The Inner Gardener

Inner City Gardening for the Soul

Garden Features and Ornamentation 21/06/2012

When incorporating  features and ornamentation into your garden, there a couple of things to remember to assist you to achieve the right ‘look’ for your space:

Try to use a feature that suits the style of your garden and house and complements them.  For example, if you have an informal native garden and wish to add a water feature, keep it simple and rustic, rather than ornate and formal, which would stick out like the proverbial.

  1. A formal house and garden with features to suit. The 3 square pots provide a complimentary contrast to the 3 circular windows. Victoria.

    This ornate sun dial fits perfectly into a rose garden in Germany.

    Think about the scale of the feature.  It needs to be in proportion to its surroundings so that the whole picture looks balanced.  A tiny statue placed at the back of a long garden is likely to get lost and not provide the visual impact you desire.  That’s not to say that going the other way, over-scaling and object doesn’t look right. If done with consideration, an over-scaled feature in a smaller space can provide a real WOW factor – just make sure you only have one of them! Restraint is important in a small space. One over-scaled piece can often look much better and cleaner than lots of little pieces which can confuse the eye.

  2. This urn provides a focal point at the end of a path and is the perfect size in relation to its surroundings. A smaller pot would not have looked ‘right’. Mt Macedon, Victoria.

 Placement of the feature is important. Where you want people to look is where you place a feature or an ornament. If you want to create a focal point in a garden them you might place a suitably scaled statue at the end of a major sight -line or axis. If you want the eye to be drawn a way from an unattractive view beyond your boundary, then place the object at a low level.

Think about the setting of the feature. It should be integrated into its surroundings so it doesn’t appear to have been ‘plonked’ in a spot where it looks awkward. Sitting a stunning sculpture against a dull paling fence might not do the piece justice, whereas something as simple as growing a glossy green-leafed climber on the fence or planting a green hedge in front of it provides the perfect backdrop.  While the view of the feature should remain unimpeded, that doesn’t mean that nothing can be planted in front of (low growing) or around it so that it appears integrated into it’s surrounds and the view of the feature takes on a new depth.

These 2 white features stand out agains the green grass, drawing the eye immediately to them. Karl Forsters garden, Potsdam, Germany.

This water bowl has been integrated into the garden through the use of foliage in front of and around it. Tree trunks act as a frame and the grey fence with green climber provide a suitable backdrop. Melbourne, Australia.

Here, a tree is used as a natural feature and the elements in its surroundings are designed to compliment rather than  detract from its form. Geoffrey Bawa’s garden, Sri Lanka.

The boundaries of the garden are also subject to the same considerations, as they are often the first thing people see when they visit. A smart gate or front fence that suit the house and garden can be a feature in themselves.

This lovely gate suits the rose covered cottage behind. Belgium.

The rustic ‘hand made’ look of this fence matches beautifully with the cottage garden behind. France.

An elegant fence around an elegant home. Austria.

Let’s not overlook a little  folly in the garden. A bit of fun and amusement from the features we use  to adorn the garden. Note that these still follow the rules of style, scale and placement.


Using the space you’ve got (Part 2) 05/06/2012

In the inner city areas, and many other places, the space set aside for the domestic gardens is continually shrinking. Despite this lack of space and the tendency for denser living and a smaller average personal space compared to 20  years ago, human beings will always have the urge to nurture and grow. Even one or two plants in the tiniest of spaces can provide aesthetic and psychological benefits.

Imagine this scene without the flaming red rose.

In many other countries the phenomenon of tight urban living has been occurring for a very long time. Perhaps we can learn from examples of overseas gardening in restricted spaces.

With apartment living being the most common form of accomodation in many cities and towns, the balcony, or if you are lucky enough a rooftop often becomes the only outdoor spot to enjoy the day and to grow a garden. There are lots of clever ways to achieve this.

A Rolls Royce Parisian rooftop garden, complete with cubby bouse!

Simpler but still as effective are these balcony gardens in Spain.

A tiny balcony becomes something special with a selection of vibrant hardy flowering plants contrasting against the white walls.

On tiny ‘balconettes’ in Granada, Spain there is still room for the beauty of plants.

This gardener has managd to fit a mandarin tree on this little balcony in Spain. Not only stunning but productive too.

