Change in weather a welcome respite for gardeners

Change in weather a welcome respite for gardeners

Life & Style
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Extreme heat had caused far more stress to plants than dry weather.

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Contrasting leaf textures and shapes are favourites of Melbourne garden designer Fiona Brockhoff. Photo by Fiona Brockhoff.

Contrasting leaf textures and shapes are favourites of Melbourne garden designer Fiona Brockhoff. Photo by Fiona Brockhoff.

A modest shower followed by blissfully cool weather has transformed my garden.

If you're still waiting for the magic moisture to fall from the sky, I hope that at least the cool change has reached you and with it, less loss from evaporation.

While lots of plants responded instantly to the shower, it was the cooler conditions that brought the most dramatic response from my exhausted garden, bringing shrubs back to life that I'd more or less written off.

Extreme heat had caused far more stress to plants than dry weather.

I'm still working doggedly towards my goal of reducing our lawns and designing new plant combinations for the enlarged borders.

Right now, this consists of removing the all-too-many losses while propagating the heat and drought-hardy survivors to take me through future summers with less work, water and stress than I've been expending this year.

Gardening is my life, but I recognise sadly that the days of falling in love with precious little treasures that don't belong in our climate are over.

I need plants that flourish rather than fade as the mercury rocks upwards, and I have to learn to group them to their best effect.

Large evergreen shrubs are among the most useful plants in a garden, creating a permanent background for ephemeral seasonal features like flowers and autumn colour.

A few that astonished me by rising again this week include bay (Laurus nobilis), Escallonia bifida and laurustinus (V. tinus).

All were covered in brown leaves but I'd detected traces of green when I scratched the bark so they were spared the axe.

You have to be lucky sometimes.

The bay was a special thrill as years ago I planted two cutting-grown plants together to twine into a spiral. They developed beautifully and I hated the thought of losing them.

But miraculous green shoots are peeping behind the brown leaves on every branch so all is well.

I love bay as apart from its heavenly smell it's a brilliant plant for shade and is always clothed with leaves right around the stem.

Gardening is my life, but I recognise sadly that the days of falling in love with precious little treasures that don't belong in our climate are over. - Fiona Ogilvie

Escallonia bifida has shiny foliage, masses of white flowers in spring and makes a beautiful, dense hedge. Laurustinus has boring leaves but blooms in winter, so I'm more than happy with my three survivors.

If you too are looking for gardening ideas and inspiration, this year's Australian Landscape Conference (www.landscapeconference.com) at Melbourne Exhibition Centre offers both in spades.

An outstanding group of international and local speakers includes Midori Shintani from Japan, Fiona Brockhoff from Melbourne and Professor James Hitchmough from the UK - James has lived in Australia and is author of one of my favourite Aussie gardening books, Gardener's Choice (1987).

Of special interest to farmers and rural gardeners, is this year's focus on sustainable agriculture and gardening on Australian soils from speakers Professor Bruce Pascoe and Charles Massy.

Conference dates: Weekend of March 27-28; pre-conference garden tour, Friday 26 (conference participants only); post-conference workshops, Monday 29.

Details: Fleur Flanery, email info@landscapeconference.com or call 0408 627 774.

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