Monday, 9 January 2023

A year in review: Garden

At the beginning of 2022 I had a contretemps with a neighbour about trimming the nature strip so the year didn’t start that well with regard to the gardening. It improved when Putin invaded Ukraine as I was inspired by all of the associated mobilisation of military equipment and of soldiers and went to the nursery to buy potting mix and plants. Unable to keep still and wanting something to do that would offset the unease I felt I repeated the exercise on the Friday immediately after invasion day, getting more of the same. 

Well, not precisely the same. In fact in total I got eight 30-litre sacks of potting mix and a bag of woodchips for ground cover. I bought two types of grevillea, a jasmine plant, and two types of fern (to go in the light well): maidenhair and fishbone. I didn’t wash out the Facebook Marketplace pots before filling them, which started with Styrofoam or plastic drink bottles that had been emptied beforehand.

On 1 March I drove to Clovelly to pick up some colocasias (elephants’ ears) from a woman who, with her husband, was clearing out the back yard, the place a converted shop. I planted some in the light well in the large ceramic pot that’d been placed there the week before and that already contained the four ferns, and dumped the rest out on the deck where the rain was still coming down steadily every blessed day. 

I got my tools out on 3 March and cleaned out the drain cover on the top balcony as it’d become silted up. To get rid of the dirt in the drain it took a pair of pliers, a hammer, a screwdriver, rubber gloves, a bucket, a watering can, a brush, a trowel and about 30 minutes of my time, and at one stage I became dizzy with exertion, almost falling over with the effort. Although it made me feel tired I was able to complete the work without serious mishap.

I repotted some of the colocasias on 8 March when it was still raining (at this time it rained solidly for a period of about three weeks) situating two more small ones in the light well and using two of the plastic pots I’d gotten from a guy who lives out at Hillsdale (near Eastgardens Shopping Centre) for the rest of ‘em so that they could be stationed out on the deck. 

At the front of the house near the street I put into a bed of earth in one of the pots a trellis I found on Facebook Marketplace. The woman who was selling them for $5 each gave me gardening chemicals as well when I went to her apartment in the Connaught on Liverpool Street. I’d walked from Newtown on that day as I’d had to buy coffee, and so because my shoulder was sore from walking so far with a heavy load when, having completed the transaction, I came down to the lobby in the wood-panelled lift and jumped in a cab to get back home. I enjoyed a chat with the driver, a man from Bangladesh who alternately cursed selfish people and made jokes about climate change (a believer, he said the recent heavy weather was due to global warming) the trip marking a point as I’d not, for many months, caught a cab. I used to get them a lot when I lived in Pyrmont when I wanted to get home quickly from the city, but living in Botany if I wasn’t driving I’d relied mostly on buses. 

This time I excused the unusual expense occasioned by the taxi fare on account of the bonus etched in my personal ledger after finding gardening supplies for such a low price. One of the trellises was destined for the pot with the jasmine, which’d started to sprout, so using twist-ties I tied a stick I had in the garage to lengthen its prongs. I promised myself to get more sticks the following day to complete the extension so that jasmine could be trained right to the top of the garden wall.

A few days later, on 13 March, I found some pieces of paver on the street while out walking with a friend and brought them home to use in the light well, where I put a square pot that’d been patiently waiting downstairs in the garage. Into it I placed some Styrofoam and then a layer of potting mix. I dug up the maidenhair ferns I’d planted in the big pot – I did this because they were not doing well there, having been overpowered for two weeks by the fishbone ferns – then I got one of my colocasias to put in the square pot as well. Finally in the corner I put a plastic Japanese pagoda I’d had out the back on the deck, and that’d been found on the street months earlier. 

For out the back by the pool I discovered a monstera for sale on Facebook and organised with the vendor to pick it up on Tuesday 16 March. She messaged me in the morning telling me she’d be busy at work until late that day so I changed the pickup date to Wednesday which turned out to be auspicious as I needed to go out that way to drop by at the paper conservator’s in Lilyfield. Then on Wednesday morning when I was on my way home from picking up some free pot plants a couple in Mascot had advertised on Facebook the conservator phoned to tell me she had no Corflute for a folder for a large poster of mine she’d worked on. Initially, at this point, I said I’d come out anyway as I had other things to drop off to be done, but the rain that came after I got home convinced me that transporting a large paper object without a protective folder to cover it and shield it from the weather would be a bad idea, so I contacted the plant vendor to cancel the pickup and possibly to reschedule it to a different day when I could drive to Camperdown sometime before midday.

