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Our forever garden

Graham and Sandra’s splendid vision

When two gardeners settle into a home and garden there could be fireworks. In our case, it’s been a joyful 35-year journey, which we hope will last forever. Horticultural treasures were planted back when our house was built in 1928. Trees, shrubs and lovely stone-edged garden beds are part of the original garden plan. Over the years we have made changes to the house and parts of the garden, but its backbone is still there, and its treasures are still flowering.

As I write this at the peak of spring, the air is filled with the scent of rothmannia (tree gardenia), an old-fashioned large shrub that has developed into a small tree. We have this and so much more, thanks to Ella Hanran, pioneer member of the Camellia and Ikebana Society.

Surviving from early 1930s is ‘Dainty Maiden’ camellia, Higo camellia ‘Dewatairin’, a magnificent pin oak (Quercus palustris) that shades our house and garden, dissected Japanese maple, Yulan magnolia, variegated elm and Chinese elm. Now mature with significant canopies and root systems, these magnificent old trees give our garden its sense of time and place.

Higo Camellia 'Dewatarin'

The garden is divided into six parts

The sunny, north-facing front garden is planted with roses, bulbs, annuals and perennials. We feel so blessed to have Ella's legacy. A huge luculia flowered every winter with the most astonishing fragrance. We lost it when we restored our house, but the new plant is doing nicely with its roots tucking under the building to keep cool – the way the old plant did – while the top basks in the sun. Surviving miraculously in full western sun is a plum-coloured, finely dissected Japanese maple that we up-light at night. Its roots have been protected from heat by large old stones, for almost 100 years.

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Ella loved fragrant roses, and so do we, especially Souvenir de la Malmaison. We have her along with Safrano, Mme Isaac Pereire, Clair Matin and Marechal Niel. Snowflakes, freesias, ixias, narcissus, babiana, and bluebells all flower in early spring. Followed by cistus, Ella’s Kurume azaleas, hellebores, aquilegias, heartsease, Peony poppies, true peonies, tall-bearded iris, species gladiolus, watsonias, and roses. As the weather warms, up come lilies, dahlias and buddleias.

A narrow, shady garden between houses gives us the opportunity to grow epiphyllum ‘Queen of the Night’, which flowers (at night) at Christmas. In this space, tall tree begonias appreciate the dappled shade as do oncidium orchids, spill-over rhipsalis and Eucharist lilies.

The driveway is a garden of Ella’s camellias; Higo ‘Dewaitairin’ is extremely rare – it dates to Japan circa 1600. Loved by the Samurai and almost made extinct when Samurai disbanded. A new group of Higo growers rescued surviving Higo cultivars from ancient temples in Kyoto that survived World War II bombs. Our Higo is 6m tall and now being propagated, so hopefully it will be available next year.

Ella planted rothmannia for its fragrance, stenocarpus (firewheel tree) to attract lorikeets and rosellas, and Prunus glandulosa (flowering almond) and chaenomeles (flowering quince) for her Ikebana floral arrangements. Broad shallow steps rise from the back door to a sunny outdoor dining terrace. Each year we plant tulips and daffodils in pots with flowering annuals, to welcome spring.

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A tropical garden surrounds this terrace and reaches its peak in summer, with blue ginger, shell ginger, Abyssinian banana and hibiscus. Exquisite, burnished-orange lipped blooms of clock vine (Thunbergia mysorensis) mingle with fragrant ivory stephanotis and drip from tensioned wires along the balcony. Soirees are scented with this stephanotis, and apricot brugmansia (Angel's Trumpet). After the heat of summer comes the osmanthus, probably our favourite fragrance.

The rear garden is our utility space with vegetable and cutting garden beds, triple compost bin (which makes a rich nutritious soil conditioner), garden shed and water tank. In full flower as I write, is lemon clivea, ranunculus and Iceland poppies. Our home is filled with flowers!

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Author: WORDS: SANDRA ROSS, IMAGES: GRAHAM ROSS