While Adelaide swelters through what’s forecast to be “the most severe December heatwave on record“, the most frequent greeting I’ve been met with is “How’s your garden holding up in this heat?”
“Better than me!” I’m inclined to think. I’m not a hot weather person. I pop out before the sun is up to do my watering and harvesting, and enjoy that clean fresh air that I know won’t last long.
But I’m happy to say that with some extra watering, bits of shade and early preparation, the garden is coming through well so far. Not time to get cocky though, as summer is only just beginning and it doesn’t look like being a friendly one. I’m grateful that the heat has built up gradually so that plants have had a chance to adapt as much as possible. Here’s a little photo tour around our patch, and a few of the design and maintenance strategies that we’ve found helpful.
These babies are receiving the most pampering at present – daily hand watering for the seedling trays, pots and young vegetables as well as twice weekly drip irrigation to the veg beds. Rainwater carried us through spring for hand watering but until we add more tanks it’s over to the mains now except for the delicate little seedlings. All of these plants are partially shaded, and the seed raising trays have only a little early morning sun.
Sweet corn and chilies love the heat, putting on rapid growth while most leafy greens are wilting. Still need to keep up plenty of water to them. The chili, one of the most exposed plants in the garden with all-day sun, is double-potted, with its black plastic pot hidden inside the terracotta one for insulation. (This also makes it easier to re-pot later, since the urn shape tends to trap plants’ roots as they mature.) If even this hardy beast starts to get scorched, at least pots can be shifted to a cooler spot.
We had two heavily bearing 6-year-old Nellie Kelly passionfruit vines on our east-facing boundary fence, and lost one earlier this year – not unusual for passionfruit in our climate. The remaining vine (left) is now flowering but won’t have such a big crop this year. I’ve planted two of Mum’s baby Panama Gold seedlings to replace the old vines (right) and they have responded mightily to the heat – and the regular water that comes from the vertical garden and outdoor shower inside the fence!
Our chook enclosure is taking shape and the cucumbers, gourds and beans are eager to climb up it – ready to provide cooling shade for the coming chooks. Pumpkins are sprawling along the back garden, under the corn, avocado, limes, tomatoes and other fruit trees. They wilt briefly during the afternoon but are soon rescued by shade on their western side and perk up by evening. The upright shadecloth shelter here is for the baby avocado tree, planted out this spring. I’ll keep it sheltered from afternoon sun and strong winds until it reaches fence height.
Facing west without shade, this loquat and Tropical Beauty apple cop the brunt of the afternoon sun. A few apple leaves have been scorched and the new growth on the loquat is defending itself by closing up against the sun, but they seem to be hardy enough to manage, and are beginning to help cool the shed.
A few more survival strategies (clockwise)… 1. Baby frangipani is on the eastern side of a feijoa tree for afternoon shade. 2. Sweet potato tuber is planted in a small pot to generate slips (cuttings) – these are then planted out into the larger pot to keep them more contained than is possible in the open garden, and a hessian sack shades them until they are ready to grow out into the light. 3. Grapevines have been ‘stretched’ out from the pergola on a light temporary structure to shade the raised veg bed through summer – this will be removed when they are cut back for winter. 4. A wicking bed provides constant reliable water for asparagus, and tying the tops with a loop of string prevents them flapping around in the wind. The asparagus and the compost bin also help to provide a more humid and sheltered microclimate for the little mango tree, helped by a lemon tree to their west.
Grapes and lemon verbena thrive in the heat and neither require all that much water, just borrowing the runoff from the surrounding garden beds. Iced lemon verbena tea is the best thirst-quencher!
The road verge (above) is the least-pampered part of the garden. This area has been watered today for the first time in at least a month. Most of the plants are either locally indigenous or hardy succulents. As well as surviving with very little care and adding colour and interest, they also shelter the main garden from hot northerly winds and provide wildlife habitat. Chop-and-drop mulching and very occasional weeding are all I do here.
The fruit trees hold up well with weekly drip irrigation for about 45 minutes – each tree has a circle of dripline around it of up to metre diameter under the mulch. During heatwaves they also receive a top-up watering session midweek. From left to right are apple, lemon (background), feijoa, mandarin, and in the right pic a persimmon over the birdbath. The birds are certainly making themselves at home. I’ve netted many of the stone fruit trees, removed a blackbird nest from the grapevine over the pergola and occasionally been known to run out the front door banging pots and pans at the lorikeets – until I realise I’ve become even more raucous than them. Then I know it’s time to chill.