The climate at Sophie’s Patch is Mediterranean-like, with long hot summers, cold wet winters and brief periods of spring and autumn. One important thing that gardeners must do in South Australia, and in particular in Adelaide, is to throw away the calendar as it tells us we have three months of each season. That is simply not true when we actually look at what is happening around us in nature.
In the Adelaide region, our spring starts early, often in late July shown by when the flowering plums and jonquils start blooming. It ends early too, with the first spell of hot, 30 degree plus weather, which can occur in late September or early October. This heat signifies the start of summer and it then continues through till the first decent rains which signify the start of autumn, and these are often late in April, around Anzac Day. Late October to late April is six months of summer, and then we squeeze the other three seasons into the remaining six months. This realisation can be sobering yet those in SA and other summer dry areas of Australia still manage to garden and garden well!
When choosing climate compatible plants for our garden, whether indigenous, natives or climate compatible exotics, they will have adapted their plant growth pattern to help them better tolerate our Mediterranean climate weather pattern. These plants start to grow during autumn, often with the first rains, they continue to grow and flower in winter and spring. In summer however, they aestivate, which means they go dormant or asleep, without losing their leaves. Dry season dormancy is obvious with bulbs that die down over summer, but it also happens in evergreen plants. This growth pattern is quite different from the belief held by many gardeners, which is that plants are actively growing in spring, summer and autumn and dormant in winter. Plants in our gardens which do grow over the warmer weather are usually those that require supplementary watering.
Over the past 10 years living here at Sophie’s Patch we have come to expect the unexpected – there have been drought years when we didn’t even get our usual spring rains, there have been extra wet winter-spring seasons, and there have been years when we were actually have had some unusual summer rains. They say that with our changing climate we will get more extremes, so I think flexibility is the best attitude a gardener can have.