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Weather is the wildcard for gardeners

By Chris Larkin

Reflecting on the many impacts on both garden design and maintenance, Chris Larkin relates her experience that weather is always the wildcard for gardeners. This is irrespective of the garden’s location or the seasons. Chris outlines a few of the most important issues she learnt from observing nature and if applied will help make your garden successful.    Lawrie Smith GDSG Leader

My reflections on weather in the garden

Each year seems to hurtle along at increasing speed, the frenzied pace reaching its climax around Christmas. For the keen gardener there is so much to do.

On the home front I always try to plant out as many of my potted plants as possible. I rationalise that they may have a greater chance of survival in the ground when those punishing hot days strike.

Mulching at the end of the year – for climate protection

Mulching is another big task. It is no good mulching too early in the year, in Victoria at least, as mulch absorbs a certain amount of useful rainfall. It then becomes a barrier to small amounts of rain reaching the soil.

The benefits of mulching far outweigh any of the negatives. If possible, remulch garden beds after useful, penetrating rains.

path with native shrubs showing mulch
Remulch garden beds after penetrating rains then so much the better, Larkin garden, image Lawrie Smith

Weather is the wildcard for gardeners – impacting plant selection

Back when Australia’s Open Garden Scheme was active, there were an increasing number of Australian plant gardens in Victoria. When this article was written, there were quite a few gardens to visit – old favourites like Elsbeth Jacob’s and Bev Hanson’s garden.

There were also quite a few new ones including friends and near neighbours who live in the seaside town of Ocean Grove. I helped ‘man the gate’ for one of these gardens and was amazed at the level of interest. They’d received good publicity and this ensured good attendance.

But weather is the wildcard that no-one can plan for. I thought I was familiar with the plants in my friends’ seaside garden. But after being asked to identify plants I realised how little I knew of the specifics. I knew the plant genera but not the species. This isn’t so surprising as there is a big difference between what will grow happily on sand at the seaside compared with what I can grow on clay at the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges.

Plant selection for weather conditions

Rainfall in Ocean Grove is much lower but then so too are summer temperatures because of a cooling sea breeze. Tolerance of salty winds and alkalinity are added factors for plant selection. There are a lot of grey foliaged plants that grow happily near the beach and look right in the context. Eremophila and Adenanthos species do well and look good.

Plant design for different sites and locations is all about responding to shade and shelter in a certain region along with rainfall and soils. This means selecting plants that are at home in the environment and using indigenous species if possible.

Melbourne’s unpredictable weather

Around Melbourne we had good rainfall in the second half of the year and a relatively cool spring and start to summer.  It was useful, penetrating rain. Gardens are looking lush with new growth and large remnant eucalypts around me that have been increasingly stressed over many years of drought, have picked up.

With few hot days spring flowers lasted longer and the overlap in flowering times produced even more colour and interest than in the recent past. Now in early January, summer has not produced its blow torch for more than the odd day.

Long term forecasts are for below average temperatures this season. But much hotter weather is inevitable given climate warming. The hotter weather generally waits until the children are back at school. In the meantime, I garden in the early morning or late afternoon, or where it’s shady.

I’m pruning to shape to invigorate plants and plotting and planning those sections of the garden which need rework when the season breaks – hopefully in autumn.

Screening the garden

I’m planning to screen off more of the garden from neighbouring properties as a development beside us has the go-ahead and there is a proposal for subdividing the property in our view line. Now instead of framing the dam in front, which they propose to drain and build on, I will be rushing to establish a screen.

Of course, I will be bearing in mind, that weather is always the wildcard for gardeners!

‘Reflections’ by Chris Larkin – adapted from the February 2005 issue of the Study Group Newsletter, editing and images by Lawrie Smith