Today feels like the first blast of real winter. As it is now the second week of July, I guess we can hardly complain. Spring starts here in August. A visible frost earlier in the week had me out with the camera which is an indicator that they are not common events here. As Lloyd and I tramped across the lawn and I photographed the footprints, I did briefly ponder the advice not to walk on frosted grass. Sure enough, the footprints had turned black the next day.
Fortunately, Mark had covered his bananas a few days earlier. This is one fruit which we have to nurse through the winter, though we did scoff a little at the advice in the local paper last week to cover your citrus in frost cloth. We have never worried about the citrus and it has never been a problem.
Lloyd finally finished the repairs to one of the stone walls – he does build a nice stone pillar when needed, does our Lloyd. This one was started from scratch. Since then, poor man, he has been out lifting the last of the open ground magnolia crops. We still have to sell some plants here to pay for the garden so the call of the nursery has taken him away from the garden. So too for Mark, who has been spent most of his time putting in cuttings (mostly michelias from his breeding programme as he conducts propagation trials). It is getting close to the end of the cuttings season now, though we only put in a shadow of what we used to when the nursery was in full production.
Mark is out and about most evenings after dark with the dogs in search of troublesome possums who may be developing a taste for magnolia buds. Every year without fail, we get asked about magnolia trees which are opening badly deformed flowers. In our experience, the culprit is always a possum, and usually only one. Magnolias are not possum magnets as the oranges or fresh growth on roses are, but one single minded critter can take out most of the buds on a single tree over a matter of nights. Because they chew down into the centre of the bud, the damage is not obvious until the tree tries to open the flower. Mark usually does autopsies on the possums he shoots (which is to say, he analyses the contents of their stomachs to see what they have been feeding on) and upon occasion he will find one chock-a-block with magnolia buds.
Besides doing a little fiddly-faddly potting of plants to sell during our annual garden festival at the end of October (a very important time for us), I have abandoned my efforts on the rose garden (I just don’t enjoy working in that area and I have not worked out yet what is wrong with it). I will have to return to it to finish, but it has been much more fun to work in an under-used area of the woodland. I have been planting drifts of bulbs – big bulbs like Scadoxus puniceus (given that we can sell each big bulb for about $25 because it is rare here, it felt wonderfully indulgent to plant a drift of about 30 of them), Scadoxus katherinae, Haemanthus albifloss and Haemanthus conccineus. I find bulbs much more rewarding than those wretched roses and I can live with their scruffy foliage when they start to go dormant – though H. albifloss is evergreen and the others have quite short dormancy periods. I am only just getting to grips with the fact that large clumps of bulbs need more regular lifting and dividing to stop them from falling apart when in full growth. We did the auratum lilies this time last year and most of them held themselves up in summer, without needing staking. Every three to four years seems to be about right for these types of large bulbs.
For a change from grubbing in the dirt, I have been pruning rhododendrons. These are a backbone plant in our garden and winter is the ideal time for hard pruning. They do look better when dead wood and wayward branches have been removed. A few get subjected to a really hard prune back to bare stems though this sacrifices this year’s floral display for a better long term outcome.
I was going to dig some of the huge clumps of yellow clivias today, replant the largest sections and pot some of the smaller divisions for sale but it was too cold for me to want to garden. It can wait. Clivias are tough, forgiving plants and the timing of lifting and dividing is not critical at all. In fact, they won’t turn a hair, as long as they are treated properly, no matter when it is done. It shouldn’t stay this cold for long. I even caught myself with the camera, starting a photo shoot on how to divide clivias for an Outdoor Classroom – old habits die hard.
The magnolias are coming into flower. At this stage, just M. campbelli and Vulcan but the buds are swelling fast and starting to show glimpses of colour on many others. It makes this time of year one of the most exciting for us.