Holly's Autumn 2018 Newsletter
There are certain plants that, for most of us, typify each month of the year, and trumpet the changing seasons. Their appearance assures us that, in the midst of the tragedy and mayhem that seem part of life around the globe at present, beauty and good are determined to flourish. Spring is heralded by the oft-maligned common jasmine: a weed it may be to many purists, but its fragrance is sublime. Then come the wisterias, their flower buds fattening with promise as the weather warms. The bearded iris is the harbinger of summer, and then the gardenias herald the approach of Christmas. Once the falling frangipani tells you that summer is over the camellias have started to bloom, cheering the occasionally dark days of winter.
Welcome, everyone, to my Autumn 2018 newsletter...and to all my friends in the northern hemisphere, I trust you are enjoying the promise of Spring.
My neighbours' 'Crepuscule' continues to flower, teaming beautifully with the underside of her Magnolia 'Little Gem.'
The Tea Roses represent by far the most exciting development in the story of the rose - to my mind at least – as the Tea Rose is a parent of the modern Hybrid Tea. Originally classified as Tea Scented China Roses, the Tea Rose is the result of cross between two of the original four China Roses – 'Hume's Blush China' and 'Park's Yellow Tea Scented China' – with various of the Bourbon and Noisette Roses. Success came first in 1835 with a rose bred in England and named 'Adam.'
Coming from the southern part of China, the old Tea Roses – particularly the climbing Teas - are the roses with which those who garden in the more humid parts of the country will succeed
The beautiful pink to pale yellow 'Marie Van Houtte' is another climbing Tea Rose that doesn't mind humidity, along with the golden 'Lady Hillingdon,' with her blooms that hang down on red stems. As I have explained, the Tea Rose is one of the parents of the Hybrid Teas, the first of which, 'Victor Verdie' was bred in France and introduced in 1859. Anything earlier should, therefore, be classed as an Old Rose, or a Heritage Rose, although the famous Australian rosarian, David Ruston, believes that is too early, choosing to categorise roses that appeared before 1940 as an Old Rose. You see, in plant breeding, and where crossing and hybridization occurs, there are no absolutes!
Camellias have long inspired artists - from the creators of the delicate silk and china paintings of The Orient, to our own botanical artists determined to capture both their strength and delicacy, along with the luminescence of their petals. Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Gem' (pictured here) must surely be the camellia that inspired the Australian artist Paul Jones: the flower is formal, its petals perfectly imbricated, its texture like the complexion of some renowned beauty in literature. It is the ultimate flower to adorn the jacket lapel or evening shirt.
Camellias must be the most versatile of plants, and the most generous. City and country gardens around the nation are alight with this friendly flower for months through autumn and winter, when there is often not much flowering in the garden. They start flowering in March with the likes of that most useful of camellias, C. sasanqua 'Setsu-gekka'- a glorious white with a flamboyant yellow centre - and don't stop until summer is almost here. After the sasanquas come the japonicas, and then the big, bossy reticulatas.
The camellia has been in cultivation in China at least since 500BC, prized for its flowers as symbols of refinement and beauty, the seeds prized for oil for cosmetics and cooking, and the leaves of the sinensis species for tea.
The variety among the three main species of camellia - sasanqua, japonica and reticulata – is vast, offering a camellia for every purpose and position. Use them as a feature tree, as a hedge, or as a 'coathanger' for climbers; espalier them along an otherwise unattractive fence, or mass-plant them to contain an unstable bank. They are particularly useful in small city gardens where they allow themselves to be clipped and twisted to clothe a boundary.
Camellias thrive in a range of climates, from steamy Brisbane to difficult Sydney and south to the colder mountain areas.
