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38 Grove Road
phone: (03) 9853 1369
The Victoria Branch of the MGS
Branch Visit to Attila Kapitany's Garden, Narre Warren, Victoria
Attila Kapitany is a recognised expert on succulents and he is passionate about them, having written many books on the subject in collaboration with Rudolf Schulz. He is the currently President of the Cactus and Succulent Society of Australia. He is even more passionate about Australian native succulent plants and has recently written a book about them too.
Attila and his wife Michelle purchased a block of land in the outer Melbourne suburb of Narre Warren. Like many people, they could not quite afford to build a house straight away, so they thought they would start the garden while saving to build the house. Years passed and the garden has now become quite established although no house has yet been built. The garden is located in a fairly prestigious (expensive) suburb and Attila likes to refer to their garden as The Million Dollar Garden!
The garden is surrounded on three sides by a hedge of conifers – the fourth side is left open to view a large lake on the land next door. The garden is composed of many large garden beds where succulents of different form, texture and colour thrive together. Several specimens of the Queensland bottle tree Brachychiton rupestris dot the garden as does a Ceiba speciosa. Large succulents include yuccas, beaucarneas, agaves, aloes, Gymea lilies (Doryanthes excelsa) and furcraeas. The collection of aloes comes into its own in winter and the local honeyeaters (birds) love to drink the nectar these plants produce. In spring, the jewel–like hues of the Mesembryanthemum light up the garden beds as do the pelargoniums. There is a great range of echeverias, a particular favourite of Attila’s, as well as unusual plants like Dyckia (members of the bromeliad family).
There is also a small vegetable garden as well as some roses for picking. Attila and Michelle are away plant hunting or lecturing a lot of the time and this garden was designed to cope for weeks without watering, weeding or pruning. All paths and bare areas are mulched with a fine gravel mulch. After the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009 a bushfire burnt the park near his house and gave them a big scare. The garden came through the temperatures of 46 ̊C that summer pretty well.
There is always something to see and marvel at in this garden which is occasionally open through Australia's Open Garden Scheme.
Attila's wife Michelle picks flowers in their garden.
The lake is part of the borrowed landscape.
A river of Senecio serpens snakes its way
through the garden beds
A view of the garden showing the perimeter hedge and housing beyond
Golden jade (Portulacaria afra 'Aurea'), Senecio and
what we call pigface (Mesembryanthemum)
Attila's fabulous rock garden!
Brachychiton rupestris in a sea of Senecio serpens
and Aptenia cordifolia
Mesembryanthemum flowering in spring
Succulents growing in pots
The trunk of Ceiba speciosa (formerly Chorisia speciosa)
Another view across the garden
Photographs by Melanie Kinsey
Branch Visit to Gary's garden
The garden is in West Preston, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, with annual rainfall of around 600mm, and summer temperatures as high as 48C in recent years. We have been in drought for many years, and this was particularly severe in 2008 and 2009, when annual rainfall fell as low as 300mm. However, since last winter we have had very good and regular falls of rain, and in 2010 we exceeded our average rainfall (a wonderful 740mm) for the first time since 1996! As a result, everything has thrived, with one sad exception – Gary's 5m tall olive tree has succumbed to a fungal attack because of too much rain (Vermicillum Wilt I believe) and looks unlikely to survive.
The total area of the plot (including house) is about 800 square metres, which is typical for this part of Melbourne. The house was built in 1939, and was on the very edge of the city at that time, surrounded by farms and bushland.
The central feature is a raised gravel garden with primarily Mediterranean climate plants, including a wide range of bulbs/corms (Cyclamen, Crocus, hyacinth, Allium, Nerine, Sternbergia, Watsonia, Gladiolus, Iris), perennials (Sedum, Echinops, Armeria, Salvia, Achillea, Papaver, Nepeta, Gazania, Centranthus) herbs, shrubs (Artemisia, Echium, Santolina, Halimium, Cistus), and trees (olive, arbutus). It was planted with a seasonal progression in mind, so that it is in flower virtually all year round.
Prior to planting the soil was mixed in a ratio of one third each of coarse gravel, mushroom compost, and loam, to mimic the conditions in areas around the Mediterranean.
Against the fence Gary is growing a Carob hedge (Ceratonia siliqua) – dense, drought- and heat-tolerant, and with attractive stems, leaves and new growth. This is a hedge choice rarely planted in Australia now, but widely used in the nineteenth century in dryland areas of the country. It has only been in for less than two years, but is already hugely successful – it has grown quickly (with a lot of supplementary water from our rainwater tanks – we have 14,000 litres of storage capacity, which we need to get through periods of up to six weeks with minimal rain and high temperatures).
At the rear of the yard is an indigenous garden around a well-established Acacia (around 8m tall) – it includes many plants from the Melbourne and Geelong districts, most of which are highly drought tolerant. It is mostly spring-flowering, since most indigenous plants have a very short growing season before the heat of summer sets in.
Gary also has a shade garden which includes both traditional European woodland plants (English Bluebells, Rose Campion, Greater Stitchwort, Periwinkle, Aquilegias, Snowdrops) as well as dry-tolerant shrubs and trees (Crepe Myrtle, Afghan Lilac, a range of dwarf lilacs), and fruit trees (Fig, Apple, Peach, Nectarine).
Achillea, Echinops and Agapanthus beyond
Ceratonia silique hedge
Edge planting of the gravel garden
Lilium and Phlox on deck
Miscanthus 'Flamingo' with Centranthus and Achillea
Summer fullness in the gravel garden
Background on Branch Head
Malcolm is a retired accountant with an interest in gardens and gardening, inspired by his wife, Fran and her knowledge of and interest in plants, landscape design and history. They have been members of the MGS for 13 years. They were active in assisting Kaye Stokes organise the Melbourne leg of the recent Annual General Meeting of the MGS. They have also been active members of the Australian Garden History Society for 30 years, of which Malcolm has been treasurer and Fran is a current committee member. Fran and Malcolm organise and take part in a working bees programme on historic gardens that cannot have the labour to maintain them in anything like the style of when they were created 100 years ago.