It’s that time of year again. The heat is dissipating from the land and I can once more work all day in the garden. Bliss. So many jobs and plans that have had to wait all summer long can now be realised. My compost has ‘cooked’ which means all new plants can be settled in with a generous dollop of ‘black gold’ to help them on their way.
Its also time once again for the Australian Native Plant Society plant sale at the Australian National Botanic Gardens (https://nativeplantscbr.com.au/ ). This event is on this Saturday the 16th March from 8.30 am in the bottom car park and IDP Nursery will have plants there as will quite a few other native plant growers. There will be over 12000 plants for sale. Last year when I arrived to help set up at 7.30 am the queues had already started so be in early.
I’m always on the look out for new plants to grow for the nursery. If they are plants which I haven’t grown before I grow them in my own garden first before deciding whether or not to add them to our sales. Although this means that it can be a bit of a time lag before they are available for sale to you it does mean that I am able to tell you in what sort of conditions to plant your new plant and how it is likely to perform. An example of this is Swainsonia galegifolia. I bought this last autumn at the ANPS sale. This fabulous plant has now overwintered and endured a very hot summer at my place and I can very definitely say that it performs very very well in our climate. It has been a cheerful flowerer through even the hottest days. We now have seed grown plants (usually pink flowers) and cutting grown, burgundy flowered, plants for sale at the nursery.
And on another note…………..I’m wondering why Acacias (otherwise known as Wattles) are not very popular at the nursery. We seem to all have a general antipathy toward them and yet they are so useful as garden plants. They come in all shapes and sizes, they have such bright cheerful, usually yellow, flowers and they grow quickly with very little fuss. They also provide a good source of pollen for bees and the seeds are popular with birds.
A couple of people I have talked to about this antipathy have mentioned that they believed that Acacias were very allergenic. Research has actually shown that pollen from acacia are rarely to blame for hay fever. Acacia pollen is heavy and tends to drop to the ground quickly. It is far more likely that allergies are caused by grass pollen which is very much lighter and far more likely to be airborne. Because the Acacias are visible and the grass pollen is not the Acacias get the blame for the hay fever. https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2015-09-23/dont-blame-the-wattle/6791396
Another cited reason for not liking Acacia is that they are short lived. This I can understand and yet there are positives about this too. Taller Acacia make really good quick growing windbreaks or quickly provide cover and micro-climate for other plants in the garden. The lower growing Acacia simply fill the garden out nice and quickly. The approximately 10 year life span can be extended by pruning each year along with control of borer. And of course once the plant has reached the end of its life it is a wonderful opportunity to plant something new.
In the nursery we currently have Acacia ulicifolia, A. dawsonii, A. beckleri, A. acinacea, and A. vestitia. Put some sunshine into your life and add an Acacia to your garden this year and………………… I hope to see you all at the ANPS plant sale on Saturday.
A week ago I was sitting in my sister's new garden in NZ listening to the Tuis, Kereru and Cicadas in the bush and wondering whether to feel jealous or not. The grass is lush and green as are the plants and the previous owners of the garden were either Australian or loved our native flora because the garden is full of Callistemon, Grevillea and Acacia on steroids. That’s what happens when the soil is beautiful
Northland loam and the rainfall is more than our natives have ever dreamed of.
But it occurred to me that no matter where you live and what your garden is used to in the way of climate and rainfall, when that changes, either for a season or for good the plants can struggle. Fire danger in her garden is high and yet with plants as green as this one cannot imagine them going up in smoke, but they do. My sister tells me that plants are dying because of lack of water but really what that amounts to is that they are dying because they are now getting less than they are used to.
Which leads me to my point and that is that we need to drought proof our gardens as much as possible whether we live in NZ or Australia, town where we have water on tap or out in the country where we rely on tank water. Our water reserves are far too precious to be pumped out on gardens that are over reliant on water. Blah blah blah, I know, I have said it before but my goodness if NZ is getting short of water we need to be worried here in Australia.
So how do we drought proof our gardens apart from putting in the hardiest of hardy native plants which I talked about in my last blog?
When you have natural loamy wonder soil like my sister has in her garden all you have to do is sink a spade into the wonderful rich fudgy ground, pop in a plant and away it goes. But I don’t have soil like that at my place and you probably don’t either. I have dust and rocks in some places and clay in others. So preparation of soil prior to planting is a must to get good, garden worthy growth from plants. I have talked about composting before and this is the best way I know to add value to the soil. Compost in soil not only allows water to penetrate deeply but also retains water very well. Compost everything you can find. The neighbours grass clippings, the local farmers sheep poo, all prunings from the garden, vegie scraps. old cotton, wool or linen garments, newspaper etc etc. Layer it up, keep it moist and spread it on and in the garden when it is ‘cooked’.
Choice of plant is the next important task. I suggest you just go for those hardiest of hardy plants. And by the way Iris said to me after I had posted the last blog that I had missed out a whole lot of other plants I could have mentioned, so just ask us if you are unsure of drought hardiness.
