Holly's 2017 Winter Newsletter
Much of Australia has enjoyed a wonderful, long autumn, and, although winter is officially here, there is still colour on some trees and on deciduous vines such as Boston Ivy. The spring bulbs have started to emerge, promising colour and scent: as Shelley said 'If winter comes, can spring be far behind?'
There are still places on my October tour to Bhutan and also on my tour to Japan next April. More details are at the end of this newsletter.
There are certain plants that, for me at least, typify each month of the year, and trumpet the changing seasons. Their appearance assures me that, in the midst of tragedy and mayhem around the globe, beauty and good are determined to flourish. Once the falling frangipani flowers tell you that autumn is over, the camellias start to bloom, cheering the occasionally dark days of winter.
The variety among the three main species of camellia - sasanqua, japonica and reticulata – is vast, offering a camellia for every purpose and position. Use them as a feature tree, or as a hedge; espalier them along an otherwise unattractive fence. Camellias start flowering in March with the useful C. sasanqua 'Setsugekka,' - with its flamboyant yellow centre - and don't stop until summer is almost here. After the sasanquas come the japonicas, and then the big, showy reticulatas.
Camellias thrive in a range of climates, from steamy Brisbane to difficult Sydney and south to the colder mountain areas. The species sasanqua is easy to espalier: you can thread them through a hedge of a different genus, or wrap the white-flowering 'Mine-no-yuki' around a simple column to create a striking punctuation point at the end of a walk.
Among my favourite varieties for a hedge are 'Pure Silk,' with pink buds opening to a semi- double, white, flower with plum on the reverse of the petals. C. s. 'Beatrice Emily,' with her loose, cream flowers edged in pink and 'Jennifer Susan' with an upright growth habit and salmon-coloured flowers, are also suitable for hedging.
Use camellias as 'coathangers' by allowing them to support climbing nasturtium or clematis: in early summer the large flowers of the jackmanii clematis against the camellia's dark green, glossy foliage, look fabulous. Or, twist the wand-like growth of the hybrid fuchsia, which likes the same conditions, through the camellia. And camellias such as the sasanqua hybrid 'Marge Miller' make great ground covers.
Their allure for many of us is the mystery attached to the exotic places in which they occur naturally, from throughout the Himalaya, to northern China, to Japan. Some of the most glorious occur in Papua New Guinea (as in the image below); others are native to North America.
Like most plants, rhodies grow best in Australia in areas that mirror the conditions of the regions in which they grow wild. Most are happiest in the cool mountain areas behind the major cities, where many of the gardens are named after mountain outposts on the Indian subcontinent, or after treacherous and inaccessible Himalayan passes such as Doshong La in south eastern Tibet where the plant hunter, Frank Kingdon-Ward found 20 species, out of more than 100 he discovered during his 47-year career.
Rhododendrons range in size and habit from massive trees reaching over 20 metres, with huge leaves and waxy, bell-like flowers, to epiphytes that cling to the sides of mist-shrouded mountain ravines, and to tiny, ground-hugging species suited to rockeries or garden understorey.
To see them in a garden setting visit Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden, at Burnie in North West Tasmania. www.emuvalleyrhodo.com.au
My favourite winter-flowering species are the daphnes, the easiest of which is Daphne odora. Give them an east or south-east position and they will reward you with glorious scent. Underplant them with grape hyacinths: picked for a vase, the pinks and blues together would brighten any winter heart.
There can be no more cheering sight in mid-winter than the large shell-pink, goblet-shaped, flowers of Magnolia soulangiana. Each year in late June, when the magnolias unfurl their pink and cream flowers, on a tracery of black-grey branches, against a clear, intensely blue winter sky, you might agree at the absolute perfection of the simplest things in life. There are more than 80 species and dozens of cultivated varieties to ponder (such as M. s. 'San Jose', pictured below), so there is a magnolia for every size of garden, for any use, and for all climates.
Conifers provide structure in the winter garden when many of your trees are bare. They've been featured in Japanese gardens since the 11th century to signify certain desirable qualities, such as endurance and strength. Two species of pine are most often used in Japanese landscaping: at Kenrokuen, the black pine (Pinus thunbergia), is revered. (We will visit this garden on my tour to Japan next April: see my picture below). In Imperial gardens the red pine (Pinus densiflora), has been shaped over centuries to create layers of horizontal limbs. The five leaved pine, (Pinus parviflora) is also used, and the slow growing Buddhist pine (Podocarpus macrophyllus) which is often pruned into 'clouds'. They often appear as works of sculpture in the landscape.
And you'll see plenty of conifers growing in their natural stage, as in this image taken at the Dochula Pass, if you travel with me to Bhutan in October.
