Other people's gardens

Visting Stonefields

In November I led a fun and garden-loving group around some great gardens in regional Victoria. (I’m taking the tour again next November, though the updated itinerary is not finalised yet. Contact Ross Garden Tours if you’re interested in joining me.) One of the highlights was  a morning spent at Paul Bangay’s garden Stonefields. This is the story I wrote about the garden for Spectrum.

Stonefields, Paul Bangay

 

Paul Bangay is one of Australia’s most high-profile garden designers. His country garden, Stonefields, an hour or so from Melbourne in the hills between Daylesford and Ballarat, is featured in his new book, Paul Bangay’s Country Gardens, among other large projects in Australia, New Zealand and the Hamptons in New York, now the site of some of his biggest commissions.

Stonefields is rarely open to the public. Every two years the gates open to benefit the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, an event that drew 8000 visitors across a spring weekend this year. Bangay also hosts occasional tours: no more than 24 people, tickets $240 each. I was lucky enough to visit another way, as leader of a tour group on a sunny morning when the irises and white rhododendrons were blooming, the wisteria was only just starting to fade, and the viburnums and dogwoods looked lovely.

Stonefields, Paul Bangay

An irreverent streak is also part of the Bangay style. The apparently classical statue in the rose garden, enrobed in a veil of dripping wisteria is a find that harks back to the adolescent Bangay’s lust for an antiquity to call his own, answered when a local church replaced its concrete statue of Jesus. Bangay acquired the statue, knocked off the head and the stigmata-showing hands, and presto…

The garden is as grand and tightly controlled as you’d expect from a designer whose reputation has been built on formal, geometric gardens of great precision. Two full-time gardeners keep the plants performing, the privet hedges clipped to a knife-edge and the fine-leafed lawns flawless. Indeed the finish of the garden is so perfect it verges on intimidating, which explains my reaction to the part of the garden I found myself continually drawn back to, the pool lawn that adjoins the terrace at the back of the house.

Stonefields, Paul Bangay

There are various neat perspectival tricks here and clever inversions of expectation. Instead of an infinity pool, for instance, the lawn itself has the infinity edge, its perfect green seeming to drop into the wild bush in the valley below as you take in the view from the terrace. Once you approach that apparently vertiginous edge however, wide stone steps appear that lead down to another garden area, with twin herbaceous perennial borders in shades of red and purple leading to an outdoor dining area on one side, and the woodland and lilac walk on the other. The plants here are chosen so that they never get high enough to be visible from the terrace, maintaining the illusion of green infinity. From this lower level, it is the pool itself that disappears, its location marked only by alternating benches of box, cut at different heights.

Stonefields, Paul Bangay

Hedges enclose both sides of the lawn, with dense herbaceous borders in cream and gold tones, and symmetrically placed, matching pool pavilions. I sat on the cushions in one of the pavilions, taking in the framed view of controlled garden giving way to wild bush, and the green-tiled pool with its restless light reflections. I loved the cleverness of the design and its subtle wit, those expansive views, and the gracious scale of everything. One part of me wanted to live this live of perfection and order, and another part rebelled and demanded a plastic banana lounge and a bunch of teenage boys bombing the pool.

Paul Bangay’s Country Gardens, photographed by Simon Griffiths, is published by Random House, $80

It’s time to

Buy up
Garden Life, Richard Unsworth’s outdoor store, goes on-sale on Friday January 13. All plants are 20%-50% off, and selected pots and homewares are 50%-70% reduced. 158 Princes Hwy, St Peters.

Going away
If going away for a few days soak indoor plants, then place them all together on an old towel in the bathtub. Run a few centimetres of water in the tub. Massing them together increases humidity and reduces transpiration. Sodden bottoms will cause root rot over a long period, but not in just a few days.

Feed frangipani
Encourage a good season of flowers with a feed of manure and compost.

Pick Christmas bush
Vases and jugs of Christmas bush the perfect seasonal decoration, and the trees respond well to the trim.

