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.


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,

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.

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

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.

National Arboretum Canberra

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.

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.

Pink frangipani

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.


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.


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…”


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.

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

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


Other people's gardens

Happy Birthday Capability

This month marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. He’s the man responsible for the beautiful ‘natural’ landscapes that surround many great English estates, colouring the image of England as a ‘green and pleasant land’. A generation of young aristocrats in the mid-18th century returned from their Grand Tours keen to express their newly acquired ‘taste’ by, among other pursuits, pulling out their fathers’ dowdy old baroque gardens and replacing them with the bold plans of Capability Brown.

Brown’s plans were certainly bold. The distinguishing features of a Brown landscape: a serpentine lake resembling a river, with waterfalls; copses of trees on a ridge of hills; and parkland sweeping right up to the house, required massive changes to the topography, and also to the people who lived on the estates. One village, complete with church and graveyard, was moved when Brown decided it interrupted the views.

Croome court, National trust

Croome Court, Worcestershire, designed by Brown in 1758 and requiring the draining of a morass and removal of a village. Photo: The National Trust

His ambitious designs challenged contemporary engineering technologies and horticultural techniques, including the transplanting of mature trees to create those signature silhouetted clumps. Brown’s clients weren’t keen on waiting half a century for the expected effect to grow in, so he experimented with a number of transplant methods. His ‘transplanting machine’ was a long pole attached to cartwheels. The pole was tied to the tree while it was vertical, then lowered by ropes, wrenching the tree from the ground. Success rates varied.

Petworth Park, National trust

An aerial view of Petworth Park shows how Brown made the link between garden and natural landscape imperceptible. Photo: National Trust

Like any new fashion, Brown’s designs operated as a refutation of past practices. Flowers were banned, and so too was ‘foreignness’, represented in older gardens by classical statues, temples and references to antiquity. Instead the new landscapes were expressions of honest English virtues. Livestock replaced statuary as part of the decorative programme. A charming group of cows or sheep could be admired from the house, separated from it by a ha-ha. These ingenious in-ground barriers are formed by a ditch or steep slope bounded by a retaining wall, so that animals are restrained without a visual barrier.

Brown’s new landscapes were also pragmatic. Mowed by the estate livestock they were much less expensive to keep up so landowners could spend their disposable income on other pursuits – like fishing in the lakes and hunting in the woodlands. Brown’s heyday coincided with the development of better guns, so that hunting and shooting became a more important part of aristocratic leisure. Pheasants were introduced to England from India at this time too, and they liked to live on the edges of copses trees that were fortuitously features of Brownian plans.

Croome, National Trust

The stream at Croome, with a Brown signature planting of Lebanon cedars. Photo: National Trust

Brown’s plans were immensely popular and he worked on more than 170 estates through his career, transforming the landscape of England. In effecting that transformation he also changed perceptions of landscapes in a way that resonated across the English-influenced world for centuries. So when Lachlan Macquarie marked out the boundaries of the Botanic Gardens and Governor’s demesne (domain) 200 years ago, the landscapes of Capability Brown shaped his visions.

It’s time to

Plan for daffs
The heritage village of Rydal celebrates spring with thousands of daffodils blooming in public parks and private gardens. Gardens are open on 10-11 and 17-18 September. Go to for details and accommodation options.

Prune hydrangeas
Take out the weak and spindly branches and a couple of the oldest gnarliest ones to allow room for renewal, then cut off the dead flower heads, back to the first pair of fat buds.

Feed the vegies
Keep winter-growing vegetables moving with regular soluble fertiliser.

Plants I love

Finding the barnacle goose tree

In his new book on 200 years of Australian gardens, Planting Dreams, (more on this next week) garden historian Richard Aitkens bemoans the current practice of valuing plants based on their performance as tools – good for hiding walls, or dividing spaces. I’m with Richard on this. We kill of the mystery, magic, history and culture of plants when we ascribe them a limited purpose, or reveal nothing about them but how to kill the insects that like to eat them.

In my desire to explore the culture part of horticulture I’m old school. Real old actually – at one with the 16th and early 17th century naturalists who believed that you could not understand anything in the natural world without looking at every aspect of it – from the words used to name it, to what Pliny et al had to say about, and every poet since. To these polymaths, the literary and mythological aspects of plants were just as important in understanding them as what they looked like and how they behaved.

You can see how this works in an exhibition of herbals from the 16th to 19th century from the collection of the Sydney Botanic Gardens Library, now on display at Red Box gallery in the Herbarium foyer.

John Gerard's Herbal

One of my favourite herbals is available in facsimile so you can flick through it and have a really good look. It’s John Gerard’s Herball, first published in 1597. Gerard was a great gardener with a fascination for new plants at a time when every arriving ship brought new horticultural treasures from around the world. He was, for instance, the first man in England to eat potatoes he’d grown himself. And he was as good at self-promotion as he was at gardening. He was the first person to publish a catalogue of plants growing in a garden, listing some 900 species in his private garden at Holborn.

Gerard makes a very personable guide through the plant world of the late 16th century, always willing to share his personal experience. Those potatoes, he says, have a texture a bit between flesh and fruit, and are a bit ‘windy’ unless they are roasted in embers and then eaten ‘sopped in wine’.

John Gerard's Herball


The slow and patchy metamorphosis from a Renaissance view of the natural world to an Enlightenment one is evident in Gerard’s book. The potato was a New World discovery and so arrived in England without an ancient or poetic or mythological backstory. Gerard reports about it purely from experience. But flick to the back of the volume and you’ll find him anchored in mythological mode.

