06 November 2012

Just another day in the garden

Today I got back into the garden after a week or so of doing no serious outdoor work. Come to think of it, I did plant out six different salvia plants yesterday that I bought recently at an Open Garden about 30km from here. In that garden many kinds of salvias were flourishing, so I bought a half dozen different varieties at the sale table and I'll try them out here. I have a dry hilly slope above my carport which already has a variety of small native trees and bushes well established, but on one part of that hill I've had to cut down a few of these because they were a danger to the overhead lines that carry electricity to my house from the street. So I'll try out some salvias in this area and see if any of them survive or maybe even flourish.
First today I sprayed some of the more stubborn grasses and weeds that come up through pavers and stones on various paths around the garden. Then I carted away another dozen huge fronds that had died and fallen from various palm trees. Some are up to six metres long and quite heavy. I now have stacks of these and other dead branches heaped in five different places around the garden, ready for burning when we finally get to the end of the dry season.

Pumping out remaining water before tank cleaning
I hope the rains come soon, or else we, too, may need to buy in water to top up our rainwater tank. Lots of neighbours have had to buy water already. We're lucky that our toilet and garden use dam water, which helps preserve our precious rainwater. And with just two of us living here, we can usually make our 10,000 gallons of stored rainwater last from one wet season to the next. But this year we might not be so lucky. Only good thing about the volume dropping to 3000 gallons was that we were finally able to get the tank cleaned this spring.  The cleaners can pump out and hold up to 3000 gallons in their mobile tanks while one poor fellow climbs down through that small hole to clean out the tank.
Deserted nest - next day
Not everything today went smoothly, however. While unrolling a soaker hose along the bank of bushes growing below the swimming pool, I almost stumbled into a huge nest of jumper ants. These big aggressive guys have a terrible sting which later produces a hard little lump that will itch madly for days afterward. I managed not to get stung, but Buddha forgive me, I spread ant crystals liberally all around the nest. This won't kill them all, unfortunately. They'll probably just move the nest somewhere else. It's very hard to kill a whole nest of the buggers without aggressively pursuing the task for hours – for example, pouring kettle after kettle of boiling water down their hole, all the while leaping about like a madwoman to avoid getting stung. I wouldn't bother them if they were further away from our living area. But barefoot swimmers this summer won't want to share the pool surrounds with these foragers.

It's hard to see how these things took me nearly four hours, but I haven't mentioned all the little distractions between major tasks. The spray nozzle, for example, that got blocked several times – taking that apart and cleaning it out is always tedious and time-consuming. Or the pool skimmer box that needed emptying and a new 'sock' fitted – and of course I stopped to scoop a few leaves out of the water after that! While down that end of the pool, I remembered that I'd planted two banksias and some grasses near the pump house last week, so I had to water those. And then Allen kindly made me a cup of tea, so we sat for a while and enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine.

A clump of mistletoe on one side of the pecan tree
At the end of the afternoon, I came around the corner at the far end of the hill below the pool, and there I found two gorgeous exotics blooming their hearts out just above eye-level. By 'exotic' I'm referring to their beauty, and not their provenance. For both are Australian natives.

The first was a variety of mistletoe growing on a branch of the larger of two pecan trees in my garden. I think I started off this specimen a few years ago when I pulled a piece off a plant hanging from a tree by the side of the road not far from home. I came home and threw a long strand of that plant up into this pecan tree. I noticed last year it had 'taken', but I didn't see any flowers then.

First leaves of Spring on the other side of the pecan tree
Mistletoes are partial parasites, and they get their water and nutrients from the host tree. I don't think they actually kill the tree, but I'll have to look into that further. I rather like this pecan tree and wouldn't want to lose it. It's deciduous, for one thing, and I don't have many of those in my garden. Not that I get many pecans. As the tree is so tall, I would only get its nuts when they fell to the ground. But that never happens. Well before the nuts are ripe enough to fall, the cockatoos pick the tree clean. Even so, it's a beautiful tree. Maybe I'll do better with the smaller one coming along nicely just a short distance away. I might net that one, as this year it's full of flowers for the first time ever.

