Throughout January, our Melbourne weather was not what we’re used to. The temperatures swung wildly – 44 degrees on one day and 20 the next – while rainfall came in three waves. Early on was a little bit (not uniform), then mid-month brought 10mm (not to be sneezed at). And then in the last four days the heavens opened, the sun disappeared, and everywhere got soaked. Avalon recorded more than 100mm and the day temperature dipped, in places, to 19 degrees and even 15.
So now in February, we’re noticing how the sun is shining again. And how the trees and shrubs, which so often look sorry for themselves in this hot summer month, are thriving after that unexpected downpour. What a pleasure it was today to walk out for a light lunch at a nearby café in South Yarra, then to stroll home through the side streets, enjoying trees studded with lush flowers and happy green leaves.
You could almost say the crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) are smiling! Certainly they’re doing themselves proud. I can’t remember seeing these trees blooming so prolifically, from buds through to armloads of rich flowers in deep red, shades of pink, and white.
Crepe myrtles thrive in summer and in a hot, dry climate. But they also have spectacular spring growth, autumn foliage and trunks – their silver-grey-apricot bark is visually enthralling. On the practical side, to ensure their root system develops well they initially need plenty of water, but thereafter are remarkably drought-tolerant. They’ll keep on flowering until the end of March, after which some people like to prune them, while others let them grow to their natural shape. These trees are great in gardens – and on the streets.
Next came the picturesque gum tree, Eucalyptus caesia. How long, slender, and beautifully green are its leaves (offset by the ‘needles’ of what looks like a small cypress)! How picturesque are last year’s white gumnuts, and how exciting to see new clutches of them – which will flower in deepest pink through winter and early spring – already emerging from the slender silver branches and twigs! This is a wonderful weeping tree. The Western Australian landscape and garden expert, Marion Blackwell, advises:
‘Plant Eucalyptus caesia in groups at footfall distance and let your children enjoy walking under and through them’.
Then a small, dense hedge of dwarf magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’) popped up, running down beside a driveway. Set among its deep green leaves (with red-brown undersides) I enjoyed one or two monster flowers, their petals most enticing. Each flower doesn’t last long, but the lovely leaf structure sets off the oncoming buds, and the prickly centre cores that survive when the petals have fallen.
I was almost home when a white oleander came into view. It stopped me in my tracks because usually these tough trees/shrubs (Nerium oleander) flower in hues of pink, red and apricot. Growing almost anywhere, and happy to be pruned, they’re often described as ‘poisonous but beautiful’. Certainly one should steer clear of ingesting their leaves and flowers – but a website tells me that elements of these (including cardiac glycosides, leaves and roots) can be used for medical purposes. And in Western Sahara that oleander ash is mixed with saltpetre to make gunpowder.
There is something new to be discovered for almost every plant!