As readers know, I am not a fan of winter, and this year's winter seems to have been one of the bleaker I have experienced. I always look forward to that day in August when, although it is still officially winter, the footprints of spring are suddenly in the garden. The sun suddenly feels a little warmer. A passing breeze is reminiscent of Vanuatu rather than the Antarctic. And that day was today: inducing in me a sort of mad euphoria that tempted me to roll on the lawn and whinny with delight at the thought that winter might be just about to lose its grip! But instead of that, I simply sedately wandered in my garden, thrilled to see more buds than had been there just last week. The psychological effect of early spring in revitalising our spirits, as felt by many people at this time of year, seems linked inextricably to powerful rhythms of the natural world.
I was particularly excited to see four spikes of buds on a native rock orchid (Dendrobium speciosum) that several years ago I had tied onto the trunk of a large oak tree, in an attempt to get it to grow epiphytically as it does in the bush. I secured it to the tree using an old pair of pantyhose, with some rough compost tucked around the roots. It is now well and truly attached to the tree and the pantyhose has rotted away. I look forward to seeing the sprays of creamy flowers in August or September. This was all part of my attempt to find more space in my garden by growing plants in the forks of or on the trunks of trees, and I will be reporting back at a future date on my success so far with these plants.
Another exciting discovery today was the enormous red snouts of two buds of Scadoxus puniceus, an amazing member of the Amaryllidaceae family of bulbs. These bizarre, almost fleshy-looking buds will develop into huge paintbrush-like red flower in late winter and early spring. This bulb is valuable in that it grows quite well in shade. Mine grows nearby orange Clivia, which are also budding up and will be ready to bloom soon.
In the same shaded garden area, the tight buds of Eupatorium megalophyllum are also ready to burst open - revealing their fluffy purple flowers on a 3m-tall soft-wooded shrub. It is like a giant form of the annual or perennial blue Ageratum species that also grow well in our Sydney gardens.
I always associate the scent of Freesia flowers with the arrival of spring and I was pleased to see buds on my clumps. I love the old-fashioned creamy-white Freesia lactea but this year I am looking forward to seeing some beautiful bright pink hybrid ones that I was given last year.
Shrubby perennial members of the genus Euphorbia is a late winter - early spring bloomer and as this time approaches, the ends of the stems start to curl over as the buds form: a wonderful sight. I have Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii (pictured at the start of the blog) and the coloured-leaf cultivar Euphorbia x martinii 'Ascot Rainbow' in bud at the moment. Their 'flowers' are really bracts, and will stay on the plants for ages, giving a worthwhile display.
I had meant to write about taking hardwood cuttings this week, before I was distracted by the weather. But this is still a good time to take these sorts of cuttings, to propagate woody, deciduous shrubs. They take longer to strike than softer sorts, but the process is very easy: simply put 20cm-long cuttings, about the thickness of a pencil, into pot of propagating mix, pushing them down a fair way, then label, water and place the pot in a shaded place in the garden. Some people use hormone rooting powders on the ends of the cuttings before putting them in. Others swear by honey. I usually am too busy or lazy to use anything. I don't put these sort of cuttings into my plastic propagating tubs. I have propagated all the Hydrangea plants in my garden by this method, from cuttings generously provided by gardening friends, along with shrubs such as Deutzia and Euphorbia cotinifolia.
I am sure winter isn't really over yet, but I hope that like me, you enjoyed this sunny Sunday!
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