Sunday, January 29, 2012

Clean-Up Time ... My Dry Tropics Garden Journal, Week 4, 2012.

Date:  January 28, 2012.

Season:  mid-Summer and 'wet' season.

Decent rain has finally arrived, but it hasn't been the usual all-day-long wet season torrential downpours.  We've had around  230 mm or 9 inches fall in the last two weeks but most of the rain has fallen in the late afternoons or overnight, so we only really get to see the dark gloomy skies towards the end of the day, when the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos are heading home to settle in for the night.  It's lovely listening to the rain falling as we're all drifting off to sleep.

What's not lovely is the humidity level in between the showers of rain!!!  Some days it gets up to 90% or more, and it's hard work doing any sort of gardening job when it's that bad.  You feel like you've been swimming for an hour just doing a little bit of weeding ... wet all over and completely exhausted!

This poor chap got himself into difficulties trying to cool off on a very hot day.  The Kookaburras often have a dip in the pond and obviously relish the experience.  Lately however, I've been slowly cleaning up the pond, draining off the water and digging out loads of muck and goo.  This youngster decided to have a dip and unfortunately got so drenched in the little bit of mucky water left at the bottom of the pool that he couldn't fly out again.

I had to rescue the poor thing with a broom and sweep him out of the pond and onto some nearby rocks to dry off.  The little one was shaking with fright and sat there in the sunshine for quite a long time.  I'd go and check on him every ten minutes or so, but eventually he'd flown off and I was left talking to myself!

Anyway, in between working at my day job and rescuing drenched birdlife, I've been pottering around the place doing a few little jobs that really needed to be done.  We don't worry about the big jobs, like mowing the grass, because that sort of work is just downright painful in this heat and humidity!  Thankfully our mowing crew does help out a little!

The trick to surviving gardening in the summertime here is to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that over several early mornings and late afternoons.  You have to make sure you wear a hat though, as the sun is fierce even at these times, and you absolutely must cover yourself in insect repellent, otherwise you'll be carried away by the mosquitoes and flies!!!  Ah, the pleasure of gardening in the tropics during Summer!

So I've been out there indulging in these pleasures over the last two weeks and trying to get things like the weeding done!  When the summertime rains come, of course the weeds appear magically in every nook and cranny.  I know they'll all die off once the dry season arrives, but in the meantime I have to at least make the place look a little less like an overgrown mess!  It's mainly the driveway beds that need weeding though, so it's not a job that takes forever.

I've slowly been making inroads on the rocky side of the driveway, and it's almost finished.  I should have it all done next weekend.  As well as tidying up this side of the driveway, I've been adding a few more plants in the bald spots left behind after the post-cyclone clean-up last year.  It's been a slow process too as I've been trying to improve the soil in these spots just a little, and then buying just a few plants here and there as I can afford them.

The Crotons, Pentas, Brunfelsia, Plumbago and Honeysuckle I added a few weeks ago have settled in well, and I'm pleased with the new additions during this round of planting.

I've now added a Kalanchoe pumila, a Polygala, a Rhoeo 'Stripe Me Pink' and Ixora 'Twilight Glow' in with the Crotons I had struck.  As you can see, the ground dries out very quickly here during a hot sunny summer's day, so the next job will be some mulching.

I'm just so pleased to see the Cosmos sulphureus taking off on the opposite side of the driveway.

This little patch is the result of a few seeds sent to me from a fellow Queensland gardener, Africanaussie.  They seem to have happily made this spot their home and are spreading very well.

In the new rock garden established at the end of the driveway just at the end of last year, all the plants I chose for that spot continue to do well now that the Wallabies are leaving them alone.  They just need another round of feeding once the rains have been and gone.

Under the new pergola out in the Courtyard Garden, I've started some planting as well. A very kind gardener, also a fellow Queenslander, sent me a little collection of Bromeliads which I've added to the area close to the pond.  I'm not very good with identification of Bromeliad varieties unfortunately, so I have no idea of their names.

