There's a consensus out in my backyard, and it's this: "Thank God summer is over". If you're like me and you're in the habit of talking to your plants, and also listening to what they've got to say, you can glean quite a bit from plants' opinions. They mostly talk about the weather, of course, but I never tire of that topic, so we get on just fine. And right now they're full of the excitement of autumn, probably the nicest time of year to be in Sydney, no matter whether you're a plant or just their humble servant, the gardener.
Whoever named this Sedum 'Autumn Joy' was right on the money. A joyful scene this morning. This plant was given to me as a cutting two years ago by a friend, Amanda, who lives in Kyneton, Vic. Though Amanda's climate is much tougher than mine – cooler in winter and often hotter and drier in summer – this hardy succulent has thrived here in Sydney.
Parts of the backyard are a sea of colour right now. Salvias in the foreground, a swarm of zinnias in the middle, and helmet-headed marigolds soldiering on in the background.
Blue salvias have become a summer/autumn tradition in our backyard, doing their brilliant best for the last few years in succession. I prefer their colour on cloudy days, actually, and caught in the first low rays of the direct morning sun the vivid blue is almost too much, but not quite.
In the middle of the zinnia patch, which has grown much taller than the seedling label promised, a habanero chilli is struggling to get through its duties of flowering and setting fruit, but it's getting the job done, despite the press of bodies.
This is what I mean by the "press of bodies". See the green patch in the middle where there are no zinnia flowers? That's the habanero bush. My original vision was orange habaneros overlooking a low sea of zinnias, but it hasn't quite worked out that way. However I did get half of the original notion – a Mexican-style fiesta of colour from these Mexican natives – Viva!
Everything is growing rapidly now, such as this flush of new growth on the potted cumquat (which is also covered in developing small green fruits). The slightly cooler autumn weather is what all sorts of plants have been waiting for. Instead of daily maximums in the 30s, we're down to the mid 20s now, some truly lovely days just to be outside. The evenings are cooler, and though the days are slowly shortening, the earth is still very warm from the summer, and it won't be until late May before growth slows down for a few months of what we quaintly call 'winter' here.
The curry tree seedlings which had grown from seed that had fallen around the base of the tree, and which I potted up last weekend, have all come through, even the bigger ones. It's the kind autumn weather which gets the credit for the 100% success rate.
Like the cumquats, the lemon tree is putting on a lot of growth now. Here in Australia the traditional citrus-feeding times are late summer (February) and late winter (August). This youngster was fed about three weeks ago with Dynamic Lifter (pelletised chicken manure).
All the herbs are much happier in the autumn weather, but I thought I'd show just a couple here. Pictured above is the chervil, which was going so badly in midsummer that I thought about tossing it out several times and sowing new seed in autumn. No need, without any trimming and just steady watering, it has responded to the drop in the heat beautifully. This herb has a wonderful flavour that I love with vegetables in particular. Pam's using it really well in her cooking lately, it's been a treat.
Another summer sufferer which has put on a lovely green flush in the last couple of weeks, French tarragon is what Gourmet God invented moments after he invented the chicken.
The fourth and last crop of basil for the season is underway. Ever since I started growing basil as a crop and not a herb, we've got on much better. Basil goes to seed quickly in our climate, and it's useless trying to trim off the flowers and slow down its rush to reproduction, so the trick is, when I see the seed heads forming, I reach for the seed packet and sow another small batch of seeds in a punnet. A few weeks later when the seedlings are up and growing well, the old plants can be harvested and turned into pesto or whatever, and the new seedlings take their place.
However, it's not just the herbs and citrus which are enjoying the sublime autumn weather. Lots of plants have burst into flower. Pictured above, the Gardenia radicans is having its autumn flush, which this year is almost as good as the main spring flush.
In the area which I call 'Succulent City' all sorts of plants are blooming now. This is a curly-leaved Echeveria doing its thing.
This hanging basket of pelargoniums keeps on getting bashed up by strong winds, in which the plant loses about two-thirds of its foliage and looks to be a goner for a couple of weeks. Each time it says "I'll show you" and just bounces back with more foliage and flowers. "Take that, you rotten sou-wester!"
As I started this blog with an 'Autumn Joy' of a sedum it's only appropriate to finish it off with one of my personal joys of autumn, a new crop of limes from the espaliered lime tree.
Last night I cooked some spatchcocks (baby chickens, poussins, whatever you call little 500g chickens in your part of the world) which I marinated for a few hours in a mixture of olive oil, freshly squeezed lime juice, garlic, chopped chillies and garlic, and fresh oregano leaves, prior to grilling them (I cut out the backbone so the birds are flattened out for cooking).
And for cool soft drinks right now I'm cutting a segment from a lime and giving it a good squeeze as I toss it into a tall glass along with some ice cubes, prior to pouring iced mineral water over that. Without a doubt I'll be cooking a lime tart for dessert soon, and my Asian-style salad dressings will be tangier than ever, too!
While Sydney has nothing like four real seasons – we're far too warm and evergreen for that – the one which we like to call 'autumn' here is the favourite for a lot of people, me included. It may be partly due to the sense of relief that another blazing hot summer is over, but a nice autumn day here in Sydney is Goldilocks weather. Not too hot, not too cool. Just right. No wonder my plants are talking about nothing but the weather right now!