A shift of season

Sunday, 27 March 2011

A new crop of Zephyranthes candida after the recent rainfall

There comes a time in late March when we suddenly realise that there has been a shift of season. The debilitating humidity has disappeared from the air, which now seems crisp, fresh and clear. An edge has gone from the intense heat of the day, the amber sunlight feels mellow and benign, and nights are a little nippier. Lawns are spangled with dew at dawn and noisy parrots arrive in the garden to feast on autumn nectar and berries. Spiders snare the unwary in their silken webs. Strange and sometimes beautiful fungi may appear in the garden and a damp, leafy fragrance is discernible in the air. That time has come this week and the balmy days of autumn in Sydney have arrived, bringing with them one of the best times of the year for people and plants alike to be alive and in the garden.

Many Salvia bloom in March, including the spectacular Meigans Magic (right)

Many gardeners in the northern hemisphere, particularly England, have traditionally regarded autumn as a time of senescence and decay in the garden, as early frosts, the rapidly shortening days and reducing light levels there signal a dreary end to the glories of their mild summer season. By contrast, because of our geographical location, our fine autumn days in Sydney are relatively long, bright and warm, with big cobalt skies that would make an ex-pat weep, and they bring for us a longed-for relief from the intense heat and humidity of our trying late summer weather. The angle and quality of the light changes as the sun arcs lower in the sky, backlighting and side-lighting petals, leaves, seed-heads and spider webs with an incandescent glow; polishing evergreen leaves with extra lustre and casting longer shadows across the garden.

Anemone x hybrida Bowles Pink (left) with Plectranthus ecklonii (right)

Although - as we saw last weekend and alas even today - we can expect some spells of wet weather during autumn (indeed March is traditionally our wettest month) on the whole this season can be a wonderful, comfortable time for relaxing, eating, entertaining and working in the garden. It is a sheer joy to be outdoors on a fine autumn day: this time of year actually makes me feel quite giddy with gardening ideas! Much productive work can be done in the garden while enjoying being outside at this time: the chores of mowing, watering and weeding are less pressing and we can indulge in some of the truly pleasurable acts of gardening which were denied to us during the heat of summer - planting spring-flowering bulbs, seeds and seedlings; dividing and replanting congested perennial; planting new plants; moving plants that are in the wrong place;spreading mulch; and creating compost. The earth is warm and eager to accept new plantings and our own gardening enthusiasm and energy seem to return after the humidity-induced ennui of February.

Autumn-blooming climber Antigonon leptopus

Because of our mild climate, autumn sees the continued flowering of many warm-climate summer blooming shrubs and perennials, including Canna, many Salvia, Pentas, Dahlia, Brillantaisia, shrub and cane Begonia, Euryops chrysanthemoides, which are now joined by a host of flowering plants which bloom here only when autumn has arrived, bringing fresh life and renewed interest to the garden at this time of year as well as a sense of seasonal change. Strolling round my garden today I was thrilled by the re-flowering of all my Zephyranthes bulbs, responding to last week's rain; the quivering windflowers (Anemone x hybrida); many autumn-flowering Salvia (including Salvia mexicana Lime Calyx, Salvia 'Meigan's Magic', Salvia leucantha in its purple, white and pink forms; many sorts of Aster; numerous Plectranthus, which are at their absolute peak at the moment; the opening blooms of Camellia sasanqua; the unusual flowers of the pretty climbing coral vine Antigonon leptopus and the snail vine, Vigna caracalla, and the first rich purple flowers of Tibouchina lepidota.

Other discoveries I made today were the emerging foliage of spring bulbs such as Watsonia, Freesia and Babiana, and the baby leaves of thick crops of self-sown spring annuals such as Nigella damescens and Orlaya grandiflora. These all added to my feelings of autumn-induced euphoria!

See the list of what is out in my garden in March on the homepage for more plants in flower now.