Quince tree homage to art

Quince tree homage to art

Antonio Lopez Garcia is a contemporary Spanish artist considered by many (including Robert Hughes) to be among the greatest living painters. In 1992 he was the subject of a quirky film, in the English version, subtitled The Quince Tree of the Sun.


This little garden room is a round space surrounded by a rosemary hedge allowed to grow tall and unclipped. Originally planned as a space for entertaining, it sat completed, except for the half-installed barbeque, for a decade. The circle of intricately patterned paving was frequented only by ants and weeds making their homes between the bricks.


I saw a quince tree in the clearance corner at the nursery but didn’t buy it. Where would I use it? So much space, so little water – I am done with buying plants that sit unplanted for a lack of planning.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I thought of Antonio’s stony courtyard with it’s quince tree. Perhaps I could make a gravelled courtyard? Too costly. Too ambitious. Then, I remembered that I had a courtyard that served, not steak and salad, but bitter disappointment.

A return trip to the nursery – and yes – the quince tree was still there.


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Carlindi, at the wonderful secret nursery Verdure Plants, suggested the answer to my seed raising troubles might be perlite and generously gave me some to try.

I was reminded that I have, in fact, used perlite but mine was much bigger lumps pressed into service, experimentally, as aggregate in a concrete sculture. It was supposed to make the concrete strong but light. Sadly, not light enough…

It was the sculpture that caused me much embarrassment when an unruly trailer  jack-knifed itself in the carpark at Mindarie Keys. The mess of trailer, car and weighty sculpture were so mangled it requried the assistance of a posse of male artists to fix. It’s an unwritten law that one should be able to manhandle manouevre one’s own sculture.

Phi II

Phi II, 2008, concrete and stainless steel, approx 1m3

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Path to the chook yard

Path to the chook yard

I knew there was a path under there! After years of illness and neglect parts of my garden are so overgrown I am pruning with a chainsaw… Seriously.

All I need to do now is figure out how to replant all the bald bits. Sigh.

I don’t think the prunings are going to fit in the tumbler…



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Climate change

Temp in Chittering
This photo was taken yesterday afternoon. The middle number on the gauge is the temperature outside, the top one is inside. (For those who need a translation 48.3°C is 119°F.) The outside sensor is in the shade, nice and high, to avoid reflected heat from the ground. The inside one says the airconditioner isn’t coping. Neither is the garden or the gardener. I dragged out an old electric fan and spent the next few hours jostling with the dog and a couple of cats for the best spot. And there will be more days like this before the summer is over.

Many of my new spring plantings didn’t survive – including eight pittosporum ‘Miss Muffets’ and a hedge-worth of Acmena smithii ‘Cherry Surprise’. So disappointed. Those should have been good tough choices. I am less surprised at the loss of many of the perennials in my fledgling Riot. What was I thinking?

Another casualty was the lawns. I gave them a little extra water in the early hours of the morning to try to help. It wasn’t a lot because the garden tank only holds 10,000 litres and takes 12 hours to refill. When it’s gone there’s no more. A couple of big sprinklers will use that in an hour. This is a big garden… and the vegetable patch comes first.

I was worried about holding on to enough water in case of fire. We are surrounded by crunchy-dry paddocks. The lightning from a summer storm makes me nervous.

Ironically, I was reading the book I asked Santa to deliver – about a beautiful Tasmanian garden called Wychwood. The paragraph in which the author, Karen Hall, describes the benefit of sweeping areas of grass and how crucial it is to strike the “balance between lawn and garden beds”  almost made me cry.

Our grass had only just turned green after the browning of the winter and spring frosts. I love the green. It’s brown again now. I stood by the window and watched it go and realised that two months of green in exchange for the water it needed just wasn’t worth it. Add in the mowing, edging and fertiliser and I suddenly faced the reality that I was breaking one of Karen’s golden rules “Choose plants that suit your climate: There’s no point struggling against nature trying to grow a plant that would much rather be elsewhere.”

I knew that, I garden like that, I make a little go a long way. Most of my plant choices are sensible – I would have no garden at all if not. The harsh reality is that lawn, even tough buffalo lawn, would rather be elsewhere. It will have to go. It’s a good thing that gardeners are, by nature, optimists: I have a plan.

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Monsieur Tillier

Tea rose Archduke Joseph (aka Monsieur Tillier)

Tea rose Archduke Joseph (aka Monsieur Tillier)

My favourite rose in the winter time would have to be the old tea rose Monsieur Tillier (also known as Archiduc Joseph – an argument I believe concluded by Lynne Chapman et al in Tea Roses, Rosenberg Publishing, 2008 – I shall continue to call mine Monsieur Tillier). It flowers throughout the year but they are most valued and certainly most noticeable when everything else has dropped its foliage.

This is no shy shrub either – there are just two planted side by side here – just those sufficient to make a hedge. Each plant is something over 3m high and wide.


