Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny

Visitors to Paris will see some splendid ‘grand avenue’ gardens which celebrate the status of France in the modern world and are quite spectacular.  But for those who like their gardens to be a more romantic experience, you cant go past a short train ride to Giverny, just 45 mins west of the capital.

Giverney Artful BulbsThese are the gardens of the great impressionist master, Claude Monet who lived here for 43 years and now attract over half a million visitors a year.

Its a place he was drawn to and found so much inspiration that he stayed the rest of his life here.  Monet once said “I am first and foremost a painter and a gardener, I’m not much use for anything else.”  Well, we all know what a great artist he was and now we know what a great gardener he was too.

Giverny Flower BedsThese gardens are his creation, though he did have some assistance, and are split into two parts by a road (which is a pity but doesn’t detract too much).

Monet's HouseThe charming pink and green shuttered house sits at the top of the property with sweeping views down across the semi-formal gardens that are intensely planted and chock full of areas of delight and colour.

Daffodil at GivernyThe gardener teams put a lot of effort into selecting the most Monet-reminiscent colours and also pay great attention to detail while retaining a very casual feel for a formal garden.

Monet's LakeA small tunnel takes the visitor under the road to the lake – probably one of the most famous pieces of water in the world, thanks to the great works of art that have been inspired here.

Monet's StreamA bubbling stream feeds the lake and plantings of bamboo provide a useful backdrop to keep the eye focussed within the garden grounds.  Again the plantings are intense and immaculate, always providing colour palettes to match the romantic nature of Monet’s work.

Monet's PansysFor those who like to know more about the man then the house is also open.  This provides a wonderful insight into life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in rural France and it is not difficult to imagine the gatherings of the ‘artistic elite’ who often met here to talk and exchange views.

Monet's Bedroom ViewMy only gripes would be the sound of traffic dissecting the garden now and again – and of course you do have to share these lovely grounds with a few other tourists.

See full Gardens of the World entry here.

Author: Bob Saunders (

Tasmanian Garden Paradise

This largely photographic blog entry is all about Jubilee Gardens in Cascade, Hobart, Tasmania.  It is literally someone’s suburban back-yard, albeit a half hectare backyard, that is so incredibly jam packed with plants the visitor is liable to ‘nature-overload’ (a.k.a. very happy).

Jubiee gardens lawns

Jubiee gardens – a rare open space

Ted Cutlan and Joy Stones have collected thousands of plants and put them together into an extraordinary display that takes a wonderful few hours to enjoy to the full.  It’s very orientally inspired and has been only opened at peak flowering season around early November.  However since 2012 Ted and Joy have found that the demands have exceeded their capacity and it will not be open to the public from 2013 onwards and therefore this photo record will have to suffice from now on.

Purple rhododendron

One of the many fabulous rhododendron

Its a massive undertaking that is the result of years of plant collection and nurturing with the main plants being Rhododendrons and Azaleas, all of which are in superb condition and make a wonderfully colourful display.

Orange Red Rhododendron

Rhododendrons in all colours

As you wend your way down the property through narrow, twisting pathways the higher trees provide the necessary dappled shade for many of these delicately featured oriental plants to thrive in peak conditions.

Wonderfully delicate Acers

Wonderfully delicate Acers

Ted and Joy are experts with ornamental Maples as can be seen by the collection of over a hundred different varieties especially Acer japonicum and Acer palmatum  (originating from Japan) that feature extraordinarily dissected and multi-coloured coloured foliage.  They propogate Acers in their well equipped greenhouses and continue to sell them to locals.

Red and orange acers

You don’t need to wait for autumn with these delicate acers

Then there’s the Camelias, many different varieties and species but because this garden is well sheltered from cold winds and sun-scorching, just about every plant you see is in perfect condition (a rarity even in the big botanical garden).

Full bloom camellias

Camellias in full spring colour

Another potent symbol of springtime are the cascading Wisterias, to be found at many turns of the twisting pathways or drooping elegantly over pergolas or garden archways.



Jubilee Gardens also has a splendid collection of Clematis too, again climbing over trellis or fences.

