Noble trees and an afternoon with Mike

A plantsman’s garden

Picture this, it’s hot, darn hot and we’re in Athens, Georgia, it’s late in the afternoon, embarrassingly humid, they say that ladies glow and men sweat, well, this is pure and simple sweaty as you like kind of weather, it’s hard to be lady-like in this heat. As we approach the gate, 80 garden communicators, mostly middle-aged literally clambering over each other to get off the bus and into a very special garden, this after a long day of garden visiting and yet every single one is bursting with child-like energy, acting a bit like crazed paparazzi snappers at the Oscars rushing forward and ready to be hanging onto every word and appreciating the very great privilege of a private tour of (just call me) Mike’s garden plus some insight into what makes the great man tick….and suddenly quiet falls over the group and he begins to speak…..and so, just exactly who is Mike?

Dr Michael A. Dirr is one of those delightful and quite rare plantsmen who makes an instant impression on you. He is super charismatic and as soon as he starts to speak you just know that you are in the presence of someone very special, a guru, a mentor, a shining star of your industry. Dr Dirr was a keynote speaker at GWA16, the annual symposium for Garden Writers Association in Atlanta, Georgia USA. 

Listening to the great man

Following the symposium, Dr Dirr offered a tour of his private garden.

So, just who is Michael Dirr?

Dr Michael Dirr is a Professor of Horticulture at The University of Georgia and has received special honours from all of the main horticulture bodies in the US.

American Horticultural Society Liberty Hyde Bailey Medal

American Horticultural Society’s Teaching Award

American Horticultural Society’s Teaching Award

Arthur Hoyt Scott Garden and Horticultural Award

ASHS Undergraduate Educator Award

Medal of Honor from the Garden Clubs of America

Southern Nurseryman’s Association (SNA) Slater Wight Memorial Award

He is a plant breeder and has a special love for trees.

Dirr’s Encyclopaedia of Trees and Shrubs is biblical in proportion, this book is HUGE in size and content very much like the great man himself.  It’s common in the USA, according to Professor Eva Monheim, from Temple University, to see young University students schlepping this enormous document to class, this tome is THE book for horticultural reference and there’s a special joy in having met the good Dr because you can hear his words and turn of phrase in his prose. The man himself is also larger than life and literally jumped from garden bed to garden bed, tree to tree, shrub to shrub on a very hot Athens, Georgia afternoon eager to share ever single bit of information that he could possibly pack into the precious time that we had with him, such generosity, and so much information stored in that one big brain.

Vitex and Cordyline

The concept of the Noble tree in the garden is an interesting one, it’s the tree that you plant in your garden that’s going to rise up above all others and anchor the garden. Important from a design and aesthetic point of view but also from a philosophical and future proofing one. Dr Dirr talks about the noble tree with great passion.

Fellow GWA Member and Master gardener Martha Swiss interviewed Dr Dirr in 2014 and asked him about the concept of the noble tree and 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.”

He went on to remark, “One of the big issues is storm water mitigation. They’re seeing pronounced benefits from large trees.  One percent of the trees left in Minneapolis-Saint Paul are elms, and they capture 30 percent of the runoff water. This is actually from a landscape architect, Peter Cavanaugh in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. And he said one reason we need the trees—they have gigantic canopies, they have many, many branches, they have large trunks, they have extensive root systems—so they can capture rainwater, runoff water, much better than small trees. So there’s certainly an economic benefit.”

Dr Dirr asks that we consider the value of trees in terms of the property markets when he said to Martha Swiss “There have been published studies done by the Forest Service largely on the West coast and Oregon and in California, on property value enhancement. They talk about a single tree as far as saleability. A tree—and we’re talking about noble trees all the way down to crabapple and plums—can have a pronounced effect on the saleability and the appeal of a house as well as the price of a house. It raises the value of a home.”

Stunning Lagerstroemia

“Trees contribute so much to everyday life, the quality of life. We’re tied to biology every day in our own lives. Trees are a big part of it. “. said, Dr Dirr

Dr Dirr’s garden

Dr Dirr believes that despite the reduction in block size every home gardener needs to address the concept of the Noble tree and creating space for such a tree in every yard, every council needs to consider this when planning parks and gardens. He speaks about selecting the right tree for the right location so that the tree has an opportunity to grow into the new landscape for future generations. Dr Dirr is passionate about developing those involved in our industry and about the need to advocate for trees as horticulture professionals  and said in the interview with Martha Swiss “I think you gotta cajole, and you gotta inspire, and you gotta educate, and you gotta talk, and you gotta keep hitting your fist on the desk. You gotta hope that they listen.”

