21 Feb 2016

what i did in my garden over the holidays

Watered. Basically, I watered. And then wondered where that water was going.
Towards the end of January we had some rainfall — heavy and tank-filling; as well as just plain misty and annoying. But before that (and since!) it was weeks between drinks. A dry summer where even the weeds curled up and died. Where I contemplated pulling out all my pretty, wilting flowers and replacing them with native shrubs — until my friend F told me even her natives were struggling (then I contemplated ripping everything up and going with fakes).
Lion's plants, which bring nectar birds to my garden

Oh, if you were to pull up in my driveway and look at the front garden, (somehow) you’d see lots of colours from the climbing roses, pelargoniums and larkspurs. But get down close and look at the soil, and you’d see a dustbowl. I do not know where the water I pour in goes; I do not know how anything survives.

But I’m also learning from this bad season, for next summer, because (perhaps pessimistically) I can only see that this is how it’s going to be — dry, hot summers. So let’s plan for it, to mitigate the tears and frustrations. Plant more of what survived this time (not flourishing, merely staying alive) to be guaranteed some colour. Penstemons are top of the list; somehow those delicate and divinely purple larkspurs put on a good show, as did a clump of these spiky blue things (which prickles notwithstanding, the bees love):

Many things finished very early this season: lavender was over and out by December, as were some other usually reliable perennials. The only way I managed this pretty display of pink phloxes (yes mum, phloxes) and cosmos was by slavishly watering them, just about every day. That was a lot of work to tie myself to.
In my vegie garden, usually reliable stuff that you can sow and grow with your eyes closed and hands tied behind your back just didn't happen. Peas didn't germinate (and when they did, the sparrows nipped them all off — more on that later). Zucchinis grew only about two inches long and then stopped (and tasted bitter).
Lush zuke plants - but very little fruit
This has been frustrating and heartbreaking, and at times I've been ready to give up. All the time and work and energy you devote to the garden, and for what? All the packets of seeds you buy? Puny nasty zucchini! A measly handful of sugar snap peas! All bush and no beans! Pah, that’s not what I signed up for!
My prettiest patch, with spring onions, marigolds, beetroot, beans and self-sown capsicums jostling for space
So I’m given up. Oh, I’ll keep watering everything in some vain hope I’ll get a decent sized carrot, but I’ve decided against doing further sowings, because the elements are too much to battle. I’m now waiting til it’s cooler before I turn my mind to winter plantings. I want summer 2016 to be over, so I can start anew.

I’m also pestering my dad about hammering in more structures once it cools down: for higher and better netting over my vegie beds, to guard against the birds; and that is easy for me to get in and out of. I know the birds are desperate for food in this dry season — but I’m not growing peas and lettuce for sparrows!
 Apricots and plum tree protected above; tomatoes below

It hasn’t been completely bad in the veg patch (and looking back at these pictures, it's all quite lush). My tomatoes are coming on nicely, just enough to enjoy a few each day and cook a tray or too for the freezer. The lazy housewife beans are giving me a modest handful every couple of days (my supply being generously complimented by mum and dad, who currently have scarlet runners coming out of their ears!). They are finished now, but just after Christmas I pulled a small but delicious quantity of beetroot and round Paris carrots. And my fruit trees (as noted in my previous post) offered up small but rich harvests.

Carrots on dead lawn 

The weather around Australia and indeed the world has been crazy this season — so perhaps you too are having a poor time in your garden. If so, I completely empathise — come on over for a cuppa, and we’ll drown our sorrows together.
Orangey 'big beryl' above and classic 'mamma mia' romas (and a couple of black krim) below


  1. Stick the kettle on, I'm there with you. We have all of the rain here! I know what you mean about how frustrating it can be. Last year wasn't a great season here either. Hardly any zucchini or squashes, not a brilliant tomato harvest, the runner beans were very meagre. I have high hopes for the coming season. It will be time to get the first seed packets out very soon. I hope your winter plantings do better. We always hope next time will be better! CJ xx

    1. that's a good way of thinking of it - you HAVE to think the next time will be better otherwise you'd stop.
      enjoy that rain for us please CJ xx

