Rain. Though it's very welcome here, after a very dry January, I'd gladly forgo Sydney's dose of this morning's gentle rain if Huey could somehow send it southwards and put out all those awful bushfires in Victoria. But it doesn't work that way. As the American songwriter Jimmie Dale Gilmore sings "Rain doesn't fall for the flowers / Rain just falls." And so rain falls here where it's welcome, but hardly a life-saver.
Ever since I discovered the 'Photomerge' button in Photoshop I've become a sucker for taking panorama shots of all 9m x 7.5m of Amateur Land. All you need to do is take three or four shots, click the Photomerge button and then tell it to merge the shots taken, and in 20 seconds you end up with a slightly weirdly-bendy, but still quite impressive, panorama shot. Here's the scene this soggy morning, after a mere 3mm of rain overnight.
This is my native Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream', sagging slightly with the weight of raindrops. Lots of Australians will tell you that our Aussie bushland is at its most gentle and beautiful in the rain. Our bushland areas really can feel a bit scary on hot, dry summer's days, when fires, frisky snakes and constant thirst jangle your inner worry beads. But in the wet, it all seems so gentle and benign. You can really smell the scents of eucalypts and wattles in the wet and the ground feels soft underfoot. Of course a lot of that sensory thrill is lost in a mere garden like mine, but on a wet morning the grevilleas always catch my eye.
The multi-coloured blooms of Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream' take on a darker, even more pleasing, tone when moist. So far this shrub has grown lots of leaves and produced only a few flowers. I know why. When young it had an iron deficiency, which one friend, an excellent gardener, guessed was probably a nitrogen deficiency. So we tried a nitrogen feed first, and it didn't improve. After we then tried option B, treating it with chelated iron for an iron deficiency, that worked a treat and the leaves greened up in days. But we're paying the price for the nitrogen hit now, with lots of leaf growth and not many flowers. The balance will return in due course, and with that hopefully we'll see more blooms.
Over on the other side of the fence is my star patient, no longer on the intensive care list, my Grevillea 'Superb'. It's blooming beautifully now, but two months ago Pam and I were seriously discussing what kind of plant we'd get as a replacement for it, as it looked terminally ill.
This is what I mean by looking 'terminally ill'. Eek, that's ugly. But this was made to look even uglier as it's taken just after a desperate attempt at pruning, in mid-October. The new leaves which appeared after this pruning came out looking sick, too, and that's when we thought its condition was terminal. And then it occurred to me that the problem could be fungal, and probably underground as well. And so I sprayed it with Anti-Rot, whose main chemical component is phosphorous acid.
Traa daaaa! And this is the star patient this morning, covered in blooms and healthy green leaves. It's had two treatments of Anti-Rot so far, at six week intervals, and this stuff has done the trick magnificently. If you think I'm pleased about this, the local native birds are even more delighted! Grevilleas are laden with nectar and this is the local cafe for a variety of honeyeaters.
Grevilleas are wonderful garden plants. The two varieties I have growing here are modern cultivars not found in our bushland areas, so they are second-generation natives, rather than being truly indigenous plants. The Grevillea 'Superb' is so long-flowering that it's in flower virtually year-round, although it does put on bigger flushes of blooms in autumn and spring, or at least several weeks after being pruned, as is happening now.
The general idea with grevilleas is that you prune them quite often – twice a year, usually after the autumn and spring flushes of blooms subside. This keeps the foliage dense and the flowers more profuse. Pruning consists of cutting back plants by about one-third, all over, but some gardeners cut off more, others less. Doesn't matter, as long as all the old blooms go. Lots of Australians who aren't keen gardeners, but who want a garden of some sort, make the mistake of growing flowering natives such as these grevilleas and then they neglect them entirely after planting. After a good first year or two, their native plants grow sparse, scrappy and untidy, and flowering drops off. They presume that all natives are 'low-maintenance' plants - because that's the common misconception – when in fact they need a fair bit of maintenance and care. And boy, there are a lot of really ugly native gardens out there in suburbia. All they need is regular pruning.
The only maintenance that grevilleas don't need a lot of is feeding. I give them one application of slow-release pellets formulated for Australian natives (ie with a very low phosphorus content). That's all they need. Over-feeding can kill them, as can normal garden fertilisers, and run-off from over-fertilised lawns. So underfeeding is best for all grevilleas.
Oddly enough, grevilleas such as these are a bit out of favour with ecologists, despite being native plants and so attractive to native birds. They're perfectly right in their arguments, too, which go like something like this: "Planting too many nectar-producing plants in suburban areas gives nectar-eating native birds an unfair competitive advantage over the various seed-eating and insect-eating birds. What you should do is also plant native shrubs, perennials and trees which provide a balanced variety of food sources (ie, seed-producing plants and plants which attract insects, such as tea trees.)"
Unfortunately, that then means that you'd need to devote your garden almost entirely to native plants to achieve a truly eco-friendly balance of plant types, and that's something I just don't want to do. I love my food plants far too much to do that. And besides, Australian natives are finicky, difficult plants to grow, especially here in my heavyish, rich clay-loam soil. They generally need lighter, almost sandy, soils to thrive healthily. And so I content myself with growing just a couple of the prettiest grevilleas I can find – and a soggy morning like this one is when they're at their best.