EASTER IS OVER AND autumn is here. We have had good rain. We gardeners need it.
I am tired and dispirited. I am tired of carrying buckets of grey water from the house to the garden, just trying to keep things going until it rains. I am tired of getting up in the dark for the permitted 6-8am hand-held hose watering. Tuesday I do the front garden, Saturday the back, and as it is not light enough to water at 6am, the precious two-hour timeslots are drastically reduced.
Several consecutive days of 39-degree heat caused my little lemon tree to curl its leaves, another azalea died and I have had to dispose of the bodies of a baby ringtail possum, three blackbirds and a silver-eye. (I kept the birdbath full. Why did they die?)
My back lawn has become a bleak wasteland, as hard as concrete. Some timber on a pergola was being replaced, and as the builder tried with the back of an axe to drive in a thick supporting peg the ground was so unrelenting that the peg split.
Several times showers were forecast, and I hopefully listened to the radio as places such as Warrnambool, Horsham and Geelong reported falls, sometimes up to 10 mils. I watched the western sky darken, and if a few big drops fell I would cross my fingers. Then the sun would come out again. The hydrangeas still drooped.
I think of so many other gardeners who have been beavering away, or have given up. There must be a whole army of us out there who, after so many months of drought, have lost the ability to stay optimistic and maintain the enthusiasm for upkeep on our own much-loved patch.
Slowly we are learning to change the way we garden. We mulch more, remembering to get water through the mulch deep into the underlying soil. We keep grass away from the root areas of our large trees. We are favouring Australian natives. I have replaced a frail old camellia with a ‘Robyn Gordon’ grevillea, which is flourishing. Happily, the little thorn bills have already found it.
I am planting banksias and grevillea where the ill-fated azaleas have left gaps. Even my patio now has a delightful native in a pot, the lovely little Banksia spinulosa (‘Birthday Candles’), and it has remained quite cheerful without the need for shade throughout the hottest and driest of days.
I do not plan to do a grand garden make-over favouring Australian natives but some changes are evolving. The mix of my old traditional shrubs and trees with my new Australian plants may be inappropriate in the eyes of a purist but does not offend my senses. It is like introducing a few pieces of antique furniture into a modern setting. If it’s done creatively, it seems to work. Anyway, if that’s what it takes to cheer me up and instil some enthusiasm into my flagging gardener’s spirits, then I say bring it on. At least the rain has come. Hallelujah.
— LYN McGRATH