It is indubitably autumn here. The deciduous plants have coloured and are dropping their leaves. The nights are cool enough for us to have entered the time of the year when we light fires in the evening. True, the daytime temperatures are still around 19 celsius and we are enjoying one of our prolonged calm, mild and dry autumns. But autumn it is.
This meant I was a little surprised when I ventured out of our home bubble last Friday to see the first blooms opening on Magnolia campbellii down in our local town of Waitara. The tree hasn’t even dropped all its leaves yet but there are several blooms already open. Being right on the coast and surrounded by urban concrete and seal, the temperature is warmer there than in our garden. We won’t see the first blooms on our M. campbellii, which is the same selected clone, until the start of July. Each year I talk about that as the harbinger of spring and the start of a new gardening year for us. I am not sure I can keep saying that having seen it coming in to bloom so early. This is one of the reasons why M. campbellii is not suitable for cold climates. Certainly it will flower later in colder temperatures but it is still so early in the season that it can be taken out by frosts. Waitara is pretty much frost-free.
The big project this week, for Lloyd at least, is replacing the decking and railing on the wisteria bridge. That man is worth his weight in gold, I tell you. The wisterias – white Snow Showers on one side and Blue Sapphire on the other – had grown so gnarly and strong that they finally brought the railings down. Now they are both lying on the ground, I can see how big they are and will reduce them by at least fifty percent before we tie them back in, keeping them to a single old trunk and one or two new replacement whips.
Dredging the memory banks, we worked out that it is 25 years since the bridge went in. It was constructed by a visiting German engineer who was odd-jobbing around the place. The structural frame is an old truck chassis that was galvanised before it was put in place. That is still in perfectly good condition. It is the timbers that have finally given up the ghost. Initially Lloyd wondered if we could get away with just replacing the uprights and railings that were clearly rotten, but as he deconstructed the bridge, it became clear that all the timbers needed replacing. The original wood used was all untreated macrocarpa (Monterey cypress or Cupressus macrocarpa) so it has done very well to last 25 years.
Fortunately, ours is a well-stocked establishment with large sheds filled with many useful resources that we may need one day, so we just happened to have a stock of suitable tanalised pine to replace the timbers. Because of my aversion to the appearance of tanalised pine in the garden, it will be stained dark charcoal and I expect it to look very smart. This may even be by the end of the coming week because Lloyd is a project-oriented person. Once he starts something, he likes to keep to the one task in hand until it is completed. This is not a personality trait either Mark or I have and we recognise the advantages of it in other people.
The tree dahlias are in bloom. Goodness but these are challenging plants to have in the garden. They are magnificent in bloom, that is true. But placing them in the garden is difficult. They are brittle, rampant in growth, frost tender and way too large to stake. Some of ours can tower up to four or even five metres in the sky so they are dependent on surrounding plants to hold them more or less upright. If they fall over, they then smother everything around them and If I go in to try and support that low growth away from surrounding plants, they snap off in my hand. Then when they are dormant, they leave a big gap.
These are certainly not plants for everybody and every garden and there are good reasons why you rarely, if ever, see them for sale.
But is there a lovelier autumn sight than their blooms set against a blue sky? We only have half a dozen different ones – the pink and white forms of the species D.imperialis and four from breeder, Keith Hammett. ‘Chameleon’ is a good performing, more compact hybrid of Keith’s that does not shoot for the sky so is more amenable as a garden plant with pure yellow flowers in abundance but it still needs plenty of space.
One autumnal wind will blow the taller ones over but they are a seasonal delight while they last.