In this little patch next to the Brom in the photo above, I threw in a couple of Belladonna bulbs that have done absolutely nothing in the pots they've been growing in for two years, and I scattered some Amaranthus seeds.  The seeds came up within a day and suddenly there's new growth on the Belladonna bulbs.  I'm keen to see how they all get along now!  To the right is the newly planted Strongylodon macrobotrys or Jade Vine.

The Jade Vine started throwing out new leaves after just a few days, so it seems quite happy to be in this spot too!  I just have to provide some netting on that post to give it some support as it climbs skywards to the pergola roof.

Down the hill driveway, the ferns and the Monstera are just loving all the rain and are looking happy once again.

There is one ugly spot though, left after the neighbour's tree crashed over the fence during Cyclone Yasi last year taking out a couple of little shrubs.  It's a tough spot ... very rocky and compacted and now in full sun for most of the day.  It's also often used as a thoroughfare by the Wallabies, so whatever I put in there will have to be something they don't find delectable!  I'm thinking perhaps some Oleander shrubs.  I've been wanting to find a spot for a couple for ages now and this seems like the perfect time and place.

Another huge job that I've finally got finished is the cleaning up of the Shadehouse Garden.  It's a regular job I have to do around this time every year.  The rains bring on a sudden burst of growth from the Giant Sword Fern in the shadehouse and it tends to take over.  Every year I have to get in there and rip out huge pile of it!  I also had to trim back the hanging baskets of Dragon Wing Begonias and Impatiens walleriana.

I do so like the tidy look when I'm done!  Here's a few photos taken as I wandered through the newly tidied Shadehouse Garden this weekend, starting from the doorway that brings you in from the front yard.

Looking straight ahead, standing at the doorway.

To the left

and to the right.

Walking further into the shadehouse ...

That's my teeny weeny little collection of Orchids on the cane table.

Walking down towards the end of the shadehouse that leads out onto the alley besides the pergola area.

Now we're at the end and turning around to look back to where we came in.

That's my teeny tiny collection of Rex Begonias on the shelf to the left.

Walking a little closer ... here they are.

OK, so now we're wandering back to the screen door where we started.  Watch your head.  There's a few hanging baskets of Streptocarpus caulescens and Dragon Wing Begonia.

Oh, it's so nice to be able to wander around without struggling through huge fern fronds!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Rain! ... The Rain! ... My Favourite Summer Smell!

What a glorious day!  Yesterday was a day of rain ... finally!

Early yesterday morning, before my usual mid-weekend-morning cuppa out on the verandah,

I started to smell the rain.  

It's one of the scents I always associate with summer.

Now I know this is a difficult concept for some.  Many are familiar with the smell of rain when the raindrops start hitting the dry ground.  That earthy "after-rain smell" hits once the rain touches the hot dry earth.

We sure do get that wonderful warm earthy "after-rain smell" in those first few moments when it starts to rain, and it continues to linger after the raindrops have stopped.  However, here in the tropics there is also another, quite different scent that you can sniff in the air as rain approaches ... BEFORE the rain actually reaches your corner of the world.  It signals that rain is a-coming!  There's often no other tell-tale sign ... no thunder, no lightning ... well maybe some overcast grey skies.

Yesterday morning I woke to see dark stormy clouds getting together, attempting to create the impression that rain was not far off.  But so often, this amounts to nothing at all and I'm left wishing and hoping!  So, I didn't get my hopes up until ...

...  I began to sniff that heady, intoxicating scent that convinces you that, after a long, long dry spell, today is THE day!

I consider this pre-rain scent vastly different to that earthy after-rain smell.  Somehow it's sweeter and crisper, fresher, more invigorating and alive.

I'm aware there's something called 'petrichor', a term coined by two Aussie CSIRO researchers to describe the scent of rain as it hits the dry hot earth.  It's caused by a couple of compounds in the soil, one of which is known as geosmin ... "earth-smell".  There's a school of thought that states when a storm threatens, a few molecules of geosmin start to drift away through the air downwind, warning others that rain is on its way.  Apparently our human nose is highly attuned to this particular fragrant soil-borne compound, and we can smell a little of it from a long distance away!!!

