Change in the garden

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Leaves of Liquidambar styraciflua in my garden

Our gardens are in a constant process of change - as one season slips into the next, as plants grow old and die, as self-seedlings spring up unbidden, as plants simply grow upwards and outwards - and as we make alterations ourselves. Removing or adding plants can lead to other changes, such as new patterns of light and shade. One area at the bottom of my garden was always a shady place, overshadowed by an enormous oak tree when we bought the place 23 years ago. At that time, I decided I wanted a border with hot-coloured flowers and leaves to illuminate the scene through the year, and also to echo the bright hues of the huge carpet of Liquidambar leaves on the ground in autumn (pictured above).

Abutilon hybrid, from the garden of my parents

I planted shade-loving specimens to meet this goal: big clumps of orange Clivia from my parents' garden; orange and red Abutilon shrubs, also from my parents; some red-flowered Camellia japonica specimens to form a background to the border; a shade-tolerant Salvia with brilliant red blooms (Salvia miniata); bromeliads with bright red flowers (such as Aechmea weilbachii and Billbergia pyramidalis) or with eye-catching scarlet centres (such as Neoregelia carolinae); the spectacular orange bristled-flowered Scadoxus puniceus); small, shrubby Justicia floribunda (syn. Justicia rizzinii) with its dainty harlequin blooms in hues of scarlet, orange and yellow; and perennial Kohleria eriantha with luminous orange-trumpet flowers. I added in a few ferns for contrast and some large-leaved foliage plants such as Colocasia and gold-freckled Aucuba japonica 'Variegata', as well as a Strelitzia, said to be shade-tolerant. Before all the 'busy Lizzy' plants (Impatiens walleriana) were destroyed by 'impatiens downy mildew', ribbons of self-sown red busy Lizzies united the border.

Fungi on the stump of the old oak tree in my garden

About two years ago, the poor old oak tree was pronounced dead by an arborist, and the sad (and expensive) task of removing it took place. We couldn't get a stump grinder into that part of the garden to remove the stump, so to hasten its decomposition, I have been covering it with piles of moist compost (a hint given to me by a keen gardener) and I have finally observed that the stump is now covered in weird and wonderful forms of fungi, breaking it down. It is quite a strange and rather discomforting sight (pictured above), but it seems to encapsulate the never-ending cycle of change in our gardens.

Meanwhile, my shaded, hot-coloured border has had to have a complete makeover! The leaves and flowers of the Clivia and bromeliads scorched horribly as hot sun beamed into this whole area. The ferns fried and frizzled, and many other foliage plants turned brown at the edges. Most had to be moved to more protected places in the garden, and I was left with a large bare area to replant, which has happened in a rather haphazard fashion over the past year. I wanted to keep to the hot-coloured theme, but now needed sun-lovers!

Strelitzia reginae

However, this autumn, I finally feel that this part of the garden has sort of come together. With a backdrop of a huge Liquidambar and its fallen leaves, in shades of reds, scarlets, gold and yellow, the plants are looking very lively. Interestingly, some of the plants that I left in situ are flowering better than they did when in shade (even though they did bloom quite well before). The Strelitzia definitely does better with more sun, and the Abutilon shrubs ditto: both are flowering at the moment. The Camellia japonica were too big to move, but fortunately, cultivars with red flowers can stand sun much better than the paler-bloomed ones, and these are just starting to unfurl now.

Tagetes lemmonii

I've added in several daisy-type plants, none of which would have suited the original site, but which love the sun. The so-called mountain marigold Tagetes lemmonii, is a smudge of brilliant gold at the moment, with clusters of small blooms, held above ferny foliage that is redolent of passionfruit. Nearby, I had planted a specimen of tarragon when this herb had outgrown its pot, and I am delighted to see that it has autumn flowers that are like miniature versions of the mountain marigold! This plant dies back to the ground over winter, re-emerging in spring. I thought it was French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), purportedly the best-tasting form; however, that species is said not to flower, so it seems my version is Mexican or winter tarragon (Tagetes lucida), hence the similarity to the mountain marigold blooms! Whatever its name, it is one of my favourite herbs to use in cooking, with its fresh aniseed flavour. Larger daisy flowers are still appearing on my old-fashioned, fine-petalled Gerbera, in shades of red, orange and yellow. These tough old plants are clump-forming perennials that give a long season of bloom, and love sun.

Kniphofia Zuluandii with Salvia confertiflora, right

Another old-fashioned plant in bloom is Kniphofia 'Zululandii' (syn. 'Winter Cheer'), with its thick 'pokers' of orange and yellow. The display is fairly short but never fails to thrill. I have them nearby the velvety, rusty-orange wands of Salvia confertiflora, which is in bloom for months, and the stunning red and black inflorescences of Salvia gesneriiflora 'Tequila'. Though I'd tried these two Salvia shrubs in shaded areas in previous years, flowering was not very profuse; they do so much better with lots of sun!

