Saturday, April 30, 2011

Our 'Dry' Season Has Begun ... My Downunder Dry Tropics Garden Journal ... Week 17, 2011.

Date:   April 30, 2011

Season: mid-Autumn and beginning of the 'dry' season

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

There's been very little rainfall for three weeks or so now which seems to be a sure sign that our 'dry' season has begun.  Typically, we will not receive much, if any, rainfall now until around mid-December ... hence the name 'dry tropics'.  Of course, 2010 was a bit of an exception to the rule around here ... it was one of the wettest 'dry' seasons we've had!  So it will be interesting to see how this year unfolds.  At the moment, though, we're experiencing those familiar clear sunny days.

So after the garden was pelted and pummelled during the last few months of the 'wet' season, it will be parched and thirsty for months and months to come.  This is the time of year when the outdoor garden beds have to tough it out ... many of the shrubs and trees are still in recovery mode after the cyclone, so without rain they will take ages to flourish once more.

Here's my beloved white Bauhinia variegata.  It's now got significant amounts of re-growth but with the 'dry', I don't think it will get all that much bigger in the coming months.

Lagerstroemia speciosa or Queen's Myrtle has continued to recover very well.  It will be interesting to see if all this new foliage growth will in fact start turning into the familiar reds and oranges for our winter.  This is my only tree that I could possibly say gets autumn colours ... except they usually appear in the winter. 

It will also be very interesting to see if my Plumerias will do their deciduous thing this coming Winter as well.  Considering Winter officially begins in June, and these Frangipanis are still trying their best to put on new growth ... will all the leaves fall?

The two Corymbia torellianas or Cadaghi Gums have come back beautifully after having most of their foliage stripped away.  It's nice having some tree canopy back once again in this spot on the property.

The Hibiscus rosa-sinensis that grows underneath the Cadaghis has come back quickly and is showing a bloom or two here and there.

The same is true for the Malvaviscus arboreus or the Sleepy Hibiscus.  It's already recovered and those wonderful flowers and buds are peeping out in between the leaves.

With Cyclone Yasi's destructive winds causing the almost total removal of the tree canopy down the driveway on our property, the driveway garden beds had became almost overrun with weeds.  Finally, with the arrival of dry weather over the last couple of weeks, I've been able to get out there and do the much needed weeding of both sides of the driveway.  It's looking far tidier now.  

I was accompanied by hordes of lovely little red dragonflies the whole time.

It was amazing just how much was removed ... we thought we had done with having to use the fire pit to burn off garden debris and rubbish.  But no, I have managed to add another little pile to the fire pit after my efforts yesterday and today.

As well as removing huge amounts of weeds, I did a bit of trimming on some plants that were not included in the post-cyclone clean-up.  Mainly a Croton, the Pseuderanthemum, the Ming Aralia and the Graptophyllum.  They were all looking decidedly leggy and scraggly.

I found a couple of Philodendrons that I'd thought I'd lost.  Obviously they loved the long 'wet' season and had come back in some what were once hidden spots, but not hidden now after the weeding effort.

I also finally removed most of the horrid pile of Pedilanthus tithymaloides 'variegata' - the Slipper Plant - which had taken over one section of the long driveway bed and was looking absolutely terrible.  I pulled out most of it by the root ... moved one tiny little piece back towards the fence ... and dug over the spot where it had been growing.   

I'm looking to plant more Crotons and Pseuderanthemum in that section.  However, there will be no planting happening just yet.  Along with the new section added to the driveway garden bed closest to our car shed, the spots that need planting up will have to wait until the 'dry' season is over.  It's no use trying to start plant at this time of year here in the dry tropics ... it would add extra cost to our water bill trying to keep them alive over the next nine months or so when we receive little or no rainfall! 

In the meantime though, I have quite a few Croton cuttings that have taken off and need re-potting and lots of feeding so they're ready for planting during our rainy season.  I will also be on the lookout for some groundcover for both these spots.  Perhaps some native Viola for the shaded sections ... will think about the sunny sections.

In other spots around the property, it's lovely to see the Acacias are starting to bloom once more.

This is Acacia mangium showing its' lemony-yellow rod-like flower heads ...

... and Acacia auriculiformis beginning its' wonderful display.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wandering Time ... A Tuesday Tropical Garden Tour.

Autumn through to early Spring is the best time of the gardening year for this north Aussie gardener.  That's the time when many of the garden areas are looking pretty darn good. This year, however, is slightly different.  The prolonged 'wet' season and the unwelcome arrival of a cyclone means things have not gone exactly to plan.

My favourite spot ... the Courtyard Garden ... is usually full of terrific potted annuals by now, providing splashes of colour in almost every corner.  Potting up my annuals seedlings has been delayed this year ... thanks to the prolonged 'wet'.  Many of the existing plants have been craving sunshine which was rather rare in the early part of the year.  As a result, many of the year-round flowering plants are not exactly looking their best right now.

Out in the Shadehouse Garden, despite the recent clean-up and trim back, the ferns have starting taking over once again with the relentless rain that continued last month.  Some of the hanging plants really need a trim back once again as well.  It's not exactly as neat and tidy as I'd like.

