (and flowering now, when it's still so hot and dry), recent visitors pointed out `Cauliflower Plant', a moniker new to me, for flowering Sedum (above, with tall Drimia maritima); and completely appropriate when the flowers are still in bud. Yes, it needs cutting back in late autumn. Yes, it looks insignificant in winter (when hellebores are doing their floral thing, so no problem there). But I love the freshness each year of perennials, usually in spring, but in this case, in summer-autumn.

I have a very attractive soft pink form of Sedum, which ages to pale pink-red, in that less-is-more phenomenon that happens when you slowly multiply lots of plants from just one original plant (so less types of plants through the garden). It's very satisfying (and cheap!) and as I've moved pieces about, it helps give the garden unity.

A friend offered me some Sedum a while ago; from memory, probably a colour closer to red than pink. Would it suit the garden, if kept away from the others (in fact near the sheds, so it would be far from the hose)? And in time, a big group of just that one, showy and enlivening the rather sorry, late summer garden. A stronger colour would work well in this part of the garden, too.
I need to ask myself around for a coffee while his Sedum is blooming, and eye off the plant, to see how much I like it. No garden is big enough for a plant you really don't like. Even a fantastically drought-hardy one that flowers when all else is dry, dry, dry.
I guess...

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. (