The first blooms are on our Royal Azalea, Rhododendron schlippenbachii. This deciduous species has perfumed soft-pink flowers coming, fortuitously, a little before the flame-coloured Mollis’s & Ghents & Rusticas on the slopes above. Its falling autumn leaves turn madder-crimson. Ours was dug from the meadow and moved to pride of place in the Azalea Walk behind the Villa D’Este urn more than 20 years ago.
Schlippenbachii is a rare plant and our specimen also significant in that it is part of the collection of material Ted Woolrich imported from the legendary Yokohama Nursery in 1928. After 20 years re-establishing, it’s now very happy! As it was moved we took the opportunity to thin it out & the plant responded with strong growth from the root mass which is now up 2.5 & 3 metres high, even more across.
Cloudehill - A Year in the Garden
Jim Woolrich in his 60's
Anyone who has read Cloudehill: A Year in the Garden might also remember it was this very plant I was discussing with Jim Woolrich on a visit back in the slow & wettish spring of 1991. It was a favourite plant, though he’d not seen it in years (Jim had been blind for some time by then) and was concerned it might have died. I went to have a look but couldn’t find the Schlippenbachii (shame about the name!) among a tangle of rather similar looking Mollis’s. I remember Jim was very disappointed.
Days later I dropped in again and without bothering to knock strolled down to see what I could make of his deciduous azalea patch. There was the Schlippenbachii, right in the middle, hale and hearty and flowering away gloriously among the otherwise bare azaleas. I turned back to let Jim know and on my way up to his place (what’s now Seasons Restaurant) I ran into Sylvia McElroy, Jim’s niece. She’d been popping in every day or so for ages, keeping an eye on him. She told me Jim had died, just the previous morning, died very suddenly while making himself breakfast.
It was Sylvia who was in touch several months later to say that no one in the family intended to take the old place on. Jim’s flower farm had to be sold and might I still be hunting for land to make a garden?
It was 25 years ago exactly, in about 10 days time.
Secret Gardens of the Dandenong Ranges
Phillip Johnson's Garden - Olinda
Valerie has been slogging away all winter as part of a team re-establishing a program of coach tours to the Secret Gardens of the Dandenong Ranges. These will be handsome affairs, the gardens rather wonderful, very private though. So this is the chance for garden lovers to enjoy time exploring some rarely seen & seriously good gardens. Tours will run from 17th to the 21st October. Tickets are selling. Check the website, see what you think. Let friends know, make up a party, join in the fun.
Some of the featured Gardens
Mernda Heights - Olinda
Ferny Creek Ornamental Gardens
Coonara Springs Garden
I'll see you in the garden on one of the tours!