Trevor’s “Best garden in South Australia” Blog
Sunday 17th January 2016
Like many other big Hills gardens those of GLENALTA have experienced periods of neglect, damage and change over the 153 years since it first began. It has seen periods of prosperity and hard times; times when the garden flourished and expanded, times when it was left to its own devices to survive as best it could. Different owners have had different objectives for it as an escape from the summer heat of the city, to a place for riding to hunt in winter and as a setting for business and political wheeling and dealing year round.
When Geoff and Robyn Stewart purchased GLENALTA in 1987 the gardens were at a pretty low ebb. Previous owners had other priorities for the place and skilled labour was extremely hard to find. Men returning home after WW2 had no interest in going into low paid gardening positions; they had bigger plans for themselves and their young families. A nurseryman’s life may have been hard but at least you were your own boss. At this time too, most women were not as keen about gardening for themselves as later became popular through the writings of Edna Walling in popular women’s weekly magazines. So the big Hills gardens such as those at GLENALTA suffered in the doldrums as families sought to rebuild their lives after peace was declared. Available money was directed into establishing new business enterprises and expanding old ones; almost none could be spared for remaking long neglected gardens.
The boom in minerals exploration and mining in the 1970’s provided the impetus for establishing new streams of wealth and raised the general level of optimism in the SA community. Against this background interest in buying and rejuvenating old Hills homes and gardens grew quite markedly. GLENALTA was one of the 19th C estates that benefitted from that positive feeling.
While work on the house was done to modernise services and décor things were taken somewhat more slowly in the garden. First steps were to remake the driveways and path systems that had been damaged by flooding and the growth of tree roots. Drainage systems also needed much remaking to carry away excess water that pooled where it was not wanted, further damaging the gravelled surfaces or swamping garden beds and lawns. Structural aspects of the garden also had to be repaired or rebuilt. Many stone walls had collapse allowing earth to spill onto paths and into the creek, elsewhere surface rooting trees has lifted and made dangerous area of paving. The 19th C irrigation system – bore, reservoir and distribution pipes were inoperative, rusted out, buckled and blocked, so an extensive programme of renewal was necessary. At every stage expert advice and professional services were used and advantage taken to install new technologies and delivery systems.
With the basic essentials in place a larger and longer terms programme of renewal and extension was undertaken in the gardens of the estate. Arborists, horticulturalists and heritage garden consultants reviewed the garden as it was and gave advice concerning trees, shrubs, plants and design features that could be resurrected and those that required removal and redoing. Many senescent trees were cut down and replacements planted. A vast wisteria sitting atop a shattered and rotten pergola was gently lifted up, the pergola rebuilt and the brittle branches of the vine set back in place – a momentous task when the size and age of the plant is considered. The Secret Garden was uncovered from a thick tangle of dead growth, fallen branches, opportunistic blackberries, ivies, honeysuckle and other invasive woody weeds. Great sheets of periwinkle and garlic weed (Allium triquetrum) were treated with selective herbicides. The creek was realigned, dredged and the walls rebuilt so that it flowed well and flood mitigation was possible.
New garden areas were developed too. The tennis court and pavilion were installed. A swimming pool was built and later a conservatory was added to the house. A perennial border was made and several pieces of hedging planted. A garden of David Austin roses was put in. The driveway was enhanced with an avenue of Candlebark gums (Eucalyptus rubida) – a local endemic. Tree plantings were made to further screen the house from Carey Gully Road and the dam was constructed and planted.
It was during preparations for excavating the dam that a whole ‘lost’ garden was uncovered when tonnes of silt and mud were dug out along the creek line at the point where the woodland gives way to pasture. Some of the surviving plants – several kinds of bamboo and mahonia suggested the existence of a Japanese garden possibly made in the Edwardian era when such things became very popular.
Resisting any feelings to be 100% authentic and being equally concerned not to go overboard with any new fads Robyn, in particular, exercised her by now well-practised artist’s eye to ensure that the magic of the garden was maintained and enhanced. The sense of enclosure and privacy was kept paramount but there is also plenty of delight in flowery incident, colour, perfume and texture. Shade is of primary importance as is autumn colour and a marvellous spring display.
