Archive for August, 2012




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I AM one for laying out the welcome mat to all and sundry in the garden. All creatures great and small are free to drop in and wander – even the munchers and nibblers, provided  they leave alone  a decent amount for me to enjoy. The birds are increasing in number and volume at the dawn chorus.  Is their birdcall joy at the new day? Or as Anna Funder asked in her marvellous novel  All That I Am,  a check to see who has made it through the night?

But some recent intruders have really got under my skin  -literally – so I issue a warning about them to the unsuspecting. But be alert not alarmed.

I have had  seven paralysis ticks lodge on me in the garden over the past four weeks. My other half this week had two embedded in his back for 24 hours before an unsightly lump they brought on caused a kerfuffle among his workmates and he was whisked up to hospital for the ticks’ removal. Interestingly, the hospital emergency department doctors could not extract them with forceps, so a minor surgical procedure involving scalpels and anaesthetic, took place, with a group of young interns watching fascinated, one even taking a picture of the bloodied site for posterity.

It’s only late autumn, and summer parasites like ticks are out in force already and you don’t have to be among particularly long or unruly vegetation to attract them. Not trying to be a panic merchant here,  although the term “blood-sucking” is quite emotive and has a way of  sending some into mild hysteria, but a bit of attention and prevention can reduce the discomfort  and annoyance of  tick bites.

Don’t let their presence put you off a pleasurable workout in the foliage, but it is smart to check your head and body thoroughly at the end of the day, as they can hide cleverly in the damnedest places. If possible, get your significant other to look where you cannot.

And don’t assume bush ticks belong in “the bush”. They are anywhere and everywhere there’s grass or ferns growing. They are all along the eastern seaboard of Australia, and about 3o km inland,  mostly in moist, humid and bushy areas and temperate rainforests.

There has been several near-death experiences with tick-infested pets  on our acreage over the years, caused by undetected attachments which led to partial paralysis, despite our vigilantly applying the tick preventitive collars, potions and pills. The vet admitted there was no foolproof medication and no substitute for a thorough hands-on search of the animals fur every day to be sure of early detection.

You can bone up on the life cycle of the tick and its whereabouts, removal procedures etc at

Humans are usually victims of the little bloodsuckers at the larvae or nymph stage.  Needing blood to grow to the next stage of their life cycle,   they “quest”, that is climb up blades of grass or fern fronds and wave their little legs,  to catch on to a passing animal or human. Hey, they were vampires before any of the latest trendoids.

Head, neck and hairy areas are ticks’ favourite lodging places, but a few years ago,  my sight-challenged husband overlooked one in his eye socket for 48 hours, thinking it was a scratch.

Ticks are more easily seen on light-coloured clothing. When you’re gardening, wear a hat,  long-sleeved shirt and tuck trousers into socks. If you live in hot climes and cannot bear all that covering , then at least apply a tropical grade insect repellant over any exposed skin.

Ticks are known to have crawled over a host for up to two hours before attaching themselves, which explains why one that snuck up my sleeve ended up lodged in my cleavage.

I have always removed them with minimum drama, using forceps and then applying antispetic . There is also a process of tugging them out using cotton or dental floss, but I don’ think I have digital dexterity or the knotting knack for that. The important thing is to try and grab the tick around the mouth, but as we are talking about something about the size of one of these letters,  good luck with that precise manoeuvre.

Some people smother the tick first with vaseline and  band-aid. The old methylated spirits routine as been dissed. Apparently it distresses the ticks and they offload more poison into the host . So does squeezing them.

A friend sent advice from a paediatrician who uses liquid soap to remove ticks  from difficult areas such as between the toes or in the middle of head of dark hair .  She applies liquid soap to a cotton ball, swabs the tick with it for about 20  seconds  and out they come on their own,  stuck to the cotton ball !  Apparently school nurses do this and it saves many a nervous child from getting into a lather!

