Stressful open-gardens season saved by the rain 

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Open Gardens Canberra convener Tom Baker with gardeners Meg Clark (crouching) and Anne-Marie Delahunt whose “emergent food forest garden” in Hackett has suffered in the summer’s harsh drought. Photo: Senthan Thani

OPEN Gardens Canberra’s autumn program will start in mid-March, despite gardens suffering over the disastrous summer, says convenor Tom Baker.

Heat, lack of rain, smoke, threat of fire and then hail has taken its toll, with some gardeners withdrawing from the program and others unsure as to whether they will go ahead.

“Open gardens should be enjoyed and looked forward to, but this season the stress of it all has become too much for many gardeners,” Tom says.

Meg Clark and Anne-Marie Delahunt’s sustainable garden in Hackett suffered as many plants “curled up their toes” over summer and they made the decision to cancel their open garden for this year, Meg says.

“I felt I was going backwards in my gardening attempts, and certain areas just didn’t survive despite my best efforts,” says Meg. 

“Growing food has been struggletown. I’ve lost three pomegranate trees, two lemon trees and a host of berry trees. 

“I tried to save the strawberries with manure treatments, putting a shade up for them and watering, but the sun was just too hot, and my blueberries literally died on the vine,” she says. 

“We’ve gone to great lengths to conserve water through swales for capturing and keeping the water, and three water tanks, but up until recently there hasn’t been any rain to save,” she says.

Meg says they have had to adapt to increasingly hot summers and change a few design features in their climate-adapted food forest garden. 

“I wish I’d put in a few quick-growing deciduous trees, that would have provided shade by now,” she says. 

“This year I’ve had to reduce my ambition and continue to adapt, as much of what I’ve learned doesn’t apply any more. We want productivity but also sustainability.”

Open Gardens Canberra says the combined effects of drought and smoke throughout the summer have been tough on the region’s gardens and gardeners alike, resulting in some withdrawals from the autumn program.  

The COGS garden in Mitchell, due to open in March, will no longer go ahead, and Tom says that the owner of a large rural block on Spring Range Road, whose garden contains many diverse native plants, is still unsure.

“This drought has really tested the garden owner, with plants expiring and water almost running out,” he says.

Tom says that Lambrigg near Tharwa had also been uncertain, but now that the fire threat there is averted and there has been lots of rain, they will open on March 28-29.

Sadly, the weather has really taken its toll,” says Tom. 

“Gardeners in Canberra need to manage tough conditions including great heat, dry air, greater evaporation and more erratic rainfall, which in turn can create hydrophobic soil which can’t absorb water.”

All gardens are free to under-18s and Open Gardens Canberra members. 

It costs $25 to join Open Gardens Canberra and gain free entry to all open gardens until August 31. Visit opengardenscanberra.org.au/members

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Kathryn Vukovljak
Kathryn Vukovljak is a "CityNews" journalist with a particular interest in homes and gardens.

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