Sunday, October 11, 2015

Respite from the Ravaging ... My Dry Tropics Garden Journal ... Week 42, 2015.

  Date:  October 11, 2015.

  Season:  mid-Spring and dry season.

It's the middle of our springtime now and the temps. have been quite reasonable.  Most days the mercury hovers around 29 deg C, whilst the night-time temps drop to a pleasant 19-20 deg C.  All very bearable.

Our dry season continues, although in the last few days we've had the occasional very, very light sprinkle of raindrops.  More like a passing mist really, but accompanied by my all-time favourite smell ... the smell of approaching rain.  That has been delightful.  The fine misty squalls of rain have barely registered though - weather reports state that we've received around 1mm of rain in the last week.  That's literally next to nothing!

The stuff that's fallen has barely hit the ground and certainly hasn't penetrated the cement-like ground here.  The only evidence that something resembling raindrops has fallen from the sky above, has been the sighting of a couple of tiny raindrops on petals and leaves around the place.  Of course, they disappear very quickly with the gusty wind and warm sunlight.

For those who read my last post, you will know why I'm a little over-the-moon about the following event.  It seems that the hordes of ravaging wallabies have finally moved on elsewhere.  Well, considering they've just about demolished everything edible that they could reach, I'm not surprised.  There's very little left that they find tasty.

There was one horrid felon left.  It was still munching on whatever I couldn't move from the courtyard garden and the new garden beds over the last two weeks.  It was even attempting to get in between all the chairs that I had set up as a barricade out in the courtyard garden!  Well, three mornings ago, this was the sight that greeted me at our back door when I got up to start the working day.

It would not move as I approached, so I had to use the other back door.  Even after an hour or so, it still hadn't moved, so my hubby shooed it off with a broom from a distance.  He tried to be gentle because we had started to think there might be something wrong with the poor thing.  Wallabies don't usually hang around on our verandah while we're at home and moving around inside.

Anyway, long story short ... I arrived home from work that afternoon and did my usual patrol checking for my wallaby feasting, and I found the poor thing dead in the front garden bed.  Me thinks it ate something that it really shouldn't have, or the accumulation of all the things it had eaten for weeks was just too much!

The upshot of this though is that I have finally been able to move the salvageable potted plants off the courtyard table this weekend and back onto the courtyard pavers.  It looks more like a garden space once again.  I can't tell you how great that makes me feel.  Of course, most of the potted plants need time to recover and bounce back to their former glory, but I'm so pleased to have the plants back where they belong.

Colour elsewhere in the garden is very light on the ground, apart from a couple of hardy plants that were obviously not good enough for the wallabies' nightly menu.

Kalanchoe (not sure of the variety).

Dwarf variegated Bougainvillea.


Alpinia (not sure of the variety).   
[Note: thanks for the I.D.  Viscount Anthony Fuller.  Now I know it's Alpinia purpurata.]

Turnera ulmifolia

Duranta repens



Elsewhere around the place, there are a couple of trees that are deciduous during our winter months, but with the arrival of Spring, the bare branches start sprouting lots of new leaf growth.

The beautiful new coppery-coloured foliage has appeared on one of my Lagerstroemia speciosa shrubs.  It's a lovely sight after the bare branches have been on show for the last couple of months.

My two deciduous Plumeria rubras are showing signs of new leaf growth as well.

I love watching the tiny little leaves emerge from the rounded ends of the branches.

Out in the courtyard, the new leaf growth on the native Sterclia quadrifida or Peanut Tree is very noticeable now.

The branches are leafless throughout the winter months, when the seedpods appear, but when spring arrives, so do the new leaves.

You might notice though that there are splashes of purple up in the canopy of the Sterculia that look decidedly out of place.

That's my Petrea volubilis, or Sandpaper Vine, climbing up through the Sterculia.  The Petrea is supposed to grow and cover the pergola, but it much prefers to climb the tree.  I've tried countless times to pull it down and try to train it to cover the pergola.  It refuses to play along with my plans and just keeps escaping up into the Sterculia.

It's so hard to see the gorgeous flowers of this vine though, as it's so very high up.  It's only when I point it out to people, that anyone notices the gorgeous purple sprays.

