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. www.grevilleapark.org.

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 www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/content/biosecurity/plant/pine-nematodes

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. www.qldgardenexpo.com.au

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. www.barangaroo.com

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: daleysfruit.com.

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.

Other people's gardens

5 tips for designing small gardens

Think big. This is the number one piece of advice for designing small courtyards or balcony gardens from garden designer Richard Unsworth, who lectured at the Royal Botanic Gardens Garden Design Series. The rookie error in designing small garden spaces is getting the scale wrong, he says. Unsworth, from Garden Life, designs big and small spaces and while scale is important in both, choosing small pots, small plants and small furniture will only make a small space appear smaller. Better to keep it simple, bold and scaled up.

“Of course, you need to understand the constraints,” he admits. “It’s no use buying a big pot or plant that you can’t get onto an apartment balcony because it won’t fit in the lift; or having a big table that you can’t get around. In fact, you might not need a table, if there is one just inside. You might be better off with a big plant in that space.”

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Nicholas Watt

In a recent design for a new apartment in Balmain, Unsworth and his team designed an oversized, square, planting box to divide the space on the large balcony. It’s painted in metallic bridge paint to match other large containers on the deck and is planted up with a softly textured mature dwarf date palm, Phoenix roebelenii, and a range of hardy succulents, with the client’s treasured Buddha nestled into the planting.

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Nicholas Watt

The cohesiveness of repeated plants and surfaces make for aesthetic harmony in a small space, but Unsworth turns his back on minimalism in favour of textural contrast in plants and pots to keep a small garden interesting. On the Balmain balcony, the feathery palm contrasts with stiff succulents and crisp-edged balloons of a cloud-pruned juniper, while the bridge-grey pots are matched with the roughness of hand-thrown terracotta and the sheen of antique brass. And because there’s no fun in minimalism for the plant collector Unsworth also likes to include a display table. “On a great table you can arrange all the plants you love in a collection of pots and tinker as much as you like.”

His take-home message for small garden owners: avoid itty-bitty gestures; make a bold scale statement; balance the hard and soft elements; and show off your treasures. Oh, and there’s one more thing – a small space garden operates on a different time scale to a large garden. A large garden grows and develops and is at its peak years after it’s planted, but that’s not the case with a small garden that just gets tired. Potted plants run out of puff or get too big for their spots and materials show wear and tear. In a small space there is nowhere to hide. So there’s only one thing for it – give yourself permission to start again!


The final lecture in this year’s RBG Garden Design Series is by Michael Bates, on June 16, Royal Automobile Club, 89 Macquarie Street, Sydney, 6.15pm, $75, Bookings: 02 9231 8182.

Photo credit: Nicholas Watt

It’s time to:

Order asparagus crowns
‘Fat Bastard’ is an irresistibly named F1 hybrid with thick juicy tasty stems. Choose a sunny position you don’t need to disturb, as an asparagus patch lasts forever. Let the crowns develop for a few seasons before starting the harvest.

Thin frangipani
Before the weather gets too cold, trim or thin the frangipani if necessary. If reducing overall size, use a sharp pruning saw to remove entire branches rather than simply lopping the ends.

Clean up cannas
Cut rusty cannas down to ground level and bin them as well as the mulch around them, which will be full of fungal spores.

Gardens light up
Vivid Sydney comes to the Royal Botanic Gardens for the first time this year, celebrating the Garden’s 200th anniversary. May 27 – June 18, 6pm-11pm, free entry.

Plants I love

Why are banksia flowers so big?

Why are banksia flowers so big? I’ve long admired those huge cones, run my hands over their almost-plastic perfection, marvelled at their fabulous geometry and great colour combinations, but I’d never considered the question until I read Tim Low’s Where Song Began.

Banksia serrata

Bankisa serrata and friend, photographed on the walk south from Merry Beach to on the south coast of NSW.

As Low explains it, banksia (and other Australian flowers) are big as a result of a kind of evolutionary arms race with Australian honey-eating birds and mammals. In a land of abundant sunshine and impoverished soils, plants photosynthesise like crazy but don’t have the nutrients to turn that energy into growth. Instead they produce nectar, lots of it. With an abundant food source, the birds grew bigger (and more aggressive and much louder), and to survive their weight, the flowers needed to toughen up or collapse. The banksias, which can produce nectar for up to 20 days, are the biggest and toughest of the lot.

Matchstick banskia, Banksia cuneata

This is the matchstick banksia, B. cuneata, one of the rare beauties in the Collins collection.

