Over the past few years I have become increasing concerned about the unpredictability of our weather patterns and its effect on gardening and in particular the future direction of my own garden.
The extreme heat of our recent summers and the general lack of rainfall, coupled with gale force winds and the occasional devasting frost have made me rethink my gardening practices and more broadly how I want my garden to develop in the years ahead.
I have identified three key points as guiding principles for any future work carried out in the garden. The first is to make the garden as water wise as possible by selecting plants that can cope with reduced water, greater use of mulching and grouping plants according to water needs.
The second point is to reduce the overall maintenance and attention required to keep the garden looking attractive year-round. Over the last few years and for the foreseeable future, my involvement with The Garden Clubs of Australia takes me away from home for extended periods. This, together with a few aches and pains as the years march on, requires a smarter approach as to the best way to keep my six acre garden looking good.
Thirdly there is the issue of two new dogs in the garden who have both demonstrated an ability to dig large holes and a complete disregard in distinguishing between lawn and garden.
The garden area that was in most need of a complete rethink and overhaul was the Cottage Garden. This large garden wraps around the front of the house, is used daily and frames the views from the house to the rest of the garden. The entry point had a large rose arbour covered in Albertine and Pierre de Ronsard and the beds filled with annuals and perennials, trees, shrubs, potted succulents and large decorative pots.
Created more than 10 years ago, some of the plantings were looking tired and others had become vigorous thugs. This particularly applied to Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' which threatened to take over one entire bed - hardy yes but also hard to get rid of! The maturing of several lilly pillys, a Duranta repens 'Golden Edge' and two tibouchinas meant that some areas were now in full to dappled shade.
Another issue with this long-established area was the problem of weed infestation - Bidens pilosa (cobbler's pegs or farmer's friends), Tradescantia fluminensis (wandering Jew) and kikuyu.
With a window of opportunity over the winter months, work on the project began. All unwanted plants were removed with most going on the compost heap and the weeds to the burn pile.
The decision was taken to completely remove the climbing roses over the arbour. The short flowering season of Albertine and the tangled mess of dead canes made the decision easier but their gorgeous spring fragrance will be missed.
The entire area was then covered with a 10 centimetre layer of year-old small woodchip mulch. This will aid not only in water retention, but also suppress many of the persistent weeds that plagued the garden beds.
Hardy specimens such as agapanthus, agave, Dietes grandiflora and liriope were left in situ or divided and half a dozen Banksia spinulosa 'Birthday Candles', several varieties of Dianella, sun loving bromeliads and various succulents such as fire sticks (Euphorbia tirucalli) and Agave americana Variegata were added for year-round interest.
The top side of the entrance pergola was terraced and paved to give a display area for my collection of potted succulents. Several large terracotta pots of succulents were positioned on the lower side to balance the effect.
My collection of large terracotta pots and urns have been repositioned throughout the garden to give a visual anchor and year-round interest. Six large pots have been planted with hardy annuals including bedding salvias and begonias to give a splash of colour and keep alive the cottage garden theme.
I'm quite pleased with my new look garden; I will enjoy its development and especially the minimal maintenance that it now requires!