  2. I feel your pain. This year I severely culled back the standard soil grown plants to what was most important (tomatoes!) in the usual veg patches and concentrated on the wicking beds. Wicking beds are so worth it, we had similar rainfall to you and while the soil grown plants floundered and didn't produce, the wicking bed stuff flourished with watering only once a week, maybe twice in the crazy 40+ degree weeks. I cannot rate them highly enough.
    That said, I still had some average crops. Rockmelons are all powdery mildew and no fruit. Corn was not prolific and a waste of space for what it takes up and I could have grown instead. So many seeds just didn't even germinate, despite watering daily. I think they just didn't stay moist long enough. It's always cruel when the garden turns against you. Ah well. That's the unpredictable way of the garden.

    1. i'm not sure if my pea seeds didn't germinate because they didn't stay moist enough - or if I killed them with kindness (too much water) compensating for the dry.
      bek, it's kind of reassuring to hear of your woes as well. as mum says, we are not the only ones having a hard time.

  3. It sounds as if Tassie is catching up with Brisbane in the hot weather department. I let the allotment lie fallow over our summer. Snake beans which love a sub/tropical climate keep me fed, but for the rest of it - I spend my time feeding the soil with compost, horse manure from the pony paddock next door, and just covering it all with a layer of sugar cane mulch all ready for the new planting in March / April.

    You know what they say about us gardeners - born optimists - we must be, because we keep doing it. So soldier on and look forward to the cooler months when we can start once again. I, for one, cannot wait.

    P.S. I am really impressed with your tomatoes. I have tried with tomatoes but we have the dreaded fruit fly - I've tried everything - but the little critters always beat me to it.

  4. Hello AGG! I must find out more about fruit fly - it's in the news at the moment as our fruit industry is worried that climate change will bring warmer winters to tassie (no bad thing) - but also consequently fruit fly. I don't know much about this pest.
    it's interesting to hear your situation; I am usually envious of what northern gardeners can do. summer is pretty much our peak season for activity and productivity; winter is usually when I feed my soil and hibernate!
    finally, my tomato crop is smaller this year, but the fruit itself is fabulous. i'm enjoying every juicy mouthful!

  5. Ooh your tomatoes are awesome! I love all the different colours and shapes. We cannot grow those types of tomatoes here in the tropics, just the small cherries. All your flowers too! even up here in the torpics we have not had our regular wet season - it has been extremely hot with very little rain. I have been anxious to get my dry season veggies in, and have just planted out some seedlings. They were on clearance at Masters on their last legs, so I thought I would give them a go.

  6. hello AA! my heart will always belong to the black krim tomato, but I am really loving the stripy big beryls - inside, they are the colour of a rich juicy apricot, and look stunning in a salad!
    and you've been having a tough season too - the weather is going crazy. good luck with your clearance seedlings - i'm sure with a little love they will prove to be your strongest ones!

  7. I'm totally with you there (and we've both commented on this before). Been a frustrating and challenging time in the garden this summer and we're over it! I actually think you've done brilliantly. My zucchini was a right off this year and I haven't felt that productive (tomatoes good though...not as pretty as yours!).

  8. since posting this jem, I have ripped out the zucchini plants - decided the amount of water and care I was putting into them, vs the amount and quality of veg I was getting back, was not worth it!
    they are pretty tomatoes, aren't they? even I think that about the big beryls!

  9. It seems we're all in the same situation, weather wise. Last year my tomatoes hadn't ripened when they got blight so I had to chuck the lot and I had only one pathetically small courgette - Luckily my winter veg (the kales) just kept on going and I had a great bean harvest. You'd think the weather would even itself out a bit so that we could have some of your sun here in the UK and you can have our rain! Btw, I've always believed that peas won't germinate in extreme heat so try again when the weather cools.

    1. it would be perfect if the weather would even out as you suggest, caro! we'd all be very happy then.
      I still have much to learn about gardening. I always think things work best when it's warmest, but i've heard others say that about peas too. but then, we need to get them in before it's too cool! there's such a fine line, a small window of opportunity, or so it seems in Tassie.


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