There are 79 species of banksia in the world and Kevin and Cathy Collins have all of them growing in their garden, The Banksia Farm, at Mount Barker in south-west Western Australia. The Collins’ is the only full collection in the world. They no longer open the garden on a regular basis but banksia fans can stay in the B & B on the property and book a walk around the garden with Kevin.

Kevin Collins

Why does Kevin remind of a character out of May Gibbs?

A full set of banksias would be an impossible act to replicate in Sydney as the majority are native to the sandy soils and low humidity of Western Australia and less than perfect drainage spells death. But local gardeners can grow our local banksias. Banksia integrifolia, known as coastal banksia, is the least fussy about soil and has green-yellow flowers through autumn, with a silvery sheen to the candles when they first form. B. serrata, old-man banksia, has saw-toothed leaves and a develops a fabulously gnarly trunk. It is perfect in sandy coastal conditions, must have good drainage, and can be pruned to keep it to an appropriate size, or to emphasise its sculptural form.

Banksia serrata

So much to love in a banksia flower – the colours, the texture, the geometry. This one B. serrata.

Our local banksias are also good for pots. The dwarf forms of Banksia spinulosa are the easiest to find, and to grow. ‘Birthday Candles’ grows to about 50cm high and has yellow flowers with red styles through autumn and winter. The original plant material for ‘Birthday Candles’ came from Schnapper Point near Ulladulla on the south coast. ‘Stumpy Gold’ was developed from plant material collected at Catherine Hill Bay on the central coast. It has noticeably greyer foliage than ‘Birthday Candles’ with and gold on gold flowers.

Feed banksias in the garden or in pots in spring and autumn with a low-phosphorus fertiliser developed for native plants. Kevin Collins advises that banksias love a good mulch, kept clear of the trunks. Trim off the spent flower heads in spring and that’s all the maintenance required.

These dwarf banksia candles bloom into winter, providing a feast for birds. And when the big wattlebirds land for a breakfast feed those resilient and spectacular flowers barely waver.

It’s time to:

Bag a book
The Foundation and Friends Annual Book Sale is on Friday May 27, 11am -4pm and Saturday May 28, 9.30am – 4pm, Joseph Maiden Theatre, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

Choose citrus
‘Clementine’ mandarins, unlike most mandarins, can hang on the tree for months without deteriorating. Perfect for home gardeners.

Plant poppies
Plant seedlings close together in a sunny, fertile spot. Fertilise prodigiously for flowers all through winter.

Plant bulbs
Spring bulbs can go into the ground or into pots now, though tulips are best left in the crisper for another few weeks. Sow seed or plant seedlings of annuals at the same time to take over once the bulbs fade.


The value of paying attention

'Two Australian shrubs, with Sydney Harbour below' by Marianne North

Marianne North painted this bottlebrush in 1880 from the foreshore near Nielsen Park. Simply add the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, thickets of buildings, a few maxi yachts and a ferry to update the view. Miss North was in Sydney at the instigation of Charles Darwin, who had insisted that her life’s work would not be complete until she had visited Australia. Her life’s work was painting exotic flora, which she did in oil, on paper, mostly outdoors.

Marianne North at work

Here’s Miss North in typical work mode.

Miss North was one of a few feisty English lady travellers of the late 19th century, a self-titled ‘globe trotteress’, who once retorted to a gentleman startled by her independence that when travelling a sense of humour was much more useful than a man.

She started her mission in her 40s, after her father left her money, connections and an absence of responsibilities. By the late 1870s she’d spent the best part of a decade travelling and painting and offered Joseph Hooker, director of Kew Gardens, her collection of almost 800 paintings as well as a fine new building in which to show them. Hooker accepted and the building was underway when Miss North received her command from Darwin. So she hitched a ride with the Rajah and Ranee of Sarawak, and arrived in Brisbane in 1880, from where she made her way south to Sydney.

Not mad for the city, which she described as featuring ‘random and fungus-like growths of ugly buildings’, she loved the harbour, the Botanic Gardens, the wildflowers and the moist rainforest gullies of the Illawarra escarpment.

The Marianne North Gallery was finally opened in 1882 to much fanfare. (Some said Queen Victoria would have given her a knighthood, if only she’d been a man.) Following years of conservator work on the paintings the gallery is once again a highlight at Kew. The 832 works are hung in the salon manner, following Miss North’s instructions, so that the effect is more like dense wallpaper than a gallery, with each black-framed painting abutting a neighbour.