GLENALTA is without question the best garden in South Australia and for that we must thank the vision, commitment and determination of Geoff and Robyn Stewart to ensure its survival and share its beauty.
Trevor’s Cottage Garden Blog
Monday 2nd November 2015
Where do cottage gardens come from? And who was this rather severe looking woman?
Cottage gardens come from the land of dreams that’s where. Dreams that were fostered by a very highly coloured view of cottage garden life that was promoted by the well-off and well fed members of the 19thC Arts & Crafts Movement in Merrie Olde Englande. Without exploring the cottagers lifestyle as a tenant dependent on his lords whim for housing, housing repairs, sanitation, education and employment these high minded moralists decided that the cottage life was admirable – remember TOAD OF TOAD HALL and its idealised cute rural civility? The reality was that most cottagers worked extremely long and arduous hours as farm labourers and shepherds and had no time to stand at their cottage gate sucking on a long clay pipe alongside dreamy hollyhock spires. That mistaken view was propagated by a number of English water-colour painters. Later the erroneous concept was adopted by several garden writers. Prominent among them was Marjery Fish.
Deciding in 1937 that war was highly likely MR Fish took his wife to live in the comparative safety of the countryside. Mrs Fish describes Mr Fish as wise, knowing, generous in making his decisions and ordering their lives. Oh, Dear! However, things turned out rather well for the Fishes. They liked village life and were well accepted; they fitted in well and mixed in polite society, accepted by the landed gentry and farmers but a cut or three above the cotters and farm hands. In time Mrs Fish became very well known as a gardener and collector of antique plants. People came to see her garden and she was asked to speak about it. Being the lady-like person she was Marjery opened her garden for charity, and as the wife of the former Editor of the Daily Mail she had little trouble in becoming a gardening journalist for Amateur Gardening magazine. During her 20 year career as a writer she produced two books: WE MADE A GARDEN and An All the Year Garden. Of these WE MADE A GARDEN was the best, and it was a run-away success following its publication in England and the USA 1956.
She claimed her style of mixed planting was a ‘typical cottage garden’. Made at a time when most English home owners were Digging for Victory and planting spuds and onions it is difficult to accept her garden was typical at all. It seems like it was more likely an indulgence, perhaps having more to do with providing an antidote to the nastiness of Hilter’s Nazism and the war than to gardens made by those who dwelled in cottages. Still, her style of mixed planting and treasuring old-fashioned plants struck a deep chord among gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic though not without criticism for the manner in which it glossed over the realities of 19thC cottage life: a heavy burden of work, poor health, poor food and little education or chance for improvement.
Given the on-going criticism by garden historians of her revisionist approach to her subject it was perhaps prescient of her to look so dour when her photograph was taken for the cover of her book. Were she alive today she’d not have much reason to smile.
Mrs Fish’s garden at East Lambrook Manor, East Lambrook, Sussex can still be visited today
Trevor’s Spring Blog
Tuesday 20th October 2015
The grass is riz and Spring has sprung
Now we wait for Summer to come…………….
And come it has as it always does in Adelaide with a sudden burst of heat that puts to an end all the beautiful flowers, especially late flowering things like tulips and magnolias. Sometime between late September and early October the winds gust in from the North-West, the temperature rises and on clear days a blast of strong sunshine bleaches and browns every blossom in sight. It happens every year and don’t we know it? To every action there is a reaction, though not always equal in strength, and within days cooler temperatures and gentler breezes arrive but the damage is done. Even if there are showers we know we are beginning to move into Summer.
Some of us will down tools and head for the beach, or to the golf course or tennis club. Others of us dead-head the garden and wonder what we might do to maintain some sort of floral display. Yet others turn to growing tomatoes by way of productive diversion.
With a little fore-thought and planning it is very possible to have a follow-on season of flowers that will carry on the show until Christmas. It won’t be a floral explosion or even an eye-popping display but it can be very pleasing.
