It’s official! We have now lived here for exactly a whole year! It has been such an exciting time establishing the garden and learning all about our new climate, birds and local environment. We celebrated by purchasing a beautiful gardenia – a plant whose scent we have always loved and which we didn’t think we would be able to grow in this climate, but we have planted it in a pot beside the house in a slight shady position, which the nursery lady assures us should give it a measure of frost protection. Hopefully, she’s right!!! It’s certainly worth a try, as it is one of our favourite plants! We also had a superb first anniversary feast tonight- delicious salads, garnered from our vegetable garden, and featured in my next post on Thursday.
This post is a bit of a mix- a review of what has worked well or not quite so well; ideas and plans for the future; and finishing with an in-depth look at the first of our monthly feature plants, the agapanthus, which was the dominant plant on our arrival one year ago and an all-time Summer favourite!
We have been really happy with the general garden design. Even though it faces east, with trees on the northern side, creating Winter shade, the site is beautifully protected from strong winds and the soil is superb – a mix of basalt and fertile river loam (with lots of iron from the old blacksmithing days!). It is a real boon to start with established mature trees, which provide a framework to the garden and give pointers for future plantings. Sadly, we did have to remove the beautiful she-oaks last Winter as they produced too much shade and even though it was difficult at the time, we are really pleased we did! The new boundary fence has also been a great addition, as not only does it delineate boundaries, it has protected the bamboo from the horse next door, provided a solid backdrop to the buddleias, especially when they are pruned in Winter, and given us much needed privacy on that narrow side of the house. It should weather to a grey colour and will soon be covered by honeysuckle and woodbine.
Apart from our severe Winter frosts, shade and sun are the biggest factors, which we have to consider in the garden. We did make a major blue at the start by digging up the two beds on the northern side of the path- they are shaded by the boundary trees in Winter, thus delaying our growing season. However, it did mean we had to establish the other 2 beds on the southern side of the path much sooner than we might have. And the no-dig method worked well for the 2nd cutting garden, eliminating much of the digging, though we will have to do a final dig now to ensure all the grass roots have gone.
We were particularly pleased with the Soho and Moon Beds, which work really well and have looked great all year. All the smaller plants (Bearded Iris, Verbena, Flowering Sage, Lavenders and Catmints) have established well and complement our beautiful Soho roses, which have taken on a new lease of life. We do have to continue the brick edging round the rest of the Moon Bed, as well as doing the same on the Soho Bed and Cutting Garden, as it makes the edging much easier to maintain. The brick paths are also very useful in both the Soho Bed and Cutting Garden, apart from the fact they we have to pull out the odd weed and they provide homes for the snails! But also the Blue-banded Bee I might add!! We do need to discover a cheaper source of bulk mulch for all the garden beds.
The white hedge behind the Soho Bed is growing well with the Philadelphus having tripled in size. We urgently need to construct 3 wooden arches (one at each end of the path and one at the shed corner), as well as the Main Pergola to support the climbing roses.
We did have a few problems with the strike rate of the seeds we sowed in the cutting garden. We still have to get used to managing the annuals and bulbs together. We may yet sow all our seed in pots before transplanting to the garden, except for the ones that prefer to be planted in situ and do have a good strike rate eg Poppies. The dahlias have been fabulous- abundant flowering and excellent growth. I’d like to plant another 2 dahlias on the opposite corners of the path. The bulbs also provided a terrific display, even though the anemones disliked the shadier end of the garden. I was particularly impressed with the tulips! It will be interesting to see how they perform this year, having been underground for the whole Summer. The cornflowers were disappointing, as they required staking, and the strike rate of the bupleureum, foxgloves, cosmos and nigella was poor, but the latter two shouldn’t be a problem after this first season! However, the poppies and peony poppies, the calendulas, the zinnias and even the stock (despite its late entry) have been very impressive! It has been fabulous being able to step out into the garden to pick bouquets for the house!The vegetable garden has also been a great success, despite the 28 spotted potato ladybird larvae, which decimated most of the foliage; the cabbage moth, which attacked all our brassicas; and the fact that we are still learning what to plant when! The raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb and black currant have grown well, sending out lots of fresh shoots and canes. Unfortunately, one of the blueberry bushes died, but the remaining one is doing well. And the asparagus has been slow, but is flowering at the moment, so hopefully it will establish itself over time. We are still working on the tomatoes- they have been affected by grubs too, but nothing eats the pumpkin, nor the rainbow chard! The latter is definitely worth growing, along with the purple cabbage, for its colour alone, and the sweet peas, although late, have really progressed and look so pretty in the vegie garden, as well as smelling divine! The sunflowers have also been show-stopping and flower very generously! Here are some photos of our Summer harvest :
1st photo : Dutch Cream potatoes, variety of lettuce leaves, rocket, tomatoes, capsicum and sweet peas for tonight’s first anniversary feast
2nd photo : All washed with basil and parsley addedThe rose hedge behind the vegetable garden also smells wonderful, although there is a little too much shade from the white mulberry tree, whose branches we may have to trim back further still.
