Garden Journal

If someone said to you that they wanted to grow tropical foliage plants in a garden where the temperature drops to -3C in winter and rises to 46C in summer, you'd probably think they were mad - I know I would have once. Yet, that is what I did, it wasn't something I intentionally set out to do - it just grew.

Pool Area
In late 1997, we added some of the native Bangalow palms to the garden behind the pool and around the filter box.  It was not long after this that I came across a Cordyline fruticosa 'Rubra' in a local nursery; I was told that it could be grown outside, so I decided to give it a try under the palms along with some subtropical and tropical plants that are safe to grow here.  I also added a Calathea to the garden to see how it would go.   As the effect of our cold winters on the plants was still an unknown factor, work on the garden was left until the next spring to see how it would cope.  The palms, calathea and cordylines sailed through winter with no damage. 

Late 1998

With palms planted on two sides of the pool, the 3rd side was looking very empty, just lots of paving and a wall.  Planting palms along the fence here wouldn't help as the fence was too far away, so paving was removed at the edge of the pool and in the corners next to the wall; just enough to plant more bangalow palms and some alexander palms.  Soon after the golden cane palms were added around the pool edge.  Gradually more paving was pulled up to create larger gardens around the  these palms.  The gardens kept growing until there was only a pathway left to connect the paved areas, this pathway was later replaced by a bridge.  During the following summer, clumping palms were added to the garden behind the pool and as I came across different cordylines these were also added.

June,2002

This year we finished replacing an old sleeper retaining wall that runs from the house to the pool area and then around the pool. To do this we had to pull the existing waterfall apart, this also meant that the plants in this area had to come out. When the new wall behind the pool was built; we increased its height so that we could build a new waterfall. By June we had finished the wall and were ready to have the pool resurfaced in Pebblecrete, when the pool was being prepared we had a section of the pool wall removed so that the waterfall would go down into the pool. It was my husband's first waterfall and it turned out better than we expected. Between the pool edge and the new wall I added another level to the garden; this was built out of bush rock. This new garden is at the same height as the first level of the waterfall and it allows me to grow cordylines behind the pool. The plants in this area were planted in July and the photos were taken in February, the plants have grown so well during one growing season.

Since then the pool area has finished its transformation into a tropical foliage garden. Ballinese style statues have been added to the area, some are in full view and some are hidden amongst the foliage. It is a great place to sit and relax; in summer there is nowhere cooler to go than into the pool area, down the steps and across the bridge to sit on the garden wall, where the temperature drops drastically

Autumn, 2002

We finished replacing the old sleeper retaining wall that runs from the house to the pool area and then around the pool.  To do this we had to pull the existing waterfall apart, this also meant that the plants in this area had to come out.   When the new wall behind the pool was built; we increased its height so that we could build a new waterfall.  By June we had finished the wall and were ready to have the pool resurfaced in Pebblecrete, when the pool was being prepared we had a section of the pool wall removed so that the waterfall would go down into the pool.  It was my husband's first waterfall and it turned out better than he expected.  Between the pool edge and the new wall I added another level to the garden; this was built out of bush rock.  This new garden is at the same height as the first level of the waterfall and it allows me to grow more plants behind the pool.

There is also another small section in the pool area, it is behind the bridge on the higher level.  

Planting and watching this area develop over the years has taught me a lot about creating microclimates. Here, the canopy, pool and different garden levels allow for different soil moisture contents, protection from strong winds, layering and density of planting all interact and play an important role in providing the essential habitat for the understorey planting.  The layering of the foliage is also an integral part of the habitat as each layer adds protection for the layers below it.

 

Pavilion Garden

July 2000

Armed with my success and the knowledge gained in the pool area, I turned my eye to another area, An area that leads from the house to the pool area. At that stage it was a woodland garden with autumn foliage trees including maples, dogwoods, crabapples under planted with unusual and rare cool climate plants. Even though a few of my cordylines had crept into this area it still looked so drab when the leaves had fallen off the trees and lacked the vitality of the pool area. Out came the trees and in went some Bangalow palms and Golden Cane palms; more Cordylines, Calatheas, Ctenanthes, Gingers, Ccycads and a Bat plant were also added. There was a straight path that led from the house to a larger paved section at the bbq. All of the paving was pulled up, the pathway changed to a curved pathway and replace with paving laid as steppingstones surrounded by river pebbles. This added to the informal tropical look within this area.

Over the next few months as the weather warmed up atherton palms, fishtail palms black palms and triangle palms have been added to the canopy with Licuala palms, Bromeliads, Ctenanthes, Marantas, and more Cordylines were added. Early this year Foxtail palms, more Triangle palms, Wedding palms, Crotons, Calatheas, Diffenbachias and more Cordylines in the understorey. The bangalow palms were later removed as I thought their foliage was too heavy in this area, more golden cane palms were added, these gave the area a softer, lighter look. Now the canopy consists of foxtail palms, golden cane palms and wedding palms in one section, while triangle palms are in another.

August, 2001.

The magnolia was removed and replaced by three Bangalow Palms.  My neighbour did a  few changes to his yard just before winter, and this affected the microclimate in this area; allowing the cold air to flow into this area.  This made me decide to have my microclimate independent of any thing outside of my own yard.  Since then 10 more bangalow and alexander palms have been added to provide a canopy.  The pavilion, to cover the BBQ and table area, has been started; it will also help with the microclimate.  The palms and pavilion will help to keep the understorey cooler in summer and warmer in  winter.  More Cordylines have also been planted.  Bamboo flares have been placed along the gravel path, leading to where the pavilion will be.   

Over the last few months we have been hit with very windy weather (for Sydney).  It seems that every time I added more advanced palms to my garden; the strong winds come soon after and the palms take quite a battering.  Over recent weeks I have started on the front garden.   Advanced Bangalow Palms and Golden Cane Palms have been planted, smaller ones will be added between the larger palms..    The tropical foliage garden has been gradually taking over my whole yard.  Last summer I started on  the last section in the backyard.  Even though the area has an 18 month old Duranta 'Sheenas Gold' hedge, the area still looked flat.  So last summer I started to transform this section, it is going to be the most challenging as the frosts do settle here.  I removed the silver birches and Buddleias and added Bangalow palms as the canopy.  Underneath these Cctenanthes and native Gingers have been added for now.

April, 2002.                                                         

This area has changed  in appearance over the last year. Some golden cane palms have been added, more cordylines and bromeliads have been planted around the garden edges.  Pedestals have been placed for the lanterns and flares have been added.  It now has a tropical atmosphere.  My Cordyline collection has now grown to over 230 species, cultivars or forms.  The pavilion is now finished.

May, 2003.

There was very little left to be done in the front garden  and it is now finished.  During summer I added more small Fijiian Fire plants and they are now around a metre high.   

The bottom garden has had some changes recently.  The Camellia hedge was removed from on top of the brick wall and a hedge of golden canes was planted.  Under this I planted Cordylines, Crotons and Bromeliads.  After winter had passed and after a busy time at work, I got the chance to look at this with new eyes, i.e. I didn't pay much attention to it and had forgotten what it looked like. I decided that I didn't like the hedge and transplanted the Golden Canes into clumps further back into the garden, this allowed me to scatter  large bromeliads throughout this area


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