Other people's gardens

Disobedient gardens

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

Garden by Michael Cooke

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

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

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

Garden by Michael Cooke

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

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

Garden by Michael Cooke

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

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

Garden by Michael Cooke

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

It’s time to

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

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

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

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

 

Standard
Other people's gardens

Cool climate treats

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

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

Toona sinensis, Chinese cedar

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

Tulip tree, Liriodendron

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

Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'

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

Garden seat

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

 

It’s time to

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

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

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

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

 

 

Standard
Other people's gardens

Big ideas for small gardens

I can’t win – this weekend there’s no gardening in Spectrum because there’s too much advertising! So this week’s dose of gardening life comes from the current issue of Garden Clinic and it offers a few suggestions for making the courtyard a more satisfying space. If this seems like just the thing you need to find out more about, you’re in luck. Next Saturday, November 12, Richard Unsworth and Linda Ross are holding a workshop on using pots and plants to create creative small outdoor spaces at Garden Life in St Peters, 11am-2pm. It’s free for Garden Clinic members (sign up here) and $65 for non-members, including refreshments. Book on 1300 133 100.

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Nicholas Watt

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Nicholas Watt

Big ideas for Small gardens

Courtyard and balcony gardens are less forgiving than suburban gardens. A big garden can ramble a bit, drawing you past a bit of a dead patch with the lure of the something great glimpsed just around the corner. But in a small garden everything is on show, all the time. So those tired potted plants that have outlived or outgrown their containers nag us with their sad faces. The impulse purchases pile up near the tap or the back door in a dispiriting way; the paint chipping off the furniture has turned from rustic to ruined. There’s nothing for it, but to start again with a fresh eye and new inspiration.

For most of us a small garden makeover won’t mean changing anything expensive, like the flooring or walling of courtyards and balconies, but simply re-dressing the space with new plants, and perhaps some new containers, a fresh coat of paint, and a cushion. For inspiration we turned to Richard Unsworth, whose design business, shop and book, all called Garden Life, are a storehouses of great ideas for small spaces. See how you can work a few of his top tips into your own small garden space.

Keep it simple

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Paul Sinclair

Photo by Paul Sinclair

Simple works best in a small space, says Richard Unsworth. This courtyard is about eating outdoors, and the black and white tones of the dining table and chairs are echoed in courtyard floor and in the black and white pots and hanging lanterns. The space is completely engaging, with something to look at on all levels, from the shadows cast by the kentia palm on to the floor, to the hanging pots and lanterns and the big-banana-like leaves of giant strelitzia overhead.

Scale it up

Garden by Garden Life, photo by Nicholas Watt

Photo by Nicholas Watt

Richard reckons the number one mistake that home gardeners make in putting together a courtyard or balcony garden is in choosing small features to fit the small space. Small plants and furniture only make the space appear smaller he says. Instead, he advises, make a big gesture. Use a couple of big pots with big plants to give the space structure, then fill in the structure with smaller pots. Also consider how are you going to use the space. Do you need a table and chairs for dining, or could you eat inside and use the space for an outdoor lounge or one really great chair? Once you have the structure sorted, balance the hard and soft elements, making sure that there is not so much hard floor, wall or pot surface that the space feels unwelcoming. Use hanging or climbing plants to soften walls, and trail plants over pots to soften their edges.

On this terrace, the custom-made planters are scaled up. The central planter is large enough for a pair of mature dwarf date palms, two prized sculptures and supporting planting. In cylindrical pots of matching colour cloud-pruned junipers offer a contrast of shape and texture.

Show off

Garden by Garden Life

Small spaces look best when there is a certain amount of coherence and repetition in the materials and the plants used. But where does that kind of discipline leave us plant lovers! We know that the mass of little pots featuring our current treasures looks a bit of a mess. And yes, it’s hard to look after and a nightmare to sweep!- but we can’t help our urge to collect and our need to nurture. The solution, says Richard, is a display table. A handsome, or suitably rustic, table can be used to create an ever-changing display of treasures: plants we have recently fallen in love with; much-loved sculptures; a few precious rocks or shells or other found objects. A display table solves the collection problem – it looks good, is fun to arrange – and is easy on the back.

