Surviving summer in the garden

13 December 2019
I've just come in from the garden on this humid morning and want to pass on a few tips for hot and dry summer gardening. I know there are a lot of new gardeners out there so I hope what I share helps you get your garden through these harsh conditions. I was out in my garden filling up the bird baths, watering a few pots that looked parched and I also discovered a paper wasp nest right next to where I was standing.  Usually we leave the insects to do their thing, as they leave us to do ours, but with children visiting over the holidays this wasp nest is just too close to where they'll be playing so it has to go. I passed that job over to Hanno who will deal with it later today.  



The tree is one of our orange trees. We're watching it like a hawk because it's full of small oranges and if it gets heat stressed, it will drop the fruit.
Remember, I live in the sub-tropics and the conditions here may be different to what you're experiencing, especially if you're in southern Australian. But if you're in a dry garden, most of these tactics will work. I'm trying to keep my garden going over summer without losing too many plants so that in autumn, winter and spring I can garden as I normally do and enjoy the garden, the wildlife and the fresh air. That has made me change my tactics a bit. I want to increase my water saving capacity because the water we use in the garden here is rainwater in tanks and we don't know when the next storm will fill the tanks again, so we need to be thrifty with the watering. Luckily we now have about 10 thousand litres and we only need one good storm to fill them up again.

   WATERING   
I've got a large wide bucket half-full with water set up in the green house and I water the pots in there by sitting them in the bucket for 30 seconds and letting them drain into a second bucket.  When I finish all the pots, the second bucket is poured back into the first bucket. Generally the watering bucket will last about four waterings of about 30 plants.  

Here is my bucket watering system.

You might be able to see the soaker hose operating here.

In the new flower garden I try to water in the morning. I often go out at 5am when it's still relatively cool and spend an hour watering, looking, watching the wildlife and checking the plants.  But we've recently added two soaker hoses to the garden, bought for $5 each at Bunnings, so we have the ability to easily deep water.  Hanno cut them to fit each of the two gardens and they're attached to tomato stakes with electrical ties so they don't move around the garden. They can easily be moved around if needed too.  These two soakers are fed from the large water tank twice a week for 15 minutes.  That's it.  I don't want to waste water and I want the plants to struggle a little to survive. Over-cared for plants will be the first to die when the going gets tough. If you give your plants just enough water soak the roots they'll be more resilient and able to cope with the various stresses of summer. Hopefully we can cut the watering down to ten minutes or five minutes twice a week, who knows. Like many things in gardening, it's a matter of observation followed by the appropriate action.

   MULCHING   
Mulching with sugar cane, straw, grass clippings etc will increase the effectiveness of the water you give the plants. It will also cut down on weeds, stop the sun hitting the soil, help keep the moisture in the soil and regulate the temperature. It's a pain in the neck to put it on but it's only a twice a year job and it works.  Don't forget your pot plants need mulch too.

   EXTREME HEAT   
On those days when the temperature is over 40 degrees, try to provide shade for your most sensitive or valuable plants.  An umbrella with a brick over the handle to keep it in place is a great way to protect smaller plants, or a shade tunnel or shade cloth screen for larger plants or an entire garden.  Both these measures are easily removed at season's end.  

Also, when you know there will an extremely hot day tomorrow, water the evening before. Plants have a better chance of surviving if they face a hot day well hydrated.  If your plants have not had an extremely hot day yet, you may get sun burned leaves on the hot days.  It won't kill the plants, just remove the burnt leaves and if the plant looks weak, give it a drink of seaweed water. That will help it recover.

   PRUNING   
There will probably come a point when you know the sun and heat will damage your flowers and vegetables and they may stop growing. When that happens, prune what you can prune to stop the stresses on the plant. This afternoon, I'm removing plants that I know won't survive much longer - pansies, petunias and alyssum in pots, and pruning back salvias, roses, daisies and coreopsis.  Pruning cuts down on the amount of energy and water it takes the plant to survive and it will give it a better chance of making it through summer. At the end of summer, I will stop pruning and those plants will spring back into flower.  

   TAKING CUTTINGS   
If you have to remove or prune something you really want to keep, take two cuttings of it, plant it up in a pot and let it sit in a semi-shaded position to grow into new plants.  They should be ready to plant out in autumn. 

Cuttings and vulnerable plants in the bush house.