Ticks are bothersome rather than catastrophic, but they can sometimes cause a nasty allergic reaction other than an itch, lump or mild nausea. And if the bite wound is not cleaned, infection can set in.


I distinctly remember the first plant that took my eye as an emerging gardener was a spikey but elegant Indian hawthorn bush (cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli)  in the rocky house yard of  a cousin’s  farm on the Condamine River, Darling Downs. Its thorns  used to tear us to ribbons if we rode too close to it, but  something about it matched the gritty determination of the farm owners to weather out seasons sometimes  so dry that the river became cracked mud flats. If livestock ever wandered unasked into the house yard, the hawthorn’s formidable thorns ensured it was one bush they didn’t eat. They were armed and dangerous for passers-by, hence little seen of them now in public places.

Some years ago I planted a much tamer variety, the pretty pink flowering  rhaphiolepsis Majestic Beauty,  which is a gorgeous glossy evergreen shrub that produces black berries in spring  that morph into delicate pink blossom which is very bee  and butterfly attracting. I have kept it pruned to a compact size as it is planted close to our driveway, but it can  grow to about 1.5m high and about 1.5 m wide.

I have also seen it planted as a hedge and in full flower, it is majestic. A native of China, it is fairly drought tolerant, grows in most soils, is salt tolerant so a goer for coastal gardens and it looks great planted with other evergreens of varying hues. There are several colour and size varieties to cater for standard, (Majestic or Umbrellata)  spreading ( Enchantress or Snow White) or dwarf ( Fascination, Clara, Ballerina, Rosea Dwarf, Pink Lady or Springtime) requirements.

While I welcome every bee I can muster for the garden, I can never resist picking flowers for the house. So my vase of Indian hawthorn blooms on the servery  reminds me of country holidays past and  tickles me pink in the present.

Tickled pink with Indian hawthorn flower

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White bougainvillea flourishing on front fence

IF the health credo ” we are what we eat” applies to gardens, too, then mine will be a super power this spring.

I have spent the past week feeding it every kind of goodness I can scrape out of the compost, mushroom tea bin, leaf mulch heap and local manure-strewn paddocks. That’s apart from the bags of fertiliser products stamped with words like boost, reinforcer,  gro, release, dynamic, blood and bone, that have been emptied into its hungry beds.  With all the rich fodder it has ingested, I can almost hear it burping.

Parsley, mint and perennial coriander beefing up

August is the month before the big show happens here in the coastal sub-tropics, when  cocky premature bloomers are likely to get a whipping  and sound de-flowering if they rush to blossom before the fierce westerly winds blow in. It’s the month, rather,  to “get ready”,  for gardeners to pour in the boost juice and stand back for the performance dazzle,  because warm weather starts on the dot of September and with none of the subtlety of the temperate zones, our flora bursts into life.

So I have fed the citrus, papaw and banana trees, cut back  the leggy shrubs and shaggy grasses, trimmed the passionfruit vine, pruned the hibiscus, poinsettia, white May bush, ( confusing because it blooms in September here,  but in May in the northern hemisphere) plumbago  and grevilleas, divided the irises,  day lillies, agapanthus, bromeliads, cordylines and red hot pokers and have repotted the ferns  and hanging baskets,  adding peat coir and wetting agents.  The  beetroot, broccoli, silverbeet and zucchini plants have gone in, after the raised tank garden was fed three bags of mushroom compost,three new lettuces were sunk and the parsley, perennial coriander ( a different one to my nemesis mentioned in previous  blogs) also known as sawtooth coriander,  mint and oregano are firing up with a splash of fish emulsion. The lemongrass has been cut down to size and the stalk trimmings chopped and fed to the compost, along with a with a swatch of comfrey leaves, so that will stimulate and activate it nicely. 

