Early October in the Garden

To my mind, October is really when the first stirrings of spring start to become that all-out marathon as most shrubs and trees get in on the act to peak between now and November.

At this time of year in the mountains, the weather is incredibly variable: for the last two weeks we had really cold, wet and blustery conditions (including frost, sleet and even hail) which damaged a lot of flowers – this weekend we are forecast to have a nation-wide El-Niño five day heat wave….yuck 😦

So I do apologise in advance that the pictured flowers aren’t ‘perfect’, but no garden should be perfect anyway…

The cold period has helped prolong the winter and early spring flowering plants:


In the shadier areas of the garden, it is still winter. L:R Primula vulgaris ‘High Tea Drumcliff’, Cyclamen & Pulmonaria

Daffodils and early tulips are still giving a nice display, but the petals of the poppy took a beating with the sleet/hail:


L:R Narcissus; Tulipa sp. & Papaver nudicaule; first spot flowers of Rosa banksiae in the hedgerow.

Azaleas and more Narcissus:



L:R Osteospermum & Tulipa bokassa ‘Baby Doll’ ; Nepeta and Hyacinthoides hispanica; Anemone nemorosa

But the foul weather has made a lot of the azalea flowers rather tatty:


The flowers of the red and cerise azaleas look a bit bedraggled with the sleet and frost; a De Caen anemone contrasts with the saturated cerise of the Kurume azalea


More battered flowers – but the pale pink of Azalea ‘Inga’ seem to do just fine


Rhododendron ‘Robyn’ is still putting on a great display – this is now its sixth week. Primulas against the flowers of Rhododendron ‘President Roosevelt’ and the beautiful new foliage of Heuchera ‘Purple Palace’

Still, there’s warm colours:


L:R Erysimum; Eschscholzia californica hybrid; Indica Azalea ‘Goyet’

And cool:


L:R Dutch Iris; Anemone coronaria ‘De Caen Hollandia’; Viola labradorica

And of course, the big jumble of colours thanks to the ever-popular ‘mixed’ collections that are always offered:


Lastly, now that parts of the garden are a year old, it has finally started to fill out…don’t get me wrong, because I am using cuttings and tube-stock (plant plugs) there are still plenty of itty-bitty plants everywhere, but for the first time, I can start to appreciate more of what the garden will start to look like as it matures:


Front Garden looking east this fence will eventually be removed as it isn’t the actual property boundary; Part of the newly-laid terraces in the back garden…this represents only a tiny portion of the garden – there is still much to do!!!!

Happy Gardening 🙂

This Week in the Garden.

Even though it is cold and wet today, we’ve had weeks of sunny and mild weather, meaning spring continues its early march. And it is mostly the bulbs that are early to flower, especially in the sheltered micro-climate of the secret garden area where Tulips are commanding my attention:




Clockwise L-R: Mixed Tulips (Monet Series); Species Tulip (Tulipa bakerei) ‘Lilac Wonder’; Bokassa Tulips ‘Baby Doll’

Narcissi in the other areas of the garden have finally started to open:


The Cockatoo has actually left the white Narcissi alone!

Compare this to the Narcissi in the secret garden area which are so far ahead:


The scent in the secret garden is heavenly on still, sunny days…let me tell you!

The first Freesias have opened:


Muscari still continue to put on a lovely display. The secret garden area was the first to open, and now the rest of the garden is following suit.


I love the contrast between the Erysimum and the Muscari:


Most of the Erysimum in the garden have started blooming and I really adore some of the burnt reds and oranges:


Pink Muscari are something of a disappointment. They have really only just started opening, and the pink is very subtle (to say the least). As they fill out in the next year or so, they may look impressive, but for now, I’ll reserve judgement. The garden centre did however include an unknown bulb in the mix which is far lovelier than the Muscari!


Ipheon continue to give a lovely display and have been going since mid winter which is quite incredible.


Anemone and Ranunculus are also starting to show promise:


But not everything in the garden is early. In areas which only receive partial sun, my cold climate wins out.