   GROWING SEEDLINGS AND SEEDS   
Take advantage of the hot weather to grow heat-loving plants such as ginger, perilla (sesame leaf), chilli, capsicums, galangal and flower cuttings. If you're in the right climate, ginger is one of the things we can grow to add to cakes, biscuits, drinks, and many cooked meals.  I planted four sprouted pieces of ginger a couple of days ago.  They're in a large container in the bush house and they should be ready for using in about three months.  See below.

Ginger is growing on the right.  It loves heat and should be ready for harvest in about three months.

And when I was in the bush house a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a perilla plant growing in with some succulents. Funnily enough I'd been hoping some of the previous year's perilla might germinate but got sick of waiting and ordered a pack from the only place I could find with seeds. Naturally, as soon as I did that, the perilla started to grow.  🙄   See this old post for info about perilla.  It's often used in Asian cuisines, it LOVES the heat and will only grow in the hot months.

This is the worst summer I can remember and even though we use minimal water here (less than the average for one person), I'm compelled by what I see happening around the country to make sure I do everything I can in my own patch to conserve water and provide fresh water and a few seeds for native wildlife. We've never put seeds out before but I fear much of the habitat around here has been burnt out by the bush fires and I want to help the increased populations of birds we have visiting us now survive.  Are you doing this too?

This will be the last post of the year. I'm having a break over the holidays and will be back, refreshed, in the new year.  I hope you all enjoy the holidays and spend time with people you love or, if you're alone, have good books to read and something to keep you occupied and relaxed.  Thank you all for your visits this year, I'll see you again soon.  💕 🥰  💕

62 comments

  1. Thanks for all the excellent tips, Rhonda. We have been fortunate this year in California. It's been raining, and we had three feet of snow up at the cabin! What a difference it makes. I hope you get some rain soon. Have a wonderful Christmas with your family. I will be on my own, but will have a good book, my affectionate Labradoodle, a warm fire, and delicious home cooked food.

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  2. How funny! I brought home some sprouted ginger from the school's food tech room and planted it out in a wicking box last weekend. Not sure if it'll grow in Melbourne but hey - nothing ventured, nothing gained.
    Enjoy your break.

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  3. Excellent advice thanks Rhonda. We do put out bird seed and we love that the birds stop to visit for a snack and a drink. Often a bath as well. Enjoy your break!

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  4. Thank you for the tips on gardening in this scorching hot weather, Rhonda. Without rain, I am expecting losses from my garden though hoping to limit that and keep the more mature shrubs and trees from dying as it would take significant time to regrow others. Just the other day, my husband asked what I intended to do with our son's little umbrella that's way too small for him now. I'm using it to shade my three clivia lilies.

    I, along with many others I talk to, echo the same thoughts about this being the worst Summer we've experienced too. The word "unprecedented" gets used a lot but I really feel it is true of this Summer season with it being so very dry and so very hot for so very long. I hope some rain comes soon, especially for our farmers.

    I hope you and Hanno have a lovely Christmas time with your family. May you enjoy many happy days in your house and garden with those you love. Meg Xx

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    1. A wise decision to protect your trees and shrubs, Meg. I'm glad you're giving that little umbrella a second life. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas with your family. xx

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  5. Merry Christmas Rhonda, Hanno and Gracie.

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    1. Thanks Mandi. Merry Christmas to you too. xxx

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  6. Thank you so much for all that useful advice Rhonda. Have a wonderful Christmas with your family and enjoy your break!

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    1. You're welcome, Leonie. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. xx

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  7. Rhonda, we got 8mm in Wednesday's storm. Better than nothing. I hope you, Hanno and little Gracie have a wonderful Christmas with your family and enjoy good health in 2020.

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    1. Great Chel. We just got a heavy, short storm. I hope you and hubby have a great Christmas. Lots of love. xx

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  8. For the first time in many years our area of NSW has been put on water restrictions - very mild ones like no hosing hard surfaces outside, only watering with a hand held trigger hose before 10am and after 4pm, no sprinklers or soaker hoses etc. I would not mind so much but it is because our water is being siphoned off to feed Sydney (I'm conflicted about that). So I'm researching slimline rain water tanks to put all around the house as there is no restrictions in water use from rain water tanks. However, they tell us that there is no rain now till Feb 2020.