John Gerard's Herball


It’s here, at about Chapter 170, depending on the edition, that you’ll find the barnacle goose tree. Gerard claims to have seen this natural wonder with his own eyes, and writes about it alongside a woodblock print which had been used to illustrate a Dutch herbal half a century earlier. The illustration shows a twisted tree blooming with large tulip-like shells, overhanging a cliff. Beneath the tree birds are shown serenely floating on the waves. Birds falls from the shells produced by the tree, explains Gerard. If they happen to fall on land they perish, but if they fall into the sea they become fowl, bigger than a duck and a bit smaller than a goose.

THe barnacle goose tree, John Gerard's Herball

Here’s a barnacle goose illustration from a later edition of the Herball, still holding on to a spot.

Enlightenment writers argued for clear-eyed observation. ‘Knowledge is made by oblivion,’ claimed Thomas Brown who argued in 1672 that the only way forward was to forget everything that had come before and start again, using observation as the only criteria for knowledge. But despite Browns’ call, the myth of the barnacle goose tree lived on until 1780 when two French zoologists conducted an autopsy on the story. Their scientific paper migrated to the popular press where the story was told as the ‘histoire du canard’, which is where we derive the meaning of a canard as a tall tale.

One more postscript: the goose tree survived into the early 20th century in Northern Ireland where Catholics still ate ‘barnacle geese’ on Friday and fast days, sneaking in a feast of roast goose or duck thanks to a centuries-old definition of barnacle geese as seafood.

Yulan magnolia
Plants I love

Moving trees

What to do with mature trees in the wrong spot? It’s a question with currency as National Tree Day has people all over the country planting baby trees, and another of Anzac Parade’s mature Moreton Bay figs becomes mulch. Mouran Maait owns Alpine Treemovals, a company that transplants mature trees around Sydney. If he had his way mature trees would always be considered for their transplant potential well before they were stuffed into a chipper.

Alpine Treemovals, pic Robin Powell (2)

This is the rescue section of Alpine Treemovals Nursery at Glenorie; there’s also a large section of nursery-grown trees.

Maait’s desire to give new life to old trees doesn’t always work out. Sometimes access is impossible or the tree is unhealthy or has no re-use potential. And sometimes it’s a phoenix palm, also called Canary Island date palm, Phoenix canariensis. Maait has black-banned dealing with any more of these, partly for health and safety reasons (those spiky fronds and all that rat and bird excrement captured in the crown) but also because people just don’t want them anymore. A highly fashionable choice in the late 19th and early 20th century, the date palm has been overtaken. New to the top of the desirable list, according to Alpine’s buyers, are banksias, tuckeroos, (Cupaniopsis anacarioides, an east-coast rainforest tree) and magnolias, both deciduous types and evergreens, especially Magnolia grandiflora ‘Exmouth’.

Alpine Treemovals, pic Robin Powell

If I had room I’d love to find a home for that pair of hoop pines Mouran is walking past. Gorgeous metallic trunks.

Some trees can’t be saved; others are destroyed through thoughtlessness. “They just need to give me some notice,” pleads Maait about developers, builders, architects or owners who don’t think about moving trees until the very last minute. “I can’t come and collect a tree if you ring me today, but give me enough time and I can see what can be done.” In his ideal world councils would require an assessment of trees on a property as part of a development approval process.

Alpine Treemovals, pic Robin Powell (1)

It was hard to get the right camera angle, but can you see how the age of form of this weeping Japanese maple gives it a $20,000 price tag.

The current jewel of rescued trees awaiting a new home in Alpine Treemovals’ Glenorie nursery is a 60-year-old weeping Japanese maple from a Waitara property. The call from the property owner came in November – spring – the worst time to move a deciduous tree. The best time to transplant trees in in winter when they are dormant; not in spring with growth energy pulsing through the plant. To reduce the risk, Maait put off the collection until an overcast cool day to lower transpiration. His team had the maple out of the ground and into a bag at the nursery in under five hours. It barely dropped a leaf and has been living happily in its big black bag at the nursery for nearly eight years, awaiting a buyer who appreciates it age and beautiful form enough to part wiht around around $20,000 plus installation costs to have it in their garden.

Yulan magnolia

Yulan magnolia, rescued from TAFE. Also seen at the top of this post.

Less pricey is a mature Yulan magnolia rescued from Ryde TAFE. Around 5m tall, and in bloom with creamy-white cupped flowers, it was drawing the eye of a woman who’d come shopping for her new garden when I visited the nursery. She was tossing up between the Yulan magnolia and a mature, pink-flowered Magnolia soulangeana in the next row. Smaller budgets are also catered to, and $600 will get you a new tree; the saved-in the-nick–of-time backstory comes free.

It’s time to

Book now
It’s still a long way off, but put the Ballarat Garden Show, 13-15 November in your diary. See five private gardens, the Archibald Prize at the fabulous Art Gallery of Ballarat and David Glenn’s inspirational Lambley, 20 minutes away.

See flowers up close
Florilegium: the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney celebrating 200 years tells the 200year history of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney through 87 plants, illustrated by 64 botanical artists. An exhibition of the artworks featured in the book, called The Florilegium, Sydney’s Painted Garden opens today at the Sydney Museum, cnr Bridge and Phillip Streets, Sydney, July 30 to October 30.

Grow mushrooms
Mr Fothergills has released kits growing golden and pearl oyster mushrooms. Soak the kit overnight, spray daily and expect to be eating your own mushrooms in two weeks. $25, available at Bunnings and independent garden centres.