Marianne North Gallery, Kew

As you can see the effect is kind of dizzying, but wonderful. You want to study every one.

To appreciate the works you need to do as Miss North did when painting them: shut out distractions and focus intently. Captured in what looks like a simple nature study is the detailed observation of a plant: its foliage, front and back; flowers in bud and full flower; seeds or fruit; and often in the distance a view of the plant showing its growth habit. Though her works don’t look like traditional botanical illustration they are botanically accurate enough to have helped botanists name four new species, which reference her in their names.

Northia seychellana by Marianne North

This is Northia seychallana, named after Miss North. It shows her usual approach – a bold composition but botanically accurate showing the front and back of the foliage, the flowers, fruit,and even a pollinator.

In our time of multiple distractions and the myth of the multi-tasker, Marianne North offers plenty of inspiration for garden lovers about the value of paying close attention and the satisfactions of getting to know plants. Add her gallery to your must-see list for 2016.

It’s time to

Garden books
The annual RBG Friends book sale is on May 27-28. If your shelves are bulging with excess books on horticulture, garden design, environment, cooking and craft, donate them to the cause. Details: 9231 8182.

Grow fast
Impatient and unconfident food gardeners can now order up a pack of ‘speedlings’ from heirloom seed supplier, Diggers. ‘Broccoli Green Sprouting’ is a cut-and-come again broccoli providing up to three-months harvest, nine weeks after planting. A 5-pack of seedlings is $9.95. diggers.com.au

Tame the fig
Cut climbing fig, Ficus pumila, flat against the wall to keep growth neat and leaves small.

Garden books
The annual RBG Friends book sale is on May 27-28. If your shelves are bulging with excess books on horticulture, garden design, environment, cooking and craft, donate them to the cause. Details: 9231 8182.



Sarrecenia leucophylla
Plants I love

From the weird world of carnivorous plants

Smarter gardeners than I approached Collectors’ Plant Fair a few weeks back with a strategy. Some had a list, others had a budget. I had a resolution to bring home only the plants I knew exactly where to put in my over-crowded garden. I failed, but I wasn’t the only one – the ATMS had run out of money by Saturday afternoon. Of all the little plants now resting on the terrace til I find them a home in the garden, let me tell you about the one I have snuck inside to admire.

Sarrecenia leucophylla

It is a trumpet pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, a carnivorous plant from the bogs of the south-east of the US. It’s endangered at home, mostly due to housing development on the Gulf Coast, but also to poaching for the florist trade. It’s easy to see why poachers would bother getting their feet wet. The pitchers are tall slender funnels, topped with a frilled hood. The top of the pitcher is a translucent white, veined with red or green in fabulous patterns. The effect of the erect funnels, each turned a different way, is like a nest of exotic baby birds, mouths agape awaiting dinner.

I bought the plant from the stall of the Australian Carnivorous Plants Society. Kirk Hirsch is the group’s publicity officer. Hirsch fell for carnivorous plants as an 8-year-old when he started ordering venus fly traps, pitcher plants and sundews by mail order. “I do like the irony of them,” he says. “If I find something eating my plants, a caterpillar or bug, down the throat of another plant it goes.”

Just as good is the ingenious way the plants catch their food. The white-topped pitcher plant I bought is an especially good flycatcher. Flies are attracted to the white top, and get busy collecting drops of nectar around the rim. As they do, the plant attaches tiny waxy plates to the feet of the flies so that they lose their ability to hang on and slip down the funnel. The narrow space at the base of the pitcher is so tight the fly can’t gyrate its wings and get lift off. It’s stuck. A pitcher needs only a few flies a week to feel well-fed, but if there are a lot of flies around, the pitchers can fill with trapped flies.

If that happens I’m putting it straight outside! Pitchers like humid conditions, wet feet and full sun, but Hirsch reckons I can admire it up close for its autumn display as long as it gets at least four hours of direct sun a day. Once the weather gets cold, the pitchers will brown off, the plant will go dormant, and then I will have to find a proper home for it.

You can find pitcher plants at water garden specialists, and at meetings of the Carnivorous Plants Society.

[golast] The Carnivorous Plants Society meets on the second Friday of the month at Woodstock Community Centre, Burwood, at 7.30pm. Next meeting: May 13. More: www.auscps.com.