For instance, when I lived in the UK, Cyclamen and Pulmonaria were considered mid-late winter flowers. However here, they have only just started to open, but are delightful none-the-less.


Happy Gardening!

In the Garden This Week

Since the start of Spring most days have reached at least 12°C / 54°F.

Now while to many folks that doesn’t sound very warm, the garden certainly thinks otherwise. Add to that lots of intermittent rain showers and an absence of heavy frosts, and plants are really starting to wake up.

Here are some snippets from around the garden this week.

Papaver nudicaule lights up the entrance to the Secret Garden area (elsewhere in the garden, Poppies haven’t even begun to bud yet).


Hopefully I get some yellows and pinks to round out the mix…I seem to mostly end up with oranges and whites 🙂 Regardless, in my climate, these will go on spot-flowering for another year.

Despite the efforts of a single cockatoo who sneaks into the garden without the flock to eat white daffodils, many have lived to flower: WhiteDaffs

I think I may have finally caught the culprit in the act.


Luckily no two cockatoos look alike, so catching this killer should be easy (yeah right!)


I can’t exactly blame the Cockatoo…some of those daffodils have a striking resemblance to a fried egg 🙂

The yellow Narcissus have basically been left alone:


It’s also amazing how far ahead the sheltered ‘Secret Garden’ area is compared to the rest of the garden… and so many other bulbs are joining in the spring chorus, all weeks early thanks to the sheltered micro-climate:



Erysimum are starting to bloom:


Other temporary little sub-shrubs are also putting on a lovely show. While some were killed by winter weather, in the sheltered areas, Osteospermums put on seemingly impossible mass displays:


Assuming they have sufficient rainfall, these will go on blooming well into summer.

Other Asteraceæ flowers must surely be running out of puff after blooming almost constantly since autumn:


Limonium perezii is producing lovely new flowers: make sure you dead-head these as they are short-lived if allowed to go to seed. The Limonium will soon be surrounded by Freesia blooms.


In the Photinia hedgerow that runs along the Western boundary, a solitary Prunus cerasifera lights up the gloom with pretty pinkish-white flowers:


At this time of year in terms of shrubs with impact, the award would still go to the early-flowering Rhododendrons.

The first up is Rhododendron chrysodoron x burmanicum:


Often considered a little tender, this one did fine in its sheltered spot during the winter…however, late frosts can ruin the buds.

Rhododendron spinuliferum ‘Crossbill’, continues to shine and is slightly more hardy:


The first buds have opened on the largest of the Kurumes; more will continue until October, when it becomes a blinding mass of colour:


Rhododendron ‘Robyn’ is now close to its peak flowering. It will eventually reach about 1.2m / 4′ tall & wide and will really look pretty in this spot close to the porch.


The resident Magpie wants some food and will keep following me around until I relent. Magpies start nesting in June and they seldom abandon a nest…these two were caught out by a very cold July and August.

If June hadn’t been so mild, they probably would have created a nest lower down the mountain to guarantee food.

Here they were being fed during (what I hope will be) the last snow-fall a couple of weeks ago. If you’ve ever wondered what a cold, wet, pregnant magpie looks like, well wonder no more:


But back to the Early Rhododendrons.

A ruddy, intense magenta is the colour of choice for most of them.  The smallest of the existing ones is in the hedgerow:


But this is nothing to the ones below.

Planted well before my time it is stuffed in a 1m / 3′ wide space between the fence and my garage. No wonder it is leggy, but still pretty when in bloom. If it had the space, it would have grown to the proportions of my next door neighbours one:


I know some people aren’t fans of Rhododendrons, but regardless, they light up the garden at a time of year normally reserved for looking down to get any colour. And they do it unabashedly.

Happy Gardening 🙂

Continuing the Terraces

This weekend saw our warmest weather for almost 5 months, so it was an absolute pleasure to get outside and work in the garden. And with the mild sunshine it was a lovely excuse to focus on something other than the areas that have been badly damaged by winter.