It was, again, the plant hunters of earlier centuries who brought the western world these gorgeous plants, collecting seed and specimens in wild and dangerous countries. The most intrepid, and the most successful, must have been George Forrest who, in July 1905, had based himself at the French Catholic Mission at Tzekou, 3000 metres up in Yunnan province at the point where China, India and Tibet meet. He escaped a terrible death at the hands of furious Tibetan lamas only through feats of daring, ingenuity and determination, such that would make the most daring stuntman look pedestrian. As he finally escaped, climbing to 7,000 metres in Yunnan, he could still record 'Up and up we climbed, cutting our way through miles of camellia, rhododendrons, tramping over alps literally clothed with primulas, gentians, saxifrages, lilies etc., for these unknown hillsides are a veritable botanists' paradise.' Plant lovers today will empathise with such passion.
It's impossible to name your favourite camellia. It could be 'Cho Cho San'; pale pink and oh, so refined, or the peony-like, peach-coloured 'Easter Morn'.
Camellias don't have a perfume, but rather an earthy fragrance that is reminiscent of much loved, old gardens. It's a scent that promises endless excitement and surprise in gardens created over years of ownership by passionate horticulturalists who have not been able to resist, nor to choose from, the myriad treasures on offer.
The species of camellia include:
Use camellia hedges as 'coathangers' to support climbing nasturtium or clematis: in early summer the large flowers of the jackmanii clematis against the camellia's dark green, glossy foliage, look fabulous. The climbers add glamour to the camellia's beautiful leaves when flowering is finished. The hybrid fucshia likes same conditions as the camellias; its wandy growth, twisted through the camellia looks out of this world. If you live in a cold climate, grow the flame-red climbing nastursium, (Tropaeolum speciosum) through camellias. And if red is a little bright for your taste, you could grow the climbing Dicentra scandens, which has a yellow flower.
The sasanqua species is easy to espalier, to cover a bagged wall or an inauspicious boundary. Fade out the fence by painting it green: tension galvanised wires and plant your camellias about two-thirds of a metre apart. After flowering, prune and twist the flexible branches along the wires.
Sasanqua camellias such as the Sydney-bred sasanqua hybrid 'Marge Miller' make great ground covers. I've also seen this cultivar planted along the top of a stone retaining wall, and allowed to cascade down. (Also an effective use of wisteria, by the way.) Plant them on their side to achieve the fastest growth.
The Japonicas, with larger leaves than the sasanquas, hail from Japan, Korea and China, and also make beautiful, dense hedges, particularly if pruned from the get-go. Varieties for use in gardens have been bred for more than 300 years.
Camellia japonica makes a stunning medium-height stilt hedge. You rub off the lower shoots and develop a canopy which can then be underplanted with colour co-ordinated, lower-growing plants. Clipped to a sharp wedge, this treatment is extremely effective in a courtyard garden or a formal, very structured space, or against a low wall. Camellia japonica 'Onetia Holland', with its round, peony-like flowers and vigorous, compact growth, along with the large white flowered 'Lovelight' and 'White Nun', are excellent for hedging. Think of them backgrounded by a stilt hedge of well- clipped Cupressus torulosa.
The exciting C. japonica 'Dixie Knight Supreme' reminds you of thick cream splashed with raspberry jam; also stunning is C. japonica 'Lady de Saumarez' growing on the same plant as its sport, the deep red 'Fred Sander'. I love the salmon pink C. japonica 'Jessie Burgess' and 'Drama Girl.'
The Australia-bred Camellia japonica 'Brushfield's Yellow,' which lines the drive to Japan's Imperial Palace, forms a great hedge, lighting up wintry skies with its yellow flowers. The variegated leaves of the Camellia japonica 'Benten' also illuminate a dark area in the garden, or, use it clipped into tripods or orbs to mark the exit from a shaded woodland.
The Reticulatas, with their large leaves, are native to the Yunnan province in the southwest of China, and thrive in similar, temperate to warm climates of parts of Australia. These gorgeous plants had been cultivated for centuries in China, and made their way to England in 1820 via a Captain Rawes of the East India Company.
