The end of the long, hot summer is nigh

Belladonnas – a roadside flower for us

Summer continues here with temperatures in the mid to late mid twenties during the day, and often not dropping much below 17 at night. That is celsius, of course. With our near-constant high humidity, it feels hotter. Dry heat is easier to live in. But we are not complaining. Last summer never really arrived and we would have been lucky to have a single day where temperatures reached 25 or 26, rather than the three months so far this year.

Our belladonnas range from pure white through pretty pastel pink to sugar candy pinks and all shades between

What is interesting is that while the temperatures haven’t really dropped, the garden is starting to tell us that autumn is coming. The belladonnas are already past their peak, Cyclamen hederifolium is in full bloom  as is the tiny, dainty autumn snowflake, Leucojum autumnalis. Moraea polystachya has started its blooming marathon.Even the first nerine has opened and I spotted a flower on an autumn flowering camellia – C. microphylla. Haemanthus coccineus is out and the exquisite Rhodophiala bifida have already been and almost gone, their lovely trumpet blooms touched with gold dust now withering away for another year.

Cyclamen hederafolium seed down happily for us now

Some plants are triggered into growth or blooming by temperature, some by seasonal rain (we can do the South African autumn bulbs so well because we get summer rain, even in a drought year such as this has been) and some are triggered by day length. While our weather conditions are still indubitably summer, the day length is shortening and these plants are programmed to respond.

We don’t get sharp seasonal changes because our temperature has quite a small range from both summer to winter and day to night. It will be another three months before the trees start to colour. But the garden is coming out of its summer hiatus and entering autumn, whether we are ready or not.

Stachys Bella Grigio is giving up the ghost. Whiffing off, as we say.

Some plants just like to confound you. I wrote earlier about Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’, the startling white, felted variety that was so happily ensconced in a new garden. Booming away, even. It was setting so many offshoots that I thought I would be able to carpet many square metres by the end of the season. Well, it was an ‘upanddieonyou’ after all. It has been upping and dying like mad in the last weeks. Otherwise known as ‘whiffing off’ here.

I dug up a couple of wilting plants to see what was going on. They are dying from the top down. Their roots are fine. As an aside, if you are puzzled by why a plant is clearly dying, basically they die either bottom up or top down so it is always interesting to carry out an autopsy. Each of these plants was carrying 30 or more offshoots. I took off the ones with roots and have tried replanting them and I thinned out the offsets which had not yet established their own roots because it looked a bit as if the plants were smothering themselves to death in their desire to reproduce. There was no sign of insect infestation.

“It’s probably climatic,” Mark said. His thinking is that we are too humid and it has been particularly so this summer, whereas that felted white foliage is usually indicative of alpine plants. I think it is varietal. I have heard too many stories from others who have experienced specimens of this plant thriving, established and growing well before suddenly keeling over and dying. I cleaned up two plants and replanted the offsets out of curiosity. If I have to do this every year to keep these plants alive, then I am afraid I will decide very soon that it simply is not worth the effort.

We have mown the meadow for the season. Well, Lloyd has. With our special sickle bar mower, imported from Germany. We are still learning how to best manage the meadow in our conditions and Mark thinks that we are leaving the mowing too late and that it would be best done soon after Christmas for the first mow with a follow up in autumn. Maybe next year.

Mark has just declared that the sickle bar mower is otherwise known as the primary herbivore here. He has been reading about eco-systems and wondering what we could be introducing to NZ, given that our primary herbivore, the moa, is now extinct.

You can tell our climate is mild. We have begonias as a roadside hedge.

20 thoughts on “The end of the long, hot summer is nigh

  1. tonytomeo

    What a nice first picture. That is how they look here. They just grow on the side of roadways like that. However, I have not seen white. There is another species that blooms white, and looks very similar, but it is uncommon, and does not naturalize. Ours all look like those in your picture. If some are lighter pink, I have not noticed, and I would have noticed if any were white! I would totally grow white ones! There are plenty of pink ones here, but I did not plant them.
    In American English, the ‘r’ is not silent in the name of the herbivore than we use to manage our lawns. It is known as a ‘mower’; but if you pronounce it as ‘moa’, hey, that is fine too. I know what you mean.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      There is a photo of the white one on the link. The pale to mid pink are most common in NZ, the really deep pink come a little later and are unusual.
      I assume you have seen a picture of a moa? A bit like an overgrown kiwi on major steroids, or an oversized emu. But wiped out prior to European settlement here.

      1. tonytomeo

        GADS! I just looked up moa! That thing is scary! The biggest ones weighed almost as much as I do! That is a lot of chicken! . . . .or it was. I have seen kiwi only while working in San Francisco a very long time ago. They did not seem too bright. Nor were they in any hurry to get out of my way. They were funny looking things. I still did not want to offend any of them. I did not know what they were capable of. I had to ‘get’ a baby emu out off a horse trailer at a petting zoo once. It did not want to come out. When I picked it up, it made a weird noise that got the attention of the mamma emu. That was not good. The baby was bigger than a really big turkey. Once outside, it was quite docile.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        I am not sure that our native kiwi has ever been lauded for advanced intellect. Just a gentle, undemanding night bird that lives on the ground. But unique and it is ours. ☺

      3. tonytomeo

        Perhaps you should read about Pepe who I just wrote about. It will post in a few minutes at midnight. He is pretty cool, but is not exemplary of the intellect of American wildlife, although distinctly American (not French).

