Top ten list of garden plants

  • Abutilons of all kinds
  • Buddlejas old and new
  • Epiphytic orchids and ferns
  • Gordonia species
  • Heliotrope, Lemon verbena, Fennel and herbs
  • Michelias of all sorts
  • Perennial Salvias large and small
  • Species Camellias
  • Tea and China Roses
  • Weigela of all types

Montville Rose

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book launch and afterward

APRIL 17 Australian Garden History Society Launch of "Australian Gardens Making History"

Picture: Tea Rose "Monsieur Tillier" , South rose garden at "The Shambles"

Kyleigh & Dr Michael Simpson's new book AUSTRALIAN GARDENS MAKING HISTORY – The Vital Role of making and Keeping Garden Inventories, ISBN 9780-080430455 was launched at an Australian Garden History Association gathering at Noosa Botanical Gardens on 17th April 2011.

This book is of 86 pages with 6 pages of illustrations. The soft cover has been designed to resemble an old fashioned mail order nursery catalogue. It includes a 2 page liftout suggesting techniques to start a garden plant catalogue. The book was written in an attempt to record evidence for the "heritage credentials" of a large number of hardy commonly grown garden plants, using 19th century Queensland and other Australian references.

The early references are used a bit like archeological stratigraphy to demonstrate the earliest availability which the authors could find for Australian gardeners.

Also this book records the inventory of plants in a modern garden as one model of how other gardeners interested in garden history may catalogue their own garden, or record a garden of historic interest. Kyleigh and Michael Simpson contend that recording historic gardens plant inventories is a vital task for members of the Australian Garden History Society according to the aims of the association. This sort of evidence gathering is required by various articles of the "Burra" charter when researching and maintaining heritage places, including gardens..

Michael, whose enthusiasm and humour always shines through, gave an interesting and thought provoking presentation on the importance of documenting Queensland gardens. Methods of obtaining information and user friendly means of keeping records were discussed and it is something which we could all consider for our own interest and the interest of others in the future. How often have we taken over gardens with wonderful, hardy plants that we can't identify? Also plants may no longer be available in the ever diminishing nurseries of today which seem to churn out only what is 'the flavour of the month'. If new owners see that a garden has been worth documenting they may be less inclined to destroy it and they may even discover that it actually is 'easy maintenance' as it has stood the test of time usually without the help of irrigation.

Other contentions were that gardeners who have written garden plant inventories need to do three more things. These vital documents for future horticultural, social and historical researchers need to be detailed, interesting and readable. Secondly, garden inventories need to be published and distributed in print, online and via website links to all who may or may not be interested. Lastly, garden inventories should to be maintained, edited, criticized and discussed especially by members of the Australian Garden History Society.

Lake Macdonald [Noosa] Botanic Gardens was the site for our Book Launch and lunch attended by 17 members and friends. We enjoyed a wander through the sub tropical gardens containing a wide variety of plants, on the shores of Lake Macdonald. The gardens are extensive with lots of paved pathways, picnic shelters and lawns which were being enjoyed by many groups. Unfortunately, the Fernery which looked interesting with a large collection of plants, could only be viewed from the outside on week-ends. Another attraction was the amphitheatre overlooking the lake which provides a spectacular venue for a variety of events. This garden is a great public asset provided and maintained by the local Council on Water-board land.

Local Heritage Rose Society and Cooran Garden Club members, Hazel and Ron Treloar, then led us on a tour of 3 gardens on a relatively new estate at Pomona. The area had originally been dairy farms with some orchards of mangoes, custard apples and lychees on the red soil sections.

A few eucalypts were all that remained on the acidic grey/black soils over clay which were bounded by remnant wet lands near the gardens we visited. Needless to say, all gardeners were having drainage problems which they were dealing with through the use of raised beds, lots of compost and appropriate planting which has been trial and error after the drought. All gardens [1.5-2 acres] rely on rainwater or bores and were owned by passionate, hands on gardeners and each provided refreshingly different approaches.

