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Holly's Autumn 2020 Newsletter

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower:  Albert Camus. French philosopher and writer.

After a tragic summer, when many gardens were devastated by fire, and then were flooded, shoots are starting to appear on many trees. The deciduous trees - those that weren’t devastated by the lethal bushfires - are taking on fiery colours. The apples in the shops are new season: sweet and crisp, but more expensive, again due to the dreadful weather. While it’s harvest time (for those who weren’t impacted by the fires) the relentless tasks of summer – planting, cutting back, weeding and watering – are almost complete, permitting us to sit, catch our breath and contemplate the garden in the glow of autumn light.


Welcome to my Autumn newsletter.


1 Autumn apples



Queensland gardening friends – those who haven’t been flooded - are still enjoying the heavily scented Beaumontia grandiflora, a white flowering vine that is very vigorous in tropical climates.


2 Beaumontia grandiflora


In Sydney gardens the hydrangeas are still flowering: as autumn cools their large flowerheads take on wonderful antiqued colours. The Japanese windflowers (Anemone nemerosa) are flowering in pinks and whites, carpeting the ground beneath deciduous trees. The stars of the warm-temperate garden at this time of the year, however, are the Medinillas, which bloom with grape-like trusses of purple or pink. The gorgeous blue ginger (Dichorisandra thrysiflora) - not a ginger at all - will bloom for months. Native to South America, this fleshy perennial grows to about 1.5 metres tall and bears stunning bright blue flowers through autumn and winter. It looks fabulous with some of the brilliantly coloured cannas, or with red-flowering pelargoniums, and is easily propagated with cuttings once flowering is over: a tip, perhaps for those replanting fire-devastated gardens.


3 Medinilla myriantha

The plumbago is blooming: In Sydney I have seen very smart hedges that combine 3 colours. There is the pale blue species, along with the white variety and also Plumbago 'Royal Cape' which bears stunning cerulean blooms. And the dahlias are in all the flower markets.


All over the country the autumn roses are flowering. If your roses have suffered over the summer, they will welcome a hard prune, water and light feed. My neighbour’s ‘Crepuscule’ is putting on another impressive performance, after a dose of the new Seasol rose food.


4 blue ginger


Closely related to apples and pears, and also a member of the Rosaceae family, the quince - the lone species Cydonia oblonga - has been grown in Iraq and Turkey for thousands of years. Quince fruit after about five years: after the blush-pink flowers appear in late spring, green fruits develop and become so large that the branches bend under their weight. When the fruit, which is covered in a soft protective down, is ready to harvest it resembles glowing, yellow lanterns. In a year when a late frost – or fire - has not destroyed the blossom one tree can yield up to fifty kilos of fruit. Often knobbly and gnarled, and scarred by birds, the fruit can, at best, be described as handsome, but a bowl of fresh quince will fill your house with the scent of apples, lemons and pears, all mixed into one soothing aroma.


5 Autumn Quince

The flowers are self-fertile, so you can achieve fruit from just one tree. Watch out for pear and cherry slug, however, which is the bane of apple, pear and quince growers in some climates. These black, slimy slugs – the precursor to the sawfly - can defoliate the tree in summer and autumn and will eventually kill the tree. Spray with Bordeaux mix (an approved organic fungicide and bactericide) at blossom bud burst and again at leaf fall.


I’ve written about frangipani before, but, as it’s so easy to propagate, I thought it might be helpful to those needing to renew water-starved or fire-ravaged gardens. The frangipani (Plumeria spp.) is my idea of a happy plant; the sight of these sunset-coloured blooms erupting on the ends of architectural limbs fills me with joy. Native to Central America, and thought to have been first described by the 17th century French botanist Charles Plumier, these slow growing trees can reach up to 10 metres. Most of the eight species in the genus are deciduous, and bear fragrant salver-form flowers, from 50mm to 130mm in diameter, through summer. 


The easiest of the genus to grow is the popular yellow and white P. rubra var. acutifolia. The pink-to-carmine flowering species (P. rosea) that is also seen often in Sydney’s federation gardens has gorgeous orange to yellow centres that conjure up dreams of tropical sunsets. P. rubra is fabulous, with crimson flowers on a broad canopy some eight metres high. Plumeria ‘Golden Kiss’ has large trusses of deep golden to apricot flowers.


Frangipanis are perfect for small gardens: they make an excellent feature tree, or can be underplanted with a variety of summer-flowering species once they reach a good height. The dwarf cultivars are suited to growing in containers in climates where they need to be taken inside for winter protection. They become deciduous in a climate with a dry season; in Sydney they lose their leaves in late Autumn.

