Suddenly it’s spring

We have entered the season of floral skypaper

It would be churlish to complain too much about our winters here. Common wisdom divides the months of the year into four seasons so winter is June, July and August. But spring came this week. Sunny, calm, blue skies and sunshine with the temperature yesterday reaching 18° – clearly it is time I put away my merino thermals and found the mid-season tee shirts. The dreary rains of winter are but a memory at the moment (though they will return in spring for we are a high rainfall climate). Canberra had us thinking that a dry climate is much easier to live in but a high sunshine, high rainfall climate without extremes of temperature is much easier to garden in.

“Just an unnamed seedling from the breeding programme here,” as we say often

Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata ‘Lanarth’, commonly referred to just as Lanarth

I am very sympathetic to those readers sweltering and burning in the northern hemisphere and  grateful not to be there. I am even more grateful to be here where the spring garden has exploded into life. I always say our gardening year starts with the first magnolias to flower. Each year, it feels like a new beginning. Oh, the magnolias! All those views of floral skypaper and big, bold blooms in the landscape. It is beyond glorious and this is why I try and encourage people to grow Proper Trees, not scaled down, dwarfed, shrubby things with scaled down blooms. If space is a problem, go for a narrow, upright tree (fastigiate, is the term) rather than one that promises to stay at two metres high (which it won’t, unless it is the white stellata). Aside from the soft pink M. campbellii, the dominant colours of the first varieties to flower in the season are red and purple. Believe me, looking at the first light of morning shining through these rich colours is like a stained glass window.

The yellow camellias are flowering again. This is C. nitidissima

Lachenalia aloides and an early flowering scilla that I once sorted out a species name for but have since forgotten where I recorded it…

It is not just the magnolias. While the snowdrops are already passing over (their season is but a short delight here), we have masses of different narcissi flowering all over the place, along with lachenalias, leucojums, early scillas and late cyclamen. The camellias are blooming, along with the big-leafed rhododendrons like macabeanum and giganteum. Every day, I go out and find something else to delight.

A tui in Prunus campanulata ‘Felix Jury’

I had an idea that I would pick a branch of each of the Prunus campanulata (Taiwanese cherries) currently flowering to show the range of colours and flower size. We have somewhere over a dozen in bloom at the moment and more still opening, with a garden full of tui and bees as a result. So I headed out with my flower basket and snips, channelling my very late mother in law who left the basket… and gave up. Maybe next year. The problem, I realised quickly, is that I would need a ladder. Too many are flowering well above my reach. And as the trees are spread far and wide through the garden, it is a task that would be better carried out with obliging ladder carrier. But that is the thing about long term gardening: there is always next year.

Finally, an animal story. When we first adopted poor, unloved Spikey dog in 2009, we worried that he felt the cold badly. His coat was very thin – at least compared to the Shetland sheep dog we also had at the time – and he had not one ounce of body fat. Daughter made him a coat of many colours. I put it on him one chilly morn and Mark laughed at the ridiculous sight. Spike then hurtled down the avenue gardens after a rabbit and reappeared without his coat. Suggestions ranged from him being too embarrassed to be seen in the coat to Mark’s idea that he had regifted it to a needy rabbit family. Years passed and we never found the Joseph coat – until this week. It is a little brittle after 8 or 9 years in the open but a triumph to the resilience of yarn blends. One minute – that is how much wear that coat had.

In the meantime, he had been gifted a genuine Harrods coat and I had bought him a little number that made him look like the canine version of Julian Clary. But we always knew that as a bogan, freewheeling dog, he would have preferred a black vinyl number with chrome studs. These days he is over 14, stone deaf with a heart condition and possibly some level of dementia so he has passed the winter days sleeping in his bed by the fire. Yesterday, with spring in the air, he came out of hibernation and could even have been described as frolicking as he accompanied us around the garden with visiting friends. There may be life in the old dog yet, if he doesn’t get taken out by a heart attack.

