Sunday, April 29, 2012

We were in Melbourne recently, and I had promised the Head Gardener that I would take her to the most interesting garden she had ever seen – bearing in mind the Head Gardener is a Kindergarten teacher.  Accordingly, on Monday we made our way by tram out to the Royal Botanic Garden, entering at the opposite end to the entrancing garden I had promised to show her, and for the next few hours we meandered through the beautifully landscaped gardens, looking at the trees and shrubs (and the few plants that were in flower) and enjoying the sights and sounds of the Australian avifauna.
As we made our way up the literal highpoint of the garden, I promised her that the allegorical highpoint, the marvellous Ian Potter Children’s Garden, was not far away.  And sure enough, after tours of cactus gardens, cannas gardens, fern gardens, herbs gardens, and even New Zealand gardens, we found ourselves outside the Ian Potter garden – which is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!
Wednesday morning saw us catching a different tram and making our way directly to the Ian Potter Garden, which was indeed open, and in full use.  The garden is a great example of what can happen when a child-centred garden is created, with lots of opportunity for exploration and discovery.  Most of the plantings are of Australian natives, but interestingly, some clipped creatures in the front of the garden are made from the New Zealand native Muehlenbeckia complexa, under planted with the New Zealand sedge Carex comans.
One of the first things you find inside the garden is a wonderful plant tunnel, evocative of the Australian scrub country, which leads to a pond and a series of little streams, constructed to enable children to get their feet wet.  Further into the garden is a jungle-style garden, with stone structures and thickets of bamboo, and a playhouse, brown by planting willow stakes and allowing them to grow.  The horticultural highlight to an old man was the red flowering gum, Eucalyptus ficifolia ‘Summertime’, but the many children in the garden were far more entranced by being able to run around in the spaces created.
To one side, but integral to this garden, is a child-scaled kitchen garden, which was being visited by a succession of school parties while we were there.  The kids were entranced by the wide variety of plants growing there, and there were signs that some school parties had been allowed to make a contribution – a row of recently geminated peas was labeled with a suburban school’s name. 
The range of plants growing (bear in mind this was in mid-April) was a little strange to our eyes.  Freshly planted lettuces were cheek by jowl with a shrubby chili, laden with curious small bell-shaped fruit.  In one bed a lovely crop of leeks was growing alongside some maturing capsicums, while just over the pathway a large bed of tropical fruit included pepinos and sugar cane.  It was interesting top overhear the lessons being carried out in the garden, and to realize how few of the children knew many of the fruit and vegetables on display in the elevated beds.  They did enjoy playing in the sand pit that was also part of the garden!
Interestingly, the adventure part of the garden was mainly peopled by younger pupils, largely at play, while slightly older children were being instructed in the kitchen garden.  

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Narcissus 'Thalia' 

As much as those of us who love and grow bulbs may want it to be otherwise, for the majority of people spring flowering bulbs means one thing – daffodils.  My guess is that the daffodil probably accounts for nearly half of total bulb sales in the autumn. 
For us in the Wairarapa the daffodil has another special meaning as it is the floral symbol of Carterton, derived from the wonderful ‘Middle Run’ open days, dating back to the 1930s.  There the late Alfred Booth bred daffodils and spread his resulting seedlings and many other varieties he purchased through the paddocks at the front of his farm, creating a five hectare wonderland of yellow and white in the spring. 
Most of us are not privileged with that amount of land to dedicate to naturalising daffodils and have to settle for some clumps in parts of the garden.  If you have an extensive backyard, with perhaps a small orchard, you could consider establishing your own little naturalised area – just grab some bulbs of the hardiest varieties (usually sold as “farmers’ mix” or something similar) and broadcast them by hand, planting them where they land.
For myself, I have a bit of as thing for the smaller varieties, growing some in pots and containers so I can appreciate their subtle beauty, as well as scattering them about the garden – almost anywhere there is room.
One of my favourites is the pretty little ‘Jetfire’, often found in supermarkets in the middle of winter as it one that responds well to being forced into flower. The happy little flowers betray their origins in the cyclamen shaped Narcissus cyclamineus with their bright yellow backwards curving petals and a long orange cup.  The cup becomes deeper as the flower ages. This is a very reliable little plant and has steadily increased in our garden.
Another with reflexing petals is the prettily named ‘Tete-a-tete’ , a tiny variety with one to three very small delicately scented with long yellow cup and reflexed petals.  As the French name suggests, the flowers are borne in pairs facing each other.  This is another very reliable variety, being more elegant than ‘Jetfire’.
‘Rise and Shine’ is another pert little scented flower, with backwards curving white petals and small cups.  They open slightly orange then fade to yellow – another great garden plant.
My favourite of these little flowers is the wonderful white ‘Thalia’, a very old hybrid of the delightful Narcissus triandrus , the Spanish species sometimes called ‘Angel’s Tears.’  The flowers in the species (and this hybrid) hang down, softly suggesting sadness.  ‘Thalia’, nearly four hundred years old, is surely one of the loveliest of its hybrids with its pure white, pendulous flowers, two or three flowers on each stem.  I grow mine in a pot and delight in bringing them up onto the back porch where I can catch their wonderful sight and subtle scent each morning.