As a result of four generous members from the local garden club opening their gardens today for a 'spring ramble', I spent a pleasant afternoon immersed in the delights of what this season offers in Sydney. It was a joy to be surrounded by so many beautiful flowers and the sight of soft, fresh growth on deciduous trees and shrubs.
The gardens featured many of the iconic shrubs of a Sydney spring: Camellia japonica, the massed blooms of azaleas, the arching may bush (Spiraea cantonensis), fluffy purple Eupatorium megaphyllum, Viburnum species and cream or pink Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense). Many of the shrubs, such as hardy pink Rondeletia, port wine magnolia (Michelia figo) and the tree gardenia (Rothmania globosa) wafted fragrance into the gardens. These shrubs provide structure and a good evergreen background after their flowering season is over, and I made a mental note to add more of them to my own garden.
Classic climbers were also in bloom: the native Pandorea pandorana, with its dainty bells was seen, in both its creamy white and yellow-brown form, and Wisteria was in full bloom with its gorgeous lilac pendant flowers. One garden had a Wisteria standardised in a pot: a good way to control a plant which can become rampageous in Sydney gardens.
There was a multitude of flowering bulbs, which really do seem to epitomise spring, including orange and yellow Clivia; purple, cerise and even an unusual white Babiana; Spraxia; carpets of bluebells and Freesia; and Iris japonica growing well in the shade of trees. All these bulbs are perfectly suited to Sydney's climate and will form large clumps to give pleasure every September.
There were also beautiful annuals - Viola, pansies, primula, cineraria, Lobelia, Shirley poppies, nasturtiums and sheets of forget-me-nots, both blue and a less usual white form. Many of these annuals self-seed from one year to the next to create an informal atmosphere in the garden. Annuals bring a freshness to spring gardens that no other plant seems to do.
I enjoyed the shaded 'woodland' areas of some of the gardens, where massed, lush groundcovers formed a tapestry effect as they grew into one another. Shade-loving species geraniums (such as Geranium phaeum and Geranium macrorrhizum), Campanula poscharskyana, various forms of silvery Lamium, golden Sedum mexicanum, Brunnera 'Jack Frost' and some lovely Pulmonaria were some of the plants growing well. The unfurling spears of Hosta were coming up amongst some of the groundcovers, though many of us agreed that we had more success with Hosta by growing them in pots, where a closer eye could be kept on them.
Hellebores were a feature: they have been particularly good this year and they are in flower for so long. I saw a variety of different forms, including double ones, slate-black ones, picotee varieties and ones which held their flowers more upright than most. Some of the gardeners were growing their hellebores in pots, with success. In fact, I noticed that all the gardeners had many potted plants - a way of fitting more plants into their gardens! Clematis, a climbing rose, succulents and annuals were some of the examples. One gardener massed pots under a tree where a garden bed would not have been possible due to root competition, to good effect.
Our afternoon ended with a convivial afternoon tea at the final garden, where we were able to mingle and talk plants with like-minded companions. We all left with new ideas and inspiration, a feeling of gratitude towards the gardeners who had worked so hard to ready themselves for their gardens to be opened - and a renewed desire to dig in the dirt.
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