  2. tonytomeo

    Cyclamen hederafolia is something I have not grown yet. Only the common florist cyclamen is available here. I sort of like it, but I do not like how it is grown as an annual and then discarded afterward.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      The florist’s cyclamen are all persicum hybrids. And, like chrysanthemums, I struggle with the disposable nature (like tulips). The species have a refinement that the hybrids lack ENTIRELY!!!! Our species are all very much perennial.

      1. tonytomeo

        I used to grow the Cyclamen persicum as perennial when I was in high school, but there is no way I can keep them all from being discarded where I work. Besides, I am not certain that I like all that unnaturally bright red and white naturalizing out in the woods where I try to relocate many of them. I could not do it on the chaparral side in the Santa Clara Valley, but on this side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, they get enough water through winter, and then dry out through summer. If I ever get one of the other specie of cyclamen, I would grow it in my own garden, and probably in pockets of soil on exposed sandstone outcroppings where it would look natural (depending on what species I get). I am in no hurry as I have no place I want to put it yet.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        We have tried most of the species that are available in this country. We can’t keep the desert types growing in garden conditions (much to my regret with the beautiful libanoticum) but hederifolium, persicum, graecum, coum, repandum and purpurascens are all quite happy in our garden conditions. But we pick the right positions to get them established.

      3. tonytomeo

        The correct positions is sort of why I would like to grow them on the sandstone outcroppings. The florists cyclamen will take watering, but I sort of suspect that the others will not. Cyclamen coum is probably one that I would like to start with, primarily because I can get it easier if I choose to.

  3. sandra

    I was driving across town (Tauranga) last week and noticed a laden apple tree across a fence, thinking to myself, yes, autumn is coming and the trees know it. We may, fingers crossed, have finally left the energy-sapping humidity behind but our daytime temps are still high.

  4. Maureen Sudlow

    Our garden in Whanganui (if you could call it that) is thoroughly confused by the weather – with new growth everywhere, and the runner beans have started all over again!

  5. Tim Dutton

    We’ve had Amaryllis beladonna growing here for as long as I can remember that is a darker pink than those in your photos with a white centre. Very striking. They started to flower over a week ago, as have the Crinum, which are pretty much the same pink as the flowers in your first photo. The Asters started to flower a few weeks ago, which seemed all wrong, and now the two oak trees have the first hints of autumn colour on their leaves, even though we have only had one or two cool nights. Our daytime temperatures have remained mid 20s this week as well. We do get cooler nights than you (we are north of Upper Hutt) due to proximity to the Tararuas and being further from the sea as well as further south. The light feels like it is autumn as do the shortening days. No sign of any Colchicum flowers yet though: presumably being a bulb deep under ground they need the soil temperature to drop to sense that it is autumn?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We find that the deepest pink ones come out last. Just opening now. But we have colchicums opening, even though our nights are still very warm.

  6. Ros Broome

    My husband let me ‘naturalise’ a paddock on our 5 acre block last year after I read ‘A Sting in the Tail’ by Dave Goulson, and suddenly became a protector of bees. I am surrounded by prophets of doom – but your blogs Abbie have kept me hopeful, you are my one NZ voice of ‘yes you can’. I have the paddock grass with 6 gardens dispersed so far and have mown paths between. All very pretty but the prophets have predicted its demise with no adequate grass management. Husband said to keep it cut like a lawn, yeah right. The hay man wouldn’t even mow it for me- talk to the silage man and let it be his problem. And my lovely lovely silage man has muttered but come up trumps as long as his wrapping guy will join the party. I like how you said once that we need to mow 2x in the NZ year – and this picture of your freshly mowed meadow gives me hope although I don’t think you have paspalum up to your waist.
    Please keep it coming. Love your give it a go attitude, and hard work!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Ros, your comment made my morning. It is an ongoing learning curve here because our conditions are so different to places with dry summers and dry, cold winters where grass doesn’t grown all year round. Our meadow has a lot of Yorkshire fog (lovely seed heads!) and native microlina grass in it. We also have pasture meadows where Mark raises a few beefies. We used to do this in the more usual way – heavier stocking and making hay, fertilising and drenching the cattle from time to time. But Mark decided to go back to the old ways. He now works a system on the traditional seven year cycle so that the paddocks are left fallow one year in seven on a rotational basis. He has destocked to the point were he only carries as much as the pasture can support (generously) and he break feeds them. He has added no fertiliser for a decade, we don’t cut hay or silage and the cattle no longer need drenching. It is a very simple system and the beefies thrive on it and become big, gentle giants. The pasture is very mixed now. I have no idea how the economics compare because this is not an economic block in terms of animal rearing so the money we do make is more like bonus money. The only costs we incur are buying in the weaners. Local farmers probably shudder as they drive past our place but our stock are almost certainly happier than theirs!

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