Well, maybe it's our humidity levels ... apparently smells travel farther in areas that experience high humidity.  So perhaps it is geosmin carried on the heavily mositure-laden air from a long way off, where the rain has already hit the sizzling earth.

Whatever the cause, that pre-rain smell is wonderfully exciting when there's been no rain for quite some time.  Then the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof almost makes me want to do a little dance ... out in the rain!

Of course, all this will change it if keeps on raining for weeks and weeks and weeks!!!!!  But, for now, both the garden and I appreciated the long awaited day of rain.

I get so excited when the rain arrives after a dry spell, that I even save the experience!  Here's a little video clip taken from the front verandah as the rain fell.

(Please note:  if you want to view the video clip, you will have to scroll right down to the bottom of this blog page and stop the playlist from playing!!)

Savouring the song of summer:

A Mid-Summer's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day ... January 2012

I'm beginning my 2012 Snapshots series with this blog post for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.  Be warned.  My 'Snapshots' posts tend to be rather lengthy and photo-heavy.  A huge mug of coffee or tea might be needed!

Let's have a look at what's going on around my place in the mid-Summer month of January.

Conditions during December-January?

Well the 'wet' season has most definitely NOT arrived yet.  We've had no rain at all for quite a few weeks now.  The last recorded rainfall was back in mid-December.  This stretch of dry weather is not really typical of January, as it's supposed to be almost the middle of the 'wet' season.  Endless weeks of clear blue skies is usually a more common sight during the long 'dry'.

Of course, the one thing that is constant about the 'wet' season here is the "hit-and-miss" aspect of it.  There's always considerable difference from year to year, and really no particular set pattern at all.  Essentially our 'wet' supposedly starts around December and ends around April, and we sit around waiting to see whether it will actually turn up!

It seems like just yesterday that I was complaining about how wet one of our 'dry' seasons was. Now usually the 'dry' season is very predictable.  You can pretty much bet your life savings on just how it's going to turn out.  Lucky I didn't in 2010.  We had record rainfall during that particular 'dry' season, very atypical!

This Patrick Young quote is so applicable in my corner of the world:  The trouble with weather forecasting is that it's right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.

Some things stay the same though.  Our summer temps have not strayed much from around 33-34 deg C during the day, and 26-28 deg C at night. We've had endless clear sky days and the UV factor has remained constantly at 'extreme' since around mid-November.  Humidity levels are up around 80% most of the day.  Summers here are hot, sultry, sticky ... and they leave you feeling very listless!

I don't go out to do very many gardening jobs at present.  One thing that does take up quite some time though is the watering.  It's a regular job every day, sometimes twice a day, as I make the effort to keep the plants going, especially all the potted plants.  I don't mind that particular job though, as it gives me time to slow down and really take notice of what's around me. 

One thing I have been noticing is just how many dragonflies, butterflies and ...

... spiders suddenly appear when I'm hosing.  They pop by to drink up the water drops left lying on the plants, but they have to be quick before the fierce sun dries up everything!

Here's what else I've been noticing.

Starting with the trees around the property .... what's blooming?

The last of the Poinciana flowers are hanging on,

while the seedpods start to develop.

The Cassia fistula's blooming time is also coming to an end, and I just love the way the flowers look as they start to fade away.

I have three Lagerstroemia speciosas, or Queen's Crepe Myrtles, on this property.  Not to be confused with the more common Lagerstroemia indica or Crepe Myrtle, the Queen's Crepe Myrtle is a much larger tree.

Two of mine have started showing buds.  One in particular has a canopy full of buds ready to burst.  The other Queen Crepe Myrtle had to be trimmed back drastically because of cyclone damage last year, so I'm not really expecting it to bloom this summer.

