Returning home

Sunday, 07 February 2016

Murraya hedge and sphere in need of a haircut

I was only away for a week. What happened??? I know it was all due to the rain, heat and humidity Sydney experienced during that time - but the way my garden looked when I returned home on Thursday was as if all my plants, sensing my absence, connived to kick up their heels, take performance-enhancing drugs, and go completely feral. The Murraya hedges and spheres grew lime-green afro hairdos. Many shrubby perennials had surely doubled in size. The lawn turned into something resembling a long-neglected meadow, and the previously sedate vines on the front pergola had mounted an attack on the house.

Perennial Ageratum

I forced myself to unpack all our luggage before I went outside to do 'the Tour'. It felt as if I had been away for months, not seven days. The burgeoning of plant growth was truly remarkable, and my fingers itched to immediately start hacking back the plants that were muscling out their neighbours. I realised anew how much of gardening is simply stopping plants from taking over their appointed space. As a younger gardener, I assumed plants would just merge beautifully together; these days I know that certain ones would like the run of the whole garden, and only I and my secateurs stand between them and that goal. Being overgrown by a nearby plant is a quick path to death for many plants, and it has happened many, many times in my garden; being a plantaholic, I am always trying to squeeze more and more plants in. A particular offender is my perennial Ageratum; it had seemingly tripled in size and begun to suffocate the smaller plants nearby. Many Salvia can also grow much wider than we fondly imagine as we plant them as a baby specimen from a tiny pot!

Combretum indicum

The climbers on the pergola had sent out long arms in every direction - up, down and across, with dangling stems tickling my head as I walked below. My quisqualis vine (often called Rangoon creeper and now officially named Combretum indicum), grown from a tiny slip from a piece that was poking through a fence along the route of my daily walk, had finally taken off, after several years of sulking. This is an unusual plant, which can initially masquerade as a shrub but is in reality a vigorous vine, with sharply hooked stems that help it cling to supports. Its clusters of fragrant harlequin flowers start off white, and change to pink then red as they age. After seeing it waving its long canes high in the air this week, I am not sure whether maybe I have planted a monster ... I'm pretty sure it can be a problem in warmer parts of the country; in Sydney perhaps winter will dampen its enthusiasm?

Petrea volubilis

My Petrea volubilis creeper was in full bloom upon my return: it had already flowered brilliantly in spring and is just as stunning this time round. Its pendulous lilac tresses resemble dainty Wisteria blossoms. This is a rewarding plant to grow in frost-free gardens. Like the quisqualis, it takes a while to settle in, and doesn't like winter much when it is young and short in stature. Once it hoists itself up higher, however, it copes much better with chilly weather. It is sometimes called the sandpaper vine, because its leaves really do feel quite grainy! Over time this climber can become quite robust, so needs a sturdy support; if it gets too big it can be cut back hard and it will regrow.

White form of Amaryllis belladonna

Elsewhere in the garden, I was astonished and delighted to see that all my belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna) were in full bloom. These arise from leafless bulbs on a tall, fleshy stem, and add a bold, fresh note to the late summer garden. The pointy buds of their smaller relatives the Lycoris are also starting to emerge, soon to unfurl their yellow or red spidery blooms. These bulbs are unpredictable in the Sydney climate but when they do decide to bloom, it is a lovely surprise. Related to these same bulbs are the rain lilies (Zephyranthes species) and a ribbon of these beneath the hedge greeted me with their chalice-shaped flowers as I arrived home. They had already bloomed three or four times this summer, as they seem to respond to any decent fall of rain. The commonly seen one is white, but there are pink, lemon and bright yellow forms, and they multiply easily to form clumps over time.

Of course, weeds too enjoyed the excellent growing conditions over the past week, though the areas I had covered with cane mulch fared better than the places that had missed out. Wandering jew in particular seems to have flourished and had stretched itself out in a luxuriant carpet in various parts of my garden. Other weeds peeped up from every nook and cranny in paths and paving. After a few hours' work armed with a trowel and my secateurs over the weekend, I've started to get the place a bit more under control. Mowing of the lawns restored an instant veneer of civilisation, and the hedges will soon be shorn of their crazy locks. It's good to be home and back in the garden!