Today, we’re very fortunate to have Juddie from Flightless Boyds in Melbourne, Australia guest posting about gardening. Her blog is one of my favorites; whenever I visit, I feel like I’m on a mini-vacation. The fact that we’re in different hemispheres is vastly interesting; it can be -10° and freezing here in Colorado, and I’ll click on Juddie’s blog and learn that she’s dealing with a heat wave and it’s 44° C (111° F) in Melbourne. Along with her generous gardening photos and musings, she posts about vintage illustration, design, food, and whatever strikes her fancy. You must visit. But first, read about her garden dreams…
Where the wild things are
How wonderful to be asked to write about my dreams for a spring garden! I’m a horticulturalist who dreams about gardens every day, sometimes planning additions to my own small inner-city plot, at other times wistfully imagining the landscapes I could create in vastly different conditions of climate, scale, and circumstance….
I live in Melbourne, in south-eastern Australia. Our climate is warm and dry, sometimes likened to that of California or the Mediterranean coast. We’ve had to adapt to the devastating effects of more than 10 years of drought; water is increasingly scarce, and gardeners preparing for spring planting must do all they can to ensure the survival of garden plants and wildlife through the searing heat of long, arid summers. Temperatures in summer in Melbourne will often exceed 40 deg. Celsius; dry northern winds blow like a furnace across the landscape for days on end, and the watering of gardens using the municipal water supply is forbidden by law*.
Despite the difficulties presented by our climate, I’m always excited by the opportunities to plan in spring for a long growing season. Sadly, with increasing demand for low maintenance, ‘water wise’ gardens in Melbourne, we’re seeing a trend toward sparsely-planted, heavily-paved outdoor areas that fail to inspire or provide the delightful sensory experiences so characteristic of a dream garden. The potted yuccas, neglected box hedging and ubiquitous Golden Diosma of cookie-cutter suburban housing developments are dull, hot, unchanging, sterile. They dampen my spirit instead of fulfilling my dreams.
Another alternative for Australian gardens is to ‘go native’, using indigenous plants that are adapted to local conditions and particularly attractive to local wildlife. This is a wonderful option – I adore our native species and the sleepy, insect-buzz atmosphere of a well-tended bushland garden. However, when it comes to spring dreaming, I have to admit that my inspiration comes from the northern hemisphere. Many years ago I fell in love with the ‘new naturalistic’ style of perennial garden made popular by such plantsmen as Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury. The controlled chaos of a wild-looking, prairie-style or woodland garden is the stuff of dreams for me!
Being a passionate gardener, I don’t want a ‘low maintenance’ patch that rarely changes. I wish for a garden that reflects and celebrates seasonal change, one that transforms dramatically over time and in response to changing light and breezes. Beauty in the naturalistic garden is found in subtle relationships of texture, structure and form as well as colour, from expert combinations which, although highly designed, somehow seem as though they simply emerged of their own accord. Blooms are not particularly large, vivid or showy, but when planted in drifts that naturally flow together they create stunning vignettes that stir something deep in my soul. These gardens echo natural settings, attracting insects, birds and animals, and they represent for me a sort of merging or melting of human culture with the natural world.
In late August last year we bought a new house – I lay awake night after night planning my new garden for weeks before we moved in. In late October (mid-Spring), I finally had the chance to remove a weedy lawn and excessive paving, and plant the first stages of my own perennial and vegetable beds. We installed rainwater tanks to collect and store 6,000 litres of water for garden usage, and are soon to add a grey-water system that will divert water from the shower and laundry too. Thick, organic mulch is key to maintaining soil moisture and reducing runoff, so each plant is lovingly tucked into a deep bed of pea straw. We add to our compost heap and worm farm almost daily, treasuring the contributions of the hard-working wriggly members of our gardening community.
Now we’re in the middle of another hot, dry summer, and I’m delighted by the resilience of my new little garden. Our raised vegetable beds are yielding more produce than we can eat by ourselves and the new perennials have survived scorching days with temperatures above 40 degrees. Now my dreams turn to our next spring season, as year-old plants spread to fill the beds and stretch up eagerly toward the sky…
I pore over my garden porn (plant catalogues) like an addict and wonder if I’ll have room to add just a few more?
* In Melbourne, mains water may only be used to hand-water garden beds between the hours of 6am and 8am on Sunday or Wednesday. The watering of lawns and use of sprinklers is illegal.
P.S. These are some of the books that always delight me and fuel my garden dreaming:
- Designing with Plants by Piet Oudolf and Noël Kingsbury
- Natural Gardening in Small Spaces by Noël Kingsbury
- Planting the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen
- The Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable Landscapes by Rick Darke
- The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn by Saxon Holt
- Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design by Nancy J. Ondra and Saxon Holt
- The American Woodland Garden: Capturing the Spirit of the Deciduous Forest by Rick Darke (- an absolute favourite!)
Thanks again, Juddie, for all your ideas, information — and long-distance inspiration.