Yellow jonquils, airy sprays of multiple self-sown coral-red Ruellia brevifolia and the cheerful, simple, golden-yellow blooms of linum (Reinwardtia indica, which also has done better since the tree was removed though it still flowers quite well in part-shade) complete the scene. Every day, more leaves from the Liquidambar drift down and land amongst the flowers - and though it is all a bit wild and overgrown, I am enjoying this autumnal scene! I'd love to know what is blooming in your garden.

Reader Comments

  • By Sue T. 2566 Monday, 15 May 2017

    What"s blooming in my garden? Salvias, Salvias and Salvias.....and a Camellia or two and a cheerful yellow Linum. Salvias are simply wonderful for autumn colour. I think they are at their best at this time of year! Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Monday, 15 May 2017

    Salvias here too, my 3 yr old Salvia corrugata finally just started flowering. (Read somewhere that it shouldnt be pruned too often if you want flowers & this has worked). Salvia guarantica( argentine skies) still flowering, tho should be cut back soon- has lasted for months & months. Abutilons (white, orange & pale orange, pink yet to flower) also looking good. Fuschias doing well in cooler weather. Still have some daylilies and euryops just starting - such a cheery sight on a grey day. Lots of colour! I have never had any success with Salvia corrugata but maybe my pruning was the problem. Abutilons are such good value all through autumn, winter and spring. Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Monday, 15 May 2017

    And shouldnt have forgotten chryanthemums. Love how they change colour as they mature. have one old handed down variety with ruby red buds, that opens pink with yellow cetres and gradually fades to pale pink & then white. Another one is white and ages pink & red at edges. Yes they are fab autumn flowers! Deirdre

  • By Lynne 2479 Monday, 15 May 2017

    My crepe myrtle is putting on a lovely autumn leaf show at the moment and my young liquid ambers are turning too. I have a grafted "tropical" birch which is also starting to show autumn leaves. My camellias - some are in full bloom, others have loads of buds just starting to show hints of flowering. The African daisies are flowering a little and I have loads of lemons and limes on the trees. We have had so much rain the bromeliads are going nuts, as are the ferns. Sounds a wonderful scene, Lynne. I just love this time of year. Deirdre

  • By Anton 0 Monday, 15 May 2017

    Yes, glorious transient nature of gardens and gardening. Must admit to not having always liked that, but you grow. That"s in my opinion quite an important hurdle for a gardener. Coming of age if you like. It can be dramatic leaving you bewildered and shell shocked, like after a violent typhoon, however it also happens all around us on a continual basis, each drop of a leaf. Permanent only ever in impermanence. Like water always ends up in the sea. The nature of everything. Thanks, Anton! Deirdre

  • By Maree 2074 Monday, 15 May 2017

    I think most plants do a little better with a bit of sun. Is it just me or are the Autumn colours in Sydney the best they have been for years? I agree this is a great year for autumn colour in Sydney. Perhaps all the rain in March then the clear, sunny weather during April and May this year. Deirdre

  • By Gail 0 Tuesday, 16 May 2017

    Just after I waved goodbye to a truck carrying away the remains of my tall Monterey Pine, I saw a huge trunk planted with a glorious array of colorful succulents at a nursery! Great idea-too bad no photos allowed here! It sounds a great use of the trunk, Gail! I have also seen dead trees with epiphytic plants tied to them and I like that idea too! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Tuesday, 16 May 2017

    Lots of daisy-like plants flowering in my garden - cosmos, Michaelmas daisies, gerberas and chrysanthemums, to name a few. My crepe myrtles are changing colour from green to bronze and yellow, but the one planted behind my property, is a blaze of red and burgundy, an absolutely wonderful background to my garden. It irks me that I gave this plant to my former neighbour, and it has these brilliant leaves, while mine never has a red leaf! Interesting how variable autumn colour can be in trees. Your daisies look amazing at the moment and I love that tall yellow cosmos! Deirdre

  • By Betty 3104 Tuesday, 16 May 2017

    Autumn colours everywhere in Melbourne now. Who cannot fail to be moved by what Mother Nature gives us every year? Red, gold, brown leaves - what a glorious sight. Look out for them! You are lucky to be able to grow some of the cold-climate ones we struggle with here! It is a wonderful time of year. Deirdre

  • By Linda 2539 Friday, 19 May 2017

    I can relate to your experience of the consequences of removing a large tree. In January here in Ulladulla, we unfortunately had to remove a 30m gum after a massive branch fell unexpectedly. Two days later the temperature reached 39 degrees and needless to say, the ferns didn"t like it. Another smaller (dead) gum was cut down in April. I was able to save the surrounding bromeliads being shallow rooted and have done some re-arranging, but next summer will be the test. Certainly the removal of a tree makes a massive difference in the conditions in nearby garden beds. This is a good time of year to move plants around that are not liking their current spots! Deirdre

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