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    1. Hi Phil, we don't have any water restrictions either but I think they'll come in soon because our water is now sent elsewhere too. 🤬 Try to get some tanks because they will fill if you have a large enough catchment roof. For example, we had a storm this afternoon, it lasted about 15 minutes and it filled our front tank and added hundred of litres to the backyard tanks. In 20 years, our tanks have only really been empty once, and that was this year. Merry Christmas to you, Mignon and the girls. xx

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    2. Mr Home Maker, I feel your conflict re the water migration issue. The same thing is occurring here in SEQld where the dams of the smaller townships are being syphoned to allow Brisbane to have green lawns! None of us should have green lawns at this time unless those homes are lucky enough to get natural storm rain.

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    3. Such a lovely garden and a credit to yours and Hano's hard work, Rhonda.
      I ran out of garden and orchard water a few weeks back, so many of my orchard trees have dead parts now. The flower garden is a wasteland. It's so bad I dare not prune off the dead growth as that is all that's protecting the soil because I've run out of bulk mulch.
      I trialled leaving the bird nets on the fruit trees this year to help with moisture retention but not sure if it worked because so many trees are dying anyway due to not being watered for about 5-6wks. My topsoil is only 60-100mm thick (2-4inches). Under that is schist which no plant bothers to put its roots into anyway.
      Yesterday's storm yielded 12mm which was great and will help for a few days. The pasture grass will get a real spurt on now, so the horses will be happier. It might even save the dedicated fruit trees just in time. Hoping for more backup rain in storms today. Fingers (and toes) crossed! :)

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    4. Thanks Clissa. I thought of you when I heard of that storm over Gympie. I've got everything crossed for you that you get followup rain. I hope you can keep those horses happy and the trees growing. Have a great Christmas, love. xx

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  9. Merry Christmas to you and your family Rhonda! Thankyou for all the continuing wonderful advice.In our small courtyard garden we have found when it hits 40degs that the plants benefit from putting old sheets over pots and my veges,with the edges weighed down with some bricks I store for this. A few hours cover at the worst time,makes a big difference.Enjoy the cricket!

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    1. Thanks for sharing that tip, Jenny. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. xx

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  10. Thank you for this article, it is so poinginant to us at the moment as we are in Sydney and have just gone to level 2 restrictions which means no more watering the garden with a hose. It's a huge shift in thinking and very time consuming after a day at work to water by hand but a small price considering what's going on all over Australia with water supply and the drought.

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    1. It is a huge shift but we can only do what we can do. Just do what you can, use some of the tips I gave above and see if you can keep your garden going with buckets. Good luck, love. Have a merry Christmas. xx

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  11. Hi Rhonda,

    That is a great idea about the two buckets in the greenhouse. I'll start doing that too. We have been desperately bucketing shower and washing machine water onto the big trees that are still alive. BUT...great news! This afternoon we have had heavy rain and hail - 42mm in total, and now we have two full dams that are overflowing down to another two dams. Normally that amount of rain wouldn't be enough to fill dams, but it came very quickly and heavily. My big trees will survive now and I can start replanting some of the garden beds where shrubs have died. I'm also going to plant a few vegies, tomatoes and zucchini in particular. Oh, my heart is overflowing with gratitude and joy! Unfortunately, this rain was in a narrow band and much of our area didn't get any of it. The drought is by no means broken; the difference is now I can work in my garden again. And we won't need to drink the bore water any more.

    Merry Christmas to you Rhonda, and Hanno and your family. Enjoy your holiday break.

    God bless.
    Lyn in northern New South Wales.

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    1. Hi Lyn, what fantastic news! At least you have enough water now to continue working in your garden and hopefully we get much more rain in the new year. Have a wonderful Christmas, love.

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  12. Thank you for this post. I live in s.e. FL USA sub tropic temps and we've been on water restrictions in my area for a few years now. I like your bucket watering system for small plants.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a great 2020 ~ FlowerLady

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    1. Merry Christmas Lorraine. I hope you enjoy the holidays. xx

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  13. Although I'm on the other side of the world, these are wonderful tips for our summer garden in The States. Your garden looks lush and full.

    Enjoy your holidays. Be Blissed (and Blessed) in the New Year!