The day before I’d noticed that the colocasias outside on the deck weren’t shooting as readily as the ones in the light well, and attributed the discrepancy to warmer air inside compared to out, but I had no way of knowing if this made an essential difference. I was going by rule of thumb, my gardening skills untested though my grandfather had been a gardener of some repute and dad had managed a large garden when we lived in Vaucluse. 

Above photo shows the front yard on 25 February. The following photo shows what it looked like on 16 March, three weeks after the day the first photo was snapped. By this time the jasmine was doing well but though they’d thickened up a bit the grevilleas didn’t seem to be shooting a lot of new leaves and I wondered if this was due to the fact that we were, at this time, entering a period of lower ambient temperatures, or if they were always slow growers. 

Note the rain in both photos. I’d trimmed the lawn the day before the second photo was taken, just before lunch, edging the plots – and the nature strip next to the pavement, which’d grown shaggy – using hedge clippers (so sparing my neighbours’ ears) and breaking out in a sweat although my legs didn’t get as tired as they had on the previous occasion since my body had gotten used to the punishment of crouching down to complete the work. 

Weatherwise, autumn had set in, the days were getting shorter – noticeable for an early bird like me because at 6am the sun hadn’t started to come up – and you could feel the chill of the season like a sharpened knife, but all the colocasias in the light well had produced new leaves (see next photo).

No complaints yet from my plants about the rain, the ones on the deck many of ‘em hopefully getting comfortable in new homes provided on Wednesday evening when I repotted a number of traumatised ones acquired where the existing soil had become useless and unable to hold water. 

On the last day of October I’d also driven into a Mascot building. Most of the pots used for ameliorating the water problem had come from a local woman who’d offered a range of gardening gear for $30 six months before. Some of her pots had been given to friends and family and now, after I used almost a full bag of potting mix for my starving succulents, the monstera vendor contacted me late in the evening so that I saw her message on Thursday morning. It told me that Friday morning would work according to her schedule. By this time I’d arranged to drive out to Parramatta to buy pots from a woman living there, and though I’d tentatively made an appointment for Saturday to go to the home of a man in Darlinghurst to buy even more, the 79 new pots I secured at Parramatta made the second trip superfluous. 

I’d discovered something about myself and early on Thursday morning honoured the feeling that came with a promise to go back to the nursery to buy more bags of potting mix. Another local nursery was advertising a sale on the Saturday but the immediate task was to get out to Crimea Street without triggering an episode and taking Omer with me I went on slow roads. With the three of us working I loaded up the RAV4 then drove back home gingerly so nothing broke.

At home I promptly had a nap and some tea. The next day I did some errands in Ultimo before walking to Barr Street to pick up the monstera. The vendor’d organised also to meet another person at the time of my arrival, and since they’d come by car got dealt with first. When I got home I looked up some details of how to care for this specific type of plant. I did this because of the cost they usually draw, and I thought, “If they’re expensive they’re probably hard to grow.” It turns out they only want to be watered every one or two weeks and that you need to let the soil dry out between waterings, so I moved the pot under cover promising myself to go at it with the hose in 10 days’ time. I wondered if I’d be able to pace myself with such a regime as for the most part up to this point in time I’d just been splashing water around haphazard. More careful use of a precious resource would be called for, I gauged, if I wanted the monstera to thrive. 

Already it’d produced a new leaf, and carrying the thing home on two buses I’d been very attentive to the greenery. It looked lonely under the first floor overhang and on Saturday I put out more plants near the pool after visiting the street outside a house in Marrickville where the owner was getting rid of them. In the end I had to throw some of them out because they were too tall and unstable, so I put what I couldn’t use in the green bin and just potted a few that were small enough to be dealt with in my own way, though one in any case required support, which I provided using the second trellis I’d picked up earlier in March.

On Sunday I added some wandering Jew when a friend gave me cuttings from her garden, and I potted them in Parramatta pots, watering them in thoroughly with the hose. A few days later when I was walking back from the Botany shops I picked up a succulent that someone’d left out on a dish with others in the rain on their fence, evidently for people to take home. 

Once there I potted it using another of my Parramatta pots, and put it to soak out on the deck with the other plants. More of these pots were used the following week when, on Monday 28 March, I ripped my spathiphyllum apart with my gloved hands, and placed each of three segments in a separate pot (see pic below).

