Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mulching by instalments

Our extremely soggy August provided some of the best conditions for weeds to grow in living memory, and trust my luck that at the same time I have been on what might be called 'light duties' lately – forced to rest up while my arthritic old ribcage tries to mend itself. And as a compulsive gardener, I sometimes forget that I am on light duties, I see something "out there" that I just have to attend to … and I hurt myself again. Back to square one ...

And so it has come to this. When in my prime I could mulch whole acres in a day (OK, slight fib) right now I am doing it one square metre at a time - per day. Talk about slow progress.

When I talk "mulching", that really is gardening code for "lots of weeding for 90% of the time taken (to get rid of the onion weed, oxalis, chickweed and other uninvited greenery) followed by a short, triumphant spreading of the mulch as a grande finale". 

I use three different mulches here in our garden. All the food
plants are mulched with sugar cane mulch. The purists, who must
also be quite rich, insist on lucerne hay, but the poor, ordinary
folk-on-a-budget of this world use sugar cane mulch in Sydney.
The ornamental flowering beds are mulched
with some kind of composted bark, such as
this freshly laid pine bark around this gardenia.
Here it is in close-up around our newest acquisition, a
Grevillea 'Pink Lady' ground cover.
The third type of mulch in use here is the
off-white pebbles in the succulent patch, and
it has proved to be a hopeless mulch. All
weeds love it. Here's some onion weed brushing
the pebbles aside.
The oxalis skips across the top of the pebbles like Ginger Rogers
and Fred Astaire. Oxalis just adores pebble mulches.
My favourite mulch by far, the sugar cane mulch, is full of fresh,
farmyard handsomeness for the first two weeks after it is
spread. Thereafter it goes grey and lifeless, and as it breaks
down quite rapidly it needs regular replenishment. But I do
love the look of a freshly mulched vegie patch!
And so today I weeded and mulched the spot where I planted the perpetual spinach and Serrano chilli (pictured above). Next chance I get, it's the strawberry patch (another square metre owned by Emperor Oxalis). After that, maybe next weekend, another square metre around the clivias and frangipani. I think I am slowly catching up to the August explosion of weeds, but please Huey, no month-long downpours this spring? Please, my ribcage couldn't stand it!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

South African belles

Hey, the Scadoxus are in bloom again, so it must be September. In fact it's the sixth September these South African beauties have blazed away with their hot oranges in early spring (or 'Sprinter' if you read my most recent posting). I planted them in April 2009, they bloomed in September that year, and the good news is that they're producing babies this year, as well as blooming right on schedule.

Who, what? Scadoxus, or Scadoxus puniceus if you must, but
it also answers to Natal paintbrush in some valleys.
In 2009, three blooms appeared on those long green stalks, and
since then a fourth has grown to adulthood to join them.
This year each bulb has started to produce
a set of bulblets around its base, creating a
little forest of future beauties. However,
everything Scadoxus happens rather slowly,
so I'm not expecting our fifth torch next
September, although I'm willing to be surprised.

I did mention last year (or was is the year before?) that I was trying to harvest some Scadoxus seed and get them to germinate, but there's no sign of any seedlings anywhere. Apparently the seeds need to get into moist ground fairly quickly, then stay moistish under mulch, and even then they take months to come up, but only if the planets line up and I've been a good boy, etc. As we've had some very very dry months this year, I suspect it just wasn't the right year for them (although I've been very good – just ask Pam – but it didn't do any good). So I'll try again this time round, but won't hold my breath.

Finally, the next door neighbour to our little
forest of Scadoxus is finally producing its first
flush of flowers. It's a yellow clivia, and the
shy little thing has stage fright. It's been looking
like this for more than week now – forever
'about' to flower, without going 'traa-daaaa'.
I'm prepared to wait until it's good and ready, as it's the beginning of what I hope will be an ever-expanding clump of them over coming years, much in the same way that my Scadoxus family has settled in here so well. 

As both Clivia and Scadoxus come from South Africa, I really like the fact that they not only flower together but they live side-by-side as well. Maybe I should barbecue some boerewors or bake up a batch of bobotie to make them feel at home?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Small but perfectly formed

There was an interesting chat on the radio yesterday morning about the number of seasons there are in Sydney's gardening year, and the consensus was that having just four definitely is not enough. Spring, summer, autumn and winter might be fine for the US, Canada and most of Europe, but it just doesn't tell the story of other parts of the world.

A 'four-season' divvying-up of the year is hopelessly wrong for tropical and subtropical zones, and even a place like Sydney, a few hundred miles south of the true subtropics, needs at least six to tell the whole story. (I believe the traditional Aboriginal system for Sydney includes six seasons, so we're on the right track – you can read more about the Aboriginal seasons for Sydney here.)

Right now, according to our radio chatterboxes, we're in 'Sprinter', that time of year in August and September when it's still cool but the new flowers are leaping about in colourful profusion. ('Spring' is late September through to early November, a traditional springtime; it's followed by 'Sprummer', that warm, rainy time of spring when the flowers are fading already, the weather is warming but cold days are still about, all through November especially and even into December;. Then follows a full four months of real summer, from late December through to the end of March.)

Oh, where were we? Sprinter. Every Sprinter, our native orchids appear on schedule, and they're here again, small but perfectly formed tiny orchids about 1.5cm across (that's a bit over half an inch). And some of them are lightly scented, too.

Sorry, can't help with the botanical names
here. This is the deep pink one.
And yes, you guessed it, this is the pale pink
one. To give you an idea of its size, that's a
pod of a 'normal' cymbidium orchid behind it.
In fact, Sprinter is also the time of year when our whitish-pinky
cymbidium orchids appear, so our gaggle of orchids in pots,
which lives at one end of our covered pergola area, is a very
pleasantly colourful scene at the moment.
These two cymbidiums look like swimmers
emerging from the water with their hair wet but
they're just two big, beautiful flowers trying to
open their wings on yet another soggy morning
here in Sydney.

The native orchids are as easy to care for as the normal cymbidiums, which means they are as tough as nails. Normal orchid potting mix for them. They do like a feed, though. I use an organic liquid food formulated for orchids on both the cymbidiums and the natives, giving everything a feed once a month. Every three, four (or maybe it's five?) years, this happy band of potted orchids needs repotting, simply because they grow so readily that they outgrow their pots. While it's said that orchids like to have their roots crowded together, in the long run overcrowding will cut down on the flower shows. 

After repotting, the terrible, shocking problem is that I end up with too many beautiful orchids and not enough pots (or space). On a scale of one to 10 of terrible problems gardeners have to face, this is surely a 0.0005. I have much more weighty matters to bother me, like convincing people that 'Sprinter' isn't a stupid name for this season…