Out in my courtyard garden, one of my Cycas revolutas has a new 'break' emerging.  It's great fun watching these new leafy whirls emerge and get taller and taller.  Here's an idea of the progression and pace of new growth:

October 2nd

October 4th

October 5th

October 7th

October 8th


It's fascinating to see the curly ends slowly unfurl as the branches get longer and longer.

I've finally re-potted the two graceful Belchnum gibbum or Silver Lady Ferns that sit out under the sloping roof facing the courtyard garden.  They've been very patient!  I decided that whilst I was moving the rescued wallaby-eaten potted plants from the table to the pavers, I really should make the effort and re-pot a few of the other plants that live out around the courtyard too.  I think they already look happier.

Just to finish off my journal entry for this week, I'm adding a few of the bird shots I've captured during the last week.

Forest Kingfisher.

Female Fig Bird in the native Olive tree.

Not sure what this little bird is, but it was enjoying a feast of native olives.

Brown-backed Honeyeaters.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.

Same Sulphur-crested Cockatoo taking flight.

A pair of Pied Currawongs.

You can't miss those distinctive bright yellow eyes!

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Harsh End Of The 2015 Dry Season ... My Dry Tropics Garden Journal ... Week 40, 2015.

Date:  September 28, 2015

Season:  beginning of Spring and 'dry' season

September is officially our first month of Spring.  Whilst so many gardeners around Australia are rejoicing and getting back out to enjoy their gardens, the reverse is the case for me in my particular corner of this wonderful country.  The enjoyable part of my gardening year is now well and truly over.  Spring comes towards the latter half of our long dry season, and this year's dry season has been particularly harsh at my place.

Yes folks, that's my front yard. It's bone dry and the 'grass' (in truth, the weed patch) is an attractive shade of dead.

Our dry season is now in full swing and it's been exacerbated by the failed wet season at the beginning of the year.  Usually we average somewhere around 770 mm of rain over the first three months of the year - which are our last two months of Summer and first month of Autumn.  The first three months of 2015 saw an underwhelming total of just 220 mm.  That amounts to a failed wet season.  
The start of our dry is usually April and it can last anything up to nine months.  This year's dry season has seen around 33 mm of rain fall.  Yes, that's what I said ... there's been around 33 mm of rain since the end of April.  For those who work in inches when it comes to rainfall - 33 millimetres is just over 1 inch of rain, 1.2 I think! So over a period of five and a half months we've had very little rain.  We usually average around 82 mm / just over 3 inches between the start of April and end of September. 

So, I guess the picture is becoming clearer.  It's been a dry 'ole year so far, really dry!   The trees in the surrounding bushland look after themselves by dropping most of their leaf load, which quickly dries up and becomes a carpet of crunchy crispy brown bits.  That native grasses and groundcovers just die off, and the soil becomes rock hard very quickly.  The blustery winds we often get at this time of the year also causes the ground to dry out completely.  That's fine for the bushland as it will recover quite quickly when the wet season rains finally arrive.

It's a different scenario for my garden though.  During most dry seasons the plants drop their leaf load or die back a little, but this year there has been more of the dying off!  The plants in the various garden beds have been very thirsty for a very long time now.  I've had a few losses this year and they won't be bouncing back.  I've lost a couple of my Mussaendas and Acalyphas, which are usually quite tough plants.

A lot of the taller trees and shrubs drop their leaf load in the dry which creates a layer of mulch throughout the garden.  Usually that's helpful in keeping some level of moisture in the soil.  But without the total soaking the garden gets in a regular wet season, there's been almost no moisture in the soil whatsoever, so the mulch of lost leaves hasn't really been all that helpful.

I water sparingly in most of the garden beds, about every three to four weeks.  We don't have a bore and our excess water fees are astronomical in these really dry years.

I do however put on sprinklers in the early morning or evening for a little while every few days out in the newly established garden beds.  These were only just completed last year, and I've had to work hard to keep the plants going this year.

I'm really hoping that all these plants will get through the tough times and onto the next wet season, as I would love to see these beds flourish.  Fingers crossed for a decent wet season in early 2016.  I would love to plant more and really fill out these beds.

The lack of rain this year has also caused another issue.  This dry season I've also had a really, really bad problem with a small group of Agile Wallabies that have been visiting my place.  They are obviously hungry and searching for food, but this little band has decided to treat my garden plants as their daily feed.  Now in previous years I've always been on their side, but my point of view has changed a little.  I've never before witnessed this level of destruction caused by these wallabies in all the years I've lived on this property.

