Even without access to a calendar, an experienced gardener can pinpoint the moment when summer begins to wind down into early autumn. Different feature trees will respond in their own unique ways. The texture of the grass underfoot, the heat and hardness of the earth, the color of the occasional leaf that comes drifting down from deciduous trees, all indicate the time of year. Now is the time when some trees will begin to fruit, while others will need trimmed. For some, it is time to cut back on fertilizer, while for others it is time to give one last good feed before letting the tree begin to “sleep” for the winter.
Grass Trees (Xanthorrhoea glauca): As summer begins to wind down, you might want to trim the undersides of the old fronds to encourage new growth. Although some people use fire to trim their grass trees, it is not necessary to do so, and might disturb colonies of wild creatures that are living in its fronds. Trimming is not essential, but might give it a tidier appearance, if desired. As autumn approaches, mature grass trees might put up a tall bloom stalk that will be covered with white, waxy blossoms. This will give the tree the appearance of a fierce warrior, with wild, shaggy hair, who is about to throw a glowing spear. That shaggy hair can become a shelter for a variety of wild creatures, while pollinators are attracted to the blooms.
Bottle Trees (Brachychiton rupestris): These bottle trees are one of the several protected species we are licensed to grow and sustainably harvest on our land. In late summer, these Australian natives will retain their leaves creating a shady canopy over their chubby trunks. They make a gorgeous shade tree for a large back yard, or a row of them can line the edges of an avenue or lane. Although they are a deciduous tree, they will not drop their leaves until spring approaches. In years past, farmers grew these unique trees along the edges of their pastures where one or two could be cut for emergency animal fodder. It was discovered, however, that excessive amounts of the fibrous stem contained a substance that could poison cattle if eaten in excess. Now, thanks to concerns about these magnificent trees, they are protected.
Native Australian Finger Limes (Citrus australasica) These tiny citrus fruits will have a short, autumn fruiting season. They are well worth the wait, however. Sometimes also called citrus caviar, the thin, outside rind of these tiny fruits encases tiny, clear globes of sharp, tangy goodness. Often used on salads or in drinks, these understory fruit trees were encouraged by early European settlers. (And were, no doubt, eaten by the people who were already in Australia.) Although there are growers who are experimenting with growing them in other areas, this tangy treat remains unique to Australia. Thanks to its short growing season and equally short shelf life, as well as its exceptional flavor, the finger lime is considered to be a delicacy.
Olive Trees (Olea europaea) is a Mediterranean tree that has adapted well to Australia. This versatile tree is best planted in the autumn if you are growing them from seed. The seed can be collected and sewn in prepared soil shortly before the first chill of winter, and will then begin to sprout in the spring. You should have no trouble at all obtaining seeds from your olive tree as they produce a prolific amount of fruit. It is a good idea, in fact, to clean up the fruit from your olives because in some places they have naturalized so well they are considered a weed!
With that said, olives naturally have a gnarled, twisted trunk and silvery green leaves that make them extremely attractive as a backyard shade tree or as a hedge. They make excellent topiary or can be placed in a shallow pot to be made into bonsai.
No matter where you live, autumn late summer and early autumn is a busy time of year. There is fruit to pick, leaves and debris to clean up, containers to bring in, and mulch to lay down.
But it is also a wonderful time of year, filled with delicious flavors, wonderful sights, as well as delicious aromas. If you live in an area that has hot, dusty summers, the cooler temperatures and perhaps some rain is welcome relief from the heat of earlier months.