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Great Aussie ideas

For Robin Powell, one of the great delights of leading tours for Ross Garden Tours around Australia is picking up great ideas.

Here are a few from recent travels



Finding treasure

There is no such thing as junk to Kylie Rose Blake, a garden designer who lives at Scarsdale, outside Ballarat in Central Victoria. Kylie’s witty take on garden ornament turns a budget emergency into a creative opportunity, and the whole garden is a cache of clever instances of re-using and re-purposing. Slung on the reo fence that edges the garden are rusty iron circles of different sizes, all originally part of some machine, but now serving a different function by giving visual solidity to the fence. Continuing the circular theme, a series of wire cake stand takes over as fence ornament, and hang like coloured spider webs. The garden bed in front of the fence is colour matched to work with the tip finds - and Kylie’s irresistible sense of humour: the plants here are all silver and gold. The riches of the gold and silver garden and its fence of treasures is reflected in old mirrors hung on the side of the house that add sparkling light to this part of the verandah. Elsewhere a collection of antique bush fly spray tins is artfully arranged on a wall of the house, creating a sculptural installation that will mystify anyone born after about 1970. On another side of the garden, the fence is formed from cut saplings of different heights, wired together. In front of the fence an old stump is transformed into a succulent container, with a chimney pot sprouting a rhipsalis as company.



Clever containers

Making plants in pots look great is all about matching the right plant to the right pot. Here are some that impressed me this year. Influential Australian designer Fiona Brockoff collects mid-century concrete pots and displays some of them in her garden Karkalla, on the Mornington Peninsula. Succulents suit the pots; their sculptural qualities are a neat match with the detailing of the pots. They also suit the conditions, easily handling coastal winds and holiday house neglect. The rusty head of a golf club is a surprisingly cheery accent! Matching flowering plants to detailed pots can be a trickier proposition: an oriental white and blue pattern is a classic choice for a stunning orchid; and the fiery red begonia is a sympathetically vibrant choice for a the glazed colours of Portuguese ceramics at Monserrate. Scale is also critical, a lesson learned from Sissinghurst where the scarlet geum would be too short for the beautifully verdigrised copper wash bowl in the Cottage Garden, were it not for that frill of yellow at its base which shifts the proportions and makes the picture perfect. Containers can also solve problems of plant care: Sarah Ryan found that a disused fish tank was just the thing for her pots of carnivorous sarracenia, which like to have wet feet and dry ankles.



Using plants

Growing plants is one thing, but the gardeners who really impress are those who use the plants they grow in really interesting ways. Like the bamboo, right. Restraining, rather than simply growing is the challenge with bamboo, and this little part of a garden reminded me how good it looks when thinned sufficiently to show off the colours and angles of individual culms. Repetition is the key to success to this greenhouse display in West Green House. Marylyn Abbott has planted deep red and white hippeastrums and arranged the pots in bloom with a range of heights, the big circles of bold colour repeated in the smaller faces of pansy, calibrachoa and polyanthus. Wandering jew is a terrible weed to have in the garden as it roots and takes off from even the smallest bit of discarded or left-behind stem. But that weedy habit is a bonus when the aim is to grow a quick, thick hanging basket for shade. Dull in the weedy green, the idea shines with the use of variegated or purple-backed tradescantias.