My Big Gardening Weekend

There was a lot happening in my dream garden last (long) weekend. Soil chemistry, pest control, plant rescue, seed selection for my next project, and photographing the hardy survivors of our extreme Winter and my neglect. On top of that, confirmation that hard work I put in last Spring, has paid off.

Some tried and true favourites- diosma, salvia, bromeliads- have soldiered on unfazed by the rough conditions.

 Diosma (left), and salvia



Top priority was to get my white garden seedlings into the ground. I’d bought them a couple of months ago and had been waiting til the frost danger had passed, but they’d dried out and were barely hanging on it their small black plastic pots.

As I’d already put a good effort into preparing the soil for my white garden, I thought it would be easy peasy- just water like mad for a few hours, then bung the plants in. Wrong! As soon as I started watering I realised I had a problem. The water just ran off the surface, didn’t penetrate at all.


After a couple of hours of watering, only the top few millimetres are moist

A few minutes of online research and I discovered that soils which remain dry for prolonged periods, develop hydrophobic (water resistant) properties. It’s thought the organic matter actually forms a waxy coating around the soil grains, preventing water penetration.

Fortunately there is a solution- soil wetting agents or moisture retention granules. I decided that the wetting agent was suitable for me. It was inexpensive and available at my local hardware shop. It can be applied by connecting the container to the hose, or with a watering can. You just spray it on, let it soak in, and start planting. It wasn’t a silver bullet, but it did noticeably improve the water penetration. It can be used when plants are in situ, so I will give it another dose in a few weeks.

This done, I planted out the first seedlings into my white garden- dusty miller on the border, Nicotiana, a white flowering quince, stachys (lamb’s ear), giant garlic and gaura (butterfly bush). I then watered heavily, spread a thick layer of sugar cane mulch, and watered that in heavily as well. I have seeds of alyssum and am looking for white lupins- if anyone knows where I can buy these, please let me know. I’ve  also ordered some Echiums (Heronswood White) from Diggers club which will be the centrepiece.

Clockwise from left: dusty miller, Nicotiana and Stachys


White garden stage 1 planting complete

After that I tackled a very shabby area, with stunted Earlicheer jonquils which had failed to flower, and lavender bush half dead from the winter drought. I realised that the whole of this garden had been planted on top of the abominable weed mat. All the roots were growing on top of, and matted into, the weed mat, covered by only a couple of centimetres of poor soil. I had to pull out all the plants and then tackling the backbreaking task of removing the weed mat. The jonquils I have replanted into decent soil and I do expect them to live to bloom another day.

Then I tested the soil pH. The lavender colour of the powder shown in the photo below, indicates a pH of 8.5, highly alkaline! No point planting anything in there!


Soil pH test kit and results

 So I dug in compost (which is acidic) which will hopefully get the pH back around 7 after a few weeks of mingling. I’ll be watering that area daily to aid the chemical reaction, and will check the pH again before I plant anything.

That was Saturday. I slept well on Saturday night.

Sunday was a day of consolidating. I found plenty of aphids on my rose buds, so being a still day (no wind) I sprayed them all with Confidor. Luckily I got in early so not too much harm done to the developing buds. I’ll have to keep an eye on them from now on, though, and re-spray as needed.

One thing I do every year is put liquid fertiliser on my spring bulbs, after the flowers have finished and they are building their reserves for next year. I’ve noticed the results in improved performance of daffodils, jonquils and freesias.


Potted jonquils ready for an application of liquid fertiliser

Monday came and I allowed myself a reward for my efforts. I took time to roam around and enjoy my garden, and found that despite all the setbacks, there are still many plants going well. Here are some of them.


Beautiful little groundcover that finds its way into all the nooks and crannies. It shrivels up in drought and frost, then bounces back as soon as there’s some water around.


Banksia rose- irrepressible!

Self-sown calendula (left), which I generally fertilise as soon as the seedlings appear (but didn’t this year), and African daisies- very pretty but actually quite invasive. 


Ethereal smoke bush, also back from the brink.

There’s even something happening in the veggie garden…


Asparagus has survived! 

Here in Mudgee, the warm weather arrives about a month later than on the coast, so I still have some time up my sleeve before everything in the garden goes crazy. I’ve been buoyed up by finding the lovely survivors in my garden, and I can’t wait for more garden therapy!


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