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 🙂

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!

This week in the Garden

In a word: changeable!

A day of searing heat of 30°C/86°F gave way to some pretty dramatic storm clouds as a cold change blew in:

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Lightning dramatically illuminates the inside of storm clouds

The lightning for this storm seemed to stay within the clouds, occasionally arcing between the towering cumulonimbus clouds and sucking in bands of fog from the coast but seldom striking the ground.

After the change, the following day reached just 9°C/49°F!


Late into the growing season most summer perennials start to look bedraggled; many autumn flowering plants are only just coming into flower and the deciduous trees haven’t really started to change hue.

In such a transitional time, there is often little available for wildlife to feed. I’ve tried to incorporate as many plants as possible that flower between March and May to keep not only the visual interest but also keep something for wildlife.

The Callistemon viminalis (which always struggles with the cold) has put on some new flowers which have attract all sorts of critters. Here a few butterflies line up for nectar:

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Callistemon viminalis and butterflies

A rarer visitor to the garden, the beautiful Crimson Rosella enjoys the seed pods:

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Crimson Rosella

Despite needing pruning every year from frost damage, it certainly is a lovely small tree to have right outside the lounge-room window!

With many of the native nectar-producing plants dormant at this time of year, my resident Wattlebirds have been enjoying the larger Salvias:

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Wattlebird enjoying Salvia ‘Waverley’

But, unlike dainty hummingbirds that typically sup from the salvia cup, these clumsy brutes snap off each of the stems as they fly away 😐

This border still looks passable (just – the Achillea are starting to look ratty) despite the fact that it was at its peak a few months ago.

December/January:

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Front border in early summer

Late March:

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Front bed late March – really must cut the grass…

The Agastaches & smaller tubular salvias that are flowering attract much smaller birds which do far less damage. This one is a VERY special visitor which I’ve never seen before and it’s VERY, VERY, VERY far from home.

It is a female Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) and it is mostly comes from the Philippines, but is also inhabits a small corner in the far northern tropics of Australia, some 3,000km/1,900mi away. It has taken to the Agastaches & tubular salvias.

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 IMG_1367IMG_1372IMG_1375IMG_1376IMG_1378This is a close relative of the hummingbird with which Northern gardeners are familiar. It loves the Agastache, but I can’t get a decent shot of the two together, however…

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Agastache aurantiaca ‘Salmon Pink’

….I really like the curls that these tubular flowers get as they age.

In a part of the garden that I haven’t made a start clearing yet, a neglected Hebe is flowering:

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Unknown Hebe cultivar

This one is leggy and will be removed with all the Ivy and Firethorn that is growing around it. I’ve already struck cuttings, so it will certainly keep going on in the garden.

The variable little cosmos are still powering along; no two flowers even remotely similar or close to the pictures on the seed packet. Bless ’em:

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Cosmos Candy Stripe


In other areas of the garden, I’m preparing for a late spring display with Aquilegia – these did so well last spring – flowering from early October to late December – that I’ve decided to add a number more (about 100 actually, the amount in the seed packet) to fill in gaps while the shrubs establish. They are so easy to germinate:

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Aquilegia seedlings (with Brachyscome)

I’ve put them into a few beds in the back garden in large drifts and should look quite lovely come spring and will provide a nice linking effect as we head into summer 2016 after the azaleas and bulbs have finished.

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More Aquilegia seedlings

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And some more Aquilegia seedlings


Autumn has its own beautiful flowers and many of them now start to shine. Anemone x hybrida (Japanese Windflower) lights up the shade under the Japanese Maple:

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Japanese Windflower

These are quite slow to get going, but be sure to place it correctly. Once it is established, it is almost impossible to remove if you change your mind!