We began our tour at the home of Val, Noel and Mark Sweeney. The garden is 8 years old with lots of colour and a wide variety of plants including many of the well known cottage favourites. Visitors were envious of the growth of the plants with the Camellias and the Tibouchinas being quite large and spectacular in flower. Another plant to attract interest was the large shrub Carphalia kirondron covered in rusty red, ixora type flowers. Fruit trees and veges were also flourishing.

The next garden was more of a 'green' garden with splashes of colour being provided mainly by foliage. Owners, Chris and Lance Crowe came to this garden from Adelaide 4 years ago. At that stage the garden was six years old and the previous owners had put their stamp on it with palms and neatly clipped plants. It is hard to believe that the new owners were non gardeners who are educating themselves and now addicted. This is a garden in transition as Chris is enjoying the Queensland tropical look and gradually removing those plants that are more at home in the southern states. The relaxed tropical planting which forms a backdrop to the pool behind the house is where they have begun to experiment and it is a credit to them. It is lovely to wander along the shady paths bordered by interesting and colourful understorey plants. It is good to see people taking time to get to know a garden and making changes to suit themselves gradually. After all isn't this what the evolution of gardens is all about? Recording this evolution by recording changes in the garden plant inventory and mapping and photography is one of the emphases of Michael Simpson's book and talk.

The last garden owned by Jeanette and Kevin Rae for 9 years, borders the wet forest areas and so they have faced quite a challenge with drainage. Large, curved raised gardens sweep through the lawns with a lovely, natural transitional edge between the two which not only looks good but enables easier maintenance. The backyard has the added bonus of a 'borrowed landscape' providing a backdrop and some shade for this lovely area. Paths meander through the tropical style of planting and you are enticed in all directions. A wonderful stand of the clumping Bambusa ventricosa, 'Buddha's Belly' bamboo is a great feature. The use of the very large inground concrete tank as an outdoor sitting area with a roof being constructed over it at present, is a wonderful design idea that is not used enough.

It is good to see that gardening is still alive and well as we go through this period of great change that began with the combination of the dry weather and the busier lifestyles of today. Hopefully the importance of trees and gardens will be recognized and not lost so that they continue to provide the welcome retreats of past eras. These modern gardens, with plants maintained to a high standard, are certainly examples which require cataloguing and description of their plant inventories to assist researchers of early 21st century Queensland gardens.

For more details of "Australian Gardens Making History, the Vital Role of Making and Keeping Garden inventories" see Kyleigh and Michael Simpson's website or contact then at

Wendy Lees AGHS

book launch and afterwards

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Garden Inventories how and when.

Suggestions for making a Garden Inventory.

Any and All gardens may be the subject of a recorded plant inventory or catalogue. Such a list is a snap shot of the garden at one time but may also be used as a progress log to inform the garden owner and interested friends. A garden inventory of plants can be a vital record which informs future generations of family, social and garden historians especially if accompanied by plans, photos and notes. If it's not written down it may never have happened.

Step 1. Make a start. Start today

If available gather together commercial plant labels, invoices of plant purchases and record plant names. Bed by bed, area by area stand in the garden and try to write down a name for each plant you see. Any useful common or local name will do for a start.

Step 2. Plant Names. Choose a system of naming for plants in your garden

Most useful are lists made alphabetically on the basis of a correct botanical name, followed by a common name e.g. Toona ciliata (Red Cedar). Written in italics is the ‘binomial name’ of this tree based on genus (with a capital) and species (in lower case).Botanists may use a more correct but unwieldy naming system of Order, Family, Genus then species e.g. Order Sapindales; Family Meliaceae; Genus Toona; Species ciliata ; synonyms Toona australis, Cedrela toona, Cedrela australis, Cedrela velutina. Names may also be followed by the name of the botanist who recorded it e.g. Toona australis (F.Muell) named by garden director Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller. Domestic gardeners may find that a list based on the binomial then common name is more than enough to start with.