This is a terrific summer bloomer.  The flowers of the Queen's Myrtle are a lovely lavender, have a wonderful texture and last for ages.

One of the large trees is covered in sprays of brilliant white flowers right now.  It's Citharexylum spinosa or the Fiddlewood Tree.  These flowers have the most beautiful sweet perfume which hangs on the sultry evening air and really does lift the sagging summer spirit.

Another of the lovely fragrances out in the garden at this time, is the perfume from this Plumeria's flowers.  Only one of my Plumerias is blooming right now.  The other two continue their recovery from the stress of last year's damage.

A gorgeous sight out in the bushland in the last week has been the unexpected appearance of some flowers on a couple of rather small and young Acacia trees.

That's not a common sight during our summers here.  The Wattles usually bloom during our Wintertime, so it was a wonderful surprise.

Now onto the shrubs ... what's blooming?

The dwarf Allamanda cathartica 'Sunee' is showing off in spectacular fashion out in the front yard garden bed.

It's terrific to see blooms on the young Lagerstroemia indicas or Crepe Myrtles.  They were only planted in the tiered garden beds in Spring, late 2010.  The young saplings were soundly thrashed during the cyclone in February 2011, and then really struggled through the 'dry' season last year.

I'm just loving the first pretty pink and purple blooms on these hardy things.

Of course the faithful old year-round bloomers are still strutting their stuff.

Out in the shadehouse ... what is blooming?

There aren't many blooms to be seen apart from the flowers appearing on the Dragon Wing Begonias which were trimmed back a couple of weeks ago.  They are the predominant bloom out there in the midst of all the overgrown ferns.

But if you look closely, you can spot just a couple of other things.

The Neomarica longifolia or Yellow Walking Iris are all throwing out blooms again.  There are some flowers on the two Curcumas.  Impatiens walleriana has a few blooms, and the Globba winitti or Mauve Dancing Lady has started showing its beautiful flower sprays.

Now, out in the courtyard ... what is blooming?

The courtyard is looking a little dull at the moment, due to the work that's going on out there and the fact that many of the potted plants suffered in the heat and dry conditions while I was away recently for a short holiday.  So many plants had to be trimmed back, watered very liberally, and fertilised generously.  They're not looking their best right now.  The only bright patch is the section right at the back of the courtyard where the foliage plants add some lovely colour and interest.

There are some flowers still on a few of the potted plants though.

The Crossandra infundibuliformis, the Spathoglottis plicata, the Wrightia antidysenterica, and the Portulaca are all showing some blooms.

Elsewhere ...

Well out in the tiered garden beds, there are still a few of the Hemerocallis in bloom.

Down the driveway there are some flowers to be seen ...

such as the Gerbera, the Pseudomussaenda flava, the creamy Russelia juncea, the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Roseflake', the red Russelia juncea and the purple Fountain Grass.

There you have it ... a quick round-up of the blooms I've noticed while out on my daily watering trip.

Aside from the watering of course, there are quite a few jobs that really should be done around this place ...

... jobs such as finishing the cleaning out of the pond.  It's drawing attention and comments from some of our regular garden visitors who use it as their private bath or swimming pool.  "Hey, when's this gonna be finished?  I need a bath!"

I'm getting around to these things, slowly but surely.  It's just far too hot and way too muggy to get serious about many gardening jobs right now, other than the absolute essentials.  Anyway, I'm quite happy just to stand around with the hose in hand, having a good ole gander at what's around!

I'm joining Carol for her Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day meme.  Don't miss the opportunity to go on over and view blog posts from all around the world showing what's blooming right now.

I'm also joining Gesine for her Blogger Bloom Day

(Would you believe it???  Since putting together this post earlier this week, and then scheduling it for publication on the 15th, the heavens opened on the 14th.  After going on and on about the lack of rain so far this 'wet' season, we had an entire day of rain on Saturday!!!  Not that a day of rain makes a 'wet', but it was just wonderful to hear those raindrops on the roof. )
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