Thursday, April 6, 2017
Well, I was going to write this blog posting two days ago, while the rain was still falling. And I was going to start it with something like "it's been 900 days since the rain began falling, or at least it feels that long ..." but things got away from me.
And now today the sun is out, the sky is blue and Huey the Rain God is having a good old chuckle at my expense. Very funny Huey. Love your work.
But truly rooly, the non-stop month of rain that was March 2017 was getting to me, as a gardener. There wasn't much to do, I found that I was getting out of the habit of doing my normal "morning rounds". It was so wet outside that I stayed inside and just looked out, most mornings.
All that is over now. It seems to be turning into a more normal April. Our local newspaper informed me that Sydney has already had half its 12-month average of rainfall in the first three months of the year. So a not-so-wet April and May would be a welcome gift to autumn.
As you can see from the panorama shot above, it's not as if the garden is suffering from all the rain. If you look closely it's not thriving especially well, either. That only happens when there is plenty of sunshine, as well as lots of rain.
Our newest jewel, the baby frangipani, is doing what all good Sydney frangipanis do: it's coping well with whatever Sydney's weather gods dish out.
Various flowers have taken a beating in the constant rain, but all foliage is thriving. A long time ago in this blog I spent about 20 photos and even more words documenting the various different shades of green and greeny-blue/bluey-green we have growing here, and this one photo is a summary of that notion. A beautiful colour, green.
The lemon grass loved the rain, but it would rather be somewhere warmer, like South-East Asia. This lovely plant has become on of my favourites in the garden, once it has grown its summer crown of fragrant, willowy straps.
Every year in autumn the grapevine growing on top of the pergola belonging to our neighbours, Michael and Soula, finally scrambles its way onto our olive and murraya trees, but this year is its best effort ever. The vines have made it over the top of the olive tree and are now cascading down the other side. In late autumn Michael always cuts the vines back, and I get out my extension loppers and trim off the remnants dangling over my side, so order will be restored in winter.
And so the seasons roll on, but I would like it known that the first month of autumn 2017 has been a soggy one. I'm looking forward to getting back into the routine of doing the morning rounds. First item on the agenda is pulling weeds. Lots of weeds.
Posted by Jamie at 8:29 AM
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
One of life's little mistakes that most of us make repeatedly is to assume stuff. Assume X will be OK. Assume Y will happen. Assume Z will get in touch about W ...
And in the case of my little bonsai curry tree project, I just assumed on Day One that the seeds would sprout easy-peasy. After all, they have a "weedy" reputation, so I assumed the least of my worries would be getting the seeds to sprout.
Now, as a bit of a sworn enemy of assuming stuff, I like to look things up, to do my research. And so the next morning after planting my curry tree seeds, I actually went onto Google and looked up "Curry tree seed". Panic!
Well, more accurately, "unjustified panic!". A few of my Google hits told me that sprouting curry tree seeds was "unreliable", "sporadic", "inconsistent" ... you get the picture. Iffy at best, and so what you see below is my calm reaction to panic. I planted eight more seeds in a plastic seedling punnet.
I needn't have bothered to panic. Most of them are coming up, but not all of them. To refresh memories, I first posted about my curry tree bonsai project on February 24, then I went into panic mode on February 25, and here we are three and a half weeks later, happy as can be with six baby curry trees poking their little green heads above the soil.
I am not sure why the seeds in the plastic punnet are doing better than the one in the bonsai pot itself. All are in the same sheltered spot in the garden and all are receiving identical amounts of rain, warmth and sunshine. So I am adopting a "survival of the fittest" policy for the contender.
A month from now there should be one or two seedlings that are doing best ... and that does encourage me to think that maybe having two identical bonsai-from-seed projects might not be such a bad idea, either. I haven't really got a clue what I am doing, apart from very very basic knowledge, plus Googling, so two pots doubles my odds of success, sort of.
