In late March, we had a short minibreak for a few days to celebrate my friend’s birthday and revisit Victoria, our first trip back in three years! We crossed the Snowy Mountains through Dead Horse Gap, stopping for a picnic lunch on the upper reaches of the Murray River at Tom Groggin (first photo) and a spectacular view of the western fall of the Main Range at Scammell’s Lookout (second photo).By late afternoon, we reached our first destination, The Witches Garden, deep in the Mitta Mitta Valley (http://thewitchesgarden.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/TheWitchesGarden-Brochure.pdf and http://thewitchesgarden.com/). I had wanted to visit this garden for years, as the owners, Felicity and Lew, grow many herbs and medicinal plants. It’s a delightfully informal spot with many interesting corners and features, including a Lake and Monet Bridge, a Gallery, full of Felicity’s beautiful oils and pastels, a huge covered Vegetable Garden and a Witches’ Cottage, of course, complete with an extensive collection of broomsticks, lots of dust and cobwebs and a weird and wonderful assortment of magical accoutrements! We particularly loved the Parterre Garden with its Islamic design, its bright colours and all its arches covered with huge old climbing roses and the blowsy, romantic and informal Flower Garden, overflowing with bright colours and Autumn abundance. I was able to identify my Clerodendron bungei, which I grew from a cutting from my sister’s garden (first photo below) and was happy to see that the Abutilon (second photo below) could still be grown in a frosty climate. The chooks and dogs accompanied us on our rounds, then we had a long chat to Felicity and Lew at the end. They very kindly gave us some seeds for orange cosmos (second photo) and the delightfully named Polygonum, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate (third photo).The next day, we visited the Bendigo Art Gallery to view the Marimekko Exhibition, which proved to be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable gallery experiences we have ever had. See: http://www.bendigoartgallery.com.au/Exhibitions/Now_showing/Marimekko_Design_Icon_1951_to_2018. The bright colours and bold designs of the huge fabric panels, clothing and homeware were wonderful! Being three weeks in for a three month exhibition, there was only a small audience and having booked a one-hour time slot, we were able to take our time and really appreciate it all, revisiting each section at least three times. We were also allowed to take as many photographs as we liked, so long as we didn’t use a flash, an added bonus! I adored these two panels!After lunch, we visited Frogmore Gardens (https://www.frogmoregardens.com.au/), an amazing boutique mail order nursery at Lerderberg in the Central Highlands of Victoria. Their perennial display gardens are only open in Autumn from the 9th March to the 30th April each year and are well worth exploring! The Sunset Borders were jam-packed with dahlias and zinnias, calendulas and yarrow, coreopsis and rudbeckias, and celosias and lobelias, with tall red hot pokers, cannas and verbascums at the back. The garden beds were bursting with colour: hot oranges, rich golds and bright reds, which contrasted well with the purple self-sown verbena, the formal green hedges and paths, and the serene backdrop of the Wombat State Forest behind. The Bishop’s Border was a study in deep purples and velvety reds, soft pinks, blues and mauves with berberis, amaranth, dahlias, zinnias and asters. I was quite taken with the Succisella inflexa ‘Frosted Pearls’. The ethereal Pale Garden was dedicated to white and lemon blooms: Gaura and white Cosmos and Centaurea americana ‘Aloha Blanca’, Beach Sunflowers Helianthus debilis ‘Vanilla Ice’ and a variety of asters and gysophila. The informal Prairie Garden was just wonderful and full of beautiful wavy grasses and structural teasel! The owners, Jack Marshall and Zena Bethell were so generous with their time and chatted with us long after closing time! For more about this beautiful garden, please read: http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-cornucopia-of-colour/9435514.
The following day, after a quick visit to the inspiring and highly imaginative and creative Winterwood (https://www.winterwoodtoys.com.au/), where I investigated the different types of Steiner wool felt and drooled over the toys, books and other craft supplies, we celebrated my friend’s birthday with an equally inspiring visit to Alowyn Gardens (http://www.alowyngardens.com.au/).
