Giving Back to Nature

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At this time of the year, I really feel like I am giving back to nature, more than any other time of the year. I pull my car into the carport and am greeted by the noisy Willy Wag tails, these cheeky little black and white birds, that dart in and out of my garden shrubs collecting flying insects and aphids on the roses.
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There’s a very loud humming coming from the three Dombeya burgessiae, that I planted about 4 years ago. In a few short years, they have grown, to create a wonderful dense screen to hide the less than attractive house next door.

A really great informal dense hedge

Can you see the house next door?

This is a South African plant, which was named after the French botanist Joseph Dombey, who collected plants in South America and that blooms in abundance in Perth at this time of the year. Apparently, the leaves and stems are a favourite food of the Black Rhino which as you can imagine we do not see frequently in suburban Perth.

It is just outside our bedroom window and right now is in full bloom and there are so many bees it is moving and there’s no breeze! IMG_3685IMG_3683

The large matt dark green, “grape leaf shaped” leaves provide a lush backdrop to the clusters of heavily scented white flowers.

In Summer, it shelters the front of our house from the hot rising sun coming up from the east and in Autumn thanks us for the extra water it received during the hot months and rewards us with the stunning white blooms and food for an entire hive of bees.

At the end of the flowering season, the white flowers turn to a rust shade of brown and are attractive in their own right.

It is very easy to prune and keep tidy, grows fast, requires little or no care and provides a wonderful habitat for small birds and bees-I really don’t know why we don’t see more of these in Perth gardens.

The power of being in the moment

 

Have you ever wondered why so many avid gardeners seem calm and smile often? Why they see beauty in a leaf or the petals on a flower, why a bug is of interest to them? Why they derive pleasure from small simple things.My Garden

I was visiting a client this week and she happened to say to me that since they had their new garden installed there was one piece of advice that I gave to her husband after I put the garden in that he really listened to. One, I thought to myself, I said so much at handover, what is the one piece of advice? Reticulation, Fertilising routine, growth habits, seasonal changes….. It took me a while for this “significant” moment to really sink in…what was it that had I said that this highly successful and very busy man had listened to?

Aha, then she said it..”hose in one hand tea or a beer in the other”

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On completion of a new garden, I always say to my clients that each morning they should go out into their new garden with their morning brew in hand  and walk around the garden, sometimes I say to the guys, walk around with a beer or a wine in hand and the hose in the other when you get home from work. Ooh look!

Why do I give this advice?

The time that one takes to “water” your garden, and it need be no more than fifteen minutes is an opportunity for the new garden owner to take a moment out of their busy day and connect with nature.

It’s a twinkle in time when one can see what’s happening in the garden, see what creatures have decided to make it their home too and check out the birds that fly in and out of the garden space.

It’s an occasion to monitor what’s growing vigorously and what has come to a stop for a while. It’s an instant to make a mental note of jobs you might want to undertake on the weekend and prepare to deal with any pests and diseases.

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My view is that this time provides the homeowner a second to reflect upon their garden before they head off to work and  consider what their hard work has rewarded them and re-ignite that spark to get through the stressful day ahead.

It’s also three shakes of a lamb’s tail to just bend down and breathe in the heady fragrance of beautiful, healthy blooms.

take time to sniff a fragrant bloom

take the time to sniff a fragrant bloom

It’s a chance to see the changing seasons before they head out into the world for the day,  but most of all it’s a moment to zone out in a kind of spiritual, meditative sort of way. Yes, I know I’m placing great importance on this part of the day but I really believe in this piece of life advice I’m dishing out for free

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Consider the moment, watering pots and plants, perhaps pulling out a weed or two but at the same time just breathing and thinking about nothing except sipping that drink and the beauty of nature at work in the garden.

You are present, you are “in the moment” and that may not happen until tomorrow when you do it all again.

Reflecting upon leaf on a body of water

Reflecting upon a beautiful leaf on a body of water

 

It’s addictive that’s for sure…why not have a think about making this part of your daily routine too and if tea is not your thing, I can vouch for the fact that it works with coffee, wine, champagne or beer or even water if you must and far better for the soul than pounding away on a treadmill or taking a spin class with some uber fit, lycra clad, fake-tanned, protein fuelled bloke yelling at you to go harder, faster, stronger, in a smelly, sweaty gym, I say!

