Down in the garden
In this gardening feature IRT Maintenance Gardener, Brian Wardhaugh, talks about resilience.
When I think of resilience, I don’t know of a better word that applies to Australians in general and particularly to our farmers and gardeners.
After the year that was, where everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at us, it’s good to reflect on a way forward for those with a keen love of gardening.
Health wise, we have learnt that social distancing and washing our hands regularly with soap or using hand sanitiser can keep us healthy and limit trips to the doctor. It is particularly important to wear a mask around potting mixes and mulches, not a big deal anymore with the positive outcomes from wearing protective equipment being well documented.
We have learnt that we will be impacted by more weather extremes similar to a ‘weather bomb’ in late 2020 where two days of unrelenting heat and wind turned lush gardens into burnt ones. Even agaves were impacted, with foliage cooked white by the extraordinary heat. Get in early and get the water into vulnerable plants. Shade cloth or makeshift covers can limit sun damage, but long-term resilience will mean choosing tougher plants. Species selection and placement will be paramount to a successful garden and gardening when the weather permits will be equally important for residents’ health.
In the garden in early summer bangalow palms and cyathea species will not look good until older foliage is removed and the rain returns. Once widely planted I would only use these rainforest species in really sheltered microclimates, as days over 40 degrees are sorting out what we are capable of growing well.
For northern IRT residents the cyclone season’s flooding and wind can create as much damage to lives and property as the bushfires, which devastated so many parts of the country.
Rebuilding gardens may be the only option after really severe weather. Some of the plants I have had success with and are suitable for the smaller garden and heat include limonium perezii (sea statice), leucanthemum (shasta daisy), leucadendron (protea), euphorbia stardust, geranium big red, pennisetum rubrum dwarf form (purple fountain grass), nepeta species (catmint) and scaevola pink form (our native fan flower).
Petunias also revel in the warmer weather and provide colour and good value for money all through the summer months. My standout perennial though would have to be catmint for its all-round toughness and long flowering season.
While many of our old favourite garden plants still power on through hell and high water, there will be others that will rely on supplementary watering and more tending while the dams are full.
Knowing how important gardens are to residents and staff alike, the IRT Gardening team and our resident gardeners will continue to complement the natural world with colour, shape and form, under whatever challenging conditions lie ahead.