Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The blue and white Louisiana iris show

I guess it's fitting that we have both blue and white Louisiana iris growing here in Marrickville. Blue and white are the traditional colours of Greece, and as we have had the same wonderful Greek neighbours on both sides for almost three decades now, the least we could do is have a Greek-themed flower festival every October, (even if Louisiana iris are very unlikely to be found growing anywhere in Greece). On with the show ...

Not only are they in full bloom now, they're still popping out by the hour. At 7am I photographed this lovely white Louisiana iris with a gaggle of blues behind it. The other white bloom was still a furled bud at that hour.

By 9am, the furled person had gone "boing" (I think that's the technical term ...) and suddenly we had the full blue and white show. 

I truly do love my blue iris, but these white ones I love maybe just a little bit more. It's the fine green stripes on each of the petals that I can't take my eyes off. So many, so perfectly fine and such a mellow green.

One of the great features of these water-loving irises is that you can tell what's coming up next just by looking at the furled flower buds. This is the white one, photographed yesterday.

And a blue one. These buds keep on appearing, as the lifespan of each Louisiana iris flower is just a day or two. As each big bloom (10-12cm across) fades, another bud lower down on the stem readies itself for its brief 48 hours of glory. The whole show lasts less that a fortnight, but it's a seasonal highlight that is well worth the wait.

This year the neighbouring pot of New South Wales Christmas Bush is having its best-ever flowering season, and so the combination of one enormous blue showboat against a backdrop of hundreds of dainty dancers is well worth pausing to enjoy.

For overseas readers unfamiliar with the New South Wales Christmas Bush, this is a flowering plant with lots of relatively insignificant flowers at this time of year. Later on, closer to Christmas, the real show begins. This close up provides a preview of what lies in store. The outer bracts around the flowers turn all sorts of shades of reddy-pink, pinky-red — Pam says "think coral, and it's more red than pink" — there's quite a few variations. Right now it's a pleasantly white-flowered bush, but in a few weeks it will be something entirely different. 

In the meantime, it's the Louisiana irises' turn to be the star. The large pot pictured here is about 50cm across and high and it's full of water. Inside that pot, sitting on some bricks, is a wide shallow bowl about 40cm across and only 20cm deep, and it is full of the Louisiana iris rhizomes. The roots are inundated with water all year round, they love slow-release fertiliser, they breed like rabbits and provided they get the conditions they like they are very low maintenance.

I started off with just one plant about 10 years ago, and my how they have multiplied! The white flowers are the gift of two dear friends, John and Liz (I swapped some of my blue ones for one of John and Liz's whites).

If you want to find out any more about setting up your own pots, I've done Louisiana iris postings every October for the last 10 years, so do a search and you'll find plenty of growing tips.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Visit the Witches Garden in early November

It's not often that I start a blog posting with a photo downloaded off the internet, but this time it's all in a good cause: this is the Witches Garden wisteria-covered bridge in full flower, and I pinched it from the Witches Garden website. You don't need to travel to France to get that Monet experience: just head to Mitta Mitta!

Regular readers will know from my last posting of holiday snaps that we recently stayed in a beautiful country cottage operated by the owners of the Witches Garden, Felicity and Lew McDonald. 

Felicity and Lew live just across the road in a big, lovely house, which is surrounded by their gorgeous two-hectare garden ... and this year their amazing garden is open to visitors as part of the Open Gardens Victoria scheme. So if you're in the area — which is south-east of Albury/Wodonga, in the same general region as Bright and Beechworth — put a note in your diary to include a visit to the Witches Garden on the weekend of November 3,4 and 5 (Saturday, Sunday and Monday).

Felicity and Lew are a wonderful team. He's a handy guy (who runs an earth-moving business) who welded up that curved Monet-style bridge across a lake, and when Felicity had the idea of including a cute "Witch's Cottage" in her grand garden plan, Lew knew what to do. It's hard to believe they started off with a bare paddock on the banks of the Mitta River 30 years ago, but what they have achieved is remarkable.

Felicity is a very talented artist in her own right, and she was one of the people attending Pam's watercolour course when we stayed at Mitta Mitta. Every aspect of the Witches Garden design reveals that this is an artist's garden. She is also a plant collector and is an expert on medicinal herbs, of which she grows many at Mitta Mitta. I liked the way this pretty garden seat was not only decorative but obviously a spot where she takes a rest for a while, with her shovel and secateurs getting time off, too.

We stayed at Mitta Mitta in mid September, when the garden was several weeks away from being in full bloom (which is why I pinched that wisteria-bridge photo) but nevertheless there were all sorts of pretty things in flower, such as this gorgeous pink pieris.

And speaking of gorgeous things, here's Pammy getting to know one of the many local king parrots that have become very well-mannered if you hold out a cup full of their favourite seed.

As well as enjoying wandering through the gardens, Felicity is including an art show in her new art gallery, as part of the fun at the Witches Garden open garden weekend. Pammy has submitted some of her work at the show, and they have also lined up musicians to add to the atmosphere. The musicians play every afternoon, and there is a Monday evening concert as well (details on the Open Gardens website). Oh, and there are pop-up craft stalls, plus coffee and cake.

So if you can make it down to Mitta Mitta in early November, I am sure you'll have a wonderful time.

