Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Little miracles

A few blog postings ago I mentioned that there are several plants in this garden which are very much Pam's, and here is another one.

It's her air plant, a tillandsia, and unlike the various other 'Pam' plants here, this one really is hers in every sense. I am not allowed to touch it. I can talk to it, but it's Pam's job to mist it with water regularly. And look how happy the little person is! Pam's tillandsia is in beautiful bloom at the moment. The flowers are quite tiny, just half an inch or so in length. But what a lovely colour they are.

Pam has always loved tiny flowers, and she's the reason we have native orchids in our garden, too. This tillandsia bloom won't last long in the garden, but its short stay is imprinted in our memory, and we'll look out for it next year. I love it when Pam bustles into my office and says "get out the camera, my tillandsia is looking great. It won't last long." And it's not the only flowering tillandsia we have, either. In November, we should see the other one do its thing...

And what a tiny little thing it does! Some readers will know of the plant known as Spanish moss or Old Man's Beard, a trailing tangle of fine strands. Well, it flowers too, and these minuscule blooms appear later on in spring, around November.

The first time I came across these blooms I didn't actually notice them on the plant, they are so tiny. I detected them as little green dots on a photo I had taken. So I went outside, had a very close-up look and found these itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny little flowers. Now we're on the lookout for them every year.

As I mentioned earlier, it's Pam who is responsible for adding various native orchids to our garden, although these are my responsibility when it comes to feeding, watering and care. They are sending up their flower stalks now and should be in bloom in about a month from now, sometime in September I guess. This lovely little bloom is half an inch wide, from wingtip to wingtip, and it has a sweet scent, too.

Pam is forever teaching me all sorts of things in her own quiet, persistent way, and out in the garden a love of tiny flowers is definitely one of the most important and valuable things I have learned from her. In fact it isn't just tiny flowers which I now love and appreciate, it's all tiny things as well. If you bother to stop and look, there is just so much happening in each and every square inch out there, and much of it is both fascinating and beautiful.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Playing catch-up

Let's not beat about the bush. I've been neglecting the garden lately, by my standards. Mind you, I freely admit to being a bit of a gardening nutter, yet lately I've been anything but that, a disgrace to the nutter-hood. However, the prospect of an old gardening friend paying a visit next weekend has propelled me back into full-blown nutcase mode again. I just spent this whole weekend playing catch-up, and here's how things are going.

For starters, I would like to say a heart-felt 'thank you' to my old mate Huey, the weather god, for laying on one-and-a-half days of mild, sunny weather ideal for gardening, then completing the deal with not one but two good showers of rain on Sunday afternoon, to wet the newly-laid mulch and water in the fertiliser. Thank you Huey. But now, on with the show. The poppies needed no attention at all. Well done, chaps.

Oh goody, the hellebores have decided to bloom. They should be looking good in a week's time.

Purple alyssum needs no encouragement or attention, and the succulent patch, under the wise leadership of the Mayor of Succulent City, Mrs Lithops, is ready to receive visitors.

No doubt ready to perform splendidly over the coming months, the first of the calendulas is sending up flowers. As these have been grown from seed, I am claiming bonus points!

In the vegie patch all is coming along nicely. Here, the baby beetroots are throbbing with colour.

Nearby, the coriander patch is thriving, partly because I am constantly snipping off leaves with scissors to take inside for cooking. Each snipping seems to match the patch lusher within a week. Regular organic liquid feeds don't do any harm, either. Behind the coriander patch, that's a pelargonium which nominally belongs in a pot, but which escaped from that little prison long ago and is now master of its own domain and a terrible bully to all its neighbours. If it wasn't for my secateurs the whole garden would eventually be one big pelargonium patch!

I haven't harvested any of these leaves yet, but they're ready to be used now. This is a new addition to Amateur Land. It's called the celery leaf plant, and it's closely related to celery but doesn't form those robust, crunchy stalks. It's low and leafy. I use traditional celery all the time in cooking in the kitchen, and I often use the leaves of celery bunches. So when I saw the packet of 'celery leaf plant' seeds in an Asian supermarket in tropical Darwin earlier this year, I had to try them.

One of the unsung heroes of my garden is the rosemary bush. This healthy person was grown from cuttings and is about three years old. As for the cuttings, I did what an expert gardening friend, Cheryl, said to do, which was: "Just poke the cuttings straight into the soil - most of them will grow just like that." And so they did. And my how they've grown!

The rosemary is just starting to flower, and it smells absolutely wonderful when you get up close to it to take yet another stalk or two for the kitchen. It really is one of the most fragrant things in this garden.

