Sprinter pottering

Sunday, 31 July 2011

New plants waiting to be put in

Saturday's glorious Sydney weather reminded us that, though it's officially still winter, we seem to be tumbling into spring. I like the word 'sprinter' to represent the transition between these seasons in our climate - a time that seems to run from late July to early September. I decided to head into the garden and make the most of an unexpected completely free day. But I really wanted to accomplish some things: I am so envious of those people who can make a list of garden chores, methodically carry them out and feel a true sense of achievement at the end of a day in the garden.

I certainly had things to do: a new Camellia sasanqua to plant in my driveway (where the previous one had been flattened by the falling blue gum tree TWO years ago); a newly purchased blood orange tree to be planted; a congested clump of daylilies that desperately needed to be divided and replanted; and numerous other tasks that had been hanging over my head for the past few weeks. I decided to observe my behaviour objectively as the day unfolds, to see what happens when I venture into the garden ...


I set out full of good intentions. I trundle the wheelbarrow to the compost heap and start digging out some well-rotted compost to use for all my planned plantings. As I dig, I come across some white curl grubs, so I pop them into a bucket. I take these all the way up to the top of our yard to give to Charlotte, the hen. I am glad to see her greedily scoff them. She makes clucking noises, as mother hens do to call their chicks when there is something good to eat. This makes me feel sad, as she has no other hens for company these days. I make a mental note to buy a new chicken or two when I am at the produce store getting the enormous bags of organic fertiliser I need for my annual feed of the garden in a few weeks' time.

Hemerocallis Black Plush, flowering in late spring and early summer

I return to the back garden to the site of the daylilies. I note that there are lots of horrid weeds in this bed so I set about removing them first - some really nasty onion weed and sour sob - so I need to get a bucket to put these in: back to the top of the yard. Finally, I dig out the daylilies - a truly gorgeous 'spider' cultivar called 'Black Plush' with purple-black elegant petals and a bright yellow throat. In just a few years, the single fan I had bought from a mail-order specialist has expanded to form a tight clump of at least a dozen plants. I find it impossible to separate them by hand or with a spade so back to the top of the garden to fetch a vicious-looking old cane-cutting knife that I keep hidden in the garage for just such occasions.

With a satisfying couple of blows, the clump is severed and I am able to tease each plant apart. These are placed gently into their original spot, which I first amend with a few good spadefuls of compost. I meditate on the joy of compost and what a wonderful way it is to improve soil - something I learned at my parents' knee. I recall how only a few years ago this bed was just weeping red clay and now has the delightful consistency of crumbled chocolate cake. The fans - trimmed back to get rid of the old foliage - seem to heave a sigh of relief to each have their own space; this section now resembles a miniature rice paddy but I feel hugely chuffed that I have ticked off one task! But ... there are a few surplus daylily fans ... I can't bring myself to throw them away, so back up to the top of the yard to pot them up to give to the garden club sales table!

New growth on Salvia leucantha

Whilst up there, I notice in a nearby bed that the huge bushes of Salvia leucantha are just asking to be pruned. Velvety-stemmed new growth is coming through at the base of the plant and the straggly old stems look so hideous. So these are all removed. This reminds me that there are other Salvia in the garden of the same type, with basal new growth, that can be safely pruned now, such as S. 'Anthony Parker', S. 'Meigan's Magic' and S. 'Phyllis' Fancy'. I chop them all back and admire my handiwork - though bare, these sections now look much neater and I visualise how soon they will fill out once spring comes. I wander back down to the back garden to put all these old stems on the growing pile of mulching that needs to be done (NOT by me!). This takes me past the spot where the neighbour's dog hangs out - as I am trying to tame this dog so she doesn't bark viciously at me every time I am in the garden, I need to pat her and throw a ball for it a few times. She has trouble learning how to give the ball back to me without biting my hand off but after a few attempts, she has it nailed.

Buddleja Spring Promise

After this, I pull up some more weeds and cut back some ornamental grasses, a task I had previously forgotten to do and which has become urgent as the new growth will be appearing at any moment. Standing deep in the border, I stop to smell the white, fragrant wands of Buddleja 'Spring Promise' that I planted last year and its scent instantly transports me into spring. This reminds me of another fragrant late-winter blooming Buddleja that I planted last year - B. salvifolia - and I wonder how it's getting on. Back to the top garden where I see it has a few plump flower buds amidst its silver-tinged luxurious foliage and I admire the carpet of violets in full bloom below it and make a note to put more in so that all the ground is covered, as there is still a lot of space here filled with weeds! These need to be pulled up ...

Somehow, the hours pass with random pottering taking me from one area in the garden to the next, each action triggering another, and before I know it, it is time to go inside. Anyone observing me would consider me a totally inefficient and disorganised worker. I had only ticked off one task from my original list, but I was as happy as a lark and realised that in gardening, it is exactly this sort of haphazard pottering that soothes our minds and makes us love our hobby.