Friday, October 31, 2014

Beautiful gum bark

"Bursting with pride" is how I feel right now, because my girl Pammy has just won a 'highly commended' award on the opening night of the GreenWay Art Prize, which is held at Art Est Gallery in Leichhardt, and is now in its 5th year. 

And a lovely little bit of icing on the cake was that the award was presented to Pam by the only local councillor we know, Chris Woods (he's an old friend I've known for more than 40 years). When Chris "opened the envelope" (in award-speak), the delight on his face was wonderful to see – "I actually know the 'highly recommended' winner, she's a good friend of mine" he said – then he announced Pam as the winner of the 'highly recommended award for the painting below, a watercolour of gum bark. 

Gum Bark © Pamela Horsnell 2014

It's one of the growing themes in Pam's painting that I can see developing. While she does a wide variety of painting styles and works in various media, some of her best work is in the zone where her subject matter looks abstract at first glance yet is strikingly real at the same time, when you look at it more closely. It's lovely work, darling!

If you want to get along to the Art Est gallery to see the truly impressive array of artworks on display (not just paintings, the overall winner of the main prize was a video-art piece), you can visit the Art Est Gallery Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 10am to 9pm; Thursday and Friday, 10am to 5pm; Saturdays 9.30am to 1pm. 

It's at Art Est Gallery, Studio 4, 67-69 Lords Road, Leichhardt (which is a short walk from Leichhardt Marketown, for those who know the area).

And the GreenWay project itself is well worth finding out about, especially if you're in the council areas of Leichhardt, Marrickville, Ashfield and Canterbury, all of whom are involved. The aim is to improve the environment of inner city Sydney by establishing a "GreenWay" corridor through these local government areas, from Iron Cove on Sydney Harbour through to Cooks River, which runs into Botany Bay. You can read all about the GreenWay project, and its centrepiece GreenWay Corridor, here at

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tiny tots

All sorts of spring flowers in our garden are coming out right on schedule, and the tiny ones Pammy and I have been looking closely to spot have finally made their appearance. They're so small that if you stand back a few feet you can't see them. You have to get up close … very close.

Spanish moss, or Tillandsia usneoides.

This enormous log photobombing my Spanish moss pic is
the tip of a toothpick. It illustrates nicely how small these
Spanish moss flowers are.
The flowers form at foliage junctions.

Though small, they're perfectly formed, complete with a
little yellow centre of pollen. Haven't exactly seen the
bees making a beeline for the Spanish Moss yet, though.
Just in case you're not familiar with Spanish
moss, it's that bromeliad which is also known
as old man's beard, for an obvious reason.
It's an 'air plant' that is not a parasite on its
host plant. Instead, it gets all its nutrients
from the air and rain. Here's it's thriving, hanging
off the branches of our Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream'.

Pammy loves this plant, and has done several paintings of both the plant and the flower. And so, to finish off our little celebration of this little cutie, here are two of Pammy's Spanish moss flower paintings, one a lovely little portrait of the flower itself, and the second (one of my favourites) an imagined microscope-eye's view of the foliage, where yet again Pam has created something which seems abstract at first glance yet is also realistic – it's one of the themes in her painting which I enjoy the most.

'The Reality', © Pamela Horsnell 2013

'Living and Breathing', © Pamela Horsnell 2013

Monday, October 20, 2014

Getting Misty again

Well, it's hardly a spectacular success this time round, but I am still claiming one cup-of-tea's worth of self-bestowed job satisfaction for this 12-month-long effort, now bursting into bloom.

Last autumn I planted some "Love-in-a-Mist" seeds which I had harvested in January from the plants which I had grown from seed the previous autumn, and which flowered in October.

Hold on. That's a bit complicated. Here's the simpler version. These flowers below are from plants which I have raised from seed which I had harvested earlier on. That's better.

The original seeds came from a Yates Seed
pack called "Persian Jewels". These come in various 

shades of white, violet, blue and pink. The interesting 
challenge for me was to see whether this year's 
crop of harvested seeds produced all the colours, or 
just one. Well, it turns out I get lots of white, a fair
 few blue, and little blobs of pink here and there. 
That will do me!

