Acquilegias, Old Wesleydale, Tasmania
Other people's gardens

Old Wesleydale

One from the vault again this week, a piece I wrote for Garden Clinic earlier this year about Scott and Deb Wilson’s wonderful Tasmanian garden, Old Wesleydale.

When people talk about Scott and Deb Wilson’s lovely garden what they mention first is the elephant hedge. The elephant in the room might be an unmentionable, but the elephant in the garden is a talking point. It came about by accident. Scott was wrestling, yet again, with a floppy old Lonicera nitida hedge in front of the house while Deb stood back, advising on the long view. Suddenly she saw a line of elephants begin to form, like cloud animals, out of the chaos. She alerted Scott, who accentuated the curves and lines and the elephant hedge was born.

Elephant hedge, Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

The hedge, which continues to grow and subtly change, is both light-hearted and seriously skilful and that combination of levity and a deep commitment to excellence runs right through Old Wesleydale. The property itself has a serious history. Set in the gorgeous countryside of the Meander Valley of northern Tasmania, backed by the deep blue ridges of the Great Western Tiers, this was frontier territory in the early 19th century. The property was half-fortress, half-farm, and the great drive leads not to the house, but to a massive barn, protected by a 2m high perimeter wall, and featuring window slits in the upper storey from which besieged pioneers could aim their muskets.

Acquilegias, Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

The heritage buildings were all dilapidated when the Wilsons arrived and they were given permission to restore the original lines of the barn, removing a later addition, as long as none of the materials were removed from the property. That left plenty of mellow old red bricks with which to build a walled garden on the northwest side of their new house. Scott’s hedge work is on show here too with sharply defined box hedges containing a froth and bubble of planting that changes with the seasons. In late summer there are lime heads of euphorbia and pink cones of echinacea, while in spring it’s all pretty nodding granny’s bonnets. Clematis and roses, including creamy ‘Lamarque’ and pretty ‘Pinkie’, clothe the walls, and hydrangeas bubble up in front of them. Heritage apple varieties from 1830s are grown as ‘step-‘over’ espaliers, tied on to hurdles of woven willow.

Hydrangeas, Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

Through the gate is another smaller walled garden where the walls contain enough warmth to extend the vegetable growing season. As well, towering delphiniums and fabulous dahlias are grown here to pick for the house. Raspberry canes are covered with fruit in summer.

 Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

At the rear of the house what was once a horse paddock is now the Terrace Garden. The tall silver trunks of birch dominate a play of light and shadow, the shade under the shining birches echoed in the light-dark coloration of a black-stemmed, white-flowered cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, and in variegated hostas and lamium. Adding more light are philadelphus and viburnum, deutzia and windflowers. The whole garden is overlooked by 40 ‘Ranelagh’ crabapples.

Again hedges play an important part in the design here, guiding sight lines and adding structure to the plantings. Hedges of rugosa roses, hornbeam, elderberry and viburnum define different areas of the garden.

Old Wesleydale, Tasmania

Scott travelled to England to study the ancient craft of laying hawthorn hedges so that he could faithfully restore the kilometres of hawthorn hedges first laid by Irish and Scottish settlers to the area in the 1840s. Hedge laying involves making a partial cut in semi-mature wood then laying down and securing that cut stem. Suckers grow from the cuts and a dense hedge forms. That’s the 25-words-or-less explanation; the real thing is a bit more complicated, but Scott is now taking classes to spread the skill of maintaining our important landscape hedges.

One of the other historical landscape features of the garden that adds a special quality is the ha-ha at the front of property. The ha ha is an invisible but impenetrable barrier between the stock paddock and the garden, drawing the bucolic rural landscape into the garden without the visual interference of a fence. First developed in 17th century France, a ha ha consists of a steep sharp slope running into a rock or masonry retaining wall. Scott and Deb spent four years building their ha ha, using basalt and dolerite rock collected around the farm. The ha ha is typical of the approach of these two inspiring gardeners whose appreciation of history and old skills is matched by playful personal expression.

**You can stay in the old stone cottage on the property and pretend this gorgeous garden is yours for a bit. Details here. 