Aerate the lawn
Mossy areas develop in lawn that is compacted. More effective than inviting stiletto-wearing friends to cocktails is to use a garden fork to pierce the soil. Sprinkle over a little garden lime to reduce soil acidity.


Other people's gardens

Small space gardening

The smaller the space available for private gardens the grander the public gardens. This seems to be the very pleasing credo of the Singapore government whose spending and commitment to public gardens and green space is inspiring.  Just imagine a government closer to home handing over more than 100 hectares of prime waterfront land for public gardens (and an army of workers to maintain it in beautiful condition) instead of, for example, allowing a billionaire to build a big casino.

While the public gardens – and even the street trees – are gorgeous, Singaporeans are also keen home gardeners, albeit in very limited areas.  So the locals at the biannual Singapore Garden Festival don’t crowd the Landscape Gardens designed by internationally renowned designers and constructed by local landscapers, like this very do-able design by Adam Frost, with a floating pavilion in a grove of Caesalpnia ferrea, and plantings of yellow and white flowers.

An Urban Jungle by Adam Frost, Singapore Garden Festival 2016

The crowds are at the displays of gardening on a much smaller scale. Like this from the Balcony Gardens section, with a leaf-papered wall featuring a display box of tillandsia and broms, and a  hat stand for a really ordinary cap.

Tillandsia hat stand

More traditional are the crafts of bonsai and penjing. Here’s one of the striking works in the calligraphy section of the bonsai pavilion, all of which were created by local enthusiasts. It is the symbol for happiness, turned upside down.  In the same way that Anglo superstitious types would never hang a horseshoe upside down in case the luck falls out, so at Chinese New Year Chinese superstitious types hang symbols for happiness upside down, so as to invite happiness in.


And for those without even a balcony with which to engage with green life, the show offered indoors inspiration, including these begonias in black frames hanging in a lounge room space.


Back outdoors Leon Kluge and Bayley LuuTomes offered a beautiful fantasy of garden living and a message of integrating the natural and man-made worlds. In their small spaces an integration of the natural and the man-made is exactly what Singapore’s garden-lovers aim for. Was it this resonating theme or the garden itself which scored for its designers the People’s Choice Award this year?Leon 'Back to Nature' by Leon Kluge and Bayley LuuTomes, Singapore Garden Festival 2016

Other people's gardens

Dead gorgeous perennials and clipped things

Two things struck me on an early winter garden whip-around in regional Victoria. The first was how gorgeous dead perennials can be (or should that be how dead-gorgeous perennials can be?). We don’t get much chance to appreciate this effect in Sydney. Our winters are just cold enough to make perennials look wan and sick, but not cold enough to shock them into brown, grey and black skeletal forms.

garden by Michael McCoy

Michael McCoy is a master of textural perennial planting and on a freezing, rainy afternoon a garden he designed outside of Woodend near Mount Macedon was a picture (even with a rain-spotted phone). Black verbascum stems stood against silvery whisps of perovksia, dark chocolate sedums and the occasional blue-green of euphorbia spires and freeze-framed fireworks of Yucca rigida. I couldn’t imagine it looking any better in flower.

garden by Michael McCoy

While perennial death pictures aren’t part of our gardening palette, clipped things are, and I saw some terrific examples down south. There were hedges of course, as walls, windbreaks, screens, and at one garden as a giant roll of firm grey cushioning along the front of the house. Made from westringia and assiduously clipped into a long cylinder, the owners described it as mirroring the curve of the hills, but it seemed to me more of a massive bolster turning the whole house into a daybed from which to take in the view of those hills.

At the Vineyard Gardens in Mornington Peninsula, the curving perennial borders are walled by high hedges, but it was the fat columns of clipped lillypilly interspersed through the borders that gave the space a wonderful sense of being inside outside.

The vineyard garden

On the other side of the hedge, balls of teucrium and westringia acted as formal grey boulders in a grove of lemon-scented gums. The contrast of formal and informal, wild and clipped, bush and garden had a disorienting appeal.

The vineyard garden

The same idea was given a different treatment in a walled space in the same garden where white-flowered ‘Natchez’ crepe myrtles were underplanted with more trimmed plants, primarily Helichrysum petiolare clipped into undulating mounds like a sleeping body snuggled under a doona.

An international inspiration for this kind of well-clipped, drought-tolerant gardening is the late Nicole de Vesian’s garden la Louve, in the Luberon Valley of Provence. De Vesian was a designer at Hermes for years and when she gave up haute couture for horticulture it was in dry and rocky ground which severely limited her plant choices. As is so often the case, the constraints made for an elegant solution, and la Louve, with its shapely forms of rosemary, lavender and santolina among the fig, olive and yucca, makes visitors itchy to get home to their own garden and a pair of clippers. I had just the same response on my visit to Victoria.

My trip was a speedy famil for a tour I’m leading for Ross Garden Tours in November. As we’ll be visiting regional Victoria in spring, there’ll be no perennial death pictures, but plenty of flowers! See the full itinerary here. (Do you reckon I could gather enough interest to do a cool climate garden tour in early winter – it’s so beautiful!)

It’s time to

Take the tropical tour
Dr Dale Dixon is leading a tour of the public and private sections of Latitude 23, the tropical glasshouses of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney this Thursday. Meet the ant plants and the world’s smallest fig among other oddities. Thursday 28 July, 9.45–11 am. $25. Bookings: 9231 8182

Take cuttings
Ensure cold-sensitive coleus aren’t lost over winter by taking lots of cuttings. If you have nowhere warm to overwinter them, keep the cuttings in water. They won’t all survive the transplant from water to soil so make sure you double up.

