Monday, February 22, 2010

An End-of-Summer Gardening Weekend in north-eastern Australia.

Our summer is almost over … thanks goodness! Now it’s time to get back into the garden. I know for most people around the globe, summer is a time to be out in the garden … not so everywhere!

Our summer began in December with horrid high temperatures and levels of humidity … so even though the days were fine, it was far too hot and too muggy to do any gardening except for watering in the early morning or evening.

Then our ‘wet’ season arrived. We had torrential downpours for a couple of weeks, followed by weeks of either heavy showers or light drizzle almost every day. In January we had over 540 mm of rain – most of that fell in the last seven days of that month – and so far in February we’ve had around 220 with the majority of that falling in the last week.

Over these last two months of summer, we’ve also had very few sunny days … mostly overcast skies. All in all, this weather is hard on the drought, heat, sun tolerant plants.

But then this weekend, the rain almost stopped and the sun came out! It was time to tidy up, cut down, trim back and survey the damage.

First of all … I checked what had survived out in the courtyard garden. I don’t have to worry about the plants growing in the garden bed under the pergola or those growing in the screening bed at the back of the courtyard … those are all well-established now and need little attention.

It’s the potted plants I was most worried about … but it seems they have come through well. All the potted annuals were well past their best day by the time the rains arrived … and had been replaced by the summertime potted plants!

My two Croton ‘Zanzibar’ and my Trachelospermum jasminoides variegatum came through brilliantly…

as did my two Plactranthus ‘Mona Lavender’, my white Jacobinia and Euphorbia hybrid ‘Diamond Frost’, my two Cordyline ‘Morning Sunshine’ and my Tabernaemontana ‘Sweet Love’. These potted lovelies stayed out all through the horrid ‘wet’ season and look how they triumphed!

Meanwhile, around the pond area, my two Calatheas, my Alocasia, my Spathiphyllum, my two New Guinea Impatiens, my Schefflera, my Alpinia caerulea, my Torenias and my Erigeron karvinskianus all came through with flying colours.

My Canna, Ixora, Wrightia ‘Arctic Snow’, Acalypha and Torenias is these pots also came through happy and reasonably healthy.

My poor old Cosmos and my Belladonnas, however, didn’t exactly come through unscathed … but I’m hoping they’ll recover.

Meanwhile the grasshoppers had a healthy luncheon munching their way through the leaves on my two Acalyphas in these pots. I’m still out there every day like a mad woman swatting the grasshoppers with my thongs … Ooops! I mean ‘flip-flops’! (Just can’t get used to calling them that!)

The grasshoppers also did their best munching their way through my two Cleomes … but they’re coming back.

My poor pelargoniums didn’t do too well … you can see the ill patients down in front of the palms. I didn’t save them in time from the torrential downpours in late January … and by the time I had them undercover, they were looking rather poorly! At least they’ve still got some leaves … they might recover if only the sun would come out for more than a few hours! I lost all my regal Pelargoniums and my Pelargonium peltatums as well.

My coleus cuttings survived … I didn’t have any room left in the greenhouse so they had to put up with the rain. They’re coming good now.

All my other potted plants are doing well as they remained undercover for the whole season.


Then after doing the rounds of the courtyard garden in the sunshine, it was time to tackle the jungle in the greenhouse garden.

Every ‘wet’ season the giant sword fern goes beserk in there … it literally takes over with it’s metre long fronds flopping over the top of every other plant. Then there is the Neomarica which sends out its arching canes all over the place.

So off I went … and no mercy was shown. It was time to cut back and see what was still surviving underneath!

The pile of sword fern and walking iris builds….

and there’s more and more piles!

Finally … there’s order once more!!!

I could now put in some potted plants for extra colour …

like a Bromeliad and Coleus …

a Calathea …

and a Costus.

All of my Rex Begonias out in the greenhouse garden came through the summer very well …

... so did my new orchids and my coleus cuttings.

Now while I was attacking the greenhouse garden, hubbie was attacking the driveway garden beds. He was removing all the dead fronds from more than twenty stands of Golden Cane Palms … as well as the overhanging branches from around fifteen Duranta Repens shrubs … and all the branches from the gums that had dropped during the windy, wet end of summer. This is the pile now waiting on our campfire site …
... a big bonfire night coming up, I think!

While hubbie was slaving away down the driveway … he had company.
There were a pair of Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos squawking away at him for most of the afternoon. I only got a shot of the female though.

Well …. that was yesterday’s effort! Today was much more fun … time to sow more seeds …

... and plant up new pots to start off the display of annuals/perennials for the Autumn-early Summer period this year.

There’s pots of Salvia splendens with Verbena, Petunias, Gomprehenas, Angelonia, Coleus and Hypoestes, Gazanias, Lobelia, Helichrysum, Portulaca, Celosia, some Pelargoniums and … my new one – vanilla marigolds. This, of course, is only the beginning … I will be adding more pots as the weeks go on.

Today I also visited a nursery … been missing the trips to the nursery … anyway I bought some more plants for my ‘white’ area in the new outdoor garden beds.

