Early morning this week was slightly cooler, creating perfect gardening conditions. As the sun came across the lawn, it still felt like summer but not so intensely hot. It’s a small sign but very welcome and reminds me that Autumn may not be too far away after all. Usually, garden work is brief or non-existent in late summer but, today was a chance to get stuck into the garden again, straighten out some problems and get familiar with what’s been happening throughout January and February. As I worked, I was inspired and energised to continue all those tasks I’d longed to do for weeks that are now, if not finished, at least begun, and plenty more are in the pipeline.
Returning home from visits to the various Botanical Gardens in New Zealand and Southern Australia inspired me, and it was brilliant to garden at home again. Two things were immediately apparent; the weed growth was out of control. Unfortunately, the garden is super dry, despite regular summer watering, but as expected for February in my region. It is reminiscent of drought conditions as we’ve had no rain, only a few cloudy days. After a recent dust storm and several days of high winds, and heat, the garden is parched. It is so dry that some areas are hydrophobic and dusty, causing the water to run straight off.
A Sunny Garden by French artist Furcy de Lavault
The garden could be in better shape; the vigorous lawn runners have crept into the beds over summer, perennials are spent and ready to cut back, and masses of roses need dead-heading, and fertilising. The climbing roses could do with some attention.
As with most overwhelming problems, if they are tackled in bite-size pieces will become far more manageable and less daunting. So, to focus on watering, weeding, and adding soil-wetting granules working in sections each day for a while, and I’m sure there will be an improvement.
After watering and weeding this morning, I enjoyed playing with the Buxus plants I’ve grown from rootstock in terracotta pots which are quite large now. I’ve tried season after season to establish a border of roses in one section to replicate a border of Fire Opal roses I planted four years ago that is a great success and always flourishes. Alas, the other rose border refuses to grow well and is always spindly and unattractive. I decided they would never be satisfactory, and I took the plunge and removed all four roses and replaced them with the collection of dwarf Buxus I had on hand. The effect immediately created a nice border for the taller roses, hiding their spindly legs and defining the path. Plus, the Buxus will remain lush and green throughout winter. The four roses are happy elsewhere in the garden.
Japanese box Buxus microphylla Japonica is the traditional style Buxus for formal evergreen hedges. It is hardy, compact, dense and has tight, glossy green foliage. This one is the fastest grower of all the Japanese Buxus varieties, although they still take three or more years to reach full size. Japanese box is also more tolerant of our hot climate than other varieties. The area now planted with seven Buxus is weeded, mulched, fertilised and watered, and so, onto the next section of the neglected garden to resolve.
From An Elegant Garden Cafe
The main reason for toying with borders is that the entire garden looks tired and weary; at the end-of-summer messiness stage. An edge of attractive foliage will freshen the landscape quickly, as will additional companion plants. I’ve lost some of the structure of the original layout, especially after all the Lavender and other companions for the roses eventually died from the massive rainfall/flood in November. The roses love the extra air circulation created as I’ve now pulled out almost all the dead lavender plants that were fillers between the roses’ gaps.
I’m not that fond of the look of a traditional rose garden with bare earth beneath each rose bush, even if it has a stunning border. Plus, growing a range of companions for roses in an abundantly planted garden style will help improve the biodiversity in the garden bringing in a range of beneficial insects and deterring some pests. The challenge is finding the right balance between allowing the roses to grow unimpeded with plenty of air flow and giving them supportive garden mates.
I’m looking for easy-care plants that will not require too much extra work and will not become wayward and untidy, like salvias. Besides being beautiful, white flowers will break up bright colours and soften the entire garden scape, an issue in our hot, dry climate, where many roses are intensely coloured and more luminous (garish) in such extreme sunlight. So, I’m thinking of a dwarf version of White Agapanthus and, to add contrast, English Lavender.
Since the garden began, my main challenge has always been a corner of the garden that faces west; it has clay soil and is hot and dry. It is an area that requires thought because everything I’ve tried here has failed thus far. A hero plant, shrub or small tree is needed that is drought tolerant, loves the sun, does not mind light frost and will grow tall enough to hide the fence.
Crepe Myrtle-Lagerstroemia indica, is one idea because it is very hardy and loves the heat. As the seasons change, it has distinctive features; the bark in winter, foliage in Autumn, and flowers in Spring and Summer are fabulous. I’m thinking of a variety of White or Red Crepe Myrtle, a semi-dwarf variety to 6-8′ called Lagerstroemia’ Moonlight Magic. And now to search for one.
A beautiful border of Sunflowers Tasmania Botanical Gardens
The nature of a garden will always have some aspects that are never perfect, and the garden will never be finished. Upon starting a garden, I was surprised that despite some triumphs, you are never satisfied and always looking for improvement. As time passes, the garden landscape we create evolves and changes from month to month, season to season and year to year.
Once you get this notion of the transience of gardens, you can justifiably call yourself a gardener. Gardens are ephemeral, and gardeners all dream of another day when perhaps the bulbs will be out or the roses bloom more magnificently, trees are tall enough to create shade, hedges are thicker, and the arches are lushly covered with foliage. We wait patiently, fine-tune areas, try our best to work in tune with nature and always hope for the best with the weather.
All this activity in the garden stimulated so many new ideas that I had to reign myself in before I had too many jobs going on at once. It’s February, and more hot weather is due, so it’s too early for major tasks. Although the pretty heads of Autumn Joy are building up, which is a sign of the change of season, they will herald Autumn by the time they reach full bloom.
Gardening is a learning curve; my tastes have refined with my understanding of the nature of roses and perennials. I certainly am not an expert, but I now know what I like and dislike, which is always a great place to start, and I’m familiar with the nature of many roses now.
Fortunately, the roses I planted in the very beginning about five years ago are now quite mature and some very tall; Father of Peace, Queen Elizabeth 11, Sharifa Asma, Mother’s Love, La Vie en rose, Wollerton Old Hall, Château Versaille. Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Souvenir de la Malmaison rose, La Jago, Cinderella, Eliza, Coconut Ice, and Enchanting. These roses form the backbones of the garden, especially in this flat rural environment. They help define the space along with the roses on arches, obelisks, pergolas and a few standard roses.
By Eric Bajot
The most important aspect of a garden is to grow what you enjoy in your unique space. When it comes down to it, everything depends on the soil, your climate and how much time you can and are willing to spend on your plants. If every morning were like today, all my roses would look spectacular, but every day is not a cool, cloudless, yet sunny day.
Content Di Baker February 2023
Images Di Baker or as cited
The title quote is by Oscar de la Renta
Header Image is Souvenir La Malmaison in flower in February.