Last Sunday was challenging – in different ways. I awoke to thick cloud, lowering skies and welcome rain that had begun falling overnight. By around 10am the gauge showed 27 ml. How lucky is that, in mid-February? And at this time, how unusual for inner Melbourne!
The trees and plants smiled happily, the grey light somehow deepening the hues of their leaves and flowers. I noted fresh blooms on different dianellas, and on grevilleas. While one of my grevilleas (Grevillea bipinnatifida) flowers energetically year-round, Grevillea endlicheriana (whose slender grey leaves give it the name of ‘spindly grevillea’) confines itself to winter and spring.
But not this year – it is beginning again! The same goes for the dianellas, including Dianella tasmanica (blue flax lily), which the cool and occasionally damp start to 2015 seems to have rejuvenated. As with the unusual tiny creeper, Frankenia pauciflora, which wanders around, then pops up where you don’t expect it.
For the past decade I’ve had difficulties with many of the Australian plant species that, in 2005-6, were installed more or less right across our expansive (for South Yarra) back garden space. Some do OK for a while, then suddenly they decline or die. Luckily there are exceptions. The various correas just can’t seem to stop themselves, the most energetic being Correa ‘Marion’s Marvel’ and a slender lime-green-flowered species whose name I haven’t recorded. It’s the same with the tough ground-covers – Austromyrtus dulcis, Banksia petiolaris, Banksia blechnifolia, Lasiopetalum micranthum, Lasiopetalum macrophyllum. All were chosen by the Australian plants guru Paul Thompson to cover the arid space around our towering olive tree. They enjoy regular doses of iron chelate, but generally they haven’t missed a beat.
Nor have some of the taller plants, I thought as I strolled around. Then stopped in my steps. One of four Leptospermum brachyandrum was flat on its face. Perhaps four metres tall, it had been helping to provide a line of elegant punctuation across the central lawn. I couldn’t believe it! With little visible breakage in the core of the trunk, except at the very centre, it was hard to work out what had happened – and why.
By now the rain had stopped. I drew a deep breath, pulled out my trusty ‘Silky’ folding saw (made in Japan, and acquired at a New Zealand hardware store some years ago) and chopped it to pieces. Twenty minutes later it was as if the small tree had never been there. I noted that its rearmost neighbour looked happier. One should always aim for the positive. They do have the most beautiful trunks.
The sun glared down, and the light grew ever sharper as two little mudlarks preened themselves in one of the bird baths. Suddenly it was too, too hot – but not so much in the somewhat more sheltered front garden, where the exotics have held their own. Especially shasta daisies in profusion, and Nicotiana langsdorffii that’s enjoying a rich second flowering – I guess I cropped it just in time. I hadn’t seen this plant – grown from seedlings given to me many years ago from Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s great ‘Cruden Farm’ garden – for quite some time, until it remerged last year.
Now seedlings are coming through at its feet – one squeezing out in a miniscule gap between a bluestone paving slab and a stone waterdish, the other pushing up through the limestone toppings that make our driveway. They’re the second lot to emerge this year, the earlier ones having died off after I had carefully transplanted them to the main garden bed. I think I’ll leave these new ones in situ.
The roses are a varied story. Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’ and Rosa ‘Mrs Oakley Fisher’ – both almost three decades old – are flowering their heads off. Rosa ‘Nevada’, sadly, is struggling as the large crab apple tree spreads its branches and its roots. As with any plant species, you win some and you lose some.
As with the weather. Heading off to enjoy Melbourne’s first international cricket competition match (Australia vs England), we quickly changed into cool summer clothing and hoped that the plants would manage it through the afternoon.