Dry Garden

The breaking news from Chez Blueday - no-one has done the dishes today. Again. I am beginning to lose faith in the dishes fairy. Here in my little corner of Tasmania we are sweltering through the long, bright afternoon of the hottest December day on record, which, admittedly is ten degrees cooler than most other parts of Australia right now, but here in Tassie we think we are about to die. Luckily last week I bought a fan at the op-shop, which works well, all except the louvre bit, which says no, so I am being bombarded with a constant breeze, hardly the worst thing that could happen. As well as over-heated, we are very dry - in an average year in December we get 46mm of rain here in Launceston. This year we have had 2.2mm. The lowest December rainfall on record is 6.1mm. There is a rumour of thunderstorms with rain tonight. We might, just might, scrape up enough rain to prevent this December from being the new driest on record, but I'm not holding my breath. This is a story, of course, that is being repeated right around the country, except that here and now, our entire state is not on fire, unlike most of the rest of Australia. Whenever two Tasmanians get together these days we complain about some aspect of the weather (nothing new there), and then immediately add, but at least our homes aren't burning down around us.. and then we knock on wood.

One of my very slow projects this year has been to create a section of dry garden that I won't water at all during the year. Because I am poor and also enthusiastic about plant experiments, I decided to grow all of the plants from cuttings, which has taken most of the year, but which is free and fun. I have taken most of my cuttings from town verge plantings, none of which receive anything but rainwater. I mostly have a bunch of correas (a local native), which responds well to shaping. There is topiary in my future! Non-natives which are thriving in my dry garden are the South African diosma, South African Fortnight Lily (actually an iris, Iris iridioides), seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) from Central America, Chinese sedum spectabile, Autumn Joy, some Italian lavender, Lavandula stoechas, and the biggest rosemary bush, enough to provide most of my suburb with rosemary sprigs for the Sunday roast. I did splash out and buy a couple of the smallest, cheapest olive trees I could find, and they are flourishing and have several minute olives growing on them already. I'm not sure how long they will take to grow into trees - they are about a foot high, currently, but at least I won't have to water them much while they get on with growing. The other flowers visible in this photo are a beautiful purple oregano, which is also quite a sturdy dry plant, but currently it is in a pot with the bay tree, so receives regular watering. As you can also see, I have mulched the whole plot with several inches of free, chipped tree mulch, which is the gift that keeps on giving. I received another truckload just before Christmas, the last remains of which are still on the street. 87 barrow loads have been carted down the stairs so far.. so many garden projects in my future:)

Some of the toughest flowers I have found, which also have the advantage of being rampant self-seeders, are the orange California poppies and the beautiful, towering Verbena bonariensis. These two love to pop up between cracks in the concrete, thrive on no water, and are beloved by bees.

Verbena bonariensis (sometimes known as Argentinian vervain) and friend.

I would love to hear how the rest of my Australian friends are getting on with their gardens in these outrageous gardening conditions. What works for you that doesn't need very much water? And those of you elsewhere in the world, what do you plant to withstand dry summers? It's something many of us will be contending with for the forseeable future..


Anonymous said…
Just wanted to wish you the very best for the coming year. Always a treat to read your blog posts.
Jo said…
Patricia, thank you so very much, and the same to you:) I am just trying to remember, is it you who contends with alligators in your garden? At least that is not one of my gardening issues:) :)
Anonymous said…
Jo: Although, I have had the visit of an alligator in the 31 years I have been in this house (house borders a canal) it is not the norm. Iguanas are another story. Irresponsible pet ownership have made iguanas an invasive species in South Florida. Not their fault, so I try to be patient, when my orchid blooms, fruit trees, or other flowers are decimated. Not always successfully...:(
Beznarf27 said…
Hi Jo,