It’s time to:

Get to Bronte House
This inspiring garden is open tomorrow, Sunday 18 September, from 10am – 2pm. 470 Bronte Road, Bronte. Entry $2.

Prune
Cut back shrubby tibouchinas ready for a burst of spring growth.

Feed
Now that the weather is warming the whole garden can be fed with all-purpose fertiliser.

Make a list
Plant Lovers Fair at Kariong on the Central Coast on September 24 and 25 promises to fill your garden with new treasures. More than 40 specialist growers will bring their wares, and there’s a free speakers program.. Go to Plant Lovers Fair for details.

 

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In season

September 20

In now: Impatient mango-lovers can hunt up early-season mangoes from around Darwin, but the sweet peak mango season is still a way off.

At its best: Broad beans are at their sweetest. The pods develop strong flavours and a mealy texture as they mature so choose small beans. If you grow your own try harvesting them at little finger size and cooking as for snowpeas, topped and tailed and enjoyed whole.

Best buy: Strawberry specials have us thinking jam, sauce, ice cream, and dehydrated strawberry chips.

In the vegie patch: Pick the peas daily to encourage a bigger harvest.

What else:

  • The blood oranges won’t be around for much longer. Eke out the season by freezing some juice. I made a blood orange granita recently, by sieving blood orange juice with lemon and sugar syrup to taste. (Remember that food doesn’t taste as sweet once it’s frozen so needs to taste a bit too sweet when it’s at room temperature.) Freeze in a shallow plastic container, and scrape with a fork every few hours to break up the ice crystals. We ate it with panna cotta ice cream and fresh raspberries and were very happy.
  • The globe artichokes are nearly over.
  • Rhubarb is very good at the moment.
  • In Melbourne last weekend I found Brussels sprouts on every menu. Trimmed, halved, boiled til tender firm and then slightly charred in pan or oven, they were matched with bacon bits; or hazelnuts and goats cheese; or pine nuts and fetta; or lemon zest, peppery green olive oil and very good salt. All delicious.
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Orchids, vanda hybrids, pic Robin Powell
Plants I love

Growing orchids in trees

Singapore is the only country in the world to have chosen a hybrid as its national flower. It’s an orchid called ‘Miss Joaquim’, after Miss Agnes Joaquim, who in 1983 crossed the Burmese Vanda teres and the Malayan Vanda hookeriana to create the world’s first vanda hybrid. It’s a tough plant that grows as a dense clump of thin branching stems to about head height, which is where the rosy-violet flowers bloom.

Orchid 'Miss Joaquim'

Here’s ‘Miss Joaquim’ grown as a sort of hedge in the National Orchid Garden in Singapore. If you’ve been to Hawaii you will have seen her growing on the side of the road, her flowers picked and placed into leis. And in tropical Queensland she’s a hardy roundabout plant!

Commercial orchid culture took off in Singapore the 1920s and the island became synonymous with orchids. It’s still the place to go to see orchids, especially every second year in late July when the Singapore Garden Festival sets up in the Gardens by the Bay. This year I marvelled at baskets of impeccable moth orchids, hung from tall stands, each with multiple arching canes studded with dozens of perfect white blooms, and pots of modern vanda hybrids packed into shallow wooden trays and suspended overhead, the supporting structure disguised with trailing curtains of Spanish moss.

Orchid, white moth orchid, pic Robin Powell

Much as I wanted to take all these home, it was the idea of growing more orchids in the garden that I ended up souveniring. Almost everywhere you look in Singapore there’s an orchid growing in a tree, along with shaggy ferns on the trunk and a birds nest fern squatting happy in the elbow of a bough. I loved this festooning of trees with plants.

One reason all the trees are host to so many plants – all that rain!

In Singapore the go-to orchids for this kind of treatment are the vandas, but they’re not for Sydney’s great outdoors. So I asked advice of Ian Slade, from Kawana Gardens Nursery, who grows a bountiful array of orchids in a mature jacaranda at his Peats Ridge property. He recommended Dockrillia teretifolium, the pencil orchid or bridal veil orchid, which naturally grows on casuarinas up and down the coast. Dendrobium speciosum var. Hillii, with its big fat spikes of fragrant creamy blooms “gets pretty big but takes a while to get there”, he says, and lots of the coelogyne orchids also do well in trees. Another reliable choice is the Mexican orchid Laelia anceps, which comes in a variety of colours and doesn’t mind cold winters as long as there’s no frost.