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  14. Another source of water is your grey water from your washing machine - put a drum or a plastic garbage can below the wash house window and attach a hose to your washing machine drainage hose. Washing machines use a lot of water and it is a great way to recycle it. Also put a bucket in the shower - you will be surprised how much water will go into it while the family showers. Instead of using the kitchen sink or the hand basin put a bowl in and wash dishes/ wash faces, clean teeth and then tip those bowls of water onto the garden. There is already a drought in the North of NZ and with the heat even where we live it will be another hot Summer this year.

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  15. Merry Christmas, Rhonda, Hanno and Family ~ You too Gracie xxx

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  16. Any tips for helping our plants to survive the heat and still be conscious of water use are welcome at this time of year. Our weather here has been from one extreme to the other over the last couple of weeks, poor plants don't know whether they're coming or going, from 27C last week to 15C yesterday and 33C next week, what a roller coaster ride lol. Wishing yourself, Hanno and Gracie a very Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year Rhonda. Kate from Tassie x

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  17. It's so dry here Rhonda that the locals have never seen anything like it. Between the charred landscape from the huge bushfires that burned a few weeks ago and the river which is becoming increasingly small black pools of stagnant water its quite tough to look at. The firies needed to draw from the river to fight the fires too which has dropped the levels even further. Hopefully we get some decent rain over summer to flush it all through.

    Great water saving tips and I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas period. We are hanging out for the school holidays here, three school days left!

    xx

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  18. Rhonda Jean, I can't find your recipe for liquid laundry soap. I thought you posted one last year or so, but maybe I'm wrong. Can you direct me to the proper post if you did. Thank you.

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    1. Hi Barbee, it's here: https://down---to---earth.blogspot.com/2009/11/making-liquid-soap.html Good luck.

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  19. Hi Rhonda, I hope you, Hanno and Gracie have a wonderful Christmas with your family. I was interested to hear about how you are handling Christmas gift giving now. We have no kids in the family at this time, my nieces are adults, and I've been struggling a bit with what to do. Time for some reinvention. I've been reading about the drought and fires in AUS in the paper quite a bit, but reading the personal comments here makes it very real. And the knowledge that people are close to losing mature trees is really heartbreaking. I hope AUS will receive all the rain it needs in the new year. Enjoy the cricket and your holiday break - maybe there will be a few more 70's pics in January - I've been loving those! Beth in MN

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    1. Hi Beth. It sounds like the ideal time to change your gift giving habits. The fires are terrible. I think all our states have had bush fires this year; lives have been lost and houses burnt to the ground. Most gardeners here are changing how they garden or giving up due to plant losses. I just hope the drought breaks soon. It's cyclone season now so I'm hoping for a moderate cyclone to drench my state and give the farmers water in their dams. Many of them are at the point of selling their breeding stock. It's not good.

      Have a wonderful Christmas, Beth. See you again soon. xx

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  20. Great tips. I just mulched the tree near my house. Im renting so don't have a garden besides house plants but I hate to see the trees suffer too. the bucket idea is a great one!

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  21. It's been tough for us on our farm Rhonda.
    We've lost cattle to the drought, dams drying up.
    I lost my milking cow too.
    Sometimes you just have a good old cry, but then you get on with it.
    Take everyday as it comes, have hope, faith and focus on all the things we are grateful for.
    Always love to come here and read your posts!
    Your garden is looking lovely, you like to grow alot of the same things I do.
    I hope you have a beautiful, blessed Christmas and break.

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    1. Hello Joanna. I can't imagine how tough it's been for you and so many other farmers around the country. I think about it every day and today, as Hanno and I sat on the front verandah talking, we both said the drought and the loss of cattle, pastures, habitat and wildlife was one of the great traumas of our time. And losing your milking cow, I just don't know what to say about that. It's so sad.

      Of course you're doing what you must do; having hope and faith is the way forward.

      My garden doesn't look like the photos now. I cut it back hard to save on water and if we get through the season, I'll let it grow from about early March onwards. I hope in the meantime we have drought-breaking rain and that you and other farmers start the recovery you all need and the nation needs you to have.

      Have a good Christmas, Joanna. Stay in touch and let me know how you go. When we get rain, I'd love to send you a parcel full of cuttings so you can start your garden again. xxx

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  22. Rhonda, thank you for the good tips for gardening in extreme weather. Last summer we had the opposite problem...too much rain! It was an unusually wet summer, so i am thinking ahead as to what I can do. Lovely garden pictures, by the way.