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The joy of garden maintenance

One of the elements of my business is garden maintenance. I like to offer this additional service to clients as part of a complete body of work. I don’t maintain a lot of gardens, just a few. I do this for a number of reasons.

  • It keeps me in touch with what’s happening in other people’s gardens, not just my own.
  • I can keep an eye on what pests and diseases are out and about at any given time of the year
  • I like to follow through on gardens that I have renovated or installed from the design stage, it’s important to identify what has worked and what has not-not everything is a success!
  • The garden is an ever evolving expression for me and it needs tweaking and changing from time to time, to be able to do this in other peoples’ gardens is sheer delight
  • I have elderly clients who love their gardens, their garden is what they do each day, it’s part of their daily routine, with a cup of tea in hand, chatting to the birds who stop by for a visit and can’t bear the thought of leaving their home and garden (most importantly) as they age, to “downsize”. Assisting these wonderful people in their gardens allows them to stay in their homes longer.
  • The relationship between the homeowner and their garden is a very personal one, it’s their private space, I feel so thankful and privileged to be allowed into people’s homes to do my work and look after something which gives them such joy….and just like Johnny Appleseed I get to spread my seeds all over the place!

Here’s one of the gardens I look after in Subiaco, Western Australia. I have been taking care of this garden for nearly two years and it’s looking just lovely this spring. The roses are the best they have ever been. I also look after the one next door!

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Roses for all the neighbours to admire

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Who wouldn’t love to share a meal with friends here?

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Forget Me KNOT

Success in a small garden requires attention to detail.

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There’s a darling small formal garden in Atlanta that I was lucky enough to visit during September, which is filled to the brim with tiny vignettes of carefully manicured and perfectly planned spaces  and then the very special surprise  just when you think you have seen the whole garden, a most enchanting knot garden.

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A folly of carefully clipped balls

A folly of carefully clipped spheres

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This captivating garden owned and generously shared by Mary Wayne Dixon was just superb.  A commitment to establishing a knot garden is significant, I always admire the patience of the Master Gardener who takes care of these features in botanical gardens but to contemplate and then successfully execute creating and maintaining one in your own home garden is quite an undertaking.

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This is not just any knot garden it actually takes up most of the open space in the rear of the property and it is clipped to perfection and oh so delightful. It’s in 3D and very cleverly done using variegated and non-variegated plants all in great health and clipped flawlessly.img_1918

I loved the tree Vitex agnus-castus in the front garden almost as much as the bees did on this late summer afternoon, it was lush and healthy and just covered in blooms.

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The espalier in the walled courtyard was absolutely stunning-check out how well it has been trained…now that’s disciplined gardening.

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Boy oh Boy, they do things well in the USA and styling is one of them, I absolutely loved the styling of the back porch/garden room, everything was just positioned in the most exquisite way. How alluring is this space? Wouldn’t you just love to sit here on a Hotlanta afternoon with a nice cool glass of something and a few cheese straws to nibble on? I know I sure would!
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This neighborhood was absolutely lovely, even the roundabout (which took our coach a very long time to negotiate) had seating for people to enjoy and come together as a community. I love that idea.

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Late season flowering hydrangeas reminded us that Summer was not quite finished yet.

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Have you ever tried to create a knot garden?

My Garden of Friends

 

I have been very blessed in my life with an abundance of wonderful people who I am lucky enough to call and have called my friends. Friends are so important and having a connection with another human being on that level is a joyous thing.

Friends are different from family and add another dimension to one’s whole being. It is true that friends are the family you choose. I am blessed with a large family mostly living in other states of this country and other parts of the world, so my friends are very important to me, whether here or abroad. My Mum is here and she’s a rock, solid piece of living stone that adorns the garden. My children are the pieces of art within the garden, precious treasures.

