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The Garden in Winter

Barbara Buchanan

Anyone who can, usually plans to go north in July. The last warmth has Ieft the soil and the frosts are started, hoses are (most years) rolled up out of sight or sprinkler system turned off. Days are short and often wet, pruning should be finished (mine never is), and I at least, often look for excuses not to venture out. By August the days are lengthening again and a traveller can return to the exciting early signs of Spring, Nothing much obvious happens in the garden in July.

Yet there are plenty of consolations for staying home. My Hakea cristata was flowering for our group meeting 2 months ago. Today it is even more solidly covered in while blossom - a real joy. It sprawls widely but being lignotuberous responds to pruning, which I suspect increases the density of flowers, and survives with minimum to no watering. The watering is to improve the appearance in summer more than anything else. The flowers are definitely scented, but not so sweet that I would grow it at the door. Hakea grammatophylla has swollen red buds in the leaf axils of the stems exposed to the sun, promising a good, if one sided display soon. It was put close to a young eucalypt for frost protection, perhaps with hindsight, too close, but there is no way of knowing if it could have survived otherwise. So many of my plants now suffer from shading and/or crowding. Other hakeas are also playing their part. The surviving H. nodosa is now double my height and modestly displaying its yellow flowers. Hakea varia is going full bottle - bright strips of white for each outflung branch.

Hakea laurina, another in the shade, is doing its best but can only manage a few red and gold balls on the long dangling stems. H. 'Burrendong Beauty' is coming to the end of its fling but is still colourful. There are others in bloom, some whose identities have been temporarily lost due to labels that faded - and yet others budded but not yet opened. As a rough approximation I would suggest that it is mostly western hakeas that are flowering in the colder weather and what a lot of value they are contributing to the garden.

The Garden in Winter
Hakea 'Burrendong Beauty'
'Burrendong Beauty'
Hakea laurina
Grevillea maxwellii
Phebalium nottii
Photos: Hakea laurina from Wikimedia Commons by 'Fir0002', reproduced under the Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. Others by Brian Walters

Banksias are also starring: several forms of B. spinulosa have been bringing the honeyeaters up under the windows for weeks. B. 'Lemon Glow', a form selected by the late Alf Salkin from French Island with long dark green leaves lit up by long bright lemon flower spikes, needs a little water in the driest times but is well worth the effort for the foliage in the hot season. Its performance now is a bonus. The other plants have shorter, stiffer leaves, still a good rich green, and smaller flowers but many more of them, especially where they are trimmed to keep paths clear. One is a light gold and the other orange and dark chocolate. These were both selected by John Knight as low growing forms from the South Coast of New South Wales. I want to plant more in the outer garden but have not yet succeeded in propagating them. Banksia oblongifolia has been flowering for some time near the front door, some flowers growing right at ground level direct from the trunk where it was wounded years ago. It is one of the older plants in the garden, perhaps 30 years old, about twice head height and nearly as broad, which I have now started to trim and shape as required, which is not needed but helps bring out the sinuous shape of the trunk. B.robur at the back door sometimes has flowers at this time but seems to be having a rest. Maybe the summer was too dry or maybe it just needs a rest after all the flowers it has made, which are now represented by furry brown cones. Two young plants of B. praemorsa have put out their first buds. I hope I have two colour forms. I will know soon. Last to mention but far from least in my affections is B. menziesii, a shrubby lignotuberous form which was pushed aside earlier in its life and never got beyond one flower head per year but which now has sun all morning and is flowering and flowering. The colour changes are remarkable, a steely green bud gradually becomes a strange purply-green followed by a dull red with a collar of gold appearing and slowly moving up the spike as the flowers open fully. It is a bit of a challenge to try and restore a pleasing shape and balance to this very misshapened shrub.

The Dryandras are also flowering. I do not have as many as I once did unfortunately. D. praemorsa 'Ray's Special' has its first big gold head which lasts for weeks. I will be careful with this plant and keep it trimmed to increase flowering and also to keep the branches strong. D. speciosa and several other low growing ones are also braving the cold with their intriguing flowers half hidden in the foliage.

Before we leave the Proteaceae, what of the grevilleas? G.alpina 'Warbv Range form' is very prolific with its bright red and gold flowers, more floriferous and conspicuous than the quieter and smaller local form. It benefits from pruning to control its sprawl but seems to flower no matter what. G. lanigera 'Kangarutha Form' stays small and flat and flowers and flowers while G. maxwellii is gradually adding layers so that its numerous red flowers are now seen, but it too doesn't seem to need pruning. For the first time two plants of G. victoriae are opening their buds instead of dropping them - what is different this year?

The Garden in Winter
Banksia spinulosa 'Lemon Glow'
Banksia spinulosa
'Lemon Glow'
Banksia robur
Acacia vestita
Banksia oblongifolia
Banksia praemorsa
Photos: Keith Townsend, Cas Liber, Geoff Clarke, Brian Walters

There may be some connection with the fact that the Eucalyptus lacrimans is also in flower now, when its parents at Adaminaby are probably under snow, as are the grevillea's parents on Mt Hotham. I have noted that the gum tree has flowered for several years at this time. Do they not get enough water over summer and wait for the rains or do the buds open early because it is not quite as icy here as on the tops? Whatever the reason they are especially lovely strips of white hanging right down to ground level for earth bound creatures to admire - not just the birds.

The correas and croweas have been flowering at a rate that I would never have believed them able to sustain. The colour of the croweas in particular seems to be deeper in the cold weather and the flowers just keep coining. Boronia crenulata 'Pink Cushion' is another continuous bloomer, which helps keep it small and round. There was a brief pause around autumn, probably due to the drought, when it was possible to get cuttings without buds, but it was a very short window of time. Phebalium nottii and Thryptomene saxicola are also contributing arresting patches of pink.

If I walk down the drive it is the Mt. Morgan wattle, Acacia podalyriifolia, that catches the eye. It always seems to take me unawares. Spring in the depths of Winter! Yet this miracle occurs regularly each year. A bit further down the drive Acacia vestita is pregnant with bud. branches drooping with their weight and all about an air of expectancy for the golden glory about to come. So it is not just that my wanderlust is lessened these days that keeps me home, it is the eternal problem of a gardener, there is no time of year one can safely leave without missing some magical moment.

From Growing Australian, the newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria), September 2002.

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