Striped Clematis

Many varieties of Clematis on show

Jubilee Gardens boasts a fascinating collection of trees of all kinds including many conifers and some very elegant cooler climate deciduous trees.  They provide the needed shade whilst also adding to the overall rich textures of the gardens.

Confier cone

All plants are in superb condition

Water features seem to be such natural bed-fellows with any ‘Japonicas’ and ‘Sinensies’ and of course they also attract birds and frogs and a plethora of other bugs and insects – all part of the self-sustaining natural environment that is celebrated here.


Striking water features are used for contrast

But we shouldn’t forget that very special foliage plant that is scattered in amongst the footings of the more spectacular blooming shrubs – I refer of course to Hosta and no end of colourful, ankle high spring flowers.

Hostas in shade

Hosta love this dappled shade

With so much to feast the eyes on at ground level you may not find time to look upwards – but if you do you’ll see Mount Wellington towering above – Jubilee Gardens being set in its foothills in Hobart’s south – as discovered by some of the GardensOnline team recently.

Author: Bob Saunders (

GardensOnline team hard at work

Some of the GardensOnline team hard at work

Mulching Vegetables

In planting out the raised veggie beds recently I decided to try some different approaches to see if yields improved.

The most obvious is the addition of mulch and this time I’m trying sugar cane mulch.  This should help maintain soil moisture, keep roots cooler on those hot Sydney summer days and (I like this one the most) keep weeds at bay.  The most depressing thing about being a lazy gardener is watching the weeds stealing the nutrients from your prized crops.  Not only do they yield less, they become more susceptible to disease and pests.

So rather than be a slave to weeds I thought we’d give them less chance this year.  One or two have poked through since but its a lot easier to spot them now.  Overall I’d say the incidence of weeds has decreased markedly already.

Sugar cane mulch on vegetables

Sugar cane mulch on vegetables

Then there’s the leeks – recognising that they’ll need earthing up as they grow, I’ve planted them in a trough with the soil already piled up alongside to earth them up with later.  Essentially this will mean longer and whiter leeks come harvest time.  And I reckon leek soup on a cold winter’s day is pretty damn good.

Those are Pak Choy, by the way on the left of the photo.  If you haven’t tried Chinese vegetables yet then I’d highly recommend them. Quick and easy to grow and a wonderfully fresh, crisp ingredient in stir fry.

They’ve all had regular waterings with Nitrosol which is essentially a sort of liquid blood and bone with a few extra nutrients thrown in.  Excellent at promoting good root growth which is what we want at this point in the growing cycle and also loaded with nitrogen for good leaf growth.

Mulched Tomatoes

Mulched Tomatoes – well spaced out

I’ve also been more careful to give all plants a bit more room. Its easy to crowd them in, wanting to grow as much as possible but in a moist summer climate the threat of fungal attacks are high so lots of room for air to move around is vital.  These tomatoes have plenty of room to breathe so instead of filling the gaps with companion plants like lettuce as I’ve done in previous seasons, this time they are left open.  I’d say that comparatively growth is above average already simply from leaving all the nutrition to the tomatoes.

Author: Bob Saunders (

Keukenhof – a floral extravaganza

Without doubt one of the world’s greatest annual flower events, Keukenhof never disappoints, even if there’s an unseasonably cold spring season.   At Keukenhof this just means that the outdoor growth is retarded, but there’s still a floral extravaganza awaiting visitors inside the many pavilions.


The Vast Tulip Pavillion Keukenhof

This is a place dedicated to tulips, in fact it is almost a shrine, but then the humble tulip has probably contributed as much to the Dutch economy as any other commodity over the centuries, so it does, perhaps deserve more than a little reverence.


Tulipa Triple A

The refined and intense skills of the horticulturalists are all on display here with a mind boggling array of varieties, many of them stunningly beautiful, especially in the soft light of these huge display greenhouse pavillions.

TulipsYellow - otherwise known as Strong Gold

Tulipa Strong Gold

It is quite amazing how many variations of colour can be coaxed out of the classic vase shaped blooms and every year new varieties appear to delight the eye and boost the export coffers of the growers.