It’s time to

Buy bromeliads
Bring a box to collect new bromeliads, tillandsias, neoregalia, guzmanias and more at the Bromeliad Fair. Saturday, April 30, 10am- 4pm and Sunday, May 1, 9am – 12pm, Concord Senior Citizens Centre, 9-11 Wellbank Street, Concord.

Divide broms
If not buying new stars, it is still a good time to clean up bromeliad clumps. Once pups are a third as big as the mother remove the pup, compost the tired old plant and replant the fresh newbie.

Support broadbeans
Broadbeans will flop and flail if not given good support. Create a frame with bamboo stakes and a cats cradle of string in several tiers to support 1.5m of growth.

Admire camellias
Eryldene, historic home of Sydney’s camellias, is open May 7 and 8, with morning and afternoon high teas both days as a Mother’s Day treat. 17 McIntosh Street, Gordon. $24 plus $8 entry fee. Bookings: www.eryldene.org.au.


Plants I love

The supermodel of lemons

A few weeks ago the baby green fruit on my lemons were so well-camouflaged I feared the harvest would be a dud. But they have now fattened up and are starting to weigh down the branches with promise of lemons through to summer.

I grow ‘Dwarf Meyer’ in pots. The meyer is thought to be a cross between a lemon and one of the Chinese oranges. Frank Meyer, who worked for the US Department of Agriculture, found it on a visit China in 1908, and naturally he named it after himself. The parentage explains its deliciously sweet flavour and beautiful smooth skin.

Meyer lemon

My supermodel reference is all about the skin – look at that glowing complexion and tiny pores!

Its good looks and fine flavour are reason enough to grow it, and there are practical considerations too. A dwarf meyer, grafted on to ‘Flying dragon’ rootstock, gets to just 1.5 metres, which means the fruit is always easy to reach. I considered a dwarf version of the ‘Eureka’ lemon, which has the benefit of year-round fruit, but it gets to 3m, which is not dwarf enough.

To grow lemons successfully in containers, go large. Forty centimeters in diameter is the minimum, but bigger is better. Use a quality potting mix and choose a spot with at least six hours of sun a day. Water regularly, but don’t let the roots get sodden. Ditch the pot saucer or anything else that would prevent water draining from the pot. Feed often. Lemons are called gross feeders, which is the horticultural term for ‘must be fed like a sumo wrestler’. Use something organic like Dynamic Lifter Plus Fruit Food every two or three months. The lemon’s hungry habit means that gardeners should resist the temptation to underplant with a fringe of blue lobelia looping over the pot, or a blast of freesias mixing scents with the lemon blossom in spring. Gorgeous, but, trust me on this, they will diminish the health and vigour of the lemon.

Villa Gamberaia

What do the Italians not know about growing lemons in pots! These at Villa Gamberaia, above Florence

It’s not necessary to prune lemons to promote fruiting, so the only pruning needed is to tidy the plant, trim it to shape, or remove dead growth.

Espaliered lemon, Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore

If you did want to get busy with the secateurs, lemons make a good espalier subject. These on the sunny south-facing wall of Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore.

A warning: there will be pests. Green or black sap-sucking aphids may attack new growth through the warm weather and citrus leaf miner will put silvery trails through leaves in summer and autumn. Squish the aphids and control leafminer with sprays of Eco-oil or Pest Oil. Scale might get a hold if the tree gets water-stressed, and this can cause a cascade of problems. The scale produces honeydew, which in turn causes sooty black mould and attracts ants. The ants protect their honeydew feast by protecting the scale against predators. To avoid all this keep the tree sun-drenched and regularly watered and fed. If scale attacks, Eco-oil or Pest Oil will deal with all but a major infestation, and if ants are a problem, smear a barrier of Vaseline around the trunk. But don’t get fixated on potential problems. The minimal effort demanded is more than compensated for by the pleasure of sunshiny lemons all through winter.



Reasons to love that stinky fungus

The fungi are fruiting. In the mountains to our west and south, saffron-coloured pine mushrooms are popping through the fallen pine needles, promising great fry-ups. Less deliciously, in my own garden, smelly, slimy red stinkhorns are making their eerie, oozy appearance. I also have brown, earthstars, well-camouflaged atop the mulch.

Fungus Geastrum triplex by Alison Pouliot GEA8315

This is an earthstar, Geastrum triplex, captured by Alison Pouliot, as its most fresh and charming. As it ages the creamy bottom crisps and curls up ,making it look more star like.

