I'm of the gladioli generation. Forget proteas, strelitzias, waratahs - if you wanted to inspire awe in the gardens of my childhood, you planted gladdies, just like Edna Everage did. And in this bushfire summer one of the few plants blooming in our garden are gladdies, tall, proud, and somehow very Aussie. Gladdies are not Australia's favourite flower to grow or buy though - roses beat it by a healthy margin. They also beat Australia's floral emblem wattle, specifically Acacia pycnantha.
According to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's website (admittedly not a place most people go for gardening advice) "wattle is ideally suited to withstand Australia's droughts, winds and bushfires. The resilience of wattle represents the spirit of the Australian people".
Whoever wrote that hasn't grown many wattle trees. Wattles are short-lived, go up like a torch in a bushfire, have brittle branches and are the first of the bush trees to fall over in a wind, especially as being short-lived they may already have begun to rot. The various acacias in our area didn't even bother to bloom this drought year.
The website also states that "the wattle is the symbol of Australian unity", which is possibly correct - a small majority of Australians are united in believing wattle flowers give them sinus or hay fever, though the wattle is usually the innocent party, merely blooming at the same time as the rye grass, pines, or weeds you are really allergic too. Wattle pollen is heavy, so as long as one isn't next to your bedroom window or washing line, you probably won't breathe in its pollen.
Actually I love wattle trees, in all their variation and habitats, but I can't remember the last time I saw a wattle tree growing in a garden - possibly back in the 70s when native only gardens were the height of fashion because of a myth that they didn't need pruning or watering. Native plants survive quite nicely without human intervention in the bush, but they rarely look neat while doing it. Slowly garden owners realised that a native garden needs as much TLC as most other gardens if they are to look magnificent. But wattles should be planted with caution, no matter what your garden style. Wattles grow fast - you'll get a good sized tree in about five years. But 10 years after that it will slowly begin to die, and you will have a large tree to get rid of without destroying the garden around it.
The PM's website says wattle is also our emblem because it is green and gold. The same might be said for one of the many yellow roses, or even a strident yellow gladioli, though I am not suggesting that our national emblem should be changed to either. But while the website suggests we should celebrate our heritage by planting wattles, there are lot of green and gold alternatives.
The most obvious are eucalypts, many of which have yellow flowers, though as they grow big, and gardens are becoming smaller, again plant with caution. For a while new citizens were gifted with a potted eucalypt to plant, at least one of which ended up in the courtyard of a Queanbeyan townhouse with disastrous effects when both it and its root were massive 20 years later.
How about changing our floral emblem to everlastings or strawflowers? (Once Helichrysum bracteatum, now Xerochrysum bracteatum.) Some cultivars are perennial, others annual, but even the wild annuals here live up to their name. Long after the leaves have withered the strawflowers (actually the paper bracts that look like petals) are still golden, either on the stem or in a vase on my study, where they sit for two or three years until the colour slowly fades.
Everlastings grow in shale along roadsides, in deserts, on top of mountains that are snow covered in winter, or the edge of rainforests - in other words, they thrive in every state and anywhere they can get enough sunlight. They will also grow incredibly well in your back garden, or even that big pot on the patio you always forget to water. Everlastings are my kind of plant. Even better, if everlastings fall over in the wind they are not going to dent anyone's car. Butterflies, moths, hoverflies and bees adore them. For those who don't want patriotic green and gold, everlasting's natural colours, you can now get bronze, red, purple or white everlastings, or a packet that will give you a gaudy- and incredibly hardy - mix. No matter how bad the drought, you'll have your everlastings.
If I was going to plant any flower now it would be everlastings, though there is no need, as a mooch along our half-kilometre or so driveway up to the gate yields enough for a healthy bunch. If the 30cm or so stems are blown down by wind, washed flat by flood or pelted with hail, they'll begin to bloom while still lying on the ground. I can think of no other flower that shows the sheer refusal to give in shown by so many Australians in the past few months. And it is beautiful - the flower, I mean, though the determination is pretty wonderful too. As Aussie as an everlasting- now that does have a ring to it.
This week I am:
- Watching the grass grow. Literally. One hour after our first decent storm in six months and the smoke black soil had a green fuzz. Twenty four hours later there were enough green garlic chive shoots for a wallaby to nibble for hours.
- Discovering that supermarket lemons go bad after a week in the fruit bowl. It's been about 45 years since I last bought a lemon and I am not impressed. Our homegrown ones just slowly shrivel, but if you slice them six months later there is still delicious juice inside. Every home needs a lemon tree - and enough water to keep it producing. (This year has been the only one in 45 years when ours failed to produce, even though not watered.).
- Gazing at the four agapanthus and one hydrangea that decided to bloom three hours after the rainstorm too.
- Shh, do not tell Bryan...buying a red fleshed native lime, because you don't often come across red fleshed native limes, and I adore them. And they also fruit even in drought.
- Praising rhubarb. Even when all else withers, there is always enough rhubarb for a tart.
- Hunting on the Captain's Flat radar site for another rain storm. Please?