Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 9, 2009

Autumn in the Antipodes

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One of my favourite places to read is in our family room. It overlooks the back garden which is looking more than usually beautiful at this time of the year. The autumn colours are most striking on the grape vine which survived the possum’s depredations, framed in the front of the photo by the lime tree – still bearing traces of its scorching on that dreadful day when the temperature reached 42°C.   As with so many trees and bushes in the surrounding streets, the upper canopy leaves of the lime tree were burnt by the intense heat, and on my walks with the dogs I see many once beautiful plants still bearing these scars, especially the cypress and pencil pines. They will recover, but it will take time…

IMG_0971 Some trees seem not to have suffered at all. These actually belong to our neighbours and form a gentle screen between our house and theirs; their colours are mellow and restful on the eye. We miss them during winter when all their leaves are gone.Right now, they are beautiful…

IMG_0980The palms have  recovered well.  Some leaf tips are still a bit battered, but new fronds have asserted themselves.  We lost a couple in the front garden and have replaced them with other plants more hardy, though we are yet to devise a long term strategy to protect our most vulnerable treasures.  There can be little doubt that there will be more of these unconscionable scorchers and we will either need to re-think  our fondness for ornamentals altogether, or else find ways of covering them on days of extreme weather.  Alas, I love the garden, but not gardening, and the mere thought of spending precious reading time with shovel and rake depresses me deeply.  IMG_0977

Still, it will have to be done.  This travesty of a rhododendron, in spring boasting the most beautiful creamy pink and white blooms, and given to me as a house-warming gift is what’s left after that day.  For weeks I despaired of it altogether, watering it half-heartedly for I was sure that it was lost to us.  Then I discovered the tiniest of frail green shoots, and took to it with the secateurs, pruning away branches that had failed to recover and waiting for more signs of life.

IMG_0985The fernery outside my bedroom window is back to health, thanks to daily buckets of shower water but it was harder to soak this taller one that was a lush screen between us and our neighbours.  The recent rains have done what we could not, and it has now sprouted two fine new fronds.  We had to take out one in the front garden that was a lost cause, but it was probably never the right place for it anyway because it was only partially shaded by our grand old lilli-pilli tree.

IMG_0975There’s a kind of stubborn madness that makes us plant hydrangeas, which are so thirsty in summer but they belong with Australian weatherboard houses of the 1950s.   It is such a pleasure to sit reading out in ‘The Lower Belvedere’ and see hedges of these lovely plants tucked underneath the windows.  The ones along the southern side of the house still have the odd shrivelled leaf and the ones opposite the western wall have yet to reach their former height at the top of the trellis (which you can see from the not normally bare fence on the RHS in the photo above) but lashings of water from the washing-machine and many a bucket from the tanks have ensured their survival so far.  They are going to need some sort of temporary shade cover for next summer; we’ll deal with that problem before then (if I can tear myself away from the books.)

IMG_0979Camellias (seen here artifully concealing one of our three tanks) are a kind of madness too, but this one has a determination to survive all kinds of disadvantages.  Not only does it have to get by with only occasional overflows from the tank and splashes from bucketing our other plants, it is also squashed under the carport and gets very little sun.  Why it deigns to flower at all when it has been so shamefully treated I do not know.  IMG_0984Perhaps it counts its blessings for its otherwise unsuitable position prevented the scorching which beset the double red one on the northern side of the house.

For many people in Victoria, Black Saturday, February 7th 2009 means much more than the damage to a well loved garden, and as I lift my eyes from my pages to enjoy its recovery, I am deeply conscious of just how fortunate I am.  This celebration of my garden’s loveliness is more than counting my blessings; it’s also a heartfelt wish that gardens will bloom again in the fire-ravaged areas to bring hope and consolation to those who lost so much.


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