Friday, October 22, 2010

Melbourne Botanical Gardens

I knew I wanted to see the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, but didn't realise that I would feel like I hadn't left Sydney!

Bits of the Royal Botanical Gardens, and Centennial Park and Vaucluse House, look pretty much like this. Apparently there was a peculiarly Antipodean muddling of the Picturesque and Gardenesque, and here you have it: meandering lakes and shrubberies, but specimen trees and elaborate borders included as well. (No, I can't quite conceptualise how people muddled Gardenesque and Picturesque together, but they did. It seems to be an Australian habit to pick the bits they like out of disparate ideas and mix them all together without regard for consistency.)

The garden, like the Sydney equivalent, is a lovely place to wander through but not so easy to photograph. Some of the borders were lovely:

How about these contrasts in texture and colour?

I took about half a dozen photos of Echium candicans, with stunning electric-blue spires of flowers. We wants it, my precious, we wants it! And I've seen Echiums growing in Sydney, so I know they can cope with our humidity. Now it's a matter of finding the plain Echium candicans, rather than a cultivar.

With the recent drought the Gardens staff have focussed more on water-wise plantings. I particularly admired this bed, on a steep bank overlooking the Yarra. I would love to know what the red-and-white bulbs are; I don't think they are tulips.

I definitely wanted to see the redesigned "Guilfoyle's Volcano". The famous director and designer of the Gardens had a reservoir built and designed a "volcano" garden for it as a kind of folly. The introduction of town water for irrigation led to the old reservoir being ignored for years, but recent drought has prompted a redesign. The new garden is very modern in style but still reads like a folly because it is so different from its surroundings. I loved it but felt I couldn't do it justice in photos. It is planted with thousands of different cacti and succulents in great drifts, and the red rock-mulch makes it quite startling on a grey Melbourne afternoon. The number and size of Golden Barrel cacti was also quite startling, and how often do you see a mass planting of Jelly Beans?

The reservoir holds water again, this time collected from local stormwater, rather than pumped in from the Yarra as it was originally. The surface has a number of circular planting-rafts floating on it, but they were empty. Enlarge the photo for a better look at the clever fencing. The boardwalk is a double-spiral around the top of the reservoir.

Unfortunately, I had somehow missed out on hearing about the other Botanical Gardens, at Cranbourne. I saw it as we headed for Phillip Island, but there was no time to investigate it. Next time...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden

Some gardens are so full of ideas, so full of joy, that it's hard to take everything in. The Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden is one such garden, and you know it's going to be good as soon as you see the gate. How many different implements can you see?

Then there are these mysterious creatures outside the gate. They make me think of Patricia Wrightson. The curve on the path is part of a spiral that falls both inside and outside the gate. (By the way, I've never seen Asparagus Fern looking so respectable before -- it turns into a hideous weed in Sydney!)

All the parts of this garden have names. The first thing the boys saw -- and ran straight into -- was the Tunnel, made of Leptospermum laevigatum (Coastal Tea-Tree) saplings planted a metre or less apart and woven together. I presume that the same method could be used on Babingtonia virgata (which has softer leaves) or some of the smaller Melaleuca species. The tunnel was long and curved enough to be fun, and formed the boundary of the Children's Garden.

This fountain is the head of the rill that runs through the garden. I think it's a rather ugly-but-safe thing, but the significance of its "bubbler" style became apparent as soon as children came near. It's fun to put your hand over a jet and spray someone! Also note the bare-bottomed toddler: the garden information says, "For safety and hygiene reasons, children must be clothed at all times." But the Australian tradition of letting small children dabble naked in water continues regardless. The rill, by the way, meanders through the garden to a large pond, which would be very unsafe indeed if it didn't have heavy mesh just below the water surface.

This wonderful ancient redgum stump was extracted from the Murray, where it had lain undisturbed for years. It is raised so children can crawl underneath and look up through the hollow.

Across the campsite from it is the stone bridge/tunnel, part of a "ruin". My children loved this area as there were cut logs that could be moved around and stacked, as well as various hiding places to enjoy.

But I admired The Gorge the most. A path wends through standing basalt shards, surrounded by Snow Gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) and tussock grasses. I could imagine playing hide-and-seek here, and aren't the colours wonderful? It evokes the gorges of Central Australia, but uses different species -- I doubt Ghost Gums and spinifex would cope with the Melbourne climate.

