It has been a long tough summer for many around the country. It feels as though the worst days are behind us. I am left with a sense of inadequacy in trying to deal with all that has gone on these last few months. Thankfully, I still have my garden to retreat to and spend some time reflecting and healing (and improve my fitness as I cart watering cans around).
Moving around Sydney, I am struck by how many plants seem to have survived and thrived during these seriously hot and dry conditions, while others have struggled to keep going. I have also wondered at the very quick response of plants to just a few short days of rain and cooler temperatures. Periods like these help us to assess which plants cope with heat, low water and Sydney’s humidity and help us to select appropriate plants in our designs.
Street trees have to cope with the toughest of conditions. Most grow in poor soils with little or no water other than what falls from the sky; there is often reflected heat from the adjacent roadway and competition from surrounding lawn. Add to that, the wind generated by passing traffic. Against all the odds, there are still trees that have barely missed a beat – particularly Callistemon (Bottlebrush), Eucalyptus, Gordonia (Fried Egg Plant), Lagerstroemia (Crepe Myrtle) and Banksia.
Garden plants doing well include Buxus, Murraya, Nandina (Sacred bamboo), Nerium oleander (Oleander)
There are some hardy native plants also looking great – Baeckeavirgata, (syn Sannantha virgata), Acacia fimbriata and Grevillea shrubs and groundovers.
Clearly there are some plants that have struggled with either the fierce sun or lack of water – or both. I’ve watched a few hedges of Viburnum odoratissimum, and Lilly Pilly wilt and burn through January.
Agapanthus facing the brunt of the full westerly sun have been reduced to brown, shrivelled leaves. Those in more sheltered positions are still powering on.
Many deciduous plants have moved to autumn early – albeit more brown than red and yellow. These plants will probably shed their leaves and get a bit of new growth in time to do autumn again in a few months.
Wait to cut off the damaged foliage from plants. The brown, burnt leaves will provide protection to new growth generated in the plant’s recovery. The brown leaves may fall of their own accord. If not, they can be pruned off when autumn arrives.
Young plants are less able to deal with extremes of any sort. Now is not an ideal time to introduce new plants to the garden. Wait until things genuinely cool down a bit. Any immature plants already in the garden will still need some nurturing until they have progressed through their establishment phase.
When you do plant, think of adding a canopy tree. Something that spreads out with an open canopy to provide some dappled shade without taking up all the water in the garden.
Keep a generous layer of mulch on the garden. It will hold the moisture in the soil and protect the soil from extremes of temperature. A good organic mulch will break down over time and help condition the soil.
Be amazed at the capacity of plants to recover. I’ve observed a couple of baby Flowering Gums planted on the nature strip near my home. One has not made it through summer, but the other is sprouting new baby leaves. Fingers crossed the residents are back from holidays and can water it for a few weeks to help it settle. Agapanthus are already sending new leaves up through the browned-off remains of their earlier foliage.
Lawns are surprisingly hardy and quick to recover, turning from brown and to green quickly. It only takes a shower of rain
to spark new green shoots into appearing.