Other gardeners might notice the red, starfish-shaped sea anemone fungus, Aseroe rubra, which was the first fungus described in Australia. That was back in 1792 and we’ve barely touched the surface since. Dr Brett Summerell, director of science and conservation at the Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands, has long had an interest in mycology, the study of fungi. He reckons that a square metre of well-mulched garden is likely to be home to hundreds, and possibly thousands, of species of fungi, the vast majority unknown to science. If you fancy naming things as a personal legacy, mycology is the place to be, with an estimated 90 per cent of species yet to be named. (And here’s a tip if you’re heading that way- unlike the rest of us mycologists pronounce fungi with a soft ‘g’, as in elegy and long ‘i’ as in ice. Both pronunciations are correct, but ‘funjeye’ is like a secret handshake among experts.)

Fungus Aeseroe rubra by Alison Pouliot

This is the starfish fungus, Aseroe rubra, photographed by Alison Pouliot. The black gooey slime is the stinky bit which attracts the flies and ants.

Our level of ignorance about fungi is surprising given how reliant we are on these organisms for our survival. “They break down organic matter, build the soils, and create the nutrients which feed the plants,” explains Summerell. “Mycorrhizal fungi also have relationships with flowering plant roots, extending the plant’s ability to extract nutrients and water from the soil.” By providing a basis for plant life, fungi provide for us.

Fungi are also the reason we are painfully shifting gears away from fossil fuels. Back in the old days, some 300 million years ago, fungi started evolving enzymes that could break down lignin, the ‘glue’ that helps hold trees together. That meant that the huge deposits of carbon that over time became oil and coal were no longer laid down. Depending how you look at it, by making fossil fuels a finite resource, the fungi either saved our future, or ate it.

And while in the mood to marvel, consider that the world’s largest living organism, known as the Humungous Fungus, is a single colony of Armillaria solidipes that covers 9.6 square kilometres of the Malheur National Forest in Oregon in the US, and is somewhere 1,900 and 8,650 years old. Armillaria solidipes is typical of the two-faced nature of fungi. It can be a tree pathogen – the Humongous Fungus was identified as the culprit in a mysterious and massive epidemic of dieback in the forest – yet it’s also known as the honey mushroom, and is edible, as long as it’s cooked.

Some gardeners worry about the stinky fungi and spooky earthstars in their gardens and want to know how to get rid of them. There’s no need. They are signs of biological good health. Ignore the smell, and the flies, and instead admire, photograph and study the pop-ups and give yourself credit for producing healthy, fungus-rich soils.

Photos on this post are by fungiphile photographer Alison Pouliot. Join her in workshop introducing the Curious Kingdom of Fungi in Albury on May 9,12 or 14. 


It’s time to

Buy plants
Maureen Martin and Keith Smith propagate plants to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. They have a big sale tomorrow, of more than 300 varieties from abutilons to zebra grass. 45 Parklands Avenue, Lane Cove North, 10 am to 4pm. More: thepropagatinggardener.com.au

Divide aggies
Clumps of agapanthus that are outgrowing their spot can be divided now. If the clump becomes overgrown, the tangled mass of roots make it very difficult to shift, but if you do it reasonably often it’s a much easier job and they’ll flower better for not being squeezed.

Book Bowral
Bowral’s autumn garden weekend features six cool climate gardens and a plant fair at the new Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens. It’s on next weekend, April 23 and 24. Find garden details and buy tickets at www.shbg.com.au

Plant bulbs
Try freesia, jonquils, lachenalia and ipheion in a sunny spot in pots or garden beds. Wait until the weather is colder before panting out tulips or hyacinths.

Other people's gardens

Gardening boosts wellbeing – who knew!

Gardening is good for mental health. To gardeners this is as obvious as a flowering daisy in a well-tended lawn, but scientists have now added evidence to match our personal experience. They have found that gardeners generally have greater life satisfaction, enhanced self-esteem, and fewer feelings of depression and fatigue than non-gardeners.And lest you think that simply shows that people who feel good, garden, a further study demonstrated that pottering about in the garden reduces stress following a stress test more effectively than relaxing in a chair inside with a book, or doing an indoor exercise class.

That last bit is important because it suggests that gardening’s mental health benefits aren’t related to exercise endorphins, but just to being outside growing things.

It’s these latter mood enhancers that lure nurseryman Tim Pickles into the garden after a working week spent talking plants and gardens at his eponymous garden centre in Campbelltown. “I need to plant things and look after them,” he says. “It makes me feel better. You can feel the stress leave your body. Even when it’s work, and trimming that hedge is work, the sense of satisfaction when it’s done makes it worth it.”

