Happy Coincidence

With the exception of the foundation beds adjacent to the house, I am unfussed about ephemeral flower colour combinations in my own garden. So, I usually just buy a ‘mixed bag’ of seeds or bulbs and enjoy the results, whatever they are….

So it’s nice to see these two matchy-matchy combinations:

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Above: the cool blush of an apple-blossom coloured Rununculus and, well, apple blossom (which belongs to a dwarf Malus domestica ‘Pink Lady’).

Below: an equally matchy-matchy hot combo of mixed Papaver nudicaule and an Exbury-Mollis Azalea ‘Arneson Flame’

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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 🙂

Late Summer rolls on

The three week cool spell (with days in the teens and single-digit nights) is over with temperatures back in the low twenties (70°s) during the day. The garden certainly has relished every second of it!

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pink Diamond’ is in flower.

The bees love this one. It opens white, but should soon fade to a striking, rosy pink. H. paniculata is still somewhat uncommon in Australia and I had to hunt around for this plant.


Autumn seems to continue to want to take an early hold, which is  worrying as there is still potential for hot weather between now and late March…further, it means that when the real autumn comes around, half the plants will be out of leaf 😦

Here, an Acer japonicum (Full-moon Maple) in a neighbouring garden is already in autumn colour:

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Too early for Autumn! I do like the white agapanthus though….


Most of the Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) divisions have flowered:

I’m not sure about the apricot/beige one (even though the bees like it). It’s an unusual colour and I’ll see if it grows on me, if not it can be moved to a different spot.

There are still two Yarrow pieces yet to flower, so it will be interesting to see what colours I get from them!


Salvias are a great performer in the more frost-protected areas of the garden. Here are but some of my current plants…

The deep purple Salvia x hybrid ‘Amistad’ is quite tender; I nearly lost the seedling to frost this last winter, but it has since tripled in growth and finally produced some very stunning deep purple flowers held on almost black calyxes.

Likewise, the showy, yet, horribly named ‘Sallyfun Bicolour’ (yes, that really is its name) has flowered much better since I moved it towards the front of the house where it has radiant warmth from the brick-work. Despite the name, with its three-tone dark blue, light blue and white frothy flowers, I think it is one of the nicest Salvias I have yet seen.


I have only the one Penstemon in the garden so far – I intend to add more – this one is Penstemon hartwegii ‘Schönholzeri’ and is finally starting to put on a show:


Of course with all of the rain this summer, weeds are prolific. Here in the Blue Mountains, combinations of yellow tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata), montbretia (Crocosmia X crocosmiiflora) and Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus praecox) feature along every road and empty lot……….as an interesting aside on Latin vs. common names, did you know that Horticultural convention dictates that you need to use common names when referring to weed species?

Anyway here are some random ‘pretty’ weed photos around town. These were all taken on a camera phone, so forgive the quality:

I love the goat tied to the fence to control weeds on the nature strip 🙂

Anyway, here is my patch of Crocosmia X crocosmiiflora in flower. This is in another part of the garden that I haven’t shown and haven’t even made a start on yet – you can see this weed keeping good company with agapanthus, blackberry, privet and so on….


I have also planted a Coreopsis, but this garden cultivar is sterile:

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Coreopsis ‘Salsa’


Tulbaghia violacea variegata (Variegated Society Garlic) has put on a display, with yet more Papaver nudicaule (Iceland Poppies) behind it preparing for their gazillionth bloom.

It’s also heartening to see how much growth the Cupressus glabra ‘Blue Ice’ (Arizona Cypress) row has put on this summer, they’ve more than doubled in size. You can see here, how tiny they were when planted in April 2014:

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Variegated Society Garlic, Arizona Cypress and Iceland Poppies

The Tulbaghia flowers are remarkably similar to the Agapanthus, which, having bloomed early, are now starting to go over. However, I found a slightly different variety in the garden which has a far more pronounced stripe to the flower:

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Agapanthus variety

I’m assuming this one is a chance variation. Maybe it’s actually unique and I can give it naming rights with a hideous name like the Salvia? Agapanthus praecox ‘Mattfun Bicolour’ anyone? Ugggh.

Sisyrinchium bellum (California Blue Grass) has put on a few flowers. This has been rather slow growing since I put it in at the start of summer; this area that I reclaimed had a lot of wild sheep-sorrel (Rumex acetosella) which I have struggled to remove. 