I adored this place from its long shady Japanese Wisteria arbours (first photo above), formal Parterre (second photo above) and French Provincial Gardens (third photo above) to its Prairie Display Gardens, Birch Forest with its underplantings of bulbs, cyclamen and hellebores and succulent dry creek bed, and beautiful perennial borders, as can be seen in the photos below! There’s Birthday Girl, blending in with the amaranth! However, the highlight for us was the bountiful Edible Garden with avenues of olive trees, underplanted with rosemary; quinces (first photo below) and persimmons; apples and pears; and crab apples, including the gorgeous Golden Hornet (second photo below), sunflowers (third photo above) and fantastical gourds; and vegetables of every kind, including some rather stunning Royal Purple and Danish Jester chillies. Here are some more photos of the entrance area.The next day was a planthunter’s heaven with a driving tour of the nurseries beyond the Dandenong Ranges. First up, a visit to the wholesale tube stock nursery, Larkman’s Nursery (http://www.larkmannurseries.com.au/www/home/), which fortunately sells to the public through the mail order nursery, Di’s Delightful Plants (http://www.disdelightfulplants.com.au/), from which we purchased a range of tiny lavender tubestocks, future parents of lavender plants for our future Lavender Bank: English Lavender L. angustifolia ssp angustifolia; and Dwarf English Lavender L. angustifolia ‘Hidcote’; French Lavender L. dentata ‘Monet’; Mitchum Lavender L. x allardi and a range of lavandins: L. x intermedia ‘Grosso’, ‘Seal’ and ‘Super’.It was wonderful to acquaint ourselves with all the nurseries in this area, as we had missed out on them during our time in Victoria as we were renting at that stage, so gardening was not on the agenda! We called into my favourite source of bulbs, Tesselaars (https://www.tesselaar.net.au/); the Wishing Well Nursery (https://wishingwellmonbulk.wordpress.com/) and Yamina Rare Plants in (http://www.yaminarareplants.com.au/) before finishing the day with an interesting visit to the Salvia Study Group Display Gardens at Nobelius Heritage Park, Emerald.And then, it was homeward bound, calling into the wonderful rambly Jindivick Country Gardener Rare Plant Nursery, at Jindivick, south-west of Neerim South, en route (http://www.jindivickcountrygardener.com.au/)! Specialising in rare plants, David Musker and Philip Hunter will be moving the nursery to their home at the beautiful Broughton Hall nearby. See: http://www.jindivickcountrygardener.com.au/broughton-hall/ and their Instagram photos at: https://www.instagram.com/thegardenatbroughtonhall/.
As they share my love of Old Roses, I will definitely try to visit their garden on the Melbourne Cup weekend one year, when the Old Roses will be in full bloom! David suggested we pop in to say hello to Stan Nieuwesteeg of Kurinda Rose Nursery (http://www.warragulgardenclub.com/339592389), just to the south at Warragul (photo above), but unfortunately he was not there, though we did enjoy looking at his selection of potted roses. My birthday friend had recommended a sidetrip to Mossvale Park, between Leongatha and Mirboo North in South Gippsland (https://www.visitpromcountry.com.au/attractions/mossvale-park), so we stopped there for a picnic lunch. This beautiful park contains some of the oldest and tallest elm trees in the Southern Hemisphere (photo above) and its sound shell (photo below) makes it a popular music venue. There is a list of all the park trees at: https://www.visitpromcountry.com.au/uploads_files/mossvale-park-2.pdf and the photo of the park board below lists the significant trees. Fortunately, we only had one overnight stop at Marlo on the mouth of the Snowy River, a wonderful spot for birdwatching and a definite return visit one day! The photos below show the mouth of the Snowy River, where it enters the sea, and the East Cape of Cape Conran, just to the east of Marlo. It certainly was a lovely mini-break away to recharge our batteries and discover some beautiful Autumn gardens! Next week, we are back to my craft book library with a post on some of my favourite paper-craft books!
Another old-fashioned plant, which is very fashionable at the moment, and is a stalwart of country shows. Growing dahlias can also be quite addictive!!!
I remember visiting two elderly spinsters in their 80s, who lived with their brothers on their family property, just north of Guyra, New South Wales. The ‘boys’ had extensively cleared the farm of every little single tree, so much so that the paddocks looked like a dry crater on the moon! One of the sisters did all the cooking for the family, as well as feeding the chooks, bottle-feeding all the abandoned lambs, and caring for injured animals rescued by WIRES. We were treated to a magnificent afternoon tea of three different types of cakes, as well as freshly-baked scones and cream, biscuits and lamingtons, which we ate in the dark, poky kitchen with a joey in a sling on the back of a nearby chair. Apparently, this spread was standard fare for the boys, hungry after a morning’s work on the farm. She also cooked meals for the brother in town, whose wife had left him, and one of the ‘boys’ would drive the meals the half hour to town every afternoon. The only time this wonderful old lady ever left the property was Show Day, when they would all go to town to see how her sister’s dahlias had fared. The gardening ‘outdoor’ sister not only grew the family vegetables, but also had the most wondrous collection of dahlias of every type and colour in a neat patch next to the bedlam of the chook yard, full of random, makeshift wire enclosures for the poultry. It was an amazing sight!
Another wonderful place to see dahlias in all their glory is ‘Country Dahlias’ in Winchelsea, Victoria, as seen in the photos above and below. For their catalogue, see : http://www.countrydahlias.com.au/. Jenny Parish has over 20,000 Dahlia plants of 2350 varieties. You can visit the farm from 1st March to 22nd April each year, as we did in March 2013. ($7 per adult; closed Fridays). There are display beds out the front, trial beds out the back and paddocks full of dahlias of every conceivable form and colour – a spectacular sight indeed! Dahlias can also be bought from Tesselaars (see post on Favorite Nurseries : https://candeloblooms.com/2016/03/08/favourite-gardens-regularly-open-to-the-public-nursery-gardens-in-victoria/). Tesselaar’s website is : https://www.tesselaar.net.au/ . Other bulb nurseries nearby include: Club Creek Bulb Farm (https://www.facebook.com/clubcreekbulbfarm/) and Drewitt’s Bulbs (http://www.drewittsbulbs.com.au/). Local shows are also a great place to see the dahlias growing in your area and if you become really hooked, the Dahlia Society of Australia (www.dahliasaustralia.org.au) can direct you to the Dahlia club in your area , as well as alert you to the upcoming Dahlia conferences and tuber auctions. These photos are from the 2015 Bega Show. Dahlias can be found in many historic or old gardens like Rippon Lea, seen below. For more on the latter, see my post : https://candeloblooms.com/2016/02/09/favourite-gardens-regularly-open-to-the-public-historic-homes-and-gardens/
I was not surprised to discover that there was a Portland Dahlia Society, as there is a wonderful display garden of some very old varieties in the Portland Botanic Garden, seen in the photo below. Some of the varieties were as old as 1857! See my post on Late 19th Century Botanic Gardens: https://candeloblooms.com/2015/11/05/favourite-late-19th-century-gardens-in-australia/. Description:
Dahlias are bushy herbaceous tuberous perennials with a huge variety in size (from 30cm up to 1.8m), type and colour. They have lush foliage with pinnate leaves of a variety of greens and even dark foliage like the red ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, a chance self-sown seedling from the 1920s garden of Cardiff grower, Fred Treseder; or the burgundy flowering Mt. Noddy with its chocolate foliage. My ‘Ellen Huston’ dahlia also has wonderful dark foliage. Sometimes the buds look positively metallic after rain! The flower colour varies from burnt red or scarlet to a softer red.
