Responding to rain

Sunday, 01 December 2013

Hydrangeas and other flowers from the garden of Susie Martin in Sydney

In the month of November, our garden received more than 200 mm of rain - after more than three months with basically none. My garden - and those all round Sydney - are responding superbly to the inundation we had. No matter how much we water our gardens, rainwater is so much better for plant growth than tap water - possibly due to being far more oxygenated as well as containing a different composition of other elements and minerals? Plants (including the weeds!) are growing like mad, those which were near death have been resurrected, and the garden is filling in very rapidly: almost before my very eyes.

Zephyranthes minuta

Some plants always seem to flower almost immediately after rain - the most notable example in my garden being the so-called rain lilies, Zephyranthes and their cousins the Habranthus species and cultivars. Almost the next day after the first heavy rainfall, I had a crop of dainty pink Zephyranthes minuta (syn. Z. grandiflora) that appeared from almost nowhere, as their foliage had died down during the very hot weather in October; I had feared they were dead. Pink forms of Zephyranthes candida followed, along with the pale primrose-yellow flowers of Zephyranthes citrina. More flowerings of these bulbs will occur whenever we get more rain through summer.

Murraya paniculata

Another plant that seems to have responded incredibly to the rain is Murraya paniculata. Everywhere in our neighbourhood, these ubiquitous shrubs are in full bloom, bringing a wonderful fragrance to the air. Their normal flowering is in spring and again in late summer and autumn, so this crop of flowers seems to be rain induced, a not uncommon phenomenon with this shrub.

Other plants were already flowering quite well before we had the rain but they have flourished much better since - all the Hydrangea shrubs, for example, everywhere seem to be exquisite this year with the extra moisture in the soil. The cooler weather last months has also meant that the flower-heads have not been as scorched by the sun as badly as in previous years.

Lush growth of Japanese windflower leaves in the past month

The foliage on many of my plants seems to have doubled in size since the rain, including Japanese windflowers and Canna plants, which currently look fabulous; along with my rhubarb, which has enormous leaves and stout stems, begging to be cooked. A Ligularia japonicum that I bought from the Collectors' Plant Fair in April has produced huge, glossy leaves like dinner plates, providing good foliage contrast in a border with mainly smaller foliage.

It is not only the plants that are responding positively to the rain. My own gardening enthusiasm, which was at rather a low ebb a month or so ago, has been regenerated, and my mind is full of fresh plans for the garden!

Reader Comments

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 02 December 2013

    I too noticed how great everything looked and the almost immediate appearance of pink pencil points all round the garden as the rain lilies poked through. was passing through Nabiac a week or so ago and they have gone slightly feral in the stock yards there - a grand sight. You can water all you like but there is nothing like a good rainfall. Those rain lilies must have been a gorgeous sight, Anne!

  • By Steve 2230 Monday, 02 December 2013

    Perhaps rain being "Nitrogenated" is the reason for the plants responding so well, given the relative proportions of nitrogen and oxygen in the air and the plants known requirements. :) Yes that sounds more likely! I am not too good on scientific things, though I think plants do need some oxygen don"t they?

  • By Peta 2758 Monday, 02 December 2013

    I agree with Steve that there"s nitrogen in the rain, specially because of thunderstorms and we"ve had plenty of those here in Bilpin. Fabulous to see the garden respond and the paddocks. The cattle are now turning up their noses at the expensive hay - thank goodness! Totally agree about Hydrangeas, my new obsession. One called "Prince Henry" with petals cut as if by pinking shears ,looks amazing. Let"s hope we"re back to normal summer moisture. The place must look fantastic. Your new hydrangea sounds exciting! There are so many different sorts; I love them all.

  • By therese 2119 Monday, 02 December 2013

    I join in your joy at our lush gardens in all but one thing..the Maraya bushes! These offer nothing but misery to allergy sufferers like me ....with the recent popularity of these plants my reaction to them is at its worst ever.....my hope is that they join the noxious weeds list! Sorry to all you Maraya lovers out there! Does anyone agree? Must be awful to have that reaction to them, Therese, and there are just so many out at the moment! Usually the flower flush doesn"t last too long, so you may be OK soon, I hope.

  • By Rebecka 2481 Monday, 02 December 2013

    Yes I can keep buckets of rainwater (don"t have a tank) that have been sitting there for a while and water with those for a while and even that doesn"t get the reaction from my plants that fresh rain brings. Makes me think water is like veggies - best fresh, not stored... Yes there is certainly some "magic" in fresh rain.

  • By margaret 2122 Tuesday, 03 December 2013

    I agree, the rain certainly does wonders for the garden, as it contains more nutrients than tap water and it is free! The tanks are full to overflowing. I always water my potted plants, begonias, streptocarpus, ferns, etc. with rainwater, and I find they survive winter much better with it. The rain seems to stimulate plants to flower, especially the Murraya, the perfume of which I find too strong. My "Bijou" sweetpeas are having a second flush of flowers, thanks to the rain! Thanks, Margaret. Great to have some more sweet peas! I saw an azalea in full bloom too yesterday.

  • By Chris 4034 Tuesday, 03 December 2013

    Rainfall makes such a difference to our gardens. It appears to revive the butterfly population as well. Two weeks after the rain, the garden again is attracting some beautiful butterflies. We have fluoride in our drinking water, here in Brisbane, and I often wonder how it affects the garden. This rain appears to have made most of us happier. The butterflies sound great. I have often wondered how the additives in our drinking water affect our plants.

  • By andrew 0 Tuesday, 03 December 2013

    Miami Florida USA Iam seasonally dry subtropical (USDA zone 10b- which means frost possible every winter but slight freeze happens on average every decade). i want to go organic...for fertilizing for my flowering garden...anyone have any suggestions on an affordable way to organically fertilize with a COMPLETE (with minors) organic fertilizer?

  • By Maureen 2118 Monday, 17 March 2014

    Hi Deirdre I meant to tell you that following your mention of this wonderful Secret Garden in this blog the RHS have arranged for a guest speaker, probably Karen Gray, with a presentation and plants for sale at our 28th May meeting. So looking forward to hearing all about it. Cheers Great to hear that, Maureen. It"s such a worthy cause and their plants are excellent. Deirdre

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