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Saturday, July 7, 2012
Not A Whole Lot Of Garden Goings-On Happening ... My Dry Tropics Garden Journal ... Week 28, 2012
Season: mid-Winter and 'dry' season
It's our mid-winter month here in the north-eastern tropics of Australia and I'm afraid I haven't really been able to get out into the garden for quite a few weeks now. I do have some very, very good excuses though. Well, at least three very good ones anyway.
First of all, I had a very busy end of term last month. So much so that I was getting home quite late from school and as it's wintertime here with the evenings drawing in around 6.00 pm , I just didn't have any time really to get out into the garden at the end of the day. June was also a month full of very busy weekends.
On top of that, we've had a new addition to the family and he's proving to be quite a handful as he settles in to his new home.
Yes, this is 8-year old Albert. We inherited him from one of my hubby's co-workers who left town and could not take Albert along. The poor love was scheduled to be 'put down' and my hubby was overcome with compassion for the poor creature, and bought him home for a trial run. Well ... let's just say that Albert hasn't been a saint and takes up quite a bit of our spare time as he learns the rules for living at our place.
One of the rules that he's finding hard to learn is ... you don't chase the wallabies! Albert's had a whole lot of fun establishing his dominance and chasing off any other creature that dares set foot on his new territory. I'm finding that a real drag, I have to say, as we haven't had any wallaby visitors now for a few weeks. I miss watching the antics of the mother wallabies and their beautiful little joeys.
The other rule Albert is finding particularly difficult to learn is that you don't sneak off the property and venture out into the bushland or the neighbours' yards! Hubby has tried very hard to explain to Albert just how much trouble he will be in if he continues to leave our yard, but so far Albert doesn't seem to be catching on!
He's had a run-in with a rather nasty snake out in the bush, and he keeps sneaking over to one of the neighbour's yards where there are lots of rather tasty looking ducks and chooks!!! Unfortunately the fenceline around the property doesn't reach to the ground in all spots, given that we're located on the side of a hill, and Albert has been very clever in finding all the little gaps. We keep having to do patrols around the fenceline to block off any new hole we spot. This also means the wallabies are blocked off from getting into the property. Well, that's my second excuse for not attending to the garden ... the big A!
In the last two weeks I've also been on semester break, but have been out of town, so that's excuse number three for neglecting gardening duties. My darling hubby did his best at the number 1 job of watering the potted plants out in the courtyard and shadehouse, and I didn't find any plant that was about to head off to plant heaven when I returned earlier this week.
Actually, at this time of year ... winter and dry season ... there isn't much at all that needs to be done around the garden except the watering. The winter daytime temperatures are so very reasonable, mostly between 22 deg C and 26 (71 F and 78 F). We do get the occasional rather chilly day when the mercury dips down to 20 C (68 F)! We have also had some really chilly nights with drops down to 8 to 9 deg C (46 - 48 F) .... BRRRRR!!!!!
Humidity levels also drop considerably. That's mostly between 50 and 70%, depending on the time of day. The plants love this time of year when they get a break from the horrid summer heat and humidity, but the speed of growth slows down considerably. So I also get a break from trimming or weeding. It's not a time for planting either, as the dry rolls on for quite a few more months yet.
The conditions tend to be clear and sunny during the days, although we're still getting an overcast drizzly day every now and then. During June we had a total of 26 mm of rain (1 inch) which fell lightly over seven different days. So far this month, we've had no sign of rain until today. It's dreary and grey outside today, and there was a very light sprinkle of rain earlier this morning. The grey clouds are still threatening to drop a few more raindrops, but we'll see!
Around my place there's not really a lot happening in the garden areas at the front of the house or down the driveway. As I said, the pace of growth slows down to almost a halt during our winter and dry season. Of course, being in the tropics, there is some colour to be found somewhere all year round.
The front tiered garden beds are looking a little drab at the moment. It always take a while for the plants to recover from their post-wet season trim-back, especially given that the dry season immediately follows the rather drastic cutting back that happens every March-April. But amongst the drabness, there are just a few blooms to brighten the day.
The dwarf Euphorbia pulcherrima is beginning its wintertime display of pink bracts and yellow flowers,
and the Justicia brandegeeana continues to throw out more fabulous salmon coloured bracts and thin white flowers.
The Acalypha 'Spitfire' is also blooming. The little flower sprays are quite hard to spot in amongst the rich burgundy red foliage, but take my word for it, this dwarf Acalypha is definitely blooming.
It's great to see the long-awaited pale lemon flower-heads on the dwarf variegated Ixora chinensis 'Splash'. They do tend to get lost amongst the variegated foliage as well.