Nearby are the Magic Pudding and his mates. And a few more mates. Behind are some Gymea lilies used as a screen, and the popular picnic area.

New Zealand flax, Gymea lilies and what looks like Dianella are mass-planted as screens between the various "rooms". There was a whole area of bamboo, delightful to walk through, and a lookout tower. The only plant that puzzled me was this one. It looks horribly like an Equisetum, but I suppose it can't be.

The children's vegetable garden is off to one side, appropriate as its formal layout does not suit the rest of the space. There is a sand-pit in one of the boxes, and plenty of watering-cans to enable children to "help". I love the way the trellis crosses the beds to form tunnels.

The boys could probably have spent the whole day here and so could I. Now I'm preoccupied with working out how to realise some of the ideas from this garden in my own.
The Ian Potter Foundation Children's Garden is part of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, which I'll deal with in my next post.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mazy Days

If you are going to take a couple of boys on "another boring garden visit", it's always a good idea to have something you know they'll like planned for afterwards. So after our Heronswood visit, we drove ten minutes up into the hills behind Dromana to The Enchanted Maze Garden (except I didn't mention the word "garden"!).

The owners must be nuts about topiary, which is far too exacting for me. They have put in an application to the Guinness Book of Records for the world's longest relief topiary, on their front hedge (I couldn't manage a good photo of it). I had never heard of relief topiary before, but here is an example from within the garden:

The first maze was the classic hedge maze, made even more interesting by the need to find five Buddhas and two Japanese gardens. The second was a labyrinth.

But what was that in the middle?

I think Nessie is wonderful! And I loved the dolphins and waves across the dam.

There are a number of other mazes I haven't mentioned or photographed, as well as some outdoor puzzles and display gardens, even a small kiddy farm. We must have spent about four hours there, but we had already had lunch and didn't see the animals or follow the whole Sculpture Walk. A great place to go if you are concerned about your children being inside too much.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I'm a member of the Diggers Club, have wanted to see their two gardens for years, and finally I had the chance to see Heronswood. It is a pleasant drive down the Mornington Peninsula. My sons were not overly keen to see a garden, but I knew they'd enjoy it once they were there. The afternoon was to be given over to a place they were definitely interested in, but I'll cover that in a separate post.

Heronswood is a lovely Gothic Revival house, built of the attractive bluestone-and-limestone combination that distinguishes fine old houses in this part of Victoria.

This would have been an imposing entrance in its day, but now, you enter higher up the slope and at the back of the house, where the nursery and shop are. You can barely see the house from the road, due to a luxuriant mixed border and shrubbery.

Further along the new driveway are the children's sandpit and the cafe. My boys loved the sandpit! The structure at right is the framework for a creeper: eventually, there will be a wonderful green tunnel to crawl through. It's fun already, of course.

When I was able to drag the boys away, our first view of the house proper was this appropriately gothic one:

Again, this is the back of the house. The north-easterly aspect would have given the owners an expansive view down the slope of the main garden.

Was there a fashion for Chinoiserie when the house was built, I wonder?

But on to the garden. From the Diggers Club's point of view, the centrepiece of the garden is the formal vegetable garden. It consists of six sectors, here planted with brassicas, lettuces and yellow calendulas (or pot marigolds, as they were once called -- the leaves and flowers are edible). The beds are edged with steel, I think, to help provide that razor-sharp line. I'm surprised they didn't terrace the area first; the slope makes the geometry look wonky, as well as complicating watering.

I liked these sturdy trellises, which partially enclose it.

A nice spot from which to contemplate the fruits of your labour on the upper side of the vegetable patch.

Of course the Diggers Club is not just about vegetables, and the rest of the garden is filled with examples of the stock. The garden drops away into a steep valley, and it cannot have been easy to design, nor indeed to redesign after more than 100 years of gardening on the site. There are a number of ancient trees,including this huge deodar:

Perhaps because of the long history and the commercial requirements of the nursery show garden, I felt that the garden was somewhat diffuse in conception. Some areas were satisfying, but somehow I felt the absence of a unifying idea, or possibly a unifying hand. The symmetrical sections seemed unrelated to the rest of the garden, which rambles informally. Nonetheless, my favourite areas are shown below.

