Saturday, July 7, 2012

Not A Whole Lot Of Garden Goings-On Happening ... My Dry Tropics Garden Journal ... Week 28, 2012

Date:  July 7th, 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.


  1. Poor you and poor Albert too. No doubt he misses his mum and dad. Was he the "top dog" in the other household? It sounds like it.

    You always have such lovely pics.



    1. G'day Rosemary. In answer to your question, yes Albert was definitely 'top dog' at his previous home. He lived with his human father and a female dog companion. I'm sure he's missing them both, and we do feel rather sorry for him. Hopefully it won't take too much longer for him to fit in here. He's in the dog house once again at the moment though! He found another little escape route and went terrorising the neighbour's ducks and chooks again!!!

  2. Oh Bernie you sure have got your hands full - it's just aswell the garden doesn't take much looking after just now - and it's looking so pretty as usual! I hope Albert is a quick learner - when you think of it it's a whole new world for him to discover on your property and he's just too inquisitive. Your winter is warmer than our summer here and 20-22 are great temperatures for us! We had 97% hummidity here in Scotland one day last week and I was practically weak at the knees.

    1. Rosie, 97% humidity is fairly common here during our summertime wet season. I understand perfectly why you said you were practically weak at the knees. It's very draining and exhausting putting up with that level of humidity. I had to chuckle when you said our winter here is warmer than you summer. I think your winter would definitely be something I would suffer through. I think poor Albert's eyes and that 'hang-dog' look he gets will help get him through this difficult period of adjustment, lol! That look really does melt the heart.

  3. Dear Bernie ~ Every time I visit I want to race outside to work in my gardens. Your lovely garden areas and your courtyard and the shadehouse spaces are such an inspiration. So much color, shapes, textures and I'm sure scents.

    We've been on water restrictions similar to yours for several years now. I'm glad your husband watered while you were away. I think it all looks wonderful there.

    I hope for all your sakes that Albert works out. He looks so innocent, 'who me, I don't chase other critters, or find spaces to crawl under fences, not me.'

    Have a great weekend ~ FlowerLady

    1. Flowerlady, there aren't all that many scents in the garden right now. I'm waiting for the Jasmine to grow back and flood the courtyard with its wonderful perfume. Water restrictions are just a part of our everyday lives here, and it sounds as if it's the same for you. We've had them for at least 15 years now and it never changes even when we get a very good wet season. History has taught us well!

  4. Hi Bernie
    I love imagining winter in Australia as we go through summer here in California, and the reverse.
    Your temps are quite similar to my region, but even warmer;-) And so many of your plants are popular here, too.
    I miss growing Justicia, not sure why it's not in my garden!

    One day I will visit your wonderful country, I'm intent upon making it to the East Coast at least!

    Thanks again for letting me know about the 'forbidden' block:-(
    Please send me a message with your I.P. address and I'll work to correct the problem.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Alice. I imagine your winters would be a lot cooler than ours. Winters here are just glorious, so if you ever do make it to Oz, you just have to come in the winter to northern Oz.

  5. Your gardens look beautiful in the winter. So many flowers you have blooming there.

    You are so generous to take on the care of Albert, there will be some way of working out the territory thing.

    1. Thanks Shirley. Albert is doing his best ... most of the time. It's all still definitely a work-in-progress, but fingers crossed it works out. I would hate to have to end up sending him to the pound after all!

  6. Both you and your hubby are very kind-hearted souls for taking in Albert. You have saved his life from being put away. Albert must have missed his previous family, and he is still confused while getting adjusted to his new home. I hope Albert will settle down nicely soon enough and know his boundaries, especially with the neighbours, the wallaby friends and the strange outside world.

    I do envy your cool winter climate which we can only have in the hill stations of Cameron Highlands and Frazer's Hill resorts. I have enjoyed the lovely views of your garden.

    1. Yes Autumn Belle, the winters here are just lovely with the drop in temperatures. Night-time temps can be a little cold though. Well cold for us anyway. I think poor Albert is going to take some time to adjust to his new surroundings. If however that hasn't happened in a couple of months, we might have no choice but to take him to the pound ... otherwise the neighbours will do it if they continue catching him wandering onto their property and annoying the ducks and chickens. Fingers crossed!!!

  7. Even though winter is a quiet time in the garden, you still seem to have so much happening. I love the variegated ixora - haven't seen one before. Albert looks suitably penitent in the photo, but I have similar problems with Bella when we visit my brother's. It seems such a shame she can't just enjoy running around in a much bigger and more interesting property than ours at home, but she has discovered the neighbour's chickens and has to be tied up for the duration of our visit. Good luck with Albert.

