Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Soggy, at last!

Talk about a love-hate relationship! Gardeners and rain. Right now I'm in lurv (but there have been other times when I have cried "enough" and the rain didn't stop and it just kept on raining and the tender plants did drown).

These last few weeks it has not so much been "hate" as it has been "where are you?". And so today the heavens have opened and all the soil is enjoying a desperately needed drink.

And so, as a minor celebration of just one decent day of rain, I have whipped out my iPhone, have set the photo function to "Panorama" and so here is how soggy-land is looking late this afternoon. I am sure if you click on the photo it will come up a lot bigger.

I am always blown away by the power of rain. It contains so much water! Huge amounts. I could stand here with a hose waving it here and there and everywhere for two hours, and it would barely water the garden to a depth of an inch or so.

If you haven't done it, do it some time. Get out there and give the garden the biggest watering you can manage. Then dig down into the soil. You'll probably be amazed to discover that the soil is moist any deeper down than just one inch. 

Doing this little experiment has taught me that there's nothing that comes out of a tap, or out of a water tank, that compares to rain. Rain is so generous, so plentiful...

Dig down into the soil on the morning after a day's rain, and the soil is moist all the way through, it's watered all the way down to spade-depth. That's Huey the Rain God at work, folks.

Mind you, I'm not a God Worshipper at all, but I do admire Huey's work!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Conventional behaviour

Well, it's not often that I do any on-the-spot reportage in this quiet little gardening blog, but today's posting comes to you from the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney, where medium-sized crowds gathered to attend the umpteenth annual Australia Day Garden Gnome Convention held every year at pretty little Glenbrook.

The constant light drizzle didn't deter all the dads, mums, prams, free-range children on the hoof, grannies, grandpas and assorted uncles and aunties, including Pammy and me.

Anyway, enough reportage, you get the picture... and besides, you're here to see the gnomes. Here we go, starting off with some of our favourites from the show.

How could I have missed this guy? But I did,
walked straight past this handsome cricketer
gnome, but good old Eagle Eyes Pammy
didn't miss him, nestled in amongst a batch
of non-sporting gnomes.
Wow, what a nice, patient paint job on these harlequins!
Looking like a mirror ball, Disco Gnome
would have looked even better on a sunny day. 
Nothing like a good 'prop" to enhance a gnome. We saw some
gnomes with the usual lawnmowers, guitars and rakes, but
it's hard to beat a speedboat. 
These two had their own working railway, but quite frankly
that is a bit over the top. Speedboat wins!
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as
good and bad taste when it comes to garden
gnomes. This Dame Edna gnome is right on
the dividing line between the two. However ... 
... these disgraceful strumpet gnomes are on the other side
 of that dividing line between good and bad taste. Gnomes
 are a male-dominated profession as it is, and introducing
 female gnomes only if they take their clothes off
says a lot about the state of sexism in Gnomeland. 
However, these minor lapses into bad taste hardly stood out from the crowds of countless little men in their red hats, with cherubic smiles on their faces. 

It's been several years since our last visit to the Glenbrook Gnome convention, and we'll probably be back up here again a few more years from now. Shame about the drizzly weather this time round, but it didn't deter the crowds all that much, and it certainly didn't bother the gnomes one bit!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Foraging for trouble

I have to admit I was a bit gobsmacked by this radio interview about the latest trendy food thing called "foraging". This is where people pick edible herbs, flowers, fruits etc from local suburban (and inner-urban) nature strips and waste ground areas.


The host, Annabel Crabb, interviewed the head chef at a very well regarded Sydney Restaurant. I've dined there and the food is delicious, the staff lovely too. 

The chef seems an ethical, decent fellow in every way, and he certainly can cook. If there is fruit to "forage" growing inside a person's yard, he knocks on the door and asks permission from the owners. He is also aware of the health risks of foraged food (listen to the audio link).

However, I am afraid that as an organic gardener I think the whole idea of "foraging" for food in urban areas is about as risky as asking people to go looking for wild mushrooms in the forest. It can be done by experts, but I wouldn't encourage beginners ... there's toadstools in those forests, as some have discovered the hard way, and I think there are health dangers on those grassy suburban verges, too.

So, what's my beef with foraging for things like fruit, flowers, herbs and, sometimes, vegies in our streets? Three main ones.

1. Cats and dogs marking their territory on urban and suburban nature strips. They do that rather a lot ... I wouldn't want to eat food tainted with their signature dish.

2. Weed spraying activities over the last few decades by local councils have probably rendered the soil in many nature strips into a toxic brew which might take decades or more to break down. As far as I am concerned, no food plants should be grown on urban nature strips, unless the soil has been thoroughly tested and passed as healthy. Even if councils have adopted eco-friendly spraying policies now, what did they use in the 1980s, the 90s and the early 2000s?

