Vibrant Australian Garden

by Jane on May 18, 2018

For any faithful followers of my blog, sorry to be away so long – I have been busy working and travelling.  I’ve just visited a great botanic garden with a fresh modern design: the ‘Australian Garden’ of the Royal Victoria Botanic Gardens, near Melbourne, Australia.  The garden manages to display plants in meaningful groups – families, or habitat, or interest – in ways that can intrigue and interest everyone, and become a great exploratory day out – as evidenced by the many families I saw there.

It’s set in a larger park of native bushland, and it’s free to enter. 

The traditional custodians of this land are the Boon Wurrung people of the Koolin Nation, and they are acknowledged as such by the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The garden is split up by expanses of water, navigated by paths of varying materials – I enjoyed my mobility scooter ride round ‘Howson Hill’  and across a wooden bridge to ‘Melaleuca Spits’,  where plants growing where rivers meet the sea are showcased in a shoreline of sweeping curves:


Nearby is another small hill with a dramatic rock face descending to the water and great slices of rock protruding at intervals.

On this is the Weird and Wonderful garden, with unusual plants such as the Queensland Bottle Tree, a baobab-like tree which stores water in its trunk, a great tactic in a dry environment:

The tree above came from a front garden, after floods caused the tree to swell so much it became too big.

The gardens could not be without the most common tree species in Australia, and there is a garden of Eucalypts.  Brits may not be familiar with the pretty flowers and cones they produce:

Grass trees can be hundreds of years old:…

Lastly, the garden’s centrepiece is the Red Sand Garden, with the vibrant deep red sand of the Australian desert, dotted with planting of acacia and spinifex, and flat curving sculpture.

If you’re in the area, I recommend this garden as a way of finding out more about Australian native plants as well as an enjoyable outing.



Shrubs for a low-maintenance family garden

by Jane on January 9, 2018

People often consider shrubs as slightly dull background plants, but they can be a lot more exciting than this, and very useful too. They are generally easy to care for; they give structure and substance to a garden, and they provide colour through the year. 

I’ve just completed a planting plan for a family garden, that mostly consists of shrubs. My clients are a couple with 3 children of different ages who have visitors from their extended family, also with small children.  They have a busy life and wanted a low-maintenance garden based around shrubs, including some evergreens for winter interest. 

They also wanted a new tree to screen views of nearby houses, and wanted advice on whether to keep a large cherry tree which had not, so far, flowered.  The garden would have a simple layout of three beds, a lawn and a south-east facing patio.  The photo below shows the existing garden – the paved area on the right is to be replaced by lawn.

photo of existing garden

NB: For pictures of all the plants I describe below, go to my Pinterest board- a page of which is here below – press here for a link to this or go to www.pinterest/jhgd/tom-and-emmas-garden/

Pinterest board with plant photos


I started with the existing trees.  There was a magnolia on the left, which looked promising.  The cherry did not seem in the right place to provide privacy and screening, so I looked at other trees instead.

Cherry tree in garden

After some juggling of trees and shrubs, I came up with planting two multi-stem silver birches in the right hand back corner.  These will look lovely all year round, with their white peeling bark, catkins and delicate leaves and branches.

Having two trees together is not usually a good idea – things look better as singles or in threes – but these trees would be balanced by a new tree in the left-hand corner,  a cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’.  This has small purple leaves and pink spring flowers, and would both screen the view (particularly from spring to autumn) and enhance the sinuous stems of the magnolia in front of it.

The proposed trees provide dappled shade rather than a solid shade.  This is important, as the garden faces south-east, so a solid tree canopy would be excessively dark.  Here’s a scale model of the trees:

Model of proposed trees


I included several evergreen shrubs to provide structure. A Ceanothus is in a sunny front corner on the left-hand side, providing blue flowers in summer. Near the left-hand back corner there is a Pittosporum ‘Elizabeth’, which has grey-green leaves margined white with a pink flush, that tone with the Cercis behind it. An existing pyracantha has been moved to the centre of the back fence; it bears abundant flowers and berries, feeding the wildlife and giving seasonal colour.

In the shady bed on the right there are three larger shrubs: a choisya, a mahonia the client liked, and a climbing variegated euonymus ‘Silver Queen’ in between to lighten up the shade.

