Thursday, 30 January 2020

Trials and Tribulations
 A New Malaysian Garden

The initial establishment of a garden rarely runs entirely smoothly. Regardless of one’s planning and research, there are always plant pests, sometimes hungry animals and occasionally adverse weather events with which to contend.

It was March last year (2019). With the construction of the house started and water available, we enthusiastically began planting out our orchard. Our true first plantings included our prized seedling mangoes, including Chokanan and Nam Dok Mai, and a grafted King Thai (Maha Chanok), as well as seedlings (not true-to-type) grown from our beautiful, dwarf Sydney mango. In addition, we popped in two varieties of Macadamia, a lychee, three different varieties of jackfruit and an avocado, about 20 trees in all.

With the warm autumn weather and a regular supply of water, the trees thrived… but this is where a happy story turns sour…

Our prior research had indicated to us that our Mid North Coast location was subject to mild frosts. These, we thought, would present few problems for our young trees. After all, we had faced a similar issue with the establishing of our sub-tropical trees in our former southern garden. So, one day at the end of May, with daytime temperatures still very warm, we purchased rolls of frost cloth to protect the trees from any possible future frost event which might eventuate during the fast-approaching winter.

In the dead of morning, before the dawn following our purchases, it happened: the heaviest frost in local history took place. Minus 3.5C. We drove to our property to inspect our trees: immense damage had been done, but we covered the trees with frost cloth, hoping that they might recover, given time and attention. The next morning another equally devastating frost event occurred.

A valued soft-fleshed jackfruit tree displaying the damage of the frost event. If you look closely to the left of the main trunk, you can make out its regrowth from its roots

These frost events were attributable to the ongoing drought affecting almost all East Coast Australia. With little rain and a lack of evening cloud cover, the risk had become very high, leading to these historic frosts.

For months, we inspected our trees for signs of life, providing some additional water, in the hope that they might revive. In October, with the drought continuing and with pressure on water supplies, we gave up hope: not one of the trees had shown any sign of revival.

Not only had we given up hope with our sub-tropical orchard, but we also decided to stop planting any further trees. With increasingly heavy water restrictions, and insufficient rain falling, we simply could not recycle enough water from showers, sinks and laundry to establish any new plants.

Then, in late October, a new and more worrying threat emerged. Huge tracts of our region caught fire. I won’t go into this in any detail, because this has been discussed at great length in the national and world press. Fortunately, however, we avoided the fate of so many poor souls, who have lost their homes and livelihoods during this horrific climatic ordeal. Our picturesque valley and its beautiful native animals had been spared devastation.

Relief from the overbearing heat and the impending danger of fire came for us on Christmas Day. Heavy rain fell for most of the day, filling our depleted water tank, thereby providing a valuable source of supplementary water while our drought-inspired water restrictions persisted. But this was not the only Christmas surprise…

A few days later, while bucketing water to thirsty citrus trees, I walked past our dead longan tree, noticing a small green shoot emanating from the roots. It was alive. Barely. I checked our other trees. Two jackfruit trees, two mangoes and a macadamia were each pushing out new, tender shoots from the roots. What a relief! The next cargo of bucketed water would be poured around the bases of our six Lazarus sub-tropical fruit trees.
Since Christmas Day, we have had good falls of rain, about 200mm. Our property has quickly greened and our plantings, fruit and ornamentals alike, have kicked along vigorously.

Our seedling of a Malaysian mango pushes out a new shoot. For us, this tree was totally irreplaceable... This is a welcome sight. In the coming months, we might have to build a tent over this special tree 😁

Despite the life-giving rains, our water restrictions persist, and have just been declared at an emergency level, allowing only the use of captured or recycled water in the gardens and orchard. So, further plantings are out of the question until cooler weather returns.

Our pineapples were razed to the ground by frost: some have recovered nicely.

Our story is not an isolated one: large tracts of east-coast Australia are suffering, with local residents and native wildlife wondering when our thirsty rivers, streams and watercourses might be replenished after such a long dry spell. One hopes that a break in the extraordinary conjunction of meteorological events arrives soon!

A happy section of the new orchard, containing lemon grass, young citrus trees and pea eggplant. Note the watering and feeding stations for the local wallabies.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

1 comment:

  1. I had >20 years of disasters with growing tropical fruits in the open in a cool temperate climate (south of Penrith). When temperature in winter sinks below 2C for just one night, those 1-4 year old plants turn black the next day, dead including the roots; even with frost cloth and Willnot spray and thick layer of shredded paper mulch and good watering. The only encouraging success now is growing them in pots under polycarbonate sheets in a north facing OPEN patio over the last 2 years.

    So far, lychees, custard apple/cherimoya, avocadoes, kumara, citrus (pomeloes, calamondin and other temperate ones), mangoes, dragon fruits and bananas are growing well over 1-2 years in pots; mostly in 300-420mm black plastic pots and some in 85L pots. Nearly all bought from Daleys. No significant fruiting yet but the foliage and branches look good and I look forward to some fruits next season. Kangkong, turmeric (grown for its leaves for rendang) and okra dies back in winter but re-sprouts in spring with the rain. Sayur manis, jakfruit, tamarind, moringa, sapote and candle nut will be put to the test this winter. The small tamarind seedling and candle nut plant have been through one winter in a hothouse but they are too big now.

    There is a Laotian lady in Wallacia who created a micro climate for tropical trees in the open. Very impressive with bananas, bamboos, avocadoes, papaya (trees), custard apples, mangoes, etc co-habitating happily with sub-tropical and temperate climate fruits; tolerating the frost around it. She is not successful with pandan and durian. My pandans are thriving and the durian seedling she gave me has seen through 2 cold winters. The 2 year old durian is alive but does not thrive in this climate and exile into the bright and warmed bathroom in winter.

    We have a dam and bore water; that is a big plus to have reliable water source but nothing beats a good wet season.

    Planting in pots also allows me better control of pests (fruit flies, scales, aphids). Deer, birds and bats are not keen to come close to the house. But ants, worms and lawn grubs do get into pots. Trying out Ecogrow's nematode for the lawn grubs but it is expensive.

    Terry Tey