Orchids in frangipani, pic Robin Powell

Vandas in a frangipani.

To establish an orchid in a tree, simply tie it on with something soft and stretchy like pantyhose (cable ties or fishing line will cut into the tree as it grows). Pack some damp sphagnum moss around the roots to protect them until they get a hold around the tree. Position the orchid to get a good amount of light or morning sun to encourage flowering.

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The dead tree look-alike is actually concrete. A DIY project for the weekend?

No tree? No problem. In the National Orchid Garden of the Singapore Botanic Gardens what looked at a distance to be dead tree trunks sporting masses of orchids on closer inspection turned out to be concrete arms wrapped in black coconut fibre sprouting orchids tied on with cable ties. Behind them waved a tall hedge of ‘Miss Joaquim’. Perfectly Singapore.

Find specialist orchids and other interesting plants at Plant Lovers Fair, Kariong, September 24-25, www.plantloversfair.com.au.

It’s time to:

Get to Bronte House
This inspiring garden is open tomorrow, Sunday 18 September, from 10am – 2pm. 470 Bronte Road, Bronte. Entry $2.

Prune
Cut back shrubby tibouchinas ready for a burst of spring growth.

Feed
Now that the weather is warming the whole garden can be fed with all-purpose fertiliser.

Make a list
Plant Lovers Fair at Kariong on the Central Coast on September 24 and 25 promises to fill your garden with new treasures. More than 40 specialist growers will bring their wares, and there’s a free speakers program.. Go to Plant Lovers Fair for details.

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In season

September 13

In now: Loquats are the first fruit of spring, most delicious when pale apricot rather than orange. They brown quickly after picking so eat fast or store in the fridge.

At its best: Peak Australian asparagus season is September to November. Fresh spears have tight buds and a satisfying snap.

Best buy: Choose small firm pods of okra and reduce the slime factor by stir-frying chunks at high heat before adding to sauce.

In the vegie patch: Loquat fruit is a favoured resort of fruit fly, so if you have a tree harvest all the fruit to reduce the summer risk to tomatoes.

What else:

  • had it with kale? In Kenya kale’s a staple vegie patch crop as the elephants won’t eat it. It’s nicknamed ‘sukuma wiki’, meaning ‘stretch the week’ cause it’s always available to make the week’s meals last.
  • Green mangoes herald summer – and meantime make delicious Thai salads.
  • Choose fresh firm podded peas and buy to eat, not store.
  • There are good buys in bunches of full-grown spinach.
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National Arboretum Canberra
Gardens

Planting Dreams

Nature and culture come together in the garden. An exhibition at the NSW State Library called Planting Dreams explores that patch of fertile ground through paintings, prints, maps, plans, cartoons, catalogues, magazines, posters and more, primarily drawn from the voluminous treasures of the State Library. Leading garden historian and author Richard Aitken curated the exhibition and has written a companion book, Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens.

Aitken is more interested in the social and cultural impacts of gardens than garden design. The book tells stories about Australian interactions with nature and gardens from the first contacts of Europeans with a land they simultaneously recognised as park-like and failed to recognise as the result of the work of the locals, through to the Backyard Blitzes of the early 21st century and the meanings and opportunities of gardens in an increasingly urbanised world. Like the book, the exhibition asks questions about what gardens, plants and nature mean to us, but shapes them through a giant cabinet of garden-related curiosities.

Garden Palace, Sydney, c.1879-82. JT Richardson (artist)

Sydney’s fabulous Garden Palace, here in watercolour and ink by JT Richardson in 1879, burned down in 1882, in just 40 flaming minutes. The site becomes part of an installation by Wiadjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones called barrangal dyara (skin and bones) from September 17 until October 3, as part of the 200th birthday celebrations of the Gardens.

Inspired by the Great Exhibitions of the 19th century (that’s it in gorgeous ink and watercolour above), Aitken arranges his material across themed courts rather than chronologies. Each section is packed with treasures that interrogate the fashions, fads and enduring feelings associated with private and public gardens and parks.