Frangipanis are extremely undemanding, requiring only a frost-free climate, well-drained soil and several hours of sun daily. They also thrive in coastal gardens. They are easy to propagate from cuttings: P. rubra, (pictured here), flowered just 3 months after planting. You leave the cutting for several days to form a callous at the cut end. Then, plant deeply into a good quality potting mix. You might plant several varieties in a large pot, creating a wonderful, eccentric, flamboyant parade.
Take care: the sap that trickles from the ends of the blooms, or from the twisted, rubbery branches, is poisonous and can irritate skin and eyes.


6 Plumeria rubra




It was in The Lodhi Garden, pictured here, an ancient Mughal garden in New Dehli that I saw a meadow planted entirely with dahlias, and realised what a useful species this once-maligned tuberous plant has become. Several decades ago dahlias were unfashionable. Popular between the two world wars, when they joined hybrid tea roses, carnations and gladioli to grace island beds cut into front lawns, dahlias, with their garish colours and rigid flowers, became a leitmotif for horticultural bad taste.


7 Dahlia meadow in Lodhi gardens

Hailed by one early 20th century Australian garden writer as ‘The King of the Autumn’, new, more relaxed cultivars have given dahlias another chance at horticultural respectability.

Native to Mexico, where it is the national flower, and Central America, the dahlia is a genus of about 30 species, although most of the modern varieties have been bred from just three species, D. coccinea, D. pinnata and D. hortensis.

Dahlias come in the richest of hues, from pink, cerise and purple, to yellow and orange. They bloom in a wide variety of forms: some are single-flowered, some perfectly round, others like pompoms; some are cactus-formed, some like stars. Others resemble peonies.

Many dahlias work well in a mixed border. You can team Dahlia ‘Fire Mountain,’ with its double, pure red, flowers and black foliage, with the tough, fire engine red Crocosmia ‘Lucifier’; temper these hot colours with bronze fennel.

Anchor the yellow and orange section of your garden with the daisy-like Bidens triplinervia, the tall coneflower (Rubdeckia spp.) and behind a relaxed hedge of Russian sage or catmint. The apricot Dahlia ‘Heat Wave’ and ‘Tally Ho,’ with its orange blooms above green-to-pewter coloured foliage, might foreground a hedge of apricot roses such as ‘Just Joey’ or ‘Apricot Nectar’.

Perennial dahlias can be grown from seedlings, cuttings, or tubers. Plant tubers - which will guarantee your chosen variety - in rich soil, at a depth of about eight cms, and a sheltered position, in spring, for autumn flowering. They are heavy feeders: prepare soil by adding aged manure a few weeks before planting. Apply more fertilizer when plants reach about 30cm, and, for award-winning results, apply a high potassium liquid fertliser every two weeks after buds form.


Leave dahlia tubers undisturbed for the best repeat flowering. In areas of heavy frost, however, you might lift them after the plants have died down in late autumn, or after the first frost blackens the foliage: they should be stored, in sawdust, out of sun and away from damp and rodents.


When dividing tubers, make sure you have at least one ‘eye’ present to ensure new growth. You can propagate also by taking cuttings of new sections that shoot from the tuber, and which will flower that same season.
Cut blooms in the cool of the early morning, with as man

y buds as possible to allow for days of flowers. Dip cut stalks in hot water and then plunge into cool water to prevent drooping.
So, when many of the stars of the summer garden have retreated, exhausted and depleted, you may be grateful for the dahlias, which, dressed in garish costumes, will bring their bling to your garden.




The Autumn colours to which many of us look forward depend upon the genetic makeup of the particular species, upon the rainfall and hours of sunlight it receives, and the temperatures experienced in previous seasons, when the plant stores sugars and other nutrients.

In 2020, however, it will also depend upon whether your trees were damaged in the bushfires. Cold nights are required for the development of the deepest colours in deciduous trees. The production of green chlorophyll falls as the nights become longer and other compounds, also assisted by high sugar levels in the leaves, develop. The coveted reds and purple tones are encouraged by the anthocyanins; the yellows come from carotenoids.