Plant placement in the garden is so important for plant health. Place plants that like shade in shade and those that like sun in the sun. This way they are already way ahead in the happiness stakes and will thrive more easily because they are in the right conditions. Plants that like shade may be perfectly drought hardy in the shade but put them in the sun and, if they survive at all, they will need more water for sure.
Think about how you are going to water. Do not buy a plant which says it likes extra water for good growth and then plant it in a place where you cannot easily water it. I have an envirocycle. This is all the waste water from the house, yes all of it, treated and then pumped back onto the garden. If I want plants which require a little more water than comes from the sky this is where they are planted. If you don’t have an envirocycle, group your more thirsty plants and put in irrigation for that area of the garden or don’t buy thirsty plants. One or the other.
For those plants which are not going to be given extra watering the trick is to water deeply for the first couple of years so that the plants roots grow deeply and can source their own water in dry times. I have seen so many plants die recently because they have been watered with spray irrigation. Their roots grow up to the surface to take advantage of surface water, the sun and wind then comes along and scorches their roots and they shrivel up and die really quickly.
Mulch to keep that water from being sucked back out of the soil by the sun and wind. 10cm of a good chunky mulch such as tan bark will mean that any water which does come from the sky can penetrate through and water from irrigation systems is not wasted through evaporation. Fine mulches, whilst keeping water in the soil well, compact down too easily and keep water out when it does rain.
That’s it. Simple. Get those things right and you will grow a garden for sure. It wont be dense and lush like my sisters garden but it will be a fine Australian garden full of gorgeous plants and beautiful birds.
My sister's garden.
Philotheca myoporoides and Philotheca ‘Bournda Beauty’, both in full sun in my garden and so so hardy are next on the list. My Philotheca myoporoides is 3 years old and about a meter tall. Not the slightest bit phased by the heat or dry. The ‘Bournda Beauty’, just a couple of months old, is 20cm high and also showed no signs of stress. What troopers.
Correa Candy pink, now a year and half old and at full height of around 0.75m, didn’t once ask for more water. It was as fresh as a daisy throughout the heat and just glancing at it gave me hope for my garden.
Dodonaea sp. Low has lovely deep green shiny leaves. My main plant is a well established plant at 1 ½ years. Its leaves stayed deep green and shiny. I have 4 new plants which I planted right in the middle of that crazy hot dry weather and they not only survived they grew like crazy. Admittedly they were getting additional water but they had just been planted from 70mm tubes when the heat hit.
As I walk around my garden now and count up all the plants which simply continued performing come what may there were actually a lot of them. Add to the above Rhagodia spinescens, Carpobrotus glaucescens, Brachyscome multifida, Dianella (several species), Swainsonia galegifolia, Grevillea curviloba, Crowea exalata, Hakea (several species) Lotus australis, Westringia longifolia (grew like crazy) Westringia Zena and Westringia ‘Smokie’, Hardenbergia violacea, Indigofera australis, and Calothamnus quadrifidus.
I wonder what you would add to this list……………what performed exceptionally well this summer in your garden? We are always happy to hear your stories.
In the mean time I hope you are getting ready for Autumn planting, preparing to fill the empty spots, make new garden beds or replace plants which didn’t perform well this year. At IDP nursery we have already submitted our list of plants to the ANPS for the Autumn sale at the Botanic Gardens and I am excited because I get to go shopping again soon.
In my garden three years ago there was Agapanthus, Nandina, Elms and seedling Elms (hundreds of them), a Daphne on the north side of the house and a huge Mulberry tree which lost all its leaves in the first summer after we arrived. Then there was more Agapanthus. There were few native birds.
The previous owners told me that nothing grows well in Murrumbateman apart from Agapanthus. Sad. But you can, you really can have a successful garden in our harsh climate and you can do it without emptying the underground water aquifers onto your plants. Not only that you can have a nice garden relatively quickly if you are willing to put in the ground work.
So how can you have success in the garden with natives? Here are the methods I used.
Choose the right natives; frost hardy, drought hardy, heat hardy. Some which will grow fast to create micro climate. Remember that many of our natives, if chosen correctly, have unique coping mechanisms for our particular climate. You can chose colour, texture, leaves, and plants for flowers, there is so much variety.
Choose the right site for each plant. The Daphne (not a native of course) in my garden was planted in full sun. It loves shade and would have given me many more flowers with glorious fragrance had it been planted on the south side of my garden. Other plants will not flower or do well unless planted in the sun.
Do the ground work. Sure natives grow naturally in our area but most often we want a lusher look than can be found in the bush so adding compost and/or improving the soil in other ways prior to planting makes sense.
Build saucers around plants to direct water into the root zone for those first couple of summers and/ or put in a simple irrigation system so that you can water strategically without spending all day at it. Don’t water lightly and often, water deeply so that roots grow deeply, well away from the surface of the soil. This way they are better equipped to keep their roots moist when the soil surface is dry or hot. If you are watering by hand use a bucket or watering can so you know for sure how much each plant has had.
At IDP Nursery we have the know how to help you have success in your garden. We can tell you how to expect your plant to perform. We can help you understand how best to irrigate your plants. And after three years you can have a garden that is starting to look special like mine.