Friday, 25 July 2014

Snow in Selby and wildflowers from the arid centre

Only ten days have passed since I went away but it seems I’ve missed quite a bit of drama. Snow in Selby - twice! We are at an altitude (and attitude) of only 170m in a Mediterranean-like climate so this is big news. But if I hadn’t heard about the cold snap (at the shops) I would have suspected warmth, because, in just a few days, wattles have begun to flower – not daintily, but with gusto.
Golden wattles (Acacia pycnantha, big-leafed), silver wattles (A. dealbata – tall, feathery and handsome), showing off bright yellow blooms; and myrtle wattle (A. myrtifolia) covered in buds; surely a couple of weeks early (see post 6/8/12)?
The garden looks untouched – by cold or warmth. A neighbour’s tree dahlias are still flowering – unscathed, somehow, from the cold.
We were camping in Australia’s red centre and a honey-scented wattle caught my nose, then my eye. Amongst the many plants we found flowering after the good rain - 60mm - the area received back in April, was this wattle, Acacia melleodora (pictured, below). What I really liked, though, were the silver – snowy, at a stretch - leaves, created by a crust of resin, which could be scratched off with a stick, and clearly comes off readily in the wild. When first looking at the leaves, I’d thought I’d found a compound like the powdery whiteness found on the trunk of the stately ghost gums of the area, (Corymbia aparrerinja, pictured at King’s Canyon), and which comes off with a hand sweep to reveal handsome olive-green below – yet unlike the wattle, remains mainly white, powder in place, so dramatic against red rock and soil, and blue, blue sky.

As we explored we couldn’t help but hum the lyrics to the iconic Midnight Oil song:

`Out where the river broke
The bloodwood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty five degrees
The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back...
How can we dance when our earth is turning
How do we sleep while our beds are burning’

Finally to see, recognise and know these plants that we’ve sung about, myth-like, for decades: bloodwood (Corymbia, many of the eucalypts or gums that we saw) and desert oak (Allocasuarina decaiseana), a bizarre tree which grows tall and straight into a 4m-high feather duster before branching out, eventually, into a normal looking tree; we saw many.
Carpets of wildflowers exceeded our dreams and the loveliest may have been the pink Tall Mulla Mullas (Ptilotus exaltatus, top) and Regal Foxtail (P. nobilis, last picture). (Flowers brought out the bees and butterflies, too.) As on many holidays, I dream of growing these wild beauties at home; and yes, I do know these are from an arid region, one of the driest in the world. But then, so is my north-facing veranda. For budgetary reasons, I could grow some from seed, sowing late in spring in my little glasshouse, and hopefully have flowers before the cold autumn nights set in - treating them as annuals, alas. I’d need a long hot summer for this to work, probably, where I live. A fun experiment, anyhow. And that is gardening, surely?

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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