Sunday, April 29, 2012

April Shower Bonus ... My Dry Tropics Garden Journal ... Week 19, 2012.

Date:  April 29, 2012

Season: mid-Autumn and 'dry' season

Lots of dark dreary clouds rolled in on Friday and we had a brilliant downpour of rain which fell a little short of an inch of rain ... around 17 mm ... but was most welcome.  While we are certainly at the beginning our 'dry' season here in the northern tropics, an April shower is not totally uncommon.  It does happen, but it's not all that commonplace.  In fact, the rain that fell on Friday was the only rain that's fallen all this month.

I was over the moon when the heavens opened, because I hadn't yet gotten around to the mulching of the newer garden beds.  So it was very serendipitous that the ground got a lovely soaking just before I visited the nursery to get some bags of sugar cane mulch.  I didn't have to use up precious water to do the job.

Mulching is so very important for these newly developing garden beds, especially as our dry rolls on.  When I do start the regular watering by hand schedule out there, I need the watering to be useful for the newly established plants and not wasted through rapid evaporation.  Even if the daytime temps are dropping slightly, it's still very warm outside during the day and the ground gets baked quickly.

So I rushed out to the nursery yesterday to buy a couple of big bags of my favourite mulching medium ... sugar cane mulch.   On the opposite side of the driveway the mulch is provided by the overhanging trees, but on the side where this rock garden bed is located, I need to add mulch if I want it on the bed.  I've been using sugar cane mulch for a couple of years now, and I can't speak highly enough of it.  It is wonderful for moisture retention and for water penetration as the coarse mulch does not compact like others.  I also find that here in the tropics, this particular mulch seems to promote earthworms, which is fantastic for the rather nutrient poor soil that's the norm for this property.

I'm sure I almost hear the plants smacking their lips when it's time to add this 'Sweet Garden' product!!!  Of course, we're lucky that we live close to sugar cane farm country, so this is locally produced in our region, and not very expensive.

While I was at the nursery I'm afraid I didn't stop at just buying a couple of bags of mulch.  I couldn't resist picking up just a couple more little plants to add to one of the rock garden sections of the driveway garden that I've been working so hard on lately.  It was only a few little babies, and so necessary to fill in some empty spots!!!!  Sounds good doesn't it?

So, I've added a couple of dwarf Ixoras ... Ixora 'Yellow Sunshine'.  Ixoras are just so well suited to the climate and conditions here, and they flower almost all year round when well-established.  I'm looking forward to the splashes of colour the these Ixoras will provide in this difficult spot along the driveway garden beds.

I also added two beautiful little baby Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Phantom Black'  ... otherwise known as Mondo Grass.  This particular variety has upright green foliage which turns jet black as it ages.  The two I bought already had tiny spikes of white flowers, which apparently are supposed to be highly scented, but I didn't pick that up at all.  Maybe as they mature, the flowers' perfume will develop.

Finally, I added just one pink-flowering Serissa foetida.  I've been looking for the white one for ages, but I'm quite happy to add the pink form to this section of the garden.  Serissa foetida is another dwarf evergreen shrub.  This variety will bear masses of very tiny pink flowers, and will develop lovely variegated foliage as it matures.

After the planting, I then went about tucking the sugar cane mulch in around the plants on this rock garden section.   This section has now had compost added, fertiliser added and given a healthy covering of mulch.  I now want everything to hurry up and grow!  At the end of the year, nearer to the 'wet' season, I'll add a ground-cover or two which should then spread quickly with the arrival of the rains.

I also mulched the other little rock garden section and watered them both down as well, just to settle the mulch.

While I was out in the driveway section of the property this weekend, I decided to tackle a weeding / clearing out job I'd been putting off for ages.  My darling husband has been working on extending the garage at the end of the driveway for a while now.  It's slow-going, as he's doing everything himself, but only doing what we can afford each step of the way.  He's now up to the 'adding-fill' part of the job, so the end is getting a little closer. 

You may remember I took a shot of this spot after a particularly bad storm we had during our 'wet' season just back at the end of March.  It looked like we had installed a strange looking swimming pool, as it was completely filled with water.

Anyway, since then we had to wait until the area dried out so the next stage could begin.  Here's the first load of fill that arrived last weekend.  Now that pile is only half the size it was when the whole load first arrived.  By the time I'd taken this shot, darling husband had already spread almost half of it.  It's amazing just how much fill is needed for a job like this.

When he had spread the load, he realised it wasn't enough.  So ... we will need to get another load soon.  Well ... during this on-going project that section of garden bed you can see over near the fence in the photo above was completely neglected by myself mainly because of the mess that was scattered around.  After the long 'wet' season, this whole section was almost over-run with the horrid Passiflora foetida, or what we call Stinking Passionfruit.  It's a real thug of a vine, and very difficult to remove once it gets its little twirly bits curled around plants branches.