Least useful is a garden inventory based on common names alone as these may be wildly off the mark and misleading, though they may record social family history. E.g. “Aunty Joan’s red Hibiscus” could be a specimen of anything within the large genus Hibiscus or the family Malvaceae.

Step 3. Choose a system of grouping and organizing all the plant names so you can find them more easily

Most useful may be to divide plants into different sections for trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, bulbs & tubers and vines. Sub-sections for Orchids, grasses, tropical fruit trees, roses (as examples) may be useful if a garden contains specialised collections.

When accompanied by plans, a grouping of plants geographically, e.g front garden, east border, south orchard may be useful for both the gardener and future researchers.

Probably least practical for the domestic gardener is an attempt to alphabetically group plants of all shapes and sizes lumped together in one long list without any qualifying comments or description.

Step 4. Start to record , both on paper and with a computer word processor if you have one.

Buy a hard cover feint ruled year planner or diary. Divide up sections as per Step 3 above and make plenty space for each list e.g. perennials (or plants in East border). These lists will grow in an unruly way at first, with many corrections and additions.

If using a computer then open a document and start to type in lists of names as in Step 2 and Step 3 above. Double space as there will be much to add and amend as time goes on. When plant lists reach any sort of length, print them out and paste them in the hard cover ledger. This allows this record to be used as a notebook, for margin notes and handwritten researched information and name corrections. These book ledger changes can then be used to go back and amend the computer record.

Step 5. Don’t leave the inventory as a list of plant names. Add some detail and personal notes to the garden inventory .

This is the stuff which makes garden history. Suggestions may be a brief description, location in your garden, where the specimen was obtained, comments on flowering & vigour, country of origin and for some plants a record of it’s demise and possible cause. The note that a plant was a gift or planted to commemorate a person or event is social historical gold, at least to the family and possibly to future researchers. Recognise that your list will never be really finished.

An example of the foregoing could be: “ Zepharanthes rosea syn. Habranthus robustus. Evergreen, as with the white rain lily beautiful pink trumpets appear over these low growing strappy leaf plants after rain. Near roses at front door and laundry path from 2008 to present. Propagates easily from seed and self seeds. Argentina

Step 6. Share your inventory of garden plants . At the very least maintain your personal record for yourself and family. A printed list or a computer document can be shared with friends, garden club members and even published ‘on line’ in garden club web-sites. I would recommend making a booklet, including sketch plans and photographs and organizing a limited private published edition. With a simply obtained library cataloguing ISBN number your printed Garden Inventory may then be lodged as a legal deposit in National and State libraries and as a resource in local libraries.

Step 7. Continue to refine your inventory with private research.

Developing your own type of garden inventory, together with developing skills of photography, drawing and computing (as well as gardening) can make this cataloguing activity quite a joyful experience. Please get started. There are many resources including:

Botanica: the illustrated A-Z of over 10,000 garden plants, Graham Ross, Geoff Burnie, 1999

Flora: The gardener’s Bible. Gardening Australia 2 Vols Flora: the 2006., 1584pp

From our book "Australian Gardens Making History" copyright 2010, Kyleigh and

Dr Michael Simpson

Saturday, April 9, 2011

salvias in autumn

Savia madrense

Salvias at Montville, South East Queensland

Versatility with vigour

Ornamental perennial salvias are favourites in our garden but are not as widely used as they could be. Our collection has grown through the cuttings trade with fellow gardeners, church fete acquisitions and from “Ja’s Herb farm” at Mapleton which, sadly, has closed down.

Over the last 6 months it has rained or showered almost every day and it has been quite dark and spooky under the cloud cover in our mountain top location. In spite of the weather challenge our collection of ornamental salvias injects cheerful colour throughout the garden.

