Lockdown decluttering has revealed a trove of forgotten-about documents, scribblings, letters and other bits and pieces hidden away in boxes and tubs in various cupboards in my house. Some of the finds included drafts of gardening articles written many years ago when I was an occasional freelance contributor to a couple of gardening magazines. One such article was entitled 'Moonbeam flowers', and it revealed how much my approach to gardening has changed in the intervening years!
The subject was my obsession with soft, pale, creamy-yellow flowers, the colour sometimes seen in a full moon. I have always had a deep fondness for the moon, and enjoy watching it in all its phases, perhaps explaining why I still love this peaceful, serene hue more than the in-your-face, brassy glow of golden-yellow blooms (though I do like them too!). I had amassed quite a collection of plants with flowers of this 'moonbeam' colour in my previous garden, which I described in the article. Almost all of them were cool-climate perennials, the sort of thing that do brilliantly in English gardens: Sisyrinchium striatum, Anthemis tinctoria 'Moonlight', Coreopsis 'Moonbeam', Scabiosa oechroleuca, Phlomis russeliana, Nepeta govaniana, Primula vulgaris, Kirengeshoma palmata, Digitalis grandiflora and Digitalis viridflora were some of the plants I listed with great enthusiasm. All were doomed to fade away in my humid Sydney suburban garden, leaving only prettily coloured labels to show they ever existed. I felt quite sad thinking of how my naïve hopes would be dashed not too long after writing the article. It was just as well it was never published!
However, on a more positive note, I realised that even while I was focusing my attention on these perennials, I had also included in my collection a couple of warm-climate plants, even though I paid scant attention to these when writing the article - they were simply mentioned in passing: creamy-yellow forms of marguerite daisies and Dietes bicolor, with its scapes of rounded flowers of the same hue (and not a pest like other species of Dietes). These are the sorts of plants that comprise my garden more than 30 years later, and they still flourish and survive, along with more 'moonbeam flowers' that I have acquired since that are far more suited to the Sydney climate.
These include various Abutilon shrubs, with the softest yellow blooms, in both large and miniature sizes; a hybrid Lantana with its rounded heads of tiny, clustered, pastel yellow flowers; an Ardisia with creamy-coloured berries instead of the usual scarlet ones; Bauhinia tomentosa, with its bell-shaped, black-centred flowers; a lemon-hued variant of Ruellia brevifolia, usually seen with bright red/orange trumpet blooms; a daylily and a Canna with the palest of yellow flowers; clumps of the creamy-yellow form of Clivia miniata; bulbs of the sulphur-yellow Zephyranthes primulina; and a cream Gazania with a hint of yellow at its centre. Pale yellow nasturtiums also sometimes appear in my garden via self-seeding and are very welcome. All these plants prosper in my garden and cause much less heartbreak than those precious perennials. I still look out for more possibilities when visiting nurseries and gardens, which, thankfully, we can now start doing again.
Some other future options include shrubby Brunfelsia americana, the white flowers of which age to cream and pale gold; forms of the sailor-boy daisy (Osteospermum hybrids) with just a whisper of lemon on their petals; various roses; Salvia microphylla 'Iced Lemon'; Portulaca and other annuals; and cultivars of Dahlia, tall bearded irises, Kniphofia, Lilium and Alstroemeria.
I originally grew my moonbeam flowers alongside plants with soft blue blooms and I still do this, as I find the combination very satisfying. I shudder to think of what plants I put in then to achieve this effect but nowadays I use shrubby Eranthemum pulchellum and Salvia roscida; perennial Iris wattii (like a giant form of Iris japonica); and the self-seeding annuals borage and forget-me-nots, to be the companions to the winter and early spring flowers of the Clivia and the Abutilon. Then come the long-flowering powdery blue Plectranthus zulensis along with similarly hued Thunbergia natalensis, as well as Agapanthus to accompany the later blooms such as the Lantana, Bauhinia, Zephyranthes, Ruellia, daylily and Canna.
Plants with cream-variegated foliage can make colour echoes with the flowers: I have used a Syngonium with creamy-patterned leaves; a mystery shrub that could possibly be a compact, variegated form of Buxus; and variegated-leaf Agapanthus 'Zambezi' (which also adds pale blue flowers as a bonus!). Other options can be coleus and Hosta cultivars with pale yellow markings. There are also some variegated succulents that could play a role, including Sedum alboroseum 'Mediovariegatum', which I would like to try in my garden someday.
Early morning in the May garden
22 May 22
Much can be seen during a stroll in the garden now.
15 May 22
I enjoy seeing carpets of fallen leaves and flowers in autumn.
Happy Mother's Day
08 May 22
My mother's garden has been hugely influential for me.
Jewels of May
01 May 22
Some lovely flowers bloom this month
24 Apr 22
Scented leaves can evoke memories and uplift the soul.