Dr Dirr and one of his many fans, Eva Monheim from Temple University

Dr Dirr is passionate about Lagerstroemias, Viburnums and new hybrids of Vitex. His garden is filled with rambly perennials borders and lovely young trees including Quercus and Maples as well as Tupelos. A visit to Dr Dirrs’ garden is for plantaholics like me a bit like a kid winning the golden ticket and going to visit Willy Wonka in his chocolate factory, but with a fundamental difference, Dr Dirr is an academic keeping it real, an incredible, knowledgeable plantsman generous of spirit and willing to share his vast knowledge, engaging young teens as much as older folks with a passion for learning…………and on this day, I have got to say that I really felt like I walked in the presence of greatness.

even the bugs are happy in this garden

Dr Dirr’s cat-which is not really his cat

Andrea’s Top 6 trees small trees for West Australian Gardens

Agonis Flexuosa ‘Burgundy’

Lagerstroemia Natchez

Eucalyptus Erythrocorys ‘Red Cap Gum’

Brachychiton acerifolia x populneus ‘Bella-donna’

Eucalyptus Caesia

Hakea laurina

Andrea’s Top 6 Noble trees found in large Perth gardens

Liquid Amber

Jacaranda

Corymbia citriodora

Bauhinia

Callitris pressii ‘Rottnest Island Pine’

Agonis Flexuosa

Have you got a “Noble Tree” at your place?

Andrea attended #GWA16 in Atlanta, Georgia where Dr Michael Dirr was a keynote speaker. Dr Dirr has published more than 300 scientific and popular papers and articles. His book Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs is available through Timber Press and is one of their best selling titles.

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.

Summertime…and the livin’ is easy

 

It’s mid-Summer here in Perth and while we have had a few crazy hot blasts of heat, it really has been quite a mild season so far.

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During Spring, I bulked up the garden with lots of mature compost and then wood chip mulch, even on herbs and vegies and the rewards have been great. We are only watering the garden through our reticulation system twice a week and topping up with a little hand watering here and there. The lawn is only watered twice a week for 15 minutes each time.

I have grouped plants that have the same water requirements together.

Urns filled with all sorts of goodies and some potted impatiens all require a daily hand water

Urns filled with all sorts of goodies and some potted impatiens all require a daily hand water.

Here's thick mulch around the base of Radermachera Summerscent and Ateranthera dentata 'Little Ruby

Here’s thick mulch around the base of Radermachera ‘Summerscent’ and Alternanthera dentata ‘Little Ruby’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tree dahlia is growing like a triffid again and is better protected from the Fremantle Doctor (the wind that blows from the west most Summer afternoons in Perth) now that the Cotinus coggygria ‘Purpureus’ is three years old.

Dahlia imperialis or Bell tree dahlia is an 8-10 metre tall member of the Dahlia genus native to Mexico, Central America and Colombia. The birds love hiding in it to escape the heat. I think it's fascinating that each year I cut it down to ground level and then up she comes again and again

Dahlia imperialis or Bell tree dahlia is an 8-10 metre tall member of the Dahlia genus native to Mexico, Central America and Colombia. The birds love hiding in it to escape the heat. I think it’s fascinating that each year I cut it down to ground level and then up she comes again and again

Cotinus...hard to believe it was a tiny sapling only 3 years ago

Cotinus coggygria so hard to believe it was a tiny 30cm sapling from a friends’ garden only 3 years ago

The agapanthus on the front verge under the Queensland box tree, which has finally stopped dropping those darn brown leaves, are putting on the most magnificent show, some stems are more than 1 metre tall

The agapanthus have done so well this year thanks to lots of mature compost and bark mulch

The agapanthus have done so well this year thanks to lots of mature compost and bark mulch

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cut back the Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ quite hard during spring and have created a lovely informal display of deep pink under our Marri and Jarrah trees, that just keeps on flowering

New little bird solar lights shine brightly at night amongst the salvia 'Wendy's Wish'

New little bird solar lights shine brightly at night amongst the Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’

We’ve installed some lovely new hand blown glass birds which are actually solar lights and look so sweet at night-time…as close as I will ever get to owning a Chihuly, I think.

This is potted Copper Spoons or Kalanchoe orgyalis and my cute garden gnome pool ready in her bikini and sunnies IMG_2171

This is Copper Spoons or Kalanchoe orgyalis and ‘Flossie’ my cute garden gnome, she’s pool ready in her bikini and sunnies

 

Everyone needs a new project, right?

Just before Christmas, we dug up some pavers in the centre of a small enclosed courtyard that gets blasted by the rising sun and has a very ugly view of the house next door. I planted a Zelkova ‘Golden Flame’ in the centre and now that the red Plumeria which I have named Plumeria Annaplainsii, because it was taken as a cutting from Anna Plains cattle station in The Kimberley, is in full bloom and the little red vincas are in filling the space under the Zelkova, it’s looking really pretty out there and further the temperature and reflected heat into the house has reduced dramatically.

I took this on 28th November before we cut out the pavers-what a difference 6 weeks makes in the garden

I took this on 28th November before we cut out the pavers-what a difference 6 weeks makes in the garden

One month after planting...Here's the new Zelkova 'Golden Flame'

One month after planting…Here’s the new Zelkova ‘Golden Flame’ eventually it will reach up and provide glorious summer shade for this courtyard and in winter allow light

This is the Plumeria I have named Plumeria annaplainsii. The frangrance is rose like-check out the colours!