I found a lovely combination of 3 smaller shrubs in a very useful book for any gardener: ‘The Creative Shrub Garden’ by Andy McIndoe. He suggests them for creating an ‘exotic’ feel; I chose them because they went with the Buddha statue and stones that my clients wanted incorporated into the design, and also because they suit the acid soil and are low-maintenance plants with year-round interest.  They are: nandina domestica, leucothoe keiskei ‘Royal Ruby’ and rhododendron ‘Blue Danube’

The first two plants tone together and have winter tints of red or purple, which is a nice contrast for the birch trunks and the Buddha/stones. The rhododendron has large purple flowers which tone nicely with the red and purple of the other two plants.

For flowering evergreen ground cover, there are creeping periwinkles (vinca minor) and bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’.

Deciduous shrubs and climbers

On the left hand fence, there is a climbing rose ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, with bold red flowers.

Two clematis, macropetala ‘Lagoon’ and ‘Jackmanii’, provide flowers in spring and summer.

A dogwood, cornus alba sibirica ‘Variegata’, has green and white variegated leaves which tone with the white birch trunks; when cut back in March, the new red stems will be a lovely feature in winter.

Lastly, a purple/pink berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ on the right balances the purple cercis on the left side of the garden.

3D drawing showing trees and shrubs

Bulbs and perennials

My clients like bold colours, so I used oranges, reds and purples. I used spring bulbs for shots of bold colour: narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’ and the orange tulip ‘Ballerina’.  An orange crocosmia, an existing red and white salvia ‘Hot Lips’ and a red daylily or hemerocallis feature in the sunny left-hand bed, while at the back there are some orange geums and long-flowering violet-blue geranium ‘Rozanne’. 

I hope to report back with some photos of the garden when this is all planted up.  In the meantime, do consider the book on shrubs to help you choose shrubs for your own garden.  Late winter is a good time to plant them…




Yeo Valley gravel garden – a little-known gem

September 27, 2017
Thumbnail image for Yeo Valley gravel garden – a little-known gem

Yeo Valley, the company that produces organic dairy products, has a gravel garden and organic cafe in the countryside south of Bristol.  It’s a beautiful, open area near Blagdon Lake. It’s only open Thursdays and Fridays from 29th April to Sept 30th – but it’s worth diarising a visit.  It’s £5 entry.  A few plants […]

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Evergreen hedging review – how to evaluate plants on sale

July 26, 2017

How do you tell whether the plants you see on sale are any good? I have just been sent a generous sample box of evergreen hedging for review from Hopes Grove Nurseries. Looking on their website, they say they are the largest specialist hedging grower in the UK, only selling direct to the end user. […]

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Canons Ashby: a Baroque garden in open country

July 13, 2017

For my birthday in May, I spent the day at my nearest stately home and gardens – a small ‘stately home’ but one with an unspoilt feel, as it is not much altered since it was built in the 1550s.  Canons Ashby used to be a twelfth century priory, and the medieval priory church still […]

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Update on the meadow, and May blossom

May 25, 2017

The meadow has changed radically from April to May. In April the bluebells overpowered everything else. Unfortunately Spanish ones, hard to eradicate – I take care they don’t spread beyond the garden as there is a danger they cross-pollinate with our native bluebells, almost unique to Britain. In May, I am reaping the benefits of […]

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Porcelain – the new wonder paving material

February 7, 2017

 You may think of exquisite Chinese pots, or bathroom tiles – smooth and slippery – when you think of porcelain. But porcelain is now a fantastic non-slip material for paving, in all kinds of finishes. It’s made of earth and ground up stone, basically quartz, kaolin, feldspar and clay, fired in a hot oven then […]

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How to get ideas for your garden

January 7, 2017

It’s nearly time for gardens to come alive again. If you have recently moved, or want a change, you may be thinking how best to use your plot when it gets warmer. Where do you start? Magazines like Gardener’s World may seem overwhelming if you are not familiar with gardening or want advice on layout, […]

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Mediterranean planting with a difference

July 27, 2016

Now is the height of the season for plants from the Mediterranean – suiting that warm but temperate climate that features mild, wet winters and hot dry summers. I aim to post this in time for you to get ideas for your garden when you go on holiday. Whether we will eventually have this climate […]

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Tropical gardens

June 29, 2016

Now that it’s been pouring down for weeks, and we all want to go anywhere warm, here is an article from ‘Houzz’ about how to get a tropical feel in your garden.

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