Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Variegated Buxus for Topiary

I am not usually fond of variegated foliage, finding it somewhat sickly looking.  But this variegated Buxus sempervirens has caught my attention.

In Jake Hobson's book  "The Art of Creative Pruning" he shows how it has been used by the French landscape designer Yves Gosse de Gorre in the "Chambre Jaune" at his wonderful private garden, Sericourt, north of Paris
This has got me thinking.  The unusual combination of the clipped golden foliage set against white crushed limestone is fresh and delightful. Our local Mt Buckaroo quarry produces excellent limestone. So I sense a new  project coming on.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What's Blooming This Week?

Known as the Native Cranberry, Astroloma humifusum,  is a  prostrate, mat-forming heath with attractive flowers from December to July.  The flowers, which are often hidden by the foliage,  are followed by small, edible very sweet fruit.  They prove you don't have to bold to be beautiful.  It is also known as the Cranberry Heath.  Though our continuing reliance on these Old World names for Australian plants is a bit irritating, I suppose they are easier to remember than Latin.

This discrete charmer often grows in association with our local Eucalyptus sideroxylon, the Mugga Ironbark, and is found in south eastern Australia from Newcastle through to South Australia.  We are therefore located at the northern and western extremities of its range.

Natural regeneration is resulting in increasing numbers of this plant on the rocky  slopes here at The Drip.  It would be a great addition to The Hill Garden, in the zone which features plants endemic to the Munghorn Gap.  An area of this windy hillside could be developed as a "Munghorn Heathland Garden", featuring the various local "Heaths", such as Epacris longiflora sometimes rather strangely called Native Fuchsia, Melichrys urceolatus - the "Urn Heath", Styphelia tubiflora -"Five Corners" and of course Astroloma.  No doubt there are other local "Heaths" as well.  But wouldn't it be so much better to use the original Australian Aboriginal names for plants such as these?  To see more about The Hill Garden click here

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kangaroo Grass as a Landscaping Plant

In Stefan Leppert's  book  "Ornamental Grasses ... Wolfgang Oehme and the New American Garden" it is claimed that Karl Foerster, the German landscaper who, in the 1930's, pioneered the use of ornamental grasses as an element of  garden design, said that "Grasslich eine Garten ohne Graser" ... "Ghastly is a garden without grasses".


Australian designers have followed this well-established overseastrend and now make extensive use of exotic grasses such as the Japanese Miscanthus and natives such as the Tussock Grass Poa labillardieri in our gardens.  Kangaroo Grass, Themeda australis, with its magical russet seed heads, is not however used as frequently as it should be in our landscaping.  That needs to change.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Best Buxus Variety for Hedges in Australia.

Box, or Buxus, is one of the most useful plants for hedging. It has been used for at least two thousand years and one reason is that rabbits, deer, sheep and cattle won't eat it .  Kangaroos and wallabies will also ignore it.  Magic.  So we spent Australia Day propagating them from cutting. We aim to produce a thousand new plants each year.  We do love Skippy but we also love gardens.  This way we can have both.

There are many varieties of Buxus.  In Australia the most commonly planted varieties are Japanese Box, Buxus microphylla and English Box, Buxus sempervirens.  Of these two, English Box is far superior, requiring much less water.  Unfortunately many Australians seem to prefer to Japanese Box presumably because it is grows more quickly and Australian like quick results.  But in my opinion this is crap thinking.  Not only does Buxus microphylla  require more water, but it will rapidly look very dodgy unless pruned frequently. Buxus sempervirens is slower growing and will look just fine with only one or two prunings a year.  The dwarf form of this, Buxus sempervirens suffriticosa, is best suited to hedges or topiary which need to be be kept very small and very neat.

Another variety, much less common, but worth using is the Balearic Box, Buxus balearica,  native to the beautiful islands of Ibiza, Minorca and Majorca.  As can be seen in the photograph, it has larger leaves than other Box varieties. It is incredibly tough, grows into a tallish tree and handles pruning well so is suited to hedging and topiary.  We have propagated fifty of these as an experiment. They will be planted out into The Horse Paddock as part of our collection of Buxus varieties.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Catmint as a Kangaroo-proof Groundcover

Years ago I split up a clump of Catmint which had been growing in The Old Cottage Garden.  I figured it had grown there for over a century and had survived with no attention so it would be worth trying as a low maintenance ground cover.

I moved it out into the unprotected area of our gardens, planting it along the base of the stone wall in The Forecourt.  This area gets no attention at all, no watering, no anything.  But would our mob of kangaroos and wallabies demolish it?

Well, the catmint is still there.  In fact it has spread and seems happy to colonize this position.  So it can be added to that small list of things that the local marsupials don't fancy. We will now give it a helping hand and split it up, spreading it along the entire wall. The bees and butterflies are loving too and after a summer storm the fragrance is heaven.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Banksia "Red Rover". Someone Stuffed Up.

