Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Growing like stink

The supermarket carpark Gardenia
 The other day a mate said to me in conversation that everything was 'growing like stink'. I thought I was the only one who used this Australian colloquial  expression. Many would be more familiar with the words 'tomorrow is going to be a real stinker', meaning an oppressively hot day (which incidentally it is going to be). Flowers seem to have this sense of an approaching heatwave. Tonight, the night scented Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) is filling the air with its evocative coconut fragrance. Shrub Gardenias which are covered in shiny buds will be out in force tomorrow, though it never ceases to amaze me how well they grow without water or fertilizer in a supermarket carpark but fail to thrive in a home garden. There are high pitched squeals of delight out on the street from young folk celebrating Halloween so it feels like summer is just around the corner.
The place you notice the speed of growth the most is in the vegetable garden. The first basil and zucchini have already been harvested and young tomato fruit is forming. As soon as this happens I stop using any fertilizer or liquid feed which contains nitrogen. I either side dress the plants with sulphate of potash or use a liquid feed of Amino Grow, the Amino Acid based organic plant food. I am also now watering only twice a week, giving the plants a good deep soak and forcing their roots to go deeper so they become more stable so as to withstand any wild weather in the months to come.
 
Tomato and Zucchini plants looking great.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Confederate Violet, Viola sororia

Confederate Violet, Viola sororia
This little beauty is from North East America, a part of the country which has just experienced the 'Frankenstorm' Sandy. Our thoughts and prayers were with all those who experienced the wrath of this mean weather system today. I caught glimpses of what was happening from the live news feed on CNN. Here is hoping that when daylight arrives  everything is OK for those who went through this dreadful event.
Taxonomists, those dedicated folk who classify plants and give them their proper names, seem to get their knickers in a twist about violets as they vary so much and don't stay true to type. This one can be either a violet blue colour or pale grey or even spotted and flecked as in the cultivar 'Freckles'. The common name is given because the pale grayish blue resembles the colour of Confederate uniforms during the Civil War. At the flowers heart are tiny whiskers and thin dark lines so as to trick any visiting bee that it has found a very accommodating mate while it performs its pollination duties . I have only grown this for a year or so but apparently it is a bit promiscuous in the seed spreading department and liable to become a bit weedy. In late winter it did something quite strange by disappearing for a while so I thought I had lost it. Then it came back to life when the weather warmed up, putting on fresh green leaves and sending up flowers. Not much Violet perfume from this one but the flowers are a real treat especially when viewed up close under a hand lens.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rosa 'Orange Honey'

Miniature rose 'Orange Honey'
Miniature roses are quite delightful because if you grow them in pots, as I do, you get to place the container on a bench and check out the flower up close under a magnifying glass. This one was bred by Ralph Moore in United States in 1979. It reminds me a bit of the rose 'Chameleon' as this one also has a flower which changes colour as it ages. Whereas Chameleon takes on a yellow colour, this one goes hot pink on the tips of the petals, while below is soft pink to white and then green at the base. The flowers last well in a vase and you get the full range of colours from a small posy of blooms. No doubt miniature roses will become more popular as gardens get smaller and the option becomes what one can grow on a balcony in a planter box.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Carnation 'King of the Blacks'

Dianthus caryophyllus 'King of the Blacks'
The spring rivalry for territory or a mate in the animal or bird kingdom is always interesting to observe. Two male blackbirds with flashing orange beaks had a 'game on' moment in the middle of the day, retiring then to nearby trees to sing up a storm on what is normally their down time. Meanwhile Ol' Ginge, the alpha tom cat of the neighbour hood, won another speed race across the yard chasing a howling 'Blue' who leaped two fences in a single bound to escape his rival. 
Continuing my obsession with near black flowers, this carnation has just started to bloom. At first I was disappointed as the buds emerged a deep crimson and were even flecked with a few tell tale white spots , a sign that aphids had spread one of those microscopic viruses to the plant.Then after a few days the flowers started to get darker before eventually turning an inky black. So I picked a small bunch and mixed them with silver foliage and grasses in a vase. Terrific clove scent is a bonus with all Dianthus species. Amongst this batch are some single flowered specimens which are equally as appealing. Like some throwback to a Renaissance flower painting and the colour of the robes of a titled gentleman from that period. Now I just need some tips on how to photograph dark flowers and capture the true colour.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jekka's Thyme

