Having grown up in a cold area, I have always disliked winter. Even though Sydney hardly has a cruel winter, this year, I found June and July more challenging than usual - with some very cold snaps and the terrible flooding rains that created so much heartbreak for many. So, I am always very happy and relieved when the calendar can be turned to the month of August. Whilst we can, of course, experience some cold days in this month, and windy weather is also common (and we are told we might get more heavy rain as well!), there are without fail some glorious August days - like last Wednesday - that remind us that spring is just around the corner.
It's amazing how just a bit of warmth in the air and perceptibly longer days can raise our spirits and make us want to rush outside and garden. Though there are many important garden jobs that need to be done in winter, I often have to force myself to go outdoors in cold weather, and usually have to start with a cup of tea on a bench to motivate myself. Once out there, I usually get involved and become happy to be gardening. But on spring-like days, the temptations are irresistible.
There are so many signs of growth to be seen everywhere in the garden, so it is a joy to do a slow garden tour to inspect how things are going. Swelling leaf and flower buds on shrubs and trees, and burgeoning growth of perennials and annuals all delight and excite. Some of the things that have thrilled me this week are the emergence of Clivia buds, first nestled deep in the foliage then gradually rising then opening their showy blooms; creamy flowers on my native orchid (Dendrobioum speciosum) and the first of my Cymbidium orchids; the hot-pink flowers of Salvia dorisiana below a tree smothered in the cascading flower stems of Billbergia nutans; plus the pretty flowers on shade-loving Iris japonica and Iris wattii. During a leisurely walk around my neighbourhood on Saturday, I spied the first sprig of bloom on the wickedly invasive but alluringly perfumed Jasminum polyanthum; bare branches with early blossoms such as Prunus campanulata (the bell cherry); and planters in the main street of our village arrayed in brilliant tulip blooms.
August also means I can prune most of my warm-climate plants, which are looking so ratty and unattractive. It is such a relief when I can finally do this as it is hard to look at them. Though I rarely get frosts, I tend to leave these plants till August as if cut back sooner, any new growth can be impaired by cold snaps. A lot of pruning was done in winter (for example, ornamental grasses, Canna, sasanqua Camellia, Hydrangea, Fuchsia and Buddleja). I have learned in recent years that I can prune many salvias in mid- to late May (for example, Salvia microphylla, Salvia x jamensis, 'Indigo Spires', 'Amistad', the Wish series, Salvia sinaloenis and 'Marine Blue'), but most of the others are done now, along with Plectranthus, Tibouchina, Justicia (except Justicia adhatoda, which is about to bloom!), Brugmansia and Duranta - so it is a busy time. Some more cold-sensitive plants are left until early September: Begonia, Pentas, coleus, Hibiscus, heliotrope, New Guinea Impatiens and Clerodendrum. All the prunings I garner are shredded to make mulch or compost.
I also fertilise my garden in August and spread cow manure over the beds, followed by a topping of mulch. It is hard but satisfying work, to know I am giving my plants the best help I can to have a productive year of growth ahead. This thought assists me in getting through the weeks when the garden looks so bare after all the pruning work!
August is also a wonderful time to do bushwalks to look at our native flora in bloom. One excellent spot for such walks is Muogamarra Nature Reserve, near Cowan, north of Sydney, which is only open to the public for six weeks each year. This year it will be open from Saturday 13 August to Sunday 18 September. I haven't been since my kids were young, but I will never forget the amazing waratahs we saw during our visit. There are guided tours you can book into, or else you can do a self-guided tour on the Sundays during the open season. Visit the website for more details.
Fabulous summer foliage
03 Dec 23
Summer colour does not have to be all about flowers.
November pruning and snipping
26 Nov 23
We can do a lot of trimming this month!
The reappearance of Lizzie
19 Nov 23
Busy Lizzies seem to be back!
12 Nov 23
There are some interesting and unusual bulbs that flower this month.
Thank you, Brazil!
05 Nov 23
Many of the plants that thrive in Sydney come from Brazil.