I am SO jealous of your free mulch! My feral chickens are in various stages of "cluck" "chicks" or "pre/post cluck soon to be clucky again" and have officially taken over my garden. I LOVE your dry Mediterranean area. I am about to invest in some lavender plants as I need something to still be alive at the end of this summer to carry my gardening spirit through. I grew some rosemary from cuttings and want to make a rosemary and lavender hedge for the bees (and my sanity). It was SO hot yesterday but the rain overnight was brilliant. Its just a pity I had watered the garden in its entirety yesterday and didn't actually believe the weather forecast for rain (sigh...) but hey, that means it should be happy to wait an additional day for me to water again. The chooks invaded Poland and ate all of my flowering perennials including my blueberries, my kiwifruit etc. so I took some kiwifruit cuttings from a fence and am attempting to grow them to replace my lost plants. I guess you have to see silver linings wherever you can and I most definitely won't be needed to add phosphorus to the garden in any way, shape or form because of all of that chicken "deposit" ;). Here's to a happy and most productive, stoic New Year for all! :) <3
Anonymous said…
I will have to investigate drought and extreme heat resistant plants. The problem is we also get frost. And sometimes heavy rain. My big camellias don’t seem to mind the lack of rain. Our soul must be damp deep down.

How bizarre that our positivity is “at least we are not burning”!!!

Wishing you more active dish fairies in the new year.
GretchenJoanna said…
Another blogging friend is in extended drought in South Africa. It is so trying. In California we are always threatened by the reality that a rainy year is unusual. I have both of your beloved plants now, the verbena b. and the California poppy. Lambs ears and sweet alyssum also seem to get by very well without irrigation. And toadflax, but it wants to take over.
Meg said…
Jo, I've heard a few stories lately of 'main-landers' buying property and moving down to Tasmania to escape the pattern of soaring temperatures and very low rainfall of a changing climate. It's a pretty small island though and I'm pretty sure we can't all fit on it!

Jo said…
Patricia, eek, iguanas! I do sympathise with the garden depredations, but i would so love to play with iguanas in the garden! We have tiny skinks in our gardens here in Tasmania, and I feed them bits of sultanas (raisins) sometimes. Paul has tamed his skinks up in the bush and they come and eat sultanas and bits of banana and cheese from his hand.. but ok, I am hearing you on the eating your precious plants.. again, up in the bush Paul and I are planning a vegie garden which will have to be fully fenced and netted to protect it from all the determined herbivores that live in the Australian bush. No iguanas though..

Fran, did you see the verbena? That is all from that plant you dug out of a ditch and delivered to me a couple of years ago! Thank you:) Wasn't the rain marvellous? We are now mercifully delivered from a record low rainfall for December, if only by a couple of mm.
Rosemary and lavender are such bee magnets, and somehow they seem to take turns flowering, so there is always something for the bees in a rosemary and lavender hedge.

Lucinda, all the plants I mentioned are very hardy and survive the frost here, and all of them love heavy rain when they can get it:)
Yes, 'at least we are not burning' - when even outer suburbs of your beloved Sydney are burning. The photos of the smoke over Sydney are apocalyptic. Hope you are doing ok. It all takes its emotional toll, doesn't it?

Gretchen Joanna, I have been very inspired by your own beautiful dry Californian garden, and wanting to do something like it. No water, but lots of flowers! I have lambs'ears, and alyssum, but had to look up toadflax. I love the name! The yellow one has flowers that looks like baby fried eggs! Do you have that or the purple? Incidentally, while looking it up I came across a local weed I have been trying to identify without success until today. It is known as the ivy-leafed toadflax, although no botanical relation to the linaria toadflax. It's amazing where internet rabbit-holes lead..

Meg, we did exactly that 23 years ago when we moved from Adelaide. I like to think I am ahead of the curve:) We certainly managed to get in on the ground floor where house prices are concerned. We bought our first house here for $71k!

GretchenJoanna said…
Mine is the yellow version. I can't get rid of it ;-) and it looks kind of weedy much of the time. I got it from the church garden where one type of gardener planted it to the chagrin and curses of an older type of (retired) gardener. During the summer when my pool and whole back yard were being removed and there was no irrigation, it was one of the only things that stayed green.

I think there must be some use for it that would show off its wild and beautiful qualities.

Here are posts showing my own best pictures, when I was trying to capture those qualities:


Deborah said…
Happy New Year, Jo!
You scared me....I was beginning to think you had stopped blogging like my two other favorite bloggers, Faux Fuchsia and A Tray of Bliss. I miss then very much and I was missing you, too!

