"Colour in the March garden"

I visit two gardens in full bloom!
Sunday, 17 March 2019        

Salvia sagittata Mosquito and self-sown Zinnia in the garden of Sandra Wilson in Sydney

For a number of years now, I have been convinced that March is the very best time of year for Sydney gardens. Forget spring: think early autumn, even though the weather in March these days often still feels very much like summer. This month sees the confluence of the persistent flowering of summer plants, with those that come into bloom as the days grow shorter, combined with warm-climate foliage plants looking at their very best - and the result is nothing short of spectacular.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit two wonderful Sydney gardens created by friends of mine, and to revel in their beauty and extraordinary colour. The garden of Sandra Wilson is only two years old, but is filled with a profusion of flowering shrubs, perennials and self-seeding annuals. Salvias that bloom from late spring through to autumn seem to have a resurgence in March, looking at their very best. In Sandra's garden, the rich blue of the Salvia sagittata 'Mosquito' and Salvia 'Indigo Spires' consort brilliantly with many specimens of Dahlia, roses having their autumn flush, and a variety of Cuphea. Other salvias offering rich colour include Salvia 'Van Houttei' and 'Magenta Magic', along with many compact Salvia microphylla cultivars.

A number of long-flowering shrubby Pentas in the garden continue to provide blooms well into autumn, joined by Abutilon of different hues, which begin to flower again now and continue until November. They are complemented by Tibouchina multiflora, a stunning shrub with broad, silvery leaves and sprays of bright blue flowers that appear at this time. Daisies of many different sorts add to the tapestry of plants, including Echinacea, perennial Aster, Gerbera and its cute cousin Gavinia, self-sown Cosmos, marigolds and Zinnia - and of course all the Dahlia, a favourite plant of Sandra's, in a rainbow of tints!

Amidst the flowers, there are many stunning foliage plants to provide extra colour. A huge collection of coleus in pots, along with some dramatic-looking Colocasia and Xanthosoma, form a feature in a shaded corner of the garden. Grasses and grass-like plants give contrasting texture: Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' caught my eye along with a variegated Acorus.

The other garden I visited belongs to Margaret Chedra, which was also full of colour and interest, with so much to see. One of Margaret's passions is the Begonia genus, and her garden is brimming with a huge variety of these plants - ranging from the ground-covering rhizomatous sorts in myriad shapes, colours and textures, to towering cane types - all grown to perfection and dripping with flowers. March is the very best time of the year for shrub and cane Begonia, even though they are in bloom for many months. A number of Margaret's rhizomatous Begonia are grown in pots on stands under the cover of a verandah, along with a display of beautiful and unusual potted examples of the Gesneriad family, another favourite type of plant for Margaret, which has many intriguing members, the most well known being the African violet. Streptocarpus, smothered in flowers, Achimenes with their colourful rounded blooms, Nematanthus of various types and Kohleria are all grown to perfection by Margaret and provide a stunning display, like treasures in a jewellery box.

As in Sandra's garden, self-sown seedlings flourish here and add to the feeling of lush abundance. A stand of tall, yellow-flowered Cosmos is about to bloom, and Amaranthus plants tower overhead, one specimen at least 3 or 4 m tall! Salvia coccinea, a keen self-seeder, appears in various spots, in colours of white, apricot pink and red, growing quite well in sun or shade. Of particular interest is Euphorbia cyathophora, which has tiny central clustered flowers with a surrounding vivid orange pattern on the green leaves, looking as if it has been applied using some sort of matt folk-art paint. The overall effect is like a miniature poinsettia, and its display lasts for ages.

Margaret uses foliage plants to create a succession of colour echoes in the garden: coleus are particularly useful in this regard, with their enormous array of different varieties - as seen in the photo (left) where a pink coleus in the foreground echoes the flowers of cane Begonia 'Sophie Cecile' in the background. Fancy-leaved Canna, such as 'Tropicanna', with its striped orange, red, green and bronze foliage, and Canna 'Striata', with yellow-veined leaves are also used to reflect the colours of nearby flowers, such as Dahlia. Hot colours are also handled with panache: I admired the combination of a brilliant orange Lantana (not a scary self-seeding type!) with a yellow and red-flowered Canna and the golden foliage of a red-bloomed Pelargonium.

Another striking vignette (pictured at left) was created with an orange Abutilon, a tall orange-flowered Canna, a big orange Dahlia, burgundy-flowered Amaranthus and the red spires of Odontonema tubaeforme, one of just many Acanthaceae plants grown in the garden: others include various Justicia species (inclusing the tallest specimen of Justicia brasiliana I have ever seen!) and Ruellia.

