Wrong again

It feels kind of lame to be writing about an observation that will have no impact without also explaining the problem to which it pertains.  It’s a bit like trying to explain a joke.  The best you can hope for is a quizzical expression during the explanation, with a dismissive and joyless ‘Oh yeah, I get it now’ when the story and the punch-line eventually clarify.

But I press on bravely, nevertheless.

When you garden in a climate like mine you can’t help get it into your head that nothing grows over the winter.  You can’t, for instance, plant winter veggies in winter, or anywhere near winter.  They’ll just sit immobilized and emit a thankfully inaudible whimper until sometime in September.  Perennials are dormant, and anything woody just huddles down like a husky in a blizzard, not lifting its head until well into spring.

How the candytuft looked before winter. (NB no one in their right mind should buy a tube of anything that looks as pathetic and pot-bound as this. But I was in the middle of constructing the wall, and had to get whatever the local nursery had, that late in the season)

So when I was planting my little plants into my stone wall back in autumn, I didn’t really expect any movement until spring.  I was convinced that it would make no difference when between April and September they went into the ground – that the result would be the same in spring, other than perhaps a bit of root establishment (the ultimate benefit of which can’t be underestimated, but isn’t likely to show up until stressful weather arrives).

Turns out I was wrong.  No one in Melbourne or anywhere warmer than Melbourne will be surprised at this.  But from my past experience I am surprised.  Maybe we can put the growth down to climate change.

Or maybe – and this is rather more likely – I’m just nowhere near as observant as my camera is, and that I really need to take pics and keep records in order to know the truth of these things.

I’m forever taking pics of clients gardens, and when they look at them months or years later, they’ve invariably forgotten just how small those plants were when they went in.

I wish I’d remember to take pics of everything.  I tend to only take what I think will make a good pic, so I didn’t, for instance, take a pic of the freshly planted candytuft, as it looked so pathetic.  But look at it now (above) after nothing but months of hostile, gruesome weather.   Incredible.  Guaranteed if I didn’t have its cousin still in a pot (top), I’d have totally forgotten how bad it looked when it went in.  The real contrast would have been lost.

The take-home message to the 1.5 readers who live in a climate as cold or colder than mine:  Loads of stuff still does grow over winter, even if it’s like trying to detect the movement of the hour-hand of a clock.

The take-home message to everyone else (which I just thought of, and possibly saves this from being a total waste of time in the reading):  take pics of everything in your garden, all the time.  You’ll never, ever be sorry you did.


  1. Except Michael in a garden which you’ve gardened in for a long time,you look at old photographs and think ‘wow that bit of garden looked much better then and where did that plant that looks do beautiful,healthy and gorgeous -go?This year the possums once again polished off most of the winter vegetables so I bunged in stocks,flocks,cornflower,daisys,snapdragons etc,looks gorgeous,better go and photograph before another stinker of hot day wrecks it Phoebe

    1. Hadn’t thought of that…changes in a garden aren’t always in the right direction.

  2. Timely advice, as we are about to move and the garden is a blank canvas. Can’t wait!

    1. Quick! Take a heap of pics immediately, from every angle you can think of, and every angle you can’t think of. I’m forever later thinking “Dang – wish I’d got one from this particular angle a few years back..”

  3. I’m sure I’m not your only Canadian reader, so I’m willing to bet you have more than 1.5 readers who live in climates as cold as, or colder than, yours.

    1. Where I’m guessing there’s no hope of winter growth of any sort. I remember speaking to a gardener in Quebec soon after Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ had arrived in Australia, and commenting on how sweet it looks with it’s little cap of snow in winter. She looked at me as if I was a complete idiot. “Little cap of snow?” she replied, with exaggerated incredulity “It’s under three metres of snow here”

    2. Well, it’s not completely hopeless. I live on Vancouver Island on the west coast, which is a lot milder than Montreal – zone 8 on the US systems, so maybe Tasmanish? Phormiums are ok, and some nurseries claim their hedychiums are winter hardy. I’ll find out in a few months.

  4. Would your new plantings done as well without the thermal mass of your artful stonework?

    1. I’m sure the thermal mass would have helped. It’s like I’ve inadvertently gained a whole new microclimate. And not only microclimate – a whole new context for small stuff that I wouldn’t have found a place for otherwise.

  5. I’m agreeing with JenniP about your wall. I can see all those little plants basking like lizards on the warm rocks and thinking how nice it was for you to have added a hot water bottle to their beds. But the candytuft must have also got the special Lazarus bed. I can understand you buying it anyway far more than I can understand the nursery having the gall to sell it. Re photos – I’d add to take them in all seasons too. It’s a good reference you can use to avoid putting a garden fork through your special but dormant dahlia bulbs during a frenzied spring planting session. If only I’d done it.

  6. Welcome back Michael-we’ve missed ya!

  7. I’m always in the bad books with my children for peering at the background plantings in photographs instead of them. Comments about how much the maples have grown or how little the Cornus looked back then, are apparently not appreciated. I love the kids, if it wasn’t for them I’d have no record of the progress of my garden!

    1. Just the kind of thing I’d do. I have musician friends who, at poignant moments in a movie will lean over in the cinema, with a ‘How about that extraordinary flute part?’, when I’m blissfully unconscious of the soundtrack, and want to remain that way. Or I’ll be watching some period drama with my own family, and start some stupid tirade about how there’s no way they would have been using Stipa gigantea in roadside plantings in those days.
      At least, in your case, you’ve provided a notable background of the kids pics – even if it manages to upstage them. My Dad’s great photographic superpower was to manage to get a rubbish bin prominently placed in nearly every pic he took.

  8. Photographs can be wonderful reminders of progress in the garden – but, as Phoebe says, they can occasionally serve to underline the scale of recent disasters! In mid autumn, my garden was looking green and lush – a little too lush in places, as the regular early winter trim and tidy session by an experienced tree specialist was somehow missed last year. I therefore arranged for the tree man to come a little earlier than usual, to clean things up a little and ready the garden for the winter chores. I asked him not to be too harsh in curbing the exuberance of the trees and shrubs as I didn’t want to destroy the pleasant sense of privacy and enclosure which has finally developed in the garden. I retired to the front of the house away from the whine of chain saws and the crash iof falling branches. Three hours later I was requested to come and inspect the result of their labours. To my horror, I could now see across my neighbours’ garden into the next street, while what seemed like acres of paling fence had emerged from behind the shrubs which had previously concealed them. Three weeks later, neighbours on the other side of the garden had their tree lopper remover every branch from the silver birches which line their garden, leaving a row of ugly stumps peering over the citrus trees in my garden. providing a clear view of a new McMansion in an adjacent street which had been added to the landscape since the previous exercise in tree mutilation lopping some two years earlier! It took several weeks before I could bear to do more than hurry across the garden, eyes averted from the wreckage. I find the ‘before’ pictures a mixed blessing – a reminder of what has been lost, but also (I hope) a reminder that the garden will recover – eventually!!

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