about this blog



I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Feb. 2013 garden report: a tale of heroic survival

The short break that I planned morphed into a sabbatical. During this time I did much musing about the blog. To blog or not to blog wasn't exactly the question. It was more like how to blog and still have a non-virtual life outside cyberspace. The answer I came up with is to stop trying to blog with clockwork regularity.
 Euphorbia, unknown species, Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak', Plumbago
So ... the blog, like the garden, continues to evolve, in directions not anticipated or planned in advance. I strongly suspect this may be the end of another beginning, or the beginning of another ending. When one is so involved, it is hard to be sure. We only know for sure what happened after it happens. And even then there may be different points of view that blur the picture...


Echium candicans 'Heronswood Blue', Derwentia perfoliata,
Calochlaenia dubia -  Rainbow Fern that couldn't take the heat,  Dianella caerulea "Cassia Blue























I was away for almost the entire month of February, and apparently it was unremittingly hot and dry, with bushfires uncomfortably close to Melbourne. I returned home expecting to find the unwatered, largely unmulched garden was a disaster zone.

Well, I have the greatest pleasure to report that most plants survived heroically! The few that didn't make it were planted in totally inappropriate spots, or were recent transplants that didn't have a chance to get their roots down properly before the heat hit. 

These photos were all taken on the last day of February, officially the last day of winter. Whatever that means now that the abnormal is the new normal. The plants received no water at all during those weeks of intense heat with no rain!


Salvia officinalis, Liriope muscarii, Nepeta 'Walker's Low', Erysimum cheiri























Lessons learned: 

1. Don't pull plants out even if they look dead  - they may surprise and thrill you, with their resilience and determination to put out some tiny green shoots.

2. Try not to despair (like I do) when the garden looks terrible, usually in between seasons. Try to remember that after a tidy up and a bit of re-arranging, it will look good again.
Lavatera maritima, Euphorbia characis, Mint,  Lychnis coronaria

After we returned it rained heavily for two days and two nights. A perfect time to fill in the gaps in the garden.

Yesterday, when I dug a hole, the lovely black moist soil was only about 8cm (3 inches) deep. Just below the surface the soil was pale grey, hard, and dry.  But that is for another post ...

41 comments:

  1. Welcome back! I've missed your posts but am glad that you enjoyed your break! Plants are pretty resilient!

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    1. dear tog, thank you for your welcome, I am so pleased to be back, missed you too. I suppose plants are pretty resilient, but lots of people seem to spoil them rotten, like watering them unecessarily. As if they can't feed themselves given the right conditions. I wonder if they are confusing them with children?

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  2. Nice to see you back. I missed your posts.
    Here in Napier, New Zealand, we have no rain other than two light showers since last year and are on the brink of having an official drought declared. I have not mown my lawn since December because below the grass it is simply dust. I'm relying on the height of the grass to keep the roots from dying altogether :-) I did cave in and water the lawn last week which is something I have always vowed never to waste precious water on.
    Even my heat and dry tolerant plants are wilting and turning up their toes if I don't water. The one that surprises me most is my ornamental Japanese cherry sapling that I planted 18 months ago. Last summer I had to continually water it or the leaves drooped. This year it is sailing through summer seemingly impervious to the lack of water.

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    1. Hi Lynne, so good to be back, and to catch up with you again. I long ago gave up on lawn, but the dog has never forgiven me and at times I do miss it. I just heard that Jan was the hottest month since records began. Scary. Interesting about the Japanese cherry being so tough, sometimes you just have to try and see what works regardless of the label.

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  3. It is a while since we have had a drought in Britain, but we had a bad one in 2005, I lost a lot of plants. Those that survived the drought and are still with me are very resilient and tolerate just about anything your throw at them, in either direction! I have decided to not babysit my plants too much, after they are mature, those that survive will, those that don't were not suitable for my garden. Drought has not been on British gardener's mind the last 12 months though, we have been drowning in rain and so have our plants. I so wish the precipitation could be a bit more evenly distributed around the world!

    As for blogging...Could we just have a few more hours in the day, for all those things we never seem to have enough time to do :-)

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    1. Hi Helene, interesting how some get so resilient and tough, whereas others are fuss pots. No formulas I think, how and why some make it. Weather and time - out of our control, so how to adapt to them - that is the challenge I find so fascinating - and hard.

