Friday, January 6, 2012

The Gardening Year Begins ... My Dry Tropics Garden Journal ... Week 1, 2012

Date:  January 7, 2012

Season:  mid-Summer and 'wet' season

So the new gardening year is underway here, but there's been very little gardening work done lately.  Given that we've been away visiting family and friends over the Christmas and New Year, I feel that's perfectly excusable.  Since our return home though, the inactivity has continued, apart from managing to do the much needed watering of all the potted plants around the place.  My only excuse for not getting out to do the many other much needed gardening chores is that it's just too darned hot and sticky!  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

So instead of talking about what I haven't been doing in the garden, I thought I would just take a look at the state of play from the beginning of this new gardening year.  How are things after the rocky road to gardening hell the garden and I experienced last year?

Well the consequences still carry on, of course, after the destruction experienced last year.  I know I keep saying it ... but it's true ... much of this garden is still in recovery and is taking its own sweet time getting back to what it was.  I'm a lot more upbeat about it these days as I can see a lot more re-growth and re-generation.

Of course the present weather conditions are not really all that helpful.  Already there are noticeable differences between the first journal entry from last year, when I began this journalling adventure, and the entry I'm writing today.

This 'wet' season has so far turned out to be a bit of a fizzer.  We had some decent falls of rain in December, which is our first summer month and the beginning of the 'wet' season ... around 167 mm or 7 inches.  Compare that to the 470mm (18 ins) we received during the previous December, December 2010, and it's apparent just how variable our wet seasons can be.  So far for the first week of January, there has been no recorded rainfall at all.  All those predictions of the new year beginning with heavy falls of rain just didn't come true.  The garden is hanging out for some more heavy showers of rain.

Along with the difference in rainfall totals between the two beginnings of the 'wet' season, there has been a considerable difference in the number of bright sunny days.  So far this 'wet', we've had mostly clear blue-sky days and very few dreary grey skies.  I remember lamenting the lack of sunshine at this time last year.  Right now however, the garden is frying in the sizzling summer sun and the ground is baked hard and dry.

I am on the whole though, reasonably happy with how all the plants are going at the moment.

Down the driveway, where the most damage was inflicted, there are heart-warming sights.

My old favourite, the white Bauhinia, continues to recover and is filling out very nicely.  Yes, I know there's some weeding to do ... my excuse is that as the ground is baked so hard, I just have to wait for some rain to fall to make the job a little easier!!!!

I've noticed that there are a few Spathodea campanulata or African Tulip Tree saplings popping up in a few spots around this rock garden bed.  I've decided to leave a couple of them to mature, but the rest will have to be ripped out without prejudice.  They are classed as an environmental weed and do tend to take over if not watched closely.

Not only are there a few new African Tulip Trees springing up, but there are also quite a few new Bauhinia saplings coming along in various spots down beside the driveway.  When we moved to this property over ten years ago, the driveway was lined with lovely Bauhinia trees.  But old age, termites and my husband's need to obliterate anything that he thinks doesn't look good, meant that they've all slowly disappeared or died since then.  Now I've taken control of what goes on in the garden beds on our property, I'm making sure the new little Bauhinias are treated well!!!!!  In a few years time I'm hoping they will have all matured, flourished and be putting on a fabulous display of blooms.

Plants such as the Ficus benjamina,

and the various Duranta repens shrubs, which were all reduced to stumps, are now looking so much better.  I just love the bright green of the new growth on the Durantas.  It's a far more cheery sight than the ugly brown stumps we had to look at for much of the year last year.

There are still quite a few empty spots down the driveway.  Where once there were lots of lovely arching branches or fronds filling these spaces, after the drastic trimming back early last year, there were innumerable ugly bald spots.  I've started some re-planting, but the new plants are still quite small and will take time to fill out.

This is a most welcome sight though in what was one of those bald spots.  There's a whole patch of little Cosmos seedlings popping up where I had planted a couple of Cosmos plants that I'd grown from seeds sent to me last year by another Queensland blogger (thanks Africanaussie!).  I'm really quite excited that there's going to be an explosion of colour there very soon, and I'm hoping that these Cosmos keep on re-seeding for quite some time to come.

Out in the new rock garden bed at the end of the driveway, all the plants that were planted out in late Spring last year are doing very well.  I was a little concerned that maybe I was planting them out too early and should have waited for the 'wet' season, but given the no-show of said 'wet', I'm very pleased that I did go ahead with the planting.  They've all survived the end of the dry season and are doing well.

I'm especially pleased to see that the Purple Fountain Grass has recovered from being nibbled to the ground by hungry wallabies and is now flourishing and flowering, along with the Gazanias.

Further down the driveway, the Fiddlewood tree is once again covered in leaves and flowering.