TO DO IN THE GARDEN
As I've said many times, winter is not the time to prune wisteria. Tidy wisteria only if there are long strands that you neglected to pull away in summer; hard pruning would remove the buds that are fattening to develop into scented racemes in spring.
But prune hydrangeas now: cut back stems that flowered in summer and use prunings to propagate more plants to give away, or to thicken a border.
August is the month when many of us prune our roses. That's fine for those classes of rose that are remontant - such as the old-fashioned Bourbons - which flower on new, fresh growth. Repeat-flowering modern roses, and David Austin's, will usually flower about 70 days after pruning: useful information for those planning a garden wedding! But don't prune too early if you live in a frost- prone climate as you don't want the plant to shoot too soon, when there is a risk of frost burn on young, fresh growth.
Old Roses that treat us to a big spring flush of blooms flower on the last season's wood, so should be pruned around November, when flowering is finished.
That important detail established, let's begin by removing any diseased, damaged or old wood, right back to a healthy joint. Cut out any crossing branches that might rub on others, creating wounds that will encourage disease. Remove any surplus branches to ensure the continued development of the shape you want, to encourage a succession of young and healthy shoots, and to create a shrub open enough to allow air to circulate. Cut just above a bud, or 'eye,' from which new shoots will emerge.
To encourage the greatest flowering from your climbing roses, with blooms all the way along the stems, tie them down flat – as horizontal as possible - to promote stress, and shoots, right along the branch. After flowering cut back to one or two shoots for repeat flowering. Tip prune the water shoots in autumn or winter. Or, plant multiples of the one rose, and tie canes in repeating 'S's' to encourage dense flowering. And, to encourage roses to flower right up a pole (particularly useful for people who garden in a small space) prune to encourage each shoot to develop in a different direction.
Weigh down the 'arms' of standard roses with rocks to encourage each branch to grow downwards, rather than horizontally and promote greater flowering.
Ensure the holding arm of your secateurs grips the section of the bush that to be discarded, so that you don't bruise the remaining plant, inviting dieback. Dip secateurs into a disinfectant bath between rose bushes to prevent the spread of any disease present.
Spray scale on roses, figs and other plants with lime sulphur, when the plant has lost its leaves.
If you haven't done so yet, gardeners who can grow blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora ) should cut the thick, fleshy stems back and thrust cuttings straight into the ground. This tall, non-edible ginger looks particularly affective foregrounding a summer hedge of two or three cultivars of plumbago. (Take care: some gardeners can have an allergic reaction to the blue ginger.)
Tidy camellias as they finish flowering: one gardener explains that the bush should be pruned so that a small bird can fly straight through. Fertilise after pruning with Yates Dynamic Lifter for camellias, azaleas and rhododendron, which comes in a pretty pink handy pack.
After pruning comes feeding, then deep watering and mulching. One rosarian applies sheep manure, blood and bone and pelletised chook manure, in that order, at a rate each of two handfuls per square metre, immediately after his roses are pruned. The gardens are then mulched heavily to cap in any disease. One spray with lime sulphur is applied immediately and, after two weeks, a spray of copper oxychloride is followed by white oil to combat scale problems.
As you know I am a huge fan of Majors Mulch (www.majorsmulch.com.au), the creation of Sarah Curry. The new Majors Mulch Balcony Bags were designed specifically for the urban gardener, and are perfect for your pots. And Baa Baa Brew, created by Eleanor Cook, made from aged sheep manure, contains many elements to nurture your garden. Cock-a-BREW-dle-doo is made from aged chook manure. Both are contained in small cloth bags that you soak in a bucket or large watering can of water for 24 hours. The bags can be used twice. Go to www.baabaabrew.com.au
And it's time to propagate frangipani, which is very easy once the leaves have dropped. Beg cuttings from established trees in your neighbourhood. You can plant several different colours into a large pot for a joyous rainbow of fruit salad colours, come summer.
One of the factors you must know about the frangipani is that, while it may be exhilarating when in bloom, it can also be dangerous. As a member of the poisonous Apocanaceae, or dogbane family, along with the oleander, allamanda and periwinkle, this genus exudes a milky sap from leaves and flowers that can damage eyes and cause skin irritations.
Also known as the temple tree, the pagoda tree, the egg flower tree or the West Indian jasmine, these treasures are very slow growing, so an established frangipani will add value to any property. The five-petalled flowers are used by both Hindus and Buddhists as temple decorations and in Hawaii to make special-occasion presentation leis. In Indonesia you can see the tree planted to shade Muslim cemeteries, as you can in Bomana war cemetery just outside Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.
Named for the 17th century French botanist and explorer, Charles Plumier (1646 – 1704), (Plumeria spp.), the tough but beautiful frangipani is a genus of just eight species, mostly deciduous.
