Roses: success in sandy soil
JOSH BYRNE visits the Perth garden of an English-born journalist who has found a way to make her beloved roses and cottage garden plants thrive in the city’s hot, dry climate
Perth is a beautiful place to live. Its great weather, fabulous beaches and wealth of open space all contribute to a terrific lifestyle. Unfortunately, these attributes also present major gardening challenges, including sandy soil, hot weather and months of summer heat with no rain.
An ever drier climate has meant that Perth now has permanent water-saving measures in place, which limit garden irrigation. It’s not surprising that, over the years, Perth gardeners have responded by creating drought-hardy gardens suited to the local conditions. The inclusion of native plants and other species with low water needs has become the norm, and the traditional cottage garden filled with romantic and often tender exotic species is becoming somewhat of a rarity. Deryn Thorpe is bucking this trend.
Deryn is a print and radio journalist, and an avid gardener. She writes for ABC Gardening Australia magazine (see her story on plectranthus, on page 12 of this issue), co-hosts a gardening podcast with
Steve Wood called All the Dirt, and leads gardening tours around the world. On top of this, she finds time to tend a thriving garden on a 1200m2 property in the leafy inner Perth suburb of Mount Lawley.
Born in the UK, Deryn says she owes much of her gardening style to her English roots. She spent her early childhood in Kent, often referred to as ‘the garden of England’, before arriving in Australia at the age of six. Despite gardening on some of the world’s poorest soils, she was determined to grow the plants she loves, and has proved this is possible if you put in the effort.
in the garden
Deryn describes her garden as something of a fusion, “a cottage garden with a bit of plant collection wrapped around a Federation-period house”. The front garden is a spectacle of colour and texture. Garden beds are brimming with roses, vegetables, flowering perennials and massed border plantings. Hanging baskets and pots furnish the sweeping verandah. Two neatly manicured squares of lawn either side of the main arrival pathway quieten everything down. Established trees give dappled shade and a sense of scale to the high-set house.
The back garden is more structured, complete with arbor, parterre and sculptural focal points. Hedges and brick-edged limestone paving add to the formality. Plants are still the heroes, with great care taken in the species selection. Roses dominate and are grown in various ways to be functional as well as beautiful. Climbing types are particularly effective in providing screening along the boundary fence. An occasional cutback is all they need to keep them under control. Growing an assortment of varieties means there are flowers throughout the year.
Deryn admits cottage gardens are time-consuming, but they are fantastic for plant collectors and those who like to trial new plants. “It’s a fabulous style if you like flowers, and obviously I do!” she says. “They can
“If you have a structured design to the garden, the informal ramble of cottage plants does not look so untidy”
look messy, especially in a small space, but if you have a structured design to the garden, the informal ramble of cottage plants does not look so untidy.”
Deryn also advocates experimentation. “I’m still surprised where plants thrive. For example, in the front garden, my ‘Ann Tilling’ pelargonium, which has luminous golden foliage, likes dappled shade, too. It romps through the hydrangeas and plectranthus, and makes the area look bright and casual.
“Out the back I’m rather pleased with the way the dry, rooty area beneath a big coral tree (Erythrina indica) tree looks. I have planted it up with tough plants, such as ruscus, dianella, lomandra, Philodendron ‘Xanadu’ and angel’s trumpets (Brugmansia spp.), which are all thriving in the difficult conditions.”
My visit to Deryn’s house included homemade cake and tea taken on the back verandah. I left with a bunch of plant cuttings and a great deal of respect for the work that she and husband Bill have put into creating such a beautiful garden, despite the conditions.