I was rather worried about the Fiddlewood as it spent most of last year looking like a very tall dead stick!!!  How lovely it is to see its beautiful white blooms once more.

Elsewhere on the property ...

Well I'm not even going into the Shadehouse Garden much these days because it's so overgrown and there's a rather long tree snake that's taken up residence in there ... so there will be no pictures!

Everything in the front garden beds is doing very well once more and it's looking a lot more like its usual colourful self.

I'm really enjoying the display out there right now.  The Mussaenda philippica is looking great and the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Roseflake' and 'Snowflake' have both bounced back after being squashed during the repair work done on the verandah.

I've been really impressed with the display on the dwarf Allamanda cathartica 'Sunee'.  I've never seen so many blooms on this little shrub before. It's obviously a very happy little plant.

Even the old, old Hibiscus out the front is recovering nicely after being nibbled to the ground by hungry hordes of wallabies, and is filling out nicely at the base.  It will take some time to reach its former glory, but you just can't keep an old girl down!

Miracles of miracles, my Combretum constrictum, which looked for all the world like a dead shrub for ages, has suddenly started sending up new branches.  I had cut it right back, not expecting it to return at all.  But that is a lesson I've learnt over the years .... never ever actually dig something up that looks dead!  Cut it back and then wait!  More often than not, I've been surprised to see plants seemingly rising from the dead ... even though sometimes the wait is quite long.

Out in the courtyard garden, things are not all that fabulous. (Can you see me cringing as I look at this photo?  Oh well, this is a warts-and-all blog)  I came back to a rather sad looking assortment of potted plants after the trip away.  While I did have a friend come in to water, this task was only done every second day and the plants were struggling a little in the heat and full sun.  I have managed to give most of the plants a good trim back and soaking.  I still have to do the fertilizing, but I'll do that after they've had a few days of decent drinking.  I should have them all looking spick and span very shortly.

To the side of the courtyard, the new pergola structure is now almost completed.  We're just waiting on the electricians to come and re-install all the electrical fittings that had to be removed during the demolition of  the old damaged structure.  I'm still getting used to the new look of the pergola.  No more lattice work!  I'm not sure if I really like the palings, but I guess I shall just have to!

This area will be my project for the next little while.  Soon I shall be preparing this space for some new plantings and hopefully by the end of this year, it will be looking fabulous once more.  I'm still deciding what to plant there as the conditions have changed so drastically from what it was previously.  The previous pergola has been completely covered in Jasmine vine so it was a very shady spot underneath.  Now, the area underneath is out in full sun for most of the day but ...

the Jasmine is recovering ...

as is the Hibiscus schizopetalus, that had arched completely over one end of the structure.

So that means, a little way down the track when these climbers fully recover and are flourishing again, the area underneath will be shady once more.  Not only that, but I also have a couple of other climbers to plant around the outside of the new structure.

I've managed to get a Strongylodon macrobotrys or Jade Vine, which will look like this one day  (thanks GrowsOnYou for the image).

A kind gardening friend also sent me some Ipomea seeds (thanks Marlene!) and fortunately one of them has sprouted and is growing well.  I can't wait to see the stunning white blooms on it.

This is the photo she posted of her Ipomea on another gardening site.  I fell in love with the pure simplicity of the bloom and she kindly asked if I wanted some seeds.  Now I have the perfect spot to plant this new climber of mine.

Quite a while ago I purchased a Dalechampia.  When I bought it, it was flowering beautifully, but there have been almost no flowers ever since.  It's been growing in a pot out in the courtyard and I think it's just longing to be in the ground out in the full sun.  I plan on planting it on the western side of the new pergola structure and I'm hoping it will take off and start blooming again.  The flowers are just spectacular.

This is a shot of a bloom on my Dalechampia aristolochiaefolia or Silk Crepe Flower when I first bought this plant home.  I haven't seen these beauties for quite some time now, so I'm hoping my climber will like its new home in the ground.

So there are the climbers that I plan on adding to the outside of the pergola in order for them to grow over the top.  This leaves me thinking long and hard about just what to plant out in that area underneath, knowing that the new plants will have to be able to survive some full sun while young and lots of shade when mature.  Not an easy task!  Now ... suggestions are most welcome.  Of course, living in this dry tropics zone as I do, the plants will also have to cope with extended periods of fairly dry conditions and a short period of very wet conditions.   Hmmm! Right now I'm a bit thin on ideas, so help is needed.  I feel like I need a better grasp on this problem.


  1. Your garden is so impressive. I wish I could give you some suggestions for vines on the pergola. Here I would use clematis ( They like shady roots and sunny tops. Or climbing roses. Maybe even a combo and adding morning glory that will reseed it self each year. Good luck. You will find something beautiful

  2. Oh that is a big walking stick! Even if you always say dry tropics, your plants are certainly more watered or your area more humid than ours. They are growing more vigorously than here. Or maybe because we dont fertilize at all. They look more beautiful now with the rejuvenation pruning. I am envious because you have jade vine, while we here where it came from cannot have it. By the way, is the railings around your house made of iron?

