Down in the garden
In this gardening feature IRT Maintenance Gardener, Brian Wardhaugh, discusses gardening in challenging times.
With much of the country limping into the cooler months after what was the most brutal of summers, most of us would have thought the worst of it was behind us.
Late summer rainfall not only helped extinguish the most destructive bushfires on record, but saved many a garden plant from drought induced death.
As quite often happens after prolonged drought, intense rainfall brought floods to some parts of the country and life-giving rains to paddocks and pasture, filling dams and flushing rivers and bringing a new sense of hope to our ravaged land.
And then in mid-January the first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported in Australia. Since then much of normal life has been turned upside down, with restrictions on movement impacting many of us, in particular those in aged care facilities.
For me the bushfire season was a game changer, as a warming climate is impacting the range of plants we can grow successfully.
My advice is to use marginal plants (anything susceptible to extremes of weather) as short-term options only. The bones of the garden will have to be really drought and heat tolerant, and anyone living near bushfire-prone areas will have to rethink their gardens entirely.
Consider flame retardant plants and mulches, more setback areas from flammable bush, and more effective irrigation options.
Flammable trees like eucalyptus and pine species can be replaced with smaller deciduous trees and rainforest species like lilly pillies, which don’t burn as readily. With forests burning hotter it’s time for a more intuitive approach to dealing with our natural areas.
The return of drenching rain saw brown lawns turn green almost overnight and shrubs and trees responded by pushing out welcome new growth. Every weed seed lying dormant took the opportunity to sprout, with growing conditions perfect for reproduction, which meant lots of weeding when there was still warmth and adequate soil moisture.
Now we find ourselves in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and the number one priority is staying safe. Thankfully gardening is an outlet that can be really rewarding in the cooler weather, and can be naturally self-distancing.
Gardening supply stores were hit early by panic buying, meaning vegetables and annuals had been in short supply, although as stock replenishment returns to normal and isolation restrictions are lifted we can return to using more colour in the garden. A great solution is to divide favourite perennials, or to take cuttings of easy-to-grow plants like succulents and geraniums. It’s extremely rewarding and cost effective to grow your own plants, as many residents know.
It is also a good time to plant hardy bulbs like daffodils and jonquils and rejig those pot plants that are looking jaded.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and I am seeing a growing determination, humour and resilience amongst many residents as we all look forward to better days ahead.
Gardening tips from Brian
- To keep the appetite growing for gardening, why not watch the gardening and lifestyle shows on television.
- Listen in to the radio programs on Saturday morning for some light entertainment and helpful gardening hints.
- Start browsing old magazines for inspiration and tips on getting the garden ready for spring.
- Dig out those old packets of seeds in the second drawer you were always meaning to plant but never got around to it. You never know your luck.
- Disinfect gardening tools and secateurs using a household disinfectant or two per cent bleach solution.
- Throw some edible greens in a reasonable-sized pot and keep them in a sunny spot with a daily water.
- Watch out for scale insects at the moment. Many of the smaller lilly pillies are carrying white wax scale. Treatment is squashing them or spraying with eco or white oil. I’m finding them very persistent and needing multiple sprays.
- Indoor plants can do with a gentle hose down to remove dust and freshen foliage with the relaxation of water restrictions. Remember to only use a trigger nozzle before 10am and after 4pm.