The garden beds at the front of the house are mostly full of foliage plants like the old-fashioned green Acalypha wilkesianas and the year-round blooming variegated Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Snowflake' and 'Roseflake'. There are only a couple of other blooming plants in there. As the Mussaenda philippica 'Bangkok Rose' comes to the end of its blooming cycle there's another great plant that takes over and puts on a great flowering display.
Tucked in amongst the taller shrubs and the ever-blooming Russelia, there's a dwarf Azalea. It's a late Autumn-Winter bloomer and always puts on a great show at this time of year. It's only a little shrub, but it's a real gem for winter colour.
The white Mussaenda philippica, located at the back of the courtyard garden at the back of the house, is also coming to the end of its blooming cycle, but the last of the white bracts still look pretty good.
Here in the northern tropics the Calliandras are winter bloomers. My two Calliandras, the red Calliandra haematocephala and the pink Calliandra surinamensis, are putting on their usual mid-year/winter show and can be spotted as you enter the front gates onto the property. The Sunbirds just love these blooms.
As you drive on down the long gravel driveway, another of my winter bloomers can be spotted. The first frilly pink flowers of the Tabebuia impetiginosa are appearing as this tall tree starts dropping its leaves. It's obvious why this tree has the common name of Pink Trumpet Tree. I just love those trumpet-shaped blooms.
Almost at the end of the gravel driveway, in the newly renovated part of the driveway rock garden, this beautiful Polygala is also blooming. This plant has not missed a beat since I planted it back in early February, and it has flowered almost continuously since then. I'm totally in love with the striking little purple pea flowers. I think this is Polygala dalmaisiana, but I'm not sure. When I bought this plant at the nursery it came with no varietal name tag.
The two sections of rock garden are still doing fairly well, although there's been no significant change in growth. I'm not expecting these two spots to fill out any more until at least the wet season has begun. That won't be until early next year. But at least all the plants there were established a few months ago are still hanging in there, and so far seem to be getting through the drier months successfully. These beds are now only getting watered once a fortnight, but they are well-mulched to help retain as much moisture as possible.
I'm often asked whether I spend a lot of time watering the garden as everything apparently looks so lush and green to those who visit my blog. The answer to that question is primarily a hearty 'No'! The majority of the property receives very little in the way of watering, apart from what teems from the heavens above during our short wet season at the beginning of every year.
We are always on permanent watering restrictions here in my corner of north-eastern Australia. That doesn't ever change. We stay on Level 1 watering restrictions, even if we get heavy monsoonal wet seasons and our dam is overflowing. As you can see, Level 1 means sprinklers can only ever be used before 9.00 am and after 4 p.m. every second day. The particular day you're allowed to put out sprinklers depends on whether your house number is even or odd.
Of course, on our large property, using sprinklers every second day would mean an enormous water bill every six months, so I resist that temptation. As a matter of fact, there are very few spots on the property that do get watered by sprinkler or by hose.
The front and side yards where the (for-want-of-a-better-word) 'grass' grows, are never ever ever watered by sprinkler or hose. Those areas survive on whatever falls from the sky during the wet season. During the dry, they are left to go a very unattractive shade of brown.
My watering schedule elsewhere in the garden during the dry season, which lasts from late Autumn in May to early Summer in December, is very regimented and restrictive.
- I turn on the irrigation system down the driveway garden beds for about an hour or so once a month if the plants are obviously wilting with thirst
- I turn on the irrigation system in the front tiered garden beds and the front garden beds for around fifteen minutes once a fortnight
- I deeply water the two sections of rock garden down the driveway and the area under the pergola next to the courtyard, with a hand-held hose around once a fortnight
- I take turns watering the potted plants out in the courtyard one day and the hanging baskets in the shadehouse the next day
So, in fact, I don't actually spend all that much time watering. It amounts to a 30-minute session every day, usually in the early morning or in the late afternoon after work, and an extra 30 minute session once a fortnight from around May to December.
There are slight differences to the schedule during the Summer and wet season though. When the rain hammers down for about two months of our Summer, I don't need to water at all. However, at the beginning of our Summer, when it's very hot indeed and there's no rain, I have to water the potted plants and hanging baskets every single day.
It is the courtyard and shadehouse garden spaces where I do have to spend time watering and I really enjoy this job. I find it a great stress-reliever and a lovely way to end the working day. The fruits of this labour is, of course, the great colour that these potted plants and hanging baskets add to my two favourite garden spaces. Here's a look at some of that lovely colour that is on show right now in both these spots.
My pride and joy right now is the latest addition to my courtyard garden. I finally bought a Clerodendrum ugandense, commonly called a Blue Butterfly Bush, which had been on my wish list for quite some time.
The very first stunning flowers have already appeared ... and I haven't even potted it on yet. I'm just so excited to see these amazing blooms, which look a lot like blue butterflies. I was expecting the first flowers sometime in Summer, so this has been a wonderful surprise.