  3. Thanks Anne, actually I had started thinking about adding a climbing Rose. Still thinking!!!

  4. Andrea, yes you're so right out climate does seem to be a little damper than yours at times, and the humidity is definitely worse.

    I've been searching for a source for the Jade Vine for around two years now, and would you believe a friend found a couple in a nursery in a small town just to the north of us! How serendipitous! She now has one, and so do I!!!

    About the railings around the house, they are all wooden. This is an old wooden house built back around the end of the 1800's/early 1900's, so it's almost entirely made of wood, apart from the windows, ceilings and the roof, of course. I've been asked to do a post about this old Queenslander house of ours ... I'll have to do that soon.

  5. Your garden looks like it is well on its way to a full recovery. I am looking forward to updates on your Jade Vine. I saw this plant when I was very young but those amazing flowers left a lasting impression. Unfortunately our climate will not allow me to even try this plant.

  6. Garden Girl, you and me both! I'm looking forward to seeing it take off once it's planted in the ground. At the moment it's still in its pot and there's already lots of new growth. Fingers crossed for the move!

  7. You have the most beautiful garden...rain or shine. Hope the weather gives you what you need.
    I love all the different foliage you have all around. Wow!
    BTW: That's terrific music. I still need to learn how to do that...maybe this summer when I'm out of school.

  8. Thanks David. It would be a very bleak garden without all the wonderful foliage plants. As there aren't any fabulous flower beds, the colour comes from those wonderful Crotons, Acalyphas, Hibiscus and Pseuderanthemums.

    As for adding music to a blog, it's relatively easy to do but it does take a little time to figure it out when you first try. If you need any hints, just ask.

  9. Oh, that looks brilliant. Everything is coming along swimmingly after last year's tough time. Let's hope you get a spot of rain to keep things going. (Its uncharacteristically dry here. Can't help thinking that it'll all come down at once.)

  10. Snail, I've been wondering the same thing lately. Will we have a really intense rain period, short and sweet? Strange to think the conditions have been dry up there as well. Very unusual!

  11. Dear Bernie. I admire your garden, it is very impressive. Seem to be a lot of work to do, watering, moving the pots about etc. I love the way you ´compose´ the plants together, colours, leaves design and structure, and so on. What a fantastic sight it is to view.
    I´m thrilled with your garden-blog.
    Best regards, Iris.

  12. Your garden looks so full, lush, and colorful. I can understand about summers being too hot and too dry to work outside. I always take a break during our summers, too. It's unbearable. I have a couple of plants that I'm wondering if they are alive or dead. Like you, I've learned to just wait and see!

  13. Dear Bernie, Your garden looks amazing considering the pounding it endured last year! Your 'sunee' is so happy and makes me feel glad, too. I have a grape vine growing over my pergola, and love it. What will you do about the snake? P. x

  14. Iris, thank you. You're always so generous with your kind comments. There's always a fair amount of work to do, but I don't mind that at all except at this time of year when it's so hot and stinky! I do move the pots around a little bit. I just feel like a change sometimes, to get a different look, so I move them around until I'm happy with the result.

    HolleyGarden, yes this time of year is not at all conducive to getting out into the garden. I feel a little guilty when I look out and see all the things that need to be done, but then I just wander back inside! I'm spending a bit of time in the air-con these days dreaming of the garden I'd like to see outside, lol!

    Pam, it's been wonderful watching the plants recover as well as they have. I really wasn't expecting them to come through the dry season quite as well as they did. As for the snake, there's not much we can do really. I just put on my big chunky sandshoes and stomp around a lot if I do wander out into the shadehouse. Snakes are a part of life here in the tropics.

  15. The courtyard garden looks fabulous, Bernie. Many of your plants i haven't come across before except as house plants. We have hibiscus and ficus. I think they look so much better outside in their true environment. The flower on the Fiddle Tree is exquisite!

  16. Your garden seems to have recovered beautifully after Yasi (lots of TLC I'm guessing). Driving up to Cairns we noticed quite a lot of tree damage still a bit North of you.

    I hope you have better luck with your Jade Vine than I did with the one I bought.

  17. Your garden is looking just lovely, Bernie. If I hadn't seen your photos, I would never have guessed how badly you were affected by Yasi. I love the flower on the Dalechampia. I haven't heard of it before. It is still dry down here in Brisbane too. The 'Wet' seems to be running late this year.

  18. It is so nice to stop and review the garden. It is clear you have done quite a lot...and it looks beautiful. In the spring, I will take my walk and review to see what I want to add and change.


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