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:

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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:

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

Azaleas and more Narcissus:

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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:

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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

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

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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:

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

And cool:

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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:

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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:

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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 🙂

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 🙂

This Week in the Garden: Frost and Gales

The garden has taken a bit of a battering these last few weeks.

As an El Niño takes hold in the Pacific, the weather here is reacting in an almost text-book way: some very cold nights of -9°C / 15°F, and then yo-yo like temperatures of freezing days followed ridiculously mild ones and weeks of bitterly cold & dry, gale-force winds sweeping from the interior of the continent.

It is such a change from April & May which saw incredible deluges and the onset of early winter weather.

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Frosty Grass

Many plants that I thought were hardy have actually succumbed to the chill.

Buxus macrophylla (Japanese Box) is usually tough and I planted it because it is the most resistant to box blight – which is also in Australia – but it tends to go an unattractive bronze in icy weather:

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Frost-bitten boxwood

Even the Leylandii hedges that are in the exposed areas have taken on a bronze tint, but not as pronounced as the buxus.

There have been a few losses: many of the salvias have been cut to the ground. I won’t know for sure whether these have survived until later in spring when new growth (hopefully) reappears.

The Tree Dahlia, which survived many frosts down to about -5°C / 23°F unscathed, couldn’t make it through the -9°C / 15°F weather and has been cut back for the year. Although I get a number of extra plants from the canes, so I’m not complaining!


As I don’t really feel the cold, winter is a great time for me to get stuck into making new garden beds and reclaiming the grass.

On the western side of the garden in the shade of existing trees, I have dug over and planted up a new garden bed filled with mostly low to medium growing Rhododendrons. In addition to their wonderful spring flowers, these will help block some of the bitterly cold westerly winds that tear through the garden in winter as well as provide a bit of late afternoon shade in summer.

There are a number of lower growing deciduous plants (Fothergilla major, Cornus, Spirea, Mollis Azaleas etc) at the front of the bed as well as larger deciduous plants interspersed (Ribes sanguineum, Linnæa nee Kolkwitza amabilis, Hamamelis x intermedia, Hydrangea paniculata) which will provide more seasonal interest as Rhododendrons alone can be a little gloomy.

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Fothergilla will provide three seasons of interest against the dark backdrop

I also have a lot of foxgloves and poppies that I have grown from seed which will help fill the gaps while the shrubs establish themselves.

Most of the Rhododendrons are species that grow no more than 1-2m (3′-6′) tall and wide…also, you can see some of the daily ice patches still lingering in the top of this picture:

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Rhododendron sp and a big patch of ice in the background

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More Rhododendron & Azalea sp.

This part of the garden will form one of the (yet-to-be-built) retaining walled areas. The rocks that you see below stacked across the top of the photo run the length of the garden.

These rocks were all dug from that garden bed.

In a bid to be environmentally friendly, I am limiting the materials to those found on site, so I have to dig the rocks out first before being able to build the walls. Hopefully for this retaining wall, I will need to bring in no more than 350kg of sand/cement on site.

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View to the yet to be constructed terrace – must remove those plant tags!!!!

I’ve also finished up another garden bed around one of the large gum trees. In this bed there are irises, salvias (those that survived the frosts), primulas, poppies and an assortment of bulbs:

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Curved, stack-stone garden bed

A small growing weeping Japanese maple will eventually clothe the base of the gum tree and provide a sense of enclosure for the seating area behind.

I must confess that when I first moved here, I tired of the never-ending stone that foiled every effort to cultivate the soil without spending hours digging out heavy rubble….I was left wondering what on earth to do with it all…these dry-stack walls, while rustic, certainly give a sense of place and I have learnt to love them.

As an added benefit, insects shelter between the cracks and the rocks slow down water which drains away on this very steep site, and they radiate warmth which can actually be the difference between a plant living or dying….all in all, quite useful!


Despite the ice, with fast draining soil, there is still a bit in flower. Especially where the garden is sheltered. In fact, with the sunshine, some parts of the garden think it is spring, even though the days are freezing.

I guess it shows the power of creating mini micro climates:

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Iceland poppy

The Iceland poppies – normally just a spring annual – have not stopped since they were planted last year (Spring, Summer, Autumn and now Winter), which is amazing. They do so well here, with no additional water, that I have added many, many more around the garden.

