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).

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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.

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

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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:

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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:

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Erysimum are starting to bloom:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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

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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:

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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:

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

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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 🙂

Spring Stirrings

On this, the last weekend of Winter, a week of showers, sun and mild weather has the garden already looking to the season ahead, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

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To me, Crocus epitomises the first of the spring flowers

All over the garden, plants are warming up for the Spring foot-race that becomes an all out marathon in the weeks ahead.

I’ve already shown the Muscari armeniacum which have been blooming in the most sheltered area of the garden, but I love them, and they deserve another look.

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Muscari armeniacum

It shows the power of the micro-climate: elsewhere in the garden, the Muscari have only just started to emerge, such as this little pink variety….

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Hard to believe this is in the same garden it is so far behind!


Narcissi are the stalwart of the early spring garden. The dwarf varieties have been flowering for weeks, and while they are fading, still look good enough to bring a smile:

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The taller Narcissus varieties have also started to open

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I’ll have to be quick however, there is a Cockatoo that is visiting the garden who likes to munch on all of the flower spikes. I am finding half-chewed stems everywhere (!)

Unfortunately for the daffodils, the Cockatoo also takes all of the leaves off, which means the bulbs will likely perish, and unfortunately for me, the Cockatoo only seems to like the more unusual varieties, leaving the bog-standard yellow ones untouched 😦


The very first Anemone coronaria has opened.

I adore these flowers.

This was part of a mixed “De-Caan” hybrid pack, so there should also be some red and white ones to follow, but so far I can see only blue buds….

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Ipheon uniflorum have been in flower since mid-winter but continue to look lovely:

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Helleborus continue to impress with their deep, rich colours:

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In the most sheltered areas of the garden, Primulas are in almost full-swing:

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Bellis perennis have kept a vigil all winter-long, and are still lovely:

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Papaver nudicale, normally a short-lived annual for most gardeners, spot flower for most of the year, but the first spring flushes are still a joy to behold.

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Shrubs are also getting in on the act, with the earliest-blooming azaleas starting to make an appearance.

These lovely blooms belong to Rhododendron spinuliferum ‘Crossbill’:

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The ever brash crimson of the early flowering Azalea indica ‘Red-wing’:

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Another early flowering Rhododendron (unknown cultivar) in brilliant magenta:

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And what of the early flowering variety that got caught in a snow-fall two weeks ago as I planted it? Many expressed concerns that it would be okay. Well, here it is; the carmine buds of Rhododendron ‘Robyn’ have turned to a soft lilac-pink:

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The Camellia japonica ‘Hino-Maru’ in the hedge-row along the property line is also delightful:

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And, lastly for this weeks’ wrap-up is the delightful scent of my little Daphne odora in bloom.

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Amazing to think that such a small plant can fill the air with a delightful fragrance!

Happy Gardening 🙂

WordPress Users Unable to Comment on Blogspot Blogs – a Fix?

I know that this issue has been around for some time (where WordPress users are unable to have their ID recognised or unable to get to the “I am not a Robot” option on BlogSpot sites), and there are a couple of workarounds for it, but I thought I’d share one of my own which has been working effortlessly for me for about 3 weeks and saving quite a bit annoyance.

From what I have observed, us WordPress users log in to the blogging world via Gravatar, which is supposed to be recognised as Open ID enabling us to easily comment on a BlogSpot site.

That’s the theory….

However, almost everyone has a Google account (for Gmail, Google calendar, Google+, YouTube etc), so, when you sign into a Google product, your web-cache stores that username and login across all active sessions and this seems to be causing the BlogSpot sites confusion in recognising our Gravatar login as it tries to reconcile the two separate logins. I could be wrong, but this is just my observation.

One workaround is to select your username and URL in the drop down list on a BlogSpot comment, but that too, doesn’t always achieve results and has often sent me on the “Anonymous/RailwayParade” or “You don’t own that Profile” loop trying to comment on my favourite, non-Wordpress sites.

An easier workaround for me is to simply open a different browser type when replying to a BlogSpot post.

For instance: if you normally use Internet Explorer as your default web browser to look at your blogfeeds via the Reader, open Google Chrome and type in the name of the BlogSpot site you wish to comment on (don’t try opening the WordPress Reader  or Gmail or Google accounts in the secondary web browser as you simply replicate the issue: you are just using this secondary web browser to visit one BlogSpot site at a time for the purpose of leaving a comment). You can then easily use your WordPress ID in the secondary browser to leave a comment.

I’ve only tried swapping between these two and safari, so cannot assume that it works on other web browsers. (Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari are supposedly the most popular anyway).

This post is not at all gardening related, but has worked for me, so I thought I’d share it with others.

Wednesday Vignette – Glistening Jewels

Muscari armeniacum remind me of jewels at the best of times, but it is even more pronounced after rain when they glisten in the gloom.

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And, thanks to a sheltered micro-climate, these are in bloom well before any others in the garden….giving me a taste of spring even though it is still winter.

Linking up with Flutter and Hum’s Wednesday Vignette. Do check out what others have thought worthwhile of a happy-snap around the world!

