25 October 2019

What's growing in the backyard?

I've been working in my garden for a few weeks transitioning from a vegetable to a cottage garden and trying to get everything ready for spring.  Spring is the season that sets our gardens up for the year and if you get good rain in spring, as we did, it's even better. But I have no illusions of a lush floral display throughout summer, I just hope I can help most of it through the prolonged heat that I know is coming.  Our average annual rainfall is about 1800mm and that is one of the reasons we chose to live in this area. However, so far this year we've had 755.4mm, 286mm less than the previous year. This was the first year two of our tanks ran out of water, and the big 10,000 litre tank had only about 2000 litres left. I wouldn't grow vegetables without the safety net of tanks. They're expensive to put in, but like solar panels, they earn their place in most environmentally sound houses.  We saved for our tanks, one went in soon after we arrived here, and the big one was established about ten years ago; again, when we had the cash to pay for it.  When you set yourself up with tanks, you can water liberally most of the time and know that you're producing food with no hidden costs.

These are old photos of two of our tanks. Our other tank is a 3000 litre corrugated metal tank - a real old-school Australiana icon.

If you're just starting out, or can't afford the upfront cash payment, start with some smaller containers.  We bought a 500 litre tank from Bunnings several years ago for $50, on sale. I just checked their website and they now had a 300 litre tank for $149.  Here is an old post about our water tanks. Hanno set up out system and it's worked perfectly since day one. 

If you're determined to grow some food, and I certainly think that is a fine goal, there are a couple of other ways to keep rainwater or tap water in the soil. Make as much compost as you can and dig that in before you plant. If your garden is already planted, surround each plant with compost and cover it with sugarcane, straw or hay mulch. That is the best way of conserving water already in the soil. Every time you plant something, add compost before you plant. And if you're a committed gardener, do think about investing in some tanks.  They'll earn their keep in no time.

So let's talk about what's in the garden now. I'll take some photos next week as well but for now, this is what the garden looks like.  You'll notice nut grass growing in a number of spots, it's an ongoing problem here but I'm slowly weeding out small areas when I have the time and energy for it and I'm trialling Monty Don's remedy of applications of lime.

We have two David Austin 90cm standard roses - Munstead Wood (above) and Mary Rose (not in flower now), a miniature rose called The Fairy, Cecile Brunner (below), an unnamed mini rose, The Montville Rose, and a white shrub rose called Summer Memories.  If you look at the photo below you'll see Cecile Brunner against a backdrop of our pecan tree with catkins forming.

 White gaura and society garlic.

I've never been able to name this tall salvia, it's got blue curled flowers. Do you know it? Blue spires salvia is next then fireball salvia. The great thing about salvias is that they look charming and fragile but they're as tough as old boots. They love the heat and the only thing they really hate is frost.
This is a mix of salvias, a pink gaura and the beautiful pink Chiapas salvia - not flowering yet. I took cuttings from a main plant and have dotted them around.
Here we have unknown pink rambling salvia, nepeta Walkers Blue and a white cleome.
What do you know, more salvias! - White Victoria, Amistad - the friendship salvia and Mexican sage at the back.

We planted this banana at the beginning or the year and it's growing well. It's a mini Cavendish and we hope it bears its first fruit late summer.
If you were alive in the 1950s, this White Crystal cucumber would have probably been on your plate. It and the other Australian apple variety, Richmond Green Apple, are both available as seeds at Diggers and are absolutely delicious and easy to grow.

Finally, the elder tree is in full flower and attracting bees in their hundreds. We use the berries to make a lovely summer cordial. 

Not pictured in the garden this time but growing nicely are lavender, pelagoniums, non-invasive buddleia - Joan, Blue Chip and Purple Haze, angelonia, allysumm, coreopsis and daisies.  All these plants are strong summer plants in the sub-tropics as long as they get enough water.

We started this garden off with four rectangular beds about 20 years ago. We added two more and grew most of our vegetables here. Two beds were removed last year and now we have two rectangles and an L-shaped bed along the chook fence.  I'm not going to change their shape, neither Hanno or I have the strength to do that now, and as long as I have a garden to tend, a shady place to sit and flowers to pick, I'll be happy.  🙂  I mean it, my garden makes me happy.

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