By Beatrice Hawkins
Where I am at the moment – Bombala NSW – it is extremely cold, the damage from the bushfires all too apparent, and the effect of the prolonged drought very evident. Severe water restrictions are still in place as they are at home, but it is so cold there is very little activity in the garden anyway. Some daffodils and other hardy bulbs are starting to poke their heads through and provide some hope of recovery in the coming months.
It is really a very depressing scenario for those that live here and trying to recover from the devastation is very taxing emotionally and physically.
I am only here helping out and am finding it very difficult to cope with. The bush is very quiet with many birds and animals destroyed or gone ahead of the fires and as yet have not returned.
I once again realise the importance to my mental and physical well being of the ability to be able to garden and see green things growing. Because of the cold climate, even our lovely native trees are being slow to respond and show the green fluff of young leaves that are the typical recovery picture further north in warmer areas.
Some platypus are returning to the river, having had the water so polluted from all the ash that was washed in by the rain, that they were also collateral damage from the fires. As we move about re fencing areas, there doesn’t even seem to be much insect activity – even ants are sparse on the ground, and I don’t see bees or butterflies anywhere.
Fortunately I can still here the warbling of magpies early in the morning and see flocks of yellow tailed black cockatoos flying over each afternoon as they return from feeding in the pine forest areas near here. I have also seen, here at the house, some beautiful blue and red crimson rosella or mountain lawrie as I knew them as a child. Growing up we had one in a large cage that used to mimic my mum calling me home from playing with the neighbourhood children. “Joey” was such a good mimic I often mistakenly came home to his call!
With the devastation surrounding me this week I have found it difficult to get inspired to write the column! Thankfully “Mr. Google” has come to the rescue and I hope some of the following provides some interest for readers.
I found a list of common mistakes both experienced and novice gardeners sometimes make. One that I found that I think makes sense, was to not add anything to the hole you’ve dug when planting a new shrub or tree. Apparently the new thought is to only backfill with the existing soil and not add fertiliser, compost or potting mix as this will not encourage the roots to penetrate into the surrounding soil and may be inclined to keep the plant root bound as much as being in a pot. The thought was and I quote “ultimately, your plant has to grow in the native soil, so don’t baby it and turn it into a weakling”!
Some of the other thoughts were to be patient and not to aggressive when it comes to pruning, make sure you have selected a plant right for your area and position, full sun means at least 6 hours, partial sun half that and shade loving only a minor amount of morning or filtered sunlight. Also was the need to plant things to attract pollinators and beneficial insects whether in the vegetable or flower garden, and further, to not plant things to close together. Like us, plants need their space to thrive! As to the need for mulch it can’t be overestimated but be sure to make it more of a doughnut shape to hold water and keep the mulch away from the stem to prevent rot. Too often we see “volcano” shaped heaps of mulch around the base of trees and shrubs.
A list of plants that every garden should have was also interesting. Roses were at the top of the list and I had just decided that when I get home I need to get over my fear of growing them and had thought I would get a climber to plant over the old gate I have as a feature in my front garden. I have not decided on just which one yet but a thornless yellow banksia rose has always been a sentimental favourite as it grew in profusion over the verandah of my grandparents’ house. The need for perfume in a garden is also a consideration, so much thought and research will have to go into the final selection.
Herbs were another suggestion and reminded me of one of the most amazing displays I saw in Queens Park in Toowoomba – a whole bed of bright orange calendulas and curly leafed parsley planted in a chevron pattern – spectacular! While we don’t all have the space to replicate this, the dark green of parsley is a great foil to highlight other colours in our plantings and can be used to great effect in our flower gardens.