Flowers and leaves of the black bean tree
But neither the mistletoe nor pecan flowers can compete with the luscious blooms adorning the black bean tree nearby. This Australian native must love the dry weather because it has never flowered this profusely before. All along the branches are bunches of orange and yellow flowers that must be a beacon for whatever pollinators they are meant to attract. Apparently the Aborigines knew how to prepare the tree's large seeds as food, but the seeds have also been found to contain alkaloids that have anti-HIV and anti-cancer properties.

I'm not concerned with any of that, however. For me the black bean is just a beautiful shade tree with a truly exotic blooming habit.

Black bean flowers grow in clumps along the branches of the tree


The Blog Fodder said...

You can keep the ants. There are advantages to places with cold winters. Love the flowers.
Mistletoe does kill trees in Ukraine. In Soviet times the farm workers from farms along side the roads used to maintain the trees and remove the parasitic plants. Now I have seen trees in winter (when the leaves are gone you can see the mistletoe) just covered with bunches.

Stafford Ray said...

Seems you are getting back into the garden. A good sign!
Yes, mistletoe does make trees sick usually, and the seeds are spread to other trees by birds who eat them and transport them hither and yon.
If Oz is known as anything other than the 'land of birds' it would be the land of ants! Some are indeed nasty little creatures, best avoided.

Red said...

You've given a much appreciated account of gardening in your area which has vastly different plants than we have here.
Up until a few years ago my only experience with pecans was at the store. I visited my Dad in Arizona and he had fresh pecans off the tree. there was certainly no comparison with the store bought pecans.

Chartreuse said...

Oh dear. I see I may have to sacrifice the mistletoe to save the pecan. Maybe I'll give it another season first. I guess my affection for this parasite goes back to my childhood in the USA, when my mother would hang a clutch of PLASTIC mistletoe in a doorway, and we kids would squeal with joy as normally dignified aunts and uncles would plant slobbery kisses on each other as they passed underneath. I had no idea then that I might one day see mistletoe actually growing naturally overhead.

Snowbrush said...

I had no idea that you had either mistletoe or pecans. I think mistletoe is native to Europe and pecans to America. However, we do have mistletoe here in America, but it's leaves are not nearly so broad as what you pictured.

Murr Brewster said...

Popping over here from the Blog Fodder. Uh, I see you're not from around my parts. We have gobs of mistletoe in the Willamette Valley, hanging off the massive oak trees. I wonder where the kissing thing came from. There's nothing particularly attractive about the leaves. I haven't seen it put to productive use since that dude at the party who wore a sprig in his belt buckle. Hope, or something, springs eternal.

Chartreuse said...

Lovely to see a new face here, Murr. Agree, the mistletoe leaves aren't that great, but mine has loads of lovely red & yellow flowers at the moment. Can't bring myself to cut out that bough yet. Must go over to your blog and let you know how much I'm enjoying your quirky pieces there.

Murr Brewster said...

Thanks! But wait--wait--are you saying your MISTLETOE has lovely red and yellow flowers? Are you in paradise? Do you have a guest room??

Chartreuse said...

Murr, not only is my mistletoe in flower, I'm now reading (this for Blog Fodder and Stafford) that it's not definitive that mistletoes kill ALL trees. Check out this ABC Science factsheet on Misunderstood mistletoe. I'm holding off chopping it out for the moment. For one thing, I've had little wattle birds and a few other nectar-eaters around more frequently - which could be coincidence or not.

nanC said...

ExYou've got my curiosity up... though I don't think we have any mistletoe here in Tasmania. Here's a source of info i just read fabout native Australian mistletoe:
Sounds like it's a good food source for possums and gliders, though they said not so much if the tree is isolated, because possums don't forage so much along the ground in order to get there.
(We do have possums, though! Now there's another topic for the blog, n'est ce pas?)

Chartreuse said...

Oh what a welcome newcomer you are to this space, NanC. And your mistletoe reference is the best yet. (I especially loved learning that wonderful word: "haustorium".)So I won't be cutting out the 'parasite' unless I see signs of distress in the host tree. Anyway, I've not found any other mistletoe on my many trees, so I hardly think it's an infestation. Now keep those comments coming....maybe even join as a follower?

Selma said...

Those jumperIants sound nasty. I don't think i've ever seen any of them. But your garden is absolutely gorgeous. I lvde it. Hope you get the rain you need!

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.