Sunday, 26 February 2017

Antipodean inspiration

What a treat to be able to escape from the dreary winter weather while the garden is still mostly dormant and take inspiration from gardens on the other side of the planet. During a trip to visit family and friends in New Zealand and Australia we found time to visit a few gardens and to marvel at plants growing wild in the bush that we have to nurture and coddle in this country.
Spherical flowerheads of Agapanthus on a sunny bank contrast with the stiff, tapered leaves of Phormium (New Zealand flax).

Growing in the wild

Agapathus has arguably become an invasive weed in New Zealand, but it is impossible to deny that it beautifies the road verges.
Agapanthus frame the view over Mercury Bay from Whitianga in the Coromandel Peninsula, North Island, New Zealand.
Tree ferns grow in forests like birch saplings do here. It made us feel a bit sorry for our two tree ferns back home, wrapped in their winter coats of bubble-wrap and straw (ours are Dicksonia antarctica, generally regarded as the hardiest of the tree ferns).
Tree ferns in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, outside Melbourne.
A huge swathe of Colocasia around a lake at Brick Bay Winery, North Island, New Zealand.

I struggle to overwinter Colocasia, but even if I have to start with new plants each year I think their stunning leaves are worth it.

Hamilton Gardens, North Island, New Zealand


Formerly the site of a city rubbish dump, the land on which Hamilton Gardens has been created was passed over to the city council in the 1960s for the purpose of creating a public garden. It now contains a series of gardens that illustrate the history and development of garden design around the world. A receptionist warned me that the gardens were not about plants, but I think that was very much underselling it. Although the emphasis was on design some of the planting was stunning, particularly in the Exotic garden from which I had to be dragged away.
A curved blue bridge over a ravine filled with water, its banks planted with all shapes, textures and colours of exotic plants. I could have stayed in the Exotic garden for hours.

A combination that I am itching to try out. We can easily grow yellow-stemmed bamboo and Tiarella or Heuchera. The Bromeliads will be a little more challenging, but not impossible.

I just love this contrast of leaf shape and texture. I think the round shiny leaf is a Farfugium and the narrow leaf is a Pteris, a fern that we have tried and lost in the past. It might be time to try it again.

Now that's what I call underplanting.

The English flower garden was a home from home.
The Italian Renaissance garden.
A gorgeous scarecrow in the Vegetable garden.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, Australia

A highlight of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne was Guilfoyle's Volcano, a reservoir built in 1876 to store water for the gardens and now surrounded by dramatic plantings of low-water-use plants.

Incredible Bromeliads in flower around Guilfoyle's Volcano.

Silver grey aloes contrast beautifully with lime-green grass and the sandy colour of the stone.

The Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, Australia

Over 64 hectares in the heart of Sydney, the Botanic garden has an enviable position with views over the water towards the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Locals taking exercise in the stunning backdrop of the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. It was a mere 26c that day (three days earlier it was 43c!). 

Lucious leafy undergrowth in the Begonia garden.

Dracaena draco, the Dragon's blood tree, creating a mosiac-like canopy over a path in the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney.

We have returned to England to be greeted by snowdrops and crocus and to the promise of Spring, armed with fresh ideas and renewed enthusiasm.
Snowdrops and crocus are the first to flower in the wildflower patch. In the top right-hand corner you can see a drift of snowdrops around our white-stemmed birch trees, and to the left of the birch trees hellebore hill is catching the sun.

The easy outdoor living down-under makes me want to make more of our sheltered sunny patio, and I'm more determined than ever to grow tender or half-hardy exotics in pots (which might well require a new greenhouse to overwinter them). This could end up having been a very expensive holiday.

Our to-do list - 

Tidying the remnants of last year's growth - I'm a little late cutting back all the faded stems so I have to carefully step around emerging spring bulbs, but better late than never.

Cutting back leaves - Some evergreen plants such as epimediums don't need cutting back, but you will enjoy their flowers and fresh foliage so much more if you give them what seems like quite a brutal chop now. I do the same with evergreen ferns, but I tend to wait until I see some tiny fronds emerging in the centre.

Mulching - We have a good pile of home-made leaf mould which I shall be applying liberally around the hellebores.

Planning for sowing seeds - It's time to take stock of what seed packets we have and what we need to order. Some can be sown now in the greenhouse, others need to wait till the weather gets warmer. I like to store them all in a container in sowing order so that whenever the sowing mood takes me I can just take the next packet from the front of the pile.

Visit gardens open for charity - Ok, so this might seem like a shameless plug as I am now the Publicity Officer for the Hertfordshire National Gardens Scheme, but we genuinely love getting out and about at this time of year and visiting other people's gardens for inspiration, plus a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake, all in aid of nursing and cancer charities. As a bonus, we always meet lots of lovely, like-minded people along the way.