The established fruit trees have also been a great success, with 3 types of plums, 2 apples and the White Mulberry, all of which we have used to make jams, jellies and pies. I’m looking forward to the new citrus trees developing- they all need weeding, manure, blood and bone and mulching. The passionfruit has also been eaten badly- I suspect the grasshoppers! We are still getting to know all our pests! Having said that, I love watching all the birds and butterflies that visit our garden!Now to the rest of the garden!
Back of the house :
The Cecile Brunner arch is a great addition to the front gate and already the climber has reached the top of the side frame, and when fully grown, will shield us from the view of the old house opposite, as well as affording more privacy to the guest bedroom. The multigraft camellia, the Winter honeysuckle, hellebores and violets provide a wonderful and long-lasting display all Winter, although the daphne’s flowering season is a bit short! The Mondo grass provides an excellent low maintenance edging, but the ivy requires constant vigilance and the cement path gap needs filling.Side Path :
The Banksia pergola has also been a great success and the Banksia rose is well and truly recovering from its drastic prune last year and is already providing a measure of shade to the outdoor eating area. The May bush and buddleias have also responded very well to their Winter pruning. The rose cuttings from our old garden in Armidale have taken well and will be planted out next Winter.The herb pots have been wonderful and we have enjoyed their use in cooking, as well as for pesto and mint jelly.The acanthus provide a dramatic low maintenance cover against the house and I love the peaceful corner under the maple tree with the statue, violets and wind flowers. The Blue-tongue lizard enjoys the sunny sheltered corner provided by the geranium pots. The mosaic stepping stones look great, as if they have always been there and probably always will!!!Front Terrace :
The climbing roses against the front of the house have grown and flowered well, but urgently need their training wires. The native bed in the tank was not successful- I think that there was too much straight sand. The crowea died and the other plants have failed to thrive, so we will transplant them to the native area and maybe turn the old septic tank into a shallow pond with a protective grid cover. The fine bamboo looks beautiful, but the large bamboo suffered last Winter and will need chopping back and rejuvenating. The agapanthus bank recovered well after the severe Winter frosts and has provided another magnificent low-maintenance Summer display. We will definitely be looking after the cliveas this year, now that we know where they are! And the hydrangeas are as big as ever and obviously loved their heavy pruning last Winter. The bergenia edging on the path has worked well.Fernery :
Not as successful as we would have liked. We suspect that area still gets too much sun, especially damaging on those 40 degree days! So we plan to move the fernery onto a shadier area close by, under the loquat trees. Eventually, we hope to have a large rainwater tank in this corner. We will also have to protect the new Wheel of Fire and NSW Christmas bush from the early Winter frosts.
Old Shed :
Most of the old-fashioned roses planted so far have grown and flowered well, though some are a little slower. This Winter, we plan to plant out the remaining gaps with the rose cuttings struck last Winter. The tree dahlias will need heavy mulching as well to protect them from the frost, but even though they are so seemingly fragile and succumb so easily, their dramatic displays make them worth keeping and they do keep coming back every year, so they are not that much effort!I would love to plant Albertine against a rose trellis the length of the shed back wall, where it will look stunning each year. We also want to construct an entrance arch for 2 yellow Noisettes next to the cumquats. And I still hope to find my Golden Hornet crabapple, which I will plant in line and next to the Gorgeous variety, which we were mistakenly sold! Ross has found the stink bugs on the cumquat trees a bit of a challenge, so will spray the trees with Eco-Oil this Winter and investigate a pyrethrum spray for next Summer. We will also have to research organic controls of the 28 spotted potato ladybird larvae, cabbage moth and grasshoppers.
