Thursday, 13 March 2014

Changes in the garden

Life had been too busy for too many years and while I've always loved and appreciated the beautiful area in which we live I am suddenly seeing it all as a person who is relaxed enough and has the time to be involved. The seasonal changes in garden, bushland and forest are a delight. The changes I can bring about are an adventure.

Our house is between sub-tropical forest and paddock - we straddle bushland and farmland and the area between, the part that can be reached by the hose, is what we call our garden.  Australian trees are evergreens which means leaves fall all year round, layer upon layer of leaves making a thick mulch on the forest floor, so walking off track is often like walking across a huge mattress.

We have three lovely deciduous trees in front of the house, Liquidambars, that work very hard to play their part in announcing the coming of winter. They were originally seedlings in bags, waiting to be planted, but busyness led to neglect and they put down roots beside some paperbarks to form a lovely grove of changing colour. Most years our seasons have false starts, so 10 days of autumn will suddenly become summer again for a week and leaves that have shaded themselves pink must hold their breath.

We love trees, which is good because we are surrounded by trees - most so tall you can't see the top. We have self sown fan palms and forest palms and grass trees - you'd think we'd be happy with that but we can't resist adding decorative trees. 

A line of seven frangipanis and a poinciana grow in front of the house. Cycads, yukkas and pony tails of different sizes blend into the bush backgound.  One sweet little pony tail tree grew by the back porch, and grew and grew. I'd surrounded it with mondo grass and a flowering native grass, but the grass wasn't happy, it suffered from blond tips, the roots were becoming a big problem for the pathway and fat worm like yellow roots, which I soon worked out belonged to the ponytail, appeared from the ground like little arms asking for help. Also, a very nasty tribe of stinging ants (painful stings like injections of acid ) were nesting underneath the mondo grass. I stressed about the ants every time I walked out the back door - not good.

Over two weeks we annoyed the ants, got stung, dug up the grass, got stung, poured water down their holes and then Big R moved the pony tail. The tree took the move very well, despite losing a few roots, and now sits further up the driveway overlooking his old position. The grass, and the ants, were planted up the hill, in a spot where they hopefully will not bother anyone. I put in two lemon balm plants and then found ... we really missed that pony tail. There was just a great big gap where once we'd had swaying streamers of reflected light and shade.  We couldn't risk moving it back, just in case the ants returned or because it might be one move too many (I've done that before).

What we needed was something with a trunk, shallow roots and some green fluff at the top to fill that 'hole' and provide a touch of privacy to the porch and back door. Off to the plant nursery we went and ran into neighbours buying gardenias for their garden. Lovely dark leaves, amazing perfume, grow well in pots - but not right for us. Our problem seemed too difficult for the nurseryman and we were left to wander around alone. We looked at grass trees - love them but we already have about ten within sight of the back door - flowering cactus, a bit too unfriendly - palms, so many different kinds but do we really need another palm? - grasses, too tall, too short, too fluffy. Big R had an idea ....

... and there is was - the tree fern. Hmmmmm.  Tree ferns thrive in a sheltered, humid, shady place. Watering should mimic the rain forest, which would be their natural habitat, below the tree canopy. They absorb ground water through their roots and collect water that drains down the leaves into the crown and down the trunk. The fibrous trunks also collect moisture from mist and fog as well as rain droplets.  They are slow growing and can live in pots for years. The fronds of the tree fern are called stipes. The trunk is covered in stipe bases where old fronds have fallen off and is also be covered with roots as the tree grows. I love them but ........ 

We have a very dull, not sunny corner that I hope to moisten and fill with  ferns and tree ferns - when we have time. A friend had given me two tree ferns in pots and I'd nursed them along for about three years, through heat and storms and drought, transplanting them to bigger and bigger pots, but when I went to a large bag and sat them in place in the dull corner, which was much dryer than they were used to, and I was busy and my watering regime was not the best, they both decided they'd had enough and curled up their toes. I still have their little crusty bodies, in the bags, hoping they might revive but after 18 months .... my hope is waning. Can I be trusted with another one? At least this time there will be no transplanting.  Our back porch is shaded for most of the day. I have a new hose and since starting the herb garden I'm much better at watering plants.

Meet Cyathea Cooperi - known as the Australian Tree Fern, Lacy Tree Fern or Scaly Tree Fern. She has large lacy fronds growing from a slender trunk - thrives in most soil types and prefers a humid, frost free position with filtered light - likes to be fertilized during spring and her spent fronds removed regularly. I wish her all the best. 

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