Karen HallThe joys of the summer garden

I love this time of year – not only is the weather conducive to all those fun outdoor activities that we miss in the long Tasmanian winters, but the garden is full of fantastic summer perennials. Spring is hard to beat with its bulbs and woodland treasures, and in early summer the scent of roses is overwhelming, but in mid-summer the variety of both foliage and flower is impressive.

Here in inland northern Tasmania, the summers can be warm and dry and this is reflected in the type of perennials that flourish here. A lot of visitors to Tasmania wrongly assume that we are lush and green all year around but this is far from true. What could be said is that we are a state whose climate embraces the four seasons – cold wet winters, bright windy springs, warm, dry summers and earthy, mild autumns. This contrast means that we are very much in tune with each season, and our gardens reflect this.

Rudbeckia maxima - ungainly but lovable

Rudbeckia maxima – ungainly but lovable

This morning I got up early just as the dew was beginning to turn into a pretty mist hanging over the garden to remind myself just what was in flower and to take some photos. I was spoilt for choice!

The first flower has opened on Rudbeckia maxima – a tall, ungainly but lovable species. More popular are the shorter varieties but we long this and have christened it our ‘ugly duckling’. It has leaves a little like a blue hosta which is a bonus, and flowers that are rarely if ever symmetrical and seem to flop around on long spindly stems in the slightest breeze. Any sensible person would install a tall stake to control this habit, but we prefer to allow it to have its way.

Achillea 'Terracotta' & 'Taygetea'

Achillea ‘Terracotta’ & ‘Taygetea’

No cool climate garden would be complete in summer without a range of Achillea – the yarrows as they are commonly known. Many years ago when we first started gardening we planted a pink and white variety (I think known as ‘nosebleed’ so of course I had to have it) but we are still ruing the day as its strong pink roots continue to creep in and around some of the beds at the front of our house despite our efforts to remove it. These days we stick to the more civilised Dutch and German bred varieties that tend to clump rather than run – named ones such as ‘Terracotta’ and ‘Taygetea’ that flower continuously for months and make wonderful cut flowers. Apparently if they are cut back when the flowers fade they will repeat flower, but I must admit is a job we rarely get around to doing.

Brilliant white Romneya coulteri

Brilliant white Romneya coulteri

Years ago we planted a small plant of Romneya coulteri – the Californian Tree Poppy. Since then it has transported itself around our garden beds, making impressive swathes that are covered in its huge, distinctive white and yellow poached egg flowers in summer. Some years ago the famous English garden photographer, Jerry Harpur, came to take photos here and said it was one of the most notable displays of this plant he had seen in his travels and we have dined out on that ever since. I do wish it were more accommodating as far as reproducing itself though; it is a devil of a plant to propagate and although its rampant behaviour would make it seem willing to be transplanted, it’s not the case.

Eryngium bourgatii, or sea holly

Eryngium bourgatii, or sea holly

I’m not sure why I love thistle-type flowers so much (especially when I hate thistles) but I do. Eryngium or Sea-Holly as they are collectively known are a genus that I can never have enough of and in summer they are indispensable in our garden. Eryngium bourgatii is a favourite and we have planted it extensively in our sunny beds. They are tough, beautiful and easy care. What more could you ask for?

Tall, striking, architectural white Echinops

Tall, striking, architectural white Echinops

Echinops is the same – striking, tall, architectural, and until they are in flower they are so thistle-like in their foliage that I have to admit I have come close to pulling them out in a fit of forgetfulness. Their flowers are more globe like (hence their common name, Globe Thistle) and incredibly beautiful if planted where they can be silhouetted against the sky or other tall dark foliage.

Stipa gigantea, my favourite summer grass

Stipa gigantea, my favourite summer grass

And grasses….our very favourite. Don’t ask me to name my favourite grass, I simply couldn’t, but if the question were clarified by ‘at this time of year’ then I wouldn’t hesitate to name Stipa gigantea. I hope my photo does it justice, but I fear not, because in the garden it is so beautiful that I can’t imagine owning a garden without it. On a summer evening with the last of the sun shining through its tall golden flower-heads, it beats any rose hands down in my opinion. And I love roses too!

I’ve come back indoors now; it’s getting warm and the garden has slightly lost its early morning magic. I’m hoping for some rain so that all these treasures may continue to flower a little longer than usual, but then it is summer, so I really shouldn’t complain!

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Karen Hall

About Karen Hall

Karen runs Wychwood Gardens and Nursery in northern Tasmania with her partner, Peter Cooper and is Tasmanian Chair of Open Gardens Australia. Mole Creek, Tasmania

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