Banksia "Red Rover", a red-flowered variety of  the well-known Banksia ericifolia, is a relatively recent introduction, having been accepted for registration on  5th November, 2010.  Registration apparently followed  extensive testing since the plants introduction in 2004. But there seems to be confusion about this plant.

The label on this one, bought this week from our local Bunnings, states it will grow to 10 metres tall and the same wide.  That is very large for a Banksia and probably too large for most gardens. But the description posted by Australian Cultivar Registration Authority which I assume was submitted by the original growers, Rod & Robyn Parsons, as part of their application for naming rights, describes Red Rover as a "dwarf cultivar growing to 2 metres".  So someone is wrong. 

This type of confusion is disappointing and will not encourage people to use new Australian plants such as this.  We do have wonderful native plants in Australia and we should explore their use in garden design, but our horticultural industry seems to be a bit slack and lacking in professionalism. The hit or miss approach is not good.  Smarten up please.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What's Blooming this Week?

The Swamp banksia, Banksia robur, is a tough and gorgeous thing.  With over fifty bushes in flower right now in The Water Garden there are blooms at every stage of development from unopened buds like the one shown above through to last season's flowers, now dried but still delightful.
For more on The Water Garden click here

Friday, January 20, 2012

Notes from the Garden Library #32

Sericourt near Paris, created by Yves Gosse de Gorre, is a notable contemporary  garden with a reputation that continues to grow as time goes by. The remarkable topiary, which was highlighted by Jake Hobson in his recent book "The Art of Creative Pruning",  caught my attention so I went online and ordered a book written by the man who created the garden.  

It is in French.  "Sagesse & Deraison au Jardin"  translates according to Google as "Wisdom and Unreasonabless in the Garden."   Right.

But the pictures tell the story.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In the Gully Garden

I have no idea what these flowers are.

But The Gully Garden is full of them right now.  They thrive in the moist, mulchy soil there.

Can someone identify them? UPDATE Jan 24: Nicholas Vale, from Garden Life has identified this as Pratia.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Attack of the Christmas Beetles

Midsummer is "Christmas Beetle" season. They can do enormous damage to eucalypts.  This young Willow Gum, Eucalyptus scoparia, growing on the Eucalyptus Lawn,  was stripped by them in one day.

It seems that isolated trees are particularly vulnerable,  whereas those growing in the forest fare much better.  Is this because one of the predators of the Christmas Beetle, the endearing Sugar Glider, cannot get to isolated trees?   It is thought that this was one contributing factor leading  to ":eucalyptus dieback"  in the New England region.  

We should perhaps seek to ensure that our eucalypts are not put at risk by being placed in isolated positions. Planting stands of trees that are particularly attractive to Sugar Gliders, such as Spotted Gum, Corymbia maculata,  could assist.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From the Kitchen Garden.

We grow a great variety of plums in The Espaliery, including wonderful old European varieties which are impossible to find in the corporate food barns.

Our friend Heinz Thole, a chef of German origin, is staying with us this week and used an eighteenth century, blue-skinned variety of plum to prepare Zwetschgenkuchen, German Plum Cake,  for a yummy Sunday afternoon treat. Here is the recipe he used.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup warm milk (about 110° F)
1-1/2 packages or 3-3/8 teaspoons active dry yeast
2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons of butter
2 eggs
2 pounds Italian plums
1/3 cup Turbinado sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Add a pinch of sugar to the warm milk and sprinkle with the yeast. Allow to sit for five minutes, then gently stir to incorporate any dry particles. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Set aside while you sift together the flour, granulated sugar and salt into a large bowl. Beat butter and eggs into the milk and yeast mixture. Pour into the flour, stirring until a wet dough forms. Turn dough onto a heavily floured surface, kneed lightly into a ball. Place in an greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place for one hour.

Wash and pit plums. Cut lengthwise into halves. If you prefer smaller-sized pieces, continue cutting into fourths. Grease the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking sheet or shallow cake pan. Roll out dough to the size of the pan and transfer to greased pan. Poke several holes with a fork in the dough. Cover the surface with the cut plums. Cut up remaining butter and place on top of plums. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for 15 minutes as the oven preheats to 400° F.

Bake for 25 minutes until plums wilt and pastry is golden brown. Mix together turbinado sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle liberally over plums while warm. Allow to rest 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm. Store leftovers in fridge. 
Makes 20 slices.

For more on The Espaliery, including a list of fruit trees grown there,  click here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What's Blooming this Week?

Hundreds of trees of Angophora florabunda have erupted into white blossom on the hillsides surrounding our valley in the last week.  