With its tiny roots wrapping around everything, I suspect it has slowed this plant down. S. bellum is hardy to USDA zone 7/8 and will take temperatures down to at least -15°C/5°F.

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Sisyrinchium bellum 

I do like the strappy leaves that these flowers provide: while much of the world is using grasses (a trend I like), I have to be very careful about what I choose as many of the foreign grasses could have an utterly devastating impact on the Blue Mountains environment, given that flowers/seeds are pollinated and dispersed entirely by the wind.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t have the tried-and-true grass-like plants such as the Tulbaghia violacea, Sisyrinchium bellum and this one, Zephyranthes candida (Autumn Crocus), which as an added bonus all produce great flowers:

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Zephyranthes candida


A plug of Stachys officinalis ‘Rosea’ (Betony) has given me it’s first little flower:

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Stachys Officinalis ‘Rosea’

It has a long way before it is redolent of Piet Oudolf’s deft hand:

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How Piet Oudolf does Stachys

But it’s a start 😉


And though I’ve shown them before, the roses provide such dreaminess to the garden:

These have seldom been without a bloom all season.


And what would late summer be without Dahlias?

My next door neighbour gave me these tubers from her garden last winter when I helped dig out some blackberry that had taken over. Therefore, I haven’t the faintest idea what the cultivar names are, except to say that all of them are low-growing varieties that don’t need staking.

The slugs and snails seem to be having a field day with the foliage and flowers, snapping everything off at the base; I suspect my neighbour uses bait to keep hers in such good condition 🙂

Despite being slug magnets, I love them, they are old-fashioned and remind me of my grandparent’s tiny front garden. However, the tree Dahlia cutting has not grown much at all; it was cut back by a slug attack at the start of summer, and the recent cool weather is hampering its growth. By now it should be at least 1.2m – 2m (4′ – 7′) tall:

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Tree Dahlia – not much growth


Verbena Canadensis is in flower. These are very short-lived perennials, but put on a reasonable display during their life. Dead-heading will extend the life and flowering. These continue the low-growing, white frothy theme that Iberis usually perform during spring.

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Verbena Canadensis with out-of-season azalea

Case in point, re: dead-heading…the Lupins are preparing for another show. However, these flower spikes are no where near as fat or prolific as they were at the start of summer, but they look great with the background Astilbe:

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Late flowering Lupins and Astilbe

Not everything is successful. I sowed a crop of Ageratum in early spring. Almost all were eaten by snails and the one that is left has taken five long months to do this:

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One sad customer

Same deal with Impatiens, this is the best out of the seedlings I planted four months ago:

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A slightly less sad customer

The rest still look like this:

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More sad customers

I put in some annual Wallflowers; no growth and not one flower.

Even the Bellis perennis, (English Daisy) while successful in terms of numbers germinated + survival, have been slow to take. September:

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Bellis perennis – September…can anyone spot the error on the seed packet?

I have only just had the first flowers, and the plants are still fairly small after five months:

I must be one of the only gardeners struggling to get these oh-so-basic plants to grow!

At least most of the Aster family co-operates….Osteospermums still bloom away:

Felicia amelloides is repeat flowering:

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Felicia and Dianthus


Abelia x grandiflora (Glossy Abelia) is in bloom. This forms part of an semi-formal hedgerow along the neighbours boundary (one that has an eclectic mix of Cypress, Erica, Philadelphus, Pittosporum, Photinia, Prunus, and so on) so it has always been clipped at times that probably don’t suit its flowering habit:

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Abelia x grandiflora

I’ve taken a few cuttings of this shrub as they do very well around here (although the winter makes them loose their leaves) and it will make a much nicer specimen in the garden rather than crammed into the hedgerow with all manner of other plants.

Happy Gardening 🙂

 

This Week in the Garden

The Summer Solstice was a glorious day.

A bit of sun, a bit of cloud and just a quick, passing shower, a nice strong breeze and a top of 21°C (70°F).

As you would expect at this time of year, the garden is starting to fill with colour.

More Lupins have opened – this time, I’m getting my wish with the more stellar combinations. Each bush has many more spikes, so with a bit of luck I will be enjoying these through summer

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The foxgloves, such a mainstay of so many gardens, have come into their own, shown here with the hydrangea:

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Digitalis x mertonensis ‘Strawberry’ and Hydrangea quercifolia

I love the combination with the Wallflower:

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Erysimum and Digitalis

I don’t know about you, but these flowers always invite me to have a closer look, so….