Trim Chinese jasmine
Prune back the long whippy bits of Chinese jasmine to keep it in check.

 

 

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Oranges
Other people's gardens

Eating oranges at Versailles

Versailles is so overwhelming that visitors feel exhausted as soon as they arrive. They take one look at those long vistas (not actually as long as they look, courtesy of a perspective trick managed by designer Andre le Notre) and start hunting for the ice cream concession. The only way to manage the vastness is to narrow your focus. It seems like a good approach to writing about the blockbuster exhibition Versailles: Treasures from the Palace, which opens this weekend [December 9, 2016] at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

So let me tell you about oranges at Versailles and the role of four large bronze vases that are part of the exhibition.

vase

Vase with boars and ‘Janus’ heads, 1665 © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

The vases also feature in a painting in the show, ‘Still Life with Orange tree’, by Jean-Baptiste Monnover. They show the vases holding small, standardised orange trees in blossom and fruit. Siamese ambassadors to the court of Louis XIV reported that the Hall of Mirrors was filled with these vases of orange trees, perfuming the air. Visitors to the exhibition will experience the effect as orange blossom fragrance is wafted through the room.

vase-and-blossom

Jean‐Baptiste Monnoyer, Still life with orange tree, c. 1671–75 © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

The oranges, like so much at Versailles, came originally from Vaux le Vicomte, the house and garden built by Louis’ finance minister Nicholas Fouquet. Fouquet’s brother had built up the citrus collection in travels through Italy and Spain, and they grew at Vaux in the wooden planter boxes we now know as Versailles tubs. Following the imprisonment of Fouquet and the dismantling of Vaux, the oranges were moved to the Orangerie at Versailles.

The NGA exhibition includes a topographical oil painting by Etienne Allegrain, ‘View of Versailles from the Orangerie’, c 1695, which shows the Orangerie parterre and the glasshouse in which the plants were protected from the extremes of a northern winter and nurtured into flower. The man responsible for this effort and the rest of Louis XIV’s amazing edible production was the lawyer-turned-plantsman Jean-Baptiste Le Quintinie, who, like the oranges he grew, had originally been at Vaux.

orangerie

Étienne Allegrain, View of Versailles from the Orangerie, c. 1695 © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / Franck Raux

The Orangerie, with its great panes of glass, was a triumph of French technical skills, and the trees it protected carried a heavy symbolic meaning. The orange trees grew in planters featuring Louis XIV’s ubiquitous Sun King motif, and the fruit itself made the Sun King claim reality. These emblems of the sunny south fruiting in the cold swampy north operated as the physical manifestation of Louis XIV’s divine identity. When ambassadors and powerful guests visited Versailles they were presented with early peas, strawberries and oranges, foods that were magical in this part of France. They were literally eating the fruits of Louis XIV’s mastery and power.

Which makes the big bronze vases, with their boar heads and Janus decorations, indicative of the way in which Louis XIV announced his understanding of absolute monarchy at Versailles, and expressed it through a combination of style, science, art and gardening.

It’s time to

Trim lavender
Lightly trim lavender after each flush of flowers to promote another flush.

Give seaweed
Use a seaweed solution regularly to boost plant health and help them cope with extreme weather.

Prune shrubs
Spring-flowering shrubs, such as abutilon, brunsfelsia and Mackaya bella can be trimmed to shape now they have finished flowering, or at least slowed down in the case of abutilon.

Enjoy hydrangeas
When picking for the vase choose only the fully-opened mature flower heads. Fresh new heads will quickly droop.