    To your fellow readers experiencing the extreme heat and frightening bush fires, I think about you all regularly and hope and pray for relief soon.

    Enjoy your break from the internet and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas. And to all of us, I which us peace in the New Year.

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  23. Merry Christmas to you and your family Rhonda I hope you have a restful time in your break. I was wondering how your sister is getting on with the fires as I think from reading on your blog she lives in the Blue Mountains. I hope she is safe and well.

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    1. Thank you Kate, Merry Christmas to you too. My sister is good. Her street was closed at both ends on Saturday so she packed up and went out west to stay with her son and grandkids for the weekend. She returned home today, so yes, she is safe and well. Thanks for thinking of her. I'll pass on your best wishes. xx

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  24. Merry Christmas from Canada! Where I live in southern Ontario, the grass is still somewhat green, but maybe we will have snow for Christmas yet. Your garden looks beautiful and well cared for as always.

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  25. Merry Xmas Rhonda from the Mornington Peninsula. Thankyou for sharing so many helpful tips.Looking forward to your blog next year.xx

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  26. Your photos are so lush! I'm loving all of the greenery. We're in a completely opposite climate here in Central Maine (U.S.) and everything is covered in snow right now. I do miss the green, but it will come again soon. Happy New year to you and Hanno!

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  27. Heh, LET Hubby give me your books for the holidays and now I can delve into them...much looking forward to that!! Hope this year is a better one for everyone!!

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    1. I hope you enjoy them, Elizabeth. Let me know how you go with them. Happy new year!

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  28. Thank you Rhonda for your great advice for the garden. Our temperatures have been horrific here and many indigenous trees etc are dying, that is how dry it is. I have managed to get my veggie patch through with only a couple of casualties. Unfortunately I have so much shade over everything that they are not performing well. We are getting temperatures 45C+ even as high as 53C on one day! These kinds of temperatures are not normal for this time of year, and up until the heatwaves hit my veggies were doing great. Mother Nature can be cruel at times.

    Just wanted to pop in and wish you and your family a wonderful New Year!

    xTania

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    1. I'm so sorry to read about your vegies, Tania. The weather is really frightening, isn't it. I can even imagine what 53c feels like. I hope things start to improve soon. Do you have airconditioning in the house? I hate to think of you and your family suffering that sort of heat without being about to cool down.

      Despite the weather, I hope you have a great year ahead.

      Rhonda xx

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  29. So worried about the fires in Australia. I hope you and yours are all ok. I hope they get it under control soon and that the governments of the world take action on global warming before it's to late.

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    1. We're okay here, Eileen, but down south it's terrifying. Many lives have been lost, they reckon we've lost a large number of koalas, livestock and wildlife, and right now there seems to be no end in sight. I've given up on our politicians to give us any sort of leadership on this. When these fires were burning, our PM took his family to Hawaii for a holiday. I don't think he will ever be able to justify that.

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  30. Thinking of you all in Australia, Rhonda; I know what it is like, living here in California where we have had many out of control fires the last couple of years. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

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  31. So sorry about all the fires, you, your family and country are in my prayers.

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    1. Thank you, I appreciate your kind thoughts and prayers.

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  32. I came here because I don't know where else I can tell Australians how terribly sorry I am for what is going on in your country with the wildfires. The loss of life in humans and animals is heartbreaking. The devastation is heartbreaking. I pray for your country's citizens and animals. We may be far away geographically, but you are all close to our hearts. Connie Vaughn, State of Georgia, United States

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    1. Thanks Connie. It's terrifying and so many lives and homes lost. We have no leadership from our PM and people are struggling. Thank you for your kindness.

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  33. I want to tell you how much i think about you, and i hope this horrible fire will end.
    We see that on TV in France...
    I wish you a happy new year.

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    1. Hanno and I are fine, thanks for thinking of us. xx

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  34. I've been thinking about you and your family a lot Rhonda with all the awful news about the fires raging in Australia. It's truly a tragedy on all fronts and I'm keeping you and everyone in my prayers. ~Lynne

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    1. The out of control fires are many miles away from us and we're fine. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, Lynne. xx

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  35. I hope all is well. I came to see if you and your family were ok from the wild fires.

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  36. I hope you and your family are safe. God bless.

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  37. I never knew ginger loves heat. Thank you for sharing that. When I plant my garden this year, I will keep that sage wisdom in mind.

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