Collect leaves
Pick the fallen leaves from the foliage of lower-growing plants so they don’t get smothered.

Buy fragrance
Daphne is one of the signature scents of winter. ‘Perfume Princess’ is a new variety that flowers over a long period, with an intense perfume, in gardens or pots, semi-shade or full sun. It’s Australia’s Nursery and Garden Industry Plant of the Year for 2016.


Plants I love

Chocolate grows on trees

If it’s a birthday there must be chocolate. And so it is that the Story of Chocolate is one of the treats the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney is sharing for its 200th birthday. The story unfolds in the big present the Gardens recently unwrapped, a new horticultural exhibition space called The Calyx. (For those whose high school biology is shadowy, calyx is not just a handy Scrabble word, but also the term used to describe the cup that protects the developing flower bud. Think of the curving green sepals around a rose bud or the green skirt at the end of a tomato or strawberry.)

The Calyx replaces the Pyramid glasshouse and links with the Ken Woolley-designed Arc glasshouse, completed in 1987. It’s part-exhibition space and part-function centre, its purpose being to fund horticulture as well as to show it off.

Calyx, RBG

Chocolate is a good place to start exploring the deep relationships between money, plants and people. Cacao was currency in Aztec culture and is now traded on the futures market. It grows only in a thin band, 20 degrees either side of the equator, making Hawaii the North Pole of chocolate and tropical Queensland the South Pole.

Calyx, RBG

At the entrance to the Calyx exhibition is a beautifully grown representation of the South American rainforest, featuring rare palms, lots of bromeliads, shawls of Spanish moss, and a mature cacao tree of the ‘Criollo’ variety, which is the one used by the Mayans to make their hot chocolate. Behind the tree is a long living green wall featuring the Mayan god of chocolate as well as the Mayan symbol for chocolate, illustrated in plants. (Interestingly, the images are hard to make out unless you look at a camera screen, which draws the ‘plant pixels’ together.)

Calyx, RBG

The ‘Criollo’ in the Calyx is flowering, with tiny complex blooms springing directly from the trunk, a form of flowering called cauliflory. In the wild little midges like fungus gnats pollinate the flowers but as fungus gnats aren’t welcome in the controlled environment of the glasshouse, Gardens staff are painstakingly hand-pollinating the flowers to see if they can produce a pod before the show closes after Easter next year. In the meantime, freeze-dried cacao pods provided by the Daintree Chocolate Company have been hung on the tree.

The relationship between the midge and cacao is just one reason chocolate responds so poorly to industrialised plantation farming. It’s a plant that grows naturally in the rainforest understorey, with protection from hot sun, and with a thick compost of rotting leaves at its feet providing shelter and food for those pollinating midges and for the mycorrizal fungi that help provide nutrients to the plant. Sustainable farming requires replicating these kinds of conditions, rather than destroying rainforest to establish plantations of high-yield varieties that threaten to narrow the varietal diversity of cacao and send some of its most interesting flavours extinct.

Calyx, RBG

The chocolate-coated conservation message from the opening of the Calyx is that plants are part of an ecosystem deeply impacted by the choices we make. Most visitors seem happy to take the message home – in the form of a block of chocolate from Lindt, which is a major supporter of sustainable cacao in Ghana, and exhibition sponsor.

For how to make chocolate once you have grown the cacao, check out this on Melanie Boudar’s chocolate plantation tour in Maui.

It’s time to

Watch pines
A new pine nematode is killing pine trees in the Sydney basin. Plant Biosecurity NSW is asking for help reporting dead and dying pines so that the nematode and its vector beetle can be tracked. Go to

Cut back
Trim liriope to the ground to allow fresh new growth to rejuvenate the plant.

Feed bulbs
Use a soluble fertiliser on spring bulbs you plant to keep for next year.

Buy fragrance
Daphne is one of the signature scents of winter. ‘Perfume Princess’ is a new variety that flowers over a long period, with an intense perfume, in gardens or pots, semi-shade or full sun. It’s Australia’s Nursery and Garden Industry Plant of the Year for 2016.





Other people's gardens

Honouring weeds

I was at Uluru recently, awestruck by its presence and silvery sheen as rain slicked its surface, thrilled by the hot metal smell as water hit that thin iron skin and just plain bemused to see at my feet – purslane. The same weed that irrepressibly clings to life in the cracks in my driveway has found its way to the heart of Central Australia.

Uluru in the rain

In honour of the opportunism of weeds, and in the absence again this week of enough pages in Spectrum to support my garden column, here is a story I wrote for Your Garden magazine, about forager and artist Diego Bonetto who thinks that weeds are under-utilised opportunities.

Diego Bonneto

Diego hoping to convince me that camphor laurels are more than a massive pest.

When you look at a weedy wasteland around a railway station, what do you see? Most of us see just that – a weedy wasteland – but Diego Bonetto sees a pantry of food items and a bathroom cabinet of herbal remedies.


The council sees something to poison, Diego sees dinner.