I did my best and the section does look a whole lot better now.  I ended up pulling out quite a few baby Delonix regia or Poinciana trees as well.  They had literally sprung up everywhere.  They can also become a big nuisance and take over very quickly.  They're very very hardy in this climate.

One of the hardiest trees of all time though, has to be the Spathodea campanulata or African Tulip Tree.  Out of shot in the photo above, to the right, there's a section where a mature Spathodea has been growing every since we moved in here.   It was completely knocked over during Cyclone Yasi at the beginning of last year.  It crashed through the fence over into our neighbour's yard, falling flat on the ground and exposing the root system.

Well, after I had finished clearing out this section beside the new garage area, it became very noticeable just how tough this old tree is.  Despite the root ball still being exposed, it's sprouted and has grown considerably in the year since being flattened.

Just look at the size of it now.  That's one hardy specimen.  There were lots of little babies as well that had sprouted from the suckers spreading out along the ground.  I ripped those out, as I really don't want any more of this huge tree growing in the garden.  While I'm happy enough to keep the old girl, I don't want any of her offspring.

Moving further along to the end of this garden bed, I weeded the patch underneath the enormous Eucalyptus platyphylla or Poplar Gum, for the first time.  Whenever I took photos from this angle, like this one that I took back at the beginning of last month, I would always avoid including the spot right under the Gum tree.  It was too ugly to share!  Anyway, this weekend I decided to plant some things in this patch, as it had been an eyesore ever since we moved in over ten years ago now.

I actually planted a non-red-flowering Hibiscus!!!  Yes, you heard right.  Those who have read my blog for a while know that I have many of the red-flowering Hibiscus rosa-sinensis shrubs in my garden, and I was very content with those ... until I walked past this particular variety during my nursery visit over the weekend.  It was on special ... and looked a little sad and unloved.  Apparently it has hot pink flowers which sounds good to me.  It's only a dwarf Hibiscus, so it should settle in nicely underneath the Eucalyptus.  It already has a few buds on it, so I'm looking forward to seeing those hot pink blooms soon.

In the same patch under the Eucalyptus, I planted some more of the Pennisetum advena 'Rubrum' or Purple Fountain Grass along with some unknown Cactus plants that were given to me a long time ago.  You can see them planted on the left in the shot above.  I have no idea what they are, but it seemed like the perfect spot to finally plant them up.  Let's hope these all take off well in this previously ugly corner of the garden.

While wandering back from the driveway at the end of the day, I nearly jumped for joy when I noticed the first ever bloom on one of my Desert Roses appearing.  It seems odd that it's the littlest of the two Adeniums that is about to flower first, but I'm not complaining.  Maybe the April shower gave it the boost it needed.  I'll be out there every morning now waiting to see the bloom.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

'Earth Day' On This Glorious Mid-Autumn Day ... My Dry Tropics Garden Journal ... Week 18, 2012.

Date:  April 22, 2012

Season:  mid-Autumn and beginning of our 'dry' season

Today is Earth Day, as you may be aware, and the perfect time to think about our role as caretakers of this precious world of ours.  Here in my north-eastern corner of Oz, I've just taken a bit of a wander round to appreciate what we have here on this rather challenging piece of property.

Since I began taking a more serious interest in looking after and developing the garden here around three years ago, I've had heartbreaks and triumphs, but through it all I've developed a much deeper appreciation of the wildlife and the plant life all around me.

I now wake up in the mornings trying to identify the birdsong around me.  Figbird song is almost a daily morning soundtrack.  But there is such a variety of bird life all around us, and birdsong can be heard almost all day long.

I find that whenever I'm wandering up and down the verandah, or in and out of the house and yard, I'm always looking to the trees and the skies to see if I can spot one of the daily winged visitors.

There's just so much joy in watching the antics of all the different land-bound creatures that visit our property.

It's a real privilege to be able to observe their daily lives up close, without actually changing their habits by interacting with them or befriending them.

I now pay more attention to the bushland that surround this place, and take note of the changes from the 'wet' to the 'dry'.  The change from green to brown in between the 'wet' and 'dry' seasons is an amazing spectacle to watch, along with the dramatic dropping of foliage.

It's also amazing how I now notice blooms out in the bush at various times of the year.  Last week there were many Melaleucas covered in their soft white blooms.

This weekend when I look out, I can spot bright pools of golden yellow in amongst all the green.

The Acacias are in bloom in the bushland all around us, and that's a sight I really love at this time of year.   In many parts of Australia, Acacias or Wattles are a common Spring bloomer, but here in the northern tropics, we see their flowers in mid-Autumn and through our Winter time.  Unfortunately, the golden yellow-blooming Acacia (I'm not entirely sure what variety it is) that's fairly common in the surrounding bush, has not popped up on our property anywhere just yet.