As you can see, white rules, but other colours get a look in.

The pink ones are pretty but lonely.

The "Mist" in its name is of course the whispy veil of fine,
needles of foliage around the flower heads.

However, this low angle shot reveals the plant is a little
cloud of flowers floating atop a green mist, too.

In the interest of the full picture, here's a shot taken in early
January this year, of the papery, hollow seed pods after harvest.
These split open and drop a lot of seed on the ground, but
my harvest managed to gather enough seed to fill the whole
backyard with plants, if I wanted to go mad.

The black seeds themselves are heavily ridged and hard.
I planted them last autumn in rows, and they do take a while
to come up, and the plants look like they are never going
to ever produce flowers through August and most of
September. Then in October they get a move on, and flowering
is always about now, in mid-October.
(One interesting sidelight on this plant, for bloggers at least, is that its botanical name is Nigella. Now, unless you never watch TV or cookery shows on TV, you will have heard of the British TV cook, the lovely Nigella Lawson, who has unfortunately been in the media for some very sad reasons in the last 12 months. Well, innocent old me called last year's posting on this plant, "Nigella's secret admirer" because a little insect, a hoverfly, was photobombing all my love-in-a-mist photos, so I made it both the heading and the lead-in to my blog posting. This of course led to quite a spike in (very disappointed I am sure) visitors to my flower-loving post on these flowers. So, if you want to drive traffic to your blog, which I don't actually have any real interest in doing, try to work a celebrity name into your blog title. That should do the trick!)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

At home in the flowers

It's that time of year when all the insect pests like to have a munch on our citrus trees, and the brightly coloured bronze orange bugs were my target this morning. While knocking a few of the big galoots out of the foliage, onto the ground, I disturbed this little spidery person, who I had never seen before.

Say hello to the Flower Spider, Diaea evanida to those in the
know. In one sense I really should have come across this spider
decades ago, as it's a common enough Australian spider,
but that camouflage job is pretty cool. Green on green, with
a white bummy bit that looks like a flower bud.
Once I'd taken the photos it only took me the first few seconds
of Google searching to find out its formal name, at this
Spiders of Australia website. Then another quick Googling 
deposited me on this handy website which is the 
"fan page" devoted to Diaea evanida.
I'm sure our garden wildlife see me as a pest. I never harm
any of them, but they do resent my intrusion with the camera,
so for what it's worth I always say "sorry" after I have taken
my photos and departed for my study to download them.
If you're a bit squeamish about visiting spidery websites (you probably haven't made it this far down the page, come to think of it) the short story about our little flower spider friend is that he and she live amongst all sorts of flowers, taking advantage of their excellent camouflage to eat small insects. There are plenty of photos on the spidery websites showing them making a meal of flies and other little insects, but I think a big, hulking bronze orange bug is just too big an assignment for them. 

Oh well, even if they don't do my work for me in the citrus trees, it's nice to finally meet them and know yet another fascinating little person with whom we share our garden.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Copper spooning

The whole magical business of propagating succulents is one little by-way of gardening that never ceases to beguile me. Right now a pot full of leaves from our Kalanchoe 'Copper Spoons' is producing babies, but it has taken a few months for it all to happen.

This is the parent plant in question, Kalanchoe
orgyalis 'Copper Spoons', a beautiful succulent
shrub which, so far, has reached about two
and a half feet tall (75cm). While it's named for
its superb, lightly furry, copper-coloured leaves,
its foliage colour is more complicated than
that, as you can see in the photo above.
And here are the babies, pale bluey-green and already lightly
furry, emerging from the ends of the leaf cuttings which I
simply laid on top of a lightly moist, sandy propagating mix
a couple of months ago. 
This is the pot in all its 30cm wide glory. I wasn't sure which
method of propagation worked best, so I added some stem
cuttings to the pot, but largely populated it with the leaves,
as this is what seemed to be the go when I searched online.
The pot then spent its first couple of months in my garden
shed, raised up on a little spot just under the window, so
it copped plenty of natural light, but no rainfall.
It's a little forest of copper spoons babies we have here. Almost
all the stem cuttings were duds, and about two-thirds of the
leaf cuttings have produced babies, so leaf cuttings it is!
While the cuttings of some plants need hormone powders, controlled humidity, precise timing and other methods to coax a beautiful little newbie to make its entrance, many good old succulents can propagate themselves simply by tossing a few leaves on the ground. With their moisture-filled leaves, the babies have all the sustenance they need for their first weeks or months of life. It's as if they're breast-fed.