Magnolia campbellii, looking more like a painting at maximum zoom with the snow of the distant mountain behind

14 thoughts on “Suddenly it’s spring

  1. Elaine Bolitho

    Thank you for your lovely musings and sharing the wonderful pix of your spring garden, and springing dog. I love your term skypaper – aptly describes how we used to enjoy our pink stellata magnolia until it died on us! Now we have evergreen hydrangeas (2 metres tall) growing it its place, and while we get more flowers for longer (to the delight of church flower arrangers) , it’s just not the same!


  2. Rosemary Steele

    Hi Abby,
    Could our Scilla be S. hohenackerii? I have grown it for many years (I got it from Roger Springett from memory) and it is flowering now. Thank you for all the glorious Magnolia photos, just glorious and I look forward to mine becoming big enough to be skypaper too.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Yes, Rosemary! It could well be. As I recall, we had several different ones and litardieri and hohenackerii were mixed up. I knew if wasn’t the former but it may well be the latter. Thank you.

  3. Tim Dutton

    I love Magnolias, but we only have four of the deciduous varieties in our garden. M. stellata ‘Rosea’ is the first to flower: it has already been out for a couple of weeks in this VERY early spring (we aren’t as warm here as you: not reached 16 degrees yet). We planted it 22 years ago and it is a decent sized shrub now, about 4 x 4 metres at a guess. The first buds on our small M. soulangeana are about to open too. Our biggest is M. ‘Apollo’ and a lovely purple/pink, around 5 or 6 metres now. I didn’t realise until I just looked it up that it was a Felix Jury hybrid! And on that note I spotted M. ‘Felix Jury’ in the garden centre the other day: it would be nice to find a space for that one too, given the size and colour of the flowers. Our most recent acquisition is M. sieboldii, but that doesn’t flower until the summer: I love the red stamens in the white flowers and then the pink fruits that follow: very exotic-looking.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Felix Jury is a fantastic magnolia if you have a good, sheltered position for it. We are very proud of it, and I don’t say that lightly.

  4. tonytomeo

    Well, I suppose if spring is already moving in there, it is acceptable for autumn to start moving in here. The box elders are already yellowing and even defoliating. They can do that early if they want to, but they are not the only ones. Maples are also yellowing. It still feels like summer. We are fortunate that it did not get too terribly hot here like it did for everyone else.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I wondered if you were copping the drought and heatwave. It is certainly bad in some areas (though in Australia, they can get drought in winter, too).

      1. tonytomeo

        We somehow missed the heat wave. It got warm here, but no worse than it normally does in summer. The ‘droughts’ for us are the normal climate. I mean, this is a chaparral. In my former neighborhood, we got about a foot of rain annually. It was the natural weather pattern, but certainly not a drought. There are just too many people here wanting too much water like they had where they came from.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        A foot of rain? So 30cm. We get 150cm or 5 feet! Pretty evenly spread throughout the year. And somewhere around 2400 hours of sunshine (which means when it rains, it often rains hard and then the sun comes out). It makes a big difference to growing conditions.

      3. tonytomeo

        There are parts of California that get more severe weather, and some parts that get normal rainfall (including right over the Santa Cruz Mountains), but generally, it is what we like to call a ‘semi-arid’ climate. Rain in the desert can be extreme, but not here. I have never experienced any sort of extreme weather, unless the warmth of the desert is considered to be extreme. You would think that people would know a bit about our climate before moving here and then complaining bout it.

  5. Dale Lethbridge

    Good Morning Abbie.

    I have a problem with “ blind” Daffodils. About 40 years ago I brought some rare daffodils from my country garden when i shifted to Hamilton. It became obvious that i had brought a problem with them as all future narcissus plantings here

    in my Hamilton garden were short-lived in flower production after the first year or so . After consulting Dr Google I now find the culprit could be Merodon equestris and wonder if you could comment on the problem and its cure please. Thankyou

    Dale Lethbridge


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