Thymus 'Jekka'
Jekka McVicar is a very well known British nurserywoman who specializes in growing over 300 hundred varieties of herbs including this species of thyme which bears her name. What the exact species name is remains to be found but it is a terrific addition to any culinary garden regardless. Late last year I bought this form through a specialist shrub and perennial nursery in Victoria. It is a dense low mounding plant with quite large leaves and characteristic aromatic thyme smell. It has just had a flush of tiny pink flowers which smothered the plant entirely and was much appreciated by bees. I am thinking it is one of those no water or fertilizer plants as I lost a few plants from too much water and probably too much shade over winter. Cuttings strike fairly easily and the spreading shoots send down roots as they cover the ground and these are easily detached for planting or potting on.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Aloe variegata, Partridge-breasted Aloe

 If you read any houseplant or indoor plant book which originates from the UK, this Aloe is sure to be featured. It is a neat stemless succulent without spines or prickles and at this time of year it sends up a curved inflorescence of orange pink flowers from between the keel shaped spotted leaves. It is not often available commercially here perhaps because it is relatively slow to increase from offsets or maybe because it is just too small at just 20cm to make an impact as an indoor or container specimen. It requires very little water to keep it looking good and in its native habitat of southern Africa (Free State, Karoo, and Namaqualand) it goes by the common name of Kanniedood meaning eternal life.

Sea of pink

Oenothera speciosa Pink Evening Primrose
I am always doing trials of various plants to see how they grow under fairly harsh conditions, either in poor soil or under a no water no fertilizer regime. This perennial from Mexico has loved the hot dry conditions of this spring. It is a bit of a spreader though and sends down underground creeping stems and pops up further away from where you planted it Flowering stems shoot up to about 30cm and they support each other. This does not happen when it is grown as a pot plant and it tends to flop about. Not much good when you are growing plants for sale as they tend to look less than robust or just plain untidy. This is a good plant for sunny dry embankments but would need to be sheared down at the end of the growing season and kept contained. It dies down over winter so its growing place could be covered in mulch or compost and it will happily grow back through the covering in spring.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nico's figs

Nico lives in the Indonesian city of Bogor which is sometimes known as the rainy city. Bogor has a humid equatorial climate so it was a bit of a surprise to learn that that he grows such wonderful figs which one normally associates with a more Mediterranean place. I would love to visit Bogor as it has one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world with a long and interesting history. As long ago as the 15th century the site was set aside to preserve rare forest trees but it was not until 1744 that the Dutch East India Company established a garden there. This later become a botanic garden in 1817 under the directorship of German born Dutchman Caspar Reinwardt (1773-1854). The garden is now known as Kebun Raya Bogor.
When I think of figs I always remember the scene of how to eat them from the Ken Russell film Women in Love which was an adaptation of the book by D H Lawrence. Lawrence is remembered locally for having lived briefly in the Wollongong suburb of Thirroul. I wonder if he bought figs from a greengrocer at the time.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Gardening Hoes

Once upon a time I was a disciple of the 'no dig' method of gardening and my shed was filled with boxes of yellowing newspapers waiting to be layered on the ground at a given opportunity and dutifully covered with straw and compost before planting. Then I stopped buying newspapers, going instead for the online content or the breaking stories courtesy of Sky. All the while I was discovering that working the soil was a much better option than 'no dig', for under all those decaying newspapers lived small armies of earwigs, pincers at the ready when exposed to light and families of slugs delightfully entwining in each others shiny slime. Not only these creatures at work but strange white lace of fungal mycellium like nets across the soil surface often appeared. My soil was crying out for a bit of lights, camera , action... So out from the back of the tool shed came my various tillers and hoes. Many of these are home made, improvised and crafted from bits left over and attached to new handles. The single bladed hoe is great for hilling up the soil around leeks or moving soil up around the base of squash and zucchini to give them a firmer footing in the soil. It also has the the ability to chop at some of the more firmly rooted weeds which take hold such as dock or thistles. The three pronged tiller is my favourite as it is lightweight and the thin prongs are able to go deep enough to lightly cultivate the soil as well as lift small weeds right out of the ground. There are always some weeds which can only be removed by hand and these are the ones that grow too close to the base of the particular vegetable or flower. I still use lots of mulch such as pea straw or sugar cane but instead of leaving it as a single layer on the surface of the soil it gets broken up and mixed with the top soil layer as I go along the row. The soil surface is uneven, with some parts covered in clumps of mulch and other parts exposed but at least now the soil is happy and has developed a great texture and 'crumble'. Happy Gardening..........