Flamboyant, showy and long-flowering, dahlias bloom all Summer and Autumn from November to May. There is a huge variety of forms including : Single; Cactus; Laciniated; Ball-shaped; Pompom; Waterlily; Peony; Collarette; Stella; Orchid; Anemone; Baby Dahlias; Decorative and Novelty. See:http://www.dahliaworld.co.uk/dahlia.htm for more information about their classification. Colour ranges from yellows, golds, oranges, reds and burgundy to pastel pinks, purples and whites, but there are no green, blue or black ones!
Phylogeny : Dahlias belong to the Daisy family Asteraceae and are closely related to Daisies, Sunflowers, Crysanthemums and Zinnias. There are 30 species and 20,000 cultivars. They were bred from single species dahlias : D.coccinea; D. Rosea and D. Pinnata and named after the Swedish botanist Andreas Dahl (1751-1789). Famous breeders include : John Menzel (Winkie Dahlias); Keith Hammett from New Zealand; Jack Gott from Britain and the Verwer brothers from Holland.
Origin : Native to Mexico and Central America, dahlias were imported to Western Europe by the Spanish.
Growing Dahlias :
While some sources state : ‘full sun’ as a requirement, the Dahlia Society of Australia advises that the best position is one with morning sun and afternoon shade, probably because our Australian sun can be so strong in Summer and burn the blooms. They do grow well under filtered light and under 2.4m high shade cloth eg White and Sandstone 50 percent cloth.
They also like a moist, rich, well-drained soil. Dahlias are very sensitive to too much or too little water, so good drainage is essential. They prefer a soil pH of 6.5-7. I also read that it is important not to water the dahlia tubers until their stems are 15cm high. Dahlias are greedy feeders, especially in the warmer months. Organic sheep or cow manure should be dug into the ground 2 weeks before planting. Do not use poultry or pig manure, as it is too strong for the developing root system. Fertilize in Spring, as well as in the warmer months, with a balanced fertilizer with a ratio of 8:4:8 for Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous. Do not use too much nitrogen as this will encourage leaf growth and less blooms. Weak weekly applications of a seaweed based formula (for example, watered down Seasol) are beneficial for root development and serious growers use small amounts of sulphate of potash and sulphate of iron to encourage strong growth, vibrant colours and more blooms. Some swear by water-soluble tomato food. An 8cm layer of organic mulch will also prevent water loss and protect the tubers. Many of the larger varieties will need staking to support the lanky stems, especially with the weight of the flower heads. Tie the stems to canes with twine or use a metal cradle, trellis or tomato hoops. It is important to put the stake in before planting the tubers, so they are not damaged. Pinching out the young growth will also produce a sturdier plant. It takes 8 weeks between planting and flowering. The Dahlia Society of Australia suggests planting tubers 2 weeks either side of Melbourne Cup Day ( ie 1st week in November), when the soil temperature is rising and there is no danger of frosts. In frost-free coastal areas of Queensland, dahlias can be planted in September. Exhibitors often plant in December for a March flowering to escape the heat in time for their show circuits.
Dahlias make excellent cut flowers. There is no need to bash the ends or plunge stem ends in boiling water. Just put cut dahlias straight into a bucket of water as you cut them, then recut their ends on a diagonal and arrange in a vase of water with added preservative. Cut blooms last well- at least a week- and water should be changed every 3 days and the stems recut.Dead-heading spent flowers on the plants will encourage the formation of more blooms and extend the flowering season. Make sure to cut the flowering stem right back where it joins the main stem.