Among the best trees for autumn colour are those in the extensive maple genus: there is a species to suit most climates, and a garden of any size. Among the best known are the Japanese maples - mainly Acer palmatum - particularly those in the ‘Dissectum’ group, with their elegant, filigreed leaves that provide contrasts in texture, along with light and shadow play. The coral bark maple A. p. ‘Senkaki’ is prized for its vermillion trunk: coppiced, it takes on an even richer hue. ‘Beni-komachi’, ‘Burgundy Lace’ and ‘Butterfly’ are other spectacular varieties. If you have a large garden you might plant an arboretum of maple species and varieties to enjoy a range of height, form, and foliage colour and shape throughout the year.

Among the larger species and the earliest to turn, are the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red maple (A. rubrum), the ivy-leaved trident maple (A. buergerianum), Norway maple (A. platanoides) and the silver maple (A. saccharinum). The paperbark maple, (Acer griseum), was discovered in 1901 in China by the plant hunter, Ernest Wilson: apart from its foliage, this maple offers fascinating, peeling bark.

Perhaps the loveliest of the autumn performers, for those who live in cold climates, are the acid soil-loving tupelos - Nyssa sinensis and N. sylvatica – which colour in a range of pinks and reds. Parrotia persica, (pictured here at Hillwood garden in Washington a few years ago) an elegant small, spreading tree that reaches about four metres, turns yellow, gold and orange at the end of summer. Halesia monticolor , the snowdrop tree, is a graceful, wide-canopied tree from North America; its leaves turn pink and red. Persimmon (Diosporos kaki) are marvellous trees for small gardens in cold climates. At this time of the year, their orange globes hang on the tree like glowing orbs. Picked they add light and colour to an arrangement of leaves.


8 Parrotia persica

Begging to be planted in copses, the leaves of birches turn a butter yellow in autumn. Some, including Betula lutea (also known as B. alleghaniensis) and B. papyrifera offer the bonus of beautiful bark. The tall growing tulip trees, (Liriodendron tulipifera) turn deep yellow in autumn.

If you have autumn-colouring leaves in your garden, you will never be without something to pick for the house. And many of the spring-flowering, cold climate species develop fruits, berries and hips through autumn and winter: the viburnums are among the many species that will entice you into your garden in each season. The grasses develop seed heads that catch the wind, and the golden rays of the setting sun, as you can see in this picture taken at New York’s Highline, in November.


10 Grasses HighLine2 FNL

You don’t need to miss out on seasonal excitement if you live in a warm climate: the Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum) trumpets cooler days ahead, and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) colours a glorious, deep red as winter approaches. But be careful: this climber can become a ‘thug’.

And you don’t have to own a cold-climate garden to enjoy the colours of autumn: many gardens open their gates to allow visitors to enjoy the autumn colours developing on many northern hemisphere trees.

In the mountain areas behind the capital cities open gardens attract thousands of visitors who come to enjoy the autumn fireworks show.

You might phone the relevant tourism authority to ascertain which areas have gardens still able to welcome visitors.



For those whose gardens were devastated by fire and drought now is the time for some remedial action. It’s time to cut back burnt roses, and shrubs.

Hedges, borders and edges of flowering species such as murraya and gardenia, with their glorious scent over Christmas, should be pruned now. Prune earlier, in spring, and you would remove the all-important buds that are forming. Wisteria, which flowers on ‘old wood’, needs to be hard-pruned once flowering is over: tidy it in winter and you’ll remove those essential buds.

Many trees, including magnolias and jacarandas, should be pruned as little as possible as, if pruned incorrectly, they will send shoots skyward in a most unattractive way. If you must prune ensure that you cut flush with the fork of the tree.

Pruning has its place, of course: judicious pruning promotes flower and fruit production, can create a desired shape, and can facilitate maintenance. First, consider how each species grows naturally. Does it flower, and therefore fruit, on this season’s, or last season’s, growth, or ‘wood’? As I’ve said, you don’t want to prune when and where the flower buds are forming.

Shrubs such as may (Spiraea spp.) buddleia and philadelphus, which send out long canes from the ground, should be cut back a few canes at a time (after flowering), at the base of the plant, to maintain that romantic, arching shape.

Hedges should be pruned from the time of planting to prevent them growing too quickly and becoming sparse and ‘leggy.’ Resist the temptation to allow them to grow to the desired height before starting to prune.

For gardeners who love wielding the secateurs and don’t need a maintenance-free garden, there are many forms of decorative pruning that are beautiful and particularly useful in a small garden or courtyard, or in a large vegetable garden. Most are varieties of espalier, which is the art of pruning a plant to lie flat against an upright support.

