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.

Reader Comments

  • By Ian 2519 Monday, 13 February 2017

    Hi Deirdre, My sentiments exactly. I am dreaming of planting Sweetpeas as soon as the rampant cucumbers have finished their mass production. I am looking forward to planting snow peas! Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 13 February 2017

    Funny that you published this on the coolest&best night! I do not mind the hot days-the nights have been hard. Poor garden - lost a few precious things tho hoping one camellia & a stand azalea might recover. Love that begonia show-usually come away with a few new items.I will be in India with Libby Cameron and Linnie Ross doing the Nthn Indian Garden tour so will miss out on begonias & frangipanis. Definite feel of autumn this morning and I am seeing belladonnas everywhere. Yes it was crazy that the weather cooled down right after I had put this blog up at about 3 pm on Sunday afternoon. Waking up on Monday morning I felt I was in another country! Yesterday was the weather I had been dreaming of. But I know it won"t last. Enjoy that fab trip. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 Monday, 13 February 2017

    Meant to say that after a hot dry spell like that (although I do not remember one so bad) I am always surprised as what has survived.

  • By Tracey 2158 Monday, 13 February 2017

    Bring on Autumn- before it"s not just the plants carking it! Yes I definitely feel as if I cannot take much more of it! Deirdre

  • By doreen 2148 Monday, 13 February 2017

    at the weekend I watched The Secret Garden film and I sooooo wanted to get back into the garden. I hadn"t realized hoe much I missed it !! I love that film. I am so keen to get back into hands-on gardening. Deirdre

  • By Bren 2540 Monday, 13 February 2017

    I feel equally frustrated. The worst affected plants in my garden were the tree ferns. All the leaves exposed to the sun turned brown within a day. Also I will have to move the Brugmansias; they received too much direct sun which totally destroyed foliage and flowers, though the plants seem to have recovered. (My one true Datura, however, flourished). The heat has been instructive in telling us which plants are getting too much sun. I have seen a lot of burnt tree ferns in my area. Deirdre

  • By Bernard 3747 Monday, 13 February 2017

    You could all move to Beechworth-after 36 on Saturday, it was 8 degrees last night !! We had a very cool night too - the first time it has been below 20+ at night for ages! Deirdre

  • By Sue 2074 Monday, 13 February 2017

    What a lovely blog - inspiring us to the next season. I was looking at my cane begonias this morning and thinking - yes more of these - they hold up well with their lovely flowers - Irene Nuss hasn"t missed a beat. I also have moving to do and look forward to the reorganisation in autumn. Bring it on! I am more in awe than ever at the begonias - my Irene Nuss is also quite unfazed by the heat. Deirdre

  • By Ingrid 3370 Monday, 13 February 2017

    I weep for my Bourbon rose blooms which are just shrivelling in the heat. Planted last year and showing lots of buds early in season only to die a horrible death in the hot searing sun. Can"t wait for autumn cool! But my lilies bloom rampantly in shade - not all is lost. It is awful to see our plants suffer so much. At least we can get inside away from the heat - the poor old plants have to stay there and take it. Hopefully your roses will come good again once the weather does cool down for autumn. Deirdre

  • By Valerie 2121 Monday, 13 February 2017

    Thank you for expressing so eloquently what we are all going through. Can"t wait for Autumn! What with the possums, brush turkeys, rabbits, usual summer pests and now the searing heat, I"ve drastically reduced the number of plants I can comfortably sustain in the garden. So I guess its time to do more of that designer thing of pragmatic repeat planting, prioritising form and function. Yes I definitely want to repeat the stalwart plants. What a lot of challenges you have had to contend with. It certainly isn"t easy. Deirdre

  • By Norman 2653 Monday, 13 February 2017

    Brush turkeys;

  • By Nikki 7325 Tuesday, 14 February 2017

    Hi Deirdre It seems that no one has had a good year. I moved from NSW to Tassie 9 years ago when we started having summers over 40. This year while you are cooking, we are still waiting for summer to arrive. Last winter we had twice the annual rainfall, frosts in November and now strong winds are blowing plants out of the ground plus overnight temperatures of 5 degrees. No tomatoes this year! Has the world gone mad? There certainly seem to be more extremes of weather all over the place. I had heard how cool it has been in Tasmania this summer. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Tuesday, 14 February 2017

    I"ve been dreaming of autumn since the beginning of summer! The weather has been very trying. All plants were surviving well, until last Saturday, when the exposed side of two cane begonias were burnt. However, these plants are resilient and will survive. I have quite a few "nurse" plants, which protect others - the garden resembles a jungle, but will trim when it is cooler. I think Saturday was so extreme as it was 44 degrees I think here in our area and some of my plants that had been OK up till then got singed. I want to trim but I won"t do it for a few more weeks. Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2119 Tuesday, 14 February 2017

    Thanks Deirdre, very well described and my garden is exactly the same. I feel for the garden in this extreme heat and am quite exhausted rushing out early mornings and late afternoons to keep the garden alive. Very distressing to arrive home to plants looking droopy and very much in need of more water.I have one camellia that has been badly burnt, fared well against the wall for a number of years but the heat this summer has practically destroyed it. How I long for cooler days. Some of my younger camellias have suffered. I do think I need a bit more shade in my garden and am planning for this. Roll on autumn! Deirdre

  • By noeline 2081 Thursday, 16 February 2017

    thankyou for this insight into your mood about the heat, I thought I was going bonkers hiding away in my study looking out the window at my poor scorched garden .I agree I also am sick of the sheets and buckets. my multiple pots in the hanging garden of strawberries have turned up their toes in this unrelenting heat,,, to the future... I am hopeful of finding some unusual succulents to replace my other withered babies and will plan for a more resilient garden in future

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