A little Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ that I purchased in summer has given a couple of spot flowers. It’s near the back porch and hints at the scent that is to come this spring:

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Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’

The Helenium ‘Riverton Beauty’ which keeps getting bashed about by the storms (despite being tied to a wire supports) is flowering prolifically:

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Helenium ‘Riverton Beauty’

Where would the autumn garden be without roses? My favourite, ‘Blushing Pierre de Ronsard’ is flowering again:

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Rosa ‘Blushing Pierre de Ronsard’ with salvia seed-heads

I’m amazed the leaves haven’t been affected by black spot after all the endless rain this summer. I love the contrast between the freshness of the rose and the decay of the Salvia seed-heads.

Rounding out the autumn flowers is a sasanqua camellia. This was one of the few plants in the garden when I bought the house.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Mine No Yuki’

I’m pretty sure this is Camellia sasanqua ‘Mine No Yuki’. In a few weeks it should be covered in blooms.


And of course, the first of the proper autumn foliage is starting as well. The Horse Chestnut was yellow until the hot day turned it brown:

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Horse Chestnut

The blueberries are starting to put on a lovely display:

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Blueberry

As are the Hydrangeas, which are not normally associated with glorious autumn tones so early:

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Hydrangea

But the star of the show at this early stage is the Witch Hazel:

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Hammelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

This one is near a pathway and should be good for providing a bit of winter interest and a light fragrance.


And, as I started the post with a picture of storm clouds gathering, I might as well finish with one of storm clouds clearing.

This view may change permanently – every day there are cranes and chainsaws and about a dozen of the large Radiata Pine on the closest hill have already been felled. I certainly hope they don’t cut down the whole lot as I love seeing the deep green of this little pine forest. But I suspect it will soon be gone 😦

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Storm Clouds

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 🙂

 

Roses really are tough

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When I was younger, the standard wisdom was to grow roses in their own separate beds away from everything else in the garden so that all of their special needy needs could be met.

Often these separate beds, bereft of anything other than the occasional Tagetes for companion planting/aphid pest control, left me quite averse to growing roses. I believed them just too reliant on water, chemicals and fertiliser, needing zero root competition, specialist pruning and just too prone to fungal disease to warrant the one or two annual flushes of flowers, however beautiful and fragrant.

But here in this climate, roses are incredibly tough and reliable: often amongst the few survivors in very old neglected gardens.

Point in case, a little patio rose bush that produces small white flowers in early summer. Here it is when I first moved in.

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It doesn’t make for a particularly good cut flower, and I suspect that this was the reason it had never been pruned (that and the fact that my house had been a run-down rental for 35 years). The bush was riddled with dead-wood, it was growing underneath the eaves with almost no water and had couch, kikuyu and fescue grasses growing over and through it; completely wrapped through its root-ball.

While the exterior of the house was being renovated, the builder had his scaffolding and weatherboards strewn all over it for two months, its few living branches were snapped and it was starved of light.

None-the-less, it flowered three times: a small flush in mid spring, a big flush in summer and a small flush again at the end of autumn when the scaffolding was lifted off it.

So when it came to creating the bed out the front, I just couldn’t bring myself to remove such a survivor. Instead, I cut out all of the dead wood and gave it a serious prune, being sure to follow the traditional mantra of creating an open vase shape.

It needed moving from its current spot and its roots were riddled with kikuyu. So, with sharp axe, spade and secateurs, I took off more than half of the roots and chiselled out the kikuyu stolons that had merged with the wood of the roses’ root crown.

Quite drastic and quite a mess.

I honestly thought after such an attack, the rose would be destined for the compost heap.

But, with a liquid feed and some rain, here it is two weeks later, starting to shoot again:

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In fact, given my new found respect for how tough rose plants are, I decided to buy a climbing Iceberg Rose to cover the brick wall in the newly cleared bed. You can see it to the left – it is still a bare rooted rose, but hopefully soon it will be just like the picture at the start of the post 🙂

Oh, and the rocks? Just temporary….every time I dig I unearth a small dry-stone retaining wall’s worth :-/