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Plants I love

Plant art for Christmas

Publishers believe that garden books only sell in the run-up to Christmas. The idea seems to be that we only buy garden books to give them away. Here’s one you’ll have trouble deciding whether to keep or wrap, and as you mull over the decision each flick to a new page will shift you ever closer to finding some other gift for that art-loving or plant-loving friend.Plant: Exploring the Botanical World

Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, published by art and garden book specialists Phaidon, (rrp $80) collects 300 artworks from around the world across a span of 1500 years. While some fit the criteria of botanical art, with a scientific purpose underlying a beautiful composition, most celebrate the beauty, ephemerality and intrinsic interest of flowers, and do so in a range of materials, some of them surprising. There’s a confrontingly sexual orchid made from bronze and painted white by British sculptor Marc Quinn, who’s famous for having carved a sculpture of his head using his own frozen blood. What looks like a photo of a rhipsalis in shy flower turns out to be a monumental, giant-sized, 2.59m x 1.7m, hyper-real oil painting by South Korean artist Lee Kwang-Ho.

Lee Kwang-Ho, Cactus No. 59, 2011, oil on canvas, 259 × 170 cm, private collection. Picture credit: © Lee Kwang Ho / Johyun Gallery (page 57)

Lee Kwang-Ho, Cactus No. 59, 2011, oil on canvas, 259 × 170 cm, private collection. Picture credit: © Lee Kwang Ho / Johyun Gallery (page 57)

Also surprising is a plate from the Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland made by Henry Bradbury at the height of fern-fever in Britain. It looks like a very fine watercolour, but is actually a nature print, a process in which the actual plant is pressed into soft lead to form an image. The image is then transferred electrically to copper, and printed using coloured inks. The technique was developed at the Imperial Printing House in Vienna. Bradbury studied in Vienna and improved on the technique, which he patented in London. The delicate ferns depicted here are printed in greens and browns and their laciness is perfectly captured in the process. Tragically, Bradbury killed himself at 29 by drinking acid, having been accused of plagiarism by the director of Imperial.

The stories accompanying each work are fascinating, and just as interesting are the provocative pairings of images and the visual dialogues they suggest. An airy sketch of a tassel hyacinth by Vincent Van Gogh faces a woodblock by of a bellflower and dragonfly by Hokusai, the Japanese artist who had such an enormous influence on the Impressionists.

Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Rosa centifolia: Rosier à cent feuilles, 1820, hand-coloured stipple engraving, 23 x 32 cm, Lindley Library, Royal Horticultural Society, London. Picture credit: The Art Archive / Eileen Tweedy (page 10)

Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Rosa centifolia: Rosier à cent feuilles, 1820, hand-coloured stipple engraving, 23 x 32 cm, Lindley Library, Royal Horticultural Society, London. Picture credit: The Art Archive / Eileen Tweedy (page 10)

A hand-coloured print of a rose by Pierre-Joseph Redoute, Plant Painter to her Majesty Empress Josephine Bonaparte, shares a spread with a 3D digital rendering of a rose by contemporary Japanese artist Macoto Murayayam. Redoute used multiple processes to produce his hand-colouring engravings and Murayayam too uses several processes, first hand-drawing anatomical studies of dissected plants, then putting them through a software program so that they look like engineering blueprints for an alien world. Both use contemporary technologies to capture the beautiful geometry of the rose.

The images and stories in Plant are a reminder of our complex love affair with plants, and make for an addictive, page-turning treat.

Leonardo da Vinci, Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) and sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia), c.1505–10, pen and ink with red chalk on paper, 19.8 × 16 cm, Royal Collection Trust, London. Picture credit: Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2016 / Bridgeman Images (page 223)

Leonardo da Vinci, Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum), wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) and sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia), c.1505–10, pen and ink with red chalk on paper, 19.8 × 16 cm, Royal Collection Trust, London. Picture credit: Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2016 / Bridgeman Images (page 223)

 

It’s time to

Check for caterpillars
Spray with Dipel or Success if you must control caterpillar damage, but pause and consider the future butterfly first.

Trim wisteria
Keep the long whippy growth of wisteria trimmed back out of the way.

Plant tomatoes
Buy advanced pots, or start new plants from seed. They need a sunny spot and soil enriched with old compost and manure. If growing in pots, choose a bit container, or a variety bred for pot culture.

