Goodbye 2018

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Burnt Hydrangea heads in a hot summer

As the year draws to a close, I have been reflecting on what I have been doing in my garden over the past 12 months. A major preoccupation has been how to deal with apparent changes in weather patterns in my region, particularly long periods of dryness and extended heatwaves (such as the one we are currently experiencing in Sydney!), now seemingly occurring any time from late spring until early autumn. My gardening practices have changed to try and cope with these difficult challenges. I no longer plant new specimens at any time other than autumn and winter, nor do I try to strike cuttings in other seasons than those, as I find it too hard to nurture new plants when it is hot and dry.

My new compost bays

I have started to use a soil-wetting agent on all my garden beds to help them keep moisture in, with success. I've also started an ongoing process of blanketing my garden beds with a rough, half-decomposed material made of all our shredded prunings and grass clippings, which have been mixed with cow manure and allowed to break down in my new compost bays for a little while. This substance helps reduce evaporation of water from the soil, stabilises soil temperature, and helps to smother weeds. As it breaks down into humus, I am hoping this will also help hold more moisture in the soil itself and provide a trickle of nutrients for the plants and soil life.

I have been trying to avoid using nasty chemicals in my garden this year, as these can be problematic to bees and other helpful insects, as well as to ourselves. I now use only horticultural oil to smother bugs like the bronze orange beetle and aphids, and the biological control Success to battle caterpillars. For weeds, I want nothing more to do with Round Up, which this year was declared a potential human carcinogen. For weeds in paving and paths, I pour boiling water on them to rein them in. In garden beds, I dig up the weeds, using a long-bladed tool. I am also starting to use an organic-based weedkiller based on pine oils for very recalcitrant weeds.

Pentas lanceolata is a superb long bloomer and a tough shrub

I didn't buy a lot of new plants in 2018! The plants I have acquired from nurseries and friends have tended to be variations on plants I already have in my garden - I find myself now more and more wanting to grow tougher, stalwart plants that don't need a lot of cosseting and extra care. They have to be able to cope with the heat and dryness that seems to be becoming the norm for much of our gardening year. I want those that flower over a long period. I seem less interested in the rarities, the novelties and the prima donna plants I once lusted after. In the main, these haven't proved suitable to our climate. I also now want bigger clumps of the same plants, rather than lots of different ones in the same spot. I find I am repeating the same old faithfuls in different places in my garden, because I know they will survive. I also find myself drawn to evergreen foliage plants that look good all year round.

Arthropodium cirratum (left) with Zantedeschia aethiopica in a shaded border

I've become more aware of the value of shade in our gardens as we experience more heatwaves. Not only do small trees give us shade and a welcome place to shelter on a summer's day, they provide protection for plants from the extreme heat. I am continually amazed by the huge variety of plants that flourish in shade and my goal for 2019 is to explore this subject in a new e-book that has been brewing in my mind for longer than I like to admit!

Entrance to the New Secret Garden & Nursery at Richmond

I've visited some lovely gardens this year and attended some delightful garden festivals, including the Crookwell Garden Festival and the one held in Leura. I was thrilled to get to the Hobart Botanic Garden, one of the best botanic gardens I have ever seen. Next year I am looking forward to seeing some Canadian gardens, and reporting back on those! I have been pleased to continue to promote nurseries and gardening events that support excellent causes, such as the Secret Garden and Nursery at Richmond, NSW; the L'Arche open gardens at Hunters Hill; and the giant plant sales run by Maureene Martin and Keith Smith twice a year at Lane Cove.

Thank you to all those people who have allowed me to take photos in their gardens for my blogs during 2018; to all my readers who have given me ideas and feedback about my blogs; and to my wonderful gardening friends, for their encouragement, support, knowledge and generosity.

Happy New Year! I hope 2019 will be a great year for gardeners!