Saturday, October 31, 2015

Loving the Misty Companions

I love all the little experiments that I conduct in this garden, especially those which take a few years for the results to burst into bloom.

This morning, I can report that all the work saving the seed of our Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella) flowers a few years ago has resulted in a small but very pretty show of self-seeded, multi-coloured Love-in-a-Mist blooms this morning. Here's a blue one.

The experiment goes back to late 2013, when I collected the seed of the Nigella flowers after they finished blooming. I then planted the seed the next autumn, and in October 2014 they bloomed in the same mix of colours as the original seed packet. Next phase of the experiment was to do nothing. That's right, folks. Do nothing. I know that Nigella is considered a weed in some climates, so I figured that virtually anything and everything grows here in Sydney, so mine should do the same and not need any help from me.  

In midwinter this year I noticed the first ferny shoots of Nigella coming up, so all I did to help them along was pull out the usual bunch of weeds trying to smother them (and everything else here).

Being good weeds themselves, the Nigella have been growing and forming flower buds since then, but the big question for my experiment was "which colours will I get?". I suspected they might all default to just one colour. Well, so far the answer is two colours! White and blue, but there are lots of buds left, and for the perfect result to replicate the original seed packet I bought in early 2013 is that I'll need some pale pink ones, too.

I like everything about Love-in-a-Mist. The flowers are pretty but a bit weird with that ferny lacework (the "mist") around them. And the flower buds are definitely up there on the "ain't nature wonderful" scale of interesting things that only nature can design.

I'm happy for these flowers to become an established, self-seeding part of our garden. The more life goes on, the more I see all the annually flowering established plants that pop up every year as gentle, pretty little companions in my life. 

They mark the coming and going of the seasons (and the years), and it's not just the flowers that we notice. It's their whole life cycle, the emergence of the buds, the blooming itself, their inevitable fading and, in the case of several of them, their modest green summers as leafy people quietly building up energy reserves for their big show next year.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Changing of the guard

Well, me and my big mouth ... there I was blogging recently, saying our lovely little goldfish, Paul, was coming up to his sixth birthday. I'm very sorry to tell you that Paul didn't make it that far. He passed away soon after that, and since then we've been galvanised into giving our water garden a makeover, and bringing a new family of goldfish into our garden. (We've buried Paul in the garden, with a little metal plant marker with his name on it serving as his gravestone. RIP Paul.)

We've expanded our water garden so it comprises two large ceramic pots filled with potted Louisiana iris, and each pot requires some resident goldfish to munch on the mosquito larvae that will inevitably be laid there. So, it's two goldfish per pot ...

Here they are, still in the bags I brought them home in from the aquarium shop. In the bag on the right are Tony and Carmela, and in the bag on the left, AJ and Meadow. Late night TV crime show fans might recognise the names, but if not, doesn't matter. It'll be hard to tell them apart, but Tony is the one with the black markings. The others are innocent.

If you're thinking of goldfish for outdoor ponds, the cheap and
common "Comets" are said to be one of the best choices. At
Marrickville Aquarium these four cost $14. They're tough,
they eat mozzie larvae, they can cope with murky-ish water,
and they aren't rowdy.
Paul came to us from the Marrickville Aquarium shop too,
so maybe Meadow and AJ are his distant cousins?

The basics of adding goldfish to an outdoor pond are straightforward.

1. I filled both pots up with water on Wednesday this week, and so the water itself has had a few days of sunshine (and a bit of rain) to evaporate off chemical residues of chlorine and other stuff that is added to a city's drinking water. Apparently adding little goldfish straight into tapwater will kill some of them. So, "age" your water for a day or two.
2. Leave your new goldfish in their bag of water, and sit it in the pond for at least half an hour, or more, so the temperature of their water slowly becomes the same as the temperature of the pond's water. Then gently release them into the water. That's it.

Here's both ponds with their bags of goldfish. Tony and Carmela
are in the bigger (and new) pot on the left, and Ajay and Meadow
are in the original, smaller pot on the right. 
Here's a slightly fuzzy shot of Tony and Carmela moments after
they were released from the bag. They stayed down the bottom
of the pond for a few minutes, and now they are swimming
around, exploring their strange new world.
Last but not least, I've installed an ACME cat frustrator for
our local fish-obsessed pussy cat, the eternally unsuccessful
Wile. E. Coyote, who hunts by night and never catches a thing.
Just as in my previous posting, where I talked about the second generation of curry leaf trees starting its career here, now I'm introducing the second generation of our mozzie munching goldfish. The times they are a' changing...

