Friday, 9 February 2018

Mid-Summer Madness


Summertime. It's hot. And last night the temperature was about 34°C until Melbourne, anyway.
(`Only' 27°C in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges where I hang up my sunhat and gum boots.)
We're on tank water only and I'm trying to hand water my rather dry garden and keep plants alive, not - so not - lush, full and (sigh) green.
So any plant that thumbs its (hypothetical) nose at the heat, and says hurrah with a flourish in January and February, has to be worth noting. And there's a few that are glorious just now.
A purple clematis (above) covered in regal flowers; a tall drought-tolerant bulb, Drimia maritima (Syn. Urginea, Sea Squill) with flower spikes reminiscent of white fireworks (I count the spikes with incredulity: 13 so far); perennial hibiscus (top, probably H. moscheutos) with large blooms of a pink-red that's somewhat like pale crimson (I said somewhat); it's a piece from my mother's plant, dug up in winter while dormant, now reaching a dramatic 2.5m height and calling out `I'm here'! Crinum bulbs continue opening large satin bells of palest pink, waist-high in semi-shade; and Cape hyacinths (Galtonia candicans) with spires of bridal bells (literally; Mum used to say that my sister's wedding bouquet - in January - included these pretty flowers. Did Mum make it? I wish I'd asked) in day-long sunshine. Stalks with heads of perfumed trumpets: pink and white belladonna lilies or naked ladies, rising, leaf-free, from (it seems) scorched earth. Huge heads of double white blooms emerging from green buds on Hydrangea quercifolia `Snowflake' are weighing down the branches. Dusky-leaf Dahlias (`Bishop of Llandaff', fire-engine-red, and, in a lovely copper pot from my mother's garden, sunny `Mystic Illusion') may require lots of irrigation in the hot months - they are from summer-rainfall Mexico, after all - but they are multiplying in their huge pots and adding colour just by the front door. (I have so many pots here that it's starting to remind me of this feature at justly-famous UK garden Great Dixter. (I don't dare say, for a moment, that my pots are of the same calibre!, but they - I hope - add to a welcoming atmosphere.). Dahlia `Mystic Dreamer' (below) in cherry and strawberry ice-cream colours over mahogany foliage is planted in the garden - which is usually preferable for plants - but these are going backwards. More water required! (High-Summer-water-needing plants might sound crazy to have - but these flower for months, and these dahlias have some terrific qualities: sweetly shaped blooms, not dinner plate-sized nor anemone-style, of which I am not fond; and a height - around 60cm (`Mystic Dreamer') to 1m or so (`Bishop of Llandaff' & Mystic Illusion') - that doesn't need staking but stands tall, erect and oh-so-handsome. But I have 3 types of Dusky-leaf Dahlias, all very distinct in colour, and therefore needing different places in the garden; and 2 dwarf ones, a sweet yellow, and one pure white, all carefully labelled. I must not buy any more! - or the garden will look unplanned and over-stuffed with plants (or more so), with a crazy mix of colours.
Even tiny autumn cyclamen (C. hederifolium) has white or rosy-lilac flowers appearing while a couple of my summer-flowering, evergreen lace-patterned-leaves C. purpurescens are simply gorgeous! Tiny autumn snowflakes (from my sister) have popped up and given a wink, too.
Did I cause this seemingly early phenomenon by watering (a bit)?
There's some lovely sight in almost every corner of the garden - and I haven't counted salvias or lemon Phygelius, alive with honeyeaters, amongst the floral show.
We've had the odd extra rain shower, particularly during spring, which must be enormously beneficial for the garden - although not the lawn, which is turning Australian-summer-brown. (Less mowing is the silver lining.) When we have rain, I almost do that (probably) Australian thing: go out and dance in the rain. (Sorry about your party or wedding - but I am getting life blood for my garden. I can't help but rejoice. Besides, with every good downpour, the danger of bushfire recedes further to the future).
Usually it' so dry in summer until the autumn rains come, that the garden can look terribly dry, even barren. But it's not as bad this summer. And so many plants are flowering just now; yes, I do like flowers.
So I'm wandering the garden, thinking: Is this the best summer ever?
I think so.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria. (