Hurrah for autumn

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Vriesea platynema and Tradescantia Zebrina in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

Finally, last week, I felt we had a glimpse of autumn in Sydney. I gather further hot weather is on the way this week, but we had a couple of gloriously cooler days of low humidity, which gave me hope that soon we will have a change of season. I have long believed that autumn can be one of the highlights of the gardening year in Sydney.

Plectranthus saccatus, Bergenia cordifolia and potted succulent in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

A visit to a friend's garden on Sydney's northern beaches last week confirmed how much colour and fullness can abound in an autumn garden. In recent years, Alida Gray has streamlined this garden to reduce maintenance: removing many of the smaller, fiddly plants that need a lot of cosseting and protection from being swamped by neighbouring specimens, thus giving individual plants more room (so that once where there were five plants there may now be just one); reducing the number of potted plants that once adorned paved areas in the garden; and introducing plants that have an overall lower 'fuss factor' than others. Repetition of key plants gives a sense of strong cohesion. The resulting garden has a fabulous visual impact, proving again that less is indeed more.

Front garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

The garden is at its peak in early autumn, when the lush growth and the flowers of summer meet the stars of autumn. Many Salvia bloom through summer, but they seem to look their very best once autumn comes, when they are joined by the glorious Plectranthus, which are sometimes mistaken for Salvia: they belong to the same broad Lamiaceae family of plants. In Alida's front garden, robust specimens of Salvia 'Joan' and Salvia 'Phyllis' Fancy' grow side by side with a statuesque white version of Plectranthus ecklonii, one of the tallest of the Plectranthus tribe. This flowering trio is complimented by a flourishing cerise-leaved Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima', a foliage plant that looks good pretty much all year round in Sydney. The strappy leaves of giant Liriope and a flowering burgundy-leaved Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' provide textural contrast, and some tall white Japanese windflowers lend their elegance to the scene.

Plectranthus ecklonii with Ceratostigma willmottianum in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

A purple version of Plectranthus ecklonii is as equally floriferous as the white one and grows near the house in a shadier spot: these plants will do well in sun or shade. It is fronted by a row of tough Ceratostigma willmottianum with intense blue flowers at this time of year, and leaves that take on autumnal tints in the cooler months. The lovely silvery, strappy leaves of an Astelia and a variegated holly provide contrast, and a large urn anchors the grouping.

Hot-coloured border in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

In the back garden, a border of hot colours has bright orange Dahlia and Canna bloom on from summer, and are joined by the brilliant spires of the so-called 'red justicia' (Odontonema tubaeforme), and excellent shrubby plant for autumn in Sydney. A lime-flowered shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana), which more or less flowers all year but is particularly brilliant at this time and a yellow and orange Abutilon megapotamicum add their colour, along with the foliage of both the crimson and the yellow variegated-leaved forms of Iresine herbstii, gold-leaved Pelargonium and deep purple Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea'. A delightful red-roofed birdhouse provides a focal point to the border.

Mixed bromeliads in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

In a very difficult part of the garden, atop a rock shelf in shade, with limited soil, a diverse collection of bromeliads has been planted, providing a fantastic, low-care solution. There are always flowers in this border, many of which last for months on end, and coloured foliage is also a feature. Occasional division of the clumps ensures that the plants continue to grow well.

As already noted, much interest and colour comes from foliage plants in this garden, one of the keys to its success: such as in a simple yet very satisfying pairing of the bromeliad Vriesea platynema with a rug of Tradescantia zebrina (shown at the start of the blog), the colouring of the Tradescantia picking up the hue of the subtle markings of the bromeliad leaves.

This garden has evolved over the years to its current incarnation, and shows that streamlining a garden in no way reduces its visual appeal, and in fact strengthens it.

Reader Comments

  • By Sue 2074 Monday, 16 March 2015

    A lovely garden tour - thank you. So many plants reflect those I have too and which are tough like the Odontonema (which the noisy minor feeds from every day), Plectrantrus & the Ceratostigma willmottianum which has self seeded between the cracks of a huge sandstone boulder. Some of these I thought unworthy 30 years ago, but value their sturdiness and low maintenance now. Thanks to Alida for sharing her impressive garden. Yes it is so true that we change our minds about plants over time. I did not have these plants in my garden originally but now I love them. My mother grew many of them in her garden 40 years ago! Deirdre