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Cistus and Spirea

I rather like the Cistus and Spirea combo – each of the reds complementing the other….and it isn’t something you normally see side-by-side!

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Sisyrinchium bellum

Sisyrinchium bellum, sheltered against another rock retaining wall, enjoys the additional warmth by giving extra flowers.

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As does the Marguerite, which is really lighting up this part of the garden with its out-of-season display.

Even bulbs are getting in on the act:

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First Spring Stars

The Triteleia (spring star) is blooming many months early in this sunny, sheltered spot.

As is this Narcissus. It is normally an early one, but this is amazing:

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Very early Jonquil

This was resurrected from a clients’ garden, so I don’t know what variety it is.

The Fuchsias have also escaped the worst of the frost, but you can see a bit of damage. Despite this, they are still powering along:

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Fuchsia

Spirea ‘Anthony waterer’ is putting on an odd display:

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“This was moved from a sheltered spot and then hit with frost…yikes


And course, there are the actual winter flowering plants. Osteospermum:

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African Daisy

Pansies look pretty with their little dusting of ice melting in the sun:

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Frosty Pansies

The Hamemelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ is not only full of buds very early thanks to the prolonged cold, it has also started to flower. This is the first time I’ve grown witch hazel (my Sydney garden was too warm and my London garden was too small) and not only did it have a stunning early autumn display, but it also give these lovely little translucent flowers which are very difficult to photograph!

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Tiny confetti-like Witch-Hazel flowers

The Pieris japonica, also a little frost-bitten, is putting on a nice early display:

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Lily of the Valley tree

But the some best flowers of winter belong to the Australian Natives. Anyone who is in a garden that doesn’t regularly drop below -15°C should consider at least one of these plants for winter interest:

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Brachyscome multifida

The Brachyscome multifidia is blooms most of the year but gives its best display in winter/spring. It is hardy to -15°C / 5°F and as you can see it is undamaged by the recent frosts.

Another stalwart of this winter garden is the Grevillea, Grevillea banksii x bipinnatifida: this shrub had been covered in mildew all summer long from the rain. The frost has cleared that up nicely:

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Grevillea banksii x bipinnatifida

This one has not been damaged by the ice, and even though the literature says it is hardy only to about -5°C / 23°F, it has survived many hours well below that temperature for weeks now without skipping a beat.

Happy Gardening 🙂

Mid Autumn Flowers and more Cockatoos

Despite last weeks’ brief snowfall, there is still a fair bit of floral interest in the garden.

My little free dianthus has relished the cool weather and the highly variable cosmos continue to flower:

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Clockwise from Left: Dianthus, Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’, Impatiens, Japanese Windflower

The impatiens has done virtually nothing all summer long and is now starting to be affected by the cold. I’ll probably dig it up and see if I can over-winter it in a pot as I am sure that there must be some flowers for next year as well, given how little it has grown this spring and summer!

The last of the summer bloomers can always be relied on to extend the display. Here, Penstemon hartwegii ‘Schönholzeri’ keeps up a fine show:

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Penstemon hartwegii ‘Schönholzeri’

Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) and Verbena canadensis are still flowering away:

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Achillea millefolium & Verbena canadensis

The Iceland poppies, that used to last about 2 weeks in my Sydney garden are still flowering strongly. They have not been without flowers for eight solid months and continue to amaze me. The Muscari clumps look very healthy and appear to be quite early:

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Iceland Poppies just won’t quit 🙂

Other late summer plants are putting on a brave face. Miniature dahlias that my neighbour gave me continue to flower despite the chill (and slug damage!). The last of the Helenium ‘Riverton Beauty’ brings a cheery yellow to the chicken wire that has been supporting it. Alyssum and self-sown phlox keep a small blueberry company as it changes into its autumn coat, and the Scabiosa ochroleuca ‘Cream Pincushion’ has the most delightful seed-pods imaginable:

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Counter-clockwise from top: Dahlia, Helenium, Phlox & Alyssum, Scabious – just look at the seed-pods 🙂

Camellia sasanqua ‘Mine No Yuki’ is covered in blossom. With its pendulous branches and blousy form, it makes quite a sight:

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Camellia sasanqua

Other short lived perennials, like the Argyranthemum frutescens “Crazy Daisy” is greeting the cool weather with increased floral displays:

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Marguerites

Australian natives are also getting in on the act. The Brachyscome multifida – a cold hardy (down to -15°C/5°F) and drought hardy native from NSW and Victoria looks great in the softer light of autumn. It is seldom without any flowers, just like the Osteospermums (which are all part of the Asteraceae family):

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Brachyscome multifida and Osteospermums

Another native shrub in the garden, which I have never shown before (partly because it is right at the front of the property beyond an easement line….I never actually spend much time there!) is Banksia spinulosa. This is hardy to at least -12°C/10°F (USDA zone 8a/RHS zone 5 with sharp drainage)

It has magnificent spiky inflorescences and attractive grey-green foliage:

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Banksia, grevillea, hebe and the only ageratum from my seed packet to do well….grown in a pot in at least 6 hours of shade!

