Archive for July, 2012


Sprawling red bromeliads climb a poinciana

I AM looking at my hands as I type this, wincing at the many stings, scratches and nicks on them that a day of clearing, clipping and yanking unruly fenceline growth  has wrought. Always only a sporadic garden glove wearer, I can only blame myself for their battered and stained appearance. Yes stained. These hands are a peculiar hue of purple and green, with lime tracings around the nail cuticles.  So that’s where a green thumb comes from! What was I handling that left its mark so?

My poor, unlovely hands carry a blotchy imprint of the myriad foliage that must be kept in check in our garden and all  the more so because recent rain has given it an unseasonal boost.

As I bent and tugged and loaded up the wheelbarrow, I ruminated on the many colours that “green” comes in; mint, lime, ice, silver, bottle, khaki, olive and sage, to name just a few, and the way these hues  change with the season and the light. Fifty shades of green, indeed.

I also thought about comments some people make about maintenance and time consumption when they look about our acreage garden.  Yes, tending and tidying it is a big job, but hugely satisfying  physically, mentally and socially. The pleasure it brings far outweighs the time and effort involved. I don’t feel I should apologise  for this and yet I hear so much about low care being the mark of a ” good” garden.

With the task  of revamping a colleague’s garden, I have been perusing her preference for low-maintenance, evergreen,  architectural plants and note that these are the plants that say little about the growth and change that takes place in a garden. They look complete and fully grown on installation and  remain the same colour and density with the passing of seasons and years.

And the desire to have an “instant” effect goes against one of the fundamental lessons of nature – patience.  A loved and cherished garden takes time and effort. I look around new  estates and see the implanted landscape all in within a day and looking  static and “complete” . Where did this fast gardening come from?  Is it a carryover from fast food? We  know how satisfying that is !

The belief that the way to enjoy a garden is to do little in it, is a strange one. As in a kitchen, where you get pleasure from the trouble you take with cooking,  so the enjoyment of a garden is in the nurturing, which involves the “boring” and time-consuming jobs like weeding, edging, mulching, pruning, feeding and dead-heading. If gardening is your passion, what’s wrong with pouring time into it?

I hope I can persuade my colleague to put in some aspects of a “slow” garden that will grow and change and surprise her over the seasons and help her understand the rewards that come with watching and waiting.


ON a  visit to a talented gardening aunt recently, I discovered this stunning climbing bromeliad structure, (above), spreading up the trunk of  her suburban poinciana. Who says plants have to grow on the ground! Aunty Deb has always been a gardener, joined garden clubs, and could grow anything, anywhere.  She can grow, name and propagate  more species than anyone I know.

Of the three women in my mother’s family, she alone had the garden gene. The closest mum came to gardening was picking mint for the pea pot.

Lucky me got to take home a bootfull of my aunt’s garden cuttings. Hoping the rainbow of her geraniums I have potted will be a colorful family touchstone.


Fellow blogger Susan from Green Dreaming recently dug up her turmeric plants and harvested more than a kilo of  orange tubers. It reminded me I had put in one plant about three years ago and with every season, the leaves has browned and died back, and  I had merely cut it down, threw the leaves in the compost and watched it resprout. I was shamefully ignorant of where the edible part of the plant was. I have only used the ground turmeric for curries, stews etc..

So I dug under the plant and voila!. A clump of turmeric roots appeared.  I understand you grate them to cook with – as you do ginger. But, like Susan, would love some turmeric recipes.  As I have more than I can use,  ( left) I will pot some of the nodes and expect a swag of new plants to come up later in the year.

That’ll go straight to the ……………….  garden club stall.

May your joys be earthy.


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CHINESE WHISPERS, that funny thing that happens when information is distorted when passed from one recipient  to another and another, was at play this week at the garden club

flower detail of the holmskioldia sanguinea


One of the bench competition shrub entries drew particular admiration from members, being a string of scarlet and tangerine blooms on long spines. ( Bench competition for those not familiar with the term, is a procedure where garden club members bring something from their garden they are especially proud of,  a fruit or vegetable, flower, shrub or native, and the others vote on it for a prize.)

Even many of the seasoned gardeners could not identify this stunning exhibit, until someone exclaimed what sounded like “holusscolia”.

“What is it?” several clamoured.

“Holus bolus”.

Holmskioldia in bloom

“No, holuscollus”.

‘I think he said “holksollia”.

And so it went on, rippling around the room, which admittedly, did have its fair share of hearing aids.

I came away with a variety of guesses, certain only that its name  started with H, but very keen to identify it because it was an absolute standout – and flowering in our semi-tropical mid winter.

Thank you google plant index. It is a Holmskioldia sanguinea, whose common names include Chinese hat plant, cup-and-saucer-plant or mandarin’s hat.