Gardening is a bit awful like that. You get to cull the weak, decide the fate of other plants. There's just a tinge of being a conscientious medieval monarch to it all, don't you think?
Posted by Jamie at 9:19 AM
Monday, March 13, 2017
Our garden faces the morning sun, and this being a day when rain is around, the sunlight surged through the clouds in an ever-changing glow of pink. Pammy called out "come and look at this" and over the next few minutes — it's a brief show — the sky turned from a murky mushroom pink then swapped from murky to musky, then someone in the heavens switched on all the power at once as the sun crested the horizon, and for those last few minutes of the morning show we were on Mars.
Nice start to the day. Do your work, rain gods!
One thing our wonderful digital cameras cannot do is capture the subtleties of morning light. They turn the dusky pink sky almost white as they over-compensate to light up the deep, deep greens at ground level. The only evidence of our rosy awakening in this morning panorama is that our path and mulch look pinker than usual. As they say "you had to be there".
And yet as we looked out at our lush late summer garden, Pammy and I discussed how many different shades, tones and intensities of green that we could see as well. Tens, hundreds ... an infinite number? Unknowable, but a pinky-green morning is a good way to start the day.
Posted by Jamie at 8:03 AM
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Bees can "photobomb" my flower photos any time they like. There I was quietly trying to capture what it is I like about my lovely blue salvia flowers, when the Pollen Collector flew into the shot. Pure luck on my part, of course. All the various times I intentionally try to photograph a bee, I mostly manage to capture a blurry bee's bum zotting off to its next bloom.
However, photobombers aside, all I wanted to post about is that on this sunny Saturday, after two weeks of constant showers, I think our salvias are at their deepest bluey purple right now, which is why I grow them every year ... just to see that colour again.
I do plant annual blue salvias every year. They're so reliable, and I love their shade of blue. And when you look at their blooms close up, they're complex things, with a furry blue bee-anointer atop each bloom.
There's so much to like about blue salvias. They're trouble-free in Sydney; they flower for months and months; once the baby seedlings are established I don't bother to water them at all, as Sydney's rain is enough for their needs. They stand up about 60-70cm tall, rising above the herbs and vegies growing around them. And bees love them.
This is a more typical photo that I manage to take of a bee at work in the flower patch. There's lots of them about this sunny day, and I always like the way they tolerate me.
Little do they know or care that I'm the dude that planted the salvias for them. I'm just that pest with a shiny photo-taking thing who they wish would go away. And so I did, leaving them to enjoy their sweet work.
Posted by Jamie at 1:54 PM
Thursday, March 9, 2017
Pammy and I have a little standing joke that we always share with her lovely Mum, Val, every time we go out together. At some stage in the evening one of us, or all of us together, says "You're doing very well for your age, dear!"
Where that came from is one doctor who condescendingly told Val at each visit, with a pat on her hand, that she's doing very well for her age. Yes, it's true. She's a very active octogenarian, with a sharp mind, a great sense of fun and a full social life, and when she's relaxing at home she loves to do a bit of gardening.
Where she lives, in her own townhouse within a well-run retirement village in Sydney's north-west, her front porch and rear balcony are both filled with pots of healthy plants. She's always been a green-thumb, and happily says that the secret of her success is talking to her plants and sharing with them her love for life.
A few years ago, being a community-minded person who has always been on the front lines of getting things done locally for charities, the arts and other community groups, she and several other residents of her retirement village convinced the management that setting up some garden beds for growing vegies would be a great idea.
And so it has proved. It's been a roaring success, and today I popped up with a box full of new seedlings to plant in Val's plot for autumn. So here's a quick look at what gardening should look like in every retirement village around the country.
So, today we planted out some seedlings of Cos lettuce, curly parsley, chives, red-stemmed shallots, perpetual spinach and some more flowers — this time dianthus. We scattered around some fertiliser, watered everything in with seaweed solution, then spread around a layer of water-saving mulch. Minutes after we finished, it started raining ... so hopefully that is a good omen for this autumn crop.