Ol' Ginge

Every neighbourhood has a ginger tom cat. Ol' Ginge is an occasional visitor who either makes himself at home on the outdoor furniture  or likes to parade around or roll over on the warm ground as if he owns the joint. He is no slinker but has a square shouldered stance most of the time and is proud of his position as dominant male. Only once has he ever come close enough for a pat and tickle under his chin. When heading off down the driveway after a visit, his tail is held aloft, displaying what looks like enough amo to populate an entire city.

Neomarica gracillis syn. bicolor, Brazilian Walking Iris

Brazilian Walking Iris
 Neomarica gracilis syn bicolor
Gardening friend Margaret sent me this photo of her 'walking iris' which she had bought from me at a garden fair last year. I notice she has planted it in the sun, hence the leaves turning a slight yellow colour. It is a remarkably tough plant and is flowering its head off at the moment even though the flowers only last a day. A great plant for dry shade under trees but tolerant of only light frost.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pitanga, Brazilian Cherry

Pitanga fruit (photo from Wikipedia)

Fluffy white flowers of Pitanga (Eugenia uniflora)
Photo courtesy of Claudia G.
This native tree of Brazil which grows to about 4 metres has developed a reputation for becoming a bit of a weed in warm climates across the world. The small fluted cherry like fruits which turn red when ripe are attractive to birds which spread the seeds far and wide including native bushland. To stop this happening it is advisable to net the tree at fruiting time.
 I am not a huge fan of the flavour of the fruit. I recall it has both a hot and sour taste. As an ornamental plant it has attractive red new leaves and was once recommended as a hedge plant  by David Herbert writing in Brisbane in the middle of last century. It is now less grown commercially as our native species in that family have become hugely popular. However specialist fruit tree Nurseries such as Daleys offer it for sale.

Jaboticaba fruit

Myrciaria cauliflora, Jaboticaba
photo courtesy of Claudia G.
Thanks for sending the picture Claudia. I was interested to hear the comment from Sandy from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland that the fruit was available at her local farmers' market. I guess it is very soft fruit and may not transport well and therefore may not become better known outside local areas where it is grown. The wine made from the fruit sounds very interesting as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Claudia's Jaboticaba

 Flowers and developing fruit of Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora)
Claudia who lives in Brazil has sent me some photos of her Jaboticaba tree which is just starting to develop fruit. It is indigenous to southern Brazil and is sometimes known as the Brazilian grape, as the rounded fruit ripen to a glossy black colour. Flowers and fruit develop on the tree trunk and branches, a habit which some of our own native rainforest Myrtaceae family species follow. The bark of the tree also peels off in much the same way as Eucalyptus do.
Jaboticaba is reasonably well known in Australia but as far as I know it is not grown commercially. It will grow anywhere from the tropics to Melbourne but will only tolerate light frost. The fruits which taste a little like a combination of grape, litchi and blackcurrant can be eaten fresh or made into tangy relish to accompany duck or chicken. I have one tree I am growing as a bonsai (pictured below) as it has a graceful shape and looks like a mature tree with delightful coloured bark and tiny leaves. I may have to wait for twenty years before miniature fruit develop on this specimen.



Monday, October 8, 2012

'Quickies' in the vegetable patch

 Bok choy in front of tomato plants

Frilly lettuce in front of zucchini
For me it is always a case of trial and error when growing vegetables, or should that be feast or famine. I am trying to have a less is more approach, two cabbage plants instead of fifteen, two silverbeet plants is plenty..... This spring I have planted lots of quick growing leafy vegetables in front of the slowly developing summer crops such as squash and tomatoes. I am growing Roma and cherry tomatoes and not staking them but letting them grow across the ground as they do in commercially planted crops. Mulching them well underneath of course to give the fruit a soft bed to lay on. My flower seeds of Cosmos and Zinnea are already up and will make a colourful addition amongst it all. They are already anticipating their first photo opportunity to arise.

