Arctic Blast

It appears Winter isn’t over yet – it’s windy and cold here with a temperature that wouldn’t be out of place in the arctic. I heard the unmistakable crash of a tree hitting the ground this morning as I walked around the dam on my morning inspection and ran to check one of my trees hadn’t fallen onto one of the fences – as I had just led a horse from stable to paddock. A quick call to a neighbour and I discovered it was one of their Eucalypts on their and everything was OK. Chainsaws are buzzing now.

I have a crazy theory that the wind that arrives at this time of year coaxes buds to burst so next week we will see…

This wind may be the end of the magnolia blooms in more exposed ports of the garden; I hope not as I haven’t had my fill of pinkness just yet. The evergreen shapes of various forms of box hold the garden together and I love their quirky forms that look as much like sculpture as plants. The winner this year on my favourites list is M. `Iolanthe’ This tree has the most elegant form and the velvet clad buds expand to reveal an opulent colour within.


Phlomis purpurea x crinata



Magnolia `Star Wars’



Magnolia `Iolanthe’



September 3, 2014 | Leave a Comment  |

Spring is in the air

With the coming of Spring and after recent rain it seems as if the garden has a new found richness to it that I find indescribable.

The garden is so compelling I have to force myself back to the studio and do some work, or if not, I could walk around aimlessly for hours just looking and dreaming, pulling a weed here and there or just planning next moves. For the main part the hard work over; Winter has paid off – now it’s time to reap the rewards of all that spreading of mulch and pruning.

There’s whiffs of scent about too. Daphne, jonquil, chocolate vine, wattle, and the almost invisible tiny Japanese box flowers that smell so good, and as I tap these notes I can only smell `Keeper’ my deerhound who keeps farting next to me, but I’m trying to maintain pleasant thoughts…



Mounding box hedge towards the studio



pomegranates in the orchard



Akebia quinata (chocolate vine)







September 2, 2014 | 3 Comments  |

Some praise for small things

It’s bloody freezing here today. Usually I light the fire inside at lunchtime, but today it was lit at breakfast.

All around the garden there are signs of an impending change in the weather and besides the magnolias who flaunt their floral beauty flagrantly, this is often performed discreetly, but not to say it’s unnoticed by gardeners. I love Winter flowers for their modesty and in addition many of them are also perfumed – sometimes discreetly and at other times not. The camellia tsai is such a beauty with a light fragrance and delicate single white flowers with a cluster of golden stamens.


Camellia tsai

The Edgeworthia were an experiment last year. I grow these in one of the gardens I designed up in the mountains where it’s considerably cooler, in a climate where snow isn’t uncommon, and I enjoy them so much there when I visit I wanted to try them here. So I did and they haven’t disappointed me with their fat pendulous buds promising a dusting of brilliant gold in the next few weeks.




We had friends over for lunch a few weekends ago and I gathered an armful of budding deep pink Chaenomeles to brighten the room. These buds are now all open almost four weeks later so they’re great for cut flowers…

Why is it that these once common, easily grown shrubs are rarely found in nurseries? When I order these to plant in the gardens we design I have to order these from a wholesale nursery out of Melbourne where I can choose from white, apple blossom, double cream and red cultivars.



Chaenomeles japonica

August 11, 2014 | 2 Comments  |

Black cockatoos

This morning as there as been for quite a few dates now, there was a lot of noise outside. This noise – and a lot of falling pine cones on my studio roof, signal that there are yellow-tailed black cockatoos outside. These birds are absolutely enormous and at this time of year they are feeding youngsters – hence the racket. They do little damage to the garden; unlike their sulphur-crested cousins, and these black cockatoos can shatter unripened Banksia serrata cones (their favourite) and the pine cones that now litter my driveway like a small car wrecks.

Three of us abandoned our work inside to observe them at fairly close range before they alighted and we resumed work at our respective computers




August 11, 2014 | Leave a Comment  |

Pruning the elms

Last Friday we escaped the confines of the studio to work outside. It was cold and couldn’t deny it was Winter but it was a beautiful day none the less.