The upright 'retics' are the most obvious choice as a feature tree, growing to several metres in height and supporting large, flamboyant blooms. Camellia reticulata 'Crimson Robe,' beautifully grown by the late Harry and Peg Cassidy at their garden at Harrietville in Northern Victoria, makes a stunning tree. "The retics are great in landscaping," Harry told me. "They become big trees." The early flowering Camellia reticulata 'Juban' has smaller, delicate flowers in the palest blush pink.
The seeds of the oil seed camellia, Camellia oleifera, which hails from southern China, are pressed and used for cooking and to make cosmetics.
Foliage plants must be among the most forgiving and generous of garden species, and Begonias are surely the ultimate foliage plant. They are greatly loved by 'amateur' gardeners and professional landscapers alike - and are flowering now. The breeding history and nomenclature of begonias is extremely complex, only surpassed, perhaps, by the complicated history of the rose. They were first described in 1690 by French botanist, Charles Plumier, who named them to honour his friend, the amateur botanist Michel Begon (1638-1710).
Begonias are content as house plants if their foliage is sprayed with water weekly. They are happy in pots and hanging baskets and are the ultimate choice for conservatories and greenhouses. In the NSW country city of Orange, the begonia house in Cook Park (officially named in 1882 in honour of Captain Cook and pictured below) is particularly exciting from February to April, when the collection is flowering.
There is some evidence that begonias – of which there are several groups - were cultivated in China as early as the 14th century, but the Englishman Richard Pearce is credited with 're-discovering' begonias in South America in 1864.
All begonias like partial light or filtered sun, although too much shade can result in lush foliage at the expense of flowers. They prefer moist, but well drained, soil. Some are propagated from seed, but most by stem or root cuttings, or by dividing rhizomes.
Begonias are very sociable, teaming well with many other foliage species, including the beautifully patterned calatheas, which enjoy similar soil and moist, shady conditions. Try the zebra plant (Calathea zebrina) with its striped, emerald-green leaves backed with purple. They mass out quickly, creating a perfect ground cover in a tapestry garden.
Caladium, native to the same areas as begonias, and with wonderful pink and red markings on large heart shaped leaves, is also happy in greenhouses and shaded gardens. Anthuriums, also from the Araceae, or aroid, family, are happy as indoor plants, or, planted en masse along a shady border.
With their rather formal and rigid flower shape, dahlias have been out of favour for years, thought by many to be in 'bad taste'. Flowering in the richest of hues, from cerise and purple, to yellow and orange, and popular between the two world wars, when they joined hybrid tea roses, carnations and gladioli to grace garden beds cut into front lawns of couch or buffalo, dahlias could never be accused of being discreet. They bloom in a wide variety of forms: some are single-flowered, some round, others like pompoms. Some are cactus-formed, some like stars; others resemble peonies.
Native to Mexico, where it is the national flower, and to Central America, the dahlia is a genus of about 30 species, although most of the modern varieties have been bred from just three species, D. coccinea, D. pinnata and D. hortensis.
Lauded by one early 20th century Australian garden writer as "The King of the Autumn", new, more relaxed cultivars like the single, clear red 'Bishop of Llandaff', with its stunning dark foliage, and 'Yellow Hammer' have given dahlias another chance to be fashionable. The apricot Dahlia 'Heat Wave ' and 'Tally Ho', with its orange blooms above green-to-pewter coloured foliage, are also delightful.
When water is scarce dahlias can be garden saviours. Team Dahlia 'Fire Mountain,' with its double, pure red, flowers and black foliage, with the tough, fire-engine red Crocosmia 'Lucifer'; temper these hot colours with bronze fennel.
Dahlias can be grown from seedlings, cuttings, or tubers. Plant tubers - which will guarantee your chosen variety - in rich soil, at a depth of about 8cms, and a sunny, sheltered position, in spring, for summer to autumn flowering. They are heavy feeders: prepare soil by adding aged manure a fortnight before planting. Apply more fertilizer when plants reach about 30cm, and, for award-winning results, apply a high potassium liquid fertiliser every two weeks after buds form.