This is an especially stunning display table, anchored by the antique Sri Lankan brass ornament whose arching shape is mirrored in the frame of flowering star jasmine curving around an arched French door, but the idea – a careful composition of pieces and plants to nurture and love – is one that is easily replicated at home.

 

Mix textures

Garden by Garden Life

Too many different materials and plants crammed into a small space is dizzyingly busy, but the strict minimalism of all-matching pots and a limited plant palette is dull. Richard advises a careful blend of textures to keep everything balanced but interesting. Choose plain containers as a base –perhaps matte dark lightweight and cheap fibreglass – and contrast them with a few unusually shaped terracotta pots and perhaps a striking bronze or ceramic container filled with something eye-catching. Likewise put some coherence into structural or screening plants, then mix up textures in the rest of the planting, contrasting soft and hard, filmy and sharp, big and small.

The different textures of grey pots, side table stools and sofa cushions form a harmonious background against which the textures of succulent, strappy and bold foliage plants stand out, complemented by coloured soft furnishings and the sheen of a burgundy ceramic jug. Geo screens hide the car space and the neighbour’s wall in this inner west terrace courtyard.

5 great plants for balconies

Big:
Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ is a popular choice for small gardens, but beware – these evergreen beauties don’t like living in a pot for long. Better long-term choices are citrus and olives.

Shady:
Sanseveria, (let’s not call it mother-in-law’s tongue) – is great value in shade. ‘Mason’s Congo’ has big fat speckled leaves; S. stukyii has long cylindrical spires of grey-green leaves; and ‘Silver Sword’ has striking blue-green foliage.

Hot sun:
The rush-leafed bird of paradise, Stelitzia juncea, is hardy in a really exposed spot, including blasting westerly sun. It tolerates dry spells and general neglect and only needs to have the faded flowers removed.

Hanging:
Rhipsalis, donkey’s tail sedum, purple or variegated tradescantia, and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’ are all good hanging from pots to curtain a wall, or trailing over containers to soften the edges.

Climbing:
Chinese star jasmine, Trachelopsermum jasminoides, is hard to beat for wall covering as it takes full sun or full shade, is covered with foliage from top to bottom and has flowers too.

Standard
Other people's gardens

Gardening for good

I love the way gardening connects us to the past, to the generations of gardeners who have also found pleasure and satisfaction in growing things and making gardens. Of course it also connects us to our own past, and gardeners find they need that connection , even, or especially, when they no longer have a garden of their own. I was struck by the way that we will find a way to garden, somehow, when I met the volunteers who look after the garden at Lindesay in Darling Point, which is owned by the the Women’s Committee of the National Trust. Here’s the story I wrote for Spectrum about the garden:

You have to crouch down a bit to get the full effect of the views from Lindesay as they would have been when Campbell Riddell built his harbourside Gothic Revival villa at Darling Point in 1834. Stand tall and a conga line of tradie trucks, parked in the lane that has truncated the sloping lawn since early in the 20th century, are a visual intrusion. But get into the right position, one of the handily placed, black-painted ironwork benches will do fine, and you can link the lawn to an imagined set of stairs headed by a pair of impressive agaves, and conjure yourself into 19th century Sydney’s high society.

Lindesay, Darling Point

Volunteer gardener Ros Sweetapple is showing me around. Sweetapple started gardening at Lindesay in the early 1960s. The property had recently been willed to the Women’s Committee of the National Trust and the plan was to recreate a garden setting for the villa that was reminiscent of 19th century gardens. An English oak was planted as a symbol of ‘home’ for the first lady of the house, Caroline Riddell. A hoop pine was added to acknowledge the place of native auricarias in 19th century horticultural fashion and the central lawn sweeping down to the view was edged with other plants on the era’s must-have lists.

Lindesay, Darling Point

Ros Sweetapple gets to grips with the buxus.