We went to work first on the horizontal elms on the front terrace – I planted these three trees twenty years ago and each year I prune them, usually with company. This year it was with Mark and Adrian; it’s light work but it has to be executed carefully by someone who has knows what they’re doing, because nobody’s going to stuff up my trees.

At this time of year when they’re dormant the elms look at their best. The lichen that gives them extra personality and the marks that twenty previous Winters of pruning have stamped on them give them undeniable character – these trees are part of the family.


August 4, 2014 | Leave a Comment  |

A thank you

Last week I received a recommendation from a couple we had been working with for some time now. Their Balmain home renovation is now complete which included a pool renovation and the inclusion of an old cottage on the adjoining block next-door which they had recently purchased.

“Michael Cooke was recommended to us and it proved to be one of the best recommendations we received in the whole of our building and garden renovation project. From the very first meeting we could tell that Michael is passionate about what he does and has a unique and very insightful way of looking at things. The whole way through Michael and Mark were both very responsive to our questions and gave great advice. We trusted them completely throughout and have a beautiful garden as a result.

We would highly recommend Michael he is outstanding at what he does.”
Stephen Moir and Carolyn Loton
Thanks Stephen and Carolyn for allowing me to share this – and I look forward to seeing your garden grow once the weather warms up and those lilies in flower.
I would like to thank Kieran from KMD Landscapes for transforming our drawings into a garden – great job.
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August 4, 2014 | Leave a Comment  | Tags:

More Agave

Behind the dam Aloe ferox – or it could be a A. marlothii x (if someone can enlighten me please do) continues to shine in the Winter gloom. What a spectacular plant! Not once watered or a dead leaf removed and up in the top corner of my garden there’s a grouping of Agave weberi that we experimented with last week. This superb Agave has a sharp terminal spike – only one at the tip, and along with Shane from Cornerstone we systematically removed all the suckers that had spread around the parent plants. Sometimes I pot these `pups’ and sell them on, but we have a few now so these babies were easily ripped out of the ground and tossed out on the burning pile in the paddock. I love the structure these amazing plants add to the garden and their ease of cultivation – they ask for nothing and give so much – holding the garden together in the cooler months.




Aloe ferox?


Agave weberi



July 15, 2014 | 4 Comments  | Tags:

Cellar # 4

Whilst the Winter garden was getting my attention the cellar was progressing too. Jamie and John delivered the copper clad door, Adam hung it and Steve completed the off-white cement render on the internal walls and continues with the stone cladding outside – so it’s a great team effort.

Ah I can almost smell the Shiraz now…








Winter Pruning 2014

Last week I had eight horticulturalists working in my garden – and didn’t we get through some work!

My entire garden has been cut back and 3/4’s mulched in preparation for the growing season ahead. That’s 80 cubic metres of leaf litter and probably 60 more to go on again next month.

Anyone that says a Winter garden is boring hasn’t experienced the quiet exhilaration that this level of gardening offers. Real gardeners are always in demand and guys with this level of expertise are a rarity so I thank Andrew from Cornerstone landscaping and Rob from Verduous Gardens for their generosity and time. The skill and art of gardening has almost been lost as the diversity in plant choices reduces in an ever  diminishing downward spiral, and this means the way plants are pruned and trained is rarely appreciated. Now I can walk around my Winter garden crunching the frosty grass underfoot admiring the form and structure of individual plants.

On the day I was too busy with my own clicking secateurs to take photos so you will have to make do with last years image of he boys pruning the archway…





Rose arch before



rose arch after…



weeping mulberry – the shape revealed





Pruning the fruit trees

Winter pruning has begun here in my garden, and last weekend I got into a row of elderberries, the plum tree, one of the figs and the English mulberry in the orchard. I took this image of a shapely espaliered fig at one of `our’ gardens last week at Turramurra where Rob from Verduous gardens has been training what was originally a cutting from one of my trees against a stone wall, and the branch structure has a subtle beauty all of its own.

Pruning is such a satisfying job – to begin with you wonder where to start and before long the tangle of last summers branches has been sorted out and it’s all under control.

Other people may think differently, but to me it’s a kind of meditation – I get in the `zone’, concentrate on just the task ahead and emerge at the other side refreshed with muscles worked and a clear head.

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June 25, 2014 | Leave a Comment  | Tags:

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