Window boxes are another popular way of using every last inch of space. Plant selection is important in these spaces as conditions can be very harsh, especially at higher levels.

France – now that is using every bit of space. Note the good plant choices (succulents) for a spot that could get quite hot during the day

Here in a town in Burgundy, the stairway is utilised to its full potential to display potted colour. A welcoming entrance for visitors.

A stairway in Paris used to effectively display a selection of plants, leading to the front door.

A potted topiary garden in Belgium. Pots also allow the garden to be portable for relocation in winter, if necessary.

In this small street in Paris there is even room to allow this vine to grow, virtually out of a crack in the pavement!

This beautiful tiered plant stand in a garden in Ireland allows efficient use of the vertical space.

Another example of tiering or terracing to make use of the vertical space (Paris).

In Australia, we have the good old ubiquitous nature strip or verge which is underutilised as a a garden space. Just remember to plan for car parking when designing a verge garden.

As you can see, with a bit of imagination and adaptation of ideas from other countries, there is always a way to fit some plants into your space.


Succulent Statements 21/05/2012

Filed under: succulents — theinnergardener @ 2:04 pm
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What is a succulent?  From a garden perspective, a succulent is a plant that stores water in its leaves, stems and/or roots. Cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti!

I confess, I am a sucker for a succulent. I’m not one for fussy plants in the garden – I don’t have the time or inclination. I think that is why succulents appeal to me. I am a bit of a collector, and always on the lookout for the one I haven’t got yet. They are plants that require little attention but give so much in return, and for the ‘brown thumbs’ amongst us they are a perfect plant because they are so forgiving, especially if you forget to water them.

Succulents can be tucked into all sorts of spaces. Every garden has a spot for succulents.

Succulents are easy to propagate, easy to care for, are water-wise and thrive in containers. In fact you can let your imagination run wild regarding the containers you use, as long as they have generous drainage holes. The only thing a succulent demands is good drainage.  Container gardening with succulents is a great option if you live in an apartment with a balcony or a small courtyard. In the garden, you can plant them in a raised bed or a mound, anything that allows that rain to drain away from their roots. Most succulents prefer sunny outdoor conditions which bring out their brilliant foliage colours and keep their growth compact.

All sorts of containers can be used for succuletns. This one is a wire basket.

An easy-care potted arrangement of succulents. The design tip here is to use a repetition of the same coloured pot (terracotta) in different sizes with plants that suit the pot shape. Taller pots and plants to the rear grading down to the lowest at the front.

From a design perspective, succulents can make bold statements in the garden and the year–round foliage shapes and colours provide a spectacular palette to work with.  AND flowers! Succulents have some of the most stunning flowers spikes, many of them look like they are made of wax. The flowers of most succulents produce nectar, so honey eaters can often be seen hanging precariously from the flower stem  having a drink. Succulents also mix beautifully with natives and ornamental grasses.

In this garden design I decided to use the bold foliage of succulents to complement the 1960’s architecture.

This design is very effective and entirely portable too! A great idea if you rent and like to take your garden with you. Once again, notice that the pots are the same colour, allowing your eye to appreciate the contrasting foliage shape and colour of the plants without distraction.

This photo gives you some idea of the range of shapes and colours succulents come in.

I mixed some succulents in with this native design.

A simple use of bold Agaves.

For those of you who are new to gardening and want a positive first experience with growing plants, I would recommend starting with some succulents. They are also  great plants for kids, who might not always remember to water! And for the more experienced gardener who hasn’t used succulents much , experiment a little by  incorporating them  into your planting scheme, you might be pleasantly surprised by the contrasting combinations you discover.

Stunning flower spike of a succulent cultivar.

For more growing information that is specific to the Australian context, I recommend any of the books by Atilla Kapitany & Rudolf Schulz, 2 experts who live in Victoria.


Biological Pest Control 16/05/2012

What is a bio-control?  Well, in a nutshell it is a naturally occurring organism that feeds on a population of ‘pests’ in the garden. If you avoid using chemicals in your garden and have a reasonable diversity of plants, then you will probably already have a balanced little eco-system happening. Have you noticed the ladybirds on your roses enjoying the aphids? Have you seen the praying mantis stalking a pesky bug? Even the blackbirds flying in to pick off the caterpillars from the ornamental grapevine are doing their part to control pests.

