How to grow Plants In my garden: Frog Hollow

In my garden: Frog Hollow

Linda’s garden at Catherine Hill Bay had a few false starts.

Killer black frosts and maddening weeds wreaked their worst, but it now has a welcoming sense of place.

Images by Luisa Brimble


Linda at home in her garden.


Ten years ago we found a derelict, century-old miners’ cottage perched crookedly on a bare patch of grass in a village on the edge of a windswept beach known by surfers for its waves and by heritage buffs for its historic coal-loading jetty. The cottage sat between sand dunes, a national park and Lake Macquarie, and smack-bang in a Melaleuca forest. Serendipity - that was the name of our three-month daughter, and we could afford it!

As a landscape architect, gardener, mother and full-time worker, the challenge here at what we’ve named Frog Hollow, has been finding a balance between my aspirations and reality. Those who have followed the journey on radio will know all about the plant deaths, killer black frosts and maddening stoloniferous weeds! But there were also successes and the garden is developing a unique sense of place, though I’m constantly pulling myself back from creating too much work! I have to remind myself that the garden is in its infancy and I have a lifetime to add to its layers.


I’m planting more Agastache

I’ve experimented with many different types of perennials to test their resilience to my weird combination of deep loam soils, high water table and lack of rain and have now begun the process of editing the failures and cramming in more of the successes. The Agastache family of hummingbird mints are in: the lavender-toned ‘Blue Boa’, ‘Blue Fortune’ and ‘Sweet Lili’ and ‘Salmon Pink’, pictured here, have been excellent performers, offering months of continuous flowers. After a midsummer prune they return for another round of flowering.


Agastache in Linda's garden.


I’m welcoming the locals

One of the immense pleasures of the garden are the birds, bees and butterflies that visit. Salvia ‘Amistad’, shown here sheltering our outdoor bath area, feeds the Eastern spinebills, honeyeaters and wattlebirds. Blue wrens nest in an emu bush or banksia bush each summer and we love to watch Daddy Wren teach his chicks to fly. Butterflies are attracted to the melted honey fragrance of the Buzz Buddleia or butterfly bushes I’ve dotted around the garden. The tally is now five, including the aptly named, pendulous ‘Wisteria Lane’, upright ‘Sky Blue’ and ‘Purple’. They grow to 1.5m, slightly exceeding the label promise of 1m, and repeat flower through the year as long as you remove the finished flowers.


Salvia ‘Amistad’ in front of Dan's Sleepout.


I’m loving hints of black

For ages I wanted to grow black lilies, and finally found them at the Drewitt’s Bulbs stall at Collectors’ Plant Fair last year. Okay, she’s not really black, but deep magenta Lilium ‘Matrona’ is a summer star in my garden. Summer school holidays are my downtime, and I like to choose plants that flower at this time so I can enjoy them in the garden - and in a vase. To continue the dark tones I have also planted two deliciously fragrant chocolate cosmos - ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Choca Mocca’. Black foliage has been added in the form of a deep burgundy-leafed protea and the small-growing ‘Diamonds in the Dark’ crepe myrtle. These shrubs are at the back of the borders and deepen the perspective while providing a dark backdrop for lighter flowers to pop against.


Lilium ‘Matrona’ from Red Earth Bulbs, Victoria.


It’s time to

Cram more plants in: not more different things, but more of the things that really work to create bigger drifts. Seven individuals of each plant seems to work well for me.

Do kangaroo paws maintenance - cut back blackened leaves, dig up clumps, divide into four, replant and water, ready for feeding in spring.

Prune perennial plants back to ground level.

At the end of winter I pull the mulch away, sprinkle blood and bone and fertiliser around, with slow-release granules for the frangipanis.

Think about adding ornamental grasses to the mix – I like the glorious blue of Poa labillarii ‘Suggan Buggan’ and the dark foliage and purple feathers of Pennistetum x advena ‘Rubrum’.

Move into the sleepout my husband built from love and recycled bits and pieces, so we can restore the old cottage. I’ll keep you posted!


I need screening

Like most of us when we move into a new place the first issue is shade and privacy. I chose quick-growing clumping bamboos to shelter me from unwanted views at different heights - Himalayan Blue bamboo, Drepanostachyum falcatum, Bambusa chungii ‘Barbelletta’ and Dendrocalamus minor var. Amoenus ‘Ghost Bamboo’. The giant Himalayan Blue bamboo we now call the swamp monster gives glorious shade for our outdoor table. It’s also an impenetrable haven for families of smaller birds such as red-faced finches and blue wrens. I knock unwanted shoots out with a rubber mallet when they’re a few inches tall – it’s a bit like ‘whack a mole’ but with bamboo!

Within the frame created by these bamboo screens, the garden borrows from the New Perennial movement and twists it to include Australian perennials. So drifts of burgundy kangaroo paw, puffs of agastache, a patchwork of flannel flowers, swathes of white everlasting paper daisies, and salvias are meant to roll into each other. The primarily blue-grey foliages gives a pleasing underwater effect, especially as you can hear the waves breaking - when the kids are quiet!


Agapanthus 'Queen Mum' framing Dan's bridge.


Six great plants


Flowers prolifically from spring to autumn in full sun and well-drained soils. Deadhead spent blooms to encourage further flowers.




Drumstick allium

The only allium to flower well in warmer climates, with sage-green buds rising from thin stalks in spring and opening to deep magenta. Bulbs double each year.


Drumstick Allium


Flannel flowers

The soft silver foliage of this iconic indigenous native decorates the edges of my curved beds. They live only 2-3 years so I plant tube stock to cut costs.


Flannel Flowers


Kangaroo paws

I love the burgundy, silver and lilac forms of this native perennial. Prune entire stems to the ground after flowering. Dig up and divide clumps in autumn and winter if desired.


Kangaroo Paws



Birds and bees are drawn to the deep-purple flowers of ‘Amistad’ and sky blue bog sage, which both flower for ages. Cut back finished stems to ground level to promote shrubby growth.


Salvia ‘Amistad’



I use the symmetrical rosettes of Sempervivums, houseleeks, in pots, fallen logs and crevices. The common name refers to the traditional practice of planting them on the roof for fire protection.


Small succulent displays aplenty in Linda's garden.


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About this article

Author: Linda Ross