Gardening - Keeping your cool
With this year's rather active La Niña weather system and global warming adding an extra push to temperatures, this summer is shaping up to be hot and sticky. For tropical plant aficionados like me, hot and humid weather with regular rainfall is a recipe for success. Previously marginal plants such as sugarcane, heliconia, pawpaw, jackfruit, mango and bananas will thrive. However, the gardener may suffer. With northern European ancestry and carrying an extra kilo or twenty, I tend to melt in these conditions.
There are several tips and techniques that gardeners can use to improve conditions for both working and relaxing around the property. Firstly, save up your heavy work for the early morning or evening when it is cooler. Overcast days are a boon for the same reason. Of course, wear a good sunhat and loose-fitting clothing through the heat of the day and drink plenty of water.
Shade is critical. How much of your property is covered in shady trees? Not only do shade trees provide direct cooling by cutting out sunlight, they also reduce temperatures by virtue of transpiration, which cools the surrounding air as the trees pull water up from the root and release it as water vapour from the leaves. The shade also reduces the “heat island” effect, where sunlight is absorbed by buildings and paving, being released back to the atmosphere as heat.
Although any trees will provide these free and essential services, my preference is for small leaved deciduous trees on suburban properties. Small leaves allow filtered light through, which is better for the plants or lawn below and, come autumn, the smaller leaves are less messy than large leaved varieties. Deciduous trees also allow maximum light onto the property over winter when every bit of sunlight is appreciated.
In our area, excellent small-leaved deciduous specimens that love the heat include albizzia julibrissin (silk tree), jacaranda mimosifolia, schizolobium parahybum (Brazilian fern tree), lagerstroemia indica (crepe myrtle), melia azedarach (Indian bead tree), gleditsia ‘sunburst' (golden honey locust), robinia varieties (e.g. mop top), radermachera sinica (canton lace) and my current favourite tabebuia chrysantha (golden trumpet tree), which flowered for the first time for me this spring.