One of the great things about being a gardener is the enjoyment we can get from visiting other people's gardens - for inspirational ideas on planting combinations and design, and to learn more about plants. The Open Gardens Australia guidebook for 2013/14 has just been released and contains an enticing array of gardens whose generous owners are opening their gates so we can visit over the next 12 months.
I am excited that one of the first gardens to be open in the new program is that belonging to my sister Holly, in the northern beaches area of Sydney. Readers may recall that I wrote a blog about this garden back in February when I stayed the night due to a big storm. One of the highlights of the garden is a collection of cymbidium and other orchids, and the date of the opening has been chosen to coincide with their blooming. Holly's love of orchids began when our grandmother gave her a yellow one when she turned 21. The original plant was divided over the years and others were added to the display. Holly has worked out how to get these often-infuriating plants to flower year after year and they fill the main courtyard with colour for several months during late winter and spring.
The garden is comprised of a series of courtyards and walkways, and one of these had a long, bare lattice fence designed to provide a degree of privacy from the neighbours. Over the years, Holly has created a vertical garden of shade-loving plants on this lattice that has become a feature in itself, using a delightful variety of epiphytic plants, climbers, trailers and container-grown specimens. A row of large staghorn ferns provides bold shapes and unity to the 'green wall', which is an effective way to incorporate a number of plants in an area where ground space is limited.
The garden has some delightful formal elements used to create the five interconnecting individual garden 'rooms'. Hedges, clipped shrubs and climbers trained into shapes all provide firm structure to the garden. It is an inspiring example of how a compact space (400 square metres) can be used to provide a satisfying garden, filled with colour, textures and interest all year round, even in shaded spots. The formal design is contrasted with the lush profusion of plants grown within the garden areas. Many of the plants are grown in large containers in the paved courtyards or where root competition in borders makes growing plants in the ground too challenging, to allow more specimens to be included.
Many of the plants, especially those used in the shadier parts, came from our parents' place in the Blue Mountains, which was created from a bare, sandy block into a thriving garden over a 50-year period. My mother's use of easy-going warm-climate plants such as bromeliads, Clivia, Begonia, Acanthus mollis, Vinca major, arum lilies, Fuchsia, Spanish moss and succulents has been a huge influence in my own style of gardening, and all these plants in Holly's garden are those that can grow successfully in Sydney's climate.
Please not that the garden is not suitable for prams or wheelchairs. There will be refreshments available and a variety of orchids for sale. Holly, Begonia expert Margaret Chedra and I have each propagated some plants from our gardens to sell as well, with a particular focus on shade-tolerant varieties, and including some interesting and unusual Begonia specimens. Funds raised during the weekend will be donated to the family of a work colleague of Holly's who was tragically killed earlier this year. I am planning to be there helping for some of the time during the weekend, as long as the new hip holds out!
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