Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Garden Bliss

An olive underplanted with Salvia Nemorosa 'Blauhugel' (syn.S. 'Blue Hills'), the spires of
Acanthus mollis in the background

We’ve had a week of insane weather – last Saturday I awoke to rain, hail and wind and winter temperatures but by Tuesday we were back to fine spring weather and as my Mum was visiting from New Zealand I decided that we’d take a little family jaunt out to Lambley Nursery and Gardens. So we packed a picnic and ourselves into the car and headed off.

I've been having a very hectic time of late and I couldn't have made a better decision. The day as you can see was perfect, the garden sparkling and there were only a few people about. My son made friends with Jedda the Labrador dog (picnic lunch nevers goes astray in making friends with a lab) and they both lounged beneath a cherry tree while Mum and I explored the gardens.

I not only take my hat off to David Glenn his wife the artist Criss Canning and the nursery staff but deliver them a low sweeping bow. How they maintain such a magnificent garden in such trying conditions is quite beyond me. The garden and nursery are located on the Western Plains of Victoria where the climate is by any estimation harsh. Strong winds, heavy frosts, searing heat - all are factors at various times of the year. And yet the plants thrive through all of this while receiving only three to four (deep) waterings a year.

Of course the plant selection is masterful. The plants on offer are great performers in difficult conditions. This is not always so of plants I have sourced. There is nothing worse than buying a plant or plants which one believes to be suitable to certain conditions to find that it will in fact only perform well when molly coddled within an inch of its (or your) life. "Good doers" is what most of us require in a plant but in our dreams the doers are magnificent, beautiful and breath taking and this is what Lambley provides.

Plant selection is assisted through David Glenn's concise descriptions in the catalogue and on plant labels. He gives the most useful information not only about colour but plant form, soil requirements and drought tolerance.

But back to the wonderful the garden - the garden is contained by a tall hedge and structure is provided by this and judicially placed olives and cypress trees. At this time of year the garden's colour palette is awash in blues and purple tones with large blocks of salvias, lavender and globular heads of alliums. Contrasting tones of yellow and silver are also a prominent feature.

One of the most interesting things I find about the garden is the skillful plant combinations. During our visit I found a couple of plants which individually did not have much appeal for me but in combination with others their appeal was vastly boosted. Usually I find for me this works in reverse I can be sucked in the by appeal of an individual plant but find that unless I have the right visual companions the individual beauty is diminished.

Ixia amethystina and with the exquisite Yucca rostrata, Salvia nemorosa ssp tesquiccola and Allium

As in many parts of my life I need to learn to suspend judgement. In this example I found the colour of this plant quite jarring and almost unnatural. I was about to dismiss it but when I walked around and viewed it from another angle I found it had a very worthwhile contribution to make to a grouping. As illustrated the complimentary and contrasting forms and colours worked beautifully. I think I've said before this whole plant combination lark can be very challenging - an artist's eye like Criss Canning's is helpful.

An on that note I shall say no more but let the pictures do the talking. Except to say that David Glenn's garden notes on the Lambley website are worth a look for more detailed information.

Cynara scolymus 'Romanesco' Purple Globe Artichoke, Lupinus lonifolius to the right and

Acanthus mollis at the rear

Amongst others the remarkable red spires of Beschorneria septentrionalis or False Red Agave

Salvia sclarea collected in the Taurus mountains in Turkey - "to my mind the best of its race" David Glenn

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Delights of Mail Order

Lambley Dry Garden

I have to admit I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to plant mail order catalogues. Even if I'm not ordering I love to leaf through those catalogues and read up on the virtues of new or newly included plant varieties. I don't receive many catalogues and there are only really a couple that get my heart racing but all the same my delight at opening my letterbox and discovering the latest issue has arrived is really quite delicious.

I remember when I was in the UK reading an article by Christopher Lloyd on his pleasure at this too. Of course in his case he was ordering vast quantities of seeds for his magnificent "
Great Dixter". I like to imagine him in a wing tipped armchair with a rug over his knees poring through the catalogues - all a bit Charles Dickens I know but if you've ever visited "Great Dixter" you'll know why my imagination runs away with me.

My two top poring catalogues here in Australia are the catalogue from
Lambley Nursery just outside Ballarat in Victoria and The Diggers Club Catalogue - which I love because not only do I get a garden plant fix but also a magnificent array of fruit and vegetables which I like to imagine growing in my garden. This unfortunately is not possible due to the size and shady nature of my yard but all the same I can dream.

My poring over catalogues usually does include sneaking off to a quiet corner somewhere cup of tea or coffee in hand and letting my own imagination run away with me. Many of the plants that I coo over are not necessarily terribly fashionable here in Australia at the moment. I've always had a bit of a penchant for large swathes of colourful or textural plants a la
Piet Oudolf or Oehme and Van Sweden. I get my fix on this front through the Lambley catalogue.

If you're in the Melbourne area the garden itself is worth a visit - how they do what they do in those dry, windswept western plains makes me wonder. What I love about their catalogue is that I know the plants have been tested in the most trying of conditions and if they're grown in the "
Dry Garden" they are incredibly tough and drought tolerant. That is always my complaint with some nursery grown plants that are used to a high level of water and cosseting and expect the same in the average suburban garden - and frankly they're just not going to get it.

Our handsome but expensive Halloween Pumpkin

The Diggers Catalogue always has an interesting array of plants and fruit and vegetables and also includes useful articles. Sometimes I must admit my musings are quite fantastical - for example lately my dreaming has turned to pumpkins - my son has a passion for Halloween and last week I found and paid a ridiculous amount for a large orange pumpkin which the vendor told me was a Canadian pumpkin. An American friend of mine informed me that in the US this is the only type called a pumpkin and that everything else we call pumpkins are in fact what they call squash. I saved the seeds from my magnificent pumpkin with thoughts of planting them but then turned to the catalogue and found such a magnificent array of pumpkin/squash that I had visions of tearing out all the plants in my minute front garden and just having pumpkins rambling everywhere ....

Some of the pumpkin delights from Digger's Club

So this is why I love a catalogue because not only does it feed the practical but also the fantastical which sometimes is so much more fun.

PS If anyone knows of any magnificent catalogues to add to my obsession please let me know!

I also must include this link to a recipe from my friend Bea who lives in Boston and has a rather fantastic food blog called La Tartine Gourmande - this particular recipe is for
curried winter squash soup and even if you're not much of a cook - her magnificent autumnal photos are worth a look.