Denise Gadd June 23, 2012
The Villa del Balbianello on the edge of Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Denise Gadd
The bare bones of a winter garden weave a special magic, but having just returned from England and Europe, I'm missing the lushness and floriferousness that abounded everywhere.
Despite a drought in some areas of Britain resulting in hose-pipe bans - we all know about those, don't we? - the countryside was a green and pleasant land with hedgerows still sporting their spring blooms such as the pretty May bush (spiraea), spreading horse-chestnut trees covered in pink, red and white candle-like flower spikes and roses of all shapes and hues bursting forth.
Making a comeback in private and public gardens, and also at the Chelsea Flower Show, which I visited while on a garden tour, is the traditional British wildflower meadow.
I remember growing up in Nottingham lying with a friend amid cornflowers, poppies, mallow, buttercups and daisies, while bees buzzed happily around and butterflies fluttered everywhere. Magical.
But the British meadow is an endangered species, with about 90 per cent lost since World War II to construction and modern farming, which is why the Wildlife Trusts has launched a summer program dedicated to promoting and restoring this part of England's romantic horticultural heritage.
Australia, of course, has its own ''meadows'' - natural wildflower displays - especially in Western Australia when from June to November more than 12,000 plant species from pink boronias to kangaroo paws carpet parts of the state.
Wildflowers such as upland heaths, ground-hugging grevilleas, native orchids and acacias bloom in colourful profusion throughout Victoria's national parks, the high country and the Grampians in spring and summer.
If you have space to create a meadow, a mix of everlasting daisies and grasses would have the same effect. Just use fine daisy seed mixed with sand and distribute it evenly for an informal look. Mow in winter.
A visit to Versailles with its grand topiary and soaring pleached hedges (hedges on stilts) reminded me of Melbourne designer Paul Bangay who, on visits to France, was inspired by this architectural form of horticulture and has claimed it as his signature design style. (A Bangay tip: if you're trying to create a hedge, don't put plants too close together and prune from a young age to create density.)
Topiary and sculpted hedges dominated many of the gardens at Lake Como in Italy with a 500-year-old evergreen oak, clipped to perfection, standing triumphant on the clifftop at Villa del Balbianello.
Last week Megan Backhouse wrote about attempts to bring softness to the greyness of Docklands with community gardens and more greenery. The City of Melbourne should take a leaf from its Parisian counterpart, which, when 24 hectares of land on the banks of the Seine were freed up by the closure of the Citroen car factory, created a stunning recreational area, which was named Parc Andre Citroen, after the car maker.
Built around a central rectangular lawn, there are two greenhouse pavilions full of exotic vegetation, including Australian plants, a square of dancing fountains for children to play in, wide terraces of clipped plants, a monumental canal, two sets of small gardens and a wild garden evocative of the British meadow featuring different grasses.
Such a concept would turn Docklands from a concrete canyon into a green oasis.
Peony roses, which unfortunately I can't grow for many reasons, were stunning throughout England and Europe, the best in the white garden at Sissinghurst with flower heads - white of course - as big as bread and butter plates. Alliums featured strongly in garden design and they are now used extensively in Victorian gardens for their architectural shapes and amazing colours.
Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) and Chinese star jasmine (Trachleospermum jasminoides) were seen everywhere scrambling up pillars, spilling over walls and creating elegant, highly perfumed vertical gardens.
Azaleas, rhododendrons, begonias, camellias, hydrangeas and salvias proved popular bedding plants, while delphiniums and lupins flourished in many gardens along with foxglove. Pansies and petunias massed in pots created spectacular displays.
Which brings me back to winter and my own garden. It's looking a bit flat and boring, but I'm inspired to plant up more pots and put more alliums in for summer. A bare wall could benefit from creeping fig and I might even give peonies another go, but a meadow is out of the question. Memories - and photographs - will have to suffice.