Diego is an artist whose mission is to re-engage us with our natural environment, one weed at a time. We meet at the weedy railway station and he helps me out immediately. Among the fast food detritus, soggy tissues, and unnameable refuse, Diego identifies dandelion (the young leaves are eaten in salads, the flowers in frittatas and the roots as parsnip alternatives); sow thistle, Sonchus sp. (in Greece the young leaves are blanched and doused in olive oil and salt; Pacific Islanders use its bitter edge to cut the sweet richness of their pork stews); green amaranth, Amaranthus viridis (cultivated as a grain for 8,000 years, and also used as a spinach, particularly in India); mallow, (a personal dinner favourite of Diego’s, used in salads and in soups); and a brassica.

We don’t pick dinner just yet as railway weeds are sprayed with  glyphosate. For snacking and harvesting we take a wander along the Cook’s River in Tempe, Sydney, where Diego leads regular foraging tours, a career direction that began with a dandelion.

Diego’s family were farmers in rural northern Italy and part of his childhood responsibility was collecting food – mushrooms in season, and greens all year. The greens collected were the kinds of plants we know as weeds. His knowledge of these plants, and where and when they grew, became deeply ingrained. When he migrated to Australia, 20 years ago, dandelions waved to him from among the unknown plants and welcomed him home.

Foraging had connected him to the land in Italy and now it connected him to his new country. He became a wild provedore, providing chefs with dandelions and other novel foods, which he laughs, weren’t novel at all, but the oldest foods known to humankind – the weeds. In between foraging, and bringing up his two daughters, he studied art, and thought about weeds.

“Academics now talk about nature blindness: people can’t see what they can’t name,” he says. Through his work and his tours Diego aims to cure nature blindness by giving people the names and stories that enable a new vision of the landscape: not just weeds by the railway station, but a biodiverse community of plants with a long history of interaction with humans.

rambling dock, Acetosa sagittata

Rambling dock lasted well in a plastic bag in the crisper and was the secret ingredient in a green salad with shaved fennel, and an Asian style salad with pickled grated carrot and other herbs.

Further along the river we snack on what is my favourite discovery of the day, rambling dock, Acetosa sagittata, which has a crisp lemony flavour so delicious I pick a bunch for dinner. Diego doesn’t recommend side-of the-road foraging in general, but he knows that the local council don’t spray here and the rain we’re walking through has washed off dirt and dust.

“The safest place to forage,” he advises, “is your own garden.” He believes we can all grow something to eat and assures even non-gardeners that they will be able to find some edible plant to suit their gardening style.

Mallow, Malva silvestri

I’m not a big fan of muciliaginous greens, but for those who like okra, kangkong and the like, mallow is a cheap treat.

Diego’s own gardening style is Minimal Intervention. He has an agreement with his landlord to manage a 3m square plot of weeds and is foster-gardener to several other weedy plots. The most useful weed for gardeners to nurture, he says is “Whatever is in your garden.” As gardeners know, weeds seek out the spot that suits them best, with no encouragement at all from the gardener. Diego challenges us to look at them with new eyes – as individual plants that tell a story of a long association with humans, not simply irritations in the general category Weed.

In Diego’s garden:

Self-sown mulberry, Morus sp.
“I love mulberries, I make jam with the fruit, and the plant reminds me of Italy, where mulberry trees in the corners of the fields provide shade for summer working-day lunches.”

Cobbler’s pegs, Bidens pilosa

Cobbler’s pegs, Bidens pilosa

“If it goes to seed it makes a burr which gets into your socks in the bush, but if never gets to seed in my garden I eat so much of it.”

Mallow, Malva silvestri
“I have a few plants of this I like it so much. The young leaves are good in a salad, the older leaves thicken a soup and the seeds have a good, nutty flavour.”

Scurvy weed, Commelina cyanea
“This Australian native was used by non-indigenous colonists to ward off scurvy. It has a mild flavour, best cooked, otherwise it’s a bit hairy and gets stuck in your throat.”

Madeira vine, Anredera cordifolia
“This isn’t really happy in my garden. It might be too shady under the mulberry.” The leaves are sold in Malaysia and when cooked are a bit slimy, like kankong.

Other people's gardens

Great garden ideas

My garden column isn’t running in Spectrum this week, due to a much-shrunken section. (Send your outraged notes directly to Herald!) So instead I thought I’d share some bits of a story I wrote for the current issue of Garden Clinic, highlighting some clever ideas from the professional designers who convinced their clients to open their gardens for the Hidden Festival of Outdoor Design this year.

Frame the view

Garden by Seed

Take a cruise around Sydney harbour and you see the same multi-million dollar mistake repeated all around the shoreline. People remove the trees, thinking they are maximising their view. So how fabulous is this! The client wanted the existing angophoras to stay, which was just fine with designer Jenny Paul of Seed Garden Design. She added clipped balls of westringia contrasted with the fine textured movement of Lomandra ’Tanika’ and purple fountain grass. Rather than blocking the view, the trees frame and change it so that is constantly shifts with each step you take on the terrace or in the house. Boats and water and the far horizon slide between the silky sculpted branches of the trees in a much more alluring way than if it was all in front of you, all the time.

Love the built-ins

Garden by Quercus


In small spaces chairs can cause of forest of legs that visually diminish the space, and makes getting around your guests with the pitcher of margaritas an obstacle course. Built-in seating is a clean-lined answer. In an inner city terrace courtyard, shown above, Richard Rimmell for Quercus built a bench seat into raised planting beds with maidenhair ferns enjoying the shade underneath.

Garden by Adam Robinson

In a small northern beaches courtyard designed by Adam Robinson, above, an L-shaped bench has wooden slats and seat, with cushions chosen to tie in with the colours of the garden and the interior of the house. The tropical foliage of frangipani, bamboo and Strelitzia nicolae explode overhead.

