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Garden Design

Beautifying the productive garden

Helen McKerral

Helen McKerral

September 8, 2012

August was set aside for weeding – also a perfect time to plan. My deciduous plants are in, the evergreen trees will wait until late September when the soil is warmer, the vegie beds are ready, so I can think about pretty things. Of course, many of my productive trees are beautiful, too – citrus in flower or fruit, fruit tree blossoms – but I’ll need plenty of evergreen shrubs and groundcovers to provide year-round interest.

Camellia ‘Gulio Nuccio’

My uphill neighbour adores camellias and they certainly thrive in my area, and I’ve also had several in pots for twenty-five years: two from my in-laws, plus ‘Guilio Nuccio’ salvaged from my grandparents’ garden. It was outside their lounge room window; my grandfather loved it, but my grandmother loathed the gaudy, tomato-red blooms and when my Opa died, she could finally get rid of it! I loathe the flowers as much as she did, but it makes me smile when it’s in bloom because it’s such a lovely memory of my grandparents!

Camellia ‘Brushfield’s Yellow’

Camellia ‘Tom Knudsen’

Camellia sasanqua ‘Helen’!


In the ground, my camellias (including ‘Magnoliaflora’, ‘Debbie’, ‘Debutante’, ‘Wildfire’, ‘Moon-Looking-through-a-Window’, ‘Brushfeld’s Yellow’ and more) have survived without irrigation for decades, but the soil in the new area is more shallow and less fertile. I have several terrific cultivars, including a sasanqua seedling from my own garden (Camellia sasanqua ‘Helen’!), but the key will be to get plants established with a deep, cool root run, so they’ll survive our dry summers. Camellias are great screening plants, easily managed in terms of size as they’re relatively slow-growing, so I can place them to simultaneously screen and provide colour for my neighbour.

Many herb cultivars have variegated or golden leaves. Now that I have more sun and space, I can finally plant feathery bronze fennel, plus golden or tricolor sage. I like Westmoreland thyme best flavour-wise, but ‘Silver Posy’ thyme is beautiful. I must find space for golden lemon balm (Melissa officinalis ‘Aurea’) and, I’ll plant out my potted golden bay tree, which simply looks unwell rather than golden if not given enough sun! Plain and/or variegated society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is terrific for edging. Oh dear, I can already see I’m going to have to rein my enthusiasm, or my garden will become an unedifying jumble of busyness! Note to self: use variegated foliage as accent, contrast and complement only!

Nepeta faasenii) has soft grey foliage and mauve blue flowers. It makes a terrific border plant, and would thrive in full sun below the espaliered plums and peaches, and edging beds 2 & 3 or the steps in the centre of the garden. I also rescued several Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ from a nursery bargains table. This cultivar is a vigorous, taller grower that could provide a nice accent at the start of either side of the steps, repeating the catmint theme. Nepeta ‘Walker’s Blue’ is another attractive cultivar.

Although my old garden was too shady and acid for lavenders, I’ll probably have better luck in the new area. Prostrate rosemary (especially ‘Blue Lagoon’) and long-flowering seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskyanus), will look great draping the walls. Basil, dill, coriander and other annual herbs often look as beautiful as they taste. I’ll pop parsley along the blueberry path.

All the plants I’ve mentioned not only look terrific, but also attract bees and/or wildlife – even the exotic camellias! In winter when not much else is in bloom, my resident eastern spinebill honeyeater regularly visits all the varieties with bosses of yellow stamens. In the nursery where I work, another pair of spinebills feed on practically anything in flower, native or otherwise! So although I’ll be planting endemics and natives in the bottom section of the garden, there will be plenty for the local helpful wildlife in the vegie patch as well.

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Julie Thomson
11 years ago

I love that Camellia Tom Knudsen, Helen. Difficult to get?
And if that pic with lawn and lavenders is at your place, what please, is the pink flowering vine growing over the pergoda structure?
Lovely read.

helen mckerral
helen mckerral
11 years ago

Hello Julie
Yes, Tom Knudsen is a beauty, so laden with blooms that the branches of my potted specimens droop with the weight. I don’t remember where I bought mine, and I’m not sure where you live, but a quick Google search (Camellia Tom Knudsen) shows it appearing on many nursery suppliers’ websites. It is a well-known cultivar so should be available in major temperate climate city centres.

Alas, the illustrated garden is not mine, but that of the Richardsons in the McLaren Vale region south of Adelaide. They have since relocated overseas to begin a tropical garden! The climbers on the arches and pergolas are all roses, but I’m afraid I can’t tell you which one.

Stu Burns
11 years ago

I have been working on accumulating plants that are grown primarily for their appearance, but which happen to be edible, like Hostas and Daylilies.

I also collect varieties of edibles that have particular attractiveness, such as purple Asparagus, and Painted Lady runner beans and Romanesco broccoli. The major drawback is that when they are harvested it leaves a huge gap in the planting!

But there’s no reason an edible garden can’t be attractive, or an attractive garden edible!