This blog tracks the ongoing changes of my garden, and the wildlife I try to attract to it. It's a nature blog. It contains my thoughts and musings about anything and everything to do with nature - gardening, book reviews, philosophy, travel, science, history, art, design, politics. Catmint is my signature plant because it has all the qualities I value in a plant: resilience, beauty and the capacity to spread prolifically . Unfortunately it's not indigenous. If I was starting again I'd probably choose an indigenous plant.
Melbourne is experiencing a heat wave which is the worst since 1908. Today the temperature was 44 degrees centigrade - for you Americans this is over 110 degrees fahrenheit!!!!!!!!!! And this searing heat, accompanied by hot sun and hot winds goes on and on. This is the fourth day, with no end in sight. Maybe in a few days the temperature might drop to the 30s, but there is no serious rain forecasted.
The problems caused by this heat wave include electricity blackouts, public transport cancellations, the danger of heat stroke especially in the very young and very old and bushfires. But this blog is about my garden experiences, so I will focus on that.
It's a shocking picture. I can focus on the glass half full - there are some survivors so far. Established Australian native trees such as Leptospermum - tea trees seem OK, they are in shade and near the neighbour who waters so they might be cunningly stretching their roots under the fence. But even the buddleia and salvias that I thought indestructible are succumbing. Things that have at least some shade during the day have better odds for survival. Lavenders, santolina, wormwood and other grey leaved plants seem OK. As do the grassy lomandras, the baby Alogyne heuglii and the Adenanthos sericea or red Flowering Albany Woollybush.
But this crisis is far from over. When it is over, if I have the energy to continue the garden, I will have changed dramatically. No more relaxed experimentation. I will give serious thought to serious mulching and probably just grow things like fig trees and succulents. Although EVERYTHING needs moisture to get established. The banksia roses seem OK, except one that was only planted a couple of years ago, which is wilting fast.
A garden is not the same as a wild place. It is constructed in the image of something – in my case, a natural, wild place. But in my hubris I went too far. Blithely moving or even removing trees because as they grew I didn’t totally love the juxtaposition with other things. Well, now I am receiving my deserved comeuppance, as too many plants wither and die.
What I have learned through hard experience is how much I need shade. Now that the climate is no longer mild and adequately rainy it is difficult to establish new shade producing trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials. I knew all this long ago, but as usual had to learn from experience.
But I am determined to persist in this challenge. I will continue to aim for a beautiful garden which thrives without watering. I will use grey water to help establish young trees and shrubs. I will devote more effort in future to decent mulching. I believe that it is wrong and unnecessary to use scarce water for gardens unless one is growing food.
A generation ago, in the distant mists of time when my children were little (they’re in their 20s and 30s now) water dominated both garden and family life.
I had never gardened until we moved into this place in 1979. Everyone around me watered their gardens all year round so I assumed that is what you had to do. The overhead sprinklers broke the delicate lavender branches so I switched to drippers. But I hated the look of the drippers and anyway the plants kept moving and changing and somehow they were never in the right place-both drippers and plants!
Years and years later I realized that the lawn grew anyway although it died back a bit in winter. And that the lavenders and rosemaries, gum trees, and most of the plants in my garden were ok without moisture additional to that provided from the sky. In fact, I felt that water was harmful and addictive to them. It would only encourage them to be lazy and not to bother extending their roots down, down into the moist underworld when they could easily lap at a wet surface.
In the meantime the climate grew hotter and drier, and here water became a scarce resource, with strict laws limiting and controlling its use. You no longer hear the sound of sprinklers, nor do you see water running off into the street.
When the children were little, the garden was planted on the four sides of the fence line. In the middle was the lawn, a grassy play space. On hot summers they rarely wore clothes. In their little birthday suits they played together and with friends. In and out and around the sprinklers – what cool fun they had. Cool fun that my baby grandson will never know, not in this geographical area anyway.
You could even buy special toys for water play. We had a kind of water slide, which was laid on the grass and got wet and slippery. With a running jump, down the children went, sliding and slipping and laughing. And we adults joined in too, often bruising ourselves as we slipped.
And there were water pistols. The kids weren’t allowed to play with guns but who could refuse them water pistols on a hot sunny clothes-free day? That kind of play has ended forever round here.
I crave and rejoice in birdcalls in the garden. I also love lizards. Their slithering is intriguing but does not have the same uplifting feel as the sounds of birds.
On good days bird sound is louder than the sounds of cars. Over the years bird sounds trump those of cars less and less often –on long weekends and public holidays maybe.
I look forward to the coming of electric cars. As electric cars gradually replace regular cars, I look forward to a gentle humming sound instead of the present roar of engines. As well as saving carbon, they will significantly reduce noise pollution.
For blind people this is already an added hazard in their lives. They depend on engine noise to avoid being run over. The Blind Advocacy Group exists to pressure governments to resolve this issue. Maybe they could advocate for hybrid cars to reproduce birdcalls?
In addition to the usual suburban sounds of cars driving, dogs barking, birds calling and lizards slithering, on windy days I listen to the gentle sound of my new windchime. Paula, my friend who is a feng shui consultant bought it for me. She says it is a known way to enhance a garden through harmonious tuned sound. It’s true – it does enhance our experience of the garden. She can be contacted for consultations on 03 5981 0068, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well summer had a bit of a late start but now it’s started with a vengeance. A few days in the high 30s, lots more to come and no rain at all expected. On days like this my plants simply have to cope as well as they can. I retreat inside the house or to an airconditioned cinema complex.
How are they coping so far? They have had to put up with insufficient mulch and no water. What determines their test results seem to be their nature, their position, how established they are, or a combination of all three factors.
Here are some of my heroes who I am very proud of. There are Salvia greggii, Oregano in flower and Nepeta in the background. They are perfectly happy and thriving in spite of or even because of the hot dry conditions.