Live out the front

Garden by Marcis Hoskings

Too often our front gardens are used for show and not for living. Marcia Hosking of Hosking Partnership turned this around for her eastern suburbs clients. Their backyard is overlooked by towering apartments, but the front offered privacy behind a camellia hedge. Marcia pulled up the boggy and overshaded lawn and replaced it with paving broken up by rills of native violet, added a screen of sweet-smelling evergreen magnolia and a water-feature between two lovely weeping grafted mulberries, and atmospheric lighting. The family has been lunching and dining and entertaining out here ever since.

It’s time to

See grevilleas
The special enclosed section of the Illawarra Grevillea Park is only open a few days a year. This weekend, July 2-3 and next weekend, July 9-10 constitute the winter opening. Expect gorgeous grevilleas, great views and plants for sale. Grevillea Park Road, Bulli. Entry $5.

Take cuttings
Ensure cold-sensitive coleus aren’t lost over winter by taking lots of cuttings. If you have nowhere warm to overwinter them, keep the cuttings in water. They won’t all survive the transplant from water to soil so make sure you double up.

Collect leaves
Pick the fallen leaves from the foliage of lower-growing plants so they don’t get smothered.

Buy fragrance
Daphne is one of the signature scents of winter. ‘Perfume Princess’ is a new variety that flowers over a long period, with an intense perfume, in gardens or pots, semi-shade or full sun. It’s Australia’s Nursery and Garden Industry Plant of the Year for 2016.

Rhipsalis baccifera
Plants I love

Hanging garden

Sydney gardeners first fell for rhipsalis at the first Australian Garden Show Sydney, held in Centennial Park in 2013, when we saw it falling in curtains from a Brendan Moar-designed pergola. Moar accentuated the thin vertical hang of rhipsalis with slender hanging threads of silver beads. The long lime green stems caught the slanting sun and waved and shimmied in the breeze so that all but the plant nerds in the crowd stood amazed and desirous, asking what’s that and where can I get some?

Brendan Moar garden AGSS 2013

Brendan Moar’s garden at AGSS 2013 with rhipsalis and chain of bananas hanging from the pergola.

The first part of the question was the easiest to answer. Rhipsalis is a large family of mostly epiphytic cactus that look nothing like the typical image of a cactus. Though some are hairy, even bristly, none are spiky or spiny. The stems are generally thin and cylindrical and they hang down. In their native South American and tropical African rainforests they do this from the forks of trees, but they do it just as well in a pot.

Rhipsalis baccifera

Rhipsalis and macrame hangers – a marriage made in hipster heaven.

Different species of the plant branch in different ways. In some the stems hang as straight as the hair of a teenager practising with her new hair straightener. Longest and straightest of all is R. campos-portoana. Others branch more compactly, such as R. ewaldiana, which is like a tangled perm, dense enough to use as a groundcover in a shady, well-drained spot. R. baccifera, is in between those two, trailing to a bit more than a metre, with branched lime green stems like so many split ends. Its little flowers are followed by translucent white berries so that the plant in fruit looks covered in a net of pearls.

Hanging plants

Rhipsalis, chain of hearts and chain of bananas in Justine Smith’s Jungle Cactus greenhouse.

For a few years after Moar’s revelatory experiments with rhispalis the second part of the question – whereabouts – was harder to answer. Now rhipsalis is no longer a collectors’ rarity and can even be found in commercial garden centres.

Justine Smith is a wholesale grower who supplies several species of rhipsalis to Flower Power from her greenhouses at Peats Ridge just north of Sydney. With perfect timing her interest in growing the plant coinciding with a huge new demand.


Part of the initial appeal for Smith was that rhipsalis doesn’t just look good, it’s easy to grow, and to propagate. She advises partial shade for the best-looking plants. Rhipsalis will grow in full shade though growth will be slower and flowers less likely. In full sun the foliage, which is the real point of the exercise, yellows and looks sick. Too much water is worse than not enough, especially in winter. For best growth, keep it watered but not soaked through the warm weather, a little drier in the cold, and offer slow-release fertiliser.

As well as hanging in baskets from pergolas or from the branches of mature trees, use rhipsalis to spill over the edge of a large pot to soften its impact and balance whatever is growing upright. Or take a leaf from Moar’s copybook and use rhipsalis as a curtain, veiling a view with a shimmer of green.

It’s time to

Watch pines
A new pine nematode is killing pine trees in the Sydney basin. Plant Biosecurity NSW is asking for help reporting dead and dying pines so that the nematode and its vector beetle can be tracked. Go to

Book Nambour
The speaker program is a drawcard for Queensland Garden Expo and this year there are more than 100 lectures, demos, q and a sessions, advice clinics and workshops. July 8,9,10, Nambour Showgrounds, Sunshine Coast.

Cut back
Trim liriope to the ground to allow fresh new growth to rejuvenate the plant.

Feed bulbs
Use a soluble fertiliser on spring bulbs you plant to keep for next year.



Sydney’s bush foods

We’re familiar with the way flowers tell us the time: the heliconia that opens its hot-pink, canoe-like flowers for a special birthday; the camellias warning of State of Origin hogging the airwaves; or the jacaranda ringing the bell for HSC angst.

For the Eeora people flowers help write the specials on a mental dinner menu. When the sand dunes are spotted pink with the flowers of pig face, Carpobrotus glaucescens, flounder and flathead are dish of the day. It’s the turn of the tailor when the edible blue berries of the dianella are in full flush and when the tall spears of the Doryanthes, Gymea lily, open their big red flowers the female salt-water crabs will be laying eggs so are temporarily off the menu.