I continued the retaining wall project, which, due to the constant snowy weather from July is quite behind schedule.

To be environmentally friendly, EVERY stone was dug up from the garden while preparing the soil (this gives you an idea of how AWFUL my soil is) and all the walls are dry-stacked.

So apart from the new plants and mulch this new garden area has had almost no carbon input as it was all dug and laid by hand.

I’ll be removing the old hills hoist which, while super-practical, has all of the charm of a high-tension electricity pole, so it was lovely to get the second terrace and new drying area constructed and planted out all in a couple of days before the rain set in.

These stack-stone walls are surprisingly strong…the early ones I created have stood up to floods, frost, destructive hail, heavy snow, fallen tree branches and unsupervised children.

The other benefit is that without mortar, the wall won’t crack in hard frosts, water can’t build up behind the wall and push it over, and gaps in the stones are the perfect insect hotels (and when the soil fills the gaps, plant nooks!).

And there is the environmental and financial benefits of not using huge amounts of concrete.

But to be on the safe side, and given that I mostly have rather small stones to work with (if you were buying stones from a quarry you would want at least double the size), I’ve made sure that these walls are no more than 500-600mm / 1′ – 2′ high.

Here is a detail of the new drying area, showing how fiddly the work is:


Fiddly stone details

The drying area also has the Leylandii hedge along the perimeter which will hide it completely from view. It will be trimmed once it reaches 1.8m / 5’10”.

I only have a 1000m² (¼ acre) garden, so screening utilitarian areas is a must!

When the weather gets warmer I will cover the grass patch with black plastic to kill it prior to laying pea-gravel.

I have been lucky to have enough space to be able to make the garden beds at least 3 – 5m / 10 – 16′ wide to accommodate the trees and shrubs:


Future drying area behind hedge


Looking East towards the stairs

This is how the terraces meet up with the stairs to get to the upper garden and shows the curve around the hill to larger trees (behind that ‘fingers of god’ effect):


The lower terrace curves around the slope in distance. This will eventually be a patch of oval shaped lawn


Back in January when I started the project

There is one more terrace to go in front of the lowest rock wall before this part of the project can be called complete.

Even though it isn’t evident in the picture, it’s still uncomfortably steep and will need another half a dozen new stairs to link up with the bottom of the back garden towards the house.

The rocks all look very raw, but they age quickly and beautifully, and these stone walls are a large part of the vernacular around here.

Here you can see similar walls in an award-winning garden nearby:


Not my garden…..


Not my garden…..(both images from Google)

Once covered in lichen and plantings, it shows what can be achieved with exactly the same stone….but the real reason for doing this was to not have to push a mower up a 35° weed-covered slope, or to try and keep plants hydrated during summer…the terraces slow the movement of water down, and allow it to soak in (another plus for the environment).

Now, where’s my back-brace 🙂

Happy Gardening!

GBFD August – Last of Winters Damage

This GBFD ain’t a pretty one, so look away if dying foliage offends!

Winter arrived in late April this year, and while there were weeks of very mild weather in June, on the whole, winter was cold with weekly snowfalls since the second week of July.

As any Northern American gardener knows, the worst damage is done when the snow is gone and prolonged freezing weather is accompanied by bitter gales which give way to a thaw and then back to frigid cold. This is the sort of weather we’ve had in abundance.

Unsurprisingly, given that a lot of my garden is very new, exposed parts of it look terrible!

But the damage isn’t restricted to just new plantings. Here, x Cupressocyparis leylandii ‘Leightons Green’ that forms part of a mixed hedgerow is completely burnt across the tips:


Tip burn on 30 year old hedge

Smaller Leylandii that I have put in have turned from green to straw; although with winter ending, I have been nursing them back with a very week seaweed tea:


Winter discolouration

It’s working, but compare the colour above to a recently planted version that was over-wintered in a pot on the back deck (how all of these should look like through winter):


Healthy specimen showing no winter damage

Other supposedly hardy foliage plants have taken a hit. Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ is not looking so choice, and it’s  surprising as this is grown adjacent to the comparative shelter of the house:


Frost Burn from Freeze/Thaw Cycles

Similarly, the Pieris japonica – which is over 30 years old and supposedly hardy to -28°C / -18°F  – is showing signs of the severe frost damage and looks decidedly worse than the June montage a few photos below.