Sure, after Cyclone Yasi they did feast on a couple of plants they've never touched before.  The gorgeous six-foot high Hibiscus shrub in the front garden bed suddenly became their regular treat.  It's never recovered since as they still keep munching on it.  But suddenly in the last few weeks the wallabies have gone beserk!

They have literally stripped back almost every cane of every Russelia clump on the property.  There are quite a few clumps - around fifteen huge ones.  The wallabies have nibbled on a few canes before, but now almost every cane is a stump!

The once lush-looking, always-flowering clumps are now looking very tattered and torn.  The wallabies have also stripped back so many of my Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Snowflake' and 'Roseflake' bushes, that they now look like sticks poking out of the ground.  They're a dreadful sight.

The front garden bed has been completely trampled and stripped.  That sorry looking clump used to be the six-foot high Hibiscus shrub I mentioned previously.  The garden bed itself was quite lovely with the several Hibiscus shrubs surrounded by always-blooming clumps of Russelia.

I've had to get in and trim back almost every plant in that front garden bed in an effort to save the poor things.

It all looks quite dreadful.

In the rock garden, the wallabies trampled down the dying-back clumps of Pennisetum as they got close to the Hibiscus shrubs behind and started stripping the leaves off the lower parts of the shrubs.

I've cut down the Pennisetum and tidied up all the broken branches of the Hibiscus and Acalypha shrubs.  The rock garden bed is not looking good.

Other sections of the driveway garden beds are looking less than lovely, as the wallabies have feasted on the leaves of so many of the little shrubs trying to establish themselves.

Now while the death and destruction out in the garden beds is certainly unsettling, the destruction that has occurred in my courtyard garden is quite simply heart-breaking.  Those of you who have followed my posts for a while now, will know just how much I love my courtyard garden.  It's been my haven for several year and I've put a lot of effort into having lots of lovely potted colour all around the courtyard.

This was the courtyard garden about three weeks ago.  Not too shabby, even though I didn't have as many potted annuals as usual for this time of the year.

There was an endless parade of birds coming in to drink the nectar of the flowers.

There were loads of bees buzzing around doing their thing.

There were lots of lovely flowers to admire as I wandered around in the morning with my cuppa.

Well, things have changed considerably in a short period of time.  This is the view out onto the courtyard this morning!

I've had to pop many of the potted plants up onto the table and then set up a barricade in an effort to stop the feasting.

There's not much left around the courtyard to admire while strolling with a cuppa in hand!  It just feels barren and bare to me.  There's no joy to be found out there at the moment.

This is one of the main culprits, caught in the act about a week and a half ago, stipping off most of the leaves on the Cordyline plant.  We attempted to scare her off with lots of noise and yelling, but she would just stand her ground and wander off when she felt like it! 

Can you see the missing plant in the bottom shot?  Yes, the wallabies really love Costus plants.  Firstly, they stripped the stems of their leaves, then starting pulling out the stems!

I was getting crankier and crankier watching the destruction.

Luckily, most of the plants, such as this Begonia, will recover and grow back as it was just the leaves and flowers that were eaten.

But sometimes, the wallabies would knock over the pot in an attempt to get the roots as well.

This is what happened to my favourite Anthurium.

I've tried to save parts of it, but will have to wait and see if it recovers.

My favourite Caladium was also knocked over.

They weren't content with just eating the leaves.  They had to get the bulbs as well.

I've got my fingers crossed that the bits I saved will bounce back and I'll see these beautiful leaves once again.

I've now got a little plant hospital out in the courtyard now!  These are the things that are expected to make a full recovery.

The Anthurium and Caladium are in intensive care out in my shadehouse garden, along with a couple of other plants in dire straits.  Thankfully, my shadehouse garden has not been touched.  The wallabies have not yet found a way into that space.

I'm still able to enjoy some lovely colour out there.

So there you have it.  It's been a while since I last posted a garden journal post and this one has been a tale of woe.  Yes, I know that a lot of the plants will recover.  Yes, I know the courtyard garden will reign supreme once more.  Yes, I know the wallabies need to survive this long, long dry as well ... but for now I'm just wallowing a little and feeling a little down.   Dry seasons are harsh on my garden, but it seems this year is going to be particularly testing.  Let's hope everything just hangs in there until the wet season arrives.  Hopefully that's only about four months away now.

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