I hope they enjoy it here, and I certainly hope that they are here for at least six more years, hopefully. Come to think of it, I guess I could say the same for me!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Curry leaf tree, the second generation

There we were at our friends Jolanda and Paul's place enjoying another great meal out in their backyard. In one corner of their very nice garden a young curry tree is doing really well. It's such a graceful, delicate tree, and useful in the kitchen too, where both Paul and Jolanda create many superb Asian meals. 

We used to have a curry tree, had it for a dozen years, but in the end it just got to be such hard work keeping it happy in its pot, and so we removed it.

Since then we've missed not having one here, and sitting there at Jolanda and Paul's recently both Pam and I realised we just had to get another curry tree for our garden. And so this is the story of what we plan to do with our second-generation curry tree. 

However, to start things, the best thing to do is just enjoy the beauty of this leafy, small, subtropical tree from Sri Lanka and other subtropical parts of southern Asia and southeast Asia.

A few years back Pammy did a beautiful botanical
illustration of the leaves and seeds of our curry tree.

And here's the original, first-generation
potted curry tree in its prime. I bought a
little white stone Buddha statue to sit at
the base of the tree. He had a lovely view
of the rest of the garden from that spot.
Our old curry tree even was the perfect spot
for two orchard butterflies to engage in a bit
of baby-making, captured in this photo by Pam.
The leaves of the curry tree have the mildly spicy flavour that
gives it its name, and its uses in the kitchen. From my various
recipe books, it seems to be used in two different ways. One is
as a fresh herb, chopped and added to the pot usually towards
the end of cooking. The other way to use it is to toss a whole
stem of leaves into hot oil at the very beginning of cooking
a curry, to flavour the oil. As far as I know, the berries aren't
used (or at least I've never seen a recipe using them).

One important little thing to note about curry tree berries is that they sprout very readily indeed, and they are also very attractive to birds. The downside of this is that in the right climate (usually subtropical) the curry tree can become a weed that invades bushland zones. Birds eat the seeds, poop elsewhere, and another tree grows. Certainly in our backyard, we were forever pulling out curry tree seedlings that sprouted from these fallen berries.

So now we've decided to grow another curry tree, but this time round I have some plans to keep things a bit more under control. Here's the new baby, or should I say, babies.

Baby curry trees, by the way for Australian gardeners, are now starting to show up in nurseries, as now is a good time of year to plant one. The one I bought had two stems, and when I unpotted them, they fell apart easily as two completely separate plants, with hardly any entangled roots. I repotted them as separate plants and will grow these on for a month or two and keep the healthiest one, and give away the second place-getter.

Curry trees are easy to grow here in Sydney. For a pot all it needs is a biggish pot, good quality potting mix, and lots of sunshine. Also put the pot up on pot feet so excess water can drain away. Slow-release fertiliser is ideal for all potted plants, and I just scattered some of the stuff made for citrus trees around my curry tree.

Your main problem is likely to be excessive happiness (not yours ... the curry tree's). Our first curry tree is the only plant I have grown which actually cracked the sides of its pot by growing too vigorously. The pot just fell apart, and you could see these muscular curry tree roots poking out the sides once the ceramic slabs fell away. So I repotted mine into a bigger pot, and it grew like mad again. These are such vigorous plants when happy!

I dare not put one in the ground in our small garden, however, as they will eventually grow into a tree 4-6m tall (14 to 20 feet), and we don't have space for something that big.

And so, like Blackadder's loyal sidekick Baldrick, I have a cunning plan. I am going to treat our second generation curry tree as a rather large bonsai.

For this year and the next, I will let it grow on until it's happy in a larger pot than the current one. However after that, I plan to remove our happy little curry tree from its "final" sized pot and cut its roots back, cut some foliage off the top, then repot it into fresh potting mix – but keep it in its "final" pot. I think spring will be the time to do that. I guess I'll eventually find out whether it will work.

My plan is to keep it down to about half the size of our original curry tree, which was about 1.75m tall (from top of potting mix to the top of the canopy of leaves) and it lived in a large pot 60cm across at the rim. If all goes according to plan, we'll have all the curry leaves we need for the kitchen, and a much smaller potted specimen for the garden in a pot that's about 40cm across, with a plant less than 1m tall.

At the same time, I'm planning to do exactly the same thing to our potted bay tree, another fabulously useful plant for the kitchen, but also another vigorous growing thing that needs a lot of taming, root trimming and repotting if it is going to stay here for many years.

Wish me luck! 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

So much happening

I am in awe of those garden bloggers who keep on slogging away, doing a posting every day. Me, I'm down to one posting a week at best, but at least I never seem to run out of things to write about and photograph. (I'd quickly run out of things to post about if I had to do one a day!)