Some bio-controls are so small that you may not even see them with the naked eye.  A common one sold to control caterpillars is ‘Dipel’ (Bacillus thunbergii). It is a naturally occurring bacteria that comes in powder form, that you mix up and spray on your caterpillar infested plants. The caterpillars start to chew on the sprayed leaf and meet a rather unpleasant end. It is an effective organic control, completely safe for humans and is specific to caterpillars in the moth and butterfly families, so our other ‘good’ bugs are not harmed.

I recently had a black vine weevil (BVW) problem in a client’s front garden. Most of the plants we put in were either ring barked along the stems or had the roots eaten by the black vine weevil larvae. Another typical sign of infestation is the notching along the leaves. The adult does the damage during the night and hides during the day, making them very hard to find and kill. The larvae do the damage to the roots  underground.

Typical BVW ‘notching

More BVW damage

This is one pest where chemicals are fairly ineffective. However, there is a biological enemy of the black vine weevil and it’s larvae,  Entomorpathogenic  Nematodes. (EN’s).  So, I ordered some on-line from a company called Ecogrow – This company also supplies commercial quantities to the nursery industry. The nematode concentrate was delivered in a little eski for use as soon as possible (remember they are living organisms).  With full instructions provided, I set about preparing these little warriors for action.

Nematodes in their packaging

All ready to start

I applied the solution with a watering can a couple of weeks ago. The soil temperature needs to be above 12C for them to be effective.  Now, we just have to wait until spring to see if they have done their job of terminating the next generation of BVW. This is the first time I have actively used nematodes as a biological solution and am very interested to see how things go. I suppose one way of telling whether they have worked will be if the surviving plants regenerate in spring. Will keep you posted.


Using the space you’ve got 04/05/2012

These days inner city garden space is often non-existent with apartment balconies or courtyards being the average size of outdoor space available for gardening.  But there are ways and means of fitting in some edibles and other plants into smaller spaces.  Here are some tips on using your space efficiently:

Trees -Narrow and Dwarf Cultivars: Growers and the nursery industry have produced a whole range of narrow (fastigiate) cultivars of trees in response to the increasing urban squeeze. An example of a tree I have used is Pyrus ‘Capital’ (deciduous ornamental pear) which is the narrowest of the Pyrus cultivars, growing up to 10 m high and only 3 m wide.  I have mine growing in a bed only 55cm wide. I bought them young and bare rooted in winter, and allowed their roots to grow into the restricted space. Luckily the first year I planted them the long Victorian drought broke and they got lots of summer rain and established well. Two years on and they are looking good and I’m hoping they will blossom for the first time this coming spring. Young trees can take a couple of years before they flower. Five of them have been planted as a screen to protect the western side of the weatherboard house from the hot afternoon sun in summer. I expect in another year or so, they should start to make a real difference by cooling and saving the paint work on that side of the house.

Row of ornamental pear trees (‘Capital’)

There are now also a range of dwarf trees, particularly fruit trees, that don’t grow to usual full size but produce full sized fruit.  They are terrific space savers with the added bonus of not growing so high that the fruit is out of reach and they all do well in big pots on a sunny balcony. I have a dwarf ‘Valencia’ orange and dwarf ‘Eureka’ lemon to supplement my full-sized espaliered ‘Meyer’ lemon, although you can now get dwarf ‘Myer’ lemons too (‘Lots O’ Lemons’). I also have a couple of dwarf nectarine trees and a peach. There are dwarf columnar apples and dwarf pears and limes (Tahitian and Kaffir), so you can practically have an entire orchard in a courtyard if you want to.

Dwarf ‘Eureka’ lemon tree

Using the vertical plane:  Speaking of espalier, that is another way to save space. In Europe espaliering fruit trees has been carried out for centuries. It is a great way to save space by using the vertical plane, but this type of training and pruning can also increase fruiting. Some trees are still not available as dwarf cultivars, for example figs, so until they invent a dwarf fig I am espaliering mine against my front south facing fence. This way it gets the sun in spring and summer while it develops fruit and then in late autumn and winter when the sun has gone from that area, the tree loses its leaves and goes into dormancy.  The olive is another tree that responds well to the espalier technique.