Tim Pickles garden

The hedge screens off the neighbours, but opens up to views of bucolic countryside. The daylilies planted here with bronze phormium are mown to the ground when they finish.

The hedge in question is 100m of Waterhousia floribunda, a handsome native with a weeping foliage habit and coppery new growth that Pickles first admired 20 years ago, hedged on either side of the tollbooths on the M5. His hedge provides the privacy Pickles craves around his five-acre property in the hills behind Camden, where he has planted more than 100 trees, mostly deciduous, to create a park-like space that is always changing in form and colour. The most recent addition is a fast-growing Brachychiton ‘Jerilderie Red’, planted in response to the news that a neighbour a kilometre away is building a house. The tree, 8m high and 7m wide, with stunning bell-shaped red flowers through summer, will neatly hide the distant house and maintain Pickles’ sense of being surrounded by nature.

Creating and maintaining this garden is stress relief, satisfaction and joy for Pickles. And he’s keen to share gardening’s good effects, so this weekend Tim’s Garden Centre is again participating in RELEAF. This is a Garden Centres of Australia initiative to encourage people into the garden for better mental health and to raise money for Beyond Blue.

Tim Pickles in garden

Tim in his cactus garden with one of the magnificent heirloom pumpkins his young son has been growing in the paddock, and which he gave to me. I plan to admire it for quite a bit longer before I cook it.

“I was surprised when we were involved in RELEAF last year to find how many people who came to the nursery had had been touched by suicide in their family or friends,” he says. “What we did meant a lot to those people. It’s not hard to help and that’s why we’re doing it again.”

‘Something Blue’ is the theme this year, and as well as a wide range of blue plants for sale, shoppers should expect staff in blue wigs and blue hats. Different garden centres are arranging different events; Pickles has organised experts in backyard chickens, backyard bees and balcony bonsai. The plan, he says, is to extend the range of reasons people might find to get into the garden and discover its benefits, no matter the garden’s style or size.

Tim Pickles garden

Beautifully pruned Chinese elm in Tim’s garden, with that Waterhousia hedge, bronze flax and masses of ‘Wavy Navy’ aggies.

RELEAF is at participating garden centres on April 9 and April 10. More: www.releaf.com.au

It’s time to

Buy something unusual
Collectors’ Plant Fair offers rare, unusual and unfashionable garden treasures from more than 70 specialist nurseries. April 9 and 10, Hawkesbury Race Race Club, Clarendon, tickets at the gate $14 on Saturday, $12 on Sunday. More: www.collectorsplantfair.com.au

Botanical art
Acknowledging the 200th anniversary of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney this year’s Botanica exhibition has a focus on the native plants of Sydney and those that arrived with the early settlers. All works are for sale. Saturday April 9 – Sunday May 1, 10am – 4pm, Lion Gate Lodge, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, free entry.

Divide daisies
Shaggy white perennial shasta daisies are finished for the year. Trim them back, and if necessary lift and divide the clump, repeating it elsewhere in the garden, or sharing with friends.

Sow pea seeds
Climbing types offer bigger harvests than bush types, but do require a trellis or other support. Add a handful of lime to compost-enriched soil and direct sow seeds thumb-deep.



Rock star of bonsai

Pavel Slovak is a ‘rock star of bonsai’, according to Leigh Taafe, Curator of the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia. Czech-based Slovak has been a full-time professional bonsai stylist for more than a decade and was in Australia recently for Bonsai Week at the National Arboretum in Canberra, giving a one-off performance.

Bonsai is the art of growing miniaturised trees in pots or trays. It developed in Japan around 800 out of the older Chinese art form, penjing. Where bonsai manipulates individual trees to express their character, age and dignity, penjing has a focus on the creation of landscapes, many of which refer to literature, art and recognisable places of renowned beauty.

National Bonsai and Penjing Collection

The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia, which is maintained and displayed at the National Arboretum, features works by local artists using Australian natives as well as traditional exotics. Some 80 works are on display at any one time and each bears close examination.

Small-leaf fig bonsai

My attention is first drawn to a small-leafed fig, Ficus obliqua, in an inconceivably shallow tray, with aerial roots hanging beneath a dome of neat foliage. Twenty-six years after its training began, it has started to develop the majestic tangles of a mature banyan. At the back of the space a blue cedar, Cedrus atlantica, twists like a calligraphic poem, trimmed foliage on one side balancing the sweeping curves of trunk on the other.