Barangaroo Reserve

I have to apologies for the pictures here. It was pouring the day I did the tour and the place was not at its most photogenic. All I can say is go look for yourself.

I learned all this on a tour of Barangaroo Reserve, the park on the northern tip of Barangaroo, where, one year after opening, the newly built coves are drawing sea life back to the shore, and the plants are flourishing. Banksia are covered with flowers, great mounds of pig face and hardenbergia lounge over the sandstone walls, the tree ferns look stately, and only the Port Jackson figs on Stargazer Lawn at the top of the park, planted into 2m of soil atop polystyrene, look like they haven’t quite decided if they are happy in their new home

Barangaroo Reserve

To the south all is construction, but here, there is a developing sense of place. The landform was built to mirror the pre-colonial shape of the point, using watercolour sketches from the early days of the colony as a reference. The topography echoes pre-colonial life and so does the planting, which was chosen to replicate the plant species that hugged the harbour foreshore before settlement. These plants were culture, medicine, calendar and pantry for the local people.

Barangaroo Reserve

Indigenous guides tell the stories of the land and its plants on daily tours. For gardeners there is much to discover, and lots of it is edible. Take the yellow flowers of the native hibiscus, Hibiscus heterophyllus, which are sweet treats. The fruits of the Port Jackson fig are also good, as long as they are coloured completely purple, and have no holes, which would indicate the presence of wasps in the fruit. Banksia flowers, rich in nectar, can be dipped in water to make a sweet drink and the tiny fruit of the pig face is like lychee I’m told, but even better.

I plan to try them all, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never get around to eating lomandra ‘bread’. The spiky-flowered, knife-edged lomandra is the convenience store of the bush. The base of the leaf is as juicy as a lemon grass stem and when stripped of flesh makes a useful paintbrush. The whole leaves can be torn into fibres and woven into mats, baskets and fish traps. And then there is the seed. Inside each seed are two little grains, which, painstakingly gathered, ground and mixed with water made a kind of ‘bread’. You can imagine the women’s astonishment when the white fellas showed up with sacks of white flour.

To the south Barangaroo is all money and power and domination of the landscape, but on the north side, the Reserve and its plants tell an older story of human interaction with the natural world.

Tours of Barangaroo Reserve run Mondays-Saturdays at 10.30am and last for about an hour and a half. $36.50.

It’s time to

Garden visit
Garden designer Stephen Vella’s Little Hartley garden, Wild Meadows, is open next Saturday to show off the wintry skeletons of trees and seedheads of perennials. 243a Coxs River Road, Little Hartley. June 25, 10 – 2pm, Entry $8

Volunteer at Eryldene
Sydney’s great camellia garden Eryldene is looking for garden volunteers. No experience or knowledge is required. Call 9498 2271.

Bargain books
Florilegium’s annual book sale of new and second-hand garden-related books starts today. Plenty of titles are under $10. June 18-26, 65 Derwent St Glebe. Monday- Friday 10-6, Saturday-Sunday 10-5.

Collect leaves
The best compost is layered like a lasagne with fresh green material alternated with dead brown material. Collect fallen leaves now to provide the brown matter.

Plants I love


Now that it’s finally cold enough to turn the oven on for dinner my secateurs are seeking out rosemary to roast with potatoes tossed with lemon, braise with beef and bacon, or nestle against a lamb shoulder given the long slow treatment.

The only consensus on flavour in rosemary is that the upright forms are better for cooking than the prostrate form, though nothing beats the lounger for crawling in a tangled fragrant mass over a hot wall. Otherwise, flavour seems to depend as much on conditions as anything. Rosemary likes it hot and dry and prefers frost and drought to humidity and soggy soils.

Consequently, in my humid patch rosemary is not long-lived and every few years it succumbs to a fungus and I start again in a different spot. Next time this happens I’m going to hunt up the variety called ‘Mozart’. This is much praised by nurserymen such as David Glen of Lambley Nursery, outside Ballart, who uses it as an edging along a broad brick path, and Chris Cuddy of Perenialle Plants at Canowindra, who both sell it mail order. ‘Mozart’ has richer blue flowers than the hardware store plant I’m currently growing, and much more of them. The glossy green leaves and flowers grow on strictly upright stems to about 90cm.


Rows of ‘Mozart’ in full bee-happy bloom at Lambley Nursery. Thanks to Lambley for the photo.

That sturdy uprightness of rosemary is valuable in the garden as a contrast to floppier, more filmy plants and it also looks good with succulents, which share the liking for hot dry conditions. Sydney garden designer Peter Fudge channelled a sort of Japanese aesthetic in his own front garden, planting rosemary in gravel alongside felty Kalanchoe tomentosum, succulent crassula and dark green mounds of dwarf Raphiolepis ‘Snow Maiden’. The rosemary is kept trimmed to form neat green-grey mounds. (Read more about Peter’s front garden here.)

Garden by Peter Fudge

That’s rosemary in the top left, along with raphiolepis, and kalanchoe, and with westringia, kalanchoe and crassula in the foreground.

Mickey Robertson at Glenmore House in Camden matches rosemary with other Mediterranean types such as lavender, santolina and perovskia, Russian sage, and it looks suitably rustic against the old farm buildings in the garden. Robertson also puts rosemary to use in her kitchen, where she bakes it with chestnut flower and pine nuts into a favourite cake.