Firstly consider the Tall Bearded irises. They thrive in our climate and are not fazed by the heat. In fact these plants need some summer heat to adequately ripen their rhizomes. However, they do not need roasting and baking so plant in a sunny site where they can get some slight protection from nearby low plants such as annuals. Irises of this type, also known as German irises or Flag irises, come in a very wide range of colours. To get the colours that will please you best get out to see them en masse at an iris nursery, or attend a flower show, or as a last resort buy from an illustrated catalogue. Be aware that new hybrids can be expensive with varieties most in demand costing as much as $75 each. Fortunately TB irises multiply quite rapidly so older varieties are very affordable at less than $10 per rhizome.
Next look into having a few Tree Peonies. They are tough plants with a very durable root system and glorious flowers. An ancient plant growing in the gardens of ANLABY homestead has survived 50 years of neglect and come back to vigour since new owners have shown it some TLC. On the face of it these plants seem expensive. Prices start around $45 and rise to $80 and more for advanced size plants. But doing the sums shows that they are no more expensive than planting the front walk with petunias. Tree Peonies easily live 100 years given a little care so at a cost of 45c or 80c they are a bargain. To thrive they need a sunny position with no competition from adjacent tree and shrub roots. There are some gardeners who’d say that too many Tree Peonies is never enough but really most gardens need only 3 or 4 to create an impressive show. Buying plants in flower is the way to get the colours and forms you like.
As Summer advances potted flowering plants can focus water use in a concentrated area and deliver a real colour burst at significant spots in the garden by doorways and steps, or on decks and patios, or near al fresco eating places. The choices can be very broad and besides colourful flowers perfume and leaf form should be given some thought. Liliums and hippeastums are prime choices for use in situations like these. The pots can be moved around if needed. While these hardy bulbs can be kept for a good many years they do not have to be kept at all if you would like a change of variety or colour. They are cheap enough to throw away, or you could re-home them with a friend or neighbour.
Foliage plants are something else again and for this purpose Hostas are a great choice for a shady spot. There are thousands of hybrids in the USA, rather fewer in Europe and many fewer in Australia. But there are enough to create a cool and classy display. There are hybrids that can be grown as companions to tiny bonsai but these are hard to grow in climates such as that experienced by Adelaide in Summer. The most reliable forms are large to moderate growers and they can be found in various leaf shapes and coloured from silvery blue to gold and silver variegated patterns, and just plain gold leaves. For a shady veranda or front porch Hostas are ideal.
Everyone enjoys Trevor’s Nottle’s Blogs when they pop up every now and again – here is his latest!
Who was Gertrude Jekyll? It’s as well we’ve come to the last great lady gardener before you get bored with an overload of garden history and grand-dames far removed from our modern lives. Aristocracy, gentility and even women-gardeners are all just a tad dated nowadays. Aristocracy and gentility are of no significance at all and women-gardeners are nothing new but we should not …overlook Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). She was principally known as the associate of Edwin Lutyens, an up-and-coming architect who found in her gardening style an agreeable foil to his great country houses for the rich and fashionable. But Gertrude Jekyll was well established as a garden designer before she met Lutyens. She wrote many books on the subject, published by ‘Country Life’ and illustrated with her own excellent photographs. While her designs depended for their execution and maintenance on the work of professional gardeners she is known mainly for her ‘colourist’ ideas in which plants were very carefully chosen to blend into a set colour palette. She was a skilled water-colourist too. Her planting schemes, particularly for Lutyens clients, were deployed to soften the heavily architectural manner in which he extended his buildings into the landscape with inter-linking stone terraces, steps, stairs, water features, balustrades and pergolas.
Nowadays few of us have garden staff, and not many build large country houses with big gardens but the ideas about colour expressed by Gertrude Jekyll still exert a considerable influence in many small gardens. And this is why Gertrude Jekyll remains important to gardeners of today. She led the way for VS-W and Edna Walling, Rosemary Verey, the Viscountess of Salisbury and all the other fans of the English Flower Garden School.
Google: ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘English Flower Garden’, ‘Surrey School’.
Plants for Pots and Patios
Trevor Nottle Thursday 9th July 2015
Welcome to our new blog from author and Open Garden SA Committee member Trevor Nottle. More about Plants for Pots and Patios!
