Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Gardener's Diary part 3

It’s now over a year since I started on the garden. Progress has been slow and not everything has worked as I hoped.

Somehow the yard shrank. What seemed to be an overwhelming amount of land to fill with plants quickly became too small to accommodate all of the things I would like to do.

Unfortunately the block is wide but not very deep. The house is perhaps set too far from the road, giving us more front garden than back. And I can’t do a great deal with the front because most of it is needed to give driveway access to the side of the house.

One of the failures has been the garden of Aussie natives. This was more or less my first project after moving into the house. Most things remain stunted. I didn’t give them enough depth of soil to get established and there’s too much hard clay under the surface. It seems like I’ve developed a native bonsai collection.

The roses I planted at the front of the house are having mixed success. All of the books tell me that roses need 5-6 hours of sunlight per day; but they didn’t say that too much direct sunlight isn’t very helpful for the flowers. These are in direct sun for most of the day. Almost as soon as they open, many become discoloured – or dried up.
The biggest disappointments have been the Red Pierres. These red climbing roses develop massive clusters of buds – most of which turn brown before they even open. It’s only now, at the start of autumn that we are getting some good colour in the blooms.
Our Double Delights have been anything but delightful. They seem to develop one problem after another and the flowers have been few this season. I am thinking of transplanting them over winter – if I can find a more suitable spot for them.

The back garden is looking more promising. We trucked in a few loads of soil to give a decent depth of raised garden beds above the clay. This area has become a mix of natives and exotics. Most things seem to be thriving – though some are thriving too well. Everything now seems to be planted too close together and the salvias are taking a lot of work to keep under control. Most of the salvias seem to be “Hotlips” which according to the illustration on the label should be red with white tips. However, for most of the year white seemed to be the only colour being displayed – nowhere near as spectacular as the brilliant red flowers that were our first introduction to the salvia family.

A newer area was intended to be dominated by David Austin Roses. This was another disappointment that didn’t work to plan. Two plants bought through mail order died after a few months. This wasn’t surprising because they were the most pathetic rose specimens I’ve ever seen. If I’d seen them at a nursery I wouldn’t have given them a second look. Despite the poor start, this bed is now showing a little potential. Between the roses I’ve planted a few salvias. These are a deep burgundy, a much more impressive colour than the “Hotlips”. The surviving David Austins are Winchester Cathedral, Othello, Hero, Mary Rose and Heritage. I’m not sure whether I’ll try to replace the departed Glamis Castle and New William Shakespeare with other roses, or to try something else instead.

Behind the rose garden I’m trying another area of natives. A few haven’t survived, but so far it seems to be going reasonably well. The biggest failures have been Banksias. None have survived so I’ve given up on them for now. Also a group of Correas all gave up the ghost one by one after showing a very promising start.
The biggest surprise has been a native hydrangea. It was tiny when I planted it, but only months later it’s the most dominant plant in the back yard. It has almost overwhelmed the only non-native in the area – a burgundy iceberg rose. The burgundy of the rose contrasts brilliantly with the purple of the native. I had intended to transplant the iceberg away from the natives, but the colours are so effective together that I might keep them alongside and just move the rose slightly aside to give it a bit more room to grow.

The veggie garden has been a mixed success. For the second year we’ve had a good crop of butternut pumpkins. I don’t know how well I’ll go with them next year because I don’t want to devote as much area to them. I might try growing them as a climbing plant if I can make a suitable frame to support them. I’ve read that they can be suitably grown in this way.
Then again, we can’t believe everything we read. This was made very clear by the failure of my potato crop after I tried to grow them under straw as per an article I read last year. I don’t want to know how much I spent on this method. Not only was there the cost of the seed potatoes, I lost count of the number of bales of straw I had to buy to keep them adequately covered during their growing season.
We’ve had more success from one or two Ruby Lou potatoes that must have been left in the ground after last years crop were dug up.

This year’s zucchini crop didn’t seem to match the one we had last year, but it was more than enough to keep us fed. We just didn’t have as many to give away – and we didn’t need to make zucchini soup.
A big success was our first attempt at growing onions. They were Barletta onions – a mild white salad onion. The seeds germinated well and most of those transplanted matured into good size onions. I’ve now sown the remaining seed from the packet into punnets and they’ve now started to sprout. But unless I buy more seeds, the next crop will be much smaller.

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