Friday, 20 July 2018

A Modern Meadow

I have a perennial garden bed in silver, green and flowers in all colours of the summer fruits - strawberry, raspberry to cherry and blackberry. Palest pink perennials to plum-black tulips, all in a bed given structure with 5 green spheres, that is to say, vegetable balls, all in a row.
About a year ago I was thinking about adding grasses for a meadow-like effect (above, the meadow at Great Dixter, Sussex) and consulted he-who-works-in-conservation. Would kangaroo grass (Themeda, below) pass the (conservation/non-weedy) test? It would. Would kangaroo grass be tall enough, upright and defining, adding a definite new element? We'll see. It took us a while to visit our local indigenous nursery (the wonderful Birdsland) and choose about 6 plants in little tubes.
Will it make an Australian meadow? Probably not; there's so many exotics: bulbs, perennials...although at least my green spheres are of one of the new dwarf native rosemary (Westringea) cultivars.
But could I make myself plant the grasses randomly? Well, no.
Four went in, in pairs, parallel to the path, between the central 3 balls. I waited a week and then popped in the last 2, nearer the path, forming equilateral triangles with the other pairs.
Have I mentioned this to J, a lover of the informal? Noooo.
Let's keep it our secret.

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, 12 July 2018

Winter Clematis

One of the gems of the winter garden is Early Virgin's-Bower or Fern-leaf Clematis (Clematis cirrhosa) and its varieties, all delicate-looking  but hardy evergreen climbers.
As always, I love the petite flowers: dangling bells in the prettiest shape (rather than the huge, spring-flowering C. jackmanii hybrids). (See blog post 12th June 2012 for other winter-flowering clematis.)
Two stand out for me: Clematis cirrhosa `Wisley Cream' and C. `Lansdowne Gem' (above).

C. `Lansdowne Gem' was my favourite for a long time, with burgundy insides to the campanile blooms. I have one `thrown up a tree' as they say in the UK; planted (with little care, to be honest) next to a 25-year-old deciduous tree, a Robinia; it's now romping up with abandon and flowering enthusiastically where I can see the bells from a kitchen window. I like this combination: white wisteria-like flowers in spring; yellow autumn leaves, and winter clematis blooms on a climber so dainty that the tree's spring flowers are not obscured. When it's grown taller, the effect will be very pretty as you walk along the nearby path, look up, and see the burgundy interiors easily. (A bit like growing hellebores, with their nodding flowers, along a bank by a path.)

Clematis cirrhosa `Wisley Cream' (above) became, I believe, available in Australia much more recently. The blooms are a clean, palest apple-green; it flowers profusely, and although the bells are petite, I can see this climber - some distance away - from my kitchen window. Planted at the base of the post of my ornamental (rather than practical) `birdhouse' (a birthday present from J some years ago, (see below); bought at Salamanca Market in Hobart; the rose mallow (Lavatera) pictured didn't make it through the millennial drought), it's climbing the post slowly but surely - one of the successes in my unwatered garden after this shockingly dry autumn. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised about a plant (Clematis cirrhosa) from the Mediterranean doing so well, but I still feel like applauding. 
(Clematis need a trellis for climbing - they are not self-clinging - but use twining leaf stalks to aid their upward growth. So there's some garden twine, behind the post, for this plant to cling to; and occasionally I pop some twine around the growing stems, and attach to the support, to teach the recalcitrant climber what vertical means! Hopefully it will cover the post in time, although a new nearby fragrant olive (or false holly, Osmanthus) - a slow-growing evergreen shrub with amazing fragrance - will also soften the look of the post, or hide its base, at least. Maybe the garden needs a couple more Osmanthus (different species to lengthen the flowering season considerably) in front of the post. Hmmm.)

A snow-white variety called Clematis cirrhosa `Jingle Bells' (named for its English time of flowering rather than its colour) is particularly lovely. There's a couple of good Australian mail-order clematis nurseries (Alameda Homestead, Clematis Cottage) so I'll keep my eye on their digital catalogues, hoping that they've imported - and grown - this exquisite plant. The bridal blooms contrast with the dark green foliage wonderfully. 
Another cultivar, C. `Freckles', has been available for a long time, but the pink dots inside the flower just don't do it for me - maybe it's the slightly dirty-looking cream on the outside of the bell. My mother grew this one outside Dad's studio, and my sister grows it too (due to taste? Sentimentality? But not ignorance - I've told her about the two I like best!). C. `Freckles' looks quite similar to the wild growing Clematis cirrhosa var balearica, also spotted within, and named for its home in the Balearic Islands. The latter, like most of the varieties here - has a gentle fragrance. 
Clematis cirrhosa has dark green, ferny foliage, so if screening is your aim, add more clematis to the garden, choosing ones for flowers almost year-round.
But it's the winter flowers that are so welcome, and hold a special place in my heart.
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. (