"The garden has its own ideas"

The best laid plans often go awry
Sunday, 03 April 2022     

My side border today

Idly perusing some old blogs recently, I came across this one from March 2013, wherein I described a new garden bed at the side of my front garden that had been created by the removal of some diseased pine trees. I waxed lyrical about the excitement of having a blank slate to plant up and described what I planned to put it. Nine years later, I can report that exactly none of what I originally planted, based on those plans, still remains in that bed! The garden had its own ideas.

The position proved too hot for the camellias that I put in - well, blasting westerly sun wasn't such a great proposition, in retrospect, and the soil was not rich enough. TheDichroa also found the position too hot and dry. Salvia 'Timboon' grew too tall and took up too much space so was removed to a different spot. I ended up putting a pink Hawaiian Hibiscus in as a replacement, which enjoyed the heat and light soil. I added in a Rhinacanthus as another tall shrub, along with Tibouchina 'Blue Moon', Lepechinia salviae and Brillantaisia, which also provide background height and look good with the Hibiscus. A deep pink Pentas in front of them settled in and expanded sideways enough to swamp all the underplantings (daisies, Watsonia, Pelargonium etc) that I had put in, and any spare space was taken up by a multitude of self-sown pink Salvia splendens, which form a wonderful mass that I could never have imagined myself. They all began with one seedling from a friend and they keep themselves going from year to year with fresh seedlings; I dig up many of the excess to give away. There isn't a scrap of bare ground to be seen and the bed gives pleasure all year round.

My not understanding the conditions of particular areas in the garden is clearly one reason that the garden has had to correct my foolish notions. A herb garden I had planned on paving near the house was doomed because of poor drainage in this area, despite ag pipes being installed; moisture-loving plants took their place and were accepted. Another way the garden exerted itself was with my deluded ideas about climate. In my early gardening years, my head was full of dreams of English cottage gardens that I had garnered from a diet of gorgeous coffee table books that were all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s. When I moved to this garden in 1993 and had the front garden terraced, I meticulously drew up diagrams of how my borders would be planted with perennials and roses, with little circles representing the different plants, to create the garden of my dreams, based on a trip to England in 1987.

The garden had its own ideas. Not one single feature remains from those plans except for the Murraya hedge that formed the backdrop. The plants proved unsuitable to the warm, humid Sydney climate, languished, then disappeared. The roses were all eaten by possums and plagued with black spot. I had to start all over again, this time inspired by the tropical garden fad that was sweeping England.

I still loved the look of a profusion of flower borders I had seen during my trip to England but now I started to experiment with warm-climate plants. The garden approved, and added its own ideas. Soon, some of these plants began self-seeding from year, like the Salvia splendens, including the statuesque Amaranthus caudatus that furnishes my garden from summer to winter each year, the clouds of blue flowers of Browallia americana, scarlet Ruellia brevifolia and the plush silvery-leaved Plectranthus argentatus. They often place themselves in spots that are just right but that I would never have thought of.

The seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) appeared in my stone steps early on - I certainly didn't plant it there nor did I have it elsewhere in the garden! - and continues to soften them with its haze of dainty flowers every year. I can't imagine my garden without it, even though it does self-seed and has to be reined in! Ferns I have never grown regularly sprout in the brick retaining walls to the garden, and flourish better there than in the garden. It remains a mystery how they get there.

The garden also liked various warm-climate rhizomatous perennials that I introduced and encouraged them to spread far beyond the area that I had allocated to them. For example, Ctenanthe 'Grey Star', which I fancied as a 'decorative clump' steadily grew and grew to cloak the difficult dry shade between below some trees, where I never imagined it could have thrived. A large fern (possibly the kangaroo fern, Microsorum pustulatum) popped in one corner near some Clivia grew lustily amongst them to form a tapestry of foliage I admire every time I pass by.

False cardamom (Alpinia nutans) from my mother's garden was accepted into the garden and forms a huge, immovable clump in a shady spot where little else will grow, providing lush, tropical-looking foliage and a haunting scent when the leaves are brushed against ads I walk past. A small plant of Colocasia 'Black Magic' grew to huge proportions, dominating its bed and becoming the central feature instead of just being one part of the scene.

When I planted two 'shrubby' lilly pillies (Syzygium australe 'Aussie Gem') in a sunny area with hot-coloured blooms at the top of my plot, the garden decided that these would grow into tall trees instead, turning the area into a shady glade, and requiring a rethink of all the plants, now wanting shade-loving specimens. The garden certainly keeps me on my toes! I do have some influence, but not as much as I once thought I wielded!

 Reader Comments

1/6  Lloyd - 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 04 April 2022

I hardly dare make suggestions to such an accomplished gardener (even one with so much luck!) but was sasanqua a better option - my red, inherited 40 years ago, is 4m x 3m and coming into blossom again, proving to be hardy in full sun and not very sympathetic ground. Mini plants turn out to be not so mini - the dwarf Brunfelsia is now 3 metres and out growing the usual form. Gardens rule! Clivia get swamped (so they do need strong light!) and ferns just turn up. Thanks for the reassurance. Yes I should have put in sasanquas!! Deirdr

2/6  Linda - 2318 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 April 2022

Oh I'm so glad to read that this happens to others as well! I too dabbled in those tempting English perennials - none of which stood the test of time. These days I try and stick to plants that I know will do well in our garden (sometimes it's hard to resist a challenge though! Collector's Plant fair is this weekend so no doubt I'll come home with all sorts of new things to try) Lots of happy accidents in our garden that I admire every day. It's good to try new things! Deirdre

3/6  Lillian - 3951 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 04 April 2022

Oh Dierdre- not only have you given me a a laugh on (yet another) cloudy morning here in South Gippsland, but you've mentioned several plants I think I must have. Yes, in spite of swearing I'll now only grow things that are happy and easy here. How do you manage to get your self seeders to actually spread in the garden? Mine always insist on popping up in hard, dry pathways or in cracks between rocks and concrete I can't move. Thanks for another really great blog Lillian Thanks, Lillian. One enemy of self-seeders is mulch so I tend to leave a few gaps in my mulch here and there so the seedlings can come up. But you are right, they often come up in crazy places too. Deirdre

4/6  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 April 2022

What a great read which has a familiar ring to it when I look back over the years since 1965!! I too (Carlingford) have noticed ferns popping up these past few years +certainly maiden hair wherever there is damp- at least it smothers weeds!! Just removed 3 tall pines so don't know how Crenanthe will survive in full son. Is great in floral arranging especially folding leaf back to show off the purple underside. I love that purple underside! Let us know how it goes in sun now. Deirdre

5/6  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 05 April 2022

I think most gardeners have made mistakes in planting. Years ago, I brought alstroemeria (red and green flowers) plants from my parents' garden, and forty years on, am still trying to eradicate it. It is pretty, but oh so invasive. Other self-seeders - amaranthus, poppies and Japanese windflowers all spread themselves around, but are easy to remove, if not desired. Yes I have that alstroemeria too. I don't think I will ever get rid of it! One of the worst. Deirdre

6/6  Valerie - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 06 April 2022

I sympathise with the red/green alstroemeria problem. I have a 'self-seeded from neighbours' expanse (increasing) which I'm trying to eradicate. This rain has just given it new life! The rain is also sorting out quite a few other plants as well. Did you see the urban forager eating onion weed flowers on Gardening Australia last Friday? I did try it from our ineradicable clump here: slightly peppery, light onion flavour. I've survived. Yes I did see Diego eat the onion weed flower! I went on one of his forages once - it was very fascinating! Deirdre

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