The section on designing with plants, for instance, explores fashions in plant life through one of the earliest books on plants for pleasure, a florilegium from the 1560s; Joseph Hooker’s book of rhododendrons, published at the height of 19th century plant-hunting adventures; images from the great subtropical garden boom of the late 19th century; and a drawing by Jean Walker, a Sydney pioneer of bush gardens in the 1960s.

Margaret Flockton, Broad-leaf wattle and honey flower, from Australian Wild Flowers, Series 1, c.1902-03

As unlikely as it sounds, in 1902 the American Tobacco Company commissioned botanical artist Margaret Flockton to produce a series of posters that smokers could collect by sending in cigarette pack labels, specifically ‘100 Premium Certificates from Vanity Fair and Old Judge Cigarettes’. This is her Acacia pycnantha and Lambertia formosa, Broad-leafed Wattle and Honey Flower.

The section that celebrates the depiction of plants in gardens explores the way we record gardens, and what we choose to focus on when we do. There are woodblock prints from Japan and China and the first nursery catalogues printed in the blazing colours of chromolithography. Edna Walling’s limpidly romantic watercolour plans find a home here as do Kodachrome images of Sydney’s public spaces and private gardens in the 1960s and ’70s, from the collection of an amateur suburban photographer.

Eastwood garden

Suburban order and lots of colour in this Eastwood garden, photographed in 1968.

Also in this section are digital images of the National Arboretum in Canberra, a project which for Aitken sums up the thinking behind the whole exhibition. “The Arboretum is a public space that is going to mature over the next century. The thing about gardens,” he says, “is that they are dreams about the future.”

National Arboretum Canberra

National Arboretum Canberra, ACT – Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects (TZG) Photographer – John Gollings

And what of the future of gardens? “What strikes me as most important now,” says Aitken, “are public open spaces and public gardens. We are living in much more cluttered urban spaces, and are going hell bent for selling pubic land for private use. Once you have got rid of public land it’s very difficult to get it back. We sell that at our peril.”

The exhibition reveals how fashions in plants, gardens and gardening change and how what endures is our need for gardens, our desire to experience nature shaped by culture.

Planting Dreams: Shaping Australian Gardens is at the NSW State Library from Saturday September 3 2016 until Sunday 15 January 2017. Entry is free.

The image at the top of this post is National Arboretum Canberra, ACT –  Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) and Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects (TZG). Photographer – Craig McDonald Landscape Photography

It’s time to

See garden design
Grand Garden Designs is a companion exhibition to Planting Dreams at the NSW State Library. Curated by Howard Tanner it’s a photographic exploration of some of the most influential 21st century gardens in NSW. Entry is free.

Admire cherry blossom
The Golden Wheel Buddhist Retreat in Galston opens this weekend, Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 September for the Galston Spring Blossom Spectacular. Enjoy peach and cherry blossom, citrus, and camellias, as well as the temple itself. 405 Galston Road, 9.30–4.30. Tickets $5. There are other private gardens to see in Galston this weekend. Pick up info and tickets at Golden Wheel.

See tulips
Floriade opens next week in Canberra for a month-long celebration of spring, promising to go back to basics with more than 100 species of tulips in colour-coordinated beds. Commonwealth park, September 17 – October 16. Entry is free.

Sculpture show
Petana is a lovely wild garden with fantastic veiws, outside Milton on the South Coast. ‘Sculture at Petana’ opens next weekend with a BYO picnic on Saturday. Local and South Coast artists are showign more than 50 works. Open daily 10am-4pm, til September 26. 408B Woodbrun Road, Morton. More:www.petanagardens.com.au

Weed
It’s a marvel how fast weeds grow in spring. Get on top of them before they seed, honouring your grandmother’s saying: one year’s seeding; seven years weeding.

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Pink frangipani
Gardens

Vale Made Wijaya

An inspiration for my garden died suddenly this week: Made Wijaya, formerly Michael White, the Sydney tennis coach and architecture student who swam ashore from a boat stranded off the coast of Bali in 1973 and stayed to become a massively successful designer of tropical gardens and an expert on Balinese culture.

