Anne Latreille42 degrees C is just too, too hot

I hadn’t seen these green, red and gold parrots at ground level in my garden before. Usually they come in flocks to chatter and chomp in the upper branches of our towering Eucalyptus leucadendron. This is almost 40 years old so they’re a long way up. You need binoculars to look at them closely.

The colourful parrots enjoying some welcome water

The colourful parrots enjoying some welcome water

But today around lunchtime, as the temperature in South Yarra, Melbourne, reached 41.9 degrees (108F), two parrots landed on a low branch of the fruit-laden quince tree outside my study window. They were panting, their beaks wide open. I rushed to the kitchen for water, to top up two nearby bowls. Even though filled several hours ago, both were already half-empty. Birds had been queuing beside them all morning – pigeons, mudlarks, mynahs. But nothing as colourful as the parrots!

I went back inside, and waited. Gingerly, the parrots hopped across towards the bowl. Then not so gingerly! They drank their fill, one flew away, then the other. I hope they’re feeling better.

But there’s a way to go, with Melbourne in the throes of its fourth consecutive day of plus-40 degree heat. The Bureau of Meteorology says this is the second-longest run of “40s” since records started in 1835 (there was a five-day stretch almost 100 years ago, in 1908).

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so hot. And never before, in summer, have I felt I must water parts of my garden every day.

Beans in the sun

Beans in the sun

The vegetable garden comes first. Here the tomatoes are battling, two of the three looking as though they’ll expire; the biggest one is doing OK but the leaves are dying off from the base upwards. The beans? – well, the green beans are fine, with more produce appearing every day, the Scarlet Runners are twining happily up their supports, but the butter beans look a bit iffy, and one has already expired. The cos lettuce plants are also fine and my rare French tarragon obviously enjoys hot weather. I can’t say the same, however, for the basil.

Ballerina apples ripen

Ballerina apples ripen

I decided to brave the heat and walk around the garden, camera in hand, to record the high and low points.

High – the ferns beneath the huge quince tree. Their only water comes from the sky but they look happy (although the leaves in direct sun are browning). The quince tree itself, which is laden with fruit. The vertical ‘Ballerina’ apple trees are also happy (but I can’t say the same for the fig, with its leaves weeping sadly downwards).

so do quinces

so do quinces

 

 

Low-growing Banksia petiolaris and Banksia repens, which haven’t missed a beat as they creep across the hot ground. And Grevillea petrophiloides – nothing stops this tough plant from flowering, every month of the year. Silver-leafed native ground-cover plants and shrubs, which light up the space. And the lemon tree, which never looks anything but healthy (even when the gall wasps get into it).

smiling grevillea

smiling grevillea

 

and banksias

and banksias

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver leafed natives light up the space

Silver leafed natives light up the space

Hydrangea on the way out?

Hydrangea on the way out?

LowHydrangea villosa, next to the lemon. After a few bad years it had been doing unusually well (perhaps because the tap from the adjoining small tank had been left on). But now I think it’s a goner. The violets, dessicated and shrivelled – imported varieties, and Australian Viola hederacea. I fear an unusual Helleborus has had it, as well. And one of my English ground-cover geraniums has burned right off.

Shrivelled violets

Shrivelled violets

 

 

 

Helleborus has had it

Helleborus has had it

 

 

 

 

Happy daisies light up the garden

Happy daisies light up the garden

 

 

Back to the high points! Grevillea endlicheriana (behind the burnt ground-cover geranium) is oh-so-happy. So are the marguerite daisies. The potted succulents haven’t missed a beat. And even though my historic dianthus species (one from the 1600s) have just about finished flowering, they are almost purring in the heat and the leaves are full of vigour.

 

Historic dianthus species purring in the sun

Historic dianthus species purring in the sun, the leaves full of vigour

 

 

I see two mudlarks whizz down to enjoy the waterbowl. And a tiny silver-eye and a wattlebird are side-stepping in the quince tree, awaiting their turn. When will this end? It’s said a cool change will sweep in tonight but I don’t feel optimistic – except about those plants that, some years ago, I chose for their toughness and ability to withstand drought.

Mudlarks enjoy the water bowl

Mudlarks enjoy the water bowl

They’re certainly better at it than my iPhone! I photographed with it for only five minutes before a red flag came up on the screen, telling me its temperature was too high and it had to go inside for a break.

Actually, so did I. 42 degrees Celsius is just too, too hot!

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Anne Latreille

About Anne Latreille

Writer, editor and journalist. Author of 'Garden Voices' (about Australian garden designers past and present, September 2013), 'Garden of a Lifetime' (Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at Cruden Farm), 'Kindred Spirits' and 'The Natural Garden'. Melbourne, Victoria.

4 thoughts on “42 degrees C is just too, too hot

  1. James Beattie on said:

    Although the heat was utterly ridiculous it was interesting to see what did well and even seemed to relish the heat. Anything from the tropics in my garden went nuts – a young peanut butter fruit tree (Bunchosia argentea) and my winged yam (Dioscorea alata) doubled in size in 4 days, I swear! And the purple tomatillos – they continued unabated. The curry tree also burst into vigorous growth. Interesting though – my bush beans went crispy in 2 days, but my climbing beans only aborted their flowers, which thankfully already re-setting.

    • Anne Latreille on said:

      My beans are doing the same! However – to my surprise – yesterday’s c.40 degree heat has had quite a dessicating effect on some of the plants (eg groundcover ivy) that soldiered through the previous heatwave. This despite having given them a good drink the night before. The citrus trees continue to do very well.

  2. helen mckerral on said:

    Hey Anne,
    Don’t give up on your hellebore just yet. Some of the new varieties are a bit picky, but many of the old bog standards can go completely dormant over the summer and you may be surprised after the autumn rains! I remember seeing a completely derelict Adelaide garden in summer, thinking it was all rank grass and starving fruit trees, but when in winter a lush border of hellebores had emerged, without having been watered or fertilised for years!

  3. Here in Delhi, 42 degrees C is “normal” for much of May and June. But last year we had a spell of 46 degrees and it was interesting to see what couldn’t cope with the extra heat. Several herbs on my balcony just shrivelled and died despite daily watering, including Indian-bought coriander and sage plants. But our self-sown basil just loved the extra few degrees and thrived, and tasted even better.

    And the return to 42 degrees after our mini-heatwave felt positively cool in comparison! Although, as a friend pointed out, anything over human body temperature (37 degrees) is probably too hot…

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