After 12 years of drought David Glenn’s extraordinary garden is overflowing with flowering perennials. Graham visited recently with the crew from Better Homes & Gardens and was inspired by what he found.
The impact of more than a decade of drought is obvious everywhere as we drive past dry, dusty paddocks and empty dams. It’s a sight of desolation. So we were not prepared for the surprise awaiting us behind the dark green hedge of European privet that shields Lambley Nursery in rural Victoria.
The Dry Garden at Lambley features silver olive trees and a painterly combination of dry-loving flowers. Growing centre front is the purple Salvia nemorosa. Photo - Lambley's Nursery
An avenue of Prunus serrulata, (Japanese flowering cherries), and pale blue agapanthus in bloom line the driveway to the carpark. A cheerful David Glenn is waiting to greet us in front of the original herbaceous border, which is filled with catmint, bowers of flowering clematis and flowing masses of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Sarabande’, (feather grass).
It’s just after 6am and David tells us we must hurry to capture on film the early morning shafts of sunlight already penetrating the new ‘walled garden’. We enter via a narrow gravel pathway through the only opening in the two-metre-high, 60cm thick green hedge, and what confronts us is nothing less than gardening magic! Our eyes are met with waves of colour: rich blues, yellows, purples, pinks, greys, oranges and sparkling white.
As we walk the meandering gravel pathway the garden opens into a much larger space than it at first appears. Measuring 20m x 50m, it is packed with perennials in full flower, and has a Mediterranean feel courtesy of an irregular planting of olive trees in the central body of the garden.
A masterful blend of colour and texture makes this garden worth the visit. Photo - Lambley's Nursery
The garden at Lambley is a joint effort between plantsman David Glenn and artist Criss Canning who moved into the bluestone farmhouse on the property 17 years ago. David orchestrates the planting and the weeding, the pruning and the mowing and Criss is the garden’s designer, the colour coordinator, the final arbiter and the artist. Gardening here in a climate where it gets up to 43C or more every summer, where the north wind sears across a thousand miles of dead grass before it blasts the garden, David says he sometimes wonders why ever he left gentle England. “I sometimes yearn for a cool English summer, but only when it hits 40C,” he says. “Gardening in this climate is a challenge at times but what gardening isn't a challenge!”
David is no ordinary gardener or nurseryman, but a true plantsman. The nursery is named after the village in Nottinghamshire where he was born and raised into gardening. “My dad was a jobbing gardener, one uncle was a superintendent of parks and gardens and another uncle owned a nursery where I worked when I was young,” he says. When David came to Australia at 21 he worked in nurseries in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and also worked for a time as a gardener in Melbourne. All of these experiences have added to his expertise.
Photo - Lambley's Nursery
The garden has received no rain beyond an odd shower in more than a decade. In that time plants were watered-in at planting, again a few weeks later, and then left to survive, bar a thrice-yearly hand-watering.
The key to the impressive result is plant selection. “I love it here in Central Victoria and I have a late-onset passion for plants and flowers that love it here as much as I do.” Instead of manipulating the environment to suit the plants, David has very carefully selected the plants to suit the climate; the way of the future as global warming takes increasing hold of our climates. He has scoured the world for plants that suit his environment and that of his customers. The plants originate in Mexico, California, Arizona, South Africa, Australia, Central Asia, Turkey, the Canary Islands, and Southern Europe. They make an inspirational list for anyone battling similar extremes in climates in Canberra, parts of Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales.
Bold use of yucca, Mexican lily and artichokes provides punchy focal points amongst waves of flowers. Photo - Lambley's Nursery
David’s other key tip is on soil preparation. He cultivates deeply to around 15cm, with a rotary hoe. Home gardeners can get the same effect with their trusty garden fork. He then mulches with a layer of unscreened composted pine bark around each plant. This forestry waste product has a slightly acid pH, which the perennials love. He uses only a thin layer, 2.5cm, to prevent the perennial roots growing into the mulch, as can happen in summer. A similar mulch product can be purchased as Amgrow’s Biogrow Soil Conditioner in most garden centres.
All of these plants, and many more, can be bought mail order from the Lambley site, www.lambley.com.au. If you’d like to visit David and Criss’ extraordinary garden its open every day except July.