A WEEKEND’S work felling a long dead, twin-trunked Acacia at the western end of the garden has revealed a host of planting possibilities. Apart from yielding at least a month’s dry but still sound firewood as we head into the chill of a Beechworth winter, some remnants of the large tree fed the fire that was lit to remove its stump and to burn vicious blackberry canes that had been grubbed and sprayed with herbicide in January. The fire also dribbled in a cool way among the dried grass sandwiched in the rabbit-proof fence that divides this part of the garden from our neighbour’s paddock, so that at Sunday’s end we had a clear view of the condition of the fence – a challenge for another time.
The work, beyond what we call the ‘pear alley’ – a double row of Pyrus ussuriensis Manchurian pear, delivered a further opportunity: closely to look at Amyema pendula, one of Australia’s 80-odd species of mistletoe, that had married with a handsome Acacia longifolia ssp. longifolia Sydney golden or sallow wattle. But it was the prospect beyond that captured attention and sparked some imagining.
The void left by the felled Acacia revealed our neighbour’s paddock and all that it contains. This field falls from a gentle hill to the west and sweeps towards our boundary fence. It then carries on falling simply away, curving onward to our country lane and down to Three Mile Creek and its damaged watercourse once much diverted in the search for gold. There is nearest to us a small dam – bulging in summer with the loudest frogs – fringed with Juncus common rush. Whether it is J. effusus or the wonderfully named J. subsecundus we are unsure. The rushes clump thickly in the water-logged ground around the dam and then thin out in pasture that runs towards a truly grand, sentinel specimen of Robinia pseudoacacia false acacia, bare and barked blue-gray-blue in its winter frame.
Here, then, are ingredients for a planting plan. We have decided to plant where once stood the Acacia the ‘Riversii’ variety of Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’ copper or purple beech. As it grows we hope it will, in winter, mirror with horizontal branches of the Robinia beyond. It is said to be the darkest of all of the clones called ‘Purpurea’. In leaf it will stand against the foil of the creek’s smoke-green ‘wall’ of Eucalyptus. About it, melding the boundary of garden and paddock, we’ll plant Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silver Feather’, the wonderful two metre-high ornamental grass that grows so well by the pond to the east. It is especially beautiful when it flowers, as the pond grass did in late summer, producing its rice-flower like heads that are shot with brown, purple, mauve and silver. It was also a favourite of the late Christopher Lloyd, the gardener and writer who led the transformation of English gardening at Great Dixter. ‘It doesn’t matter too much whether M. s. ‘Gracillimus’, M. s. ‘Strictus’ and M. s. ‘Vareigatus” flower or not, because their foliage is good, but it’s nice when they do,’ he wrote in The Year at Great Dixter (Viking Penguin 1987). M. s. ‘Silver Feather’ can be relied upon, and has been flowering in its long border position…since early (in autumn). It deserves prominence…’