Sunday, March 27, 2011

Back To The Usual Jobs and The Start Of A New One ... My Downunder Dry Tropics Garden Journal - Week 12, 2011

Date:  March 26, 2011

Season:  first month of Autumn and the last month of the 'wet' season

(Gardening Zone:  'Dry Tropics' area located in the northern Tropical Zone/Australia ... comparable to the U.S. Zone 11)

The dreary Autumn conditions have continued.  It's been dark, gloomy and dismal here most days.

The sun only gets the occasional look in!

The upside though, is that when there's grey cloud-cover, it feels slightly cooler and, of course, there's a break from the intense sunshine.  The rain seems to be abating as well now, so we can spend all day outside without running for cover every couple of hours.  
So, given that the arduous task of cleaning up after the cyclone is now over, it was time to get back to our usual gardening tasks and enjoy the company of the butterflies and dragonflies.

As the ground has dried out somewhat my other half did the mowing and whipper-snipping ... and that's a full weekend's job at our place.  So the whole place is starting to look like itself once more.  I, on the other hand, was able to get out into the Shadehouse and Courtyard Garden areas.  These had been rather neglected of late, but with the break in the heat and the rain I've had a chance to do something worthwhile.  It was so enjoyable to be back doing the more typical gardening jobs.

Out in the Shadehouse, it was time for yet another tidy up.  Our 'wet' season provides perfect conditions for Nephrolepis biserrata, the Giant Sword Fern, to go beserk in there and it takes over quickly.  Can you see it climbing over the top of the other plants?  I had ripped out a trailer load of it early in the year and this weekend I think I pulled out a couple more wheelbarrow loads worth.  I do love this monster fern though, as it helps create the lush tropical environment close to our house.

So many of the plants out in the shadehouse have come through the 'wet' and the summer very well with only a few exceptions, which is fabulous when compared to so many other areas on the property.  There has been some damage from the hungry grasshopper hordes ... always a problem during our summers.  They seem to love the Cordylines and the Stromanthe in the shadehouse.

The major casualty though appears to be the potted Coleus that were scattered in amongst the plants.  Most have withered and died during the endless weeks of rain.  There was only one healthy specimen left ... as seen in the photo below.  Still, there are plenty of cuttings that can take their place.  Coleus are one of the easiest plants to strike, so I always have plenty in little seedling pots.

It was a pleasure to stand back at the end of the morning clean-up and take a look around the lush environment of the shadehouse.   I think I was singing!  Here's a little of what I saw ....

 Inky Fingers Coleus and Nephrolepsis

 Dracaena marginata

 Costus productus

Rex Begonias

 Costus or Sprial Gingers


It was also lovely to be able to stroll down the pathway once again ... it's far too dangerous out there during the relentless wet weather.  I slip and slide all over the place and have had quite a few falls, so it's almost become a no-go zone during our 'wet' season.  Anyway, finally I'm now able to see into all corners of the Shadehouse Garden.

Out in the Courtyard Garden it was time to fertilise.  The torrential rainfall really does leach the soil in the pots and it's great to have a break in the rain to be able to give the survivors some much needed sustenance.

There's still plenty of room for all the potted annuals, but I haven't had a chance to pot up the seedlings yet ... I found another job to do!

The cyclone damage and resulting clean-up have left quite a few ugly spots around the place ... and there's one particular spot that's really been irking me no end.  It's at the end of our driveway right next to our carshed.  There was a huge Bauhinia tree in this spot previously and now that it's been reduced to a stump the whole area was looking so bare.

So, not being blessed with a bottomless pit of spare cash, I have to make do with what's already available at my place.   I spent an entire morning putting in a rock edge to this space ... there are rocks aplenty around here!  

I didn't take any before shots, but take it from me it looked bad!

Here's the spot now with all the rocks in place ... you can see the Bauhinia stump (just in front of the gate panel). showing signs of re-growth.

Now I've got the start of another little garden bed ... an opportunity I wasn't expecting.

It needs plant, of course, and they will have to be quite hardy as this is one spot that's going to be a challenge for plants.  It's in full sun, doesn't have any watering system in place, and we're about to start our long 'dry' season, so I need waterwise choices.  At the moment there's a Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Roseflake', an Acalypha wilkesiana and a skinny little Graptophyllum in the bed.  The white Bauhinia is sitting outside the bed.

