Friday, December 31, 2010

Gazanias .... like rays of sunshine in a garden!

It's Summer here Downunder and our 'wet' season has started with a bang!   During December, which is the first month of our Summer, we experienced weeks of showery rain with thunderstorms, then a cyclone passed close by dumping torrential downpours of rain and over the whole month we had endless weeks of gloomy grey skies ... it's this time of year that one of my favourite perennials really struggles. 

Yes, it's true that Gazanias are heat tolerant, sun tolerant, drought tolerant .... so it definitely suits my dry tropics garden for most of the year.

Here in the southern hemisphere Gazanias are perennials and one of my all-time favourites.  Any sun-loving plant, that thrives in hot weather and survives on very little water is a welcome addition to my garden.

Right now, though, hot dry sunny spots are hard to find ... and the clumping Gazanias in my garden are not showing as many bright cheerful faces as usual. 

Usually these bold colourful sunrays burst open at sunrise and then close up for the night.  But when the sun is hiding behind a thick grey cloudcover that blankets the entire sky, they hide their bright shiny faces.

Our 'wet' season is such a hard time for these plants.  Too much water causes them to rot and too little sunshine means they start to die back.

I have finally learned my lesson regarding growing Gazanias here in my particular spot of north-eastern Australia.  Whilst they thrived all year round during the many drought years out in the garden beds, when the usual 'wet' Summer seasons returned just over two years ago, I had to re-think the way I used Gazanias in my garden.  There were huge clumps of them filling quite a few corners of my outdoor garden beds and I lost them all after the torrential rainy seasons soaked the ground for weeks and weeks.

So, now I have them planted in my garden beds only from Autumn through to Spring, which is our 'dry' season, but when the Summer arrives, they go straight into pots.  Doing this means I can now keep them going from one year to the next in this particular corner of the world!

I'm joining in the Today's Flowers meme today, so please pop over and visit this wonderful meme by clicking on this link: Flowers From Today

I'm also joining Noel's meme  Hot, Loud and Proud ...

... and Mary's meme Mosaic Monday

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wishing All A Fabulous Festive Season.

Sending warm Season's Greetings to all my blog readers.  Of course, here in Oz, we celebrate Christmas in our early Summer, so it's hot and steamy.  I'm looking forward to spending time with family and friends ... and most especially, spending time with my beautiful grandchildren.  I hope you all have a wonderful Happy Christmas with your loved ones.

This blog was started just over a year ago more out of curiousity than anything else.  I had joined a couple of terrific social networking garden websites and, as a result, was starting to learn the 'real' names of the plants in my garden and taking much more of an interest in how to care for them.  I felt the need to start journaling these learning experiences ... and starting a blog seemed like a wonderfully exciting and fun way to do just that.  Of course, I would also be exercising this old woman's brain just a little by participating in this new area of communication technology!

 (photo from the post that received my first ever comment)

My first ever comment arrived in mid-November 2009 for my Green, Green Everywhere Is Green post (thank you Alice!) and I was completely taken aback!  Then in January this year I started receiving just a couple of comments for almost every post I completed.  I was completely amazed that my blog posts would be of an interest to others at all!    I don't consider myself a 'writer' ... there are some outstanding blog writers around and I'm in awe of their wonderful talent ... and I don't consider myself an expert gardener whose writing to impart great wisdom garnered from years and years of experience.  I'm more of a journal keeper ... I'm just recording what's in my garden and telling something about the experiences I have in this particular garden.

(a photo from the most popular post on this blog so far The Courtyard Garden - My Favourite Space)

Having only written 67 posts on this blog, I still have my 'L' plates on, but it has, I must say, been an absolute joy meeting gardeners from all over the world and visiting all sorts of amazing, interesting gardens.  Little did I know when I first attempted a post, just how much I would enjoy this gardening blogging gig!

 (photo from the plant specific post that has been the most popular so far

So thank you to all who have visited, made comments, signed the Guestbook and contributed to opening up a whole new wonderful world for me ... I appreciate it immensely!  May all your gardens bloom and flourish and I look forward to the new blogging year that's fast approaching!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

A great addition to any warm climate garden is the evergreen Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.  They are remarkably sun, heat and drought hardy - tolerating the heat and intensity of our mid-Summer sun and the high humidity levels without much fuss at all!

Of course, when you say the word Hibiscus, thoughts immediately pop into your head of tall palms swaying on long stretches of pristine white sand with the sound of gently lapping waves in the background.  

