A free-spirited garden

In rugged country outside Mullumbimby in northern NSW, is a garden that I’ve been regularly visiting for the last 25 years. Margaret and Con live here surrounded by rainforest. Cascading creeks and waterfalls rush down the mountainside, all around their property.

Mullumbimby Hinterland

What I love about Margaret and Con’s garden is that it’s almost not a garden at all. The exotic plantings are barely restrained, and the boundary between the garden and the forest is indistinct. Native trees towering overhead embrace the house and garden. Here is the native cabbage tree palm.

Cabbage Tree Palm

And a rare native conifer, the Hoop pine.

Hoop Pine

Available space is dedicated to favourite tropical exotics, particularly herbs and greens, which Con cooks in traditional Greek recipes. You will find Con’s recipe for Vlita at the end of this post.


Coastal spinach, or “Warrigal Greens”, is an Australian native which can be used in place of spinach or silver beet.

Warrigal Greens

Perched on the mountainside, level ground is limited. A herb garden is planted in a length of guttering affixed to the rock wall at the back of the house site and irrigated by water pumped from the creek.

Vietnamese mint thrives in this watery environment.

Vietnamese Mint

Every planting area juxtaposes ornamental with edible plants. Here’s a close-up of native crinums right at home in the moist environment alongside the herbs.


There are always new plants on the go- here is Margaret’s nursery.

Just a few metres away is a gorge, with the thundering waterfall hidden behind the greenery.

The garden is most orderly close to the house, with favourite old fashioned ornamentals grown in containers.


Petunias and impatiens invoke childhood memories, albeit in a vastly different setting.

Impatiens in an old concrete laundry tub

Unlike our childhood home, there are outdoor bathtubs. Some used for bathing, some used for water plants.

If you hop into the wrong tub, you may find you have the company of frogs, or other rainforest creatures!

Also planted close to the house, where they can be appreciated from the outdoor eating areas, are several varieties of tropical creepers and plants with sublimely lovely flowers. Here’s a selection.

I don’t know the name of this delicate mauve-blue flowering creeper.

Here is Passiflora cochinea– scarlet passionflower. As Margaret observes, it is pure art nouveau!

Another beauty whose name I don’t know.

Snail plant is difficult to grow, but worth the effort, with its delicately perfumed flowers of subdued sunset hues.

Snail pant.

Jasmine is pure white simplicity…

Or luscious red…

Bamboo screens the house area.

On the periphery of the house site, plantings of natives and exotics merge with the natural forest, creating a gentle transition from the house into the bush.

Shrimp Plant

Everything is green and lush, and the occasional flashes of colour subtly denote the presence of an exotic ornamental.

Ornamental Ginger

Native trees are used as hosts for some exotic epiphytes.


Thai coriander grows among the amaranth, on the narrow strip between the driveway and the precipice. Only the delicate young leaves are used,

Finger Lime is an Australian native citrus with exceptional nutritional value.

Finger Lime

Chocolate pudding plant, Diospyros nigra, or black sapote, when ripe, looks and tastes exactly like…chocolate pudding. It’s delicious with strawberries and cream.

Chocolate Pudding Plant

As promised, here is Con’s recipe for Vlita, a traditional Greek dish of greens made from amaranth.

Pick the green/ fresh amaranth tips, wash well and discard stalks that aren’t tender.

Amaranth ready to cook

 Add to boiling water and boil for about 8-10 minutes until tender. Drain.

 Season with olive oil, salt , pepper. In Greece some use vinegar. Con usually uses lemon juice.

 Add some crushed garlic if you like. Serve warm or cold, as a side dish.

 In Greece this is a summer green that grows everywhere and is eaten with just about every meal. In winter the amaranth is replaced by chicory.

I love to visit Margaret and Con in their free spirited garden

Margaret watering her nursery plants.

Con tending some hanging baskets.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Those palms are what we know as either king palms or piccabeen palms. What we know as cabbage palm is either Livistona australis (or one of the other Livistonas) or Cordyline australis (dracaena palms; which is not a palm at all). In southeastern North American, the cabbage palm is the Sabal palmetto.
    That unknown blue flower seems to be blue gingere, Dichorisandra thyrsiflora.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Thanks for the interesting information. “Cabbage” seems to be a popular theme for palm names! The Dichorisandra is lovely.

      1. tonytomeo says:

        Yes, my colleague in the Los Angeles region has been wanting to find one for many years, and just procured one recently.

      2. My Dream Garden says:

        The fruiting bodies are very appealing and make excellent garden decorations when fallen and dried out.

      3. tonytomeo says:

        I have seen them only in pictures, so am not familiar with the fruit structures. I want a pup from my colleague’s garden.

  2. tonytomeo says:

    Blue ginger is not really a ginger.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Those crazy botanists!

      1. tonytomeo says:

        Ginger that is not really ginger. Palm that is not really a palm. Cabbage that is not really a cabbage.
        The Latin name of Douglas fir is Psuedotsuga menziesii, which means ‘false false red cedar’.

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