Some plants I already have:

two Galphimia glaucas or Gold Shower shrubs which have red stems and golden yellow flowers all year round,

a Turnera ulmifolia which also has yellow blooms that last all year

and two Cuphea hyssopifolias which are also non-stop bloomers with their lovely little purple flowers.

So there's the start of the planting.  I've put out the pots to see what they would look like ... and to choose positions for them.  In the end I just clustered them all together.  Of course, the bed needs more work before I can plant them but I'll leave them there to get acclimatised.

I would really love something else that would add that 'punch' of colour.  On the other side of the driveway there's a shrub that's been hiding away ever since we moved in here over ten years ago now.  It was growing under the canopy of some trees and always looked rather scraggley and not all that interesting.    Well ... ever since the canopy was damaged and then removed after Cyclone Yasi, this shrub has suddenly bloomed.

It's still scraggley ... definitely needs a trim ... but take a look at these gorgeous flowers and wonderful foliage.

I think it would look fantastic in amongst all the green and yellow in the new garden bed.  I'm pretty sure it's a variety of Graptophyllum ... and I would appreciate it greatly if someone recognises it and could give me its' varietal name.  I have taken cuttings from this one, but would really love to get mature plants to add to the bed sooner than it will take for the cuttings to flourish ...  Can anyone help?

I was also thinking of adding a couple of these beauties as well ....

... Turnera subulata.  I would dearly love to have more of these around my place.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Today's Flower ... Pentas lanceolata.

I just couldn't do without Pentas in my garden.  I've had at least one shrub in every garden I've had the joy to tend.  They are, without a doubt, THE most reliable, fuss-free, sun and heat hardy, great looking shrubs for any tropical garden.

I have quite a few varieties and I'm afraid I don't know the cultivar names for any of them!  Many were pass-alongs and those I bought as little plug seedlings were not labelled with anything other than 'Pentas'. 

These fabulous little evergreen shrubs will grow to around a metre in height and here in the northern tropical areas of Australia, they flower reliably all year round.

The flowers are star-shaped and bloom in little bunches all over the plant.  In fact, one of their common names is the Star Cluster plant.

Despite being known as 'Pentas', which implies that the flowers have five petals, you will notice that there are six-petalled blooms occasionally thrown into the mix.  

They come in the most amazing array of colours ... pinks, lavender, purple, white, red.  I have quite a few different colours and I'm always on the lookout for newer varieties.

 The red Pentas I have also has terrific variegated leaves which are a great contrast to the rich colour.

I like mixing colours that are not considered great combinations ... the results are quite lovely sometimes.

My favourite combination of Pentas colours, however, is definitely the stark white and the deep red.  They are a perfect match.

For other terrific flower posts, please go and visit Today's Flowers

Monday, March 14, 2011

Garden In Recovery ... My Downunder Dry Tropics Garden Journal - Week 10, 2011

Date:  March 13, 2011

Season:  beginning of Autumn and end of 'wet' season

(Gardening Zone: 'Dry Tropics' area located within Tropical Zone/Australia ... comparable to U.S. Zone 11)

The post-cyclone clean-up is finally over ... thanks to the hard work of my other half who has put in a marathon effort!  The broken trees and shrubs have been trimmed to within an inch of their lives

... the last of the debris has been cleared away and piled dizzingly high onto our firepit

... and all rotting plants have been ripped out without prejudice!

There are many spots that look downright terrible ... but at least the mess is all gone.

Thankfully, there are now signs of recovery in our dismal pathetic looking excuse for a garden ... and it's an absolute joy to see evidence of re-growth.

In the photo above, on the left hand side, you can see the split stump of my Bauhinia variegata.  The tree had been around 4 metres high, but had split right down the middle during cyclone Yasi.  Well, here it is now.

My white Bauhinia variegata seems to have risen from the dead, as can be seen in the photo above.  We didn't even attempt to bind the two halves of the broken trunk as it was simply too wide and wouldn't budge!  I was not expecting the tree to recover at all ... having been split in two ... but look what happens when you're not expecting it!

Now I'm not sure it's a great option to let the tree re-grow as I'm worried about the wound left behind and the impact this will have on its' health.  But it is one of my favourite trees and it's certainly making a valiant effort to come back, so I've decided to just wait and see.