Later on, once they've grown a bit more, I'll pot each one up and hopefully will have some pretty young Kalanchoe 'Copper Spoons' kids to give to gardening friends.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Temporary housing

A little addendum to my previous posting on Louisiana iris. This morning I noticed a pretty little decoration, a little jewel of a spider had decided to set up home inside the iris flower. I hope he (or she) has a Plan B, as Louisiana iris blooms usually last just a matter of days, certainly not weeks. But like the blooms themselves, this little visitor is another welcome, if temporary, visitor here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Purple waves

Memories are unreliable things at times. Here I was about to write a blog about "earlybirds" because I was convinced my Louisiana iris were coming up a bit earlier than usual, when it occurred to me to actually go and check blog postings from previous years. And guess what? Yep, this is the latest they have ever appeared. The earliest was Sept 21 last year, another year it was Sept 28, another year Oct 6. And here we are, October 10, and they've just opened up.

Don't let the experts tell you that you have to visit a water
gardens specialist to buy nice Louisiana iris. I saw this one,
called 'Gulf Shores' at Bunnings (Australia's biggest hardware
warehouse chain) several years ago, when I wasn't looking
for Louisiana iris. Anyway, it came home with me, and it has
flowered in spring every year. And it has multiplied.
The flowers appear pretty quickly, too. The stems
shoot up in no time, the flower buds expand and
colour up for a day or so, and then before you
know it - traaaa daaaaa! They're open.
If anything, this photo doesn't do the colour any justice. In
reality it's a whole lot more purple than this. Stunning.

Now, there's one possible reason for the slightly later flowering this year. As I mentioned earlier, the plants have multiplied and were starting to crowd out our potted water garden, where Paul, our goldfish, has been living happily for the past five years. And so, in the middle of winter I decided to lift, divide and replant (only some of) the iris plants in Paul's domain. What to do with the others? Well, as a purely temporary fix just for that weekend, I potted up the remainder in a wide, shallow terracotta bowl, filled it with the recommended 50/50 mix of garden soil and cow poo, topped that with a goodly layer of gravel, then sat the pot on bricks in a plastic purple garden trug. Good old trugs!

And now, that temporary, one-week-only,
arrangement is still in place. How often does
that happen! Anyway, it works.
This helicopter shot shows the other essential:
keeping the water topped up so it is about halfway
up the side of the terracotta bowl. In the wild,
Louisiana iris live on the edges of swamps, lakes,
creeks and rivers, with their feet constantly in
water and their heads up in the sunshine.
On the right is Paul's ceramic bowl, and on the left
his purple plastic neighbour. So we no longer have
a water garden, we have an aquatic complex.
I guess I should find a better pot than the purple plastic trug. The plastic will slowly go brittle in the sunshine, with a sudden and very soggy dam-bursting finale (probably when we have guests around for an alfresco lunch, if the general theory of the timing of domestic disasters holds true). But for the meantime (and I mean meantime!) it stays.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Just the right amount of oregano

If you like growing herbs, as I most definitely do, I'm sure you will have encountered the minor problem of having too much of a good thing on your hands. That's especially true if all your herbs are growing in the ground, rather than in pots.

When I had my oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary plants growing in the ground, I had far too much oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary, up to 100 times more of each herb than I could ever sensibly use in the kitchen. The benefits, however, were that these herbs were lovely garden citizens. They flowered their heads off, they sent up delicious scents as you brushed past them, and they really didn't need much help from me at all. And they flavoured hundreds and hundreds of delicious meals as well.