Out the front I’d earlier placed two ceramic troughs I picked up from a vendor in Hillsdale who had been giving away a number of goods, in actual fact I’d twice driven out to his place to pick things up in the car. On the Monday I filled his containers with potting mix and lomandra which I bought from the nursery (see pic below). I guessed these plants’d do well in this exposed position as they’re advertised as being hardy natives. 

I’d always admired lomandra when I’d seen it used in parks, often beside paths. I’d come to admire the resilience of plants, their ability despite seeming destruction to swing back into action, for example the agaves I’d picked up from a street in Marrickville (see following pics).

The second agave had sustained even more damage, but despite the despoliations of fate it retained inside its mortal core an ability to throw out new leaves, which you can see there in its heart. 

On 2 April I had a chance to tidy up a bit with the lack of rain – what a change it was not to see drops of water falling from the sky – and did the nature strip out front. I also swept the driveway. It turns out that the same day my neighbour from next door also cut the nature strip (they have a mower), so when I happened to have a word with her as I was driving my car into the garage I said I’d do the edges. I got out the hedge clippers and finished the job in a few minutes, edging the manhole aperture as well as the borders of the plot.

I was very busy with errands two days later but coming back home on the bus I contacted a woman in Eastlakes who’d advertised on Facebook, telling her that I could go to her place to buy plants that afternoon. At home I made tea and relaxed then jumped in the car at around 2.20pm and went to Maloney Street, parking in a side street near the relevant house. A bungalow, it had hundreds of plants in a paved forecourt and I picked out five items including two geraniums – I’d specifically been looking for this breed of plant as they used to grow at the house I lived in in Glebe in the 80s – for which I paid in total $30. I had the cash in my wallet and the woman helped me carry the purchases to my car. 

At home I repotted three of them using the rest of a bag of soil, then watered them in with the hose. Here’s the iresine that came with the bunch, this photo taken on 5 April just before more rain. 

At the end of April I made up some small pots to contain some of the succulents two people in Mascot had given away months before and that’d been recovering from neglect on my back deck. The photo below shows some of my creations, these ones up in the studio on the second floor.

More, similar items were downstairs in the front room on the ground floor and in the living room on bookshelves. One item got placed on a bookshelf on the first floor, completing an ensemble there. I got into the habit of watering the plants infrequently, though the ones up in the studio needed more moisture because of their exposed position. Two watering cans made of metal were thrown out because they leaked, one in fact making a big mess that stained the top of a chest of drawers where it affected the varnish.

I dug up the maidenhair fern in May because something was eating it and it’d basically expired, replacing it with a colocasia that had been out the back on the deck near the fence. The grevillea out front was also being eaten by this time so I sprayed it and got the bug to go away, several flowers were blooming or coming out by the end of June even in winter it was glorious. 

Two plants out the back were being eaten too. I’d put the agaves down on the pool deck where they could get more sun and they didn’t seem to mind the change too much though some leaves on the larger one turned white and crumpled. Inside, I worked out a routine for the little succulents dotted around the place, one of which died through lack of watering so that near the end of June I replaced it in its pot with a succulent from out on the deck where it’d been sprouting. Getting the water right for these ones is tricky because the pots have no holes and overwatering would cause other problems. Eventually I gauged the required amount of moisture correctly and got them to keep growing it was well done with a few casualties. 

A large happy succulent out the back I put into a pot a geranium had failed in, and when little leaves broke off during the relocation process I put them to sprout in starter pots with new soil from the garage but they just rotted.

I gave some pots to a fellow in Eastlakes who’d put out a call on Nextdoor for furniture, I took over a few things over two days parking near his block of flats where he waited with a handy shopping trolley to help him get things upstairs.

I didn’t trim the grass all winter and into summer it was still long and unkempt. I tried to get a young fellow who’d advertised to come and do the lawn in late December but the holiday season got in the way and in early January the lawn was still wild (see photo above).

During the holidays I put another Colocasia in the light well (see photo above) onto a paver I’d found near a friend’s house where they were being given away. I’d also put a succulent in the light well (see behind the small Colocasia at bottom right) and it did well here. Note however the larger colocasias in the other pots, they really love it in the light well with its moisture and low light.

The photo above shows the studio potplants doing rather well also, they love the exposed situation with lots of light during the day. I have to water these plants frequently as otherwise they’d dry out. See the change from the beginning of the year!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this and the photos really show the progress