When I first travelled to Bali my garden was English-style – pretty, floral, a little bit frilly. But then I saw what Made Wijaya had done with the gardens of the Bali Hyatt in Sanur. In his first go at designing gardens he created a style he called ‘tropical Cotswolds’. I loved it. It wittily referenced Western garden design history while being louder, lusher and more flamboyant. The layers of green, the big leaves, the water, the broad splashes of colour managed to convey both the relaxation and the invigoration of a holiday. I went home, pulled out my prissy flowers and went in for big leaves and a holiday vibe.

Sub-tropical garden

My place – Sydney with a little bit of Bali

Made Wijaya went on to design more than 700 gardens around the world, from Florida to the Taj hotels in India and David Bowie’s garden in Mustique. His vision has massively influenced not just my little piece of paradise, but our images of tropical luxury wherever we seek them out.

I haven’t spoken with him for years, but thinking about him this week I wondered if I could find the articles I wrote all those years ago. No luck, but on his website I found this – a story I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald in 1999 when his book Tropical Garden Design first came out. (Florilegium has a second hand copy of this book available.) His friends will miss him but all of us can enjoy the gardens he created and the gardens he inspired.

made-wijaya-2

I found this picture on the web and it seems to sum it all up.

When we imagine a Balinese garden we conjure an image that’s lush and verdant. Palms sway, frangipani host riotous bougainvillea while hibiscus, ginger, cordylines and pandanus backdrop a pond of louts and waterlilies and a couple of intriguingly mossy sculptures. It’s beautiful, it’s alluring, and it doesn’t have much to do with the original gardens of Bali. Instead it’s an invention, much influenced by former Australian architecture student Michael White, now known as Made Wijaya, eminent designer of tropical gardens and the creator of some of our favourite images of luxury.

True Balinese gardens are spare creations: packed earth floor, a central tree and some plants for ritual purposes. As Wijaya points out, people who live in the tropics are less enamoured of leafy fecundity. “They’re aware of all the insects and the fungus that go with that and they’ve spent thousands of years hacking the ficus off the gutters!” When he designed the gardens of the Bali Hyatt in Sanur in 1980 though, Made Wijaya gave tourists the tropical paradise of their fantasies – lush, fragrant, dramatic and multi-layered.

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This is one of my favorite versions of Bali style gardening, Bali Hai on the Sunshine Coast.

Bali, he says, is a high–maintenance location for gardening (there are 50 gardeners on staff at the Bali Hyatt, continuously attacking rampant growth with machetes, but in Sydney the pace is a little slower. Our outdoor spaces are perfectly suited to the small courtyard styles Wijaya has turned his attention to, and we love the outside-inside lifestyle of the tropics. He quotes Dame Edna’s quip about tropical life – “it’s the plants in the house and the furniture in the garden.”

First step in creating a Wijaya Bali-style courtyard or small garden is to ‘hide the uglies”, he says. “Hide the view of the air-conditioner compressor, hide the neighbours. Make the wall a nice backdrop, add a statue and make a little vignette out of it. At night, you can backlight a statue and get wonderful shadows, with vines streaming off the wall…”

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Also at Bali Hai

And then you need a single big idea: “A tree in the middle, a largish water feature, a bit pot or an outdoor seating area,” he explains. The plants come last, dressing the bare bones of your set. Wijaya doesn’t go in for anything rare or hard to grow. Whatever works well in our area is the best choice. The impact comes not from individual plants but from how well you’ve harmonised your whole picture. Get it right and every day is a holiday in paradise.

It’s time to

See garden design
Grand Garden Designs is a companion exhibition to Planting Dreams at the NSW State Library. Curated by Howard Tanner it’s a photographic exploration of some of the most influential 21st century gardens in NSW. Entry is free.

Admire cherry blossom
The Golden Wheel Buddhist Retreat in Galston opens next weekend, Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 September for the Galston Spring Blossom Spectacular. Enjoy peach and cherry blossom, citrus, and camellias, as well as the temple itself. 405 Galston Road, 9.30–4.30. Tickets $5.

Prune
Cut back shrubby tibouchinas ready for a burst of spring growth.

Feed
Now that the weather is warming the whole garden can be fed with all-purpose fertiliser.

 

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