Sweetapple jokes about having been closely supervised in the early days, and only allowed to trim the parterre with ‘nail scissors’. She also recalls visits made to Rookwood cemetery to collect cuttings of old roses so as to fill Lindesay’s beds with authentic 19th century plant material.

By 2014 the attempt to make a 19th century garden in the 21st century was failing and the focus on authenticity in plant material gave way to something far more elusive, a bid to recreate the sense of pleasure that being in the gardens at Lindesay had always provided; to offset the house and the views – without replicating a 19th century plant palette.

Lindesay, Darling Point

Partly this change had to do with pragmatism. Like all National Trust properties Lindesay has to sing for its supper. The weddings, functions, fairs, photo and film shoots that pay its way, all demand a garden that looks good every day of the year. To make it happen the mature plantings stayed but everything else went. Sydney-based garden designer, Christopher Nicholas, devised a planting plan that is modern, has references to the past and looks very good in a wedding photo. Flowers flush throughout the year, mostly in subtle blue tones, and never in enough chromatic dazzle to disrupt the tapestry of silver, blue and purple foliage that supplements the background greens, and complements any bridal party.

The team of volunteers keep it in great condition with five hours help a week from a professional, Nicholas Ball of Avant Design. Visit to see a precious slice of Sydney’s domestic history, and to nab some inspiration for textural planting in Sydney’s modern domestic gardens.

Lindesay, Darling Point

Lindesay is open to visitors on the first Thursday of every month except January, and its famous Christmas Fair is on November 17, 18 and 19. 1 Carthona Avenue, Darling Point.

It’s time to

Check the mulch
Use an organic mulch to reduce annual weeds, slow evaporation from the soil and maintain a more constant soil temperature. The ideal depth is about 50mm. Any deeper and water is prevented from reaching the soil and plant roots, any less and the benefits are missed.

Prune abutilon
Flowering slows in late spring and this is the best time to prune for a thicker shrub or to trim to fit the space.

Last chance
Florilegium: Sydney’s painted garden finishes its run at the Sydney Museum this weekend. The exhibition features botanical illustrations by internationally renowned artists of significant plants in the living collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. 10am -5pm, $12.

Feed the lawn
Use a lawn food to nourish new growth, water in well, and raise the blades on the mower a few notches to allow a longer leaf to shade roots over summer and prevent scorched patches.

 

 

Standard
Ooralba, design by Hugh Main
Other people's gardens

The most innovative gardens in NSW

What are the most innovative gardens designed in NSW since 1980? Architect and writer Howard Tanner had the opportunity to explore this interesting question for the State Library of NSW. Tanner’s answer, a survey exhibition called Grand Garden Designs, is a contemporary companion piece to the library’s extensive and fascinating Planting Dreams exhibition, which documents 200 years of garden-making in Australia.

In compiling his selection Tanner talked to garden makers, designers and garden lovers, then criss-crossed the state to see the gardens himself, before pruning the list to 22. Nicholas Watt, Jason Busch, Sue Stubbs and Murray Fredericks then photographed the gardens over the spring and summer of 2015. The State Library has acquired more than 600 images of the gardens to add to its collection of garden photography and to preserve this moment in NSW garden history.

The hermitage, design Daniel Baffsky, Photo, Sue Stubbs

The hermitage, design Daniel Baffsky, Photo, Sue Stubbs

Visiting a garden is a total sensory experience. You don’t just see it, you hear it, smell it, feel it and experience it changing in time, even if only moment-to-moment. So a still image, no matter how beautifully framed and lit, is only ever a snapshot, a suggestion of what you might experience in the real thing. To overcome the limitations of viewing gardens in a gallery, the exhibition offers multiple ways in – through images on the wall, large back-lit projections, more images on interactive computer screens, Tanner’s excellent catalogue, and a short film of interviews with some of the garden-makers.