    1. Marisa, I have to say I haven't seen another variegated Ixora for sale anywhere up here since I found this one a few years ago. It's taken a long time to get established, but it seems to be well settled in now. It's a dwarf Ixora, so I'm hoping next year it will be showing off many more flower heads that might get noticed in amongst all the variegated foliage.

      Albert is at risk of being taken to the pound by the neighbours if he keeps wandering off. They're about to get some little goats and they're now worried Albert might harm the kids as they won't be shut up in a shed but left free to roam the paddock next to our property. Hopefully, Albert will not keep finding ways to escape from here!!

  8. Albert is a very lucky dog ! He must think he died and went to heaven !!! He is such a cutie !

    1. Gwennie, Albert is still on probation and if things don't change soon, he may be on his way to the real doggie heaven unfortunately!!! Let's hope he turns the corner very soon.

  9. I hope Albert settles in and learns the rules soon. Bless you for taking him in and giving him a home. Your garden is looking stunning as always. I'm quite envious!

    1. Fingers crossed Jayne, that he settles down soon. He's really a lovely old dog, but he can't stay if he starts getting at our neighbours animals.

  10. as always I really enjoyed touring through your lovely garden, and ended us with a whole list of plants I would love to have! I also bought one of those butterfly bushes, but it stopped flowering, maybe it is just in the wrong season - I hope so! I have found that plants in the ground do require less watering than pots. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I hope persistence will pay off, he looks as though he WANTS to listen ;)

    1. Africanaussie, I was told the Blue Butterfly Bush is supposed to bloom from Summer through to Autumn so perhaps mine is just blooming at the wrong time. It will be interesting to see how it goes. I wish I had more places to plant my favourite things in the ground here, but the property is mostly rock. I'm left with little alternative but to have potted plants if I want to grow the things I love. I am learning though how to make the potted plant mixture as waterwise as possible. Albert is learning but it's slow step-by-step learning, not the huge leapfrog learning that would secure him a place here.

  11. I guess Albert is living up to the adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. He is extremely lucky to have this second chance at life and I wish for both his sake and yours that he starts learning new rules. Your garden is looking wonderful in spite of your absence (hubby might have a green thumb?) and the water restrictions. I can commiserate. For the longest time, we didn't have just restrictions but no water at all. Can you believe that we had to purchase water and have it delivered to our home on a weekly basis?

  12. I hope Albert learns to stay and not annoy the chooks. He looks a lovely dog. Missy has never had the urge to wander. Some dogs are just energetic and inquisitive.
    I was interested in your watering regime. We need to water as the weather heats up but do very little at this time of year because we don't have the annuals. I do agree that it's a relaxing passtime though.

  13. such a beautiful snaps!!
    Matilda Turf Sydney is a leading turf supplier.

  14. Dear Bernie.
    Congratulations with your new family member! So good of you to let Albert ´move´ into your life, and heart. Good luck with him. - Almost 7 years ago I ´inherited´ a dog from a Rough collie Kennel. Firstly, I couldn´t bear the thought about her being put to sleep, secondly, she chose me, by herself, and this way, by coinsidence, she became a part of my life, and she´s still going strong. Took her a while tho´ to settle in, as she was very shy. That´s history...and she´s getting along very well with my other four ´rascals´ ...
    Lovely photos of your garden. Admire all the Aussie species. Gorgeous.
    very much looking forward to your next post. Have a nice week.
    Best regards, Iris.

  15. Gardeners, like gardens, need a period of dormancy. Enjoy this time off and your new dog. We have three dogs who like to explore the area too. The deer in the area visit the property when the dogs are safely inside.

  16. Your garden is as lovely as ever. After scanning through your watering schedule, I marvel at how your garden can still be so lush, considering the very infrequent watering. I water my garden twice a day in spite of the humidity oterwise the planats will wilt.

  17. Hi Bernie - For a garden that lives on restricted water, yours is amazingly full of colour - a testament to your gardening skills! Albert looks so sweet, i can see why your Hubby wanted to rescue him. I do hope he starts to get the new rules soon - its always difficult with dogs that we don't get as puppies. I'm going through a similar thing with my doggie I inherited from my Late Father. She just doesn't "get" our rules. We've started calling her "the foreign exchange doggie", because she just doesn't seem to want to understand us :)

  18. Thanks for sharing information on My dry tropics, i have visited your blog great post..............

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