Leave undisturbed for the best flowering. In areas of heavy frost, however, you might lift dahlia tubers after the first frost has blackened the foliage: they should be stored, in sawdust, out of sun and away from damp and rodents.
When dividing tubers, make sure you leave at least one 'eye' present to ensure new growth. You can propagate also by taking cuttings of new sections that shoot from the tuber: these should flower that same season.
So, when many of the stars of the summer garden have retreated with heat exhaustion you may be grateful for the dahlias, which, dressed in garish costumes, will bring their bling to your garden, laughing loudly at those who obey the rules. I took this picture one February, in the Lodhi Gardens in New Dehli.
What could be more exciting for a gardener than watching the seasons change?
Autumn is also a generous time: the bounty of the garden rewards the hard work of the previous months. Apples are ready to harvest (if the birds have not stolen them), and are at their best in the markets. There is the scent of quince slowly roasting, ready to be used under cuts of baked meats or in cakes and puddings. The orange globes of the persimmon hang on the tree like glowing orbs. Picked, they add light and colour to an arrangement of leaves and autumn berries.
Among the most exciting aspects of autumn, however, are the brilliant foliage colours many trees develop. Perhaps the loveliest of the autumn performers are the acid soil-loving tupelos (Nyssa sinensis and N. sylvatica) which colour in a range of pinks and reds. Parrotia persica, an elegant small, spreading tree that reaches about four metres and turns yellow, gold and orange at the end of summer. The dogwoods, tulip trees, maples and many fruit trees also colour wonderfully.
Among the genera that provide great value in landscape design, the maples display elegant foliage to add texture and shade in summer and wonderful colour in autumn. As an added bonus, many have bark that takes on new shades in winter, affording them diva status. The late-colouring Japanese maple Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' (also known as 'Senkaki'), is a lovely small tree with coral bark that intensifies in colour as temperatures drop. The bark is almost fluorescent on young wood, tempting many gardeners to coppice it annually.
The peeling, cinnamon-coloured bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum), discovered in 1901 in China by the plant hunter, Ernest Wilson, guarantees this maple a place in many gardens. It grows naturally at high altitudes in Bhutan, providing shelter for the red-flowering Rhododendron arboreum.
TO DO IN THE GARDEN
Now that autumn is here it's time to tidy the garden. This means pruning, which is easy - if you follow a few simple rules.
Hedges, borders and edges of flowering species such as murraya and gardenia, with their glorious scent over summer holidays, should be pruned now. Prune earlier, in spring, and you would remove the all-important buds that are forming. Hedges should be pruned from the time of planting to prevent them growing too quickly and becoming sparse and 'leggy.' Resist the temptation to allow them to grow to the desired height before starting to prune.
Wisteria, which flowers on 'old wood,' needs to be hard-pruned once flowering is over: tidy it in autumn or winter and you'll remove those essential buds. Many trees, including magnolias and jacarandas, should be pruned as little as possible as, if pruned incorrectly, they will send shoots skyward in a most unattractive way. If you must prune, ensure that you cut flush with the fork of the tree.
Pruning has its place, of course: it promotes flower and fruit production, creates a desired shape, and can facilitate maintenance. First, consider how each species grows naturally. Does it flower, and therefore fruit, on this season's, or last season's, growth, or 'wood'? As I've said, you don't want to prune when and where the flower buds are forming.
Shrubs such as may (Spiraea spp.) buddleia and philadelphus, which send out long canes from the ground, should be cut back a few canes at a time (after flowering), at the base of the plant, to maintain that romantic, arching shape.
For gardeners who love wielding the secateurs and don't need a maintenance-free garden, there are many forms of decorative pruning that are beautiful and useful in a small garden or courtyard, or to divide a large vegetable garden into manageable segments. Most are varieties of espalier, which is the art of pruning a plant to lie flat against an upright support.