The poor Plumeria obtusa that had been snapped in two by a falling 20-foot Tabebuia from our neighbour's yard has also suddenly sprung back to life.  Hopefully it will return to its' former glory and be in flower again in a couple of years.

The other two Plumerias luckily escaped the wrath of the falling Tab and only had a few branches snapped off by the cyclonic winds.  There's new growth around most of the trimmed branches now.

Almost all the 15 stands of Duranta repens shrubs down our gravel driveway, except for one, are now all showing bright green re-growth and should make a full recovery quite quickly.

The Courtyard Garden is still looking rather bare, but the potted plants that did come through the horrid Summer are looking a whole lot better.

The rainy overcast days have continued so the plants are not madly flourishing just yet ... but I'm sure they will last until we get those fabulous sunny days we're so used to having during our Autumn.

The raised garden bed at the back of this Courtyard Garden had a severe trimming back and has not recovered yet.  To me it just seems too bare and drab, so I can't wait until the Ixora and Acalyphas fill out once more.

This is the section at the other end of the Courtyard Garden and again, it's looking horribly bare.  There was an enormous Aralia which blocked out the view of our carshed roof but it was completely knocked over by Yasi's winds and is now a short little stump of a thing.  There are signs of re-growth but it will take a while to reach its' former height ... and I'm not all that pleased with the view we have now!!!!

One thing I am rather pleased about though is the great excuse I now have to visit some of our nurseries.  So many of the potted plants around the courtyard didn't make it ... and I just have to replace them so I can brighten up this dreary courtyard!  I'm going to have such fun next weekend!

My oldest Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, the old-fashioned red flowering tropical variety, suffered an undignified trim back as it was covered in broken branches after the cyclone.  It was cut back by two-thirds, but there's a profusion of young branches already reaching for the sky and it's produced one huge gorgeous bloom on one of these brand new branches.  Great to see!

The Ficus benjamina is also recovering, as is evidenced in the photo above, and will be looking terrific in no time at all.

In the centre of the photo above is the recovering Lagerstroemia speciosa or Queen's Myrtle sprouting once more from its' trimmed back branches.  It had to be cut back by two-thirds as well.

The new fronds of the Giant Sword Ferns are starting to pop up in amongst the debris of the flattened older ferns and old broken tree stumps.

There's gorgeous new ruby red leaves on one of the Graptophyllums along the gravel driveway.

Despite missing its' top and most of the leaves on the upper branches, the Citharexylum spinosum or Fiddlewood has a few sprays of white flowers again.

Even the Cassia fistula is trying hard to cheer me up by showing a glorious raceme of golden yellow flowers.

The Tabebuia heterophylla has joined in the recovery effort too and is now showing a few dainty pink flowers here and there amongst the broken branches.

What really took my breath away though was the sight of these two stunning blooms.  My Bletilla striata, on the right, has suddenly bloomed for the first time ... and beside it is this other gorgeous thing, pictured on the left.  I'm not sure what it is, as it was a pass-along plant given to me without any label or tag.  Both these beauties are showing off in the outdoor garden bed that's been almost constantly flooded by rivers of water flowing down the hillside right over the top of them.  What absolute troopers they are!   

Another lovely surprise was waiting for me in the Shadehouse.  I have started cleaning up in there in between showers of rain as the plants have really taken off during the 'wet' season.  Last year I had played around with bulbs for the first time ever ... some may remember my Out In The Twilight Zone post all about the great bulb experiment of 2010.

Well, after a poor showing of blooms from all the bulbs I planted back then, I never really expected to see anything of them ever again.  The pots have been sitting on a shelf out in the Shadehouse Garden, neglected and almost forgotten.  That  was until I cleaned up just last week!  Some of the bulbs have sprouted again ... my jaw dropped .. it's a wonder the clunk wasn't heard world-wide!  What a huge shock it was to see these spikes breaking through the soil.  I can't wait to see what happens this time around.

So, as Autumn begins, and the 'dry' season approaches there are several damaged plants on the road to recovery.  It will be interesting to see how they get through our 'dry' and whether the recovery will be as speedy once the rains have stopped.   I'll have to play the waiting game now.

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