Not a spectacular tree, this Angophora does however provide a valuable seasonal food supply to the honeyeaters, including the endangered Regent Honey Eater.  The flowers resemble those of Eucalyptus.
When in blossom they fill the valley with a delicious honey fragrance. Anne Williams, a reader of this blog via Facebook, describes Angophora as "soft, rounded and gentle". What a delightful and appropriate description.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Notes from The Library #31

"The Art of Creative Pruning" is Jake Hobson's most recent book and it is an inspiration.  With the publication of "Niwaki. Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way" a few years ago Jake established himself as a modern day uber-dude of cool pruning.  His second book confirms this. 

Hobson commences his tour-de-force with a quote from rock legend Lou Reed and then moves on to pay tribute to two of the great modern examples of Topiary ... the gardens of Marquessac and Sericourt.  The journey continues with chapters devoted to Cloud Pruning and Organic Topiary, Niwaki and the Japanese influence, karikomi, pollarding, espaliers, pleaching ... it is all here.  And it is all good.

We seem to be amassing quite a collection of books on the art of pruning. This approach to garden design is becoming an obsession. Last week we looked at a recent publication about Nicole de Vesian's sublime garden creations in Provence and by next week I am hoping to have received a copy of a book by Yves Gosse de Gorre, the creator of Sericourt. For a list of books in our Garden Library click here

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pruning our Old Weeping Mulberry

The weeping mulberry in The Main Courtyard has recently been pruned back very hard, revealing the beauty of the trunk and branch structure.

We had neglected to prune this twenty year old tree for a couple of seasons and the huge amount of growth led to it blowing over in late November 2011, a victim of the strong winds we get here on top of The Great Australian  Dividing Range.
Clive and our frequent visitor, Elaine Paton, trimmed it back to a skeleton, propped it back up and hoped for the best.
We weren't at all sure the tree would survive all of this, but it is slowly coming back and looking more beautiful than ever after its ordeal.  As they say "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  For more on The Main Courtyard click here

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pruning Espalier Fruit Trees

The Espaliery is being pruned this week, with a lot of new soft growth being removed.

This is an important part of the midsummer maintainance routine; aiming to thin the canopy, allowing sun in to ripen the fruit and also keeping  the trees to the desired size.

Here Clive is attending to the arch of Beurre Bosc pears. For more on The Espaliery click here

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Progress with Pollarding of the Plane Tree.

Twelve months ago we were wondering whether or not to pollard the plane tree in The Main Courtyard. The tree if left to its own devices would have eventually become too big and be out of scale with the area. To see the posting about this click here

We decided to proceed and got our local arborist to do the job in Midwinter. Pollarding requires technical skill and artistic judgment and we were thrilled with the result. To see the posting on this plus some interesting photos of pollards from around the world click here

And now having burst back into vigourous growth it is looking fantastic; lush and shady and in scale with its surroundings.  Pollarding is in one of the many forms of creative pruning that we are utilizing with  increasing frequency in these gardens.  Given the success of this firstr venture in pollarding we are now considering planting more plane trees in The Main Courtyard.  To see more on The Main Courtyard click here

Monday, January 9, 2012

What's Blooming This Week?

Best known for their roses, the Delbard family have also been breeding dahlias of unparallelled beauty at their nursery about three and half hours south of Paris for over sixty years.

This is a 2010 release, "Canaries", blooming here at The Drip, Mudgee for the first time this year.   

Unfortunately we neglected to stake this huge plant and shortly after producing its first bloom it fell over, snapping the stem at ground level. Damn! The "Manana, manana" approach to gardening does not work.   Hopefully the tubers will reshoot and we won't have lost this treasure from The Cutflower Garden.  For more on The Cutflower Garden click here.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Notes from the Library #30

An idiosyncratic, yet increasingly influential, style of garden design emerged in Provence in the late twentieth century, developed by Nicole de Vesian.  Her passion for clipping evergreen shrubs into intricate designs was influenced by the great clipped box garden of Marquessac in the nearby region of Dordogne. This masterpiece is featured in Stephanie Alexander's delightful book "Cooking and Traveling in South West France."