Horse Island

Horse Island, design Christina Kennedy. Photo: Jason Busch

Most of the gardens featured are private, and most have the expansive space – and budget – to create a big vision, such as the recreated subtropical forest and botanical ark of Sea Peace, outside Byron Bay; the natives-only garden on Horse Island in Tuross Lakes; or Peter Fudge’s grand re-imagining of Hadrian’s Villa in hedges at Tobermorry in Moss Vale.

Tobermorry, design Peter Fudge, photo Jason Busch

Tobermorry, design Peter Fudge, photo Jason Busch

Some of the gardens invite you to look out at the view, such as Hugh Main’s garden at Ooralba in the Southern Highlands, where mounded, jelly-like lumps of clipped eleagnus echo the line of the mountains on the horizon. Others enclose you in their arms and ask you to stay awhile, like Michael Cooke’s Wirra Willa on the Central Coast where a boardwalk winds through only slightly gardened bushland, and a pavilion sits over the lake.

Wirra Willa, design by Michael Cooke

Wirra Willa, design by Michael Cooke, photo Murray Fredericks

Public gardens are a vitally important part of any snapshot of our garden life in the early 21st century as private gardens shrink along with the time to make and maintain them. Tanner has included the atmospheric Paddington Reservoir Gardens, designed by Anton James in 2009. Here two sunken courtyards complement a Gothic architectural space, one a lawn dotted with eucalypts, the other with a dark rectangular pool surrounded by banksia and tree ferns.

Paddington Reservoir

Paddington Reservoir, lead designer Anton James, photo Jason Busch

In his catalogue essay Tanner identifies influences on contemporary designers from the rich textural plantings of Piet Oudolf, the clipped forms of Nicole de Vesian, and the spatial relationships of Japanese design. He also notes a renewed appreciation of Australian natives and a desire to create spaces to show off sculpture. For me, though, the take-home message from these inspiring and innovative gardens is the way in which they fit their space, expressing that age-old idea of the garden, the genius loci, the spirit of place.

The image at the top of this post is Ooralba, designed by Hugh Main, photo by Murray Fredericks.  The exhibition runs until january 15, 2017 at The State Library of NSW. Entry is free.

It’s time to

Tidy bottlebrush
Trim finished callistemon flowers to promote a bushier plant and more flowers next year. If the bush has been neglected and is looking straggly, you can cut it to the ground and let it start all over again.

See art deco
Mahratta is one of few remaining gardens in the Sydney area designed by Paul Sorensen, a leading designer of the early 20th century. The garden surrounds a wonderful Art Deco house, now owned by the School of Practical Philosophy. It’s open this weekend, October 22-23, 10am-4pm, $5, $10 including a tour of the house. 25 Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga.

Feed the lawn
Apply a complete fertiliser, according to pack directions, and water in well.

Talk with Costa
ABC Gardening Australian host and educator Costa Georgiadis is a passionate advocate for gardens and their ability to create connections within communities. He’s talking ‘Gardening for our Future’ at the State Library of NSW, November 12, 2-3pm, $20. Bookings: www.sl.nsw.gov.au/whats-on

 

 

Standard
In season

October 18

In now: Early-season peaches are being picked in Queensland. Not all the early-ripening, low-chill varieties have great flavour. Let fragrance be your guide.

Hard to find: We are entering the annual lemon and lime drought, when our favourite tart juicing fruit are in short supply. Gardeners may still have lemons lingering on the tree, but soon most of those available in shops will have flown here from the USA. Limes will be back in late summer.

Best buy: Green or purple kohlrabi are a crunchy addition to a salad.

In the vegie patch: Plant tomatoes in a sunny spot with rich, compost-enriched soil. Stake or provide other support. Feed often and water regularly.

What else:

  • Last of the blood oranges. Make a final granita, or freeze the juice for Campari and blood orange cocktails on summer evenings.
  • Broad beans are at their best, and cheapest.
  • There are some bargain pumpkins round too, so make the most of roast pumpkin now before it gets too hot to turn the oven on.
  • It’s the worst time of year for tomatoes so punnets of cherry tomatoes are the best option.

 

Standard