This is the Plumeria I have named Plumeria annaplainsii. The fragrance is rose like check out the colours…I wish you could smell it

My roses are all budding up ready for their third flush (yes 3) for the year they have been just glorious and I think it’s been because I pruned them late, deadhead often and fed them with nothing but mature compost and never spray them except with Lime Sulphur immediately after pruning.

This is David Austin 'Jubilee Celebration' and this is the third flush and is now much more peach in colour than the first flush after pruning

This is David Austin ‘Jubilee Celebration’ and this is the third flush and is now much more peach in colour than the first flush after pruning

 

Andrea’s Top 7 tips for keeping your garden looking fabulous through summer

  • Add Mature Compost and Mulch with Marri wood chips in Spring but if you haven’t done it yet, do it now there’s still a lot of hot weather ahead
  • Group plants that have similar water requirements together
  • Deadhead your roses often to encourage more blooms
  • Hand water in the mornings
  • Trim spent blooms from succulents to keep them looking neat and tidy
  • If hedges and shrubs experience sunburn resist the temptation to trim the burnt leaves, leave them to protect the new growth as it emerges
  • Let your Palmetto buffalo lawn grow a little longer, it’s much kinder on the lawn and gives a lovely lush green effect which cools the house down

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?

First Class Contemporary Design-Atlanta Style

Over the past few years, many of my landscape designs have involved interpreting garden spaces surrounding Giorgi Exclusive home designs in Perth, Western Australia. I have completed four of these high-end gardens in the past two years and so you can imagine how excited I was to check out a contemporary garden in Atlanta during my trip there in September and I was so pleased to see and confirm that my garden plantings are really ‘bang on’ trend with comparable cutting edge designs in the USA.

I will admit it, I do at times question myself, I suppose it’s natural, there have been times when my clients look at me with that “are you serious?, you want to plant that?!” kind of look because they are too polite to say it out aloud and I go back and think and look and check and read and re-read again…I guess that’s a part of any healthy creative process and the mental torture that anyone designing something puts themselves through…probably pretty normal I expect.

Creating a garden space around a contemporary home can be challenging because the Landscape Designer needs to consider what the Architect had in mind and provide a design that is sympathetic to that design while at the same time offering much needed green space for the family. The garden needs to support the family that is going to live there. It’s a significant investment for the garden owner at the end of their build but I must say that for me the garden is the icing on the cake of a new home (I find it hard to get excited about tiles). The work of the Garden Designer is the finishing touch, when that lawn is down it tells the neighbourhood-This House is finally complete, a family is moving in.

Here’s my Top 5 Tips for creating a Stylish Contemporary Garden

  1. Improve the soil. This is probably the most important aspect fo creating a new garden. It makes no sense trying to plant new plants beautifully nurtured by the wholesale grower into builders sand leftover from the build. New soil enriched with mature compost is an essential foundation for any garden
  2. Invest in Large Trees.  I always try and include as many mature trees into the design as I can, the idea is that the new home sits comfortably back into the landscape in as short as time as possible. Mature trees give you this
  3. Mass Plantings for a bold effect. Large drifts of plants particularly when working with hard landscaped raised beds always looks best. Colour, shape and variations of light through shadows by plants against walls can be achieved through careful selection of mass planted foliage plants
  4. Include Edibles. I always try to include edibles in every garden every client needs at least a few herbs to compliment their cooking
  5. Include Flowers Yes, green is a colour and I love it but I am a sucker for flowers. I follow the same disciplined principle of mass planting whatever I choose for best effect. This does not mean I plant a monoculture, just that there is never one or two of anything in the contemporary gardens I create .

Here’s some images from the Private Garden of Robin and Marc Pollack just outside Atlanta Georgia

Bold and Cobalt Blue Contemporary art to compliment the landscape

Bold and Cobalt Blue Contemporary art to compliment the landscape

Even the birds live a stylish life here

Even the birds live a stylish life here

Attention to detail

Attention to detail a place for everything

Foliage provides a pop of colour

Foliage provides a pop of colour

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Challenging variation in heights-note one of my favourite plants Ficus Pumila on white wall

Challenging variation in heights-note one of my favourite plants self clinging, easy trim, Ficus Pumila on white walls

Imagine standing around here with a nice glass of red on a cold winters night

Imagine standing around here with a nice glass of red on a cold winters night

Who wouldn't want to dine here?

Who wouldn’t want to dine here?

 

Mass planting for a stylish effect

Mass planting for a stylish effect

Love the variations of underfoot hardscaping

Love the variations of underfoot hardscaping

A very stylish way to invite nature into the garden

A very stylish way to invite nature into the garden

Groups of three pots in dark charcoal

Groups of three pots in dark charcoal

Stunning outdoor seating for the whole family

Stunning outdoor seating for the whole family

Always room for Edibles

Always room for edibles

Garden Writers on tour

Garden Writers on tour

Every good painting needs a splash of red

Every good painting needs a splash of red

Plants that provide shadows on white walls-living art

Plants that provide shadows on white walls-living art

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Even the Glasshouse offers contemporary style

Even the Glasshouse offers contemporary style

How did they get those post up there?

How did they get those post up there?

A cool place to sit

A cool place to sit

Check out Giorgi Exclusive Homes at their website http://www.giorgi.co