Really like the sound of free, sturdy plants, but I would, as most of my garden has come from my mother or aunt, although Mum and I can't resist a lap of a rose nursery.

Very best wishes for a peaceful, healthy and happy new year!

Anonymous said…
Happy New Year to you and all your people, Jo!

Your garden looks delightful, and it must make you very happy to see such progress, aided and abetted by family, friends and random plant donors. I always get a kick out of seeing a scavenged stick of something settling in and flourishing, like the monster succulent thing I picked by a coastal path in Napier. It is a metre tall and flowering, to my amazement.

I love Californian poppies, lavender and rosemary too. When my giant rosemary threatens to take over the entire rose garden, I cut it back hard and take a big bucketful of cuttings to our local florist, who uses masses of it, particularly for funerals (rosemary for remembrance...), and large arrangements. They even give me stuff as a thank you, such as a very pretty moth orchid, which was an unexpected treat last year.

I love erigeron daisies, and had lots in my last garden, but sadly, the Council declared it a noxious pest, so I don't have it any more.

I too was happy to see your new post. You have been missed!

Linda in NZ
Jo said…
Gretchen Joanna, thank you for those photos of your gorgeous garden. I will put toadflax in the "i'll think about it" basket for now - although I seem to have so many plants that want to take over the world, that maybe I could just leave them all to it to slug it out between them..

Deborah, thank you for your very kind words. I have been blogging for over ten years now, with no plans to stop, but obviously I am very unreliable as to posts. I will always eventually be back:)

Linda, oh, yes, gardens that are mainly cuttings stolen from other people's gardens are the best - they have so much heart! So far erigeron hasn't been declared a toxic weed here, but I can see the potential. I brought one little plant with me from my old place and three years later I have about fifty plants here in this garden..
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Dark days. No, and I really hate to use the over-used word ‘literally’, but it’s been literally dark days here. The sun has gone into hiding and it has been obscured by thick acrid smoke for the past three days.

Total respect for nabbing the chipped up mulch. The power company went through this area a few weeks back, and whilst I do not partake of the sweetness that is the electricity grid, I would have happily taken 87 barrow loads of chipped up organic matter from whatever source. Anyway, I see piles of them now gifted to locals who are just sitting on them. The piles of stuff are sad and forlorn things. Whatever, softies! Like you I would have squirreled the chipped up organic matter away and put it to some good use. The stuff holds the wet stuff that falls out of the sky occasionally from time to time. Surely you remember that stuff? :-)

What a season. Hope you get through fine and that your garden thrives. I’m really not certain that it will be a great tomato season this year, although bizarrely the eggplants seem to be doing well.


Jo said…
Chris, yes, we are seeing smokey days here too now, both from our own fires and from those close to you..
I have started using the mulch already - 117 barrow loads in all came down from the street, and now garden mulching has commenced. I am thinking of trialling it in the vegie garden as well.
Enjoy your eggplants! My tomatoes seem to be doing ok, we'll see how the season progresses. They had a slow start due to unseasonable cold, and now they are dealing with hot and dry, poor poppets.
Rhonda said…
Hi Jo
I met you at the Writers' Group in Launceston in December and have just checked out your blog and found it chatty and interesting.
While I am not a gardener at all, I have some fine specimens in my garden that are crispy - dry and shrieking out for water. Luckily I don't have any alligators in my garden, and try not to see any small lizards or a blue tongue lizard that lurks under our back deck (I have a morbid fear of even the tiniest skinks).
Loved your comment about the dish fairy - I'm sure she does exist along with the tooth fairy, but she is yet to make a visit to my house. Do I need to lose a tooth to get both fairies along to my house - perhaps they could share an uber?
See you at our next Writers' Group Meeting in Feb Jo
Jo said…
Rhonda, so nice to hear from you! One of the silver linings of a dry summer is discovering which plants are survivors. Then you can take everything else out if so desired and have a perfectly self-sufficient xeriscaped garden:)
Perhaps you could experiment re fairies and let me know??

Popular Posts