While I have been writing this review, I have also been writing a separate list of all the garden tasks, which need to be done and it’s a long one!!! But that is what is so great about having our own garden again. It’s an endless source of things to do, as well as inspiration, pleasure and enjoyment, and we love it! Finally, the promised description of our first monthly feature plant!
Agapanthus (also known as African Lily, Lily-of-the-Nile)
Nothing spells Summer as much as a cool sea of blue agapanthus, with the odd white one thrown in!
It is the only genus in the subfamily Agapanthoideae in the Flowering Plant family Amaryllidaceae, which is the major group in the Angiosperms and has 79 genera. Agapanthus are herbaceous and mainly perennial and bulbous flowering plants in the Monocot order Asparagales and include : Alliums, Cliveas, Crinum, Galanthus and Leucojum, Narcissi, Hemerocallis, Hippeastrums, Nerines and Zephyranthus.Their name comes from the Greek : αγάπη (agape) = love, άνθος (anthos) = flower.They are native to Southern Africa, but are now naturalized throughout the world.There are six species (though some sources say 10) : A. africanus, A. campanulatus, A. caulescens, A. coddii, A. inapertus and A. Praecox. There are also many cultivars and hybrids of A. Africanus and A. praecox. The most commonly seen species is Agapanthus praecox subspecies orientalis.
They can be very invasive. In New Zealand, A.praecox is classed as an environmental weed. Agapanthus is also considered to be a weed in some parts of Victoria. Therefore, it is best to remove their spent flower heads to prevent seed formation, especially if you are close to native bushland. Better still, plant sterile varieties like ‘Black Pantha’, which don’t set seed.
The perennial Agapanthus grows from an underground rhizome each year. Agapanthus species and cultivars have long, strap-like, fleshy leaves that form dense clumps of evergreen or deciduous foliage. In Summer (November – January), tall stems (up to 1m tall) tower over the foliage bearing large rounded umbels of bell-shaped or tubular flowers, in shades of blue to purple or white. Bold and architectural, their flowering stalks are also simple and elegant. Dwarf and miniature varieties up to 45cm tall also exist.Flowers are sensitive to ethylene gas, so vases should be kept away from ripening fruit. It can last up to 2 weeks in a vase. It means ‘Love Letter’ in the Language of Flowers.
They are propagated by seed or clump division in Winter. Split clumps every 4-5 years for best results. If growing in a pot, use a smaller pot, as they prefer their roots overcrowded. Their foliage forms an excellent groundcover and they can also be used as a low border along a path, driveway or fence.
They are tough and hardy, heat- and drought-tolerant, as well as being very pest-hardy and are tolerant of poor soil, wind and salty air, so are good for coastal gardens. They are very easy to grow and virtually indestructible, except with very heavy frosts. They can be protected with mulch, but they still bounce back as the Summer progresses anyway. Snails like them. They are said to thrive on neglect, but flower far better with full sun, good drainage and regular watering.
Parts of the agapanthus plant are sometimes used for medicinal purposes. Agapanthus contains several saponins and sapogenins that generally have anti-inflammatory , anti-oedema (swelling due to accumulation of fluid), antitussive (relieves or suppresses coughing) and immunoregulatory properties. Agapanthus has been used medicinally for cardiac complaints. In South Africa, its roots are boiled in water to produce a tonic for pregnant women to promote contractions during labour. Expectant mothers sometimes wear charms made from the dried roots to ensure healthy babies.
However, the sap contains substances that can irritate skin or mucous membranes and causes severe ulceration of the mouth. Obviously, it doesn’t worry this little nectar-sucking Eastern Spinebill!My darling daughter painted us this exquisite watercolour of two of our favourite things- flowers and butterflies- to celebrate our first year in our beautiful home. She is so talented and we feel very lucky to be the recipients of such a beautiful gift!