The more compact varieties can be grown in pots with an underskirt of lower growing plants.Cut dahlias back to the ground in late May or early June. If the soil gets wet in Winter (risk of rot) or frosts are severe, or you need the space for Winter and Spring annuals, lift the tubers and store them in the shed in a shallow box covered with cane mulch or potting soil to prevent them from drying out, then plant them out again in September or October. Alternatively, wrap the lifted tubers in newspaper and check occasionally for rot. Otherwise, leave them in the ground and protect from light frosts with a heavy layer of mulch.Propogation : Dig up and divide every 3-5 years, so they don’t get overcrowded or produce less blooms. Dig up in September before they start shooting. Divide into portions, each with a part of last year’s stalk attached, otherwise they won’t regrow. Replant in soil with lots of compost and decayed manure. Make sure you put your stake in first before planting the tuber portion. Smaller tuber divisions develop roots quicker than larger pieces. Place the tubers horizontally 10 cm deep and 50mm away from the stake with the eye higher than the tail. The Dahlia Society of Australia website gives detailed information on planting tubers. Below are photos of my dahlias : ‘Meadow Lea’ a Waterlily-type Dahlia and ‘Ellen Huston’ (red), a decorative type.Dahlias can also be propagated by cuttings of the young shoots in Spring. These cuttings develop very quickly into new plants, which are often stronger and healthier than those grown from tuber division. They can also be grown from seed and the offspring often look nothing like their parents. It’s a great way to develop new varieties. To save seed, remove the dead petals of the spent flowerhead to reduce the risk of botrytis, then when the flowerhead is dry, remove the mature seed and plant the following Spring. Pests and Diseases : Snails and slugs like the fresh shoots in Spring. Two-spotted mite can cause leaf distortion. Other pests include : thrips and aphids; white fly; cut worms and meal bug, but generally dahlias are pretty healthy. They can also be attacked by powdery mildew. Viruses can stunt the plant and distort leaves, but unfortunately, there is no cure and infected plants should be removed.
Tree Dahlia Dahlia imperialis
Another stunning dahlia, which is huge and a very dramatic addition to the garden. Native to Mexico, Central America and Colombia, it is hardy to Zone 8, though for longest flowering, it is best grown in frost-free climates. Description : The tree dahlia is a herbaceous perennial 3 – 5 m tall with thick, hollow, bamboo-like stems, a large tuber, large bipinnate leaves and pendulous clusters of single lavender flowers with yellow centres in Autumn and Winter. There are single purple, pink and white varieties and a double white form is also available. The tubers can be bought from Diggers’ Seeds or Yamina Rare Plants. The butterflies and bees love the flowers! They flourish in most areas from the subtropics to cold regions.Growing Tree Dahlias :
They are easy to grow and propagate and very fast growing, as you will have seen in photos of my plants over the last year. Real Jack-in-the-Beanstalk type plants! They grow best with the support of a wall or fence and may need staking as their brittle stems easily break in the wind. Nylon ties are good because they stretch as the plant grows. Nipping out the tips when the canes are 1m high will result in a shorter plant, which is more resistant to wind damage. For a more compact plant, prune the soft new growth by a half to a third in early Summer and shorten 20-30cm shoots to 10cm. However, I love the appearance of the pendulous blooms and looking up into their sunny soft lavender faces ,which stand out against the deep blue sky. The little buds are so sweet!
Like all dahlias, they love a sunny spot with rich well-drained soil and shelter from wind and frost. They prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.1-6.5. Despite their propensity to wind damage and the fact that they flower late Autumn in the very last frost-free week of the season, hence experience a very fleeting flowering season, before crashing to a black mangled mess with the first frost, I still love my Tree Dahlias and wouldn’t be without them- that said, I probably wouldn’t plant them in the first place with our Winter frosts! Last year, they flowered from 15-26 May, being hit by the first frost on my Mum’s birthday! But their blooms are so pretty and silky and their fragility makes them even more special!!!
Prune the canes in Winter back to almost ground level and cover well with 8-10 cm compost or manure, then mulch for frost protection over Winter.
To propagate, take a piece of stem with one, preferably two nodes, and plant horizontally in the ground 20cm deep in Winter. They can also be propagated by taking tip cuttings in Summer, transplanting intact tubers or seed. It’s that easy! Here are some photos of the growth of our Tree Dahlias over the last 3 months from the end of Spring 2015 through to the present day as seen in my previous blog posts:
No garden should be without at least one Dahlia. We have been enjoying the generous blooms of our dahlias : orange ‘Meadow Lea’ and burnt red ‘Ellen Huston’ all Summer and Autumn long ! I know that I have well and truly caught the Dahlia bug, as I could not wait till next Spring to try out my friend’s Dahlia seeds. I think I might have got away with a late Autumn crop! The seeds struck well and the little plants are positively zooming along, so I really hope that I get to see the flowers, as my friend assures me that the colour combinations are amazing! The photos below show the new seedlings in early March, then the emerging blooms this week.Here is another beautiful water colour from my daughter, a fitting tribute to such a beautiful flower!
Now to some famous old nurseries in Victoria, which are open all year round and sell a wide variety of plants. Next month, I will feature the smaller, more specialized nurseries. I am starting with a very famous name in the nursery world in Australia, that of Clive Blazely and The Diggers’ Club and their two properties : ‘Heronswood’ and ‘The Garden of St. Erth’, followed by ‘Cloudehill’, which opened a Diggers’ shop in 2014 and two of our current suppliers : Tesselaars and Lambley Nursery.
