It came as a surprise, I remember, when the finest bushes of Iceberg I ever saw were in one of the warmest gardens. It was at Loggerheads, the hospitable home of one of Australia’s greatest wine men in the Hunter Valley. Len and Trish Evans were a redoubtable couple, ‘always at loggerheads’, as Len put it. Their house was largely built of reclaimed materials; not from everyday houses but churches, railway stations, and anywhere where the materials and the details were larger than life. Each lavatory was a throne.
The Hunter Valley is way north of Sydney, with an almost subtropical climate tempered by abundant cloud. It is also a coal-mining region. The view from the Evans garden on its hilltop took in the green geometry of vineyards, the glitter of lakes and the scattered gum trees of the bush that, oddly, cast practically no shade, because their leaves hang vertically. Kangaroos, big and small, bounce about among the trees. A rose garden could hardly look more exotic.
It is not only Iceberg that has enjoyed this halcyon summer. Our shady little garden borrows roses from the neighbours, flowering in the sun far above their supporting walls in colours that add a gypsy counterpoint to our more conservative palette. There is pink and yellow, another shade of pink and one which is outright guardsman scarlet. Among them twines the unstoppable jasmine whose scent permeates everywhere.
The scent of the moment to me, though, is the late-summer smell of phlox. Phlox ‘White Admiral’ is a lynchpin in any border that I plant. I can’t pass it without stooping and asking myself again, what does this mild spiciness remind me of?