Espaliered fig tree

If you have a fence or support, then climbing plants are also a good way to include some green life in your space. Even food can be grown this way, taking up minimal ground space eg. snow peas, climbing beans, grape vine.

Hanging pots on a fence is the simplest form of the vertical gardens that are now very popular. Epiphyitic plants such as staghorn ferns, orchids and bromeliads are easy low-care plants for a vertical garden in half sun.

Pots & Containers:  I have trialed the Greensmart pots in my own garden and they are great for growing food plants on balconies and small spaces. They have a water reservoir which provides moisture for plants to use as they need. This design is based on the ‘wicking’ principle, which can also be done on a larger scale to create very water efficient veggie beds. In my experience this wicking method is the best for growing food plants, especially in summer as thirsty fruiting plants have access to a constant supply of moisture and you can even fill up the reservoir and go away for a couple of days without worrying.

Greensmart pots come in small (pictured) and large

If you don’t have any garden bed space, then pots are a perfect way to include some ornamentals and food plants into your environment . As mentioned previously, citrus do well in large pots as do the range of dwarf fruit trees. Small vegetables and herbs such as lettuces, rocket, parsley and leeks can be grown in re-used polystyrene fruit boxes, that are easy to move around to follow the sun in winter and shade in summer.

Tahitian lime happily growing in a large tub for years.

Hanging baskets are an efficient way to use the vertical space

I had these narrow plater boxes made up from steel (designed to rust). They are 40cm wide and fit along the narrow side of the house against the neighbour’s brick boundary wall.

My potting shed was built using the previously wasted space between the garage and boundary fence. It is 1.2m wide and 6m long. It even includes a 200l tank which collects rainwater from the garage roof next to it. It has electricity for lighting and to run a fan in summer!


Re-use, Re-purpose, Re-interpret (part 2) 30/04/2012

Filed under: Recycling in the garden — theinnergardener @ 4:07 pm

I found 3 of these rusty metal bits in a hard rubbish collection. I think they were parts of an old gate. They look great repeated along my side fence and with the Boston Ivy added instant aged charm.

This mini-orb was discarded at a renovation site. I thought it would make a nice backdrop for my rusty bits and pieces, as well as help disguise a new paling fence.

An empty giant olive container re-purposed as a second compost bin- just cut off the bottom, add some air holes and place on the soil. It even has a lid and an old handle screwed into it for easy removal.

Another use for the Birch timber as a vegie patch.

Some tree pruning re-purposed as a rustic trellis.

Another 1950s hard rubbish find – one day I’ll get around to sanding it back and re-painting it.

Another one of those retro plant stands I manged to smooth talk off someone’s trailer before he drove through the tip gates! Helps to be in the right place at the right time.


Re-use, Re-purpose, Re-interpret

Filed under: Recycling in the garden — theinnergardener @ 11:38 am
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All good gardeners know the benefits of re-using and recycling in the garden, from the humble compost heap to second hand bits of building materials to make garden beds and other structures.  Apart from being good for the environment and reducing the landfill, it’s also great for the hip pocket and that feeling of self- sufficiency. You can obtain or create some very original items by re-interpreting materials and a bit of imagination.  I often look around at nurseries, gift and furniture  shops for inspiration and also at other gardens during my travels.

Here are some of the things I have found or re-used in my garden over the years. Many have been ‘freebies’ sourced during evening constitutionals around my neighbourhood at hard rubbish collection time, some have been second-hand and purchased at a minimal cost, and some have been fashioned out of materials from my own garden.

Old bird cage stand found during hard rubbish was covered in a white plastic coating (easily removed) now stands as a bird ‘perch’.

I have a range of these original 1950s plant stands (great for my succulent collection). This one I negotiated from someone about to dump it & 3 others at the tip! You wont find these in any garden centre.

We had to remove a couple of dead birch trees (victims of the drought) and created the ‘BirchHund’ – each one is different and friends have loved them. Also made an Xmas reindeer.

A house wreath made from our ornamental grapevine vine prunings and some rusty wire & a vacated birds nest that blew out of a tree. At Xmas I replace the nest with a couple of big pine cones.