In the front garden, a crimson Gladiolus (pictured) is placed dramatically with a backdrop of misty purple Plectranthus ecklonii. The garden features a variety of Plectranthus, quintessential early autumn flowers for the Sydney garden, most useful in shade. One unusual species growing nearby is Plectranthus zuluensis, with powdery blue blooms over a long period; another is a robust specimen of Plectranthus barbatus with long spires of soft blue flowers that are out now.

My visit to these two gardens affirmed my belief in the joy of March gardens in Sydney!

 Reader Comments

1/11  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 18 March 2019

What delightful descriptions Deirdre accompanied by beautiful photos. Many of these plants were not readily available when I gardened in Sydney many years ago, but with the climate warming I may be able to try some of these March treasures in the mountains. Thank you for a great article! Thanks so much, Peta. Hope some of the plants mentioned will grow in the mountains. Deirdre

2/11  Priya - 2126 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 March 2019

Great garden visits giving us so many ideas! Are the coleus, calatheas and alocasias in pots in Margarets garden? Thanks. See answer from Margaret in the comments below, Priya. Deirdre

3/11  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 March 2019

WOW, what beautiful gardens! Love the colours & unstructuredness of them. Thanks for sharing. Very inspirational blog! Thanks so much, Kerrie. I was very inspired by my visit to the gardens. Deirdre

4/11  Linda - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 March 2019

Well done, fellow gardeners! It is always such a revelation and so inspiring to visit the gardens of others and see the combinations of plants and colours they have achieved. It is also very affirming to mix with people who find joy in growing and nurturing ? Very true, Linda! Deirdre

5/11  Maureen - 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 March 2019

What a great blog to inspire us all especially after Sydney"s rain. Both gardens look fabulous - thanks to owners for letting us "in" and to you Deirdre for once again describing them so well. Having had a large branch from an Angophora take out a large magnolia and under planting there is some replacement planting about to be done so this has come at a very apt time. Hope you will enjoy replanting that area, Maureen. Deirdre

6/11  Gail - 2479 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 18 March 2019

What a great blog today, thank you. I was given a small cutting of a most unusual looking creeper earlier in the month and this morning you"ve featured it. I have the perfect position so must source Vigna Caracalla, introduce it to its new home and enjoy our journey together. I find creepers become dear friends if well cared for. Love receiving my Compulsive Gardener blogs, thank you again. Glad you were able to identify your creeper, Gail. I am fond of the plant -- it grows over my old chook shed! Deirdre

7/11  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 March 2019

Thanks for showing us these colourful gardens. You mention March as being a good month for gardens. My tomatoes are now wonderfully productive - not cooked and wilting as they were in the Summer heat. That is interesting to hear re the tomatoes, Pam. Thanks for letting us know. Deirdre

8/11  Janet - 2322 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 18 March 2019

Loved your blog Deirdre always interesting. I have a Vigna Caracalla growing on my back fence it has taken to climbing my big Portwine Magnolia where the flowers hang down in great big bunches & the perfume is divine! I cut the vine off in winter and in spring it takes off again the tree & vine seem to live happily together, such an unusual vine lots of people have requested seeds in years gone by. Glad you enjoy the snail vine, Janet! It does grow well from seeds and it is not seen around in nurseries much these days. Deirdre

9/11  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Lovely, lovely gardens - I agree March can be one of the best times. I like all the pics especially the combos of begonia and coleus etc. in Margaret"s garden and the foliage mix in Sandra"s - have some of the same plants but they have arranged them beautifully. Thank you all. Thanks, Sue. March is a wonderful time. Deirdre

10/11  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 20 March 2019

In answer to you, Priya, I grow coleus and calathea in both the garden and in pots. Usually I keep alocasias in pots. Hope this helps. Thanks for that, Margaret, and thanks again for the visit to your lovely garden. Deirdre

11/11  Priya - 2126 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Friday, 22 March 2019

Thanks Margaret and Dierdre for taking the time to answer - really appreciated! The reason I asked is when I had them outside, they died in winter. So I wondered if you were getting them inside for the colder months? But if you have it in the ground outside, how do you protect them? Priya, looking at your postcode you live not far away from where Margaret and I are, so our conditions are similar. Colacasias and Alocasias often die to the ground in winter but they will reappear in spring. Caladiums may do likewise. So it is OK to grow them in the ground knowing they should come back once the weather warms up. In very cold regions, they are best grown in pots brought under shelter in winter. Some coleuses do survive winter outside in Sydney, especially if they are grown in a shaded position where overhead trees or shrubs protect them a bit from the cold. However, others do not make it through winter. I try to take cuttings of my favourite ones around this time of year and keep the new plants sheltered over winter then plant them out again in mid to late spring. They will take root in a glass of water! Deirdre

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