Pinch basil
Pinch out the growing tips to promote a bushier basil. Liquid feed weekly to move it along fast, producing the softest leaves.

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Plants I love

Worsleya and other fans

worsleya procera

Worsleya in flower last year. So far, nothing this year, but there’s still time.

The flower of Worsleya procera looks like a lily, but it’s wisteria-purple, a colour you never get in a lily. One of its common names is blue hippeastrum, which doesn’t suit it as well as another, Empress of Brazil, which at least captures its sense of drama. The throat of the flower is white and as the petals extend, each with a ruffled edge, the colour builds in lines to be richest at the petals’ tips. A handful of blooms unfold from the single flowering stem so it’s quite a show, but I’d grow it even if those blue December blooms never appeared.

Some plants you grow only for their flowers. Hibiscus, for example: really, who’d bother if it weren’t for those stunning blooms. But others are fabulous, flowers or not, and this is one of them. Grey-blue, silky-smooth leaves curve out of the central stem, all in the same direction, so that rather than a fountain effect it creates a kind a rooster’s tail, but longer, firmer – and green. Or a ponytail, complete, with a curling twist at the end.

worsleya-procera

You see what I mean – who wouldn’t want this!

These fabulous good looks are augmented by rarity, and the fact that it’s the only child in the species, so that Worsleya is a kind of secret handshake amongst plant lovers who, spying it on a fellow gardener’s terrace feel an instant rapport.

In its native Brazil Worsleya grows on rock faces in subtropical rainforests among lichens and mosses where hot days and cool humid nights result in heavy dew and persistent mist. Replicating those conditions at home means it’s best grown in a pot in a free-draining mix of orchid bark mixed with coconut peat or pea gravel. Water it daily and protect it from afternoon sun. Find it occasionally at Growing Friends at the Botanic gardens, or at plant fairs and shows.

aloe plicatilis

I’ve long been mad for the fan effect of this aloe, and picked this one at at the Collectors’ Plant Fair this year.

Slightly less rare, but with a similarly desirable flat foliage effect, like a plant pressed to grow between the pages of a book, is Aloe plicatilis. Where Worsleya grows in just one direction, this aloe grows in two, symmetrically, with the thick succulent leaves lined up tight like a partly opened fan, giving it the common name of fan aloe. It’s endemic to just a few mountains in the Fynbos of South Africa. Slowly, over decades, it will get to 5m, with multiple fans on a thick corky trunk, but so far at my place it’s happy, small and handsome in a pot. A sunny spot with well-drained soil is essential, whether in a pot or garden bed.

aloe plicatilis

I saw this Aloe plicatilis in flower at the fabulous Ballarat Botanic Gardens on my recent Ross Gardens Tour of Victoria.

Smitten by Worsleya and A. plicatilis, I fell for another fan at Collectors Plant Fair this year, the irresistibly named Boophone (boo-oh-foe-nee). There are two to choose from: Boophone disticha, which was used to tip poison arrows by the Hottentots, Bushmen and Bantu of its native South Africa and grows in a fan of straight leaves; and Boophone hameanthoides, which looks like it stuck its finger in the electricity socket and ended up with a tightly frizzled perm. Each leaf of the fan is wavy-edged for maximum startle effect.

Collectors Plant Fair 2106, photo by Daniel Shipp

Thanks to Collectors Plant Fair and Daniel Shipp for this pic of the amazing Boophone hameanthantoides and its dried flower heads.

Apparently both these African bulbs will flower with single enormous pink-red heads. The aloe too promises to burst into bloom late one winter with spires of orange-red flowers. Though I’d miss the summer show of blue blooms on the Worsleya I’m not really fussed if none of these flowers. My collection of fans doesn’t need flowers to make it exotic.

It’s time to

See flowers
Perennial Hill is a English-style flower garden on the sunny side of ‘The Gib’ in Mittagong. It’s open weekends until mid-December, 10am-4pm, $7. www.perennialhill.com.au

Feed roses
Deadhead spent blooms and give plants a supplementary feed of specialised rose food, such as Sudden Impact for Roses.

