15 August, 2011

Tougher Than I Thought

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A Stags Horn Fern growing quite happily in an unexpected place.

If you read my last post, it seems I spoke too soon. The Australian Fruit Picking Guide, the bible for backpackers looking for work, said there was a high demand for labour in Ayr and Bowen two days drive to the north. This would usually be the case but, unfortunately, a few factors conspired against my best laid plans. Firstly every one has a copy of the fruit picking guide and everyone wants to head north for the winter. Secondly the bananas growing regions a little further to the north had their fields laid flat by cyclone Yazzie putting even more pressure on the available work. Thirdly, as well as the cyclone’s damaging winds, the whole of Queensland, thanks to La Nenia, has had several months of flooding rains throughout the summer. This delayed the planting of the crops and therefore the harvest. The result being that I arrived to find all the backpackers full with people waiting around for the harvest to start, which could be two weeks or more. To get a job you need to be on a waiting list and to be on a waiting list you needed to be staying in a backpackers, which were all full. Ordinarily lazing around on a beach for a few weeks in the sun wouldn’t be such a chore but for now my priority is to save. The best option it seemed was to cut my losses and turn back south., back to Stanthorpe, back to the apples and back to the cold frosty mornings.

Cyclone Yazzie, not the most powerful cyclone although the winds were well over 200kmph, but one of the largest, with an ominous spiral appearance from the satellite image.

Regarding the Stags Horn Fern, a native to the warm, wet forests of the east coast. I have seen trees festooned with them in the warm damp air and dappled light of the coastal ranges as well as in the steamy glass houses at Kew. As a child I brought one as a pot plant which once removed from it perfect climate controlled glasshouse in Holland, it slowly turned yellow, went crispy around the edges and bit the dust. I suspect the central heating and lime scale in the water weren’t to it‘s liking. There also happens to be a rather fine specimen growing in the crux of a tree in the school yard opposite the orchard where I am pruning. The temperature in town was -7oC the morning I took these photos and the Stags Horn Fern was growing quite happily out in the open. So it seems they are pretty tough after all.

As I like growing exotic plants back in the UK, it’s always interesting to see the limits to which exotic plants will tolerate and grow happily. Talk to any seasoned exotic plant enthusiast and you will find that ‘cold’ is not just ‘cold’. There is wet cold and dry cold, not to mention the duration. A few hours at -7oC in the dry may not be as bad as a few days at -1oC in the wet. Here the temperature regularly drops below freezing but never remains there for too long, and very little rain falls throughout the winter months. To try and coax one through a winter in the UK, it may have to tolerate many days of freezing and wet conditions. Finding the right micro climate is the key. I used to grow Echium pininana successfully through the winter planted close to a wall where the night storage heater was mounted on the inside. Enough heat made it through the wall to keep the worst of the frost away. If you can get this spectacular triennial plant from the Canary Islands through two winters it will produce towering cobalt blue spires of flowers. I suspect there will be very few gardens in England this year with Echiums in flower.

One of the largest Stags Horn Ferns I have seen growing in the frost free coastal town of Kerikeri in Northland, New Zealand.

So it seems most of this year in Australia will be spent in Stanthorpe. At leas I’ll get to see the seasonal changes of this part of the country, if not the whole country in little pieces. It seems the changes are quite subtle with the predominant vegetation being evergreen. The introduced tree species of the gardens and orchards give away the seasons.

Defiant of the cold is a large cactus tree standing rather incongruously amongst the bare apple trees.

My icy cherry picker and early rhyme frost. Fortunately at this latitude it soon warms up when the sun breaks the horizon.

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