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.




6 thoughts on “Cool climate treats

  1. Veronica Rickard says:

    Hi Robin, I love living in the Southern Highlands and also visited many of the gardens, from the formality of James Fairfax’s Retford Park to small suburban gardens. All of them had something to offer.
    I was also impressed by the beauty of the Chinese Cedars I saw, but was warned that they sucker so probably better suited to larger properties.
    Thanks for your column, I enjoy reading it each week.

    • Robin Powell says:

      Hi Veronica
      On tour with Ross Garden Tours in Victoria last week, one of the group brought up the Toona suckering problem with super plantsman Stephen Ryan, as we were admiring the lovely toona floating pinkly by the side of his house, surrounded by the subtropical-looking foliages of cordylines and tree ferns, which made it look even more exotic than usual. Stephen shrugged and basically said that’s what spades are for. Certainly there are suckering plants in my garden I put up with for the upside – crepe myrtles and brugmansia spring to mind!

  2. Graham and Robyn Fairbairn says:

    Hi Robin,
    We have a lovely tulip tree growing in our garden in Gerringong.
    Planted ten years ago, it is now about ten metres tall. It gives us beautiful shade in the summer, and, being deciduous lovely sun in the winter. The striking flowers have appeared for the past two or three years before the new foliage. It is great to light it for Christmas.

    • Robin Powell says:

      Well Gerringong is hardly cool climate. That sets the wheels spinning for the next time I have a tree planting opportunity!

  3. Anne Herlihy says:

    Dear Robin, Because of your more helpful hints and Stephen’s sarcastic ones I am hoping I will now remember Toona (tuna) and not pink cedar or Tree of Heaven!!! First saw them in Tasmania in the 70’s and have continued to enjoy them in our Blue Mtns and Sthn Highlands in fact saw some stunning ones in Berry this year where in some gardens they had been allowed to sucker and provided a stunning scene.


    • Robin Powell says:

      For those readers who weren’t with Anne and I on a Ross Garden Tours trip through the spring gardens of regional Victoria last week, you missed a beauty! But let me fill you in about the tuna. We noticed from the bus the floating pink leaves of the Toona sinensis as we drove through villages around Daylesford, but most were having trouble remembering its name. When we had a chance to get up close I pointed out that the colour was not too dissimilar to sashimi tuna – Toona/tuna – easy to remember!

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