Nicole de Vesian, who had established a fine reputation as a fashion designer, worked predominantly with the native shrubs of her region ... box, tuecrium, rosemary, lavender and santolina.  She soon established a devoted cult following and her work first came to the attention of the international garden design community in the early 1990's.  Her influence continues to grow with the 2011 publication of "Modern Design in Provence" which we have recently purchased for our library here.
The similarity between de Vesian's approach and the karikomi which I mentioned yesterday and which we are developing as a feature of The Hill Garden here at The Drip is obvious. It seems that the more we develop our personal style, the more we find our inspiration in the great traditions of topiary, karikomi and niwaki.  The common factor running through all these traditions is the use of plant species that are local to the area, and it is this approach which we are now exploring here at The Drip by utilizing local species such as Bursaria spinosa.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Karikomi in The Hill Garden

Karikomi is a form of  abstract topiary practiced in Japan.  The creation of these "blobs" by pruning shrubs is a staple of Japanese garden design.  Karikomi are sculpted, traditionally from azaleas, into asymmetrical, organic shapes, never into perfect spheres as would be more common in European topiary.  The azalea is native to Japan just as Box and Yew, the staples of European topiary,  are native to Europe.  These two great traditions of garden design have both arisen from the use of local species, these native plants being clipped into complex formal compositions which reflect the local landscape.

We have begun experimenting in The Hill Garden with this style of pruning using our local species, Bursaria spinosa, commonly known as Black Thorn.  Bursaria is currently unpopular in cultivation and can be very invasive in disturbed or degraded agricultural land,  forming dense impenetrable thickets. This has occurred here, where Bursaria rapidly colonized the hillside after the removal of blackberry infestations which had previously dominated the area.  We have decided that clipped Bursaria may well be our equivalent to the clipped box and azalea of the Northern hemisphere. Interestingly a nineteenth century name for Bursaria spinosa was "Australian Native Box".

Here Peter Marshal uses mechanical hedge clippers to begin pruning the Bursaria hillside.  It will be fascinating to see how this hill of clipped Bursaria, our local version of Karikomi, develops over the next few seasons.  To see more about our work in The Hill Garden click here

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Giant Sunflowers

Over the years we have grown many different types of Sunflower.  This one which just popped up in The Old Cottage Garden seems to combine the characteristics of several varieties we have grown here in the past.

It is enormous, already reaching almost 3 metres and still growing. This suggests it is descended in part from these Giant Russian sunflowers we grew a few years ago in The Espaliery.  

It has multiple flowers, suggesting it is also descended from these Lemon Queen sunflowers. which we grew in 2007. But where did the delightful two-tone colouration come from in our new giant?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Water is Life.

Summer has arrived at last.  Temperatures are regularly hitting the mid-thirties.  Watering newly planted trees and shrubs is now  a matter of life and death. One day missed can result in disaster.

In 2011 we invested a considerable amount of time and money in new plantings. A Hazelnut hedgerow comprising sixty trees, an advanced and rather expensive American walnut, a Pecan and an English Mulberry were planted in The Nuttery.  We relocated fifteen Silver Birch in The Horse Paddock and replaced a Japanese Maple.  In The Parterre Garden we planted fifty Dwarf Box, Buxus suffruticosa,  and eight climbing Cloth of Gold roses on the pergolas. On The Eastern Terrace a new hedge of one hundred and twenty English Box was planted.  In The Hill Garden we planted new Mt Fuji cherry trees and relocated a Magnolia denudata, three Magnolia grandiflora "Little Gem" and some Camellias into The Camellia Grove.  New grape vines and Crepescule roses were planted along the stone walls of The Old Cottage Garden; in this garden we also planted two Moss Roses, "William Lobb" and "Nuits de Yong" plus a Granny Smith Apple.  In The Old Orchard we planted a Pink Lady apple and in The Main Courtyard dwarf peaches and nectarines were planted in wine barrels. A Chinese Liquidamber, Liquidamber formosana,  was planted in The Water Garden. And a new garden area was undertaken with the planting of Proteas and Silky Oaks The Western Acre near the camping ground next to The Gully.   It was a busy year.

Although we have had significant rainfall recently it would be foolish in the extreme to think this means that regular watering is not necessary; this is a common error and results in many deaths.  The routine of weekly watering must be continued through midsummer, regardless of rainfallfor the first two years after planting.  In heatwave conditions even more regular watering is often required  These new plantings will therefore require careful attention until the summer of 2013/14To see more information, including complete plant lists, for these garden areas at The Drip, Mudgee click on the links above.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What's Blooming This Week?

These huge lilies in The Parterre Garden are the undoubted stars of the week.

Each plant is  two metres tall and carries over a dozen intensely fragrant blooms.  The bulbs have multiplied slowly over the years and we now have four of these spectacular beauties.

But what are they called?  Unfortunately we have no idea!  Help please

For more on The Parterre Garden click here

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Compost - Everything Old is New Again.

Waking up early on this New Year's Day I decided to spend the day spreading compost.  

All the weeds and spent plants and clippings and prunings that had accumulated in The Old Cottage Garden over the last year, have by now transformed into dark, sticky, moist compost, warm and sweet.  

Returning this to the soil, bringing new life to our garden beds,  seemed to capture the spirit of the day very nicely and a perfect way to start the new year. The cycle starts afresh, the future of our garden built upon the past. Happy New Year.