Glenmore House

And here’s rosemary with lavender and citrus in the sunny side garden at Glenmore House.

To keep rosemary looking good it’s best to be mean – no water, no fertiliser, and plenty of cutting. Trim often and prune it back by about two-thirds every year after the flowering starts to wane. Use some of the prunings as propagation material: trim the tips, strip the bottom third of leaves and carefully firm into pots of potting mix. The resulting successes can be used as repeats around the garden, or kept as back-ups to replace old plants and those afflicted by sudden death.

Rosemary prunings not used for propagation or dinner needn’t go to waste. Food magazines use the stripped stems as skewers, which seems like a terrific idea but which I find is more trouble than it’s worth. Instead I allow all the bits to dry then use them as fragrant kindling in the fire pit or barbecue.

It’s time to
Chocolate-coated botany
The Calyx is the new exhibition centre at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. It opens this weekend with Sweet Addiction: the Botanic Story of Chocolate. 10am-4pm. Adults, $15, children $8.

Plant poppies
Plant seedlings close together in a sunny, fertile spot. Fertilise prodigiously for flowers into spring.

Plant a fruit tree
Unless you live in chilly parts of Sydney, choose a low-chill or tropical variety. ‘Anna’ apple could work. It was bred in Israel and fruits even in tropical Queensland. It will need a pollination partner, as well as protection from fruit fly. Expect mighty yields of apples around Christmas, three years after planting. More:

Choose a chook
Don’t know your Australorps from your Orpingtons? The National Poultry Show is on this weekend, June 11-12 at the Sydney Showground, ticket $10 at the gate.


Camellia sasanqua 'Plantation Pink'
Other people's gardens

Perfectly pruned camellias

As a role model for active retirement it’s hard to beat Eben Gowrie Waterhouse. When the Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Sydney retired in 1945 he turned his blazing intelligence and passion on what had already become a fascination with camellias. He researched the origins, culture and naming of camellias and developed several popular hybrids himself, co-founded the Australian and New Zealand Camellia Research Society, wrote a couple of books, started Camellia Grove Nursery in St Ives thereby colouring the north shore camellia, and developed an international reputation along the way. In his 80s he learned Japanese so he could talk camellias with Japanese colleagues.


The Hardie Wilson house has pleasing Georgian symmetry, and a lovely verandah. But best of all are the shadows thrown on the roof by the jacaranda. It was a seedling tree that popped up where you wouldn’t plant it given the choice, as its roots have distorted the terrace and tilted the steps, but it does look gorgeous.

Eryldene was E.G Waterhouse’s house and garden and it’s one of the unknown gems of Sydney’s north shore. The architect Hardie Wilson designed the house in Georgian colonial style in the early decades of last century and he and Waterhouse worked together on the garden, following an Arts and Crafts ‘garden room’ model.

Eryldene front temple and Camellia japonica 'oki-no-nami'

This little temple is in the front garden, and that’s Oki-no-nami- on the right, which has stripy red and white flowers except where they revert to the original red, giving the bush a two-tone look.

There are some fabulous garden buildings: a neat little temple in the front garden, a tennis pavilion around the back that is part Chinese pagoda, part Grecian temple, part shed; a dovecote/tool shed; art deco trellis archway; and Waterhouse’s study where he worked among Chinese and Japanese artworks. The planting follows Waterhouse’s ideas about controlled views and controlled colour, with limited yellow and orange flowers and at least 30 per cent white.

Eryldene deco trellis arch

This trellis arch was added after the house was built and has a deco styling, with great proportions.

There are 500 camellias in the garden, all of them more restrained in style than the bigger, flashier flowers developed since Waterhouse’s death in 1977. Camellia japonica ‘Fimbriata’ is typical and a Waterhouse favourite. It’s a pure white flower, perfectly sized for a buttonhole, with a serrated edge like a piece of frayed silk. It grows in a pot by a columned terrace at the back of the house, elegant and shapely.

Eryldene Camellia japonica 'Fimbriata'

Left to their own devices, camellias grow into big, dark shrubs, with flowers arranged along the sunny top where they can’t be seen. That’s not much use, so the gardeners at Eryldene manage a pruning program which sees trees grown too big given what volunteer garden co-coordinator Helen Wallace calls a ‘slaughter prune’, immediately after flowering. Camellias respond well to the pruning saw or chainsaw, and will even survive being cut off almost at ground level.

The cuts encourage thickets of new vertical growth, and this is where the real work comes in. Leave it alone and it will solidify into a dense head, shorter, but no lovelier than what was there before. Instead, the pruner needs to move in for the second phase, with secateurs instead of saw, and remove all but 4-5 of the new branches, selecting each to give the tree an interesting shape. Keep in mind the adage that camellias should be airy enough to allow a bird to fly through them.

Eryldene camellia

Instead of thick walls of dark green, camellias look best pruned so that they cast interesting shadows, and allow the birds through.

The camellias at Eryldene are all at different stages of this pruning process. Some are overgrown and ready for a cut after this year’s flowering; others were cut just last year, and this year are putting on growth but not flowers; and most show older cuts if you look closely through what is now a framework of beautiful branches with flowers at eye level.

So if you grow camellias, go to Eryldene this winter and make a study tour. And if you don’t grow camellias, go to enjoy one of the great beauties of Sydney’s garden history.

Eryldene is searching for garden volunteers. Experience and skills aren’t necessary, just a willingness to be involved and learn along the way. Call 02 94982271 for details.