Did you know that, in fact, many species of Hibiscus are in fact, native to China and South-East Asia?   No!  Thought they were all from the South Pacific or Hawaii?  Well ... you're half right.  Most of the now oh so familiar, very colourful Hibiscus are the result of the hybridisation activities that took place there.

My little collection of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis shrubs includes the original red flowering plant .. what's often referred to as 'the common red'!  It's been a standard for any tropical garden here over the last two generations of gardeners.  I have two of these old-fashioned shrubs with the simple, yet beautiful, single dark red blooms in my garden.

You will not find any brightly coloured double or semi-double blooms on my Hibiscus shrubs.  In fact, I've never had any of those hybrids in any of my gardens ... I've just never been tempted!  I think it has something to do with the nostalgic memories of the Hibiscus shrubs in my Grannie's old garden! 

Hibiscus really need full sun.  One of my old Hibiscus shrubs is indeed growing in the ground in full sun.  It is now a magnificent huge old thing and it puts on a great display almost all year round. 

The other old original Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is growing under the canopy of some tall Eucalyptus trees.  Whilst it's the tallest of the two ladies, reaching over 4 metres high, it does not flower as profusely.

When Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is still quite young, they need a well-drained soil.  Take care though as they hate to dry out, so they need to be watered regularly when they are becoming established. Apply a thick mulch around the base of the shrub, but do not let the mulch touch the stem. 

They relish a decent prune in early Spring ... here that's September to October - to shape the plant and encourage flowering.  It's important to remove the old wood at this time.  These plants are also heavy feeders when they are still quite young. Apply complete fertiliser after pruning and during the flowering season. Water well before and after fertilising. 

Of course, my two old specimens really don't need any of this care and attention any longer.  They are grand old ladies now who just need the occasional tipple from a rain cloud and some golden sunshine!  

Just a couple of oddities about my two old dames:  the old Hibiscus rosa-sinensis growing in front of my house  - now around fifteen years old - will put out rather lovely new blooms that look almost pink, but they quickly turn darker and more red in no time.

The slightly younger old dame growing under the gum tree canopy has flower petals with lovely ruffled edges.   They're like a pair of old maiden aunts ... each with their own particular characteristics and charms and out of touch with the modern world of Hibiscus!

There are two other Hibiscus rosa-sinensis hybrids in my garden ... but again these two varieties have single dark red blooms.  I've previously written a post about these, so if you're interested just follow this link:
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis variegata 'Roseflake' and 'Snowflake'

Monday, December 13, 2010

Preparing for a Hot Tropical Summer

I know that Summertime in some parts of the world is a wonderful time for gardeners.  Here in my corner of Oz ... it can be a woeful time!  Located only a mere 2300 kilometres (1450 miles) from the Equator and averaging around 320 days of bright glorious sunshine every year, my garden is positioned in a hot dry spot on the planet.

Summertime can be excruciatingly hard on both the garden and the gardener.

Summer months are always hard-going with daytime temperatures that average around 31°C.  Of course the mercury can climb to 40 (104F) some days.  Unfortunately the heat is not a dry heat, it's sticky and uncomfortable as the humidity is frequently between 60% and 75%.  We don't fare any better at nigh time either as the night temperatures average around 25°C (77F) and there is little relief from the high levels of humidity, even then.

It's the humidity that makes life hard for this  gardener during a north Queensland summer.  I rarely venture out into the garden during this time of year, so the garden has to survive without the usual care and attention that I lavish it with during the Autumn to Spring.

Preparing for a torrid summer is often a useless, forlorn exercise ... especially if we get cyclones with their destructive winds and the torrential driving rain of a 'wet' season ... but it has to be done, and it begins long before summer arrives.

First, choosing plants that can withstand fierce sunshine, sweltering temperatures and driving rain is a great starting point.  Plants such as the old-fashioned Rosa-sinensis is a staple in every garden I've had here in the northern tropics of Oz.  They are among  the most resilient, hardiest plants I've every grown ...

... and I can't recommend them highly enough.  My favourites are the hybrids 'Roseflake' and 'Snowflake'.

I also couldn't do without Palms ... again, they are just such a wonderful survivor in our climate and conditions.  Top of the list is the Dypsis lutescens - the clumping Golden Cane Palm.

I could go on and on about choosing the right plants ... but that's what I cover in most of the other posts on this blog.

So let's get on with the preparations needed to survive a Summer.  Next, there's the trimming back ... this begins in early Spring so there will be lovely new young growth that will hopefully bounce back from the torrential rainfall we can receive.  I spend at least a whole weekend cutting back the bed of Acalyphas out the front of the house ... (another plant I would highly recommend) ...