Plant petunias
For long-lasting colour in the sun, try petunias. The dark purple ones have an evening fragrance so are good for pots near the outdoor table.

Trim lavender
Cut back lavender after each flush of flowers to promote another flush.

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Other people's gardens

Disobedient gardens

The idea that a garden is a place of healing is now well established in the scientific literature. Central Coast-based garden designer Michael Cooke was forced into a very personal understanding of exactly how a garden is a place you nurture and which nurtures you back when, in 2012, he was seriously injured. Cooke, a keen and experienced horse rider had a serious fall and was in a coma for nine days. The prognosis looked grim, but after months of physiotherapy, exercise physiology, speech and occupational therapy, Cooke was allowed home. Little by little he ventured back into the garden, where he found solace, inspiration and the revelation that this – family, friends and gardens – was all he wanted. He has attempted to capture this sense of the richness offered by life in the garden in his new book, co-authored with photographer Brigid Arnott, called Disobedient Gardens, and he reckons the project was a big part of his recovery.

Garden by Michael Cooke

“I believe the time I spent writing this book,” he says, “reflecting and thinking about the gardens I created, together with being outside working, and just walking about looking at the garden with my dogs by my side, is what really healed me.”

The evocative title suggests gardens that are badly behaved, but by disobedient Cooke means a garden that balances manicured and wild elements and that reveals its own character rather than being dominated by a gardener, or worse by a designer. He favours textures that are weathered and organic, messy and time-affected over the shiny, neat and new. He likes a garden that has grown in a relationship with its owners, each impacting on the other to create a place of character, memory and beauty.

Cooke has been working in the five gardens presented in the book for years, helping develop and shape their character. Included are Valleyfield, the garden of Buon Ricordo chef Armando Percuoco and Gemma Cunningham in the Hunter Valley; a Georgian cottage with bucolic views at Foxground on the South Coast; an historic garden at Mount Wilson; a long-time friend’s large garden in the Central Coast and Cooke’s own home, Hawthorne.

Garden by Michael Cooke

Images from Disobedient Gardens by Michael Cooke and Brigid Arnott (Murdoch Books) $59.99

It’s Hawthorne that is at the heart of the book, and Cooke wonders whether readers will find it too wild and unrestrained. Certainly gardeners on one end of the chaos-control spectrum will find the garden a cause of anxiety rather than healing. It looks loved and lived in, an aesthetic romantically captured by Arnott. Early winter light catches a dewy lawn and box balls clipped into irregular teardrops; Cooke’s studio is shot at sunset, golden light just visible through the trees, and echoed in the windows of the low-slung building, whose red roof seems perfectly matched by a froth of crabapple blossom; slanting sun catches the sheets drying on the old Hills Hoist above a carpet of fallen autumn leaves; even the mossy stone flagging on the terrace looks appealingly lived-in rather than merely grubby.

Garden by Michael Cooke

Images from Disobedient Gardens by Michael Cooke and Brigid Arnott (Murdoch Books) $59.99

The seesaw between control and chaos is explored in each garden in the book, and the images, along with Cooke’s evocative story-telling, will have you considering the balance of restraint and wildness in your own garden and how noting how getting it right creates a place that feels like home.

Garden by Michael Cooke

Images from Disobedient Gardens by Michael Cooke and Brigid Arnott (Murdoch Books) $59.99

It’s time to

Head east
When Ellerslie Garden Show was sold to Christchurch council, and then failed to make as much money as the council expected it was mothballed. Slipping into the garden show gap – Auckland. See the New Zealand Flower and Garden Show in Auckland, November 23-27.

Fill the house with plants
One of the most annoyingly anachronistic bits of last year’s A Little Chaos movie about Versailles, was Kate Winslett’s character’s achingly hipster courtyard garden. It could have been designed by Rose Ray and Caro Langton, two London-based plant sellers and stylists who perfectly grasp modern interior plant-scaping. Their new book, House of Plants: Living with succulents, air plants and cacti, Quarto, $40, shows how it’s done.