Winter has the reputation of being a pretty dull month flower-wise in gardens but it need not be if careful consideration is given to choosing early spring bulbs of the smaller kinds that can easily find a home in a collection of pots. Potted as early as possible – so order early is the guiding rule – most small bulbs will flower earlier in pots than if grown in the ground. Good candidates for such treatment are the dwarf and miniature narcissus (daffodils), scillas, species tulips, crocus, snowdrops (galanthus), tropaeolum species, cyclamen species and chionodoxa. Some of these may not be familiar so google them to see how lovely they are. Cool growing conditions are a pre-requisite for success but all need bright light to maintain bulbs in good condition.
Tropaeolum brachyceras is a small tuberous nasturtium from Chile. By habit it is a low scrambling, twining plant with diminutive four-leaf clover type leaves. As it grows in damp mossy banks in habitat it is best grown in a potting mix with an extra 30% drainage material such as perlite and vermiculate added and mixed in thoroughly. These plants have the odd habit of sometimes sending new growth out via the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. To take account of this peculiarity it is useful to double pot the plants ie. place one pot containing the tubers inside another somewhat larger and the space between loosely packed with vermiculite and perlite. After flowering in mid-Winter the plant will die back at which point it should be dried off and kept dry until the following April when black wispy new growth will commence. The tubers respond well to feeding while the plants are in active growth. I use a fertiliser mix that is formulated for Mediterranean bulbs (Tupelo Grove).
Galanthus elwesii – the snowdrop, the real McCoy, and while not so easy to obtain it is most certainly available from specialist bulb growers by mail-order. This particular snowdrop from Turkey is the largest of all and is the most easily grown. As a pot plant it does well, especially if grown as cool as possible in a sheltered but brightly lit corner. The bulbs increase quite well and the plants also produce seed pods which, if just buried under the surface of the potting soil, will germinate without fuss the next winter. They will take about 3 years to reach flowering size. Like all bulbs snowdrops need feeding while they are growing.
Narcissus fernandesii – is a genuine jonquil, an all yellow cluster-flowered narcissus with glorious sweet perfume. It is also rather small, much smaller than common every-day ‘jonquils’ such as Paper-white and Soliel d’Or, which are more correctly known as tazetta’s. These small jonquils are found in wet pasture land in the high mountains of central and northern Spain. They like to have wet feet while they are growing so standing the pots containing them in a saucer filled with water is a good approximation of their habitat conditions. Once the flowers have finished the water can be drained off and the bulbs gradually allowed to dry off.
Trevor Nottle Friday 29th May 2015
Here he is again …. this time talking about Ferns! Plants for pots and porches.
As a general rule ferns are small growers, not counting Tree Ferns and Birds Nest Ferns. They need to be permanently damp but never permanently saturated and they need to be fed when they are growing actively. Most ferns grow in an annual cycle which means that old leaves are replaced every year with a fresh crop. As the old leaves begin to turn brown and ratty new croziers will be seen unfurling from the base of the plant. This is the time to cut off all the old folaige and make way for the new. While some ferns require high levels of humidity to prosper, especially those from the Tropics, many will thrive in the relatively dry air of Adelaide and surrounding areas so long as they are not exposed to the sun and drying winds.
Ferns can be grown in old Tree Fern logs or a very well-drained potting mix. Fertiliser in the form of slow-release granules or water soluble plant foods mixed at half the recomended rate.
The most common pest by far are green looper caterpillars and woolly aphids. The former can be managed by picking them off and squashing them, while woolly aphids can be controlled by ‘Confidor’ or tablets of insecticde pushed just uner the surface of the potting soil.
Two kinds of ferns are especially recommended to small garden owners. These are the ‘rabbit’s foot’ kind with a creeping root-stock and maiden-hair ferns as they stay small and do not require particular or fussy kinds of care.
Those pictured here are several kinds of Maiden-hair ferns, a crested form of a Rabbit’s foot fern, the Welsh fern, a crested shield fern and a crested sword fern. All of them have been obtained by trawling through the mixed ferns sold by the Big Barn super-hardware stores.