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    2. There is one thing you can do, grow plants yourself. When you grow plants from cuttings or seeds or any other way, they seem to be stronger, healthier and more resilient than nursery grown, mass produced bought plants. Takes a bit longer though, but well worth it. Look at your friends and neighbour's gardens in a new light - ask for cuttings and seeds if you see anything you like, most people are willingly giving away.

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  4. We had a terrible drought last summer but my plants survived - with a lot of extra watering, which normally I don't do. Glad to see you posting again, blogging can be a difficult monster to tame.

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    1. dear Jason, thanks for the welcome back. Is the blogging monster tameable?

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  5. I missed your posts! Our plants are tougher than we think they are. I'm so glad the fires missed your house. Grey soil? Yuck! What's your plan?

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    1. dear tammy, thanks - so nice to be missed! I guess what I should do is dig it up and combine it with compost. I also bought some biochar soil conditioner and organic fertilizer, but haven't had the time to apply it - usual story ...

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  6. So glad you're back Catmint, I have really missed your posts. I think plants are so much tougher than we think and we only water new ones. Being on a water meter makes you very mean with water and makes sure that you put the plant in the right place first time! Our problem is the opposite, we have too much rain but even so, we have to plant accordingly. After all the rain last year I lost most of my silver leaved plants, but then, we are on heavy clay!!

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    1. thanks Pauline, it's good to be back. Clay soil is a challenge. I think we all need to spend most of our time working on the soil, as well as matching the plants to the soil. Plants that like your garden wouldn't like mine -I have to make sure the garden isn't too silver, and that there's a bit of contrast.

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  7. Blogging takes a surprising amount of time. Sometimes I reckon it up - then wish I hadn't! That's good advice about not pulling up plants to soon. Some can be good at playing dead when they aren't.

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    1. hi Lucy, it does take a lot of time - maybe I need to devote a post to how to manage it, then people can give tips on how to do it and help me survive without feeling inundated.

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  8. Great that you're back! I've missed you! You have a persistent garden... Happy weekend!

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    1. dear Satu, lovely to re-connect with you, glad the worst of your winter is over.

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  9. Catmint you were missed but I am glad you are well and back. What a special garden you have as it grew from your care even when you weren't there. And even a blessing of rain....perfection. Wonderful lessons to learn as well.

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    1. thank you Donna, for your warm validating comment.

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  10. It's hard to strike a balance with blogging. I especially liked your lessons. Those are both things I have to remember here, too. It's tough on plants - and the gardener - when it goes through a hot and dry spell. So glad to hear it rained for you, though. I hope it revives your garden into lush green growth again.

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    1. Hi Holley, thanks for the hope - ironical since I just heard the weather forecast for next week - every day sunny and well over 30 degrees - that's over 86 degrees in your measurements! Some autumn! The rain, wonderful while it lasted, is fading from soil and memory ...

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  11. Wow, you have decisions ahead. It is so good the brush fires missed you. That would be quite a scare. I really get the conflict on blogging and on gardening. Glad you returned. What I found, is do what you want and not what others are expecting. It works in the garden too. No need to conform, but unfortunately, nature has other ideas sometimes. Gray soil? Well amendments for sure, but it is never ending. We have the stick, heavy red clay here and I just plant what will withstand it. No amount of amendments stays ahead of what nature churns up, even in raised beds. Eventually nature wins.

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    1. thanks for the wise words Donna, I think the trick is not to try to change nature, as you say, just see what will work. Even if I really knew how to amend grey soil, I doubt I'd have the time and energy to do it. And I feel far too possessive about my garden to pay someone to trample around in it.

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  12. Hi Catmint,
    like you, I needed to remove myself from the obligation of blogging for a while in order to find what I wanted to blog about or how I wanted to do it. I didn't figure I'd be away for a long time.
    I love your story, and the format. It's an amazing thing we love, the natural world, the way it can rejuvenate. It's connecting to that, witnessing the hope of nature, that leads us to want to tell.
    Yes, you have to blog when you want to, not to keep a deadline. That's what I've learned. And you have to enjoy whatever it is you're blogging about. And it helps to get out there and remember we who are bloggers are journalists of a new world. We just report in a different way.
    PS I haven't forgotten our coffee!

