Archive for May, 2012

BIRDS AND THE BEES

Ready for autumn inspection

I could never be in the Open Garden scheme.  
All that angst about people coming to inspect my work would put me in such a state of anxiety, I’d take to my bed – and not the garden sort of bed.
It’s one thing to love and be proud of  your garden, quite another to put it out there for judgement and scrutiny.

My sister called last week to ask if she could bring her  friend Joyce up to look at my plot. Joyce is a keen and active gardener and reads  the Grapevine and would love a butcher’s hook.

I was both excited about having a new “green” visitor, then nervous about how the place would pass muster. Ok, this was a curious and trusted friend and she was sincerely interested in how my garden grew.  But on another level, I felt insecure about my gardening credentials. I operate on a gut instinct and so much of my work outside is a hit and miss approach, I get a rush of blood to the head and poke things in, often without doing the regulation prep, ph soil testing,  planning height and texture, sun position, colour, spacing etc.

I sort of sense a corner or a patch needs some bushiness, or stringiness, or white or bright dazzle and dredge up a memory of seeing something at someone else’s place or in a book or a glance from my car window and apply it to the contours of my place. Mostly it just works as I push and pull it into shape, but the why and wherefore  is hard to articulate with any sensible botanical vocabulary. So I hoped Joyce wouldn’t quiz me too much.

I also don’t imagine my garden is one to die for or  is heart-stoppingly gorgeous,  or even unusual. I hoped my sister hadn’t over-egged the pudding.

So I did a lot of last-minute metaphorical  ” sweeping under the rug”, stuff, just the same, cos we all like to look our best for visitors, don’t we?

Needn’t have worried. After charming compliments during a thorough “old lady” walk, touch, feel and smell around, the lovely Joyce helped me to see my plot with fresh eyes.  When you move among the familiar surrounds of your garden every day, it takes an outsider to observe it differently and define the effect it has.

For gardeners less botanically inclined, it actually isn’t about how horticulturally correct or how good the ratios and  balances in a garden are. It is about how it makes you feel as you walk around it.

Joyce said it felt warm and inviting and busy. Can’t ask for much more than that.

We traversed the paddocks,  solved some identification and pest issues along the way and enjoyed coffee at the front yard table under the poinciana.  Joyce even found what she called  wild greens, collards, growing  near the creek bank.

She gracefully said she picked up some great ideas about pot planting after seeing how many and varied I have,  and collected a heap of cordyline, iris and chrysanthemum cuttings to transplant at her place.

Importantly, she instructed me about helping do the the bees’ reproductive work in the garden, transferring the pollen on the passionfruit and pumpkin flowers by hand.

“See,” she said, holding one on top of the other.  Apparently , there aren’t enough bees around at my place right now, so you have to lend a hand.

Sex education in the garden. It really is all about the birds and the bees.

A CONFESSION

Some weeks back, I took some cuttings of Carphalea from my new neighbourhood bestie, Jeannie,  hoping to strike some new specimens for spring planting.

Success rate zero.  Happily, almost the same day I chucked the sad, dead twigs the cuttings had become, I discovered potted Carphaleas at the local Bunnings. So in I swooped and one is now planted at the back of the pool enclosure, right where I can see it from my kitchen sink window. I can already imagine the thrill of seeing its glorious crimson flowers as I look out in spring.  A flaming beauty by name, the carphalea is flaming hard to strike. You win some , you lose some.

A TIP

Watching Jane Edmanson talking to a gerbera grower on Gardening Australia programme this week enlightened me about extending the life of cut flowers. Put bleach in the vase water. It kills bacteria which affects the blooms.

I had heard of putting sugar in rose vases. But the bleach tip was a newie to me.

Any other ideas?

PICKINGS

 Meanwhile, in the veg patch,  the eggplants are ripening, the rocket is having second wind and it’s a battle between me and curly grubs on the heirloom tomatoes. The herbs are going gangbusters –  and just right for the soup pot, now a firm fixture on the stove  ( except for the pernickety sage which is going to the naughty corner with the aforesaid wretched coriander).

Also recently harvested the first two ruby grapefruit from a tree I planted  four years ago. They tasted great. Won’t win any yield awards, though.

And one plump offering from the uninvited, but very determined guava tree. A bird dropping started this tree about 10 years ago. Hearing it was a drawcard for fruit flies, I have cut it back brutally and tried to kill it several times, but it returns Lazarus-like every year. Gotta give it 10 points for effort.

Enjoy the autumn in your garden

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HIT THE ROOF

Several years ago, someone ( I forget who) started a conversation about our third place.

