Lambley Gardens & Nursery, 395 Lesters Road,  Ascot,  Victoria 3364
Phone +61 (03) 5343 4303,  Fax +61 (03) 5343 4257

Gardening at Lambley

The garden at Lambley is a joint effort between my wife, artist Criss Canning, and I. The planting and the weeding, the pruning and the mowing is my responsibility whilst Criss, who paints full time and has a very busy exhibition schedule, is the chatelaine, the designer, the colour coordinator, the final arbiter.

One of the most dramatic times in the garden is the last two weeks in September when the avenue of Mt Fuji flowering cherries are in full glory, the pale pink buds bursting open to show off the large dangling double white flowers. There’s nothing subtle about this display; one friend likens it to the Titanic leaving harbour. This avenue was planted to celebrate the birth of one of our grandchildren, Lili, who was born in Japan in a village at the base of Mt Fuji.

Late September is also tulip time at Lambley. Each autumn we plant six thousand tulips in beds bordering the central path in the vegetable garden. Our cold winters with frequent frosts often to -5C and sometimes colder means that tulips grow as happily as they would in Holland. If you buy tulips in reasonable quantities they are quite cheap. Ours come from Tesselaars. We bed them out in late April or early May no later. We lift the tulips in the vegetable garden during November to make way for our summer-autumn bedding display of nasturtiums and sunflowers. All the nursery staff get stuck into the job so it’s finished in a couple of days.

The garden has a group of 150 years old elms both English and Dutch growing in a small copse. Whilst they have been stressed over the last few years of drought they have survived, thank goodness. We have under-planted the elms with bulbs. The first of these to flower is a large drift of true snowdrops, Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’. I was generously given 50 of this fine snowdrop by Otto Fauser when we first moved here sixteen years ago and there are now thousands of them. They always start to flower in July and go on into August.

Soon after the snowdrops finish in mid August my favourite daffodil flowers in large drifts under the elms. Narcissus ‘Beryl’ is a hybrid between a jonquil and the beautiful wild Spanish daffodil N. cyclamineus. Neat in foliage, each bulb sends up three flowers in succession making for a six week flowering period. Soon after the daffodils are over thousands of Scilla hispanica bloom reminding me of the bluebell woods of my youth.

Criss and I live in the bluestone farmhouse on the property. The oldest part of the house was built in the 1860s. The small garden next to this cottage is planted in a very limited colour harmony of magenta purple, true blue and white. At its best in late summer and autumn when a sea of the ethereal blue flowered Salvia azurea sets off the handsome magenta purple Dahlia ‘Sofia’, Lilium ‘Leslie Woodriff’ with contrasting white petals and deep purple red throat, a large flowered purple magenta hardy hibiscus and the long flowered Agapanthus ‘Perpetual Peace’ making up the picture. This garden is watered well about once a fortnight during summer.

There are other lovely parts of the garden at Lambley such as the double flower borders and the picking garden but the most exciting is the dry climate garden. I come from a part of England, the East Midlands, where it was always green, where, when I was young in the fifties, the sun rarely shone and the temperatures rarely ever hit 23C. Gardening in a climate where it gets up to 43C or more every summer, where the north wind sears across a “thousand mile of dead grass” before it blasts our garden, I sometimes wonder why ever I left gentle England. After 40 years gardening in Australia I’ve stopped looking to English gardens for inspiration. Australia, Central Asia, North Africa, Southern Europe, California and other parts of the world that have hot dry summers and cool to cold winters that provide the plants that fill our dry climate garden.

Winter sees hoop petticoat daffodils from the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, mauve crocus from Italy, red anemones from Greece and bright yellow bulbinella from South Africa. These bulbs make flowery carpets where summer flowering perennials such as Salvia nemorosa have been cut to the ground in late autumn. During summer of course the bulbs hide from the heat by hibernating safely under the ground. Their whole life cycle is completed in the few brief months of winter and early spring.

Spring brings another wave of bulbs such as wild tulips from Turkey and central Asia, the ornamental onions from Iran and California, ixias and peacock iris from South Africa. Soon the weather warms up and the bulbs die down and by late spring it’s the turn of drought tolerant perennials to take over. Salvias from southern Europe, Mexico and California; Euphorbias from Kashmir, the Canary Islands and Southern France; Penstemon and humming bird mints (Agastache) from Arizona.

There are hundreds of plants which not only survive our hot dry summers but revel in it. The dry garden is about 20 metres by 50 metres with a 2 metre wide gravel path meandering through it. The only trees planted in this area are olives which once established need little water although it pays to give them a good start in life, watering and feeding them well for the first couple of years. We take the olives up to about 2.5 metres so that the eye can see the whole garden beneath them. Olives are deep rooted and allow us to grow plants right up to their trunks.

As in all gardening it’s always best to thoroughly prepare the soil before planting which we did by ripping it deeply as deeply before rotary hoeing it. As the soil was very acid 4.5PH we added lots of dolomite lime. When we put the plants in we mulch straight away and give each a bit of water from a watering can and follow it up a week or so later with a bit more. If the ground is prepared well this just about does it. We use unscreened composted pine bark as a mulch making sure it isn’t too thick, 2.5cm is plenty deep enough. Any deeper and plants will tend to root into the mulch rather than the soil and the mulch can become hydrophobic. Last calendar year we got a mere 10 inches of rain but still only watered the dry garden 3 times giving it 1.5 inches each time.