Espalier turns the plainest surface into a work of art. Many species – from tall-growing trees such as magnolias, to fruit trees and vines – can be successfully trained against a flat surface. Pruning of an espalier usually takes place in summer to keep rampant growth in check, and also in winter to create the frame.
And the ultimate in pruning must create the 'Laid Hedge' which you may have seen in those virtuoso gardens in the Meander Valley in Northern Tasmania. If you can't get to Tasmania, you can see these wonderful gardens in my Country Gardens: Country Hospitality (and also in my Gardens of Eden, which is, sadly, out of print...but you may be able to borrow it from your local library.)
IT'S TIME TO ORDER SPRING BULBS
It is perhaps difficult to believe that when the Autumn colours are only just appearing on our deciduous trees and climbers, we are being asked to think about the Spring garden. If you want to enjoy the anticipation and excitement of spring colour and fragrance, however, you need to start planning. The bulb catalogues have started to drop through letterboxes around the country.
Bulbs are most effective when planted in multiples, either in borders, or in expansive drifts under trees, as the Irish writer William Robinson (1838-1935), dictated in 'Home Landscapes'. While you may not possess the 500 hectares on which Robinson gardened, at Gravetye Manor in the south of England, there is a bulb for each of us, whether you live in a city on the coastal fringe, or on country acres in a cold climate. Even in a small garden mass plantings remain the most pleasing.
There are bulb growers in each state, many in the cold, mountain areas of Victoria and Tasmania. Some grow rare species, releasing only limited stock, sure to tempt the treasure hunter in each of us. Others sell easy to grow bulbs in multiples and mixes. Bulbs are so clever: a perfect package, the flower bud encased in protective, fleshy scales, just waiting for the correct temperature to emerge.
Daffodils (Narcissus spp.), perhaps the most widely grown, are coded by an international convention, from Trumpet Daffodils, to Double Daffodils, Swan Neck Daffodils, multi-headed and Split Corona daffodils, where the cup, or corona, is divided and curls back against the petals. They are all fascinating, and most are fragrant, but the most important consideration for those who don't live with cold winters is when each variety blooms, helpfully noted for us by the growers.
In coastal Sydney and further north choose early-flowering varieties; the cooler north shore of Sydney will accommodate mid-flowering varieties, while the late-flowering varieties are for cooler areas where spring arrives later. The miniature daffodil, 'Tete a Tete' which flowers toward the end of winter, does well in Sydney, as does the vampish 'Jetfire' with her swept back petals and orange cup.
After your bulbs have flowered, don't be tempted to 'tidy up' by cutting off the foliage. Leave it to die right down, as this forms the food for the flowers in the next season.
THE POTTED GARDEN
Bulbs are also a perfect solution for those who garden in small spaces. They are content in pots, so those who enjoy apartment living don't need to live without colour and fragrance, and the excitement of watching the seasons change. The good news is that greed is definitely good when it comes to container gardening. Forget restraint: more is more.
Among the many plants that perform well in pots, orchids and buxus are perhaps the easiest. There are plenty of other species from which to choose, however. Both wisterias and frangipanis are suited to pots. As frangipani is so easy to propagate, you can cram three or four different cuttings into a large pot, giving you a wonderful rainbow of colour within a few years. Wisterias, also, love life in a pot, as long as it is strong enough: choose ceramic, rather than terracotta. Plant several varieties for scent and colour over several weeks.
Always buy a potting mix that carries the Australian Standards symbol, and when handling, wear gloves and a face mask. Keep your face away from the bag when it is being opened, as you don't want to breathe in that dangerous dust.
THE EDIBLE GARDEN
While cooler mornings and evenings remind us that winter will soon arrive, autumn is also nature's most generous season. Trees are laden with fruit and nuts; the vegetable garden is still bursting with produce. Figs, apples, pears and quince are ready for harvest. It's a busy time in the kitchen, as autumn's bounty needs to be conserved and preserved for use in the months ahead. The house is filled with the warm scents of cooking. Again, go to my Country Gardens: Country Hospitality for quince paste, warm plum or fig cakes, and plenty more great recipes.
