Garden surprises

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Hydrangea aspera Villosa Group has never been as tall and floriferous as this summer

Returning home recently after eight days' holiday, I was amazed at the changes in my garden during that time. I am always desperate to walk round the whole garden when I have been away for a while, to see what has been going on. Though last week had some brilliant sunny days, there were also several heavy downpours (including one big storm) during my absence, and the extra moisture combined with a few days of sunshine has fuelled extra growth everywhere. I have heard many mutterings lately along the lines of 'plants on steroids', and that is my thought exactly when I contemplate the jungle-like growth in my garden. 'Triffids' is another word that springs to mind, something not thought of since I was in high school 40 years ago when I read the book The Day of the Triffids.

Anemone x hybrida, the Japanese windflower

I have never before seen my cane Begonia reach to the eaves of the house, for example. I saw the same phenomenon in a friend's garden yesterday. In both cases, it is the old-fashioned white cane Begonia that has headed skywards with all the rain. Other Begonia are being more restrained in height, but they are flowering as never before. Many plants are taller and lusher than usual, including Canna, Hydrangea and Japanese windflower - all ones that in their heart of hearts relish water, even though they grow quite well in drier situations. Flowering stems on the Japanese windflowers are taller than I am, and just about to open their beautiful pristine petals. Our hedges are shaggy within days of being trimmed, as are our attempts at a few topiary spheres. The lawn is almost psychedelically green, and seems to grow overnight.

Of course, the weeds are also in full flight and it's hard to know where to start to attempt to rein in all this incredible growth. I find the only way I can cope is to divide my garden up into sections on a piece of paper and concentrate on just one part at a time, ticking it off when it is done to get a sense of achievement. Otherwise, it is just too overwhelming, and I find thoughts of moving to a unit with a just a few pot plants start to seem very, very appealing.

Lycoris aurea

Other surprises I found as I wandered around my garden included flowers on my yellow and red Lycoris bulbs. These strange spidery blooms generally appear on leafless stems in late summer and autumn, but they are very unpredictable in Sydney. I had thought that with all the rain, I wouldn't get any flowers this year, as I assumed they liked hot, dry summers - but ones that haven't bloomed for years have popped up in the time that I was away. It has also been an exceptional year for the belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna) - I have never seen so many in bloom everywhere, as well as in my garden.

Abutilon are vulnerable to caterpillars at this time of year

Another surprise has been my Abutilon plants. I have long struggled against the horrid 'leaf-rolling' caterpillar that attacked my Abutilon specimens every year in summer. This year, I applied a product called Success to the leaves as soon as I noticed the first rolled-up leaves before I went away, and on my return I found that there has been no further damage by the pests. This is a harmless (to us) spray comprised of a bacteria that is lethal to caterpillars. It has to be mixed up in a spray bottle (which I normally loathe) but it is very easy to use. I am grateful to the gardeners who suggested this to me and I really feel I can recommend it to others who have the same problem. At one stage, I started to pull out my Abutilon plants because of the problem (which I now regret!).

There have been a few unpleasant surprises as well in my garden. Snails have been having a field day with all the wet weather, and have chewed through a number of plants, making lace doileys of my potted Hosta collection, for example. The excessive rain has caused some of my perennials - those that have a basal cluster of foliage - to rot off because of poor drainage and/or too much humidity around the leaves. Some fatalities have included Aquilegia specimens, some Lychnis coronaria and a few Rehmannia elata: which are all normally pretty reliable perennials in our Sydney climate. Some of my Pelargonium plants - which revel in hot, dry weather - are struggling, afflicted by fungal problems. Lack of sunlight and cool temperatures seem to have inhibited the flowering of some of my Salvia, so I am hoping that they will do better once we have a run of warmer weather.

Our gardens will continue to surprise us and teach us for as long as we garden, keeping us challenged and on our toes! This summer's lesson has been about what an abundance of water can do for our plants!