Whilst I know that many wonderful gardens can be made from plants all sourced from a nursery, I have never had a garden like that. I did buy hedging plants for my current garden, when it was created 28 years ago, and a few stalwart shrubs, but most of my plants have come from other gardeners over the past 40 years. Many of them came as cuttings, shared by generous friends. Even on the day I left my old garden, my kindly old neighbour from across the road, handed me a piece of the ancient Hydrangea in her front garden, which I had gazed at from my front windowalmost every day for the previous 13 years. It was an unusual one, known as 'Ayesha', with cupped-edged petals. The cutting grew into a robust shrub, and I have it still, and I think of my neighbour every time I walk by it. Many are the pieces I have given to other gardeners who liked it, so her legacy lives on in many places.
When making my first garden, myriad plants came as cuttings from my parents' mountains garden, as it was my custom to walk around the garden with Mum every time I visited, and she would snip bits and pieces for me. Other Hydrangea (especially a lovely white-flowered mophead one), Abutilon (including a rich red one that is popular with my friends and a pretty, soft-yellow one), Fuchsia magellanica, Marguerite daisies, Erigeron, and many Acanthaceae plants (such as Justicia carnea, Justicia brandegeeana, Acanthus mollis, Dicliptera, Hypoestes species and Odontonema). She also dug up big clumps of Agapanthus, belladonna lilies, Clivia and Alpinia nutans to fill the yawning gaps in that first garden, which was basically a blank canvas. When I moved to my current garden, I potted up and brought all of these with me. They remain a tangible link to the garden of my childhood.
Cuttings from garden groups, garden club sales tables and friends whose gardens I visited grew into plants that furnish my garden to this day. In more recent times, another phenomenon started to occur: receiving plants from friends who were downsizing or relocating from Sydney. It began in a low-key way with a couple of pot plants here and there: a giant peace lily that wouldn't survive the cold winter of inland NSW, a fiddle-leaf fig that was too tall to take to Queensland by car. Then it morphed to a bigger scale: big clumps of bulbs and perennials and established shrubs (even small trees!) actually dug up from the gardens themselves by owners who didn't want to see their beloved plants bulldozed into the ground by developers or ripped out by new owners who wanted a low-maintenance garden. When I first heard of this idea, I was a bit horrified as it seemed sacrilegious to plunder a garden like this, but the owners insisted that this is what they wanted.
So this led to me turning up to gardens, along with other gardening friends, with a spade and lots of pots, boxes and bags, to receive the gift of someone else's plants. Having fully grown plants to transplant into the garden is truly wonderful when you have gaps to fill, as it gives an instant effect. The gardens have all been in my local area, so I know these plants are suitable for my climate. A lot of the plants have been ones I have never grown before (sometimes because I thought they wouldn't grow here), thus bringing novelty and freshness into my garden and welcome change to plantings that have grown a bit stale over the years. Sometimes the garden owners have suggested I take plants I thought I would never grow - in the most recent instance, roses - because I thought they weren't 'me'. But now I have two healthy-looking roses in my garden, and I am excited about them and pleased to have my prejudices challenged!
There were still often potted plants in the offing from these gardens, and beautiful plants in attractive pots give an instant lift, no matter if they are placed on patios, verandahs or within garden beds. A potted lime-gold ornamental grass I recently was given has enlivened a spot in my garden with golden Hydrangea quercifolia, Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger' (from the same friend many years ago), gold-leaved Pelargonium and lime-yellow shrimp plant, and I love the effect (shown at the start of the blog). Three potted specimens: giant Bergenia (which I never knew even existed), a lime-leafed dwarf Nandina and a variegated Carex oshimensis from one garden consort happily together in my own, a study in textural contrast (shown above left). At times, I have been given ornaments from the gardens, and these too add a new dimension to garden spots. Once I even received a beautiful wooden seat!
Another friend who downsized a few years ago had an amazing collection of bromeliads, and when she had a 'come and dig it up day' for her pals, I gratefully received some beautiful specimens, including some very dramatic ones (amongst many other plants), which immediately made a statement in my garden. So many of the treasured plants we get from friends in this way are ones that simply aren't available from nurseries - they are the result of many years of collecting, swapping and plant hunting.
It's a bittersweet experience when an owner relinquishes these plants - knowing they are going to a good home but having to say farewell to them. It is a reminder of the impermanence of gardens - all gardens. I sometimes pass some of the gardens from where my plants came, and they are completely flattened, with no hint left of the beauty and tranquility that once existed on the site. I am so glad that the plants were saved and live on, relocated to other gardens. In turn, cuttings and pieces will go to other gardens, keeping hard-to-find plants in circulation, so there is a sense of continuity after all. The plants are a wonderful reminder of our gardening friends and their gorgeous erstwhile gardens, and I am very happy for the donors to come and visit their plants in my garden.
I hope the same thing happens when I move or peg out: my gardening friends will know to come round with their spades, pots, boxes and bags and know that they have my blessing. Legally, I think this should be done before the sale of a property, just in case someone decides to buy a place on the basis of the garden! Sadly, most are destroyed these days, especially the bigger blocks. Every day I appreciate the transplants in my garden and remember the innate generosity of the people who gave them to me to enrich my plot.
November pruning and snipping
26 Nov 23
We can do a lot of trimming this month!
The reappearance of Lizzie
19 Nov 23
Busy Lizzies seem to be back!
12 Nov 23
There are some interesting and unusual bulbs that flower this month.
Thank you, Brazil!
05 Nov 23
Many of the plants that thrive in Sydney come from Brazil.
29 Oct 23
Pelargonium types provide a bright splash of colour almost all year round in our Sydney gardens.