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    1. lovely to hear from you Faisal, I like the idea that we bloggers are journalists of a new world.

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  13. It's amazing how strong plants can be!
    Welcome back! I'm glad to see you posting again! I'll tell only one thing about blogging: it helps to keep brains working! This is one of the main reasons I blog. Happy March to you and your garden!

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    1. thanks Tatyana, I hope the garden has a happy March, so far it seems March is shaping up to being even hotter than Feb (the new normal??????). Using instead of losing brainpower is a very good reason to blog. That, and enjoying it, is enough reason to do it.

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  14. Hi Catmint
    Good idea, about blogging when you feel like it rather than 'when you should'. I find blogging quite time consuming, especially if you belong to more than one group. I have noticed that I think ooh have to find a topic to blog about which I think takes away the fun because it becomes a 'something I must do" instead of spontaneous and I find this spoils it for me abit. I notice after a wee break, I feel better and enjoy it again.
    Cheers Sandi

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    1. hi Sandi, my partner always says that 'should' is the worst word in the English language, and should be avoided at all costs. I certainly feel relieved and liberated to have given myself permission to not try to post weekly any more.

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  15. Hi Catmint
    Just read your blog about the 4 great trees in the RBG. Did you know there is an hugeee bee hive in the Erythrina crista-galli - the one in the Magnolia bed, near the Canna bed. I've got pictures on my blog. It is truely stunning! I have never seen a bee hive before. It apparently has been there for years.

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    1. just checked it out on your blog - fascinating.

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  16. Welcome back! The blogging routine does get challenging. I've challenged myself to post at least once per week, but sometimes that can be difficult--not for lack of topics, but for lack of time. This would be a great post to link to the "Lessons Learned" meme, now live on PlantPostings. Congrats on the survival of your plants! And happy autumn!

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  17. hi Beth, I've made the link. I have followed that meme, and enjoyed it, just never got organized enough to actually link to it before. Thanks for suggesting it.

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    1. Thanks, your post is perfect for it!

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  18. Hi catmint, good to see you back. Like others have said blogging does take up a lot of time. I really dont know how those who post every other day can be bothered. Mind you I really do enjoy it and the answer for me was to post once each fortnight, totally enjoyable. In Scotland we have had what they call drought, very seldom and laughable..

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    1. dear alastair, if there's drought in bonnie scotland, what chance do we poor southern down-unders have? I say southern because the northern down-unders are experiencing floods. Good to be back, although I'm trying to stay underwhelmed, or at least just pleasantly whelmed.

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  19. Hi Catmint, I thought about you the other day and wondered how you were getting on. I too go through periods where I question the whole blogging things. I post once or sometimes, if I am lucky, twice a week. More is impossible. I am glad that your garden is hanging in there despite the heat and drought. Last summer was so hot and dry here, I keep wondering what this gardening season will bring. Winter started off dry, but has been much more normal than last year. Could that mean a "normal" summer? Time will tell.... Glad your back. You have been missed.

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    1. thank you dear jennifer for your comment, it feels so good to be missed, there is a wonderful sense of belonging within our gardening blog community. What does 'normal' mean any more? But hopefully your summer will be OK. Glad to hear I'm not the only one who finds it hard to keep up with the blogging thing in spite of enjoying it so much.

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  20. Catmint - Still owe you some snail mail and haven't forgotten. I've been going through the same thought processes about my blog and even the blogs I follow. I can't actually WORK my garden and live life when spending so much time posting to my blog and following other blogs. I stopped checking in at Blotanical as much, went to posting once a week and following others' blogs when I can. We are about to go into our Spring and I have a LOT I want to do outside.

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    1. dear linda, no hurry about the snail mail. There's far too much to do in our busy lives and we have to prioritize. Enjoy the spring, and I look forward to hearing how the CI wormwood babies are getting.

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  21. I'm trying to remember northern advice not to rush to cut back frost-bitten plants. I tidied one straggly plant with tiny grey leaves - and realised the bits I'd just cut off were trying, to get growing again. Patience. We hope to get some rain this week ...

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