risk taking in the summer garden

Any gardener with any experience of a hot Melbourne summer will tell you you're stupid if you  cut things back hard when temperatures soar. Keep a protective cover over the soil as much as possible, they will say, and don't stress plants already under challenge. Sensible advice ...  but the trouble with this advice is -

1. When the spring annuals have disappeared the 'bones' of the garden become prominent, clearly showing me which plants need to be cut back because they don't look good any more, and what gaps need to be filled.

2. It is the summer holidays when I have the most time to garden.

We gardeners are supposed to be patient. If I show a bit of restraint, it's with a big effort.  So far this summer I have managed with great difficulty to resist buying new plants or moving old plants.

Pruning, when applied to some shrubs, feels more like sculpting than just chopping back. The Plumbago growing on the front fence is mainly a chopping back job. The five Leptospermum morisonnii 'White Opal', planted around 15 years ago, gradually grew into a green leafy screen that concealed the back part of the garden. But it started looking scrappy, so a few days ago I took a risk and thinned out the branches. It was a double risk:

1. I never really know what I'm doing until it's done, and if I don't like the result I've found you can't put branches back.

2. We've already had one very hot day and we're coming up to more 40+ degree days (Celsius). That's 104+ Fahrenheit!

The same thing applies to a group of Sticky Boobiallas (Myoporum petiolatum).  I did my sculpture thing, and now they don't look so nice, a bit weird, but I think they look potentially elegant and graceful and I think the screen will grow back.

The thing is, I feel in sync with these plants. They're old friends, well established, and I trust them not to die. Already there are sprouts appearing on the Boobialla.  But still it's a risk, with lots of really hot days to come.

You can never be sure what will happen in the future. Change is a risk. But then so is trying to stop change.


  1. MS means that our garden is safe from my depreciations in summer. Mostly. MS loves and thrives in the heat so I can only go out into the garden early. And don't have the time/energy/capacity to do a lot. Which makes me feel bereft and inadequate, but probably to some extent protects the garden. And I have discovered that gardens are (often) remarkably forgiving.
    I suspect that your long established plants will be too. And you are so very right about change.

  2. I can only imagine how hard the heat must be in an Australian summer. With ever increasing temperatures even native plants must be stressed.

  3. The best, and most encouraging thing here is 'potentially elegant'. I shall remember and cherish this and use it when appropriate.

  4. Myoporum I know. Had a huge plant in our Camps Bay garden. Huge as in - I used to climb up - carefully saw away at a branch - then climb down out of reach - when the limb came crashing down. On our invasive alien list.

    Today we were around 30C, which is hot for our False Bay garden.

  5. I'd heard that your temperatures were running unspeakably high this year. 40C/104F is just plain miserable! I try to restrict both pruning and planting during the summer months here too but I can't say I follow that advice to the letter either. After all, you've got to pick up coveted plants when they become available, right?!

  6. I enjoyed your lists of 1) why you took chances, and 2) the double risk. 40C/104F is hot, even for someone like me who enjoys the heat. I've taken similar risks, like planting new plants during high summer (although, for us, that would be more like 30C-35C (85F-95F). Like you, I know my garden. ;-) I think the Sticky Boobiallas look great! Looking forward to photos of your garden throughout the season, following your pruning!

  7. There is always risk in pruning. When you are in tune with your garden you don't have to listen to what "they" say. I hope your Boobiallas enjoys it's haircut.

  8. I live in the tropics which must be similar. I'll cut things back four inches or so but by the time the heat is really, really bad, I don't even go OUTSIDE.

  9. Pruning is my favorite garden chore, and sometimes it is hard to resist! Most plants are resilient. My dear hubby nearly destroyed a large boxwood in front of the house last fall. He cut (accidentally?) a very major branch down low near the center of the trunk and then realized when he pulled the branch away that half the side of the shrub was gone! He then placed the branch back in its place and waited for me to find it, being too cowardly to confess up front. When I did find it, he said, "I know you can fix it !" Ha! It took a lot of work, and I ended up having to severely prune several shrubs, as they were all together, and one short one looked awful. I was concerned at how naked they looked at first, but now they have all begun to sprout lots of new growth and they look just fine. Your garden looks wonderful, despite the stress of hot summer!

  10. I have been listening with horror to the weather reports from Australia. Heat that extreme is so dangerous.

  11. Pruning, well we don't have to concern ourselves with 40c temperatures here in Scotland. I enjoy pruning but generally await the results with a little trepidation. Hope it cools down for you soon.


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