Tulipa Queensland

Tulipa Queensland

But sometimes, cleverness just goes too far.  I’m sure some will say this Tulipa Queensland is beautiful, but for me . . . well its just plain silly, having created something that belies the character of the tulip.

Narcissus Hea Moor

Narcissus Hea Moor

With over 7 million bulbs planted at Keukenhof every year there are plenty of other spring flowers included.  Daffodils are always the beacon of spring and again, the flower breeders manage to discover new facets of these vibrant blooms.

Narcissus Trepolo

Narcissus Trepolo

Narcissus being their botanic name, this variety seems to typify why they were given that name.  This one is called Narcissus Trepolo and its as if it knows its got’ it’ so its going to flaunt it.

Later blogs will show you more of the huge array of flowers at Keukenhof this year, but for now I’ll sign off with one of the most simple, but for me the most stunning.

The humble crocus

The humble crocus

The source of all saffron – the humble crocus.

See a selection of latest hybrids tulips from this year’s exhibition here.

Author: Bob Saunders (

Bee – right place, right time

With the re-launch of GardensOnline recently, the team have been extremely busy creating extra content for the site, including taking hundreds of new photos of plants to illustrate the interactive Plantfinder database.

So while Annie was focussing on a patch of Arum Lillies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) she noticed a bee heading straight for the golden spadix for a feed.

With uncanny timing she managed to capture one of those rare moments, (not unlike the two fingers touching in ‘Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind’) where the bee makes the lightest first touch in exploration of nature’s larder.

Arum Lily and Bee

Arum Lily and Bee

And, yes, you can just see the flurry of wings holding the bee in a perfect hover.

Amazing nature.

You can grow Arum Lillies from climate zones 8 to 11 and they are extremely easy to raise and maintain.

Find out more in the GardensOnline Plantfinder 

Author: Bob Saunders (

Chlorophyl, its in the Blood

Immersed, even marinated in plants and gardens as I was as a child I did not, however chose to follow the garden path to my career.  Sometimes its just better to keep your passion for ‘playtime’ rather than ‘worktime’.  The next love of my life emerged as an adolescent and blossomed in my early twenties at art school in England. I had decided to make photography my career.

The first thing they teach you is to ‘stop being a bloody amateur’, ‘don’t just make copies of what’s already there’, ‘CREATE, EXPRESS YOURSELF and MAKE pictures happen’.  And so under the skillful tutelage of Reg St Clair and others I became a photographer (a proper one – a professional).

But when it came to subject matter, old instincts die hard.  Still life I found to be very enjoyable if not challenging, with the extraordinary attention to detail required for imagery under the microscope of a large format camera.

So what does a poor art student do to find a subject when the cost of hiring pretty human models was just way past my budget?   Go to the greengrocer.  But then there came all the explanations of why I had to have a visually perfect piece of fruit or vegetable.

But you’re gonna eat it mate, waassrong wiv a little blemish here or there?’

But if you poke around long enough you’ll find the best example in the store and, yes I did find the perfect leek and I ‘made’ a photo, I ‘expressed myself’ and I won the monthly prize for ‘creativity’.



I took this a long time ago, probably on Kodachrome64, on a Sinar 5×4 camera using Broncolor flash. It took me around 6 hours of painstaking tweaking.   I liked it then and I’d like to share it with you now.

Author: Bob Saunders (

Growing Roots

My family always had a greenhouse, it was a revered part of the garden, and if I was lucky I was allowed in while dad re-potted or sowed fresh seed trays.


The Greenhouse

No matter what time of year it was, the greenhouse was always lush and chock full of lusty growth.  The earthy smells, extra humidity, lime dustings on the glass in summer and kerosene heater aromas in winter all contributed to a unique and special place for a very junior apprentice gardener to spend time.