Some people have been friends for more than thirty years, some even longer, I guess they are the trees in my garden, they have been there for a long time and bend in the wind but for the most part are there, season after season. Some have been fast growing, some slow and some mid-sized and solid. Sometimes, with little contact or need for constant nurture but at the same time provide the bones of the landscape. They provide the basis for life’s garden. Some background, some specimen trees, some offer shade, some offer colour and light, all have their role to play.

My “noble tree” and dearest friend is my husband, is was and always will be.  He’s the one who provides that one true place in the garden. The shade on a hot day. I recently attended a talk by Dr. Michael Dirr from the University of Georgia, who spoke about the importance of the noble tree with great conviction. In an interview, at Penn State Extension with Martha Swiss, when asked what is a noble tree, Dr. Dirr said “It’s anything that outlives us. It’s anything that spans generations, has a long life, supports wildlife, fixes CO2, spits out oxygen, prevents erosion, increases property values, something that’s inherent in our everyday life. We need large trees.” and then Martha Swiss said it very well herself when asked to define the meaning of a noble tree for the Pittsburg Post-Gazette in 2012, “A noble tree is the large sycamore you walk under on a hot summer day, casting welcome shade, or the massive oak you notice in winter for its magnificent silhouette of bare branches, or an old maple from your childhood that held a tire swing. In short, noble trees are those planted to endure for generations, large enough to cast shade and become fixtures in our landscapes and our memories.”

and in my Garden of Friends I’ve had annuals for sure, haven’t we all? Women and men who have come into my life for but a brief moment, in a certain place at a certain time, creating a memory but moving on through, just like any annual, you plant it, nuture it for a short time, enjoy it for it’s blooms or form and then everyone moves on. Sometimes I have put a huge amount of effort into annuals, thinking they were perennials but alas with an element of disappointment there they go, they were only ever meant to be annuals. There’s a joy in annuals for sure and a place in the landscape for them.

There have also been a few weeds who on a positive note, I guess, provide habitat for native bees and butterflies, but probably best removed before they have a chance to bloom again for another season.

I have to say also that I am very grateful for Facebook which has allowed me to reconnect with people who I have known all my life but with whom I had lost contact, for no real reason, life just got in the way. I guess these people are the perennials in my garden, they are there, I planted them, they bloomed and they may be in the shade of the trees, they may be overgrown with annuals or just lying dormant waiting for that essential fertiliser to return them to their former beauty. They are and will always be there. They too form a very special part of the garden.

Connecting with nature has always been so important to me just as connecting with friends, men for sure but women, in particular.  It is part of who I am. I enjoy the company of women, listening to their stories and how they got to where they are at this particular moment in time.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, when you travel with an open heart, you are lucky enough to go out into the nursery of mankind and find some new treasures to plant in your garden and as I so often say to my dear husband “there’s always room for one more plant” (or several) and so it is true that there is always room in one’s life for more friends. Just as a mother finds space in her heart to welcome a new baby into the family it is also true that your heart finds room for new friends while still able to nurture the older ones that exist in the garden.

I have recently had the great joy of spending time with new treasures, they may be trees, perennials or annuals, I’m not quite sure yet, they are all adding to the garden in their own special way. Gorgeous, like-minded garden loving people. I had the very great pleasure of catching up with many of them at the GWA conference in September held in Atlanta, Georgia and I’m feeling ever so grateful. There’s the dear ones from #GWA15 in Pasadena like Denise, Eva, Louise, Susan, Sylvia, Jennifer, Jo-Ellen, Ann, C.L., Kathy J, Pam and Diana, Larry and Kirk and Sara. These folks have made an enormous effort to keep in touch despite geography and are wonderful and cherished additions to my garden of friends.

This year, I have added even more flowers to my garden Jacqueline, Deb, Dee, Marianne, Teresa, Nan, Katie, Maria, Ken and sweet Barbara from England and am so grateful to each and every one of them for coming up to say Hi and having a chat.

