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


Corymbia citriodora


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.

Mountain Goats not required here…

You don’t have to be called Heidi and own a small herd of goats to successfully garden on a sloping site.  Just ask Rosie Davidson who recently opened her garden to a group of Garden Communicators on tour, as part of the 2016 national conference of GWA in Georgia during September.img_1932

it wouldn't be the South without a bottle tree

It just wouldn’t be the South without a bottle tree

It is always tricky trying to design usable garden spaces on a sloping block. Trying to create interesting areas and accommodate a swimming pool and spots to sit and enjoy the great outdoors without chairs sitting on awkward angles and visitors leaving your place looking slightly more distorted than when they arrived and losing the food you have carefully prepared as it slides off their plates. As a Garden Designer or creative home owner if you’re into DIY, the challenge is to create areas of flat, both big and small within the sloping block. Practically, the garden owner wants to make the most out of every square foot of their land and also avoid completely covering their guests’ clothing in food and wine and losing all of their friends in the process!

Your guests wont lose their lunch to their lap on this flat surface

Your guests won’t lose their lunch to their lap on this flat surface


Mrs Davidson warmly welcomed us to her property which offers an enchanting garden built into a hillside in a leafy green neighborhood in Atlanta. The gardens have been created over four levels and a combination of rustic steps, brick paving and gravel pathways provide variation of underfoot experiences and easy access by winding into the contours of the garden rather than going straight up (which is enough to exhaust anyone, let alone when you’re carrying plants and bags of fertilizer to tend to your garden).

The garden provides cool tranquility and respite from the heat on a summer afternoon, large canopy trees form a living green baldachin overhead with just a hint of middle-of-the-day sunlight and blue sky penetrating through.img_1948

I could have easily jumped into that deep blue swimming pool clothes and all…if only 50 people weren’t watching, it was very inviting! A large wall of Miscanthus created privacy as well as whimsical movement above the swimming pool area which was also surrounded by a meticulously clipped 7′ high hedge for extra privacy and screening and acts like a living wall additionally providing sheltered habitat for birds. Love that!

The shadowing on the pool created by the trees in the upper story above was almost mirror like on this still afternoon and really quite beautiful.
img_1942img_1943                              Can you see the trees reflecting in the water?

Ahh...the stunning branches of the Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle)

Ahh…the stunning branches of the Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle). I love the shadows that form on the wall behind that’s art right there!

Buzzing in unison

Buzzing in unison, check out these two beauties completely engrossed in their work

Lush verdant green areas offer tranquility, sometimes people forget that green is a color and that we need it to rest our eyes from the intensity provided by flowers. Small areas of green ground covers and raised terraced gardens offering depth and shades of brown through the use of beautifully crafted stone retaining walls were a wonderful feature of this garden. I almost felt like I was climbing up into the forest beyond.

A delicious collection of succulents close to the house offered a splash of color, texture and fun by the use of a variety of terracotta and glazed pots.

Ophiopogon japonicus (Mondo Grass) provided soft edges to a gravel pathway leading down to the main entertaining terrace.

where will this pathway lead me?

where will this pathway lead me?


Pots filled with healthy flowering plants and a beautiful potted Acer palmatum provided added interest to this lovely garden.

Specimen Pots filled with healthy plants

Pots filled with healthy plants


You can  always tell a little about a garden owner by the art that they choose to accent certain spaces in their garden and Mrs Davidsons garden is no exception, she’s a cheerful and very bubbly garden owner which is reflected in the pieces she has chosen for her garden, a little bit of vagary and fun throughout the garden never goes astray.

Hello Froggy

Hello Froggy

Delightful Potting Bench

Delightful Potting Bench

This was a most enjoyable way to conclude a full day of garden visiting, a calm oasis before heading back into the busy city streets of downtown Atlanta.img_1939 img_1935

Thank you, Rosie Davidson for sharing your stunning garden with us.

A little bit of Fairy Fun

A little bit of Fairy Fun to make you smile!



Forget Me KNOT

Success in a small garden requires attention to detail.


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.


A folly of carefully clipped balls

A folly of carefully clipped spheres


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.


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.


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


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!

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.