We are lucky though to have this gorgeous variety growing in the tiered garden beds near our house, and it's in full bloom right now.

I don't think I ever noticed the bushland blooms in the first eight or so years that we lived here.  Of course, in those days, I was completely absorbed with my working life and the autumn days of looking after young adult offspring, who have now left and begun lives of their own.

So now, I have more time ... more time to appreciate what's being growing since before we arrived, and more time to add to the garden spaces that had been created by the previous owners.  I'm now enjoying getting out as often as possible to do my bit.

Over this past particular weekend I've had a relatively easy gardening weekend.  The post-'wet' season clean up and clear out has now been completed.  Shrubs have been trimmed back.  Flowers yanked out.  Weeds mercilessly pulled out.   As a result of the post-'wet' activity, most of the outdoor garden beds are looking drab, and will only come back quite slowly over the coming 'dry' months.

The new rock garden still needs some filling out, but the plants established at the end of last year are coming along very well.  I've just added some more white Cuphea hyssopifolia and a Barleria 'Purple Gem'.  It's a slow process building this bed, as I wait patiently for cuttings to take off and develop to a point where they can be planted in the rather nutrient-poor soil.  I have just given all the newbies a lovely big feed though, so they get off to a decent start.  The mulching will be next weekend's job.  That will help keep the plants going as the 'dry' season rolls on.

This troublesome spot in one of the long driveway garden beds is showing some signs of progress.  The teeny weeny baby Callistemons I planted a couple of months back have not died, so I think they're going to be long-termers.  Hooray!  It's been an on-going problem trying to find plants that will grow in this difficult spot.  But slowly, slowly, it will come together.

The two protected, close-to-the house garden areas ... the shadehouse and courtyard gardens are now in the transition stage.  They've had their tidy up and trim back, and all the potted plants have been re-potted or topped up and trimmed back as well.  It's time to start the additions.  

Out in the shadehouse it's time to add the pots of newly struck Impatiens.  Most of my Impatiens plants don't make it through a long 'wet' season, so I take small cuttings for striking towards the end of the 'wet', and they're now ready to be potted up.  They will add some lovely colour during the months to come.

The Coleus and Salvia cuttings are doing very nicely out in the shadehouse at the moment as well.  Eventually they will be added to the garden area I'm creating under the new pergola out in the courtyard.

Out in the courtyard garden, I've pulled all the already established pots out and I've started moving them around in an attempt to create a fresher look.  I get tired of having the same old plants in the same old spots from year to year.  I also like to have different swatches of colour in different corners so my eyes don't get bored.  My darling hubbie has also been re-painting all the railings and lattice screens to help give the space a lift-me-up.

I've potted up some of my favourites ... my Petunia and Pansy seedlings ... to add to the courtyard.

This year I've got Petunia 'Giant Victorious' planted with some double white Petunias.

I've also got my  Petunia 'Stars Mixed' started as well. 

I'll be adding some more during the week.  I can't go without my Petunias during our late Autumn and Winter.  They usually last until early Summer if I treat them right.

I've potted up my first lot of Pansies as well.  My trusty Blues are in there with some Pansy 'Faces Mix'.  

The Violas are on the way too.  Love, love little Violas.

But while most of the garden is lacking flowers right now, the foliage plants come into their own.  It's at this time of year, the transition between the end of our Summer and the beginning of our Winter, when I usually have flowers in as many wallaby-proof corners as possible, that I really appreciate the variety of fabulous foliage that's around the place.

So, that's the state of play for this particular garden caretaker on Earth Day 2012, as our mid-Autumn month draws ever closer to its end.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Snapshots of Mid-Autumn ... It's An April Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Continuing my Snapshots series ... highlighting each mid-season here in my dry tropics corner of Australia.

Conditions during April?

We've been having our typical mid-Autumn weather lately.  Every morning we wake to blue skies and slightly cooler temperatures, usually around the 25 deg C  (77 F) mark.  Whilst it's still rather hot during the middle of the day, reaching anywhere between 28 deg C (82 F) and 31 deg C (87 F), the evenings are getting slightly cooler as well.

One of the biggest differences between our mid-Autumn and the Summer/Early Autumn that's just passed, are the humidity levels.  It's so refreshing and invigorating when the humidity drops from the 80-98% down to the 60-75%.  What a difference it makes!   You can work outside without the sweat pouring down your forehead, neck and arms after only ten or so minutes of gardening effort.

The glorious Autumn days are most certainly here and the plants no longer look heat-stressed.  The only drawback are the rather gusty mid-Autumn winds.  Out here in the foothills we do tend to get some very, very windy days at this time of year.  I often wake to find potted plants tipped over, and Eucalypt branches scattered around the front yard.