Regardless, I've taken a quick wander around these garden spots, avoiding all the other areas that were stripped and damaged by the destructive winds, to record just how things are this mid-Autumn.

This is amateur video making, warts and all stuff.  It's just me wandering around making observations about what's happening ... there's no script ... there are noisy birds in the background and you'll probably hear the corrugated iron roof popping as it expands and contracts as the sun becomes more intense.  The zoom on my camera is also rather noisy, but that's just how it is.  This is more for my own record keeping than anything else, as I use these recordings to really sit down and pay close attention to what needs to be done.

So, starting with a front garden bed and wandering through the shadehouse ...

... then moving out onto the courtyard.

I've already made a couple of decisions immediately following these wanders ...
... the beautiful perfume emanating from that white Ginger needs to be part of my shadehouse environment
... there needs to be a drift of that hardy purple Salvia farinacea in the tiered garden bed
... the hanging plants in wire baskets out in the shadehouse all need to have the coir lining replaced and potted up with new compost and water saving crystals
... it's definitely time to pot up the annuals for the courtyard
... the Blechnum gibbums need to be moved to a more shaded spot in the courtyard
... and I need to move more of my Cordylines out next to those Golden Cane Palms in the courtyard.

Are there any other gardeners out there who've got videos to share?  I'd love to take a guided tour of others' gardens ... listening to the gardener's observations and thoughts.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Snapshots of mid-Autumn ... April 2011 ... It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Continuing with my Snapshots series, highlighting each mid-season here in north-eastern Australia.

Conditions during April?

On the very first day of this month we received heavy rainfall and the rain continued to fall for the rest of that week.  We received about 86 mm (almost 4 ins) in those five days.  So it looked like the 'wet' season was going to continue for another month.  Then, finally, the skies cleared and we began to see the familiar bright sunny blue-sky Autumn days.  There has not been a drop of rain since!  It sure looks like our interminably long 'wet' is over for this year.  The heavens dropped close to 1300 mm (50 ins) for the period January to April ... a record for us!

But now it's time to get ready for our 'dry'.  This usually lasts until December ... although 2010 was an exception.  Our 'dry' is characterized by low rainfall, slightly cooler temperatures and clear skies.  Our daytime temperatures have dropped just below 30 deg C and the nights have been a little cooler, hovering in the low 20s.  This is the start of our best time for gardening here.

Now, as those who read my blog will know, we were hit with not only a long and intense 'wet' season over the last four months, but we also experienced Cyclone Yasi, rated as a Category 5 cyclone ... the highest rating possible.

So my garden this mid-Autumn is still very much in recovery mode.  There will be some changes from my last mid-Autumn snapshot post.

Starting with the trees around the property .... what is flowering?

After Cyclone Yasi cut a sway through here a couple of months back, most of the trees had their leaves stripped away, their branches were torn off and they suffered considerable damage.  It's taking time for them to recover.

One thing that is noticeably different to this time last year, is the lack of blooms on the Acacia trees growing in and around our property.  Most of them were also stripped during the cyclone of course, and I can only find one in bloom out in the surrounding bushland at the moment.

... but none of the Acacias growing on our property are flowering.  They are, however, covered in new leaf growth.

Both the Citharexylum spinosaum or Fiddlewood tree and the Tabebuia heterophylla are recovering from cyclone damage and are only showing the occasional spray of flowers on their broken branches.

Neither of my Lagerstroemia speciosas are flowering as yet.  The one that was significantly damaged by the cyclone is breaking out with new growth though.

Next, out in the Courtyard Garden ... what is in bloom?

The potted Cleome spinosa 'Senorita Rosalita' continues to flower profusely.  The potted Azaleas are throwing up the occasional flower, while the Curcuma australasica 'Anita' is dying down.  I rather like the colours on its' flower spike as it dies off ... it reminds me of dying Hydrangeas blooms from other parts of the world.

While one Curcuma is starting to die down, another is starting to bloom again.

Here it is on the left of the photo ... Curcuma 'Voodoo Magic' is starting to open up.  Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' is flowering again and there are blooms appearing on the Streptocarpus caulescens.

The Crossandra infundibuliformis, shown in the centre of the photo, looks lovely even when the petals on some of the flowers start to fade and start to turn pale orange.

There are a few splashes of white out in the courtyard right now ... Angelonia angustifolia, Tabernaemontana corymbosa 'Sweet Love', Begonia semperflorens and Wrightia antidysenterica 'Arctic Snow'.

My potted Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' is really showing off.  I only have one left after the long 'wet' season, but I have every intention of getting a couple more as they really do add such brilliant colour out in the courtyard during the Autumn through to Spring.

There are no pots of annuals scattered around the courtyard yet, but as I now have a week's end-of-term break, they won't be far off!


Now, which shrubs around the property are flowering?

Cyclone Yasi damaged every single Duranta repens shrub on the property and usually quite a few of them are covered in flowers at this time of year.  Right now they are all still stumps throwing up new bright green growth and it will be quite a while before we see any flowers.