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



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


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


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

Southern Hospitality…it’s not just for the humans

No doubt about it when you visit Georgia, you will experience as I did, what is known as Southern hospitality, there’s the food, of course, Ahh the food, the wonderful service is absolutely everywhere you go (even a homeless guy was friendly and gave us directions) and those accents…OHH, those wonderful accents….though to be sure I think this is may be true of most places in the USA, if the Garden Writers I have met through GWA are anything to go by but I guess it’s in the South that they are really known for it….but here’s something you might not have known, that delightful hospitality …is not just for humans!

Check out these incredible artisan birdhouses, each one tells its’ own story. These pics were taken during my recent trip to Atlanta and Athens, Georgia….and now that I’m back home, I am experiencing serious birdhouse envy…is that a thing?! I think that my husband is hoping that I find a cure quick smart! Then again…this could be his new retirement plan?! He has about 10 years to create them and build up his stocks before we start selling them.img_1811

Imagine the wonderful bird parties here!

Imagine the wonderful bird parties here!



There’s the house and then there’s the incredible pole!


Thank you to Garden Owners Candy Johnson, Robin and Mark Pollock, Carole McWilliams, Lee Dunn, Arthur Blank, Mary Wayne Dixon, Rosie Davidson, Barbara and Vince Dooley, Bonnie and Mike Dirr and Ann and Joe Frierson for providing wonderful habitat spaces for the birds who come visit your gardens and for the southern hospitality shown to people like me who came to visit in September during #GWA16


If I come back as a bird in my next life…I know exactly where I’m headed!

Peeking over, under and through fences in Atlanta

OK Friends, I must confess, I get very excited when I know that I’m going to see other people’s gardens. It’s no wonder really, after all I was the Co-ordinator of the Open Garden Scheme here in WA and Chairman of the Management Committee for years before that, so I guess I think of myself as a bit of an old timer when it comes to checking out other people’s spaces. I have seen the best of the best in this country that’s for sure.

I just love visiting gardens, not in a creepy sort of voyeuristic,  peeping in people’s windows sort of way…. I just love seeing how other people interpret their private outdoor rooms, how they choose to connect with their land.  I love to see which art pieces they buy or create, which plants they choose, which trees they plant. Breathe, Andrea, Breathe…..Hyperventilating…..So can you imagine how hard it was to contain myself at the prospect of seeing nine private gardens in three days during my recent trip to Atlanta to attend #GWA16 The Annual Garden Writers Association conference. I was just like a kid in a lolly shop on the inside (I’m not ashamed to admit) while maintaining my uber cool self on the outside -sure sure-who am I kidding? I could not wipe the smile off my face, my pointer figure had clicking fatigue from all the camera action taking place and my face was sore from smiling and making an “O” shape with my mouth, it’s a wonder one of those giant bumblebees didn’t fly right in….and yet this is my work?!

Garden communicators are a very happy lot-why wouldn’t we be? Let’s be real, getting to wander through stunning gardens surrounded by like-minded plant mad, garden crazy souls. I just loved getting back on the bus after each garden, listening to the chatter, even though on one of the days we were drenched by 2.5 inches of rain, we didn’t care one bit…the post viewing excitement was palpable, “did you see that?”, “how was the art?”, “what about those birdhouses” and “OMG did you see those pots?”

The gardens selected for this years’ conference were, well let’s just say a BIG WOW at every stop.

A hearty congratulations to the Selectors of this years’ private gardens they were really outstanding and this little Aussie did not mind one bit traveling 25 hours in a flying tube to spend precious time with my new found friends and reuniting with some dear older ones from my first conference last year.

Today, I am going to share just one of the incredibly lush beautifully presented gardens we saw…there’s more pics and more stories to follow…Thank you so much Candy Johnson for sharing this garden with us

OK you want to have a look too, don’t know you want too…well here you are…..just a peek mind you…

A stunning front door-Halloween ready

A stunning front door-Halloween ready

My personal favourite vignette

My personal favourite vignette

Stunning display, when sometimes foliage is enough

Stunning display, when sometimes just wonderful foliage is enough

What a wonderful pop of colour

What a dramatic pop of colour


I want to sit right here

A very impressive entrance

A very impressive entrance

Loch Nessie in Atlanta

Loch Nessie in Atlanta

A Buxus Folly-why not?

A Buxus Folly-with seating, why not?



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