Dreaming of autumn

Sunday, 12 February 2017

This Fuchsia magellanica in my garden is getting too much sun and will be moved in autumn

The horrific summer continues for us all in Sydney and elsewhere. I don't think I am alone in finding it all quite scary. The rain we received last week was wonderful - but after the past few scorching days, that moisture has probably all evaporated. Apart from the fact that watering has become a reviled chore and an utter bore, what I am really finding hard is not being able to garden! Most days are just too unbearable to be outside for more than a few minutes at a time. I am suffering from gardening withdrawal symptoms. I miss wandering around my garden looking at how everything is going, seeing the day-to-day changes on favourite plants. I miss my daily salutations to plants that personify the old friends and relatives from whom I obtained the cuttings that grew into those specimens, such as my grandmother's variegated-leaf lacecap Hydrangea and a dear friend's oak-leaf Hydrangea. I miss pottering about, pulling a few weeds out here, deadheading there, squashing a caterpillar or a few aphids elsewhere. I actually feel quite detached from my garden, which I find really, really unpleasant.

Unlike many other plants in my garden, this Colocasia Black Magic is enjoying the conditions and has doubled in size

Like many other people, I am indoors on the days when I would have normally been gardening. From casual conversations with friends, I gather many a cluttered cupboard has been cleared out this summer; huge bundles of old unsorted photos finally put into albums; long overdue replies to letters and emails written; piles of tedious paperwork dealt with; whole novels read and plans for sharing them with others hatched. I've been doing a fair bit of these things too but other times have been spent simply daydreaming about autumn and all the gardening-related things I will be able do then. How I long for those crisp mornings, with a slight chill in the air. Sparkling dew on the lawns. The end of the heat and the oppressive humidity. The reversal of daylight saving so we reclaim those delicious early mornings outside once more. The time when it is perfect for gardening, with enough warmth in the soil to promote some growth before winter but without the ferocious bite to the sun that precludes new plantings in the summer months.

I am dreaming of violas and pansies

I dream of the rows of neatly packaged spring bulbs in nurseries, with their promises of brightly coloured blooms. And punnets of perky winter/spring annuals such as violas and pansies and primulas to decorate our cool gardens. Being able to take cuttings again. Going to the April Collectors Plant Fair, where I can buy a few plants to replace what has carked it in the summer of 2017. Beautiful autumnal gardens to visit in the Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands and elsewhere. And the opportunity to start that endless merry-go-round of moving plants to new positions in my own garden.

The heat of the summer has shown very starkly what plants will and won't survive in my Sydney garden, and which plants have been placed in the wrong spots. Where plants have died, in my mind I am planning what I will move into these empty spaces, mainly using divisions or cuttings of the true stalwarts already in my garden (plus whatever treasures I find at the plant fair). If this sort of heat is the 'new normal', I can have no more truck with those prima donnas that wilt dramatically at the hint of mere thought of a temperature over 30 degrees, let alone 40 degrees! I no longer feel I can run outside to cover with old sheets the plants that are burning or throw buckets of water over the ailing. It has definitely become the survival of the fittest! Some of my plants will do better if moved to shadier sites in the garden - and how I am appreciating shade far more than I ever did! I'm intending to put in a few more small trees and shrubs to provide shade for smaller plants - and for myself.

Potted cane Begonia in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

I am planning bigger clumps of the hardy, heat-hardy stalwarts for dry shaded areas, such as bromeliads, rhizomatous Begonia, Philodendron 'Xanadu' and Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star'. I'm hoping to get some more cane and shrub Begonia at the upcoming NSW Begonia Society Show. I'm making lists of what to move around and what to plant where. It all seems utterly impossible at the moment, like some unhinged delusion, but I will not give up on gardening; I will not. We just have to believe that cooler weather will eventually arrive. I will be ready for it, to-do list in hand.