The Diggers’ Club was formed back in 1978, when Clive and Penny Blazely saw a need to preserve and promote heirloom vegetable and flower varieties, which were being dropped from the mainstream seed companies. The name : ‘Diggers’ refers to the 17th Century English diggers who grew food on public land to donate to the poor, as well as the goldrush diggers who rebelled at Eureka Stockade and of course, the Australian soldiers in World War I. Their first mail order catalogue listed 300 varieties of vegetable and flower seeds.In 1983, Clive and Penny bought ‘Heronswood’ on the Mornington Peninsula and developed a 2 hectare cottage garden based on heirloom varieties. They pioneered the use of drought-tolerant plants in 1988 and led the revival of heirloom vegetables in 1991. Slowly, the business grew. In 1996, they opened a thatched roof cafe ‘Fork to Fork’, as well as buying a 2nd Diggers property, The Garden of St. Erth. Unfortunately, the cafe burnt down in 2014, but ‘Heronswood’ now has its restaurant in the historic house itself.In 2007, the nursery, seed departments and office moved to a 20 acre site in Dromana and in 2011, Clive and Penny gifted ownership of the entire operation : Diggers’ Club, Heronswood and The Garden of St. Erth to the Diggers Garden and Environmental Trust, to ensure that all their work over the last 30 years would be continued forever. The trust is involved with research, education and the preservation and conservation of botanical and ecological habitats, historic houses and gardens and heirloom seeds, as well as the promotion of the use of horticulture for dietary wellbeing and health. In amongst all this, Clive has also written 7 books on flower, vegetable and fruit gardening!
In 2011, they also opened their 3rd Diggers shop in Adelaide Botanic Garden, their 4th shop at Cloudehill in April 2014 and their 5th shop at Heritage Nursery, Yarralumla, Canberra, in November 2015. We are particularly happy about this latest development, as Heritage Nursery (http://heritagenursery.com.au/) is one of our favourite nurseries in Canberra and we will now seriously consider rejoining Diggers’ membership, not just for their wonderful heirloom seed range, including their Sun and Moon watermelon seeds, but also the fact that as Diggers members, we get a 10 percent reduction on the price of any future plant purchases from Heritage Nursery!
Diggers’ Club is now the largest garden club in Australia with the biggest range in heirloom seeds and plants. Membership costs $49 per year, with the cost reducing if you sign up for longer. Membership benefits include :
7 Seasonal magazines with lots of gardening advice, including a bumper seed annual for vegetables, flowers and herbs.
Discounted prices on shop products, including collections of plants, seeds and bulbs and books.
Member-exclusive products of rare and extra special plants, seeds and bulbs.
Free entry to the Heronswood, The Garden of St. Erth and Cloudehill.
Free gardening advice from Diggers’ experts.
Free seed offers in Autumn and late Spring, as well as 2 year memberships.
Their current emphasis is on preserving the best plants and gardening traditions for Australian conditions. They are strong vocal advocates against climate change and genetically-modified seeds and food, as well as speaking out against industrial agriculture and the corporatization of our food supply. They are also heavily involved in education from tours of their gardens to seasonal festivals, monthly workshops and special events led by gardening experts. Their wealth of garden expertise listed in https://www.diggers.com.au/about-us/experts/ reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the gardening world in Australia and I recognized a number of names : Andrew Laidlaw from Burley, Tino Carnevale from ABC TV’s Gardening Australia, Indira Naidoo (Ex-SBS news reader and author of ‘The Edible City’), Penny Woodward, writer of herbal books and Robyn Francis of permaculture fame, to name but a few.
Diggers’ website is a mine of gardening information. Their ‘What’s On’ tab includes :
What’s In Season
Garden festivals and gardens to visit
Workshop Events and Master Classes
Little Diggers for Junior Green Thumbs and even
Recipes from the Diggers chefs.
There is also a Plant Finder, which helps you to compile a list of plants, which will grow well in your climatic zone, based on postcode, and which can be narrowed down according to variables like plant height and colour, position and water and flowering, fruiting and sowing times. They also have a number of gardening fact sheets and video tutorials on: Composting; Sowing seeds and planting strawberry runners or garlic; Summer pruning; Growing beans and Espaliering fruit trees. These are all freely available, whether you are members or not. A visit to both their gardens is well worthwhile.
Heronswood Gardens, Nursery and Restaurant
105 Latrobe Parade Dromana Victoria 3936
Open 7 days 9am-5pm. Closed 24-26 December and Good Friday
$10 visitors; Free for Diggers’ members and children under 16 years old; Shop: free entry
The house is now home to Heronswood Restaurant, whose meals are all based on fresh produce, local wines and organic vegetables from their gardens.Heronswood Garden was the first garden in Australia to be certified organic. There are 5 separate vegetable gardens with the best heirloom vegetables for Australian conditions. as well as extensive plantings of flowers in perennial borders, dry climate and cottage gardens and annual gardens. One of Diggers’ trademarks is the integration of vegetables and flowers with fruit trees and herbs. The garden showcases the best flowers and plants for Australian conditions. Different plants provide highlights throughout the year, culminating in a peak in Summer with the Summer perennials and heirloom vegetables.The garden shop sells a wide range of plants : cottage flowers; edible plants; flowering shrubs and cool-climate trees, as well as Diggers heirloom seeds. Current monthly workshops at ‘Heronswood’ include : ‘Summer Fruit Tree Pruning’; ‘Floral Arrangements’ and ‘Growing Your Own Garlic’.
