Posts tagged hibiscus

Fools and other F words

It’s been quiet on the grapevine lately, but not from lack of gardening goss.

See, I started this post some weeks ago thus:

Yesterday, before I went to the beach, I potted fuchsias.

I love the sound of that. Potted fuchsias. The fuchsia part I mean. It’s the shhchhhh sound that pleases me. Kind of like zhooshing, the onamatapaeic word that indicates something is being schmicked up, revitalised, given a style and look that will make people look twice. Fuchsias sure do that. They’re  gorgeous,  but it’s not without trepidation that I venture into the fuchsia  world ….. and I hope it won’t all end in tears.

It’s a relationship littered with F words .

Well there’s been considerably more F words added to the relationship since I wrote that, because in all my excitement with shhchhhh-sounding plants, I splashed out on freesias, too, imagining a splash of delicate colour as the two lots of F girls met and mixed in the beds and baskets I put them.

Freesia alba

Freesia alba

Because not one of them has survived. What in tarnation was this major hardware store’s garden staff doing putting stacks of  pendulous fuchsias and delicate freesias out in prime display to tempt customers in January!

Catching fools like me, of course. In the searing heat, it was probably the dumbest choice and timing I could have made.

And it just goes to show how seductive a pretty face is. When I saw them and fell in love,  I didn’t really stop to think: “hmmm cool climate plant, probably not 39C degrees  material”.  I just lusted after all that pink, crimson, purple and scarlet little teardrop heads, that I imagined bobbing up and down each morning as I greeted them as if to say: “Yes, you are a clever gardener and what a gorgeous choice you’ve made with us.”

The label of the fuchsia hybrid that sucked me in

The label of the fuchsia hybrid that sucked me in

Despite their “heat hardy” label, they all curled up and perished, no matter where I put them and what tendering I did.  Sad, ugly brown leaves and dead stems mocked all my dreams.

I learnt, too late, that August is the time to plant out freesias and fuchsias here in the sub tropics – if you have the patience for them. ( And I’m not sure I will.)

I lay bare this episode of gardening stupidity because ( misguided) friends who think I’m an expert with plants, say they don’t bother with gardening because it’s just all too hard; that  I am so much more informed and adept, I could never understand their level of incompetence and lack of confidence at it.

Well, hello. Fess up time.

I have made  and am still making all manner of big boo-boos in the garden. It would take more space and time than I have here to list them all, but for starters:

I have killed all the azaleas but one that  were a transplanted gift from a friend’s garden

I cannot grow hibiscus without them succumbing to every grub known to mankind

“Easy to care for” Camelia japonicas hate me and refuse to flower no matter where I put them – although the smaller flowering camelia sassanqua gives me some compensation

Hydrangea make me blue

Hydrangea make me blue

I have picked all the wrong roses for our climate and in five years with 10 bushes, I have had about a dozen blooms in total, regardless of how much blood and bone, feed and love I give them

I planted the African tulip tree too close to the poinciana and they are fighting for light and space –  and competing orange flowers

Cocos palms we put in around the swimming pool make our life hell with seed and blossom drop and now they’re so tall we can’t reach to trim dead fronds and remove the seed bunches.

Tibouchina peace baby has been a triple failure for me

Tibouchina peace baby has been a triple failure for me

I have had four attempts to grow a ” sturdy” white tibouchina peace baby in a pot and still fail.

Hellebores in the shade under the frangipani  seemed a  lovely idea, but it’s a losing battle so far.

Coriander and sage just refuse to live in my world.

Hellebores - proving a handful

Hellebores – proving a handful

Hydrangeas wilt and shrivel wherever I put them.

I am on my third try to strike a piece of the hardiest vine known to mankind – the golden chalice – which a friend has growing rampant.

I have been know to kill impatiens – the common everyman perennial.

The daphnes I bragged about making  a scented driveway entry, have all died, despite the best preparation, care and attention I could muster. The so-called hot weather hardiness was just not robust enough apparently – or some mysterious bad chemistry between them and me prevailed.

There is always something fungus or “pesty” on my cycads no matter what I do to them.

Like my reluctant friends, I too remember being intimidated by all that I didn’t know about gardening.