The garden has a couple of overgrown arbours -- well, I think arbours look better overgrown, anyway. So do my boys.

Here's a study in lines and curves; I was rather proud to have noticed them!

And the purple and greyed tones against that Prussian blue:

I thought the iris and wormwood produced a nice example of varied texture with the Berberis(?) adding contrast.

The placement of the arch on the curve of the path seems a certain technique to achieve wanderability.

A final note: the Fork to Fork Cafe at Heronswood bases its menu on what is available in the kitchen garden on the premises,with the meat tending to the regional and organic. I had one of the best meals there that I have ever eaten: with great respect shown for the produce, the result had a lightness and freshness not commonly encountered. My set two courses were well worth the $49 they cost (three courses is $59). The children's menu is made up of simple but carefully cooked dishes: the Twig enjoyed grilled chicken breast with baby carrots and the Sprig gobbled down his pasta with tomato sauce. Highly recommended. I was, however, very lucky to get a meal at all. It isn't mentioned on the website, but bookings are required for the meals. If I had come with a party, the staff would not have been able to fit us in. I am planning to notify Diggers of this omission. The staff were quite aware of it!

In all, a very enjoyable day, lifted by the sublime food at Fork to Fork.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Melbourne Zoo

This isn't a very garden-oriented post, but everyone likes animals, don't they?

Here is Melbourne Zoo's newest arrival. He's famous, but unnamed as yet.

It's funny to see a tiny elephant zooming around and generally acting rather like a human toddler. Here is Mali, a four month old elephant calf. She is rather more sedate than the little boy.

There are public toilets, and there are very public toilets. This is one of a group scattered around the premises, asking who had the most unusual poo at the zoo. The boys, of course, thought this was the height of wit.

The orangutan play compound is a nice example of an adventure playground. I am sure there are similar playgrounds for human children!

I didn't find the Japanese garden very satisfying. It seems very busy, with many different plants; the gardens I saw in Japan had a more restricted palette. And the deer-scarer wasn't working!

This was the best shot I could get of the dryland garden at the entrance to the Australian animals exhibit. I have not done it justice. I have not been able to identify the yellow-flowering plant at right. The big grey one in the foreground is an Eremophila with lavender-blue flowers, most likely E. nivea. I am not sure how these plants will survive in the damp Melbourne climate! The grass-trees along the fence will be all right.

This sculpture includes lines from our best-known patriotic poem, "Core of my Heart", by Dorothea Mackellar.

One of our better-known animals, doing what he does best. I must admit I felt like doing the same by the time I encountered him at the end of the day. You can see the size of his claws, which is one of the reasons we don't tend to cuddle koalas very often. That said, at least he isn't carnivorous or aggressive like his cousin the drop-bear.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Back From Holidays

We have been away for a little while on a family trip to Victoria, so what's happening in our garden now?

Before we left, I madly planted out all the vegetable seedlings I had in our damp soil. It doesn't seem to have rained while we were away, but most seedlings survived. I also committed an act of vandalism, cutting off every flower on my 'Purple Podded Dutch' peas. Peas take about a week to reach picking size from flowers, and mine had just started flowering. If I had left the flowers, the plants would have gone to seed before we returned. It paid off -- I returned home to this:

There are plenty of other flowers around too. My quince, which was only in bud when we left, is now in full bloom:

And so is the chervil (Pity! I will plant more):

The Melaleuca nodosa is covered in creamy fluff-balls:

And I was able to pick this lovely 'Forellenschuss' lettuce:

A quick wander down the back showed me that the Cheese Tree was producing. The fruits aren't edible, but they are fun to look at.

And on our first evening home my husband discovered this handsome fellow in the laundry. He is standing at the back of the laundry tub, and the metal splashback is 55mm high, so this huntsman could fit comfortably on a man's palm. I love them -- unless I'm surprised by them! The most dangerous thing about huntsmen is the way people react to their imposing size.

We are also being entertained by the local magpie family. Their two chicks have fledged and are following their parents around the neighbourhood, squawking for food all the while. I managed to catch an overworked parent about to apply the grub to the gullet.

Stay tuned for my travel photos!