It should survive, but normally it is a lovely green colour (normally our winters are gentle like England, not destructive like the U.S. mid-west!!!!). At the moment, however, all the leaves are burnt:


Severe frost burn on mature specimen

Compare it to the same time last year.


Same plant August 2014 showing no winter damage

My poor Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’ has become progressively worse:….







The Boxwood (which will eventually be shaped into a cone) has been given regular doses of diluted seaweed solution and it is picking up. All over the mountains I’ve seen exposed box hedges completely burnt and defoliated by the cold…something I’ve never witnessed before…except in the central areas of Canada.

The Buxus in July (2nd row):


Now – tinges of green/yellow have emerged thanks to seaweed tonic (similar to the Leylandii) and a final let up in the cold:


One of the ‘Blue’ azaleas (Rhododendron ‘Blue Admiral’) has turned into more of a Blackbeard:


Many of the half-hardy plantings have fared considerably worse. This Æonium looks like it has gangrene: I hold no hope for it (I have its pup safely in a pot for future replanting):


What’s left of the Crassula looks more like Dracula 🙂


Both of these should have survived as they are right next to the house and normally sheltered from the worst weather – including rain – by a weather-proof porch. This has a clear Perspex roof and acts like a large cold-frame. But during the worst snow-storm (we had two very bad ones), the supposedly and normally weather-proof porch looked like this and by the next morning, everything had frozen solid:


This was where a lot of tender foliage plants like Bromeliads were kept under cover and safe from winter weather, but now look like this. The freeze even cracked glazed pots:


My drought-hardy scented Pelargonium citrosum suffered badly, but has already rebounded without any help from me; proving they are much tougher than given credit for. A hard trim and a feed in September will restore it:


And Agapanthus prove yet again that numerous hard frosts, wet snow, icy snow, black ice and death-stares every time I walk past them don’t do permanent damage (sadly).

These mushy leaves have already started to repair….meaning another summer with the mattock and hundreds of dollars in tip fees if I am to ever get their numbers under control:


But it’s not all bad!

There is nice foliage to enjoy even in a winter damaged garden. Most of it is from the hedgerow along the boundary and most of it from plants that are considered tender!

The pittosporum still looks lovely:


An evergreen Euonymus has shaken off any cold with tough, waxy leaves:


Fatsia japonica gives a tropical feel:


As does Acanthus mollis:


My little Aucuba japonica cutting has successfully survived its second winter and lights up dense shade under half-a-dozen trees:


Heucheras are in various states:

H. ‘Purple Palace’ (looking more like ‘Bedraggled Bungalow’ but a trim will restore it) fared the worst in one of the frostier spots:


H. ‘Berry Smoothie’ looks happy under the stairs where it is very sheltered:


And H. ‘Lime Marmalade’ still shines with only a tiny bit of damage ready to give a nice contrast next month to the Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ above it:IMG_2826

Almost all of the Sedums that I had planted are horrible and shrivelled. I’m hoping they will bounce back; but one of the most surprising Sedums is supposedly tender.

Under the stairs, next to the Heuchera, Sedum x Rubrotinctum is showing a lot of tip damage, but otherwise it looks really lovely:


So there you have it.

In gardening, you take the good and (make the most of) the bad. But with spring only days away…today as I write this we are having a ridiculous hot spell of 17°C / 63°F before heavy rain is supposed to set in, so the foliage plants will mend and once again provide the back-drop to the rest of the garden.

Plenty of my Australian Native plants survived this terrible winter, but that is for another post!

Do check out Christinas blog over at My Hesperides Garden to see what foliage other gardeners around the world are showcasing.