The Grevillia always gives such pleasure, although, after such a damp eight months it is suffering terribly from mildew and mould. Surprisingly, we are still short of our normal rainfall totals by almost 100mm/4″: this will give you an idea of how much rain we actually get here in the mountains.

The unknown hebe is continuing to power along…it will be removed as it is surrounded by cotoneaster, firethorn and blackberry, but I have taken many cuttings of it and it will continue on in the garden.

Salvia greggii cultivars are still flowering profusely throughout the garden:

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Counter-clockwise from top: S greggii ‘Sierra Pink’, ‘Hotlips’, ‘Patio White’

They really do earn their keep!

For the Galanthus lovers who would now be going through withdrawals after the winter/spring display has finished, there is an summer/autumn flowering variety – Galanthus reginæ-olgœ.

Now this Galanthus is notoriously difficult to get, but don’t despair….it has a cheaper, more readily available cousin in Leucojum æstivum that might be just what you are looking for to give the ‘snow drop’ appearance during the snowflake off-season.

These were here with the house, but they are virtually indestructible. This area has suffered terribly with oxalis infestations, and I can’t tell you how many bulbs I have speared trying to remove the weeds, yet they keep powering along and have multiplied freely since last year:

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Autumn snowdrops

They’re fairly variable and will likely keep flowering until early winter and probably have another flush in late spring, they are very old-fashioned, and certainly trouble-free.

Autumn is also always a time that delivers lots of out-of-season flowers:

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Azaleas come in for a second flush before spring – R. ‘Blue Admiral’ is always a welcome sight

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Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pee-Gee’ in autumn splendour. Daphne genkwa delivers an out-of season flower and the last of the out-of-season rosemary which has been blooming since January

Berries are also a great source for birds at this time of year. Here Rozellas eat the berries of Japanese Privet (I know, it’s a weed, and a shocker at that, but the birds love it; I haven’t brought myself to cut it down yet as it is over 5m/17′ tall and overhanging part of the house!):

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Rozellas and Privet….ensuring millions of seedlings for years to come 🙂

And of course, grasses, even those that are mown, provide a lot of seed at this time of year. When not munching on brioche and belgian waffles at the local café, the local push of cockatoos gather en masse to feed:

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And lastly, while not yet in flower, I think that my tree dahlia cutting (Dahlia imperialis) soon will be. While it has only reached about 1.2m/3’3″ (it was attacked by slugs at the beginning of spring), it is developing promising buds:

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Dahlia imperialis in bud

I do hope it makes it before the frosts – the forecast is for more chilly weather – Monday is supposed to have gales and sleet and a top temperature of 5°C/40°F, so winter is on its way.

Happy gardening 🙂

And they call it poppy love….

As spring transitions abruptly to summer, across the garden poppies are opening or, in some cases, giving a repeat performance!

Poppies are honestly one of the easiest of all flowers to grow; they don’t need too much water, and are unfussed by soil type. I love the airiness they give to the garden.

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Delicate Shirley poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

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Iceland poppies come back for an umpteenth showing

The Iceland poppy, Papaver nudicaule, which back in July tantalised with the promise of buds that didn’t open until late September to announce the warmth of spring. It’s amazing to think that with just regular dead-heading, they are still blooming and are now announcing the heat of summer: when I lived in Sydney, Iceland poppies would be lucky to live past September, let alone flower again in October and November!

In the background are the earliest of the Rock Roses, Cistus ladanifer, and the first of the foxglove spires.

A cultivar of the common poppy, Papaver orientale, has opened to reveal a striking black centre against pillar-box red:

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And lastly, the California poppy with its yellow and cream trumpets will always make me smile even though I know it will end up seeding through the garden:

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Eschscholzia californica

Happy gardening 🙂