Thursday, October 21, 2010

Notes for a novice gardener

Many years ago, I did a garden design course at Canberra Institute of Technology.  It was led by Karina Harris and her partner Neil Hobbs, who now have a well-established landscape architecture practice in Canberra and whose gorgeous garden (bottom picture) features regularly as part of the Open Garden Scheme (unlike ours which they also designed). 

I still have my scratchy notes from the classes.  Not that I ever really put them into practice, as like most pursuits, you either have the knack of gardening or not, and I believe it is a skill best learned at some-one's knee.  Frankly, plants seem to need as much nurturing, and can be just as contrary, as toddlers - they both involve lots of heavy lifting and incessant feeding and watering.  Just another army of mouths to feed, I figure. I do like being in pretty gardens and appreciate them immensely, but I can never decipher what to do with plants from the specifications on their swing tags or the little plastic stakes in the pots at nurseries, and the complicated botantial names and common names simply leave me bewildered. Still, you never now when a bit of horticultural information might come in handy. 

Here's what I jotted down among other things in my notebook:
  • Forget-me-nots are easy to grow and make a good 'night light'. 
  • Dianthus, allyssum, ajuga and cerastium are good ground covers.
  • Delphinums grow well but can be infested by snails.
  • Clematis is a good climber with huge flowers.
  • Grevillia, melalueca and callistemon make good hedges planted under two metres apart.
  • Plant accent plants 800 mm in front of hedge.
  • Silver birches like water.
  • Plane tree leaves don't decompose.
  • Plant magnolias on the NE side.
  • Lupins and potatoes are good for the soil esp. before planting a lawn.
  • Good grasses are Lomandra and Dianella Tasmanica
  • Decomposed granite is good for paths and steps - 75 mmm deep on compacted soil, needs a retention edge in formal gardens otherwise it will spill out. Ok to do this in bush gardens.
  • Basket-weave paving pattern suits small spaces.
  • Don't dig narrow and deep; go wider.
  • Put black plastic around sides but not bottom of terracotta pots.
  • Euchy mulch becomes compacted and poisons the soil. Use pine chip.
  • Make a screen for climbers from F62 reinforcement mesh welded to steel posts and powder-coated.
Recommended plants esp with reference to Canberra

Shrubs and climbers: Hardenbergia Violacea (Australian native climber); Sollya Heterophylla (Blue-bell creeper); Correa Dusky Bells; Lonicera Nitida (Boxleaf honeysuckle or poor man's box); Viburnum Plicatum (Snowball bush); white flowering dogwood and Japanese star jasmine. 

 Pots: Daphne; hydrangea (lime for pink and acid for blue), gardenia, ginger and 'Gruss an Aachen' roses.

Flowers: Choisia, peonies, aquilegia (Granny's bonnet), fox gloves, delphinium, hollyhock, Dutch iris, bearded iris, Henry Martin rose and campanela.

As she showed us her favourite plants, some of Karina's great descriptive quotes were:

 "Nice leaf, nice habit" and "Doing wonderful things and looking great" which could equally apply to people and would be a charming way to be spoken of among friends.


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