Gardening serendipity

Sunday, 05 May 2013

Murraya paniculata hedge and topiary

When I began my present garden, almost 20 years ago, I had it all planned on paper down to the last detail of what plant would go where, at least for the front garden, which required earthworks to create terraced borders, steps and paths out of an existing slope. I drew diagrams comprised of circles representing each plant, with its name carefully written in the centre of each circle. I still have these dog-eared plans, and can report that apart from a Murraya hedge and quartet of Murraya topiary spheres, nothing remains from them in the garden today.

Instead, my garden has evolved over those years, reflecting both my own changing thoughts on what plants grow best in Sydney, as well as many serendipitous plant acquisitions from friends and garden visits, that could never have been planned for or anticipated, but which have enriched my garden beyond measure.

Salvia Embers Wish

Last Sunday, for example, a kind gardening friend brought a new Salvia for me: the recently released Salvia 'Ember's Wish' - cousin to the wonderful long-flowering, burgundy 'Wendy's Wish', which so many of us grow in our gardens. The new one has the same form and height (1 m) as its cousin, but its large flowers are a glowing coral red, held within dusky-coloured calyces that remain attractive even after the flowers fall. I had known that this plant was to be released this year but had then forgotten all about it, so it was a delightful surprise to receive it. It instantly found a home in my garden next to a favourite lime-yellow coleus with red markings on its leaf, where there had been a gap for quite some time. Like 'Wendy's Wish', part-proceeds of the sale of 'Ember's Wish' will go towards the Make-A-Wish charity, which grants cherished wishes to seriously ill children.

Salvia Blue Senorita in the garden of Sybie Kazaglis in Sydney

Another chance Salvia acquisition occurred in March when I and a group of other Salvia-ophiles visited the lovely garden of Jill Budden in Springwood, NSW. This extensive garden, which has a fine collection of Salvia, is open to the public this coming weekend, with a plant stall to raise money for MS Australia. When we visited, one of our group had brought some Salvia plants to donate to the stall, including one I had never heard of, called 'Blue Senorita'. On impulse, I made an early purchase from the stall, having no idea what this plant would be like, but the name appealed. I was unable to find anything about the plant online, but recently the plant has flowered in my friend's garden, and it looks to be an excellent, upright form with brilliant blue flowers (ht to 2m). It has found a place in my newly planted sunny border and I look forward to watching its progress with interest.

Passiflora Amethyst

Many other plants in my garden have come as gifts from friends - plants I had never heard of before yet which have become integral to my borders. Euphorbia cotinifolia - now a robust shrub to 3 m with stunning burgundy foliage, the centrepiece of a dark-foliage border - arrived eight years ago as a 15cm cutting wrapped in a damp paper towel from a friend visiting me just after my grandmother died. My shrubby Rhinacanthus beesianus with its intriguing white, scalloped flowers (ht 2-3 m) was grown from a flowering piece brought to ask me if I knew what it was (I didn't at the time!). My treasured blue/purple-flowered ornamental Passiflora vine ('Amethyst') came from a hastily dug-up runner after I had admired some blooms floating in a blue bowl with a Clematis on a table set for a morning tea - and I have passed it on to many other admirers over time. An elderly couple moving into a retirement village gave me their collection of zygocactus, which now adorn my trees as epiphytes. Recently, I inherited some large and impressive pot plants, including the giant form of Spathiphyllum ('Sensation'), that had decorated the courtyard of friends planning to move to a cold-climate garden. Added to a shaded garden bed, these provided an instant effect that would have taken years to achieve if I had bought the plants in a nursery in a regular-sized pot. None of these plants was ever envisaged in that plan drawn up in 1994!

So much of what happens in our gardens - as in life - is randomly determined. As I get older, I now find such surprises delightful, and feel less compelled to want to plan everything that happens in my garden myself. The generosity of exchange that exists between gardeners ensures that our gardens will continue to develop in ways that we can never begin to imagine.