The Garden of St. Erth
189 Simmons Reef Rd. Blackwood Victoria 3458
Open 7 days a week, except 24-26 December; Good Friday and Code Red or Extreme Fire Warning Days. 9am-5pm $10 for visitors; Free for Diggers’ members and children under 16 years old; No charge to visit the shop or restaurant.
In 1854, Matthew Rogers, a Cornish stonemason, left Sydney for the goldfields of Mt. Blackwood, now the village of Blackwood and named after the plentiful Blackwood wattles in the area. Back then, Mt. Blackwood was a bustling town of 13, 000 people and was surrounded by the townships of Red Hill, Golden Point, Barry’s Reef and Simmons’ Reef. In the early 1860s, Matthew built a sandstone cottage, which he called after his birth place in Cornwall. He attached a wooden extension to the western side of the cottage, where he ran a post office and store, as well as the boot factory behind the cottage. As the gold ran out, all the surrounding wooden cottages were moved to Trentham, the sandstone cottage became empty and the bush moved back in, until the land was bought by a group of Melbourne business men called the Simmons Reef Shire Council.The Garden of St. Erth was developed by Tommy Garnett, a former Geelong Grammar Headmaster and horticultural writer and plant enthusiast. He would have had to have been the latter, as back in the 1970s, the soil was very poor due to the heavy gold mining activities of the 1880s. Basically, it was mining rubble! Tommy persisted and established a 2 hectare (6 acres) garden with many rare and unusual plants. He sold to the Diggers’ Club in 1996.The current gardens were designed around the sandstone cottage, which is the entrance to the garden and houses the Diggers’ shop. The colour of the perennial borders complements the golden colour of the sandstone. Heaps of compost were added to improve the soil and intensive French horticultural practices applied to get the maximum productivity out of the small plots of land. Julian Blackhirst is now the Head Gardener.It is a wonderful place to visit with lots of inspirational ideas. There are over 3000 plant varieties, grown in a variety of garden areas, including :
Herbaceous borders of long flowering Summer Perennials and ornamental grasses.
Mature trees including a Monterey Pine from gold mining days. Autumn colour.
Dry Climate gardens with drought-tolerant plants like Achillea, Bergamot, Russian Sage and a variety of Flowering Salvias.
Kitchen Garden containing heirloom vegetables like Tuscan Kale and purple carrots, which are used in the garden cafe.
Food Forest, based on permaculture principles, under a canopy of walnuts, hazelnuts and olives. I love their idea of growing Rattlesnake beans up the stems of corn with cucumbers underneath!
Espaliered pears and apples of over 200 varieties next to the old 1930s orchard at the back of the garden.
Berry arbours grown with sage and rhubarb and finally…
Daffodil paddock, a wonderful sight in Spring!
Again, the emphasis is on educating the public about sustainable gardening and what is possible in the Australian climate. Workshops include courses on growing garlic or herbs and pest-repellent plants; companion planting and crop rotation; and bee-keeping for beginners or urban dwellers. Like Heronswood, there are also garden tours during the week.
89 Olinda-Monbulk Rd. Olinda Victoria 3788
Open 7 days a week except 24-26 Dec and Good Friday 9am-5pm
$10 for adults; Children and Diggers’ members free
Cloudehill is situated on the easterly slope of the Dandenongs at a height of 580m above sea level. It receives 1.25 m rainfall per year, falling in most months, though February to April are the driest months. There is little frost, but it does snow occasionally. The big advantage, compared to the last garden, is its soil, which is deep volcanic loam.
Cloudehill started as a working farm back in the 1890s. George Woolwich cleared the 10 acres of old growth Eucalyptus regnans in 1895 to grow cherry trees and raspberry canes. At the end of the First World War, his elder son Ted built a cottage with Art Deco features and started a nursery on the bottom half of the land. In the 1920s, George’s younger son Jim grew wholesale flowers and foliage for the Melbourne florist market on the upper half. The two brothers bought neighbouring blocks of land and at one stage had 70 acres of land under cultivation. During the 1920s, they also imported plants from all over the world: Beech trees for foliage from England; Kurume Azaleas from the USA and beautiful Maples (1928) from Japan.Ted’s Rangeview Nursery and Jim’s flower farm were very popular between 1930 -1950, but both closed down in the late 1960s. The nursery was sold on as a building block and the nursery plantings converted to a garden by Keith Purves. It is now owned by Mary and Ches Mason and run as a Bed&Breakfast establishment called Woolwich Retreat and Rangeview Gardens.In 1991, Jim died and in 1992, Cloudehill was bought by the current owner Jeremy Francis. He inherited the old 1920s Beech trees, rhododendron hedges, deciduous azaleas and meadows naturalized with bulbs from the 1930s, a good start for a garden. Inspired by the Renaissance gardens of Europe and the English Arts & Crafts gardens, Jeremy developed a wonderful garden and his gardening journey is documented in his book : ‘Cloudehill : A Year in the Garden’ with beautiful photography by Claire Takacs. It is also worth receiving his newsletter. The layout can be seen in the photograph of the official brochure above.Cloudehill has 20 garden compartments, including :
Diggers Shop and Bambouserie with a collection of cool-climate bamboos
Restaurant Walk : the menu of Seasons Restaurant is dictated by the vegetable garden
Commedia dell’arte Lawn with South African bulbs flowering in Spring and Summer
Water Garden with hornbeam hedges, oak leaf hydrangeas and ornamental grasses
The Maple Court with the old maples imported from the Yokohama Trading Nursery, Japan, back in 1928
Warm Border – bright red, orange and gold mixed herbaceous plants flowering from November through to Early March
Cool Border-pastel flowers from Late Spring to Early Autumn
Summer House Garden including English Beech trees from 1928
Quadrangle Lawn with scuptures, topiary and Japanese Botan Tree Peonies
Marquee Lawn for weddings and receptions with a huge old ‘picking’rhododendron
Gallery Walk with art and sculptures, more tree peonies, mixed shrubs and Scotch Briar roses