3. This goes back to the mushroom harvesting analogy, plus that modern expression: "What could possibly go wrong?". Well, lots (such as harvesting something that is inedible, or worse). So encouraging inexperienced foragers to get out there and harvest their own foods from roadsides ... it's not something I'll ever encourage. 

To me, it's ironic that with everything "organic" being so trendy, these days, that something so diametrically opposite in its healthiness as foraging could also be trendy... with the same crowd.

And so folks, I think this is my first ever blog posting without any pretty pictures. I don't want to encourage any more foraging, you see.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Spotted in the shadows

There's an old gardener's tip which says you should never plant indoor potted plants out into your garden, because you never know how big they'll grow. So, of course, that's exactly what we've been doing lately, but I think we'll get away with it this time.

These are Pam's former home office/art studio plants, and they're both loving their summer holiday in the garden. The eye-catching spotted marvel on the right is a begonia (I think it's Begonia maculata, but that's just me Googling and guessing). It just outgrew Pam's tiny studio in a matter of months. 

It started off as a cute baby in a little pot and in no time at all, we had to repot it. That just encouraged its teenage hormones to kick in, and then it grew like crazy (with Pam's loving care helping things along, of course). And so, running out of space in her office, Pam spotted that shady, bare corner, outside, decided the begonia would look good in there, and a whole new branch of shady gardening fun commenced.

The other, more familiar little face on the left is a maidenhair fern which had grown a bit scrappy and didn't look too great in its pot. So far, it's loving its shady new home and is growing back nicely.

Getting up close to the begonia, it's full of
great little extras, such as ruby coloured
undersides to its leaves, and sprays of white
flowers. Though its spot is well lit, it is at
the base of a fairly dense murraya bush,
which is in the shade of an olive tree, so there's
no direct sunlight down on this little forest floor!

Meet Pam and Jamie, our little stone pigeons. We are hoping
one day they will be covered with moss. I've tried the "yoghurt
treatment" to encourage some moss to grow with no luck, so
any suggestions are welcome. (*Back on topic, Jamie*)
Oh yes, and in the background is the maidenhair fern, which
various websites tell me will not enjoy being outdoors in the
ground. That sounds like a gardener's challenge to me!
We've been bitten by the "shady plants" bug, and so a few
weeks ago we planted two little bird's nest ferns under the
shade of our over-large grevillea. This photo was taken in the
early morning, when the only sunlight to reach this area
during the day was beaming in cheerfully. I like the fact that
these ferns are Australian natives, so positioning them under
our native grevillea is not such a bad spot to put them.
We already have a well established bird's
nest fern growing behind our lemon tree,
squeezed up against my garden shed. It gets
very little attention from me, apart from
copping regular splashes of water from my
regular watering of the lemon tree,
and it is thriving. 
So, the upshot of this little posting is to say that if you have a dark and unpromising patch of bare ground in your garden where nothing but mulch is spread, or weeds grow, then next time you're at the garden centre, wander over to the fern area and pick out something interesting and bring it home. 

And if you feel like taking a few daring risks, you could pop over to the potted indoor plant section and choose something that looks great and should never be planted outside. Be warned, it could die outdoors (especially in winter, as many indoor plants are from the tropics). If you get lucky, it could grow into a fifty foot high Triffid which wanders off to do battle with Godzilla, or it might just settle in and provide your formerly boring shady area with a bit of colour and personality.

Good luck! I'll let you know next spring if my shady characters have survived the winter here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ripening, who… little old me?

One of the things I like about growing food plants in my backyard is watching "how" they grow and come to maturity. Our fig tree is a marvel in the way its fruits suddenly swell and ripen, and January is always our "fig glut" time of year here in Sydney, when our fig supply is a time of plenty.

The baby figs appear back in spring, then slowly grow as green little blobs all through spring and the first month of summer. And then just one or two of them decide it's time to ripen. The others stay smallish and green while the ripening ones swell up like a balloon and change colour in just a matter of days. These smaller, green fig-ettes are a bit like people queuing, waiting their turn to have a go.

This is what I mean. The ripening one is on the left, while the
others pretend it's none of their business.
And seen from another angle, the size difference occurs almost
overnight. This one will be picked soon, before the birds get
at it, and once brought inside, our resident fig aficionado,
Pammy, knows what to do next. Over coming days and weeks
they will all ripen, picking up the pace so a small bowl full
will be harvested each time, but the fascinating thing is how
they ripen in turns, rather than all at the same time.
Our fig tree is still only small, as it's in a pot.
It's about three years old and it hasn't been a
stellar performer, but this year it has grown
a bit more and has its best crop so far. It
probably will be put into a bigger pot next winter.
The variety of fig we have here is called 'Turkish Brown' and as the fruits ripen they change from green to a rich brown tinged with some burgundy-red. They might not be the world's favourite fruit but if you develop a taste for them, like we have, summer here in Sydney is a deliciously foggy time of year.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

In which I interview me ...