Trevor Nottle Wednesday 11th May 2015
Another garden blog from our OGSA committee member extraordinaire Trevor Nottle.
Most gardeners would know cyclamen by sight. They are certainly the plants of cooling, shorter days and cold nights. For more than a century the large hybrid cyclamen have been very popular as pot plants. The principal hybridists were, and remain some of the big greenhouse nurseries of the Netherlands, Germany, England and to a lesser extent the USA. While it is possible to keep them going from year to year flower production declines after the big displays produced by two and three year old tubers and many people throw them away after the flowers have finished. These plants are all descendants of a wild plant, Cyclamen persicum, which naturally inhabits parts of Turkey, Iran and Iraq. There are many other wild cyclamen too and these are perfect for gardeners with very limited space. One of the most widely available is Cyclamen hederifolium, sometimes called the Neapolitan cyclamen as it is found growing in the hills around that city. Indeed, seed of it was brought to Australia by emigrants after WW2 and grown in their gardens.
Cyclamen hederifolium is available in many different forms. Flowers can be pink, white or a dark rose pink, which is euphemistically called ‘red’ by nurseries and seedsmen. Leaf shapes vary from those resembling ivy leaves to long-narrow forms described as ‘arrow-head’ kinds. Keen collectors have introduced numerous named selections but these are not usually available but for the offerings of specialist nurseries.
These small cyclamen are excellent and long-lived pot plants. It is not unusual for them to attain twenty years of age, by which time the black tubers can be the size of dinner plants and producing hundreds of flowers. Some kinds are scented too. Each plant that flowers should produce seeds afterwards and if left to its own devices the plant will shed the seed and given time it will germinate in the pots around the edge of the mother plant. Plants enjoy a bright position but not direct sunshine during the heat of Summer when the tubers are dormant. Flowering frequently begins in late Summer reaching a peak around early May so the season is quite long. The variable leaf forms and colours keeps the interest going for a month or so either side of the flowering period. Care is simple: leave them alone but for applications of diluted soluble fertiliser. Some people re-pot every year and some do not. The bulbs seem indifferent to either human activity. There are no pests to worry about though slugs and snails can cause leaf damage. Slugs and small snails can live in the drainage holes at the bottom of pots.
All about Ants
Trevor Nottle Tuesday 3rd May 2015
More wise words from OGSA Committee Member and dry climate garden guru Trevor Nottle.
Even the most committed non-gardener must know about ants, those tiny black creatures that invade picnics and cupboards and sugar bowls. More experienced non-gardeners will have met other kinds of ants in their travels as campers, bush-walkers and surfers: huge ants with gigantic nippers, green ants, honey ants with swollen abdomens, jumping ants, leaping ants, bull ants, tree ants, leaf stitching ants, sugar ants and even Argentine ants.
No doubt ants perform some specialised function in the greater scheme of things. Most likely it has something to do with acting as Nature’s little vacuum cleaners hoovering up lots of bits and pieces from the environment. This is all very interesting and admirable but ants are not remotely discriminating. What is food for ants is food for ants. Everything is fair game in their food foraging; seeds, dead insects, live insects, bread crumbs, discarded BBQ bones and meat scraps, dropped gherkins and pickled onions, and the jams, honey and sugar in our cupboards. Numerous and far ranging ants can be a perfect nuisance.
In gardens ants cause other troubles less often associated with them because the relationship between the visible sign of trouble is not immediately recognised. You will find numerous ant mounds and nest entrances in your garden but do they have anything to do with the black sooty deposit covering the leaves and twigs of your lemon tree? Do ants have any connection to the small round brown, black or white bumps that sit on the leaves, fruits and branches of your orange tree? What about those fluffy white lumps that sit in the angles between leaves and their stems on your pot plants? And what about those little green sap-sucking aphids that smother the flower buds and new growths of your roses?
Yup, ants are connected to all of them. Ants love sugar. All these little lumpy things are insects that produce sugary secretions. The ants actually farm them in order to have a food supply on hand. The insects are scale, mealy bugs and aphids and all are moved about from plant to plant by ants. They multiply prolifically by themselves and the ants have access to an almost never-ending food supply as wave after wave of new baby insects hatch and populate the plants on which they have been colonised by the farmer-ants.