The Peony Pavilion with hostas, Beech and American Lutea hybrid Tree Peonies
Shade Borders- American Tulip tree, conifers and yews and hydrangeas and camellias
Theatre Lawn, perfect for hosting Shakespearean plays performed by OzAct in the Summer Twilight evenings and backed by a mixed beech hedge of Green and Copper Beeches, planted in 1950s for foliage
Azalea Steps : Deciduous azaleas, Beech and Kalmia
Seasons Glade : Witch Hazels, maples and tree ferns surrounding a beautiful sculpture called ‘The Seasons’ by Leopoldine Mimovich (see 2 photos below)
Upper Meadow full of naturalized daffodils, bluebells, grape hyacinth in Spring and South African bulbs through the Summer
Beech Walk : Copper Beech planted for foliage production in the 1960s and underplanted with bluebells
Lower Meadow: more long- established bulbs and meadow grass, leading to the entrance to ‘Rangeview’ with a huge Magnolia denudata over the entrance. I love Madeline Meyer’s whimsical glazed terracotta figures (see photo below)
We loved our visits to Cloudehill and managed to see it in all seasons. The bones of the garden are very visible in Winter, when cyclamen and hellebores dot the ground and rhododendrons and magnolias towards Spring. The Spring bulbs are spectacular, as are the tree peonies and lilacs in October and the peonies, rhododendrons and peonies in early November. Diggers’ Garden Festival is held in Spring. I love the Warm and Cool Borders in Summer- such colour and abundance! And then, it’s Autumn with all the wonderful colour of Fall.We never got to see the new Diggers’ shop, started in April 2014, but it offers all the same things as at its other stores : heirloom seeds; cottage flowers; edible plants; flowering shrubs and cool-climate trees; books; garden tours and more workshops in crop rotation and companion planting; permaculture; worm farming; composting; backyard chook keeping; pests and diseases; cider making; growing blueberries, herbs, bulbs and Spring wildflowers; pruning and training berries; and growing hedges and topiary.
357 Monbulk Rd. Silvan Victoria 3795
Office Monday-Friday 8.30am-5pm; Plant shop Monday-Friday 8am-4.30pm, weekend and public holidays 10am-4pm; Closed mid December to late January.
Tesselaars is not far from Cloudehill and is another very big player in the nursery and floristry industry in Australia. It was started by a young Dutch couple, Cees and Johanna Tesselaar, who left Holland on their wedding day to settle in Australia in June 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. They first settled in Ferntree Gully and in 1945, they bought a 6 hectare farm at Silvan, which they called Padua Bulb Nurseries. Their first crops were tulips and gladioli.The business grew into Australia’s largest family-owned floricultural operation and is now run by the eldest son Kees and involves 3 generations of the family. Indeed, many of the employees are also successive generations of their families, so there is a strong family tradition at Tesselaars. They also have specialist network subsidiaries and associated companies in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia with 140 growers throughout Australia.Tesselaars not only grows and markets bulbs, but also plants, perennials and cut flowers. The bulbs are mostly field-grown and are distributed to other wholesalers, prepackaged in large amounts for major Australian distributors, as well as being sold by mail-order. They are the largest bulb and perennial mail order company in Australia and have a loyal customer base, including me! I have always bought by bulbs from Tesselaars ever since I had my first garden back in the early 1980s. They also provide excellent notes on growing bulbs, as well as other plants, with your order. There is also lots of information on their website (see their tab : Gardening Resources).Most of the cut flowers are grown under cover. Tesselaars pioneered the use of plastic houses in Australia back in the 1960s. They now have 6 hectares under cover, including the latest automatic and elevated plastic houses, and the most fuel-efficient computerized systems in the world, growing high quality flower crops year round. Flowers are air- freighted and delivered direct to florist shops via the Tesselaar network. They are very commited to the industry and the adoption of new technologies, techniques and plant varieties from all over the world. They are also heavily involved with the both the Nursery Industry Association of Victoria and the Flower Growers Association of Victoria.They hold a number of festivals, especially in Spring. The Tesselaars Tulip Festival was first held in 1954 and is now in its 62nd year. It will be held every day from 10am-5pm from 8th September to the 4th October 2016. Tickets cost $24 per adult and $20 for concession. The entrance fee goes to Red Cross and other local charities. Children are free. Visitors will be able to see more than half a million Tulips, spread over 25 acres – a veritable sea of colour! There are more than 120 varieties of Tulip on display, as well as market stalls, costumes, live entertainment and food. Within the Tulip Festival are a number of special events:
Turkish Weekend 11-13 Sep
Yarra Ranges Week 14-17 Sep
Dutch Weekend 18-20 Sep
Children’s Week 21-24 Sep; 28 Sep-1st Oct
Food, Wine and Jazz Weekend 25-27 Sep
Irish Weekend 2-4 Oct
We enjoyed our visit to the Turkish Weekend in 2007. Tulips originated in Turkey and there is a really interesting book called ‘Tulipomania’ by Mike Dash, which documents their fascinating history and their rise to become the world’s most coveted flower in 16th century Holland. It is well worth chasing up a copy! We thoroughly enjoyed all the market stalls; the Turkish cuisine and Turkish coffee; the Turkish folk dancing, belly dancing and music; the exotic textiles and fashions; and the beautiful marbling and calligraphy. It was great to learn so much about Turkish culture and heritage, as well as explore all the gardens and wonderful bulb displays. There is even a sculpture competition with a People’s Prize.In April (2-3 Apr 2016), there is also a Gardening and Plants Expo, involving more than 40 nurseries and plant growers, with many interesting and unusual plants for sale, as well as talks and demonstrations by some of Australia’s best gardening experts, including David Glenn from Lambley Nursery, which leads very neatly into a discussion of my last garden.