The “third place,”is the spot where we go that isn’t home or work when we want to hang out and feel connected with other people.

People nominated places like bookshops, art galleries, libraries and theatre spaces, churches, neighbourhood bars, places that nurtured their spirit, satisfied their desire to learn about things, engage, belong, to feel welcome and valued.

As publicist for ABC Gardening Australia, I am lucky enough to blend my work with one of my favourite pastimes and have the flexibility to sometimes work from home. So calculating my third place was a bit  tricky.

I do feel connected to my workplace because it’s where I engage with people with creativity, stimulating ideas and curiosity, so what was a third place going to be for me?

The rooftop terrace at ABC where there’s a newly planted herb and veg garden with the best views in town, that’s where.

The 10m x 1.5m garden, three levels up, looking over the city from South Bank, went in just a week or so ago and is thriving with herbs like basil, coriander, rosemary, several varieties of mint, chillies, lettuces, mizuma, and a stack of other edible munchies that the staff can pick and eat or take home.

Its installation was a wonder to behold. Jerry Coleby-Williams from Gardening Australia had earlier advised what varieties to go for and he came along on installation day to oversee. He  and I watched with envy while the land

scapers under supervisor Sebastian’s eagle eye, vacuumed up the soil and compost materials through a giant hose, and laid it out over and around water-retaining materials, ( a bit like florists sponge)  and  irrigation pipes. What we wouldn’t give for an efficient suctioning scooper like that when shifting heavy loads around our places!  And watching big beefy landscape labourers’ hands, usually dealing with bulky concreting projects,  tenderly handling,  planting and tucking in the delicate feathery seedlings, was kind of sweet.

Jerry gave the thumbs-up to the positioning of the vegie bed – under skylights to get plenty of sun, but set back enough from the terrace edge to be out of winds and birds’ way. Automatic watering and topped with mulch means there’s no maintenance on this sumptious garden bed, just a curious and pleasing check from interested staffers every few days to see how it’s growing.

So I have adopted it as my third place. It’s green, clean and scenic and positioned near the terrace tables and chairs where we  can snatch and  throw a piece of rocket or mesclun in the lunch bowl.  And it’s a whole new source of gardening chat as people are prompted to talk about “their” plots and their issues.

You’ll probably read about them here!

HIBISCUS HORRORS

Can you tell me again why we bother with hibiscus? I know, I know, there are many many gorgeous tropical gardens out there brimming with color and variety of this popular bush. But its flowers don’t last any time in a vase and boy, does it attract some nasty bugs.

Year after year I have had mine stripped clean by munching insects and invaded by a type of  grub that rolls the leaf into sticky little cylinders, webbed with gunk.  I have sprayed with pyrethrum, but with little effect.

An attractive variegated hibiscus which has  a stunning red bloom that I planted a few years ago gets attacked each summer by something that causes the leaves to curl and wither and lumpy little wart-like growths on the stems ( see pics below). I have hacked it back to a stump and it has regrown, but again the invader strikes. I put two more in at my letterbox, planning a cheery welcome , but they have succombed to the same critters. I have never had more than one or two flowers and looks like they’ll evade me again.

Can anyone help?  Or do I just give up on them?

LEMON DELIGHT

Luckily, not all plants are so frustrating.  Jean writes of the joy her little lemon bush brings thus

Thought I’d share happiness with you.. my little tree was only planted last  year in this pot.. and I’ve had an abundant crop of the juiciest, tastiest lemons from it! Think its called ‘Lots of Lemons’ and sure lives up to its name! I must have had at least 20!!! I’m certain its because I poured buckets, and buckets of water on it! All water contained in the as well?..  So G n T time has been special, as have the lemons on the side of our fish at night, and this weekend… a lemon meringue tart! Mmm! 

Sounds as if your Lots of Lemons specimen is a far superior one to mine, Jean, or you are treating it better. My lemon bush in a pot has been an average cropper. Must learn your secret.

PAPAW ME

And speaking of things fruity, Gel has a couple of papaw trees she wants to move, but as they are in fruit, is unsure if the fruit and the trees will survive.  I would probably remoive the green fruit and transplant, but I am not a fruit tree expert… Annette?  …  See comments.

Beautiful soaking rain on the weekend has freshened everything up here and nourished my newly potted annuals,  so looking forward to some bright and beautiful colour  in coming months. Might even try my hand at bulbs again. I am planning a bed of daffodils, jonquils  and  hyacinth near the driveway. Just love to see flowers when I turn into my gate. Lifts my glad-to-be-home feeling.

Happy gardening.

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