Atlas cedar bonsai

I’m admiring a miniature forest of melaleuca, bark peeling like pink tissue, when the buzz from inside indicates Slovak has arrived.

Tonight he is going to work his magic on a shaggy 30-year-old Juniperus procumbens. Slovak’s bonsai style is based on the trees he admires trekking in the mountains near his home. He’s looking to accentuate the existing dynamism of the tree and to frame it with negative space.

A good bonsai, says Taafe, will look good from all five sides, the points of the compass and the top, which should offer a view of a circle, showing the plant perfectly balanced. Watching Pavel at work is like watching a sculptor working with stone or wood, exposing something hidden in the raw material. He cuts and trims and twists copper wire along the branches to conform them to his vision.

Pavel Slovak at work

Form appears out of the chaos as foliage gathers at his feet. More than two hours later, with almost 80 per cent of the foliage removed, he is done. The shaggy mop has been transformed into a tree of great character, with a split, twisted trunk and a gnarled, storm-tossed form.

Bonsai by Pavel Slovak, photo by Jack Mohr

Thanks to Jack Mohr for this photo of the finished bonsai.

A Canberra local paid $1100 in the subsequent auction to take Pavel’s work home and it was clear everyone else was happy to take home inspiration. The rock star’s work fetched the highest price, but the most frenzied bidding was for a woolly Japanese pine that had this audience itching to get their fingers on some scissors.

Bonsai tools

The best way to learn bonsai techniques is to join a local club. Find one through the Association of Australian Bonsai Clubs.

See some more of Jack Mohr’s work

Other people's gardens

Charlie Albone goes to Chelsea

Landscape designer Charlie Albone has just shipped three big bluestone slabs to England. Originally part of a solid 19th century Melbourne bank, in May the slabs will form part of the water feature at the back of Albone’s garden design for the Chelsea Flower Show.

It will be Albone’s second attempt at winning a gold medal at Chelsea, and it’s not going to be easy. The bid to turn gardening, surely the planet’s least competitive activity, into an Olympics-style competition forces Chelsea’s Royal Horticultural Society judges to be hawkishly pedantic. Albone’s slip-ups last year: “I had written in my brief that the garden was to be enclosed by a hedge, but my hedging plants didn’t have enough leaves to enclose the garden,” he explains. “Also some lighting points needed to be better hidden, a few plants were in the wrong place…”

Charlie Albone Chelsea 2015

Here’s Charlie in his Chelsea 2015 garden, sponsored by Husqvarna, suited up for judging.

In the vein of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, within a month of his silver-gilt disappointment, Albone had decided to return to Chelsea. Partly he says, it’s the highly competitive sliver of him that wants that gold. “Also it’s fun. There’s a great atmosphere for the 21 days of the build and the show, and you get to design and build what you want.”

Charlie Albone garden Chelsea 2015

My favourite part of Charlie’s Chelsea 2015 garden was the water feature, which seemed in inhale and exhale as it filled and drained away. A little too quickly to be as moving as it could have been, but it had to be fast enough to catch the crowd’s attention.

Like the 2015 garden, this year’s design presents the garden as a place of emotional healing. “I have a busy life, with tv [Albone is a presenter of Selling Houses Australia], two young kids, a business, and Chelsea, and my own garden gives me a lot of support. Being in the garden settles me and I wanted to show that.”

Support: The Husqvarna Garden is imagined as a garden for a busy professional couple. An entrance flanked by mature banksias leads to a sunken lawn, backed by water falling silkily over those bluestone slabs. The lawn will be fringed by purple, white and pink perennials spiked with acacia, protea, and dark purple leucadendron.

The perennials will be sourced in the UK, but the Australian and South African plants are grown in nurseries in Spain, and Albone spent a speedy four days at the end of February visiting 14 nurseries to choose the individual plants. By April 30 when they head to the competition the team of eight will have gone over every detail of the build, because nipping down to Bunnings for something you forgot is not an option.

This year Albone reckons the hot competition will be from two-time Best in Show winner Cleve West; Dairmid Gavin, whose work inspired Albone to take up a career in landscape design; and James Basson, whose ‘Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse’, for l’Occitane, was Albone’s favourite from the Chelasea 2015 line-up show. [You can read more about that garden and the Best in Show for 2105 here.]

Chelsea 2015 James Basson

James Basson’s gorgeous 2015 landscape for L’Occitane was, A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse.