Camelia sassanqa  compensation for the japonica which I cannot get to flower

Camelia sassanqa compensation for the japonica which I cannot get to flower

I have over reached and shrunk back. But something kept me at it. Being around people who had “green thumbs” helped, because they dispensed snippets of wisdom about soil, watering, striking, feeding, placement in small bites – and I could apply it in manageable doses. With each small success, confidence grew.

My advice to those wary of gardening is just start. Garden wisdom grows from the first dig. Begin with a few pots – or one small bed of colour or a shrubbery. And when the successes outnumber the failures, you are on a roll. If you let it, gardening will take your heart and soul and give you a reason to get up every day. It will soothe you, delight you and revive you.

Walk in lots of gardens. Look, smell and touch. I used to baulk at going to grand, beautiful show gardens, places that I thought  would make me feel inadequate and mine would look pathetic in comparison.

But I love visiting them now, because I get that every garden has its beauty both in small patches and grand designs. And there’s a garden osmosis at work.

I delight in getting even just one idea from a visit – whether it’s a new composition of colour, or undergrowth design -or where to put a birdbath.

And the feeling it leaves me with ….

Now that’s an F word I do use a lot in the garden!


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White bougainvillea flourishing on front fence

IF the health credo ” we are what we eat” applies to gardens, too, then mine will be a super power this spring.

I have spent the past week feeding it every kind of goodness I can scrape out of the compost, mushroom tea bin, leaf mulch heap and local manure-strewn paddocks. That’s apart from the bags of fertiliser products stamped with words like boost, reinforcer,  gro, release, dynamic, blood and bone, that have been emptied into its hungry beds.  With all the rich fodder it has ingested, I can almost hear it burping.

Parsley, mint and perennial coriander beefing up

August is the month before the big show happens here in the coastal sub-tropics, when  cocky premature bloomers are likely to get a whipping  and sound de-flowering if they rush to blossom before the fierce westerly winds blow in. It’s the month, rather,  to “get ready”,  for gardeners to pour in the boost juice and stand back for the performance dazzle,  because warm weather starts on the dot of September and with none of the subtlety of the temperate zones, our flora bursts into life.

So I have fed the citrus, papaw and banana trees, cut back  the leggy shrubs and shaggy grasses, trimmed the passionfruit vine, pruned the hibiscus, poinsettia, white May bush, ( confusing because it blooms in September here,  but in May in the northern hemisphere) plumbago  and grevilleas, divided the irises,  day lillies, agapanthus, bromeliads, cordylines and red hot pokers and have repotted the ferns  and hanging baskets,  adding peat coir and wetting agents.  The  beetroot, broccoli, silverbeet and zucchini plants have gone in, after the raised tank garden was fed three bags of mushroom compost,three new lettuces were sunk and the parsley, perennial coriander ( a different one to my nemesis mentioned in previous  blogs) also known as sawtooth coriander,  mint and oregano are firing up with a splash of fish emulsion. The lemongrass has been cut down to size and the stalk trimmings chopped and fed to the compost, along with a with a swatch of comfrey leaves, so that will stimulate and activate it nicely. 

Red hot pokers divided from mother plant, ready for transplant

 But while the preparation is done for a stunning spring here, in this “waiting mode” the garden’s appearance is like a bad hair day. You can see that the cut and colour are good, but with bare and shorn limbs, spindly new plantings and lumpy mulched bits, it’s  not sitting quite right, despite all the product and hot air coming its way.  In a month or two, all will be blended, with lush growth, dashing highlights and smoothed edges, returned to its crowning glory, but right now, it’s a bit flat and plain.

The exception are the splendid bougainvillea on the distant front fence line. Like kids who have left home, we don’t see each other often, and they set their own feeding and grooming agenda. And it’s heartening to see they flourish without me hovering, except for a very occasional haircut and a home-cooked meal.

I am on tenterhooks watching the spikey little green fruit on the mulberry tree change in color. When they turn pinkish red, the birds will probably be on them and steal the lot like they did last year.   I am also on the lookout for pests and critters like caterpillars, mites and all manner of wasps and grubs.  They must be close because you can hear in the dawn chorus some new and different bird calls piercing the early morning air. They have flown in  looking for new and juicy bugs emerging from winter slumber.

There’s a sense of pleasing expectation in the air and while this patch may not be looking its best right now, I do think this advice helps:

if you can’t see the bright side of life, polish the dull side.

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