Happy Gardening and Happy GBFD!

Is it Spring Already?

Not quite.

It’s snowing again and more is forecast this afternoon.

Thankfully it’s not heavy like two weeks ago and is only settling in tiny, icy drifts as it is just too windy for anything substantial to stay on the ground.

The bitter wind-chill is -18°C / -1°F, and, coupled with the actual air temperature still below freezing at midday, it is particularly unpleasant outside.


Icy snow crystals. I’m sure the Inuit have a word for this wind-blown stuff. I have to post this to prove it is still winter as the following pictures look like mid-spring!

But try telling that to some parts of the garden!

In the little sheltered microclimates I have created with fences, under tall evergreens and by enclosing spaces around outbuildings – and mulching all garden beds –  has meant that spring has started in a few select spots in the garden.

Even on a frigid day like today, stepping into these parts of the garden is noticeably warmer; the howling gale is reduced to a noisy breeze and the wind-blown snow hasn’t settled…here I can actually take my gloves off to press the I-pad camera button.

While the rest of the garden is still grey, brown and still stuck in winter, these little micro-climates really lift the spirits and extend the spring blooming season ahead for months!

So here it is….pictures from the most sheltered parts of the garden, that make a liar of my assertions that it is still cold :-).

First up, little dwarf Narcissi ‘Little Gem’ :


Narcissus ‘Little Gem’ near an emerging Spanish Bluebell

Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’:


Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’

The brilliant yellows certainly brighten any dreary day.

Muscari armeniacum in this area have also punched through the chill with their precious little jewel-like grapes:


Muscari armeniacum

 Primulas are starting to put on a great display; first is the annual candelabra variety:


Primula malacoides

The more traditional, Primula vulgaris also joins in. This cultivar is ‘High Tea Drumcliff’ it has fabulous deep green leaves:


Primula vulgaris ‘High Tea Drumcliff’

Ipheon uniflorum – which started flowering over a month ago, is really doing well in this part of the garden. Other clumps elsewhere have not even begun to stir, so it will be great to get months of these delicate blue beauties:


Ipheon uniflorum

A little Nemesia aromatica plug that I planted in autumn has started to perform; it normally smells lovely, but the air is too cold to enjoy the perfume today:


Nemesia aromatica

The same goes for the Daphne odora in this sheltered, warm part of the garden. Even though its first flowers have opened, the chill makes it impossible to smell anything:


Daphne odora

Helleborus are heralding the end of winter. These were all put in as tiny plugs last year, so it is really heartening to see them start to flower so soon:


Helleborus niger


Helleborus niger

But some warm microclimates weren’t created by me. I’ve just taken advantage of them. The front of the house faces due North and gets all-day sun.

Unlike the siding of the rest of the house, the basement wall is brick, and I’ve painted it a dark colour to ensure as much heat as possible is retained.

It works a treat, and I get roses blooming in mid-winter on bare branches:


Climbing Iceberg Roses and Osteospermums love this warm, sheltered spot

It’s quite an odd thing to see, but I’m rather warming to it 🙂

Happy Gardening!

Snow Day

I missed the (moderately) heavy snowfall on Sunday as I was in Sydney for the day, but patches of snow lingered in the garden all week, so I felt that I hadn’t missed much.

It has been desperately cold all week with light snow falling on most days.

But last night mother nature decided to give us her best snow performance for many years:



And while it may look pretty, it has already caused some problems.


Snapped Tree along the property line

Broadleaf evergreens aren’t really compatible with blizzards.

In the still and silent cold of heavy snow, I can hear many of the Eucalyptus trees crashing down around town…!

If you are in Sydney, sadly you won’t be able to come up to see the snow as the roads are all cut and rail services are affected. These snow-falls are what the Blue Mountains used to get up until about the 1980s.

Happy snow day 🙂

This Week in the Garden: Starting the Terraces

The winter weather has returned to more normal conditions (meaning daytime temperatures of about 5°C / 40°F) but the three week mild spell, which saw temperatures consistently hitting about 12°C / 53°F, has caused many plants to start to bud.