It’s three years since Melbourne landscape designer Philip Johnson won a gold medal and Best in Show at Chelsea, the first time for an Australian designer.

Philip Johnson Chelsea 2013

In case you’d forgot, this was Philip Johnson’s winning garden. If you ever get a chance to listen to him tell the story of the win, grab it.

Consequently it was the first time in living memory that gardening took up front page space on Australian newspapers. Albone is keen that an Australian presence continue at Chelsea. “Our quality of design and tradesmanship is excellent and I think it’s important that’s represented on the world stage,” he says. Yes, but can he deliver garden-lovers another headline!

It’s time to:

Pick a free tree
The City of Sydney is giving away 1000 free trees to residents of the City of Sydney next Saturday, March 12 at Sydney Park. There are small medium, deciduous, evergreen, native and exotic choices. Take a rates notice or driver’s license to prove your bona fides. The giveaway starts at 10am and lasts only til the 1000th tree.

See roses
Goulburn calls itself the City of Roses and boasts more than 8000 named roses in its public gardens alone, as well as its own rose, ‘City of Goulburn’, a floribunda with scallop-edged apricot blooms. The city’s annual rose festival in on March 12-13. Details: www.goulburnrosefestival.org.au.

Volunteer for Vaucluse House
Vaucluse House is looking for new garden volunteers to maintain and develop the gardens, in particular the heritage kitchen garden. Volunteers work every second Monday 9am-1pm. Here’s the application information.  Applications close March 14.

Get to the Fair
Lanyon is an historic homestead and garden on the southern outskirts of Canberra. In autumn it plays host to the Canberra Plant Fair. This year more than 30 stallholders will gather on March 12 and 13, from 10am-4pm. More: www.hsoc.org.au

Other people's gardens

Stringybark Cottage

As a measure of how much a cool climate aesthetic pervades ideas of the garden consider this: of the eight private Australian gardens featured n Phaidon’s massive account of worldwide gardens, The Gardener’s Garden, only one can be found north of Canberra. The single standout from the temperate and sub-tropical climes is Stringybark Cottage, home to New Zealand-born garden designer and horticulturist Cheryl Boyd. Surely Stringybark is not the country’s only impressive warm-climate garden but it certainly deserves its spot in the parade.

Stringybark cottage

Boyd has carved the garden out of towering stringybark and tallowood forest in the Noosa hinterland, not far from Eumundi. In keeping with traditional landscape approaches, the garden is quite formally arranged around the house. Borders wrap around a lake-like lawn that gives out through curved low hedges and an archway to garden rooms and a wilder garden beyond. Here formality melts into the forest so that the borders between garden and bush become invisible. What looks like wilderness is revealed as an artfully edited clearing, where bleached wooden chairs, made from wood harvested on the property, have grown lichen and scales. Stories told around the fire pit seem to have seeped into their skin.

Boyd is an endless experimenter with plants, mixing textures and colours to create arresting and original combinations. At the back of the house a scramble of white bougainvillea weeps and twists like bridal finery over the stiff bold form of red-backed alcantera. In the shade tassel fern and electric ferns offer a lacy counterpoint to the bold, almost plastic perfection of anthirium flowers. A favoured groundcover combination is deeply pleated and variegated pilea (sometimes found in Sydney garden centres as an indoor plant, but reliable outside where there are no frosts) with burgundy-tipped bromeliads.

Stringybark cottage, alcantera and bougainvillea

Her artist’s eye extends beyond the planting and layout to sculpture that makes clever use of found objects. A giant disco ball made from collected sticks is suspended from trees in front of the house; a twig tepee glitters in occasional sunlight through the trees; and an old truck cable winds like a diamond python up a trunk. There are cairns of stones on stumps, and garden archways made from the prunings of the crepe myrtles.

Stringybark cottage

It’s a garden of magic, surprise and beauty, and as a bonus it has one of the best-looking pools I’ve seen in a private garden. Irregularly shaped with a sand-coloured surround that gradually deepens, and a rock-marked paddling area, it is the antithesis of the glaring aqua rectangle. The pool is backed by the impressive silver fans of Bismarkia plams, a great match for the driftwood-grey Adirondack chairs by the pool edge.

Stringybark cottage

 I’ll be talking to Boyd about the garden, her sculpture, and how well her plant choices translate to Sydney gardens at Collectors Plant Fair on Sunday April 10, Hawksesbury Racecourse, Clarendon. Tickets, $35, www.collectorsplantfair.com.au.

Stringybark Cottage, anthirium and ferns