There are enough folk remedies for treating invasions of ants to fill a large book. The basics of control are pretty simple:
• Keep all cupboards and work surfaces clean; wipe up spilled sugar etc. Store sugary foods in air-tight screw top jars or snap-lock containers.
• Keep eating areas, tables and floors clean of food scraps.
• Trace ants to their nests and deal with them at the site with suitable baits, grease traps, powders and dusts.
• Argentine ants must be reported to local government pest authorities and their nests destroyed according to regulations.
• Check pot plants for ants and ant nests – look underneath at the drainage hole for signs of activity.
• Check pot plant leaves and stems for scale, aphids and mealy bugs.
• Check citrus trees for signs of ant activity and pest farming.
• Check roses, pittosporum, gardenias, honeysuckles, cabbages for presence of ants and aphids.
• Choose your weapons according to your preferences –eco sensitive, or chemo-blasters.
Google: ‘Argentine ants’, ‘jumping ants’, ‘bull ants’, ‘mealy bugs’, ‘aphids’, ‘brown scale/ black scale/ white scale/ citrus scale’.
Why men hate visiting gardens and what to do about it
Trevor Nottle Thursday 23rd April 2015
Garden visiting is a strange pastime for anybody to do. It is really strange for men to do as it does not involve any kind of sport, has nothing to do with sheds or BBQ’s, and is not the subject of work-mate conversations. But you should not think it impossible that you would never, ever do it. Nor should you think it unlikely that you will ever be asked to go garden visiting. It could happen to you sooner than you think.
Garden visiting is something like a garage sale. Frequently it does involve a shed and a barbie. The shed has to be cleaned out in preparation for an Open Garden and there’s always need for some males to conduct a sausage sizzle as a fund raiser on the day.
On the day instead of kicking tyres, poking about in piles of gear, looking over all sorts of tools and pieces of equipment, and examining sundry spare parts imagine instead poking around in a garden; how does the fountain work; how is the pergola built, how did the paving get laid that way? Look in the vegie garden and at the compost heaps; are there ants? Bugs? Diseases? Check out the irrigation system and check the things that might come in handy for you to know. Notice how the trees are pruned up so things can happen underneath. Take a look at the tomatoes; see how they’ve been pruned by pulling off the strong shoots low down – an old Italian-gardeners trick. Note how long the lawn grasses are – they’ve been cut high to save water and save the grass from the impact of hot weather. What about the grapevines – they’ve had their leaf canopy lifted so the fruit can be protected from wasps by tying paper-bags over the bunches; the fruit will ripen better too but not suffer from sun-burn. You might not have learned anything about roses, delphiniums or rhododendrons but sure as Heck you learned a lot of other useful stuff about growing things to eat. And what about that garden gate made up from old garden tools welded to a frame. Pretty neat, eh? You could do that too.
Some gardens make special efforts to get men interested (see No. 31) but by and large these are the province of institutions rather than private gardens and their owners. However, there are those who do collect odd things that men find curiously interesting; things like ancient lawn mowers and slashers, reel mowers, lawn rollers, Fly-mo’s and early robotic mowers. Some work, some do not, some are restored others await restoration. If you don’t go, you’ll never, never know. Then again there are men attached to Open Gardens who keep a weather station which is quite an interesting thing to see and learn about. Yet others keep bees. This can be really interesting as there is so much to learn about how it’s done and how honey is harvested and how the hive is maintained.
To get men interested in garden visiting is simple enough; just check out the garden description for anything that might be of interest to masculine types and make sure they seethe entry before they go so they know beforehand that the entire day won’t be a crashing bore. Then there is a need for some balance; balance of his interest in men’s techno-stuff against your interest in flower stuff. Gradually the balance will shift to a more strongly garden bias but at the outset you’ve got to get him out the door, into the car and to the Open Garden.
Tuberous begonias with pendant growth and flowers suitable for hanging baskets and window boxes are also available and can be handled in the same manner as outlined above.