But they did take up a lot of space, and in my tiny garden I decided a few years ago that I'd grow all these herbs in pots, and it has proved to be a good move. The same herbs are all still happily here and enjoying the spring sunshine. The oregano in particular looks a treat at the moment. It's just the right amount, one pot-full.

What a pleasing mound of green it is in this wide, shallow pot.
The only thing it's not doing this spring is flowering, and that's
because my oregano plant pays a visit to the barber's shop
four or five times a year, and that clumsy barber called Jamie
cuts off all the flower buds in late winter.
This is what its flowers look like, little pink clusters which pop
up on stalks in late winter and early spring. I took this photo
a few years ago when our oregano was growing in the ground,
spreading like mad and flowering its head off. Back then I
had far too much oregano but it was a delight to have around.
This is another "from the archives" shot of the oregano trying
 to take over the succulent patch, back in its in-ground days.
If you read my most recent posting on sage, I recommended it as a garden plant, and I can easily do the same for oregano. It makes a good, easy-care ground cover provided it's in the sunshine most of the day, and the soil doesn't suffer from sogginess. It'll eventually misbehave, like the stuff pictured above, and will take over neighbouring beds if allowed. However cutting it back isn't an especially tough chore, nor is it needed more than once or twice a year at worst.

In fact, one of my early successes as a "learner gardener" many years ago was the way I slowly "marched" a patch of in-ground oregano from one spot in the garden to another spot a metre or two further away. All I did was cut off the left-hand side of the oregano patch regularly, but I let the right-hand side keep on spreading. After about 12 months the whole patch had "moved" to its new spot. I felt like I was getting there as a gardener with that little selective pruning ploy!

So if you're looking for a ground cover, oregano might do the trick. It's easy to find seedlings in garden centres, but you can also buy seed. In fact my potted oregano patch is seed-grown. I think that's part of the reason it's so lush. There's probably half a dozen plants in that one little pot, and that's a lot of youthful, pent-up energy in there.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sage advice

Good old gardening hunches. There I was several months ago with a gap to fill in the garden, standing in a garden centre looking at a bunch of herbs and other potted lovelies for sale. Which one to choose? That's where the hunch came in handy. 

The spot to be filled was small yet sunny, and it wasn't that far from the place where a culinary sage bush had thrived gorgeously for several years. And there I was staring at a potted seedling of purple sage in the garden centre. Thank goodness I followed my hunch because the purple sage is also thriving now, and this week it has burst into full colour with its combination of blue blooms and purpley-green foliage. A very nice show indeed.

Here it is in close up...
… and standing a few feet further back. So far
it is staying as a smallish thing, no more than
two feet high and wide at the most. Hopefully
it won't get any bigger.
My 'other' sage plant is now limited to a pot,
as it always grew too big and sprawly for the
spot it called home. It was a constant workload
cutting it back to size, and eventually I just
decided to dig it all up, retain one section of
stems with roots and planted that in the pot.
It has been happy there ever since.
The leaves of the common, culinary sage,
(Salvia officinalis) are longer, narrower and
decidedly greener than the purple plant's
foliage. They also seem a bit more fragrant.
The purple one's leaves are shorter and
wider. They have been even more purpley in
colour through their first winter, and they
seem to be greening up as the weather
warms and the flowers appear. I suspect that
is what will happen: it'll green up for summer
then purple-up again in autumn or winter.
It'd be nice if that happened, but I will just
have to wait out my first year with it to
find out.
Anyway, the moral of this blog posting is that if you are looking for a small (well under 1m high and wide) shrub with very nice foliage interest year-round, and a pleasing spring show that has been happening for a couple of weeks already and doesn't look like slowing down any time soon, have a look at purple sage. 

As far as growing tips go, it needs sunshine, soil that drains well and that's about it. Haven't fed it, clipped it, or bothered too much with watering it. It has just looked after itself, but maybe that's just my good luck that sage likes it here.