And if you can't make it down there in November, but would love to visit the area at another time (Felicity says autumn is absolutely stunning at Mitta Mitta), remember that Lew and Felicity have a range of accommodation on offer. As well as the charming cottage across the road from the Witches Garden (where we stayed) their own large house also provides a warm welcome in B&B style accommodation.

Here's all the links again:

Witches Garden, Mitta Mitta

Witches Garden Open Garden Weekend, November 3-5

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Pam and Jamie's holiday snaps

Everyone comfy on their bean bags? Good. Settle back and relax as we bring you the latest holiday snaps from Garden Amateur's two little garden/art/nature lovers as we tour southern Australia in very early spring. First slide please, projectionist!

What a colourful way to announce to the world that we have left the city and are out in the country. All through our trip we saw huge, far-as-the-eye-can-see fields of canola crops in flower. This is where we first saw them, in Cowra, about 4.5 hours west of Sydney, where our real objective was to see the Japanese gardens there.

We stayed at the Vineyard Motel, which is far enough out of town to make us feel like we were among the paddocks. As well as enjoying its cool misty mornings, Pam and I almost froze to death at night, standing outside looking up at the dazzling Milky Way on a perfectly cloudless, starry sparkly night. It's good for the soul to stare at the Milky Way.

Next morning, straight off to the Cowra Japanese Gardens, which were a couple of weeks short of being in full bloom, but still beautiful to behold with their clipped balls of greenery and tumbling streams.

They don't just plonk seats here and there at Cowra. Each is perfectly placed to take in a wonderful view of the garden, and this one high on the hill has its own little bamboo-posted walkway that feels almost ceremonial.

Taking advantage of a perfect seat placement, en plein air watercolour artist Pammy spent some very productive time capturing the scene. Wherever we travel, she takes a small painting kit with her.

Late September and early October is the peak blossom-filled time to visit the Cowra Japanese Garden, but we've been there at other times of year and it's always a wonderful place to wander for a few hours.

Next stop, Mitta Mitta in Victoria. In the same mountain zone as better-known Beechworth, Mitta Mitta is in a lush valley, from which you can see snow-covered Mount Bogong looming large.

Lucky us! We stayed at this cottage that is part of the Witches Garden (about which I will be doing a separate posting in a few days, as it has a large, gorgeous garden which will be open to visitors in early November). 

This cottage was a city couple's 'escape to the country fantasy' come true: beautiful stream flowing behind it, superb garden, log fires, big country kitchen, total privacy, native birds galore. We could've stayed for weeks.

As well as these rosellas, there were kookaburras cacking their heads off and dazzling king parrots hanging around, knowing that we had been given a big jar of birdseed to keep them happy.

However, we weren't just in Mitta Mitta for fun. Pam was there to teach a watercolour art class organised by her great mate, Marg (left), and the snazzy new Mitta Mitta Community Hall was a perfect venue.

Mitta Mitta has some very dedicated artists, but they weren't so familiar with watercolours, and that's where Pammy showed them the ropes. Here's one of her 5-minute quick landscape demos that she did for them.

That cane chair on the verandah proved to be the perfect spot for Pam to whip out the painting kit one day and enjoy some quality time painting that birch tree and those camellias.

She's only half-way finished at this stage, and I might be biased but I even love what she does with her watercolour palette — she ought to frame that as an abstract work, too.

After Mitta Mitta we headed through Bendigo and Castlemaine to see our dear friends Amanda and Mike in Kyneton, but on the way we stopped off in Bendigo to see the Chinese gardens there. We were the only ones there ... so serene.

If I was ever going to remodel a garden and its outdoor spaces, I think I'd ask a Chinese architect to come and lend a hand. Pammy could do the frescoes.

We stayed in Melbourne a few days, saw more old friends, and on our way out we stopped off at Ballarat. Why is it that houses by the water (actually rowing sheds on Lake Wendouree) seem so perfectly tranquil?

Lots of Aussies would know that Ballarat in not the most direct way home from Melbourne, and that's because we headed way out to western Victoria, where these elegant, gently weeping yellow-flowered gum trees proliferated.

We were venturing out west to ride the "Silo Art Trail" which features a set of six very large silos painted with portraits of local people by street artists. This one above is my favourite, and it's in Brim. 

This one, in Rupanyup, features a local netballer and a footballer. The whole trail of six silos is about a 200km drive, but out there the roads are straight and empty, so each leg of the journey doesn't take long.

It gets so amazingly flat out here, real "big sky country" that at one stage Pammy said "I think I can see the curvature of the Earth on the horizon." For really big skies, you need clouds, of course, so thanks Huey.

This area is so flat and outbacky that it even has several salt lakes. This is Lake Tyrrell, which was still carrying some water from winter rains when we visited, but the summer's heat bakes it white and shimmery. 

From the Wimmera Region and its painted silos, we had many more miles to cover before we made it back to Sydney, but on the way as we crossed the Murray River at Barham, we spotted some river boats sitting on the slowly moving river and fantasised about maybe floating down the Murray some time in the future. Who knows?

As I mentioned earlier in this posting, I'm planning on doing something about the wonderful Witches Garden at Mitta Mitta soon. It's open under the Open Garden Scheme in early November, so if you can somehow manage to be there, do not miss out on the chance to visit Mitta Mitta, see the garden, and maybe even stay a while in the gorgeous country cottage there.