My wife Rebecca and I started gardening in earnest around 15 years ago, although the journey started long before that for me; like many gardeners I have childhood memories of my parents garden, which was full of old fashioned roses, wisteria, cosmos and sweet William. Both my parents are plant obsessed people, and so were my grandparents. My mother worked as a botanical illustrator for a time and we were all members of the native orchid society in the 80’s. My paternal grandfather was passionate about bromeliads and orchids and was well known and respected in the societies in his day, developing a method of identifying bromeliad species by the microscopic scales on their leaf surfaces. His writing on bromeliads can still be found circulating today, some 30 years after his death.
My first garden was at our previous house, with terrible water repellent sandy soil and regular damaging gully winds, we nonetheless managed to build an interesting collection of plants. I came back from a holiday to Tasmania having seen there some wonderful horticultural treasures, enthusiastic to seek out new and unusual plants for my garden. One of the plants which wowed me on that trip was Tropaeolum tricolorum, and it wasn’t long before I had a nice little collection of the genus, grown from seed I sourced through the internet.
We moved house in 2009 and set about building the bones of a new garden. Some minor earthworks were necessary to make the sloping block more amenable to gardening followed by terracing of limestone blocks, creating garden beds on different levels. Once this structure was in place I set about researching perennial plants which would thrive in our climate (as well as a few which I desperately wanted to grow but definitely don’t thrive here) and thus began the evolution of our little garden. Six years on and it’s starting to feel established in parts, but we’ve had many failures and it’s an ongoing process of trial and error.
Our front garden faces North and is the sunny, hot side of the house. Here we grow tough perennials and annuals and bulbs and shrubs. A recent addition is the rock garden which has been quite successful and I have plans to expand and develop this part of the garden. Rock gardening is a new passion and I’m committing a lot of time and energy to learning about alpines and desert species which thrive in the crevices between stones. It’s quite addictive and I’m finding the relative success so far heartening and encouraging.
Another passion of mine are the Irises and I’ve long been thrilled by the wonderful diversity and beauty of Iridaceous plants. This love affair with Irises reached fever pitch when I discovered the section oncocyclus, and then found that a renowned grower of aril irises, Pat Toolan lives here in South Australia. Once I’d visited Pat and seen her plants in bloom I knew that I had to try my hand at these, perhaps the most challenging of all the Irises to cultivate. I now have a few dozen young plants, the oldest a year old and I’m cautiously optimistic that I may see my first flowers in the spring of 2016.
On the South side of our house we have a vegetable/herb garden, mostly tended by my wife Rebecca and our two children, and a small “woodland” area, in the shade of a large Acer negundo. Here I attempt and sometimes succeed in growing various woodland species; liliums, galanthus, erythroniums, lots of helleborus etc. It’s touch and go for these poor delicate beauties with Adelaide summers being what they are, but I persist for the love of softer, greener things from cooler wetter places. I know I’m not alone in this!
Both Rebecca and I work in the field of plant science and this technical training applied to the home garden has been an asset. An understanding of soil chemistry and biology has helped us, particularly with raising new plants from seeds or by vegetative methods. I make my own potting mixes from a variety of grits, crushed rock, organic materials and mineral amendments and we can usually succeed in getting seed to germinate and grow in pot culture. Whether or not they prosper in the garden is another matter altogether of course.