It’s often said that when planting perennials, the first year they sleep and the second year they creep. How true this is, and a great account of the establishment of my front garden. I’ve written about it previously here on GardenDrum. After one or two false starts a couple of summers ago I decided to throw caution to the wind, renovating and planting out in early summer. After nursing the plants through their first traumatic summer, their second was thankfully mild, which has put them in good stead for this summer’s traumatic but typically Melbourne roller-coaster-like temperature fluctuations.
Renovating a garden can come at a considerable cost, not least of all the plants but hard landscaping elements as well. Wanting to keep costs down as much as possible I decided to pull up an extensive concrete pathway and relay it as a very liberally reinterpreted form of crazy paving. It sounds easy enough but upon pulling up the concrete I was met with the dispiriting discovery of a double course of red brick pavers on top of which the concrete was laid some years ago.
After removing the bricks and laying the new path, planting day finally arrived. Labouring with the heavy elements sees planting a delightful task, like giving praise after a considerable amount of hard graft.
I always recommend to people that preparing any soil for planting perennials should be the same as you would a vegetable garden. Organic matter, and lots of it, is key. After digging in several cubic meters of compost and cow manure and giving it a few weeks to settle, I spent a whole day laying out plants, staring at them for hours then shifting them around yet again.
I went for a mixture of cool colours, punctuated by small bursts of yellow and orange to give it a bit of pep. Plants like Agastache ‘Sweet Lili’, Cistus creticus, and Anthemis ‘Mrs E.C. Buxton’ have been standout performers in the hottest of hot weather. Ditto for the euphorbias like wulfen spurge and Euphorbia myrsinites.
In my final year of study I planted a few Echium simplex to lend a bit of sensation to the drab front entrance. One popped up from seed hard-up against our front verandah, which doesn’t get a lot of direct sunlight outside of January/February. It seemed happy and worked well with strappy-leaved plants around it so I let it be – it looks great is gearing up to flower in the next couple of months.
Although I obviously love playing with exotic perennials, they’re 90% of what I planted in my front garden, my background sees the indigenous plants of Melbourne holding a special place in my heart. I worked in bushland management for 4 years while completing my degree, a job where the work is honest, hard and far from glamorous. As I brush-cut away the hours, my brain was pouring over species lists from class as well as aiming to ID all of the local plants that I encountered on a daily basis. It was inevitable that the two would meet in my garden.
I have drifts of a local bluebell, Wahlenbergia communis, adorning pathway edges, which flowers prolifically in the hot summer. A local species of tobacco with the James Bond-like name of Nicotiana suaveolens performs remarkably well too. It’s a darling little plant that flowers for months, thriving on neglect – I’m surprised it isn’t more popular in Melbourne gardens.
My aim of only watering scantily in the warm weather has been half achieved. With each year’s top-dressing of compost and mulch in the slumberous winter months I suspect I’ll get there in the next few years. The current state of the soil sees me watering before every high-thirties day, of which we’ve had half a dozen days this summer sa far. It’s enough to see them through to the next downpour, which always has the Lazarus-like effect of reinvigorating everything in the garden, no matter how tired it looks.
Despite how far the garden’s come I’m still not satisfied with it. I’ll be moving plants and getting rid of others all together come Autumn. As with all gardeners I suspect it will ever be thus. I plan to work in a few clumps of Panicum for late summer and autumn interest this year, but like the rest of the garden they’ll sleep before creeping. No doubt I’ll be consolidating, moving and trialling plants and marvelling at the difference a year or two makes again in the future. And so it goes.
Until next time, happy gardening.