Finally, Mrs Agave has delivered two gorgeous children, as she likes to do most years. Both mother and children are doing well.

While everything else is now in much better order, I am afraid that the real work done on this lovely weekend of sunshine and showers hasn't rated a mention yet, mostly due to the lack of suitably nice photos.

I just couldn't manage a lovely photo of weeding, yet three or four hours yesterday afternoon were spent pulling rotten little weeds out of the ground. And the photos I took of newly mulched beds look far too mulchy. You'll just have to take it from me that there is mulch almost everywhere now. Same goes for the trimmed hedges out the front. Ramrod straight now. And the fertilising, too. Did lots of that, but I don't think I could manage a nice photo of chicken poo (in fact I didn't even try). But the air is currently wonderfully fragrant with that classic farmyard aroma. So Pam and I are going to do what we always do when I fertilise everything - that's right, we're leaving home for a few hours and heading off to the movies!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Wakey, wakey little garden. Well, that's what I've been whispering in its ear for the last week or so, and I think it can hear me now. Spring is stirring early, as it always does here in the mild coastal zone in which I live. Several plants are on the rise, forming flower buds, sending out new leaves, offering promise of some old razzle dazzle in just a couple of weeks. First up, the Scadoxus are sending up their remarkable torches, which I am hoping will burst into a blaze of colour before August 22.

Here they are this morning (I'll do the weeding on the weekend – promise). Four weeks ago they were just bulbs poking out of the ground, then whoosh! Up they come. I'm hoping for flowers by August 22, because that's when our great mate Amanda is coming up for a visit from Kyneton in Victoria. She's as nuts about gardening as we are, and so it would be nice to have something in bloom when she gets here.

I can only hope this year's lot will look as good as these Scadoxus flowers did, when I photographed and blogged about them last year. It would be especially appropriate to have them in bloom for her visit, as Amanda is originally from the same country as the Scadoxus, whose common name is the Natal paintbrush. Amanda's not from Natal, but she is from South Africa.

If I can't persuade the scadoxus to bloom for Amanda, hopefully these Cymbidium orchids will oblige. These are lovely big pinky-white ones, and once they start blooming they'll keep on looking gorgeous for weeks.

OK, so these aren't blooms, but they are cute and the first signs of true happiness with the nardoo, the native floating fern, in my potted goldfish pond. The nardoo has grown and spread since I radically cut it back in May, but the leaves have taken on a coppery hue over the chills of winter. So I'm hoping these little nardoo heads herald a return to a more grassy green covering for the goldfish to hide beneath.

While I'm down at the goldfish pond there are excellent signs of life from my Louisiana iris as well. All the long, strappy leaves went yellow and died back during June and July, but a few weeks ago stacks of new leaves just erupted from the surface. The books tell me that I should expect to see blue iris flowers on tall 75cm high stalks in October. Whoever said waiting isn't exciting obviously isn't a gardener.

And so there are glimmerings of spring everywhere at the moment, without a lot of truly colourful action yet. Driving around the streets of Sydney the many deciduous magnolias (which can be found in virtually every street here) are in full bloom now (mostly the pinky-white soulangeanas). When I see those magnolias I always think to myself "spring is four weeks away". Hope I'm wrong. Hope it's sooner!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One thing leads to another

I hadn't planned on doing a blog posting today, but one thing led to another and here I am, blogging about something that wasn't even on my mind as recently as three hours ago. Where to begin? Easy - pictured below is a Syngonium. This is what I didn't know three hours ago. Up until that point it had the rather lengthy common name of "Pam's old pot plant which got too big and so we planted it out in the shady back part of the garden where it has thrived but sorry we don't know its name." Syngonium sums it all up much more succinctly, I think you'll all agree.

Traa daa, our Syngonium, accompanied by three blind mice disguised as mushrooms.

This is what cleared up the plant name thing. Its original label, discovered in a big pile of plant labels in my shed, while I was looking for a completely different label. See what I mean about one thing leading to another?

By the way, if you look carefully at the label above you'd notice that the plant on the label is variegated, but the leaf in the opening photo on this posting isn't. Our Syngonium is doing what all (or at least, many) variegated plants seem to end up doing – they proceed to also grow some unvariegated, fully green leaves. From what I understand variegation is a not a dominant gene in plants. So, if you don't cut off the 'normal' fully green leaves, slowly but surely the variegated leaves will be outnumbered, and after several years it will be a plain, unvariegated plant.

