Gardens celebrate the botanic invaders

Even in the harshest February, there are fascinating things going on in Bendigo’s gardens. Here we are, crunching our way to the end of February with just 2.2mm of rain (long-term average 32.6mm) and it looks as though our gardens are losing the battle.

The agapanthuses are now crunchy yellow nests of deadness, supporting a forlorn array of dead flower heads. The ornamental pears are confused and think it’s autumn and are tossing all their leaves to the ground. The iris plants are sulking. One lemon tree is dead – and by hell you know it’s dry when a lemon tree carks it.

BUT … You just know they’ll do a Lazarus yet again and jump up in late winter and spring, screaming TAH-DAH and putting on their magic displays yet again.

Thank God for South Africa and South America as so many of the sustainable gardens of Bendigo owe their existence to these southern continents.

Not just the aggies, but a great range of others. Survivors of long hot summers and almost zero rainfall, they fool us by pretending to be very poorly and then delight us with the re-birth.

Some of South Africa’s great survivors which regularly appear in our dry climate gardens include: agapanthus, gerberas, gazanias, clivias, daisies, aloes, pigface, red hot pokers, leucadendrons, dietes iris, gladiolus, proteas, Arum lilies, plumbago, jasmine, coral trees, cape weed, ochna, and strelitzias.

Even bloody, thermonuclear-proof oxalis, or sour sob.

Take all those out of Bendigo’s burbs and things would be much duller.

And South America also dominates our landscape, notably with the shaggy-headed Schinus molle. Never heard of it? It’s the peppercorn, which over the past few hundred years has escaped from South America and colonised much of the Mediterranean area and now Australia.

The sad thing is so many of these are considered – officially – weeds. I like the definition of a weed as a plant which grows where you don’t want it to.

Agriculture Victoria does not share that view, describing the peppercorn as: “invading riverbanks, forests, shrubland, coastal dunes, beaches, lowland grassland, grassy woodland, dry sclerophyll forest and woodland, riparian vegetation, rock outcrops, forested wetland, canyons, savannah, abandoned farms, coastal vegetation, chenopod shrubland, seasonal water courses and rocky escarpments.”

No mention of modern cities, so that’s OK.

(I will draw the line at $#@!#@ sour sob and cape weed. I dream of the day science finds a way to stop their Putin-esque invasion of the known world.)

Plants have been carrying out their own version of globalisation long before humans invented a word for it. We are finding that plants which date back to the Gondwana mega-continent seem to have a sense of home-coming when they arrive here.

Selaginella lepidophylla can grow even in the Sahara, Mexico and southern US deserts. It dies, becoming brittle sticks blowing in the wind and looks like tumble weed.

But after just a few millimetres of rain, it comes back to life in just hours, chucking seeds into the damp sand and becoming the much nicer Rose of Jericho.

My dear Mum taught me a bit about gardens – and weeds – including an interesting experiment when she watered an odd weed in her back garden. It grew higher than the back fence before I had the heart to tell her it was a “weed” of an entirely different sort.

WAYNE GREGSON