It's time to remove spent summer crops and enrich the soil with aged manures in readiness for winter vegetable planting. In all climates you can plant the winter-bearing brassicas, including the must-have Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Leeks, which grow for several months before harvesting, can be planted now. Prepare your trellises and tripods, ready for the planting, into moist soil, of snow peas, beans and broad beans.
Beetroot, which take many weeks to be ready for harvest, can be planted every month. You can plant lettuce monthly, particularly the 'cut and come again' varieties, which are available in decorative colours.
The herb garden is still resplendent. Coriander, which can bolt to seed in summer, can be planted now, along with fennel and dill. You might still be harvesting the last determined tomato: those that refuse to ripen will make a delicious green tomato and chili jam. (See my Seasons in my House and Garden) for a recipe.) Conveniently, your chillies will also be ready for harvest.
Those in cold climates will know when their pumpkins are ready to harvest: the frost will kill the stems and leaves. For the rest of us, the pumpkin will sound hollow when tapped. There is a great recipe for a pumpkin soup, in the whole pumpkin, in Seasons in My House and Garden.
PESTS AND DISEASES
The hard work of summer – weeding, watering and mulching - may be over, but that doesn't mean garden pests and diseases are hibernating. The sudden appearance of brown patches in lawns can indicate the presence of lawn army worm. Yates offers a slow-release fertiliser, Lawn Master, to apply now, before winter arrives.
Watch for white rose scale on stems: scrub off with a toothbrush and then spray with Pest-Oil or Eco-Oil. Watch for black aphids on chives, and for the cabbage white moth on your brassicas.
Or, hang up little vials of camphor, like those I saw at Redlands, an historic property in the midst of Tasmania.
In cool climates, spray fruit and nut trees at leaf fall with a commercial copper product to protect against pear and cherry slug and peach leaf curl. Keep fruit fly traps hanging on trees and replenished until all autumn fruit has been harvested. And once you've harvested your fruit, replenish the soil by adding a handful of pelletised manure around the base of each tree.
THE ESSENTIAL MULCH
It's been a scorching summer in many part of Australia: it is essential, therefore, to mulch your garden beds and pot plants. Mulching and fertilising is important for healthy, disease-resistant plants. Slow release fertiliser is the most convenient way to add nutrients, or, try the liquid plant foods, including those from Seasol.
As you know, I am a huge fan of Majors Mulch (www.majorsmulch.com.au). The new Majors Mulch Balcony Bags were designed specifically for the urban gardener, and are the perfect size for those who garden in pots.
GARDEN TRAVEL AND TOURISM
Here are a few sites for open gardens in autumn:
Andrew Lemon has just released a virtuoso book on Tommy Garnet, the gentleman of the horticultural family. Titled 'The Master Gardener,' this 600-page book tells of how Garnett, headmaster of Geelong Grammar School, created his wonderful 'The Garden of St Erth,' at Blackwood in Victoria, a garden that has influenced so many garden makers and writers. Published by Hardie Grant, the book is $60.00 from booksellers.
And, you can visit my 11 published books on my website at www.hollyforsyth.com.au. Go to my on-line shop to purchase any (except The Constant Gardener and Gardens of Eden, which, sadly, are out of print.). And, after the publication of 11 books of non-fiction, my first Novel is soon to be released. It has the working title The Reluctant Spy and is about a very important subject: the empowerment, and disempowerment, of women. I have finished my Memoir (It's not all wine and roses: a journey to survival) - it is now six years since my cancer diagnosis. My oncologist has just told me that the surgeons had given me a less than one percent chance of survival when they had met me in 2012. I'm so glad they kept that to themselves! Stay Tuned!
Happy Gardening, Happy Cooking and Best Wishes
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