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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
Low – Hydrangea 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.
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.
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.
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!