By now I guess you're well aware of internet "memes". They're like chain letters but friendlier, yet they still have that familiar little sting at the end of "pass it on". Well, I like tempting fate with memes, so whenever the mood takes me, I half-heartedly participate in the meme, then fail to "pass it on". Nothing bad ever seems to happen, but I suspect if I ever make it to the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter will say "You could have had another five years on Earth if you only hadn't been such a party-pooper with those memes, Jamie." I'll let you know if that's how it turns out, if I can.

And so Amy at her very good "Crumbs" blog, http://crmbsgrdn.blogspot.com.au has nominated me for the Liebster award, whatever that is. Go read Amy's posting and check out her garden, as she's doing some very interesting stuff indeed, and takes nice photos. At the end of her post she nominates five meme-victims/Liebster nominees, including me, then adds in a bunch of questions that seem a perfectly good basis for a blog posting, and so here I am, half-heartedly party-pooping again.

1 Why do you blog?
This should probably be "why do you keep on blogging?" as I have been doing it since 2008. I like writing, I like gardening, I like photography, so for me blogging is as natural as breathing now. I have taken breaks from blogging over the years, but I always come back to it. And besides, it's a handy, diary-like gardening record which I often refer to.

2 Do you have any pets? (Show and tell is encouraged!)
Meet Paul, our goldfish, who has of course featured in a number of blog postings, such as here.

3 How did you come up with the name for your blog?
Some of my favourite characters in biography are amateur naturalists and scientists, especially of the 18th and 19th centuries, and so I've always seen myself as an "amateur" naturalist, pursuing scientific knowledge and understanding in his tiny backyard. It's a stupid blog name, I admit! 

4 What's the average amount of time it takes you to create a post?
Less than an hour, often less than half an hour. Taking, processing and selecting photos takes a bit of time, but as a working journalist I am lucky in that I write pretty much as quickly as I can type.

5 What is your drink of choice?
Before 9am, coffee. Between 9am and 6pm, 'proper' tea brewed in a pot. After 6pm, sauvignon blanc.

6 What's the best advice you ever received?

7 What is your favourite season and why?
That's easy. Autumn. Our autumns are warm and are more like the summers I'd rather have. Winter and spring are perfectly pleasant here in Sydney, but summers are a bit too hot and humid. Summer is our worst season.

8 What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Talking Pam into marrying me.

9 What is your most prized possession?
I'm not allowed to say 'Pam', as she'd clobber me. She's a free woman who just happens to like me. So, next choice could be that I'm torn between my full Oxford English Dictionary and my Moto Guzzi motorbike, but the cute answer is "our garden".

10 What is your favourite plant?
Toughest question so far… could be our frangipani, but our outrageous Cootamundra wattle "ground cover" (ha!) out the front of our house has a big personality and extremely lovely blue-green foliage.

11 What is your least favourite task in the garden?
Being on a ladder for any reason. It's not a good time and place to uncover wasp nests, I can tell you that, but "aerial work" isn't my favourite, and I am all too aware of the hospital emergency room stats about old blokes falling off ladders.

And so 'thank you' Amy for a perfectly good blog posting idea, and the nomination. Do get along to her blog and enjoy it, and Amy, I have never seen Grevillea armigera before, but like you I want one!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year, new faces

When I hear "Hey, Jamie, come and check this," I know that old eagle-eyes has done it again. Pam has spotted something in the garden, and it's always well worth stopping whatever I am doing to go and have a look. So many blog postings here start with Pammy noticing something interesting going on. 

Sometimes it can be something so tiny that only she could spot it (she really must have been an eagle in a previous life) but today her find was so big and bleedin' obvious that even I might have spotted it (except I did actually walk past it half an hour earlier…)

So, what's all the excitement about? This person, pictured below.

This is a Stapelia variegata flower. It's quite big, about 2.5 inches (7cm) across, and of course it's part of our succulent patch.

We've had the plant for a number of years, and this is the first time it has flowered. It was once in a pot (and this is how most people know of Stapelias, as potted house plants). It has grown a fair bit since being transferred to our succulent patch a few years back, but no flowers have appeared until now.

The website and books say the flowers of Stapelia variegata have an unpleasant smell, but out in the fresh air it's nigh-on unnoticeable. The icky pong (so I'm told) is reminiscent of rotting meat, and its purpose is to attract flies and blowflies, which do the pollinating job normally done by bees. This is how stapelias survive in the wild in the harsh, bee-less, arid zones of Southern Africa, where they come from.

Just behind the flower is what appears to be another flower bud, so we are having a blaze of stapeliary glory to see in the New Year, folks.

So 2015 is off to a very good start here in Garden Amateurland, and we hope that 2015 turns out to be an excellent, flower-filled, delicious and productive, healthy and happy year for you all.