Setting roots

Setting roots

It was here that I learned the importance of roots, in fact the greenhouse is a temple to roots.  This is where they are teased out of twig cuttings, air layers or seeds.  It seems that roots are the start of everything (for humans and plants alike).
The Importance of Roots:
In the greenhouse I learned about soaking seeds, especially runner beans and other legumes, before planting.  Seeds also need a steady supply of warmth and moisture while they germinate – not too much of either, but always constant.  If roots dry out when forming, then they’ll just shrivel up and die very quickly.  Delicate things, roots, especially the very fine ones that grow in amongst the thicker ones.  These are the roots that can break off when you transplant, which is why it’s best to try to carry a tight rootball of soil with the young plant to its new position – this way the fine ones remain intact.
Transplanting seedlings:
Always prepare the hole first – just a bit bigger that the rootball you’re going to move.  Water your seedling first then insert the trowel or garden knife into the damp soil at an angle around the plant on all four sides.  Gently lift it out with a restraining hand on the other side, keeping the plug of soil around the roots intact as you insert it into its new home.  Backfill the hole with potting mix and firm down, followed by a gentle sprinkle of water.  Think of it as taking a sleeping baby from the car seat to its cot.
Transplanting seedlings

Transplanting seedlings

Softwood cuttings:

Hibiscus are perhaps the easiest shrub to propagate from cuttings.  I’ve often broken off a twig on a walk, then plopped it into a glass of water on the windowsill to grow roots.  There are half a dozen beauties in my garden as testament to the technique.   But the proper way to do it is to cut the sample cleanly with a sharp knife, trim off all but a couple of leaves, then place it in a water container that is as light proof as possible, allowing only the leaves to enjoy the sunshine.  This is because roots naturally grow in the dark and, having learned this trick only recently, I can attest that they grow much faster in the dark.
Hibiscus rooting

Hibiscus growing roots quicker in the dark

Author: Bob Saunders (

Where it all began

They say I have a green thumb.  Why? Probably because it’s in the blood.  I come from a long line of gardeners and my formative years were immersed in conversations like …..

rains due, that’ll help the runner bean flowers set’, …….

‘soon be time to ridge up the potatoes, dear,’ ….

‘Dad’s sunflowers won first prize at the fete today!’ ……

‘ it’s been a good year for cauliflowers, hearted up beautifully they have.’

My grandfather, Albert Edward Saunders was head gardener at Eastridge Estate in Sussex and he presided over a greater family of more than 50.  It was the odd-man-out who didn’t like gardens and plants (if there was one).  He wore corduroys held up high around his ribcage with a thick leather belt, as weathered as his hands.


My grandfather’s greenhouse

He could split logs with one swing of a hand axe, sharpen a razor on a leather strap, forecast the weather with great accuracy from a sniff of the breeze and grow marrow that took two of us littl’uns to carry to the kitchen.


Summertime border flowers

On visits to my grandparents I’d play with my cousins in amongst head high lupins, delphiniums and phlox – we were only 5 at the time and they swayed, with splendid, towering, rich colours around us.  We’d run helter-skelter through the bluebell woods then help aunties pick peas and shell them over the stone draining board.

My grandfather’s shed was a place of great wonderment with aromas of musty baskets and beech wood shavings, of boxes full of metal tools with worn wooden handles, of flaky onions hanging in long plaits by the window, of dried grass on lawnmower wheels, of lanolin grease on wheelbarrow hubs and in autumn the smell of apples filled our eager nostrils as they dried in straw filled trays on the long shelves under the bench.

My grandfather'sd shed

My grandfather’sd shed

The high point of the visit was when my grandmother announced that ‘the fairies have been’ . . and we’d scamper to the foot of the great Lawsons Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) to search for sweets.

As the mantle clock ticked round to 5pm and the full Westminster chime pealed out, a long line of grandchildren would hop up onto my grandfather’s knee for a goodbye kiss and a tickle from his great grey whiskers.

They were happy formative years that started a life full of love for nature and gardens and, although he’s long gone, the enduring memory of his strong Gloucestershire twang still rings in my head as he recited his favourite poem while I sat upon his knee;-

Oi be a varmer’s boy, oi be

the leaks and onions all love me

oi puts them in their earthy bed

and pats each little curly head

and then I wanders home to tea

Oi be a varmer’s boy, oi be.

And so the seeds were cast and eventually germinated as in Australia in March 2000.  Come and visit us and share our love of plants and great gardens.

Author: Bob Saunders (