See? A pesky Chinaman was messing with our heads!

Sometimes it is called parasol flowers, because the holmskioldia blooms are button-shaped with a little stem. They grow in clusters  along long graceful arching branches that can get up to three metres long ,  flower best in full sun, from autumn through to spring,  in almost any soil and need only spare watering.

They can be grown as a shrub or a tree. If you leave it, holmskioldia can grow to 10 metres  high and about five metres wide.  For pruning,  cut the branches back to ground rather than chop midway.

They come in vibrant tangerine, bright yellow or mauve varieties. Some are deciduous, some evergreen. The dropped flowers of some of the species have colours  contrasting to the calyces  and look dramatic scattered over the garden floor.

And bees, birds and butterflies love them.

Holmskioldia  can be easily struck from cutting, so guess who was first at the bench to snaffle a piece?

The man responsible for its tricky name is 18th century Danish professor and physician Theodor Holmskiold, who discovered them in the Himalayan lowlands.

Another flowering beauty that has caught my eye this month is the nutmeg bush. On a  weekend away up country, I saw a swathe of these pretty tetradenia riparia shrubs  in fluffy splendour.

Nutmeg bush

They also have a distinctive smell and would make a great addition to an aromatic herb garden. That’s where I plan to put mine anyway, with the gingers, salvias and lemongrass for a heady mix of scent.

Nutmeg bush flower

But the nutmeg bush flowers are definitely for the kitchen window sill, where the aroma wafts across invitingly.

Another reason to love the nutmeg bush is that it flowers right through winter,  is tough as old boots and thrives on neglect. It is very easy to propagate. During spring and summer, stem or branch  cuttings will strike quickly in a slightly moist, sandy mix.

Meanwhile, the constant rain recently has been a bit depressing. Winter wet seems to be extra gloomy somehow and the mud and bog seems to hang around longer with shorter days and colder conditions. It’s just not much fun in the garden seeing rotting leaves and stems from too much water and too little evaporation.

But the peas, beans  and lettuces are growing well, the papaws trees are flourishing – one of mine is expecting octoplets – and a hand of bananas is ripening at the top of the tree.

Note to self:  do not be a wet blanket.


Friendly follower Brooke has had a lime tree revival after taking some advice about repotting her sad and sick specimen and adding the miracle epsom salts or potash to the mix.

Citrus are such big feeders. Almost everything that goes wrong with them seems connected to them being under-nourished – which is what can be said for everything on the planet, really.

Good work, Brooke. Your picture (right) is worth a thousand words. I feel a margarita coming on.
FRESH EYES ON FOODGreen blogger Susan has shared a request to participate in a short survey for a QUT-organised  research program If you have 10 minutes to spare  and have an interest in growing your own food or knowing about what fresh food is in season,  take the trouble to do this survey at
Wishing you happy times in your plot.

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No-dig ideas, just click your fingers

A SUBSCRIBER  to the  saying “there is nothing new under the sun”, when I dig up something that stops me in my tracks, I think: ” what a great idea; why didn’t I think of that?”

And then, …  “what a great idea. I’ll pinch that.”

With the megatude of social media and its reach all over the world, you hardly need to think of new ideas at all now. You grab and stash. You don’t ruminate. You click.

You trawl cyberspace and just borrow or steal anything from wherever you reach. In garden parlance, it’s propogating, sharing cuttings,  replanting and revegetation.

Do my chives look big in this?

I am in two minds about this e-snatching. Sometimes it feels like a cop-out on putting our imagination to work. Another part feels that you have to be out there scanning the big internet eye in the sky to stay in the conversation. Is it more cool to know a new style, recipe, design, saying, film, book,  joke than it is to quote the space you found it on, eg tumbler, pinterest, twitter, stumble, Youtube, linkedin, and demonstrate what a  multi-tasking, mutli-platform social media maven you are?

Accordingly, there’s no cred in keeping the idea to yourself.  It is way cooler to pass it on and share.

Probably these great ideas I find out there are  pinched and copied many times over before I even happen on them and the credit I might give to the source may not be deserved. We are all just relay runners. Maybe our task and skill is to apply and adapt so the original thought flourishes. Because if an idea hatches in a vacuum, does it really exist?

So, sorry if these captivating garden ideas are coming to you for a second or third time. They are so darn cute, I’d hate you to miss them. At least I now know what to do with jeans I outgrow.

I wonder what clever clogs dreamed up  the neat  green coffee table  for the verandah. Notice the trailing ivy is in several pots within the tub, so it can be taken out and renewed and watered. That’s a look I’d love to soak up.

And the neat seed storing in Tic Tac boxes is simply sweeeeeeeeet!

Sweeeet idea for seed sorting

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