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:

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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:

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Future drying area behind hedge

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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):

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

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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:

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Not my garden…..

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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:

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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:

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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):

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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:

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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:

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Severe frost burn on mature specimen

Compare it to the same time last year.

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Same plant August 2014 showing no winter damage


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

June:

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July:

casualties

August:

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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):

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

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

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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):

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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Fatsia japonica gives a tropical feel:

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As does Acanthus mollis:

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

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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:

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

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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:

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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!

Wednesday Vignette – Fire and Ice

On the weekend, I just finished planting out a little early-flowering Rhododendron when I got caught in yet another snow-fall (I think this is about the 15th this year, grrrr).

I really like the contrast between the fiery buds and the icy leaves, so I caught it with the i-phone.

The flowers are actually pale pink but the buds start out a deep carmine:

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Sorry about the quality. The light was just terrible as the storm set in.

Linking up with Flutter & Hum – do check out what has caught the eye of other bloggers this Wednesday

Happy Gardening 🙂

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.

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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’ :

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Narcissus ‘Little Gem’ near an emerging Spanish Bluebell

Narcissus ‘Erlicheer’:

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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:

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Muscari armeniacum

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

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Primula malacoides

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Helleborus niger

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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:

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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!

GBFD July – Any Port in a (Winter) Storm

I almost thought that I wouldn’t have much to share this month as the snow was quite stubborn to melt in many places: with a new garden and small plants, nothing is as uninspiring as snow-covered blobs for a post 🙂

The garden has taken a real beating this winter.

Even typical structural plants like Buxus have turned a horrible straw colour from the cold. Hard frosts have killed many plants; wild temperature swings have caused others to behave like it is spring (only to be wrecked by subsequent frost) and then heavy snow that turned to ice snapped shrubs and trees, so ANYTHING that is looking fresh and green at the moment is exciting to me!

Of the evergreen things in the garden not frost-bitten or snapped, it is hardly surprising that this post is about conifers and grass-like plants.


In one corner of the garden there were already a couple of conifers: Cupressus sempirvirens ‘Swanes Golden’ and Chamæcyparis obtusa ‘Nana’.

Both of these were about 40 years old. All of the conifers that I inherited with the house have shades of yellow. Wanting to introduce blue tones, I found a couple of dwarf species that can fill the spaces:

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Juniper and Chamæcyparis

The conifer on the left is Juniperis chinensis ‘Pyramidalis’ and is the taller of the two, topping out at 1.8m (6’0″). It is normally a silvery-blue, but in winter adds a bit of purple to its coat.

The conifer on the right is Chamæcyparis lawsoniana ‘Elwoods Gold’. It should reach 1.5m (4’9″). This Chamæcyparis is interesting in that it is flushed with gold on the sunny side and this will help tie these different colours together.

The fence behind it will ultimately be removed as it isn’t on the property line (I am waiting for a hedge to grow before tackling that job).

Over on the newly constructed terrace, I have added another dwarf conifer: Chamæcyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’.

This should reach 1.2m – 1.5m (3’9″ – 4’9″). Unlike many conifers, it’s a really tactile plant, with soft, touchable needles. It is placed near the steps that cut through the terrace will make quite a feature in time.

Again, with the cold of winter, it goes slightly purple (much like us if we stay out too long)!:

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Chamæcyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’


Grasses are also very, very on trend in the design world, and, being able to bend, they don’t snap in wind or snow.

However, the Blue Mountains is a world heritage area and grasses with their trillions of wind-dispersed seeds can quickly become unwanted weeds in this delicate eco-system. Therefore, I have had to be a little more creative in getting the effect of grasses with species that have been around for some time and have not proven weedy here.

Sisyrinchium bellum is one such strappy plant and has the added benefit of spot-flowering for much of the year. It has breezed through the winter so far:

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Sisyrinchium bellum

Another plant that has taken all of the snow and ice in its stride while still providing good form is the Autumn Crocus, Zephyranthes candida:

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Zephyranthes candida

These are lining both sides of the steps down the garden and in time I will be able to divide these for a really bold effect, similar to Mondo Grass, but with pretty late summer/early autumn flowers.

There are also plenty of Australian Native grasses which are hardy. Here is a variegated Liriope, Liriope muscari ‘Alba Varieagata’:

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Liriope muscari ‘Alba Variegata’

There is a pair flanking the bench: these will get to about 30cm (8″) or so and in summer are covered with little clusters of white flowers which then turn into shiny blue berries.

Other grass like plants unscathed are the Dutch Iris: before they flower they have the most wonderful metallic sheen – seen here with a clump of freesias:

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Dutch Iris

BUT, probably the most surprising of all is the Cymbidium Orchid. This is in a well-rotted, bark-filled pot buried in the ground (Cymbidiums don’t grow in soil as a general rule) and it is completely unscathed by the bitter weather.

A friend gave me this division from her Katoomba garden, where she has grown them outside for the past 15 years….these are one of the plants that are much hardier than most give credit for:

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Cymbidium Orchid

Happy Gardening, and Happy GBFD, hosted by Christina at My Hesperides Garden: do check out what other gardeners around the world are showcasing in their foliage gardens!