A week ago I was sitting in my sister's new garden in NZ listening to the Tuis, Kereru and Cicadas in the bush and wondering whether to feel jealous or not. The grass is lush and green as are the plants and the previous owners of the garden were either Australian or loved our native flora because the garden is full of Callistemon, Grevillea and Acacia on steroids. That’s what happens when the soil is beautiful
Northland loam and the rainfall is more than our natives have ever dreamed of.
But it occurred to me that no matter where you live and what your garden is used to in the way of climate and rainfall, when that changes, either for a season or for good the plants can struggle. Fire danger in her garden is high and yet with plants as green as this one cannot imagine them going up in smoke, but they do. My sister tells me that plants are dying because of lack of water but really what that amounts to is that they are dying because they are now getting less than they are used to.
Which leads me to my point and that is that we need to drought proof our gardens as much as possible whether we live in NZ or Australia, town where we have water on tap or out in the country where we rely on tank water. Our water reserves are far too precious to be pumped out on gardens that are over reliant on water. Blah blah blah, I know, I have said it before but my goodness if NZ is getting short of water we need to be worried here in Australia.
So how do we drought proof our gardens apart from putting in the hardiest of hardy native plants which I talked about in my last blog?
When you have natural loamy wonder soil like my sister has in her garden all you have to do is sink a spade into the wonderful rich fudgy ground, pop in a plant and away it goes. But I don’t have soil like that at my place and you probably don’t either. I have dust and rocks in some places and clay in others. So preparation of soil prior to planting is a must to get good, garden worthy growth from plants. I have talked about composting before and this is the best way I know to add value to the soil. Compost in soil not only allows water to penetrate deeply but also retains water very well. Compost everything you can find. The neighbours grass clippings, the local farmers sheep poo, all prunings from the garden, vegie scraps. old cotton, wool or linen garments, newspaper etc etc. Layer it up, keep it moist and spread it on and in the garden when it is ‘cooked’.
Choice of plant is the next important task. I suggest you just go for those hardiest of hardy plants. And by the way Iris said to me after I had posted the last blog that I had missed out a whole lot of other plants I could have mentioned, so just ask us if you are unsure of drought hardiness.
Plant placement in the garden is so important for plant health. Place plants that like shade in shade and those that like sun in the sun. This way they are already way ahead in the happiness stakes and will thrive more easily because they are in the right conditions. Plants that like shade may be perfectly drought hardy in the shade but put them in the sun and, if they survive at all, they will need more water for sure.
Think about how you are going to water. Do not buy a plant which says it likes extra water for good growth and then plant it in a place where you cannot easily water it. I have an envirocycle. This is all the waste water from the house, yes all of it, treated and then pumped back onto the garden. If I want plants which require a little more water than comes from the sky this is where they are planted. If you don’t have an envirocycle, group your more thirsty plants and put in irrigation for that area of the garden or don’t buy thirsty plants. One or the other.
For those plants which are not going to be given extra watering the trick is to water deeply for the first couple of years so that the plants roots grow deeply and can source their own water in dry times. I have seen so many plants die recently because they have been watered with spray irrigation. Their roots grow up to the surface to take advantage of surface water, the sun and wind then comes along and scorches their roots and they shrivel up and die really quickly.
Mulch to keep that water from being sucked back out of the soil by the sun and wind. 10cm of a good chunky mulch such as tan bark will mean that any water which does come from the sky can penetrate through and water from irrigation systems is not wasted through evaporation. Fine mulches, whilst keeping water in the soil well, compact down too easily and keep water out when it does rain.
That’s it. Simple. Get those things right and you will grow a garden for sure. It wont be dense and lush like my sisters garden but it will be a fine Australian garden full of gorgeous plants and beautiful birds.
My sister's garden.
Philotheca myoporoides and Philotheca ‘Bournda Beauty’, both in full sun in my garden and so so hardy are next on the list. My Philotheca myoporoides is 3 years old and about a meter tall. Not the slightest bit phased by the heat or dry. The ‘Bournda Beauty’, just a couple of months old, is 20cm high and also showed no signs of stress. What troopers.
Correa Candy pink, now a year and half old and at full height of around 0.75m, didn’t once ask for more water. It was as fresh as a daisy throughout the heat and just glancing at it gave me hope for my garden.
Dodonaea sp. Low has lovely deep green shiny leaves. My main plant is a well established plant at 1 ½ years. Its leaves stayed deep green and shiny. I have 4 new plants which I planted right in the middle of that crazy hot dry weather and they not only survived they grew like crazy. Admittedly they were getting additional water but they had just been planted from 70mm tubes when the heat hit.
As I walk around my garden now and count up all the plants which simply continued performing come what may there were actually a lot of them. Add to the above Rhagodia spinescens, Carpobrotus glaucescens, Brachyscome multifida, Dianella (several species), Swainsonia galegifolia, Grevillea curviloba, Crowea exalata, Hakea (several species) Lotus australis, Westringia longifolia (grew like crazy) Westringia Zena and Westringia ‘Smokie’, Hardenbergia violacea, Indigofera australis, and Calothamnus quadrifidus.
I wonder what you would add to this list……………what performed exceptionally well this summer in your garden? We are always happy to hear your stories.
In the mean time I hope you are getting ready for Autumn planting, preparing to fill the empty spots, make new garden beds or replace plants which didn’t perform well this year. At IDP nursery we have already submitted our list of plants to the ANPS for the Autumn sale at the Botanic Gardens and I am excited because I get to go shopping again soon.