  • By Alison 2125 Monday, 16 March 2015

    What a lovely garden. I particularly liked the bromeliad and tradescantia zebrina together. I saw a similar pairing at one of the Hidden Gardens yesterday and filed it away in my memory bank. I will be looking for ways to do something similar in my garden. Yes I loved that combination of plants. Hope you can find a spot in your garden for something similar. Deirdre

  • By Evelyn 2117 Monday, 16 March 2015

    Thanks for your informative blog. I particularly liked your references about plants that suit shady positions, as I seem to have more of this now as the garden grows. It is hard, I find, to see many of these sort of plants at the usual nurseries or at least the more unusual varieties that you mention. I would love you to turn your expertise to those areas in heavy shade in winter a then get some full sun in summer . I also have a lot of these areas. Thanks Deidre. In the garden profiled this week, the hot-coloured border is shaded in winter and sunny in summer. This is where cannas and dahlias are used - they are dormant in winter so the lack of sun is not an issue then. The foliage plants that accompany them (Iresine, Tradescantia, golden pelargonium etc) are ones that cope with both sun and shade. There is a bit of trial and error that has gone on to find the right plants but I think the results in this case do work well in a situation such as you describe. Deirdre

  • By dianne 2154 Monday, 16 March 2015

    I am relatively new to this site and have already purchased plants that I would have normally overlooked. You have given me so many new ideas to play around with in my garden and have implemented some already. So thank you, thank you, thank you. Thanks for your feedback, Dianne. The Collectors Fair on 11 and 12 April at Clarendon will have for sale many of the plants mentioned on my website and is always well worth a visit! Good luck with your garden. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Tuesday, 17 March 2015

    Loved the tour through Alida"s autumn garden. This is a lovely time of the year, provided the humidity ceases. Many plants are in full flower, providing a riot of colour. My blue Plectranthus ecklonii is a blaze of colour and teams very well with Strobilanthes, B. "Little Brother Montgomery" and a pale pink cane called "Annan"s Child". In the back garden, dahlias and Michaelmas daisies ,in many hues, are providing a colourful picture. Thanks, Margaret. Sounds like a lovely lot of flowers in your autumn garden. Deirdre

  • By beverley 2113 Wednesday, 18 March 2015

    The photos were really good and show Alidas lovely garden well. It is a credit to her as when I first saw the garden several years ago the back garden seemed to be just a rock shelf and very steep as is the front. A real challeng to to work in a spot like that There as probably others with gardens like that who could learn from Alida. Beverley Thanks, Beverley. It is a lovely garden on a challenging site. Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 Wednesday, 18 March 2015

    Such a great blog once again Deirdre and my Tradescantia zebrina and I have become great friends as it flourishes well in shade - great ground cover and above all weed inhibiter!!! Cheers I too love that plant! I just throw bits on the ground where I want it to grow. It is easily removed when it sstrays too far. Deirdre

  • By Vanessa 2106 Friday, 20 March 2015

    What a lovely garden. I too live on the Nthn Beaches and wonder if you have ever had any luck growing Clerodendrum x speciosum in Sydney (java glory vine). I have seen some lovely ones at Palmland Terrey Hills and think it might be worth a try in a part sun, protected spot. what do you think? Vanessa Thanks, Vanessa. I think you could grow that vine. I have seen it in a few Sydney gardens. I would say give it a go! Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Saturday, 21 March 2015

    What beautiful plant combiantions! Amazing how adaptable plants can be. Plectranthus ecklonii and japanese anemone are also stars of my autumn garden - tho its much cooler here. Had planted several new patches of jap anemones- planning one as a pink patch with no white - however a white plant has snuck in there somehow - which I will leave - it is a better result than my all pink plan. Interesting to hear that the Plectranthus does well where you are. It is certainly lovely for autumn. Your windflowers sound delightful! Deirdre

  • By Lynsey 2100 Saturday, 21 March 2015

    What fun to be taken on a tour of a Northern Beaches garden filled with familiar plants. I haven"t tried to grow dahlias for decades. Time to give them another go. I"m inspired all over again. Thank you for another lovely blog. Thanks, Lynsey. The dahlias seem to do very well in this garden. I have started to grow them in recent years and they certainly give months of colour. The more compact ones seem to be the best choice in modern gardens. Deirdre

  • By marcelle 2064 Saturday, 21 March 2015

    So lovely to tour these wonderful gardens and very happy to see that I have some of the same growing in my garden. As this is my first time blog I can say that discoving this site has been just wonderful for a garden enthusiast. Thank you for blog and look forward to more involvement in the future. Thanks for your feedback, Marcelle. Much appreciated. Deirdre

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