Look for bugs
Bronze orange bugs are big bugs, often with brightly coloured backs that suck on citrus. Their very size is intimidating, especially en masse. Knock occasional visitors off the tree, and then step on them. For larger gangs, spray with something like Yates Nature’s Way Citrus and Ornamental Spray.

Feed the hydrangeas
Use a flower-boosting foliar feed as hydrangeas prepare to launch the show.

 

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Other people's gardens

Cool climate treats

The spring garden-visiting season is nearly over. If you spent some time looking at someone else’s garden this spring, join the club. Garden visiting is a massive tourism-related activity, but it essentially operates underground. There are no useful figures that show how popular looking at other people’s gardens, both private and pubic, is in Australia, but in the US garden tourism generates more revenue than any other form of tourism, including gambling. Because garden viewing is widely spread, often involves volunteers and doesn’t employ lobbyists, it doesn’t draw attention to its economic benefits, though Singapore’s massive tourism boost courtesy of Gardens by the Bay has been an eye-opener for the bean-counters.

So why do we go see gardens? One reason was right in front of me waving its lolly-pink hands as I rambled through gardens in the Southern Highlands recently. The Chinese cedar, Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’, previously Cedrela, in spring is the colour of fairy floss. It’s screamingly pink, floaty as chiffon, elegantly tall and slender and irresistible to gardeners who live in cold climates.

Toona sinensis, Chinese cedar

Experiencing stuff you just can’t grow is one of the lures of garden visiting. In cool climates, Cedrela makes me laugh, I can’t walk past a lilac without sticking my head in for a deep breath of that amazing fragrance, and I am struck green with envy by the gorgeous tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. I first noticed this tree in autumn when its crown glows as yellow as Irish butter. The leaves have the shape you’d cut out of paper if you had to show a tulip about to fall apart. I assumed that was the source of its common name, until I saw it in flower in spring. The flowers are like mini tulips, held facing upwards, in amazing graduated tones of green and orange. It’s stunning.

Tulip tree, Liriodendron

And then there are the maples – all those soft-leafed, highly dissected Japanese maples look so good in cool climate gardens just coming into delicate leaf in spring. The leaves flutter like feathers in the slightest breeze, and then slowly settle back into a dome that demands to be stroked. (These maples sneak into cooler gardens in Sydney, in places where they can be offered protection from crisping westerlies and scorching afternoon sun: not at my place.)

Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'

Seeing plants you know used in new ways, meeting unfamiliar plants, seeing how space is used, how the gardens relate to the house, where the seats are placed, even how the practical things work, like where the bins go, and the clothes line, and how the watering works; all these inspire factors gardeners to go garden visiting. But ultimately the lure of another’s garden is the pleasure of being in a beautiful place, with nothing to do, not a weed to pull, simply for the joy of it.

Garden seat

There are just a few weeks left to visit someone else’s spring garden: check My Open Garden for late season offerings, and expect most garden gates to be shut by the end of the month.

 

It’s time to

Boost your skills
The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney has teamed up with horticulturists from Yates to offer monthly workshops on garden know-how. Next up – Growing Summer Vegies and Herbs on Friday November 25, at Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and Saturday November 26 at Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, 10am-2pm, $95, includes a Yates ‘starter pack’ to take home.

Check the tank
A rainwater tank is an excellent way to save water to spend on the garden, but only around half of installed tanks are used, primarily because they are not working properly. Get the tank fixed before the hot dry weather arrives.

See Melbourne gardens
Garden DesignFest opens more than 30 private gardens, designed by professionals, in Melbourne and rural Victoria over two weekends, 12 and 13, and 19 and 20 November.www.gardendesignfest.com.au

Plant a mango
New dwarf varieties get to around 4m, small enough for many suburban gardens. Plant into a sunny spot where soil has been enriched with plenty of compost and old manure.

 

 

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