Garden crawl

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Kohleria eriantha in the garden of Glenys and Stephen Rowe in Sydney

I have never been on a pub crawl, but I cannot imagine it could be possibly as enjoyable as going on a garden crawl on a perfect spring day, as I did this Sunday with the local garden club. We visited four gardens at their spring peak, and each one inspired and educated us.

Abutilon megapotamicum trained over an arch in the garden of Virginia Coote in Sydney

The first garden has evolved over 30 years as the owners (Virginia Coote and her husband, originally from overseas) have experimented to discover what grows well in Sydney, and built borders, paths, arches, a pond and trellises. The sunny front garden has a delightful collection of shrubs, perennials, bulbs and annuals, with a may bush (Spiraea cantoniensis), Brugmansia, wallflowers, Babiana and an impressive display of sweet peas and cornflowers. The back garden has a magnificent backdrop of tall gum trees that grow in the adjacent park - and cast some shade into this area. The owners have responded to this challenge with a variety of shade-tolerant plants that are perfect for Sydney gardens. Cane Begonia are ideal for providing flowers and interesting foliage in such areas, as are the many species and cultivars of Plectranthus, including silvery-leaved Plectranthus argentatus and the variegated Plectranthus forsteri. Bromeliads of many colours and patterns also thrive, mainly grown in pots. Abutilon grow well in dappled shade and I was impressed by an Abutilon megapotamicum trained over a wooden archway. Its long, thin, supple stems allow to it be used as if it were a climber.

Eupatorium megalophyllum in the garden of Virginia Coote in Sydney

Clivia - which are looking wonderful in Sydney at the moment - provide colour in shaded areas, and a magnificent specimen of the purple mist flower (Eupatorium megalophylum) in full bloom was much admired. It has companion plantings of the elegant, arched-leaved renga renga lily (Arthropdium cirratum) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale), a tough, shade-tolerant groundcover with white or blue flowers in spring. This lovely, tranquil garden is a tribute to the unstinting efforts of its owners to understand gardening in our climate.

The next two gardens were adjoining blocks belonging to the same owners, Glenys and Stephen Rowe, who kindly allowed our garden club to visit. Intriguingly, the first garden took its dominant colour palette from a lovely old china bowl that had been in the family for a number of years, with hues of orange, lime-green and yellow on a white background. All the plants chosen are ones that thrive in Sydney. Many of them are massed in large groups, maximising their impact and sculpting the spaces in the garden beautifully. I particularly liked a stand of Ruscus aculeatus planted to surround a wooden seat. Sometimes known as the insect plant, it has tiny flowers in the middle of its 'leaves' (actually stems), looking for all the world like little bugs. I had no idea that this shrub could form such an impressive mass; and apparently it will grow in difficult spots where few other plants will thrive.

At this time of year, the orange hue was provided by glowing Clivia miniata, including the larger Belgian hybrids, the velvet bells of Kohleria eriantha (pictured at the start of the blog), Lobelia laxifolia and Chorizema cordatum. The huge lime-hued flowering heads of Euphorbia characias subspecies wulfenii, the limey-yellow bracts of the ever-blooming shrimp plant Justicia brandegeeana 'Lutea' and the lime foliage of Sedum mexicanum 'Gold Mound'; the brilliant yellow flowers of Kerria japonica and cool-yellow Clivia miniata 'Aurea'; and the exquisite white saucer-shaped blooms of Michelia yunnanensis and the frothy white trusses of the may bush contribute to the colour scheme. In other seasons, different flowers (including many of my favourite plants) carry on the theme. The next-door garden has a different colour scheme, including silver, burgundy, white and blue, and was equally as lovely, with the same disciplined use of mass plantings.

Our final port of call was the garden I have mentioned previously in a blog. It is very new, its owners having downsized to here only last year. It is a treasure trove of wonderful plants collected over a lifetime, and due to excellent soil preparation, careful cultivation and much hard work, the garden has developed from a blank canvas to a thriving community of plants, with lovely colour schemes and interest at every turn. At this time of year, lovely woodland plants such as Pulmonaria, hellebores, species Geranium, Hosta and Brunnera are a highlight, as are choice shrubs such as Pieris japonica. A combination (pictured above) of lime Euphorbia characias subspecies wulfenii with a yellow Abutilon, gold-leaved zonal Pelargonium, a brilliant yellow wallflower, bright yellow Osteospermum ecklonii 'Voltage', white Pieris japonica and a blue-flowered Ajuga cultivar stopped me in my tracks, just one example of the artistic flair of this very talented gardener.