Passersby in a quiet leafy street in a suburb nearby to mine must be stopped in their tracks by an amazing wall in the front garden of Robin Diehm. What was only 12 months ago a bare retaining wall topped with grass, dividing her property from her neighbour's place, has been transformed into a dazzling display of hot-coloured flowers that looks fabulous all year round.
The soil in the bed retained by the wall was a tough clay type, typical of this area. The site of the wall is very exposed, bearing the brunt of full sun for most of the day. The soil was amended with organic matter then Robin went about choosing plants that could survive very difficult conditions, with the criterion that they were all from the warm side of the colour wheel: reds, oranges, yellows and all the hues, tints and tones in between. This was a good choice, because these strong colours don't fade out in the strong sunlight as more pastel hues would have done. They also provide an exuberantly cheerful welcome to visitors! Almost all the plants were grown by Robin from cuttings, tubers or bulbs from friends.
The predominant type of plant family she has used is the daisy clan (Asteraceae), a testament to the toughness of this group of plants in our Sydney climate. The spine of the bed has some taller plants to give some structure, including a most unusual double Coreopsis (ht 50 cm) which has fluffy blooms in a dazzling golden-yellow hue. It is possibly Coreopsis grandiflora 'Sunray'. Unlike the self-seeding single Coreopsis that grows alongside railway lines through NSW, this one does not spread by seed.
Height is also provided by some fine-petalled old-fashioned Gerbera that grow more easily than the hybrid types grown for the cut-flower trade. Red, orange, yellow and salmon varieties are included in the bed. Red, orange and tawny miniature Dahlia also provide a mass of bloom over many months - like the Gerbera, they are also members of the Asteraceae family. Height as well as contrasts of foliage texture are provided by red, bronze and salmon-coloured daylilies; red and orange zonal Pelargoniums; a miniature yellow-flowered Kniphofia; kangaroo paw cultivars (Anigozanthos); shrubby orange Cuphea ignea (often called the cigarette plant as its dainty orange tubular flowers have white and black tips that make them look like glowing cigarettes complete with ash); and self-seeding red Salvia coccinea with its spikes of glowing flowers in almost every month of the year.
Cascading over the wall are some groundcover daisy plants - such as orange and yellow Gazania, brilliant orange Arctotis, a pale yellow Santolina cultivar, bright yellow Anthemis tinctoria, a pale lemon Osteospermum cultivar and the Australian native yellow buttons (Chrysocephalum apiculatum).
Succulent have proved successful in the harsh conditions, and one of my favourites, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana in several bright colours provides its pretty, fleshy posies of flowers over many months. Sedum mexicanum 'Gold Mound' is an effective groundcover running in and out of the taller plants, and in spring it has brilliant yellow flowers above its tiny golden leaves.
Repetition of key plants along the wall gives cohesion and the use of bold masses creates an effective impact of the planting. The use of a range of hot colours with paler tints such as salmon, peach and lemon amongst the stronger hues gives a beautiful tapestry of bloom. Silver and gold foliage enhances the colours and the occasional self-seeded plant of lime-green Euphorbia corallioides gives a real zing to the other flowers. The garden bed is watered by hand once a week and regular deadheading of spent blooms lengthens the floral show. The wall is a fabulous display of many of the plants that can not only tolerate very harsh conditions in our climate but can produce an exciting garden picture.
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