"Garden surprises"

Returning from a recent holiday, I found a few surprises in my garden.
Sunday, 26 February 2012     

Hydrangea aspera Villosa Group has never been as tall and floriferous as this summer

Returning home recently after eight days' holiday, I was amazed at the changes in my garden during that time. I am always desperate to walk round the whole garden when I have been away for a while, to see what has been going on. Though last week had some brilliant sunny days, there were also several heavy downpours (including one big storm) during my absence, and the extra moisture combined with a few days of sunshine has fuelled extra growth everywhere. I have heard many mutterings lately along the lines of 'plants on steroids', and that is my thought exactly when I contemplate the jungle-like growth in my garden. 'Triffids' is another word that springs to mind, something not thought of since I was in high school 40 years ago when I read the book The Day of the Triffids.

I have never before seen my cane Begonia reach to the eaves of the house, for example. I saw the same phenomenon in a friend's garden yesterday. In both cases, it is the old-fashioned white cane Begonia that has headed skywards with all the rain. Other Begonia are being more restrained in height, but they are flowering as never before. Many plants are taller and lusher than usual, including Canna, Hydrangea and Japanese windflower - all ones that in their heart of hearts relish water, even though they grow quite well in drier situations. Flowering stems on the Japanese windflowers are taller than I am, and just about to open their beautiful pristine petals. Our hedges are shaggy within days of being trimmed, as are our attempts at a few topiary spheres. The lawn is almost psychedelically green, and seems to grow overnight.

Of course, the weeds are also in full flight and it's hard to know where to start to attempt to rein in all this incredible growth. I find the only way I can cope is to divide my garden up into sections on a piece of paper and concentrate on just one part at a time, ticking it off when it is done to get a sense of achievement. Otherwise, it is just too overwhelming, and I find thoughts of moving to a unit with a just a few pot plants start to seem very, very appealing.

Other surprises I found as I wandered around my garden included flowers on my yellow and red Lycoris bulbs. These strange spidery blooms generally appear on leafless stems in late summer and autumn, but they are very unpredictable in Sydney. I had thought that with all the rain, I wouldn't get any flowers this year, as I assumed they liked hot, dry summers - but ones that haven't bloomed for years have popped up in the time that I was away. It has also been an exceptional year for the belladonna lilies (Amaryllis belladonna) - I have never seen so many in bloom everywhere, as well as in my garden.

Another surprise has been my Abutilon plants. I have long struggled against the horrid 'leaf-rolling' caterpillar that attacked my Abutilon specimens every year in summer. This year, I applied a product called Success to the leaves as soon as I noticed the first rolled-up leaves before I went away, and on my return I found that there has been no further damage by the pests. This is a harmless (to us) spray comprised of a bacteria that is lethal to caterpillars. It has to be mixed up in a spray bottle (which I normally loathe) but it is very easy to use. I am grateful to the gardeners who suggested this to me and I really feel I can recommend it to others who have the same problem. At one stage, I started to pull out my Abutilon plants because of the problem (which I now regret!).

There have been a few unpleasant surprises as well in my garden. Snails have been having a field day with all the wet weather, and have chewed through a number of plants, making lace doileys of my potted Hosta collection, for example. The excessive rain has caused some of my perennials - those that have a basal cluster of foliage - to rot off because of poor drainage and/or too much humidity around the leaves. Some fatalities have included Aquilegia specimens, some Lychnis coronaria and a few Rehmannia elata: which are all normally pretty reliable perennials in our Sydney climate. Some of my Pelargonium plants - which revel in hot, dry weather - are struggling, afflicted by fungal problems. Lack of sunlight and cool temperatures seem to have inhibited the flowering of some of my Salvia, so I am hoping that they will do better once we have a run of warmer weather.

Our gardens will continue to surprise us and teach us for as long as we garden, keeping us challenged and on our toes! This summer's lesson has been about what an abundance of water can do for our plants!

 Reader Comments

1/10  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 27 February 2012

A great blog to start the week and spot on (leaf spot!?). How lucky we are though. Our bird population is very happy - the skinks maybe not so much. I weed following my garden walk route. The wheelbarrow is frequently abandoned full somewhere along the way as I head for home. More rain Wednesday! Thanks, Peta. I must say our birds are very happy and vocal at the moment - I hadn"t attributed it to all the rain! Deirdre

2/10  10dril - 3146 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 27 February 2012

I"ve found a susrpise too; A Crinium that I thought I"d gotten rid of all of 45 bulbs, thinking they were amaryllis. I"m glad I"ve got this, even if its later foliage will look slippery and limp and the wrong shape compared to the irises it"s among. They are so pretty when they bloom - but I agree the foliage can be a bit revolting. Deirdre

3/10  Libby - 2093 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 27 February 2012

Hi, For many years I have struggled to get my cannas and my Brillantaisia to grow. This year they hide my 1.8m fences and my garden is full of butterflies. Unfortunately my collection of salvias have yet to flower though they all reach the top of the fence too. Yes it has been unfavourable weather for the salvia blooms, but they may come good in autumn, as I find that is the very best time of year for them. Deirdre

4/10  Robin - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 27 February 2012

Thank you for the recommendation for Success spray, Deirdre. Your new booklet is very interesting and helpful - a must-read and a great gift for fellow gardeners. Thanks, Robin. Hope you find the spray helpful. Deirdre

5/10  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 27 February 2012

Having had a sore shoulder I know that overwhelming feeling and "just a few pots" would be easier, but I agree seeing one small patch done I feel inspired again and begin to think of what to plant next.I wonder if its the challenge gardeners aspire to:-) I think it must be! Deirdre

6/10  Elyson - 4069 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Monday, 27 February 2012

Three short weeks ago my garden looked pristine (slight exaggeration) and now it"s a jungle! I am sure you are right; the only way to tackle it is in small sections. One bit at a time. I think it does work. I just need to get out there and start doing it! Deirdre

7/10  Carolyn - 2125 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 27 February 2012

Hi Deirdre, I"ve hada few surprises with plants flowering out of season. I have a beautiful hellebore in flower and my red waratah has a red flower just opening up - in February! That is really amazing! Some of my autumn plants seem early to bloom, too, but those ones are really out of season! Deirdre

8/10  Rae - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 27 February 2012

I have been wondering why my anenomes were SOOOO tall this year - now I know. Our huge japonica has black spots on its leaves and our grass is not happy with the ltd sunlight and our tomatoes have been such a disappointment! Its nice to focus on the positive! Thanks Deirdre. My tomatoes are pretty tragic too. Hopefully, the garden problems will resolve themselves once we get some more sun. Deirdre

9/10  Norma - 3058 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 27 February 2012

Thanks for the entertaining and so informative, garden blog. My only complaint is that it is Sydney centric - while I live and garden in Melbourne. Several blogs back I got so excited by the great plant sale around the corner only to find is in Sydney. Norma Sorry about that, Norma! I wish I knew about gardening in Melbourne as you can grow lots of things that struggle for us. Deirdre

10/10  Noela - 6009 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Tuesday, 28 February 2012

OK fellow bloggers; here"s your chance to help me decide. I want to plant just one more tree to give shade and colour. My WA garden is hot, gravelly and dry until winter. Does anyone have good advice on how to speed the growth of Crepe Myrtle? My choice is either one of these or a Prunus nigra!

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