... and the bed of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Pseudomussaenda, Russelia, Combretum and Mussaenda on the other side of the front stairs.

These beds are then given a good feed of blood and bone fertilizer that's watered in very well.  Then, after the Spring months are over, the plants are ready for the onslaught of summer.  Here's a view of them right now with all their wonderful healthy, strong, new growth.

Another vital ingredient for a well-prepared tropical garden is mulching.  This again is done before summertime so there's more chance of the mulch actually providing cover long before the extreme heat and strength of the summer sun sucks every ounce of moisture from the ground.

In the front garden beds pictured above, I use scoria ... a type of volcanic rock ... as a mulching agent.   I also use scoria on my Pentas bed.  This photo gives you a closer look at it.

Why use a non-organic mulch?  The most important reason for this is that it provides protection from termites.  Here in the northern tropics, termites are a huge problem and having organic mulches close to wooden houses is just a disaster waiting to happen!  (Speaking from previous experience!)  As these front yard garden beds are all built up close to the timber structure of our house, we don't want termites setting up home in the mulch and then moving into our house!!

Termite protection aside ... scoria has other great features as well.  Being so porous it absorbs and holds a lot of water which is then slowly released to the surrounding plants over a longer period of time.  That way every drop of precious water is used in the most productive and useful way.  It's terrific for drought proofing gardens.  It's also acts like insulation protecting the soil in these areas of our property that are open to the drying effect of the intense sunlight and the winds we experience during our summer.

In other areas of the property, I use organic mulches.  In the long driveway garden beds there's always layers of leaves that have fallen from the many tall Eucalyptus trees on either side ... and it's just a matter of using the leaf blower to pile them up under all the shrubs ... as you can see clearly in the photo below.

In the newly established beds outside my greenhouse/shadehouse garden, I scatter dried sugar cane mulch all around the plants.  It's easily obtained here in my part of the world as we're so close to cane farms, thus it's a sustainable and renewable resource.
Here's a closer look at the sugar cane mulch ...

... the best feature of this mulching agent is that it doesn't become as compact and impenetrable as other organic mulches have a habit of doing here in the tropics.  It stays rather coarse and allows not only the rain to penetrate, but also fertiliser.  I've tried other types, but would never go back to them now.

One more great feature of this mulch, is that it's perfectly suited to areas that have a lot of run-off during the heavy summer rains.  This area of my property certainly has that ... as you can see from the bare patches in the lawn in the photo below, the run off from the torrential 'wet' season rainfall can be quite damaging.
I find that the dried cane sugar mulch used in those raised garden beds really knits together well and doesn't get washed away as easily as other mulches.

Pictured above is another of the areas that suffers from heavy summer rain run-off, and it's the roots of the huge Nephrolepis biserrata - the Giant Sword Fern - that mat together and hold the soil in place as the rainwater surges down the slope.  This fern, given lots of room, makes a beautiful low maintenance protective cover for areas that can be drastically eroded away by gushing rainfall.

Finally, one of the hardest parts of my garden to look after during our Summer is definitely the potted plants.
I have well over 100 pots, containers and hanging baskets in both my courtyard garden and my greenhouse/shadehouse garden.  Potted plants can be very demanding during hot summer weather.

Now while terracotta pots do indeed look fabulous, anything planted up in a terracotta pot will lose water very quickly here through evaporation.   Most of my potted plants are in plastic pots simply because they lose water less quickly.  I also make sure that the tops of all pots are mulched.  I use mostly bark chips as you can see in this potted Alocasia.
I also ensure every pot has water-retaining vermiculite added to the potting mix to help prevent water evaporating from the soil. 

Standing pots in groups in a semi-shaded, sheltered place also reduces evaporation.  This really helps many of my potted plants to get through our summer.

Hanging baskets need more water than pots on the ground.  Most of my hanging baskets and containers are in my greenhouse/shadehouse garden which is protected by shadecloth that blocks out 70% of the harsh sunlight ....
.... and is watered by a timed watering system. You can see the black irrigation pipes snaking along the top of the supporting poles.

Of course, with both hanging planters and pots it's never a good idea to water in the intense heat of the day ... the water will simply evaporate before your very eyes.  I always water very early in the morning before the sun has risen too high or I wait until the sun goes down ... and instead of a quickie every day, I give each plant a nice, deep drink every second day.  Far more beneficial!
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