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!

Plant of the week
Flowers in January, February, March, December.
See everything that's out this month »

My previous blogs at this time of year:
13 Dec
09 Dec
06 Dec
10 Dec

Reader Comments

  • By Suzanne - 2073 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Thanks Deirdre for this blog and for all your other blogs throughout the year, you bring much joy tand wise advice o so many garden lovers. Wishing you all the best for 2019. If you get the chance do visit the Hamilton Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario Canada which includes the Larking Garden so you need a car to get from one section to another. Suzanne Thanks so much, Suzanne. Thanks for the tip re the Ontario Botanic Garden. Deirdre

  • By Patricia - 2100 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    And liberal sprinklings of contentment and peace to you as we continue to find it in our gardens and elsewhere. Thank you for your generous sharing of garden thoughts, experience and wisdom. Thanks, Patricia and all the best for 2019. Deirdre

  • By Robyn - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Thanks Deirdre for your fabulous blogs throughout the year. Youre a real inspiration. I wish you, your family, and your garden a wonderful 2019. Xxx Thank you, dear friend! Deirdre

  • By Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Thank you for your practical and invaluable advice, through the year - it is most appreciated, as you often present a perspective not considered by me. I am not as careful as you, I do plant and take cuttings, throughout the year, so far, without disaster. However, I do use a wetting agent, seaweed solution and mulch, all of which helps the health of the garden. I do have shade areas, but in sunny spots, endeavour to use "nurse plants". Thanks, Margaret. I appreciate all your tips on gardening, which have proved very useful to me. Deirdre

  • By Janet - 2322 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Hello Deirdre, I too have been changing the the way i garden & the plants i choose. Our climate is defiantly getting dryer, I have planted a few more small shade trees to great benefit & look forward to a much different garden in years to come. I wish you a Happy & Healthy New Year Deirdre and to all our garden friends a Happy 2019 in your gardens. Thank you, Janet. I think it is great you have planted some small shade trees for your garden, Hope they flourish. Deirdre

  • By Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Thanks for all the blogs, I always enjoy them and agree with this one entirely. Have been laid-up and realise the problems of keeping things going when you are out of action. Shows up what copes and what doesn"t - a big rethink in some areas and also looking for summer shade and winter sun on the veggie beds, so some deciduous planting needed.Like your new compost bays - I have one just for autumn leaves to create humus which is great for laying on beds. Happy new year to you & your family. Hope you are making a good recovery now, Sue. All the best for the year ahead. Deirdre

  • By Gail - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Dear Deirdre, I find your blogs very helpful - I live in the same area as you. About 3 years ago we lost a massive liquid amber from our back yard and since then our garden has been getting baked - coupled with the extreme heat we have experienced in the last 3 years. I am contemplating putting in a white cedar tree , trying to find the right time to do it is also an issue. Happy New Year to you and other gardeners. Thank you, Gail. I think late autumn or winter would be an ideal time to plant your tree. All the best for 2019. Deirdre

  • By Sue t. - 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Some very good advice here. I"m still doing things like buying a new plant the day before leaving for a week. Thinking my neighbour was going to keep an eye on the pots in the front yard when he wasn"t didn"t help either. Season"s Greetings to you and your family and thanks for your blogs. Hope your pots survived OK, Sue. All the best. Deirdre

  • By Beth - 2257 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Happy New Year, Deidre! Thank you for all your ideas and musings. You often put into words just what I"m wondering about AND then you suggest some solutions. I much appreciate your practical approach. Thanks so much, Beth. All the best for the year ahead. Deirdre

  • By Georgina - 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 December 2018

    Deirdre I have enjoyed all your weekly blogs this year. This last week or two has been a challenge but the nice gentle rain this evening has helped. I have,like you been trying to create a garden that can stand up to the weather we have had recently without losing the "cottage look" I like. Have a great 2019. Enjoy your travels and I look forward to reading about the gardens you visit. Thanks. Georgina. Hope we do get more rain soon, as predicted. I am excited about the Canada trip! Deirdre

  • By Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 01 January 2019

    I"ve had great success in my hot north facing sunny garden this year with a great product from ANL called Droughtmaster mulch which has soil wetting against mixed with firest fines. Shadecloth helps in heatwaves & I"ve built a shadehouse for my delicate plants with shadecloth sides that can be removed in winter. I use Nautures Way clove oil weed killer & their natrasoap pest killer. I also use benefical insects from Garden much better this summer! Happy 2019 Dierdre! Thanks for all those tips! I love the idea of the shade house; my mother used to have one in her Blue Mountains garden and grew lots of lovely plants in it. It was a wonderful refuge on a hot day. Deirdre

  • By Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 01 January 2019

    Love your blog Dierdre so a big thanks for that & a big thanks & happy new year to all who take the time to comment & share ideas, thoughts & info about your blog & their gardens & experiences. It really is a big help. My challenge ATM is whitefly that seem to have laid dormant after last years cheap bad mulch. The benefical insects have been ordered again this year as they worked a treat last year. I guess they must of laid eggs last year that are emerging now.

  • By Valerie - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 01 January 2019

    Thank you Deirdre for your blog and the garden information on your website. I enjoy reading it so much and it has helped me with choices about what to plant, when and where. I couldnt agree more with your climate adaptation practice. Im doing similar, although I did sneak in a few Salvias (discolor, greggii and muirri) in December. Thanks too for the organic weed & pest killer info. Happy New Year all. Thanks, Valerie. All the best for the year ahead. Deirdre

  • By Rhyl - 4370 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Wednesday, 16 January 2019

    Yes, we are in a dry period and it may skip a wet season this year, though there is still time for the monsoon trough to form. It has been hot here and my garden lawns are crispy. With a limited bore that is a bit alkaline I dont water the grass, in fact, the water keeps plants alive but they dont thrive. Most rewarding are eremophilas - they are beautiful, and so varied in their colours - red, pinks, yellow, blue, purple, green, orange, with as varied foliage - green, grey, silver. They sound lovely, Rhyl. Deirdre

  • By Rhyl - 4370 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Wednesday, 16 January 2019

    Thanks for your comments about using soil wetter, a good idea that I will try along with heavy mulch. Happy New Year and May the rains come.

  • By Coy - 4560 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 16 January 2019

    Hello Deirdre, I remember you saying not to trim Camelias after December. I was letting mine grow to get them established but now they all seem to have sprouted long tall upright branches. I am wondering if those tall upright branches actually flower as the buds seem to be appearing on the lower old branches. I would prefer for them to pud their energy into the flowers. Do I trim off the long upright branches or leave them until they finish flowering? Thanks, Coy I think it would be OK to remove those branches if you feel they aren"t part of the shape you want. The idea of not pruning them after December is really about not removing all the flower buds, so heavy pruning is not recommended at this time. Sometimes mine send up lanky stems like that and I remove them flush with the main stem. Deirdre

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