One of the first salvias we acquired, which happily self seeds throughout is Salvia coccinea bicolour. In contrast to this quite low growing pink and white plant Salvia coccinea has taller bright red and a pure white variety which are useful donor plants. We don’t do well at all with Salvia greggii but other smaller flowered salvias such as Salvia “Sweet Laura”, the pineapple sage Salvia elegans have thrived in sun or shade in our conditions. The crushed foliage of the latter makes it an ideal edge of garden plant with herbs like Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis and Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare.

Tall growing plants such as Salvia iodantha, S.involucrata, S.madrense and varieties such as Salvia involucrata “pink icicles”, Salvia x hybrid “Waverley” have been reliable bedding plants and provide spectacular colour and form even in low light. They stand out like the Justicia carnea and Pachystachys lutea from a long way off.

Some plants in our garden, while not actually salvias, stand next to established salvias very successfully so that they enhance each other. Plectranthus ecklonii in blue, white or as “Hawthorne pink” variety and Plectranthus saccatus have salvia like flowers in late summer, are tall and go beautifully with drifts of Salvia guaranitica or Salvia uliginosa. The mauve flowers of Hypoestes aristata, the Plectranthus “Mona Lavender” hybrids and the cloud of white flowers on Iboza syn.Tetradenia riparia complement Salvia Mexicana. Orthosiphon stamineus (Cat’s whiskers) in white compliments Salvia confertifolia with it’s strong orange/red flower spikes.

Throughout our garden Salvia splendens in white, variegated white and red, or, white and mauve are extremely reliable and quite tall in our climate. Salvia “Van Houteii” and Salvia “Purple Majesty” are also very reliable and in keeping with almost all of our plants strike easily from cutting to be shared around.

One of our favourite salvias Salvia miniata has bright red flowers contrasting dramatically with the perfect blue flowers of sticky Salvia macrophylla. Another better known plant is Salvia leucantha and the variety S.leucantha “White velour”. Of course not everything in the garden is perfect and unfortunately we lost Salvia discolor , Salvia “Huntington red” and Salvia sclarea in the unceasing rain.

However, there are other interesting “salvia like” plants which can be rewarding in our climate by having the free flowering and forgiving nature of salvias and being easy to strike from cutting. These include Pycnostachys urticifolia, Lepachina salviae , Brillantasia subulugurica and the lovely lemon scented verbena, Aloysia triphylla.

Our salvia collection has been grouped to show off the salvias together but is not separate. The salvias work beautifully to create a colourful foil to our collections of Abutilons, old fashioned roses, our buddlejas, gardenias and large collections of shade loving subtropical plants including the Begonias. They also provide reliable colour in semi-shaded positions under our collections of trees.

Our salvias along with the rest of our plant collection can be read on our website and is discussed on our blog .

The 1875 Brisbane Botanic Gardens Catalogue mentions Salvia azurea, S. coccinea, S. officinalis, S. patens, S. plebia, S. pratensis, S. afracanus and S. splendens. Brisbane’s 1885 Botanic and Acclimatization garden’s catalogue included Salvia azurea, S.coccinea, S.fulgens, S.hoveyi, S.officinalis, S.patens and S.splendens. Many of the other perennial Salvias in our garden, despite their old fashioned appearence were not mentioned in 19th century catalogues and according to Clebsch (2003) some may not have been widely available to gardeners until the 1980s. Accordingly the 1962 Brisbane Botanical gardens Catalogue only records Salvia argentea, S. azurea, S. farinacea, S involucrata, S. leucantha, S. patens and Salvia splendens as well as S. splendens variegated.

We have a collectors garden around a century old cottage and in spite of their lack of ‘heritage’ credentials the many ornamental salvias display perfectly as traditional colourful garden plants in that setting.

They remain uncommon and sometimes expensive in Queensland retail nurseries which seems unfortunate. Salvias of many kinds are a wonderful easy care addition to modern gardens but have a particular charm in a busy crowded traditional garden especially where there is shade.

Dr Michael Simpson