So I had to look elsewhere for flowering shrubs.

Starting at the top:  Ixora coccinea, Hibiscus schizopetalus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Ixora 'Raywards Pink' and, in the middle, Mussaenda philippica 'Aurore'.  All such commonly used subjects for photos of my garden.


My ever reliable Pentas lanceolata are all in bloom.

Salvia madrensis spires are looking quite majestic.

Turnera subulata and Allamanda cathartica 'Sunee' are adding bright golden splashes in the garden.

There was an unexpected show of blooms on this shrub that has been growing in our driveway garden bed for years and years without any sign of flowers.  Obviously it has enjoyed the removal of the overhanging tree canopy ... courtesy of Cyclone Yasi ... and the drenching from the monsoonal rain season.

This is Pseuderanthemum carruthersii syn. Pseuderanthemum atropurpureum.

Then I stumbled upon this ... 

as I was strolling past my Phyllanthus myrtifolius or Water Fall Plant.  
It's the first time I've ever noticed these lovely dangling red flowers on the Phyllanthus.  Have they been there before and I've just walked by without noticing?  Or is this the first time they've flowered as a result of the long extended heavy 'wet' season we've just had?  

Well, whatever the explanation might be, these arching shrubs are putting on a display that’s only noticeable when you get up close and personal. I find these tiny flowers quite pretty and I’m hoping they’ll come again soon.

Here and there in the garden beds ...

There's Neomarica longifolia or the Yellow Walking Iris.

There's my old, old red Gerbera.

 There's my new Iris domestica or Leopard lily.

It's lovely to see to Hibiscus schizopetalus hanging over the hillside driveway once again ...

... and to spot the flowers returning on my oldest Hibiscus rosa-sinensis as it recovers from the drastic post-cyclone trim back.  I love the way the petals on these flowers start becoming spotty and streaky as they wilt and die.

Last of all, what is blooming in the Shadehouse Garden?

Coleus flowers, Impatiens walleriana and Rex Begonia in bud.

Thunbergia erecta, Dendrobium bigibbum, my long flowering Globba winitii, more of my Streptocarpus caulescens or Nodding Violet and my white New Guinea Impatiens.

Our 'dry' season is now about to begin as our weather fines up and cools down slightly.  This is the time of the year when I get out into the garden any spare moment I can find.  Roll on Autumn's end, our Winter and then our early Spring.

I'm joining Carol's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day meme

Tootsie's Fertilizer / Flaunt Your Flowers Friday  meme,
and the Today's Flowers meme.

 Please pop over and join in the fun at these wonderful blogs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Begonia rex-cultorum ... Rex Begonias

I have a small collection of Rex Begonias, commonly known as the Painted Leaf Begonia, and they hold a special place in this gardener's heart.  I have my little potted collection sitting on a shelf just outside one of my kitchen windows.  This shelf is part of the Shadehouse Garden which runs down that side of my house and they simply love this spot.  I love that I see them every time I walk into my kitchen and they really are a wonderful sight!

They have the most fabulous showy foliage and this is what attracted me to these plants from the beginning ...

but I also adore their pretty little pink flowers.  Now admittedly the flowers do get rather lost amongst the myriad of colours and patterns in the leaves of the Rex, but they do deserve some recognition for their beauty as well.

I know these plants have a reputation in many parts of the world as being high maintenance and difficult to grow.  In my part of the world ... the northern tropics of Australia ... I find them to be a plant that's easy to maintain.  Of course, the reason my Rexs thrive so beautifully in their spot out in the Shadehouse Garden is because the conditions there suit them to a tee!

Whilst the Shadehouse is outdoors and open to the elements, only being covered with shadecloth, the Rexs are protected from heavy rain as they are located on a shelf that sits under the eaves of the house.

It's important to protect Rex Begonias from our 'wet' season as they really don't thrive in wet conditions.  Over-watering is their number one killer.  I always allow the soil to dry out in between watering.

Like most Begonias, they store moisture in their stems and are rather succulent-like in that regard, so they are terrific water-wise plants and can survive extended dry periods.  This is feature that makes them a perfect addition to my dry tropics garden.

Rex Begonias love humidity ... and we have that in abundant supply all year round here in the tropics.  Humidity levels rarely ever drop below 50% here ... and there are days when it hits 100%.  The Rexs love it! 

They are best kept in bright light, but not full sun.  The shadecloth that covers the Shadehouse garden offers protection from the harsh direct tropical sunshine by diffusing the light and blocking out 70% of the tropical sun's harmful UV rays.  The Rexs enjoy these dappled light conditions.

Apologies I do not know any of the cultivar names for my Rex Begonias.  I bought all mine from nurseries around here and they were simply labelled as 'Rex Begonias'!  Since the nurseries here in my corner of Oz are not exactly stocked to the rafters with Rexs, my collection remains quite small but I'm forever on the lookout for other hybrids.

Here in the tropics, the Rex Begonias are evergreen plants, so I can enjoy their beauty all year round.

Have a look at loads of other beautiful flowers at the Today's Flowers meme.
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