Red hot pokers divided from mother plant, ready for transplant

 But while the preparation is done for a stunning spring here, in this “waiting mode” the garden’s appearance is like a bad hair day. You can see that the cut and colour are good, but with bare and shorn limbs, spindly new plantings and lumpy mulched bits, it’s  not sitting quite right, despite all the product and hot air coming its way.  In a month or two, all will be blended, with lush growth, dashing highlights and smoothed edges, returned to its crowning glory, but right now, it’s a bit flat and plain.

The exception are the splendid bougainvillea on the distant front fence line. Like kids who have left home, we don’t see each other often, and they set their own feeding and grooming agenda. And it’s heartening to see they flourish without me hovering, except for a very occasional haircut and a home-cooked meal.

I am on tenterhooks watching the spikey little green fruit on the mulberry tree change in color. When they turn pinkish red, the birds will probably be on them and steal the lot like they did last year.   I am also on the lookout for pests and critters like caterpillars, mites and all manner of wasps and grubs.  They must be close because you can hear in the dawn chorus some new and different bird calls piercing the early morning air. They have flown in  looking for new and juicy bugs emerging from winter slumber.

There’s a sense of pleasing expectation in the air and while this patch may not be looking its best right now, I do think this advice helps:

if you can’t see the bright side of life, polish the dull side.

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WHILE the Olympians in London are striving for a spot on the podium,  I found gold in the garden this week.

My passionfruit vine planted two years ago had been somewhat tardy in the fruiting department, and then, as these appeared, they seemed  equally slow ripening. There were eventually  heaps of fruit on my Panama Gold vine, but after weeks and weeks of growing and dropping, they stayed resolutely green, instead of turning the expected yellow shade.  So I ignored them, thinking they were unripe and unready for eating.

But seeing passionfruit  at the markets and priced at 60c each at the supermarket led me to split one off the home vine out of curiosity.

Eureka. Despite its solid green skin, its flesh was gorgeous gold and pulpy and sweeeet. If they were unripe, it would have been sour.

So lesson learned: Don’t be fooled by appearances.

I have previously grown two vines planted side by side to cross pollinate, the red and black-skinned types, but opted last time for this gold variety as I had been told they fruited all year round.

The Panama Gold must refer to the flesh -not necessarily the skin. Because it was indeed a treasure to see, smell and taste.

So I picked about 60 ( a possible PB) and have been slurping them straight out of the case all week. I  will freeze some pulp for later enjoyment. I am told to add a bit of sugar for this -not sure if it’s for sweetening or to help the freezing process.

And I will send some the way of my generous neighbour whose bounty of  huge juicy lemons has been landing here lately.

It is a vitamin C overload – and could not come at a better wintry time.

Actually, passionfruit are a complete health package, being  a source of fibre, anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins A and C. They also contain iron, copper, magnesium and phosphorous  and are rich in potassium, an important component of cell and body fluids and helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure.

A golden little package indeed – and sitting right under my nose.


My generous neighbour has plied me with bags of huge, juicy lemons from her wonderfully productive tree, but I feared  I could not make enough lemon butter/pie/marmalade to use them all.

She showed me a neat way of cutting and storing them, that makes them easy to handle and use for juice or rind, straight from the freezer.

You cut them lengthwise in half, then wrap them in plastic. ( See picture right.)

When you’re ready to use them, rub the frozen halves on the grater and you get juice/pulp or rind and pith as required.


Met some wonderful people from Stephanie Alexander School Kitchen Garden Foundation this week who have just had another $5.4 million in support promised from the Federal Government over the next three years to allow this great program to continue and expand its valuable work teaching schoolchildren about growing and eating healthy food.

Let’s hope one kitchen cabinet has the courage and insight to put it on the national curriculum.


And because I could not resist posting a pretty picture from the plot, my powder puff bush ( Calliandra emarginata) is out in splendour, so I had to snap this vase (below) of its snazzy little blooms..

A scrap of paper fell from my bedside stack of books this morning and on it this scribbled wisdom : “If you want to be happy for a minute, buy a pig; for a year – take a wife; for the rest of your life – build a garden.

Powder puff bush blooms

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