However, right now, I could do a blog posting every hour, because there is simply so much happening in the garden right now. And don't be surprised if, over the next few weeks, I do individual blog postings on each of the plants I'm about to show you.

Just to make things easier for me to wrap my little head around the topic, I've divided this "so much happening" post into little categories.

First up, the NEW ARRIVALS

Not one but two new curry trees. I bought one
pot and realised it had two plants in it.
Fortunately their roots weren't entangled so
potting them up was easy. Expect a curry
tree blog posting soon, folks.
Our good friend Jolanda has a superb little
patch of mint bush by her front steps, and we
loved its purple spring flower show, so we have
planted three of these behind our geraniums. 
Pammy brought home a Pieris japonica in
flower a few weeks ago. We left it in its pot while
it was bloom, and now it's in a bigger pot and,
judging by the new growth, is happy enough.
Hardly the most exciting purchase, two punnets of blue flowered
salvias, but about two months from now they will start to flower
and they won't stop till autumn is almost over.


Lebanese zucchini, the light green, chubby smaller ones. So far
so good, with the first flower buds (boys only) showing.
A miracle! Our unproductive passionfruit vine, now into
its third summer, has for some reason decided to produce
quite a few flowers lately. Could this be our first decent crop?
Here's last season's crop in action. Yes, folks,
one flower and one - just one - fruit. This has
been my biggest dud of a food growing story
in 25 years, but I am determined to see this
thing finally produce a decent crop.
Just had to include this fragrant, lovely thing.
The more I water my potted rosemary bush,
the happier it seems to be. While in the ground
it's a classic "waterwise" plant that can survive
on rainfall alone, in a pot it's a thirsty sook.
Another miracle! Our Serrano chilli bush has
somehow survived winter. I gave it the mother
of all cutbacks five weeks ago and for a while
it didn't look like it was going to bounce back,
but now it's producing foliage and flowers,
and so I think it's a red hot goer for this summer.
And the first strawberries of the season are starting to appear
and colour up. As is a tradition in our garden, our strawberry
plants come up as "volunteers" out of our homemade compost.


The Louisiana iris is slowing down, but there
are still new blooms to enjoy every morning.
One of the greatest concentrations of onion weed and oxalis
in the Southern Hemisphere – our succulent patch – has been
cleared (temporarily I am sure) of the weeds and a new (and
prettily ineffectual) layer of pebble mulch has been spread.
At least it will look very nice for at least the next month!
Just like our sooky, thirsty, rosemary plants, our supposedly
waterwise trailing pelargoniums absolutely love a drink.
It's an Australian thing, I guess, once someone arrives in
Australia they just seem to start drinking more ...
Be careful if you are buying pots of Lamb's Ears (Stachys).
This is what one 3-inch pot planted in Spring 2014 has
turned into, without any encouragement from me. This lovely
grey beauty looks like it's about to flower, and from previous
experience seeing it in flower in other gardens, bees love this
plant's flowers in a big way, so I am hoping it will attract a
zillion bees that will then fertilise all my passionfruit flowers.
And last but definitely not least, what I like to
think of as "Pammy's office garden" has survived
the winter and is now ready to enjoy the summer.
Why "Pammy's office garden"? Well, all the
plants here have done too well inside the house in
Pammy's studio/office, getting too big for their
pots, and so when that happens they are retired
out here, where they are then cared for by me.

As I mentioned long, long ago at the beginning of this posting, don't be surprised if you find yourself reading another posting on these individual plants over the coming weeks.

I never go out into the garden thinking "gee, what am I going to blog about next?". I never know in advance. Something just catches my eye, or happens, or doesn't happen and most of my blog postings just write themselves, and are mostly already written in my head before I ever head back inside. But this morning it was a simple case of "so much is happening" that I realised I had a good dozen or more blog posting ideas all at the same time.

Spring is like that ... so much happening in the garden. It's wonderful.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Louisiana's razza-matazz

Watching the build-up is half the fun of owning gorgeous flowering plants. Once you learn how they grow and flower from previous years' experience, you recognise all the tell-tale signs that "they're doing it again" for several weeks before the big colourful show finally gets started.

For me, that's almost as much fun as enjoying the flowers in bloom ... but not quite. And on this mild and sunny early October morning our Louisiana iris 'Gulf Shores' is putting on its wonderful annual show, and as the plants have multiplied, there's even more to enjoy this year.