I will make mention of one very special friend, AZ Plantlady, who I met last year in Pasadena. This year before the conference she invited me to come visit her in Phoenix, her hometown. She collected me from the airport, handed me a huge home made ‘Welcome to Arizona’ pack filled with treats and lots of information, took me into her home, introduced me to her family, fed me, we laughed and ate at “local” places, we talked non-stop for a week about life, our universe, what’s important to each of us and mostly I feel privileged that she shared with me her joy of gardening in the place where she lives and hopefully I’m firmly planted in her garden of friends too, I’d like to say maybe a young Palo Verde…

“A garden is a friend you can visit anytime” Anon

 

Phoenix in Bloom for an Aussie on Tour

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A warm Fall/Autumn morning spent wandering through the incredible Desert Botanical Garden located in Papago Park in Phoenix, Central Arizona revealed 140 acres of stunning desert plantings, during my recent visit to the USA, catching up with my dear friend, Phoenix local and fellow blogger AZPlantLady, was such a delightful and unexpected surprise. Superb gardens packed full of inspiring landscape design ideas and beautiful desert plants.

Cactus in flower

Cactus in flower

This place is a treasure trove filled with wonderful ideas for those of us gardening in dry climates all over the world.

While some of the plants might not be available for us to use (and here’s where my botanical envy really kicks in) the concepts and the way plants are grouped and the use of water features and careful placement of seating and art in the garden is something we can definitely learn from.

Design concepts such as water features and hard elements such as rock placements are not really new however the ways in which they can be applied in a modern way is and here’s where we can learn and share ideas. Glass elements from Chuhuly provide additional awe at the entrance to the gardens.

I would desperately love to be able to grow the stunning Palo Verde tree which loses its’ leaves and then has the ability to photosynthesize through its’ green trunk and stems. This is a wondrous medium sized shade tree that I first noticed in California last year but it’s here that this beauty calls home. It is used very effectively as a shade tree on street verges, car parks and as specimen trees in home gardens.img_1597

Gravel mulch is used extensively in Phoenix and unusually plants are planted quite sparsely in home gardens and also in public parks and gardens. This allows each plant to have its own space and grow into that space. There’s a certain joy in the spaces in between of a garden and resisting overplanting to “fill a gap” which provides the mind an opportunity to pause. The spaces in a garden are as important as the densely planted. In Phoenix, they really understand this concept.

Cacti and Succulent lovers will ooh and ahh at every turn here. I particularly loved the Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) pronounced SWARO for us Aussies, is one of the most spectacular plants in these gardens. These are huge, ancient, tree-like cacti that develop head and arm-like branches as they mature. They are very slow growing and costly to purchase for the home garden.  The “arms”  bend upward as if to worship the hot Arizona sun. These plants interestingly are covered with spines and bare white flowers in the late spring, and red fruit in summer. They also provide habitat for birds and reptiles. The birds drill holes into the Saguaro and pop in and out to escape the heat.img_1601Saguaro with a very rare “head” and three “arms” who needs man made art?!

In the gardens, one can experience first hand the lifestyle of the Native Americans, there are round huts which are surprisingly larger on the inside than they appear on the outside but of most interest was the use of Living fences constructed out of Ocotillo Cactus (Fouquieria splendens)  these were fascinating and provided a great deterrent to any critter thinking of sneaking into the vegetable patch for a nibble. The stems can look dead at certain times of the year but as soon as the rain comes they spring into leaf again.Living Fences

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Large rocky outcrops in a particular shade of brown, one only sees in these parts is reminiscent of an old cowboy movie set but the thing is……. this is real.

img_1576img_1618The undergrowth is alive with squirrels and reptiles and at eye level butterflies, bees and colourful caterpillars were of great fascination to me. There were lots of late summer flowering perennials deliberately planted to provide habitat for butterflies.

This garden is a treat if you garden in a dry climate, if you’re seeking inspirational landscaping concepts or if you just want to go and drool at some very special plants that can’t be grown in your hometown and learn something about other parts of the world.

Swathes of grass provide colour and movement

Swathes of grass provide colour and movement

gentle water providing a sense of cool to a bench seat

Gentle water providing a sense of cool to a bench seat

The Money Shot..me and my friend the Saguaro

The Money Shot…me and a Saguaro pronounced Swaro

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Palo Verde tree-an absolute favourite of mine

Chihuly glass

Chihuly glass a dramatic statement at the entrance