‘Burnside’ 395 Lesters Rd Ascot Victoria 3364
Open 7 days a week 9am-5pm, except Christmas day. Free entrance to the garden and shop
http://www.crisscanning.com.au/Lambley Nursery is owned by David Glenn and his artist-wife Criss Canning and is set round an old bluestone farmhouse in the Central Victorian goldfields, just north-west of Ballarat. It’s a tough climate for growing plants with temperatures ranging from -8 degrees Celsius in Winter to 47 degrees Celsius in Summer and very low rainfall, so they have become experts in dry climate and sustainable gardening.David comes from a long line of gardeners. He was born and raised in Lambley, Nottinghamshire, England (hence the name of the nursery), where his father was a jobbing gardener and one of his uncles a Superintendent of Parks and Gardens, while another uncle ran a nursery. David moved to Australia when he was 21 years old and worked for a number of nurseries in Qld, NSW and Victoria , as well as working as a gardener in Melbourne. He then ran a wholesale plant nursery at Olinda, where he met his future wife Criss in 1989. Three years later, they moved to the 15 hectare property at Ascot. Criss designed the garden around the 19th century house and with her artists eye is responsible for coordinating all the colours, while David reestablished his nursery and does all the mowing, weeding, planting and pruning. He propagates all his own plants from mother stock grown in the garden or trial beds. Many plants are sourced internationally and propagated after exiting their on-site quarantine facility.The big emphasis at Lambleys is on plant selection to suit the climate and the future effects of global warming. Plants are sourced from Mexico, California, Arizona, South Africa, Australia, Central Asia and Turkey, the Canary islands and Southern Europe. All his plants are frost-hardy. The Central Highlands of Victoria experience their first frost in mid-April and their last frost in mid-November.
His other big emphasis is on soil preparation. David cultivates deeply to 15cm with a rotary hoe, then adds 4-5 inches compost, lime and then mulch- a thin layer (2.5 cm) of composted pine bark around each plant. This Forestry waste product is slightly acid, which perennials love, and is similar to Amgrow’s Biogrow Soil Conditioner.
The Dry Garden display beds are so impressive. Not only are the perennial plantings beautiful with interesting forms, colours and textures, but they are tough and are watered by hand only 3 times a year! The soft grey-blue theme provides harmony. Geraniums, salvias, ixias, lavenders, phlomis, euphorbias, eryngium, acanthus and ornamental grasses grow beneath the shade of olive trees.There is also an extensive organic vegetable garden, which feeds 4 generations of the family, and trial beds of vegetable and flowers seeds to determine which varieties are best suited to the climate. Cut flowers include poppies, peony poppies, sweet peas, delphiniums, yarrow, foxgloves, rose campion, lilies and a variety of bulbs.David sells his plants in 10cm pots direct to the public on site and by mail order. He sends out beautiful glossy catalogues of Early flowering Bulbs and Perennials; Winter/ Spring Bulbs and Perennials and a massive seed catalogue for vegetables, herbs and flowers. He also produces a newsletter for exclusive access to rare and new plants; David Glenn’s Garden Notes, which covers a diverse range of topics including self-sown annuals, garden harmony, Arums, the Flora of Turkey and even recipes. He has also produced instructional DVDs titled : ‘Dry Climate Gardening’ (4 DVDs covering each season); ‘Home Grown : An Australian Vegetable garden’; and ‘The Art of Preserving’.
The shop also sells Criss Canning’s beautiful Art cards, as well as her book ‘The Pursuit of Beauty‘, which is now in its 3rd edition and presents many of her paintings from her 2013 exhibition. She is an amazingly talented still life painter, who is often compared to Margaret Olley, in her approach to flowers, ceramics and textiles. She has paintings in the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of NSW, the State galleries in Ballarat, Castlemaine and Cairns, as well as Art Bank and private collections in France, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. Her work can be seen at the Philip Bacon Galleries.