This July, my gardening enthusiasm was at an all-time low. After a bout of a really nasty flu, and being thoroughly fed up with what seems to have been one of the bleakest Sydney winters for quite some time, I had neglected my garden. The thought of living in an apartment was becoming very appealing. Luckily, we had some time ago planned a holiday in north Queensland and it proved just the tonic I needed to restore my interest in gardening!
For one thing, it was warmer up there - not hugely so, and the locals were complaining about their 'cold' winter - but enough to lift the spirits. Though I had not expected to look at plants or gardens during the trip, being so jaded at the time, I soon found myself drawn to them, as there was so much that was different to our gardens. I love the easy-going flamboyance of many Queensland gardens and envy their use of truly tropical plants. Coloured foliage is used frequently and I found that I realised I actually did like Cordyline plants after all! The cerise-coloured sorts were particularly effective, such as the one pictured above seen near Airlie Beach Lagoon. I have worked out a spot in my own garden where I can try some, to echo the similarly hued blooms of tall Canna iridiflora.
Another Queensland favourite seemed to be the golden-leaved form of Duranta erecta (one cultivar being 'Sheena's Gold'). I saw this used a lot as hedges, such as the one pictured in the grounds of the place where we stayed at Tinaroo Lake in the Atherton Tablelands. This plant is usually seen as a specimen plant, but it looked very effective as a clipped hedge.
In the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens, a well-set out showcase of the flora, natural features and cultural heritage of the region, I admired many plants, but was particularly taken by the Phillip Island hibiscus (Hibiscus insularis, pictured). This is a critically endangered species, growing as a large shrub or small tree to 2.5 m high. Flowers open in a cream colour with a dark magenta centre but age to red or purple. It is endemic to Phillip Island in the Norfolk Island Group, where it is found only in three patches. I thought it was a very attractive flower.
Whilst visiting the Eungella National Park (in the Mackay region) - which I can highly recommend, as it is the only place I have ever seen platypuses in the wild - we came across a unique garden adjoining a cafe. It has been created by Susanne Dedner and contains some amazing mosaic, stone and crystal features, all constructed by hand, cleverly set within a tropical-style garden. There is a great sense of fun and humour in the garden, and it truly has to be seen to be believed!
I love tropical flowers, so I found it fascinating to see how well they were all growing in this part of the country - at home, my own warm-climate plants were struggling in the cold temperatures experienced some days this winter in Sydney. There were some really exotic ones that I had never seen before, and I brought home a couple to try - Wrightia 'Arctic Snow' (pictured), which has a lovely snow-white flower like a sort of daffodil, on a low shrub, and a red form of Plumbago (P. indica). Who knows whether they will grow in Sydney or not? But it is worth the gamble. I also managed to get some seeds of Cosmos sulphureus, a golden-hued annual that I once had but lost.
We saw a tea plantation and coffee plantations, which I found fascinating and visited many of the rainforest national parks in north Queensland, which are generally made very accessible for tourists, with boardwalks (often high in the canopy of the trees) and plenty of information. Another highlight was seeing a flock of large and gorgeous tropical butterflies that had hatched in our relatives' garden in Ingham: these were the Cairns birdwing butterflies (Ornithoptera euphorion, female pictured). This area of Queensland was very badly hit by Cyclone Yasi last year and much of our relatives' lovely well-established rainforest garden was destroyed - but a vine beloved by this particular butterfly (possibly an Aristolochia species) survived and thrived in the more open environment left behind after the cyclone.
I returned home full of fresh enthusiasm for plants and gardening and couldn't wait to get out into my own garden to get my hands into the soil again. It's sometimes easy to forget the revitalising effects of a holiday!
18 Oct 20
Although my garden is semi-tropical in nature now, I still have some vestiges from my cottage garden days!
11 Oct 20
Consider training a shrub into a small tree.
04 Oct 20
October is iris time in Sydney gardens: the best are the tall bearded irises and Louisiana irises.
One crowded hour
27 Sep 20
Much can be achieved in regular short stints in the garden.
20 Sep 20
We may not be able to grow massed displays of tulips in our climate, but try some of these South African corms instead.