Each big bloom is fairly short-lived but is then replaced in
quick succession by flowers lower down on each flowering stem. 
Here's what I mean. You can see the unopened
flower buds patiently waiting their turn, while
the show-off higher up on the stem gets all
the morning glory.
Here's where the plants grow, in two water
pots. I'll get back to these a few photos further
down in this posting.
The foliage itself is strappy and lush. The flower
stems start erupting from the leaves about
a month before flowering.
The flower buds themselves are well worth
admiring. The fine sheath around each tightly
wound cluster of petals looks like plastic wrap.
Like many blooms, after all the weeks of the
slow build-up, flowering itself is sudden.
Yesterday there was just one bloom open, and
this morning there are nine. The whole show
doesn't last that long, just a few weeks at
best, but the Louisiana iris show is now, for
me, several weeks of fun watching the
build up, followed by a couple of weeks of
delight when the razza-matazz happens. 

Now, back to those water garden pots, for those who are interested in such things ... 

How's this for a dodgy, improvised solution? The Louisiana iris plants in the original blue ceramic pot were just growing like crazy by the end of last summer, spilling over the sides of the pot, sending out roots looking for new soil to colonise. So I took all the plants out, divided them up and replanted them into two large, wide, shallow bowls. These plants need to sit in a permanent pool of water that's just lapping under the sides of the bowls. To get the water height right around the pots, I sit the pots on house bricks.

Just think of "river's edge" or "banks of the bayou" with water lapping around the roots but not submerging the foliage, and you'll get the idea. Purely as a stop-gap arrangement, just for a week or so until I could find another suitable glazed bowl, I pressed into service one of my plastic gardener's trugs (for Aussie readers, they're less than 10 bucks each at Bunnings). Well, eight months later I still haven't found a suitable ceramic bowl, and the trug is still holding water and doing fine. Being plastic, it won't last forever, so I will get my act together one of these days. 

As for potting up the plants, I treat them like other water plants, making up a mix of 50:50 garden soil and cow manure, and planting them into that. Ideally for acid-loving Louisiana iris, use acid garden soil (pH less than 6.5), and the cow manure is also considered an "acid" fertiliser.

I then cover the soil with small pebbles (to keep the soil surface stable), and scatter slow-release fertiliser pellets on top. "With all that cow manure as well, isn't that too much fertiliser?" you might ask. A Louisiana iris specialist nursery owner once told me that "Louisiana iris are the teenage boys of the plant world," saying it's very hard to over-feed them. And she has been proved right so far. These plants love life, love food and seem quite happy here.

And finally, last but not least ... you might notice there's wire mesh draped over the sides of the blue ceramic pot. This is purely there to make life even more difficult for the cat I have named Wile E. Coyote.

Our goldfish, Paul, who has lived outdoors in the blue ceramic pot, turns six years old next month, and so he's an experienced campaigner, especially good at staying away from Wile E. Coyote, who, true to his 'Road Runner' cartoon namesake, never, ever gives up. 

We find Wile E. out there near Paul's fishpond on many mornings. Pammy has even spotted Wile E. perched up in the nearby grevillea, sitting on a branch looking down into the pond, contemplating the seafood meal he never manages to enjoy. Pammy says "he looks like a leopard sitting on that branch." Alas, the closest he comes to that dream of catching his prey is his nightly bowl of canned Whiskas. Bad luck, Wile E!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hot properties

Any doubts that summer is on our doorstep are about to melt away today, with a maximum of 35°C forecast. So, early this morning I was out there with the hose, giving everything – especially the seedlings and the crops – a good soak with the hose. The garden was looking so nice, freshly watered in the morning light, that I thought an official 'mid-spring panorama' courtesy of my iPhone was in order. 

Click on the photo below and it should come up much bigger.

While watering the garden I got to that patch of bright red on the right side of the panorama, where our 'Big Red' geraniums hold court. "Do you need a drink?" I asked of them, and of course I knew that whether or not they had a drink, they'd still be a commanding presence this evening.

However, I am an inveterate garden-waterer, and so I gave the geraniums and their little pink-flowered mates, the two Westringia 'Elizabeth Bough' in front of them a good drink. 

This is the first year of flowering for these westringias, and they're putting on a delicately pretty show that teams nicely with its more raucous friends behind.

The common name of this native plant is "coast rosemary", named for the shape of the leaves, which do resemble rosemary in shape, if not in flavour or culinary uses.

This little thing will, if the label is correct, grow to about 80cm high and wide. We'll see ... as plant labels are more guesswork than science.

And so as this forecast hot day warms up, I know that the least of my worries today are these two waterwise beauties. I didn't really need to water them at all. Both plants can survive on Sydney's plentiful natural rainfall. It's just that I can't help myself. I love watering the garden ... it's pretty much the best thing about being in the garden in the morning.