Tea rose Archduke Joseph (aka Monsieur Tillier)

The scent is spicy peppery tea to my nose and the colour delightfully changeable. It is interesting to pick a bud (one with just a little colour showing to be sure it will open) and allow it to unfurl indoors – the resulting flower is entirely different – an olde worlde mix of copper, sepia and dusky pink with purple red in the shadows – a steampunk rose.

Monsieur Tilllier opened indoors

Monsieur Tilllier opened indoors

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On weeding

Tea rose Mrs BR Cant among the  grasses

The old tea rose Mrs BR Cant is 2m high, 5m wide, evergreen, fragrant and delightful surrounded by grasses, some with seed heads the same colour as her flowers. All I need now are few choice perennials and I am done. Or would be if the bush fire regulations allowed it. (I consider myself lucky, Hans Heysen lost trees to his local council…)


And then this lovely thing. I daydream it’s some rare native lily and imagine a great drift alongside some other thing chosen to pick up the exquisite colour of that dark purple-brown stain at the base of the petals. I’m keeping it. I just need to figure out how and when to move it to The Riot. (There’s a small clump so I can cautiously test with a little bit first.)

Weeding is slow work.

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The Riot

Commenting on a post on The Gardenist prompts this one.

The Riot

The Riot – a place to play

The Riot is my playground – nine small beds in a formal layout with totally unstructured planting. It’s the place I plonk the impulsive onesies to see how they grow here. The good ones might become my stock plants once I understand what they do. It’s a place to hide awkward things like the collection of hybrid teas that make horrible garden plants. Or see if growing leeks to flowering will quell my yearning for the giant alliums I see in pictures of gardens on the other side of quarantine…

I can bring home absolutely anything without needing to plan or balance or repeat en masse. It is about being able to adopt every puppy in the pet shop window without worry.

It doesn’t matter if everything clashes – it’s fun (which makes me question why gardening becomes so serious). I wish I had made it when I first set spade here rather than waiting until this year to realise that it was something I desperately needed. I wish a book had told me when I began that the first thing I needed was a place to play – so I am saying it now – every gardener, new or old, needs a riot.

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Slugs, snails and bobtails

Ceramic snails hiding among the pots

Ceramic snails hiding among the pots

It appears these ceramic snails are the only snails we have left. I have seen precisely one live one in the past two years (which I promptly squashed…). There are a few slugs to be found – but only a few – maybe one under the dozens of pots I moved yesterday. Gardener’s delight. Where did they all go?

The most reasonable explanation is that the resident bobtail goannas have developed a taste for them. Their numbers have certainly increased steadily over the years as we have turned our grass paddock into a garden with habitat; and they tend to frequent the places the snails used to.

It seems organic methods and a laissez faire management style can yield an unexpected win.

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Weed trees and tenacity

This scrawny little tree was planted nearly 14 years ago at the centre of the First Garden. A simple circle with a path around it and a few roses around that. A little further out: a shelter belt of native trees and shrubs. Then, the house was built and the washing line needed paving bricks – money was tight – so the First Garden was robbed. Then forgotten about.

On some date unknown the birds added seeds that became weed trees. Three of them. Which made a delightfully shady glen until I realised the Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) was still alive. (Yes, I am aware that gardeners in more clement climes would screech that my ulmus is a weed.)

The First Garden begins again.

PlainAir - weed tree stump with the tenacious little tree to the right

Weed tree stump with the tenacious little tree to the right


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Formal thoughts

PlainAir - lawn after frost.

Almost the end of winter – the lawn is brown and the hedges due to be trimmed – held together by simple shapes and the soft light of a beautiful grey day.

I spent eight years turning a paddock into a garden.  Life interrupted and it rested for five years. The time has come for us both to recover.


There never was a formal definition of what it was to be. No grand plan. It just happened, always driven by an unquenchable need to create.

This land slopes. If I want a flat bit I have to make it flat… mostly with a spade and wheelbarrow.

It is made using materials bought or found – always shoestring – home made, second hand or seconds. Nature provides -5°C through 48°C, hot summer winds and sand that doesn’t hold moisture. There are rocks in the sand (usually where I want to plant something).

There is no scheme water – we catch the rain and store it in tanks. With care we can save enough for the house to last ten months without rain but there’s not much to spare for the garden. We also have water from a bore – salty and slow – there’s not much of that either.

Recently, while trimming a hedge, I glanced over at this part of the garden and realised that what I have made is a formal garden. Yes, there are curves, soft plantings and drifts of trees in the transitions between some areas but essentially it is formal. Clipped hedges, simple shapes and a controlled palette. I was surprised because I had simply added each part to work with what was next to it, patch by patch, like a quilt. I made it as I, and many other artists, make art: make first, analyse later. Or maybe just make and leave the analysis for others.


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