And so, in another sense altogether, one thing (a variegated plant) leads to another (a non-variegated plant).

In fact, this innocent little dig around my dusty plant label pile in my shed also gave me another idea for a blog topic that I'll try to make sense of soon, so one thing has led to another, which then led to another. I love a good meaningless set of tangents – it feels like I'm dreaming!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Quiet achiever

There are several plants in this garden which are, essentially, Pammy's. It's my job to care for them, but they're Pam's plants. Pictured below is one such plant, looking good.

One day early last year Pam came home from an art course at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney and said "I want an Acacia cognata - it's really cute, very hairy, just like a pet animal." There was a nice specimen growing at the Botanic Gardens and so I had to find one, grow it so it was just as nice and, for ever and ever, keep it alive. (In ye olde days of yore way back when, brave knights rode out to slay dragons for their fair maids. These days, with dragons an endangered species, dragon-slaying is definitely out. And so I have to ride out and grow fussy natives.)

Fussy natives? Well, I only discovered this 'fussy' reputation after I read up on them, and then spoke to one of the gardening experts with whom I work, and the conversation went something like this...
Jamie: "I've just bought an Acacia cognata for Pam. Any tips?"
Expert: "Good luck."
Further enquiries revealed that this plant needs excellent soil drainage, light feeding, steady watering but never too much, and probably some nursing during humid weather (which it hates, and of which we get stacks in summer). Knowing all this, I decided that it would almost certainly die if I tried to grow it in the ground, so I opted for keeping it in a pot as its best chance of survival. Pots aren't perfect, but you can control soil drainage better with them, and you can move a plant to a safe spot during terrible weather.

This is how the new guy looked on Day One, early April, 2009. The first job was to put it in a better pot.

The potting mix was a specialised native potting mix, combined 50:50 with coarse propagating sand. A few weeks later and, in its new pot, it's putting on good growth. In fact this good growth continued all through autumn, then really took off again in spring last year, and by late spring I was sure it looked like it was getting too big for that pot. (What's all this 'fussy' malarky – it's a weed!) Nevertheless, concerned that it might grow too much and get pot-bound in mid-summer, I potted it up into its new (and current) larger, white pot.

And here it is this morning, green and long-haired with good health. So far so good. I think it likes me! This white pot has its own built-in pot feet, so the base sits off the ground by about 2cm.

So why call this post 'quiet achiever'? Well, this plant doesn't flower. It's just a foliage plant. It doesn't do much else. As it gets bigger the foliage should just keep growing all the way down to the ground. There's one form of Acacia cognata marketed as 'Cousin Itt', named after the very hairy character from the 'Addams Family' cult TV show from the 60s. So you get the picture. Apart from being cute and hairy, that's all it does. (Edit: this one is called 'Limelight', by the way.)

Well, its other trick is to put gardening knights in shining armour on permanent watch. Any moment, any time, it might just sag, then sigh, and say "I feel sick, mystery illness I'm afraid old chap, I think I'm on the way out." Until then, there's really nothing to worry about. Growth is good, foliage green. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Harlequin in the parsley patch

My lovely wife Pammy is my 'spotter'. She spots things out in the garden that I miss. Eagle-eyed she is, which of course is a good quality for a botanical illustrator to possess. This morning, she spotted this person in our parsley patch. Yes, it's hard to miss, but of course eagle-eyes didn't miss it.

It's a cotton harlequin bug, Tectocoris diophthalmus. I had to get in for a closer look...

That's better. Then I did what I always do when I'm not sure of what I'm photographing. I Googled it. Shoot and Google, that's my policy.

And good old Google, or more specifically the Australian Museum website, set me straight. This is a juvenile Cotton Harlequin Bug, a brand-newie, which will turn orange (with spots) as it matures into an adult. Those blue bits glint with a metallic wink in the sunshine.

Apparently I am lucky, in that we are currently infested with a single little kid of a Cotton Harlequin bug. My Googling tells me that these bugs, when they appear in large numbers, can be destructive little sap-suckers in gardens. They do attack cotton crops, as their name implies, and they love a good suck-and-chomp on hibiscus, abutilons (Chinese lanterns) and any other hibiscus family plants. However, they ain't fussy it seems, and any juicy flower buds can become its dinner.

I practise 'live and let live' as much as possible here in Amateur Land. So s/he's welcome here, and a pretty addition in fact. If s/he invites the gang around for a flower-munching party on, say, my citrus trees, I might have to get out the soap spray, but until then I'm happy to welcome this beautiful child into my garden.