Growing Friends in the summer of 2019-20

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Shade house after hailstorm Photo: M.Hermann
Shade house after hailstorm Photo: M.Hermann

The 2019-20 summer has been one of the worst summers ever for Gardeners in Canberra. Whilst the activities of Growing Friends has been adversely affected by the weather, the hard work of our members has meant that we have come through the summer in a reasonable state. 

For our members, one of the most direct impacts was the cancellation of our January and February meetings. We cancelled our January meeting when the weather forecast was for a maximum of 42 degrees, with it most probably being in the high 30s when we would have been sitting in the Banks Building glass room potting up cuttings.

One month later we would be faced with even more compelling reasons to cancel our monthly meeting. After numerous discussions with Gardens’ staff (who generously gave their time to discuss our problems, despite being up to the eyeballs dealing with the aftermath of the January hail storm) it became obvious that it was not viable to have a meeting in February. By mutual agreement between Gardens’ staff and Growing Friends, it was decided not to take any cuttings in February, as many plants had been damaged by the hail storm and almost all were stressed due the impact of the drought.  

So much for meetings – what about our plants?  Firstly, Growing Friends has a faithful and hardworking group of waterers who ensure that all our plants are watered every day over summer. Hence, the drought has had little impact on our plants.

Secondly, the heat. Most years we put an extra layer of shade cloth over our shade house area to protect our plants from the extreme summer temperatures. We thought that this would be particularly important this past summer because it was the first summer since all the trees surrounding our facilities were removed to prepare for the new Banksia Garden. Unfortunately, most of our area didn’t get its second layer of shade cloth, but most plants didn’t seem to be particularly stressed by this. 

Next, to the hailstorm of 20 January. The Growing Friends igloo, shade house and potted plants were amongst the casualties of this storm. The igloo had large holes punched in parts of its covering and, in other areas where we had some heavy-duty shade cloth, hailstones built up and their sheer weight stretched our waterproof layer to breaking point. The shade cloth covering the plants in the shade house provided little protection to our plants. Many pots were shattered or badly cracked by the hail and others were knocked onto the ground either by the hail or the flapping shade cloth. It is estimated that approximately 100 plants were lost directly and another 200-300 were re-potted. Temporary repairs have been made to the igloo and shade house and more permanent repairs have already commenced.

In short, Growing Friends has come through the summer weary and scarred, but not broken. This is largely due to the efforts of our many hardworking and dedicated members, and the unwavering support of the Gardens’ staff. The rangers and other staff are always willing to answer questions or talk to us about problems or give us access to our facilities even on days when the Gardens are closed – for this we are very grateful.