I am sure I am not the only gardener in Sydney who is thoroughly fed up with the incredibly hot and dry spring we are having this year! The prolonged hot spell we've had since early September - made worse by drying winds - has really put our plants under a lot of stress, reinforcing the importance of finding specimens that can cope with these sorts of conditions, as well as the other extreme we sometimes get in Sydney: heavy summer rain and humidity! I was reminded of this when I paid a visit last week to a garden I have seen evolve over the past 24 years.
Beverley Jenkins has always had a gorgeous cottage garden, ever since I first saw it in 1989. She has always looked after her plants very well, and they thrive under her care. She has built up her soil with organic matter and always mulches her plants well with cane mulch to help them get through summer. The backbone of the garden has always been comprised of roses, Beverley's great love. Originally, the garden contained many English-y perennials growing beneath the roses, of the type that many of us loved in the 1980s and 1990s. The garden has changed many times as she has trialled plants for their suitability for our climate, whilst always maintaining a cottage garden 'look'.
For example, over the years, she has experimented with many different kinds of roses - mainly old roses and David Austin varieties - but now she has narrowed them down to the ones that really do well in Sydney. Our climate is not perfectly suited to rose-growing, mainly because of our summer humidity. Beverley's suggestions to anyone wanting to growing roses in Sydney is to select from those known as 'old Tea roses' and 'old China roses'. In her experience, these are tough and disease-free, and bloom very well in Sydney over an extended period. She has an excellent specimen of Rosa 'Mutabalis' (a China rose), mentioned in last week's blog, which flowers for many months; and her favourite old tea rose is 'Duchesse de Brabant' (a lovely soft pink with many layers of petals). Hers is not the climbing version, but it has long canes that can be trained over an arch and that is how she grows hers. She also has 'Le Vésuve', regarded by many as a Tea-China hybrid, with vibrant pink blooms. Old roses such as these have a pleasing form and a delicious perfume , and seem much more robust than modern roses. They don't need severe pruning and are long-lived.
Growing between and beneath the roses are a variety of perennial plants that have a profusion of flowers, many held in spires as in traditional cottage flowers - all tough characters that can cope with heat and dryness. One of the stars now of these underplantings is the compact Salvia. She has a number of Salvia greggii and Salvia microphylla cultivars with spires of flowers in a range of soft and brighter colours of pinks, cream, white, apricot, crimson and purple, that all tone in well with the roses. Blue flowers are contributed by Salvia 'Marine Blue', a lovely small plant. These salvias bloom from October through to winter, and then they are cut back hard at the end of winter. Once established, they are quite drought resistant and need little care. They grow to very wide mounds and by the time summer comes, no earth between them is visible.
Other hardy perennials that she uses to create her Sydney cottage garden include perennial statice (Limonium perezii) with its clusters of purple, papery blooms, various forms of Phlomis; some of the more amenable species Geranium - in particular, G. incanum, which has very finely divided foliage and grows to form a very extensive carpet with pretty purple flowers; perennial Verbena hybrids; and Achillea. The repetition of plants through the garden gives a very cohesive effect and the result is delightful. On the ferociously hot and windy day last week when I visited, every single plant seemed to be taking the extreme heat in its stride - so Beverley has chosen very well in selecting plants for her Sydney cottage garden.
Creative pest control
25 Oct 20
There are lots of ways to outwit garden pests!
18 Oct 20
Although my garden is semi-tropical in nature now, I still have some vestiges from my cottage garden days!
11 Oct 20
Consider training a shrub into a small tree.
04 Oct 20
October is iris time in Sydney gardens: the best are the tall bearded irises and Louisiana irises.
One crowded hour
27 Sep 20
Much can be achieved in regular short stints in the garden.