And here are some who are not going to make it. As the old saying goes: If you can’t stand the heat, get outta Catmint’s garden.
The misery-guts above is actually an Eringium planum, or blue sea holly, but I doubt it will manage to survive long enough to flower. It's advertised as tough, but it doesn't perform for me.
Well honestly - you'd think grasses would be OK. Not this little native Australian which I think is a dwarf Orthrosanthus. There is green among the brown, so it's touch and go, but I wouldn't give it very good odds. Three others of the same lineage have completely died and are currently in the compost heap. It is my fault though - I planted them too late, they didn't have a chance to get properly established before the hot weather.
And here are some who though not thriving are surviving. They survive by pursing their lips and withdrawing tightly into themselves in a sulk. I will keep them knowing that in a few months they will probably become happy and beautiful again. The first is a Plectanthrus which has survived for years in my garden and can be easily propagated from little cuttings. Then there is Mimulus - struggling valiantly with the pain and effort showing.
Digging in the garden is like archeology in that it reveals and reminds me of past times in the garden.
We moved into the garden - which was almost bare - when our older child was 2, the younger not yet born for another year. The garden grew, evolved with the changing needs of an evolving, growing family. It also evolved due to my growing interest in growing, an activity which at that time was totally alien to me. So there was much experimentation, changes of mind and many unexpected unplanned outcomes, some of which were welcomed and some rejected.
Recent digging up of a border which was established during the '80s, has revealed:
1. Bits of glass - that rule about only using plastic drinking glasses in the garden, like all rules, only worked some of the time.
2. A marble - reminding me of one of my own favourite childhood activities and how I wanted my children to love it too but of course they didn't.
3. A china cup handle - there was lots of sitting around and drinking cups of tea. (In this respect little has changed).
4. A small toy car - the garden was full of invisible roads and tracks for cars and other vehicles.
5. Bits of bricks from the paving that we laid under next door's tree - the only shade in the garden then. The lush tree (I'm not sure what it was called) was a haven for possums. The possums must have been desperate because they systematically ate their haven. By this time there was other shade in the garden, so one day I energetically lifted up the bricks and turned our bricked seating and playing area into a garden bed.
6. Nails. These may have have been from the gate in the fence which connected us with the family next door. The children were friends, the parents were friends, and always in and out of each others' house and garden. Then they moved to the country and after that the gate was rarely used.
In his blog Hermes has been showing us the lovely, idealized English garden paintings of the Victorian era. I adore those paintings too. But what do they tell us about English society at the time? Until halfway through the twentieth century, childrens literature was used for imparting moral values.
I think this poem "Come and Play in the Garden" by Jane and Ann Taylor, illustrated by Kate Greenaway and published in 1883, shows us how the garden was used to educate children to respect private property and obey their elders.
COME AND PLAY IN THE GARDEN
Little sister, come away, And let us in the garden play, For it is a pleasant day.
On the grass-plat let us sit, Or, if you please, we'll play a bit, And run about all over it.
But the fruit we will not pick, For that would be a naughty trick, And very likely make us sick.
Nor will we pluck the pretty flowers That grow about the beds and bowers, Because you know they are not ours.
We'll take the daisies white and red. Because mamma has often said That we may gather them instead.
And much I hope we always may Our very dear mamma obey, And mind whatever she may say.
This is not a book review of Mark Haddon’s latest novel A Spot of Bother. The book is not about gardening, so has no place in a gardening blog. Except for two brief paragraphs.
In introducing two of his characters, Haddon describes them with reference to their gardens. And since I seem to have developed a fascination with garden references in literature … here goes …
Introducing Jamie, son of George (the central character who is having a rather major spot of bother).
“The garden was looking great. No cat shit for starters. Maybe the lion dung pellets were working. It’d rained on the way home so the big pebbles were clean and dark and shiny. The chunky railway sleepers round the raised beds. Forsythia, bay, hosta. God knows why people planted grass. Wasn’t the point of having a garden to sit in it and do nothing?”
Compare this with the introduction of David. (Jean, George’s wife is having an affair with David).
“She gazed onto the oval lawn. Three shrubs in big stone pots on one side. Three on the other. A folding wooden lounger.”
The theme of this darkly funny book can be seen as about loss of control, or how easily our lives can unravel. Mark Haddon really understands how our gardens define us as we define them.
I love having drifts of spring annuals - poppies, love in the mist, forget me nots - and when they finish flowering I quite like the seed pod effect, and the resulting re-seeding for next year as they drop their seeds.
The trouble is while I am waiting for the seeds to drop the weather is getting hotter and everyone around me seems to have tucked up their garden snugly in mulch in preparation for summer.
A couple of days ago I spent a satisfying time whipping the dead plants out and piling them up in the compost heap. Then I mulched the newly revealed gaps with compost, hoping it would rain, which it did but so lightly it was negligible.
So - the garden is bracing itself for the onslaught of high temperatures and little moisture. My main hope is that it survives. If it looks good that will be an added bonus. But it certainly won't look lush.
I have been looking for the rules in blogging and now I think I have my answer: just go with the flow. It's OK if I want to answer the comments on my posts, but it's OK not to as well. The same goes for length of posts and frequency of posting, and everything else to do with blogging.
It's also worth looking at this ebook just for the beautiful images.
The bananas were over-ripe. I don't do banana cake. But no need to waste them. Out they went into the compost. I didn't see what happened overnight, but pictured are the remains of what seems like a new years eve possum branch party.
A couple of weeks ago I made a large and varied fruit salad. The leftover peelings went to the compost heap. The next morning the possums' leftovers were scattered on the ground and on the shelf above the compost. I can only imagine what a pleasant and satisfying night they had.