Trees can reach up to 14 metres in height; the fragrant salver-form flowers, from 50mm to 130mm in diameter, appear in early summer at the end of bizarre, tortured, rubbery branches, and before the leathery, deeply veined mid-green leaves appear.
Frangipanis come in thousands of varieties, most bred from Plumeria rubra. The easiest to grow, and most common in Australia, is the yellow and white P. rubra var. acutifolia.
The pink to carmine flowering P. rosea has gorgeous orange to yellow centres that evoke dreams of tropical sunsets. Plumeria rubra f. rubra (pictured below) bears crimson flowers on a broad canopy.
Frangipanis are extremely undemanding, requiring only a frost free environment, well-drained soil and several hours of sun daily. They become deciduous in a climate with a dry season; many will thrive outdoors south as far as Sydney, where they lose their leaves in early winter. In the cooler climates place frangipanis near a north facing wall where they can benefit from stored heat. Fertilise with a high potassium product.
Frangipanis can be successfully employed in many ways in large or small gardens. They make wonderful features for courtyard gardens, creating shade in summer, but welcoming the light and warmth when bare in winter. The dwarf cultivars are suited for growing in containers in cool temperate climates, where they must be taken inside for winter protection.
As William Morris said, 'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to useful or believe to be beautiful.' That's the frangipani.
The English love tapestry hedges and they are popular here in many large country gardens. They not only play the role we expect of a hedge, but a tapestry hedge provides excitement as the different species colour in autumn and winter. Now is the time to plan.
Berberis which add colour all year, and viburnums, particularly Viburnum carlessi and V. carcelphalum, which provide a heavenly scent on dense cream and pink flower heads in spring and marvellous autumn berries, make wonderful hedges.
One of our most useful plants, the native lilly pilly, a member of the Myrtaceae family, (which also includes callistemons, eucalypts and melaleucas) clip into dense, deep green hedges. And they develop colourful fruit; some red, some purple, some round, others elliptical, often at the same time as fluffy, cream flowers appear.
Among the best tapestry hedges is that at Wombat Park, an historic garden at Daylesford, in Victoria.
THE EDIBLE GARDEN
You don't have to garden in a large space to grow much of your vegetable needs: you can also 'grow your own' on a balcony. Cherry tomatoes are particularly successful when grown in pots. That wonderful horticultural company, Yates, offers seeds of 'Patio' and 'Small Fry' for those who garden in small spaces.
In warm climates you can plant potatoes in June or July, although friends on the Southern Highlands of NSW plant a little later, in early spring, so that new foliage is not burnt by frosts.
You could cultivate your potatoes in 'Grow Bags', hessian bags, or, if you have the space, create a circle with wire netting held in place by four stakes. Add compost, old manure, some slow release fertiliser and good potting mix. Plant certified virus-free potatoes, bought from your nursery, or from on-line suppliers, at a depth of about 15cm, and about 50cm apart. Cover with soil, fertilise and water well. As the leaves emerge, add more soil, compost and straw to ensure the plant develops tubers up the stem: this is known as hilling. Potatoes like about six hours of sun each day.
Harvest new potatoes a month after the flowers die, old potatoes when the leaves have died completely. If you don't have a large family to feed you can practice 'bandicooting' an old fashioned term where you reach down into the soil, to break off just one or two tubers. One kg of seed potatoes should give you about 10kgs to harvest. Fertilise tuber vegetables, including potatoes and kumera, with a potassium-rich product: nitrogen-rich fertilisers will produce leaves at the expense of tubers.
And, it's time to plant garlic.
PESTS AND DISEASES
Even in the coldest months, we need to be alert for pests and diseases. If you grow quince, apple or pear watch for the dreaded Pear and Cherry Slug, a tiny, ugly black slug that can defoliate a tree very quickly. Spray at budburst (and, next autumn, at leaf drop) with a commercial bordeaux product. Natural predators include wasps, birds and spiders.
Watch for white rose scale on rose stems, or, in warm climate gardens, on frangipanis: rub off with a toothbrush and then spray with a horticultural oil. And even never-fail orchids can suffer from scale in winter. Wipe off by hand or spray with a horticultural oil.
Keep fruit fly traps hanging on trees and replenished until all autumn fruit has been harvested.