I got a creamy white Russelia (at the back),
a white Cuphea mexicana (centre left),
an Ozothamnus diosmifolius – commonly called the Rice Flower (centre right)
and a Baeckea ‘Mount Tozer’ (in the front).

I also bought some cute little hanging baskets for the lattice out in the courtyard … I’ll be adding those little pots of Pelargoniums when I know the sun will be out!

So … all in all … a great weekend. It’s simply glorious to be outside in the garden once more … now roll on Autumn and Winter!!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Malvaviscus arboreus var. mexicanus - Sleepy Hibiscus

Malvaviscus arboreus var. mexicanus is one of those old-fashioned garden plants that you just don't see all that often anymore!  I remember it so well from my childhood ... there was a beauty growing in my Grandmother's garden ... and I remember the soft tropical look of it and those amazing flowers!   We used to suck the nectar from the flowers ... and we thought it was nectar from the gods!!

Imagine my delight when I spotted one in the garden of this house when we moved in!  I hadn't seen one for so long, it was like meeting up with an old familiar friend.

It's a large shrub that can grow to 12 feet in height and in width and bears big mid-green leaves.  It never really looks very tidy ... unless you prune it into shape.  I prefer the untidy, scraggly look ... seems more natural to me.

It will grow in a lightly shaded to mostly sunny location ... mine is growing in a position that is shaded from the hot afternoon sun.  This shrub will survive drought conditions and periods of monsoonal rainfall ... so well suited to my garden.  High levels of humidity and filtered sun will produce the best display of blooms ...

and the blooms are the most fascinating thing about this plant.

Malvaviscus arboreus bears long pendulous bright red flowers mostly from early summer to mid-autumn... although mine does bear flowers sporadically throughout the rest of the year.  These flowers look like unopened hibiscus blooms.  They never quite open fully.

Malvaviscus arboreus can be referred to by a whole range of common names - Turk's Cap Hibiscus, Mexican Turk's Cap, Sleepy Hibiscus, Lipstick Hibiscus.   Actually I remember calling it the Lipstick Hibiscus as a child ... I think I prefer that common name more.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dalechampia aristolochiaefolia - Silk Crepe Flower

This is definitely the most unusual plant I've got growing in my garden.  I found it in a local nursery just last year, so mine is still a baby.  It's been quite hard to find a lot of information about it ... so I'll share the little I know.

It's from Costa Rica apparently the Euphorbiaceae (Spurge) family ... and grows well in tropical and semi-tropical climates.  It needs lots of bright sunlight ... will grow in full sun and partial shade ... likes a moderately moist soil ... and thrives in warm conditions.  Apparently once it is established, it is somewhat drought tolerant.

This Dalechampia is a fast-growing evergreen climber with green, heart-shaped leaves ...

and bright purple blooms.  It's commonly called the 'Silk Crepe Flower' because the bloom does feel like silk.

The purple part is in fact a bract. The creamy-brown bit in the middle is quite sticky ... the little red heart-shaped things are tiny flowers I think, but I'm not certain.

And then there are these cauliflower-looking things that appear after a while ... what these are I hazard to guess!

Then finally the bracts fall off, leaving the tiny heart-shaped flowers with the heart-shaped leaves in the background.

Seems like rather a perfect plant to talk about on Valentine's Day!!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lagerstroemia speciosa - Crepe Myrtle, Queen's Myrtle or Pride of India

This beautiful lady is an outstanding sight at the end of a long, hot, humid summer. 

Not to be confused with the Lagerstroemia indica which is also commonly called Crepe Myrtle, this deciduous flowering tropical tree can reach around 12 metres in height.  She is the grand old lady or the Queen, if you will, of the Crepe Myrtles!  She is grander in size and her blooms are larger.

I'm lucky enough to have two of these growing in my garden and both are now about 6 metres tall so they are going to be a wonderful sight in a few years when in full bloom.  The Lagerstroemia speciosa gets trusses of mauve blooms that appear in late summer. The five petals are ruffled, with a crepe-like texture of course like all Crepe Myrtles.

In winter the smooth rounded mid-green leaves turn a russet red before falling.  It's the closest we come to autumn colours here in the north-east of Australia.

But it is the flowers that hold all the charm of this terrific summer bloomer.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Portulaca grandiflora - Sun Jewels

It's truly a jewel of a plant for any tropics garden ... Portulaca grandiflora is a  fabulous ground cover. 

It's low growing with rather fleshy leaves and brilliantly coloured flowers.  There are so many stunning colours ranging from white ...

 through to yellow ...

 orange ...

purple, pink and apricot.

 Some plants have bi-colours.

They are happy to grow in dry and hot conditions ... they love the full sun and a well-drained soil ... and they thrive on neglect.

It's a plant that doesn't need to be coddled.  Just water them when they're a bit dry and feed them lightly even now and then.  When it gets a bit leggy and looking rather scraggly, give a trim.  On top of all this, they are easily propagated ... just break off part of the stalk that's about to flower or is not flowering and stick it in some propagating mix or even straight into the ground.  It's that easy!

All Portulacas need sun for their flowers to open. The flowers of older varieties closed up around noon. But most plants sold today have blooms that stay open all day, only closing at night and on cloudy days.

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