However, there is snowfall and very cold weather forecast this weekend and into next week, so hopefully this won’t cause too much damage to the new growth….

That hasn’t stopped the garden. Here, Primula auricula ‘Alice Haysom’ has opened about 14 weeks too soon.


Primula auricula ‘Alice Haysom’

It is quite an old cultivar, from the 1930s, and I picked it up a couple of months ago at a garage sale of all places!

It’s not the only early Primula – here P. vulgaris ‘Drumcliffe’ is budding next to a Kurume azalea in bloom:


Primula vulgaris ‘Drumcliffe’ and Azalea

Another of the mixed bag of Jonquils has bloomed next to the Indica azalea which has been flowering since late June. Thankfully it isn’t a repeat of that paper-white from my last post:


Narcissus & Azalea

The overgrown Hebe that I hacked back has started to flower:


Unknown Hebe cultivar

And, wait for it…..roses!


Rosa ‘Climbing Iceberg’

The middle of winter is a great time to do some of the heavier landscaping tasks, and with the soil not frozen this year, I’ve made a start on terracing part of the back-yard.

I have also set myself a challenge of doing my garden in the most environmentally sustainable way possible: that means severely limiting the materials brought on site and any waste sent off site. As you can imagine, digging the materials needed out of the ground well and truly takes its time :-).

Here is the progress shot of one of the smaller terraces:


Dry-stone retaining wall

There are another couple of beds to add before this area is finished – a bed in front and two terraces behind, as you can see, I’ve already impatiently started transferring plants from my pot ghetto (but that’s for another post)….

My Chiropractor will be very rich once all of the terraces are done!

Happy Gardening 🙂

Winter Scents

When the daytime temperature is hovering around freezing, it is hard to appreciate the scented plants in the winter garden, but with temperatures above 10°C / 50°F these last two weeks, I’ve actually been able to notice some of the perfumes of the plants that have to work extra hard to attract pollinators at this time of year.

First up is this Witch Hazel. It gave absolutely glorious autumn shades of rich orange leaves that started very early and now it gives wonderful coppery orange and yellow tipped cellophane-like flowers that give off a delicious scent.


Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

It’s difficult to appreciate the flowers against the sugar-cane mulch, but once the low-growing Rhododendrons fill out, these little flowers will really shine against the deep green, sombre leaves.

Next up is the “secret garden” area (which is an overly grand name for garden beds so new, but within a few years it will be an enclosed, cacoon-like space with soft camellia hedges and climbing roses scrambling through them).

Although a small space, this area is the highest part of the garden (1,100m /3,600′ ASL) and has distant views over valleys and other mountains; it is a total sun-trap from late autumn to early spring and it is possibly the most sheltered area of the garden, being surrounded by outbuildings and hedges which also make it largely frost-free and always a few degrees warmer than the rest of the garden.

Here the first of the erlicheer jonquils are already looking towards the season ahead.

When this first started blooming the scent from this one little bulb was heady and sweet, filling the entire space.



As a couple more of the batch of bulbs opened, the scent was so beautiful and the bright yellow flowers lit up the shadows.


Early Narcisuss & late Leucojum

I was excited to wait for the subsequent batch to bloom: imagine a dozen of these filling a sheltered 10m² / 110sqft space and the anticipation of scented, sunny days with a hot cup of coffee…and then this opened:


Double paperwhite – Narcissus tazetta hybrid

The smell alerted me to it: when I entered the enclosed space it was like a thousand stray cats had all used my secret garden as a litter box.

Oh, the putrid ammonia rich urea-like stench. How could something so pretty be so foul?

Needless to say, the top came off, went straight into the bottom of the compost heap and the bulb has been tagged for relocation somewhere where it can be seen and not smelled!

Obviously I am one of those 40% of the population who react badly to Indole (the compound responsible for the smell of paper-whites)!

Happy gardening 🙂