And go to www.yates.com.au for more advice
GARDEN TRAVEL AND TOURISM
Why not travel with me to Bhutan this October? It's a stunning country, to which many of the botanical species we take for granted are indigenous. We walk through pristine valleys, visit a village where the protection of a bird is so important that electric power is shunned and descend Dochula Pass. After acclimatising to the altitude, we trek to sacred Tiger's Nest, which clings to the cliffside at around 4,000 metres (One can take a pony up the first half of the climb: I did it last in 2013, four months after my left lung was resected!). Because of the restricted availability of visas and Druk airline seats, places on this tour are limited. The tour will leave Bangkok at dawn on October 17 to fly past the snow- covered Himalayan peaks, and return to Bangkok on October 26. For further information email me on email@example.com And for and reservations contact Miriam Lorenz at Spencer Travel, on 02 92815477 or firstname.lastname@example.org
My March/April 2018 tour to Japan also promises to be very special. Garden making is deeply embedded in Japanese culture, as is the appreciation of all things of beauty. Japanese gardens are idealised representations of a wider landscape: they fall into several categories, although different styles might be embodied in a single garden. Stroll gardens - restrained, quiet and tasteful - were often created by the ruling elite as personal pleasure grounds, while tea gardens were incorporated into the grounds of temples, and embodied ideals of discipline. Temple gardens were intended to be more striking, many built by shoguns as a sign of power. Email me for details of the gardens, galleries and artisans we will visit. Again, for reservations contact Spencer Travel, on 02 92815477 or email@example.com.
And each guest on my tours is provided with a detailed and illustrated booklet of the places we visit, and the plants we see.
There is still a chance to visit VAST, Robyn Mayo's exhibition of her exquisite watercolours of our indigenous species and landscapes. It will travel to the Ballarat Art Gallery, Victoria, 16 June – 13 August and the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery, NSW, 8 September - 7 October 2017.
Now living in Tasmania's beautiful Meander Valley, Robyn spent her childhood on the NSW Southern Tablelands, where her love of landscape, combined with a sharp eye for botanical detail, set the scene for her unique Australian paintings. They include the Fink River Mallee (Eucalyptus sessilis) and the Desert Oak (Allocasurina decaisneana), pictured below.
And news alert! New offerings of auriculas have been posted on Tasmanian, Sue Wallbank's Pen-Lan Plants website at www.auricula.net.au. As ever, many of these treasures are in short supply so email or call before putting in an order. 0418 883583
You can visit my 11 published books at www.hollyforsyth.com.au. Go to my on-line shop to purchase any (except The Constant Gardener, and Gardens of Eden, which, sadly, are out of print.). And, after the publication of 11 books of non-fiction, I have just completed my first Novel: it has the working title Through a Glass Darkly and is about a subject very close to my heart, the empowerment, and disempowerment, of women.
I have finished my Memoir (It's not all wine and roses: a journey to survival) - it is now five years since my diagnosis. My oncologist has just told me that the surgeons had given me less than a one percent chance of survival when they had met me in March 2012. I'm so glad they kept that to themselves....but it shows what wonderful doctors we have in this country.
And, as some varieties of apples are still 'new season' why not bake a Tarte Tartin? The recipe for the best I've tasted was developed by my daughter, Olivia. This dish, with its caramel, slightly chewy base that drips down the hot, halved apples that have been baked under buttery, flaky pastry, is the perfect conclusion to a Sunday lunch in winter, perhaps after a cheese course of a piquant blue such as gorgonzola, served with fresh walnuts and just-picked salad greens.
This recipe is in my book Seasons in My House and Garden, which is available through my on-line shop or in your local library.
Tarte Tartin: for 6/8 people
8-10 medium sized apples, peeled, cored and halved.
75 g unsalted butter, softened, but not melted
175 g caster sugar
Quantity pate brisse, flaky or commercial puff pastry.
Pre-heat oven to 220dC.
Spread softened butter over base of a round, heavy based 20cm (8 inch) cast iron pan (not one with removable base, as that would leak). Sprinkle over sugar. Place apples, cut side up, over butter mixture. (Remember, you turn this tart out, when cooked, onto a serving dish.) Place pan directly over low heat so butter and sugar melt slowly together (about 10 minutes: do not attempt to stir.) When the sugar crystals have melted, increase heat slightly to caramelise the sugar. This will take an extra 20 – 25 minutes. To prevent apples sticking, gently move, or shake pan, from time to time. You may have to move pan around on stove to ensure that sections of the apple do not burn, and watch to ensure that sugar does not burn. When the caramel is a deep golden colour (up to 35 minutes in total) remove pan from heat.
Place pastry over the top; tuck into the cake tin (this forms a delicious, thick, crisp edge when cooked.) Pierce with fork to allow air to escape while cooking, to prevent pastry from becoming soggy). Bake in oven approximately 20-30 minutes until pastry is cooked.
Remove from oven; cool, just slightly, in tin. (You can prepare up to a few hours in advance and simply top with pastry, and bake as you sit down for the meal.)
To serve: turn out onto serving plate (taking great care as the caramel may still be hot enough to burn). Serve warm or cool, with clotted cream or vanilla icecream.
Happy Gardening, and Happy Cooking.
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