Euphorbia nerifolia, Oleander Spurge

Euphorbia nerifolia
I usually associate Euphorbias with Africa or the Mediterranean region but this one is from South east Asia and India. It is found in Indonesia, Malaysia,Thailand and Burma where it is given the common name of Indian Spurge tree or in Indonesian Sudu-Sudu. In the garden it forms a large rounded shrub with unusual obtuse five angled branches tipped with small spines. I guess you could give it that 'architectural' plant tag as it is quite stiff and almost plastic like in appearance. I have a few specimens which I am growing in 25cm pots and I think they would look good on a roof or balcony garden where they would certainly withstand possibly windy or hot and dry conditions. The only problem I have encountered in growing it is with scale insects which often hide underneath the tough waxy leaves, remaining fairly invisible until you notice that ants are starting to run up the stems in search of honeydew exuded by the scale. This Euphorbia will grow in sun or shade and requires minimal water or attention. It is reasonably cold hardy but will defoliate if frost occurs.
 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bill's Sweetpeas

It wouldn't be spring without some sweetpeas. These were grown by Bill at the Community Garden who has generously allowed others to pick some. The more you pick them, the longer they keep on flowering. Sweetpeas like alkaline soil and for real enthusiasts you need to lime the soil in February, tilling, adding compost and fertilizer ready for planting the seed in March. Take advantage of warm autumn days to give them a good start.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Salvia discolor, Andean sage

 The 30 cm long Salvia discolor inflorescence showing near black flowers held in a pistachio green calyx. This Peruvian native plant, which forms a loose, sprawling and untidy shrub to about 1 metre, has held on to a carnivorous gene as the flower stems exude a sticky substance which traps unwary insects. Today when I was potting on some of my plants there were plenty of black thrips caught along the way. Is this an additional adaptation to a harsh environment, as its leaves already have protection from white felt on their lower surface, as well as having an unpleasant smell when crushed. The stems are brittle and easily broken so perhaps this sage could be described as lazy, relying on other plants to weave and scramble upon in the search for best position.
This salvia is becoming better known, the benchmark for this being the availability of a pictorial nursery label, though it remains in the collectors' plant category. I was having a conversation about untidy plants the other week with a nursery person at 'Tulip Time' in Bowral who was saying how many such plants are ignored because they are not neat enough for the commercial market. In a garden situation Salvia discolor can be grown in a sunny or semi shaded position, as a ground cover or spilling over the edge of a wall or raised garden bed. Placing it near clipped box or topiary, especially ones which have dark green or shiny leaves, will compliment it nicely. It will tolerate moderate frost and needs well drained average soil.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Insect airport terminal

 I came across this Nasturtium today which has petals marked with the shape of an insect body with gossamer wings. I think this mimicry is to attract a variety of insects from yellow bodied wasps to maybe even flies as the petals almost appear blood stained in some places. It's a very unusual colour combination.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Flamin' heck

A so called 'Flame' variety of tulip, pictured here, allows me to use that hardly used expression 'go to flaming heck' which is quite a mild term compared with what was heard during the weekend footy finals; the most memorable being from Ben Barba who mouthed "f**k me dead" at one point.
I am not sure what I can write about tulips as British tulip guru Anna Pavord, whose book simply called The Tulip (Bloomsbury 1998), describes all there is to know about them. This one belongs to that group known as 'broken tulips' in which the tulip virus, spread by aphids, causes plain colours to break into a pattern of contrasting colours and hence become 'flamed' or 'feathered'.


A flamed flower has a stripe of contrasting colour which runs up the back of the petal and fine lines branch out like veins to join with the feathering at the edges. While a feathered flower is etched around the edge of each petal with a series of fine lines in a contrasting colour. In the 17th century, at the height of the real tulip mania these varieties were considered to be of literally worth more than gold or a sizable chunk of real estate.

'Schoon Solffer' by Bartholomeus Assteyn (1607-1667)
Historisch Museum ,Amsterdam