Mediterranean Gardening in Australia
The planting in our Mediterranean garden is three years old and looks pretty good at the moment. Archibald’s form of Salvia sclarea is as amazing as ever. The seed for this particular strain was collected in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey thirty years ago by Jim and Jenny Archibald. Jim called it “super clary”. It is far and away the most handsome of all the clary sages. From a base of large rough leaves strong 120 cm tall stems carry handsome columns of mauve blue flowers enclosed in large, showy amethyst, pink, green and white bracts. A recent distinguished visitor, Professor James Hitchmough, was very impressed by this plant.
Professor Hitchmough lectured at Burnley twenty five years ago but left when Melbourne University took over the Burnley school and campus. As Hitchmough predicted at the time this takeover has been a disaster for amenity horticulture in Australia.
Professor Hitchmough was also taken with a four years old giant Tangier fennel, Ferula tingitana. A native of North Africa, Spain, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus and Turkey it makes a metre tall by a little more across mound of glossy dark green much dissected leaves. During spring several phallic flower shoots emerge from this basal foliage mound and, growing 20cm a day, produces a branched fower stem which carry large heads of acid-lemon flowers. One of the wonders of the plant world Ferula tingitana is perennial with us and grows more splendid as each year passes. As we grow it in a dry garden it’s summer dormant but it will be evergreen if well watered during dry periods. For several years Lambley wrongly sold this as Ferula communis ssp glauca.
Phlomis taurica, a native of Crimea and the Caucasus, is at its best this week. It has the showiest of all the purple-pink flowered species. In our garden 50cm tall stems carry whorls of purple flowers in each leaf axil.
Nearby the Turkish Sage, Phlomis russelliana, carries rich lemon-yellow hooded flowers in whorls on metre tall stems. A vigorous perennial with large evergreen basal leaves each plant needs a fair bit of space, say a metre or so square. It associates well with a tall catmint, Nepeta racemosa ‘Otway Towers’, which has strong, vertical, deep mauve blue spires. ‘Otway Towers’ deserves to be more popular as it is more upright in habit and flowers for longer than other catmints.
Side by side with the catmint is another neglected plant. Helichrysum tienshanicum makes a neat shrubby perennial with 70cm stems densely clothed in narrow silver leaves. Silver-lemon flower buds held well clear of its leaves complete the picture. This tough drought tolerant plant is native to the Tian Shan Mountains of Central Asia.