Occasionally, during the day the skies cloud over, but we've had no rain at all so far this month, which is typical for most years.  Yes ... you can search all around Madam Laughing Kookaburra, but there's no sign of rain.  Last year was a little different, with record-breaking rainfall totals for the beginning of April.  This year however, it appears that our 'dry' season is back to its usual schedule.

As a matter of fact, the entire rainfall total for the beginning of this year has been considerably different to the atypical beginning of year we had last year.  This year the pattern definitely seems to be back to the usual ... we've had around 1050 mms or 42 inches of rain ... so no records broken so far this year.

I've been out in the garden every day over the last week and a half, enjoying this wonderful time of year, and finishing a lot of clearing out, cutting back, digging up and weeding that needs to be done after a long 'wet' season is finished. 

These are necessary jobs though after months of rain, heat and high humidity, but it means the garden beds around the place are looking a little naked. So many of the plants get a little out of control at the beginning of the year and need taming.  While I've been out there doing my taming act, there have been loads of little insects, butterflies and bees out and about, all doing their best to help the garden along as well.

There have also been the usual gardening buddies hanging around while I've been trimming and weeding and feeding and watering.

Agile Wallabies,

Pheasant Coucals,

Peaceful Doves,


Forest Kingfishers,

and Spangled Drongoes.
Unfortunately, the first term break is now over and I've already been back at school for pupil-free days, so I'm back to gardening mostly on the weekends once again.  At the moment, the garden is still reviving from the 'wet' and the summer, so there's only a little on show out there.

Starting with the trees around the property .... what's blooming?

The rather understated flowers of the Tabebuia pallida are on show again.  These trees have now fully recovered from last year's ordeal and are looking wonderfully healthy and happy once more.

The same is true for the Citharexylum spinosaum or Fiddlewood tree, which still has flower sprays on display and still leaving just a whiff of perfume in the air.

There are spiky lemony yellow rods on my Acacia in the tiered garden beds.  It's been a while since it bloomed, as it took ages to recover from being striped of all its foliage at the beginning of last year.

The Melaleucas in the bushland on the little foothill opposite to us are all in bloom and look fabulous right now.

Next, out in the Courtyard Garden ... what's blooming?

Not very much at all at the moment.  I've recently done a fair bit of trimming back or dead-heading of nearly all the potted plants out there, so the courtyard garden remains rather a dreary spot for now.  The pots of annuals are not well advanced yet, and they will not be moved out onto the courtyard until they're beginning to bloom.  

Here's the Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender',

and the Cleome spinosa 'Senorita Rosalita', up close.

The only other plants providing a little colour are the Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' and Wrightia,

and the Torenias, the Angelonias and the Begonia semperflorens.

Under the pergola,

there's a few Jasminum officinale blooms showing,

and one of the newly planted clumps of Spathoglottis plicata is blooming.

The first blooms on two of the newly planted Salvias have appeared.

 There's the hot pink

and the white.  (Thanks Titania ... if only I could remember their names!!!)

Now, which shrubs around the property are blooming?

Out in the front and side yards ...

Pentas lanceolatas continue blooming.

The first blooms on my dwarf Azalea  have appeared ... a little early this year.

The dwarf Allamanda cathartica 'Sunee' continues to bloom.  It's been blooming happily for months now.

There are still blooms on the Mussaenda philippica 'Bangkok Rose' and, of course, the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Snowflake' has blooms.

Down the driveway ...

The first of the Calliandra Haematocephala or Red Powderpuff flowers have appeared.

Right at the end of the hill driveway, there are still bracts and blooms on the Mussaenda philippica 'Aurore'.

In the top bed of the tiered garden beds, there are bracts and blooms appearing once more on the unusual Mussaenda 'Calcutta Sunset'.

Here and there in the garden beds ...

The Cuphea and Galphimia glauca make a great pair.

There are some pretty Impatiens walleriana blooms to be seen in some shady spots.

The Dianthera nodosa has started showing it strange Lady Finger flowers again.

The native Cordyline cannifolia in the tiered garden beds is throwing out flower sprays.

One of the real surprises out in the tiered garden beds was the unexpected blooming of my Hemerocallis 'Picotee Bubbles'.  This is not usual for mid-Autumn!!

Last of all, what's blooming in the Shadehouse Garden?

Not much.  The Curcumas have finished blooming a little early this year, and all the hanging pots of Impatiens walleriana are still springing back from the drastic haircut they all received a few weeks ago.

The ever-blooming Dragon Wing Begonias are still carrying on doing their thing,

as are the Costus productus.

The Globba winitii flowers still dangle from the end of the stems,

but the stars out in the shadehouse at the moment are my Dendrobium and Anthurium.

I'm joining Carol's Garden Blogger's Bloom Day,

Gesine's Blogger Bloom Day

Tootsie's Fertilizer Friday / Flaunt Your Flowers,

and Nix's  Floral Friday Fotos

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