Archive | February 2018

An Endurance Test

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February has become an endurance test for gardens and gardeners alike in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales. What's left of lawns is crackling underfoot and the rolling countryside is as brown and crisp as newly baked loaves of bread. The hills around the town are grey-blue with exhausted eucalypts and we all wait for rain, hoping that it won't come in the form of a dry, fire-starting thunderstorm. During the heat of the day the robinia in my back garden folds up its leaves to reduce exposure to the sun while the leaves on other plants hang down for the same reason-either that or lack of water.  The weather has been very hot, far hotter than it should be, and the effects of the small amount of rain that has fallen have been negligible.  No one has mentioned the 'D' word yet, but it can't be far off.

A friend of mine queried my tagline.  “It’s not a harsh climate,” he said. “It isn’t a desert here.” And that’s true. But another friend, who lives on the edge of the town, told me how the local kangaroos are coming down from the hills onto her lawn to eat because there’s no feed left for them in the bush. The kangaroos were drinking from her bird bath she said, and when she put a bigger bowl of water on  the ground, kangaroos, birds and lizards arrived to drink from it.  So the climate can be pretty harsh, I think, especially during long periods without rain, and also during long cold winters with heavy frost.

Yet despite everything the weather has thrown at us, and with careful watering, some plants continue to survive, and even do well. I wandered around the garden to record some of the better performers:

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is coming into flower.
Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is coming into flower.
Rose 'Calypso'
Rose 'Calypso'
Salvia Microphylla
Salvia Microphylla
Humble little portulaca and alyssum keep looking colourful.
Humble little portulaca and alyssum keep looking colourful.
Grevillea 'Soopa Doopa'
Grevillea 'Soopa Doopa'
Society Garlic
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A few representatives from our National coat of arms out in the paddocks.

Olives

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The olives are looking good. Large green drupes are hanging from the branches of our Manzanillo tree which has been in the ground three years and has grown rapidly. Last October it was almost white with flowers, but a not uncommon hot westerly  wind blew angrily through and scorched those blossoms so we are left with just enough olives to pickle,  perhaps two jars. It's a big change from having 500 trees, which is what we had on our olive farm. There's more about that in my post 'Where did all this start?' We now have two trees: the other one is a California Queen, but it isn't doing as well. It hasn't seemed like such a good specimen from the start but I won't give up on it as I know olives can be cajoled into behaving themselves.

Olive trees  manage very well in dry and difficult conditions, and  in fact they are renowned for being tough.  They can be seen all around the Mediterranean, clinging obdurately  to limestone mountainsides, growing in the smallest amount of soil.  But we irrigated our olive grove, and fed the trees with 'Dynamic Lifter' -chook manure- and they repaid us handsomely in beautiful fruit which produced top-quality, fragrant, delicious oil.

Olive trees can grow to a venerable age.  I was lucky enough to see an ancient reputed to be 900 years old near  the Pont du Gard in southern France  when I visited there some years ago. Although the tree didn't have a very tall crown, its trunk was very sturdy and furrowed with ridges and crevices which surely denote great age.  It was very well cared-for and I wonder if it will still be there in another 900 years.  It could be: the olive tree of Vouves on the island of Crete is estimated to be between 2000 and 3000 years old.

Today there's quite a breeze blowing and the branches of my olive trees are tossing in the wind, the leaves displaying their silvery undersides. I love to see them there, just as I loved the trees on the farm robustly standing in their rows dealing with the elements in their implacable way.

Our last harvest at the farm was two tonnes, all picked by hand, with the help of friends. What a difference it is to have two jars' worth!

Olga the Brolga checks out the olives.
Olga the Brolga checks out the olives.
The olive grove.
The olive grove.

An Iceberg

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Iceberg roses are found all around Australia, often in their standard form, gracing front gardens. I have inherited two in my front garden on each side of the door, standing sentinel like Hans Christian Andersen's Steadfast Tin Soldier. And constant they are, flowering for many months of the year, and requiring not much more than a feed and a water even in the harshest summer. They flower prolifically. The flowers tend not to be very big, but what they lack in size, they make up for in abundance. I find that  once the current crop of flowers is spent and I cut the rose back into the shape of a large cob loaf, new growth will spring up and before too long another white blizzard appears.

This rose is one of my favourites. Some people think it's over-represented in gardens, but I think its reliability puts it right near the top of the list. It's quite resistant  to rust, for one thing, and I don't think I've ever sprayed mine.  The Iceberg was developed in Germany in 1958, and also comes in pink and burgundy these days.  I've grown the burgundy iceberg and it's just as hardy.  

When we lived on our olive farm we had iceberg roses in the garden along the front of the house. They also performed well and it gave us much pleasure when we arrived late on a Friday after a long trip from Sydney, to see them there. Better still, kangaroos seemed to disdain them, although they would eat plenty of other plants in the garden especially if they had grass-like leaves.

Recently, my husband penned this:

We are townies now, but
the Icebergs at the front door
are redolent of another time and
bring to recall those white orbs
that bobbed in the headlights as
we pulled up at the front of our
farmstead late at night after
the four hour drive from Sydney, at
last returned to our ancient narrow valley
to be greeted by the curtsying of snow-coloured
roses, (an introduced species) which had
patiently waited a week for our return
as we less patiently had for our reunion.

Do you have a favourite rose?  There are so many beauties it's almost impossible to choose, but I'd  love to hear about yours.

Garden March 2014 056 (2)
Garden March 2014 006

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Thanks for the Memories

Hibiscus Syriacus
Hibiscus Syriacus

Some years ago,  when  we lived on our olive farm beside the  Cudgegong River, we spent many pleasant evenings with neighbours further along the river, often sitting around a campfire, talking well into the night, solving the world's problems, or not, as the case may be.  It was a particularly agreeable place to be with soft grass and lofty she-oaks highlighted by the fire's flames.

Often we would see the resident geese, escorted by their gander, waddling their way down to the water to spend their nights away from the mischief of foxes and if we were lucky, we might see a possum tucked away in a tree's hollow.  Around us were the sounds of  night animals; kangaroos and wombats and the last notes of birds as they settled down for the night.

A sweet memory from those times was the sight of the flowers of a nearby small tree, like crisp white butterflies quivering in the reflected light of the fire.  They seemed to rival the stars in brightness.

This small tree is called the Hibiscus Syriacus, named so because it was once collected from gardens in Syria.  It has a smaller, less showy flower than other hibiscuses and it comes in a variety of colours.  It's the white one I prefer, and the one in the riverbank garden was a double one with a touch of red in the centre.  It flowers prolifically and for a long time through the warm weather, and it's deciduous, which is perhaps why it can survive our cold winters here in the Central Tablelands where we sometimes have frosts down to -7 degrees celsius.

Eventually we riparian dwellers all left our beautiful riverside for various reasons and moved on to other destinations, other chapters of our lives.  But before we went, I took a cutting of that old white hibiscus, struck it, and it's growing in my suburban garden now: a plant of  dreams and reminiscence.

Good times, G&R, thanks for the memories.

Postscript:  An observant blogger pointed out to me that I had misidentified this plant. I originally thought it was an alyogyne, also a type of Hibiscus, and  I have corrected my error.  It's nice to know that someone reads my blogs so carefully!

Amongst the she-oaks, by the river
Amongst the she-oaks, by the river
The Hibiscus is there, just coming into flower
The Hibiscus is there, just coming into flower
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