Espalier turns the plainest surface into a work of art. Many species – from tall growing trees such as magnolias, to fruit trees and vines – can be successfully trained against a flat surface. Pruning of an espalier can take place in summer to keep rampant growth in check, and also in winter to create and maintain a frame. When pruning an espalier, remove any crossing branches, conserving buds that are sidewards facing to direct the growth along your supporting wires.

When using pruning equipment, including secateurs, ensure the holding arm is gripping the section of the plant that will be discarded: hold the pruners so the cutting blade is on the section of the plant that will remain on the bush. This ensures you don’t bruise the remaining wood, inviting disease. Dip pruning equipment into a disinfectant bath between plants so that any infection won’t be spread.


12 espalier Belgian Fence or Bouche Thomas

Digging in ash from the bushfires can also add nitrogen and phosphorous to the soil. Then, after pruning, give your plants a light feed, water and mulch
A quick fix is to plant spring flowering bulbs: to rejuvenate a border, or, if you have the space, for an easy meadow. 

A few bulb suppliers include:

  • Van Diemen Bulbs: 03 6442 2012
  • Blue Dandenongs: 03 9756 6766
  • Hancocks Bulbs: 03 9754 3328
  • Tesselaars: 1300 428 527



As I’ve said above, now that autumn is here, and the fires that have devastated so much of our country are slumbering, it’s time to tidy the garden. It’s also time to plant trees of fruits you may have enjoyed over summer, .while the soil remains warm…..



My favourite place to shop is at a Farmers’ Market. There are over 160 regular markets throughout Australia: those at Carriageworks in Sydney, at Orange ( and several in Tasmania are among the best.
To qualify to be part of the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association and for locations go to Email is and phone is 02 9360 9380.


February 7th marked eleven years since fire devastated so many towns in Victoria, including Marysville, Kinglake, Strathewen. One garden owner had, prior to the fires, cleared an area around his house; for this he was fined some $30,000 by his local council. When the fires raged through that tragic day, his was the only property in his street left standing. I hope the council had the decency to refund his money! The aborigines could teach us much about ‘fire farming’.



My first fiction book, ‘The Reluctant Spy’, is selling well: it’s available in the bookshops, airport shops, and as always, from me, via my website. Sadly, many of the predictions I made in the novel have proved true.


15 The reluctant spy holly kerr forsyth lo res

Country Gardens, Country Hospitality’, a showcase of wonderful country properties around Australia, and the owners’ favourite recipes, often handed down through generations, is available again: go to my website…. 


16 Country Gardens Country Hospitality


I’ve also written a ‘Memoir’: It’s not all wine and roses; a journey to survival, my story of surviving cancer, having been given a ‘less than one percent’ chance of survival. It’s not a ‘misery memoir’: rather. it’s written to give people who are on this challenging journey strength, support and information. The story is intertwined with my travels around the world, photographing the world’s best gardens, but often experiencing dangerous situations. I am still looking for a publisher.


15b.Its Not all Wine and Roses Cover 002


This delicious Frangipani Cake appears in my ‘Seasons in my House and Garden.’ 





Here is the recipe:

The cake is a variation of a carrot cake, is easy to whip up in the food processor, and, with its tropical flavours, is a perfect end to a luncheon.

½ kg carrots, grated or processed in the food processor.
½ cup caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup light olive oil or other vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups self raising flour, sifted with pinch salt and 4teaspoons ground spices to taste (I like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, along with a pinch of cloves).
¾ cup each of walnuts and sultanas
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained (a 450ml tin)

Mix all ingredients, in above order, in either mix master or food processor, finishing by folding in the fruit and nuts.

Pour into lightly buttered 22cm or 24cm spring form tin (I also line base with baking paper).
Cook 45 minutes (or until the top starts to crack and the cake comes away from the sides) in pre-heated 180dC oven.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Spread top and sides with cream cheese topping and decorate with shredded coconut.

Mix together half cup pure icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 400gms cream cheese (or a mixture of cream cheese and ricotta), 50gms unsalted butter
Spread over cooled cake. (this cake, un-iced, freezes well.)
Decorate with shredded coconut, and serve with whipped cream


Australia’s longest running regional food festival, Orange F.O.O.D WEEK from March 27th to April 5th and has been acclaimed as one of Australia’s top ten food festivals. All materials used are either recyclable or compostable; virtually nothing from any of the signature events goes to landfill. All events are run separately, and one books through the individual venues which are listed in the programme.

Ring 02 6360 1990 or go to for details.
And the begonias in the green house in Cook Park will be at their best.


And don’t forget: daylight saving ends at midnight on April 5th. Put your clocks back one hour.


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