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Digitalis x mertonensis ‘Strawberry’

The other Hydrangea quercifolia, planted in an awkward spot under the stairs, is doing very well:

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It certainly appreciates the shade provided by the treads and should fill the space without needing cutting back (the stairs are 2.5m/8′ tall). Additionally, this should keep its burgundy throughout the winter, which will make a nice contrast to the grey and white of the house.

Some of the blue shades in the garden:

Ajuga reptans…a little late to flower, but it is in a fairly shady spot:

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Blue bugle

A little Campanula portenschlagiana, given to me by my neighbour is flowering away:

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Campanula portensclagiana

Nigella damascena is always a star, but it is one that you have to look for closely:

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Nigella damascena

But for an intense blue at this time of year, it is hard to go past the cornflowers, Centaurea cyanus, which are taking centre stage:

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Centaurea cyanus

Of course available in other shades, such as light blue and pink:

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Here in purple, going well with the Heucheras and the Violas. Pity that all the storms last week flattened a lot of the flowers, but such is life in the garden!

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This little wildflower seed packet sown direct in the soil in September, has given months of mileage:

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The poppies are still powering along:

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Coreopsis ‘Salsa’ picks up the hot colours of the poppies:

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Hope you enjoyed seeing what is on show this week…as always, happy gardening 🙂

Rock Rose

I love the happy blooms of the rock rose (Cistus ladaniferus). These were just little plugs when I planted them in March/April.

Now, they have started to fill out nicely and are covered in blooms:

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IMG_0746The white crepe-paper blooms certainly complement one of the seemingly never-ending Iceland poppy blooms:

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Each flower lasts but a day.

This is one of the more cold tolerant of the species and can be grown in USDA Zones 7/8 as long as it is given some shelter (just as I have done by growing it in front of a warm North-facing fence).

These short lived shrubs still have some way to go; growing quite a bit more slowly here than in their preferred Mediterranean climate, but considering these only had a few leaves each when I planted them seven months ago, I am certainly not complaining about the progress!

Happy Gardening 🙂

This week in the garden

As September draws to an end, the weather is certainly warming. Days are no longer single digits but in the mid teens (≈ 60°F) and the midday sun has a real warmth to it: while all of the bulbs are still going strong, the garden is now starting to wear the more vibrant colours associated with the middle of the season.

Of course there are still subtleties:

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Woodland Anemone – Anemone nemorosa

These are all along the shady side garden….but I have to be quick to catch a photo – they close their petals the minute the sun disappears. They are not a particularly common flower here in Australia, but these appear to have naturalised in this part of the garden. I think they are especially charming. I overplanted this area with Tiarellas and the combination of foliage will be especially pleasing when they start establish.

Ones that I did plant nearby are a half-a-dozen English Primroses. This little cultivar is called ‘High Tea Drumcliff’. The seed packet promised white flowers on chocolate-green leaves. I guess, like the ‘Blue Admiral’ Rhododendron, that this might be overly-creative marketing?

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Primula vulgaris

Still, I like the pink and yellow. The colour palette is remarkably similar to the clump of freesias which are still powering along:

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If only this were “smell-o-blog” – the scent is amazing!

As the days and nights are warmer, the scent fills this corner of the garden.

But now, to the bolder colours of spring. Here are two of the perennial wallflowers, which do quite well in my Zone 8 garden, despite having acidic soils:

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Erysimum ‘Fragrant Sunshine’

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Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’

The Iceland poppies have finally decided to open, after displaying their furry buds since July:

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1st Iceland Poppy

The Diascia, which I have in sheltered rockery facing due north has started the first of what should be a display until April. Here in my garden this is a perennial that can survive the winter as long as it has some sort of protection/radiant warmth:

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Diascia ‘Coral Belle’

Next up a Camellia japonica that was already here when I bought the property. I’m pretty sure this on is called ‘Hino-Maru’ but please correct me if I’m wrong 🙂 At any rate the single red petals and yellow stamens are particularly eye-catching:

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C. japonica ‘Hino-Maru’?

And lastly, the Karume Azalea that was liberated from under the tangle of Ivy and Jasmine is such a saturated, intense punch of colour on a sunny day that my camera lens, and my eyes, find it difficult to adjust!

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I really need shades…..

Happy Gardening 🙂