As far as I am concerned, everyone involved deserves congratulations for what's happening here. The whole of the retirement village is beautifully landscaped and the team of gardeners here do an excellent job of keeping everything looking healthy around all the buildings. They also happily chat with residents such as Val about the plants around her own townhouse, and are very receptive to her ideas about the plants growing there.
So it came as no surprise that a village management with its own commitment to beautifully landscaped gardens would happily embrace the idea of a community vegetable gardening area.
As residents have seen the success of the vegie plots, more and more of them are wanting to get involved and start their own patches.
One of the extra benefits of having a community garden, apart from the healthy produce, is that so many residents enjoy the chance to be outdoors, having a chat with their neighbours, or helping others out — and so the combined effect of just starting up a few garden beds is a very healthy one for body, spirit, mind and community.
Posted by Jamie at 3:19 PM
Saturday, February 25, 2017
It's a wet weekend at the end of February, and so that means it's ideal citrus feeding weather at the ideal time of year. I just did my lemon, lime and potted Thai lime trees, and garden smells glorious, although I'm not sure if Pammy and the neighbours totally agree.
Use whatever you like to feed your citrus. I prefer Dynamic Lifter (which is pelletised chicken poo, hence the aromatics) but there are lots of different citrus foods you can use.
The reason for the wet weekend being ideal is that in a perfect world, you should apply fertiliser to damp soil, then water it in afterwards. There was rain overnight, the soil was nicely damp, and as showers are forecast for the rest of the weekend, the rain gods can do the rest. All I had to do was fling the dung.
Most fertiliser packets/bags actually come with instructions on how much fertiliser to use, so I suggest you follow those. It's hard to overdose with an organic food like Dynamic Lifter, but half a dozen handfuls scattered all around under the tree's canopy will do it. And concentrate most of the food on the ground that's under the outer edges of the canopy, not near the trunk.
And if the mulch has broken down a lot, it's also an ideal time to top up the mulches, because like citrus, mulch goes down best over damp ground.
Don't you love the way rainy weather is the ideal time to be out in garden? I do ...
Posted by Jamie at 8:39 AM
Friday, February 24, 2017
I'm not an especially spiritual person, but I do believe in the power of coincidences to affect your life. Here's a simple gardening example ... there I was watering the garden (and that means making sure to water the pots in particular) when I looked at my potted curry leaf tree and felt a sense of regret that I hadn't ever got around to growing it as a bonsai, which I had promised to do on this blog about a year ago. Within one year it had grown too big for bonsai ... another plan that didn't happen.
A few hours later I opened my email inbox and there was a very nice email from a reader, Rehana, asking whatever happened to my curry leaf tree bonsai project. It was meant to be. Another coincidence working its magic. And so here is Day One of the curry leaf tree bonsai project! Thank you Rehana not only for your enquiry but also your exquisite timing.
Doesn't look like much at the moment, but patience is required. I have decided to raise my bonsai tree from seed, and keep it bonsai-sized from a very early age. Under the potting mix are two ripe seeds, hopefully doing their thing.
The potted curry tree is full of ripening seeds now, and unfortunately for the environment, these seeds need very little encouragement to sprout. Birds eat the seeds, then crap them out over bushland several kilometres away, and we have an environmental weed problem that gets worse the closer you are to the curry leaf trees' preferred subtropical climate. In Australia, these trees are becoming a problem on the NSW North Coast and into coastal Queensland.
This is our too-big potted curry leaf tree. Healthy and happy, it's already too big for its pot but I don't want to encourage it by putting it into a bigger pot. What I plan to do is cut the tree back fairly hard in early spring. Curry trees don't like Sydney winters, but they love our spring and summer, so if I cut it back in early September it will put on a lot of new growth in the months after that.
I'd hate to give you the impression that I know what I'm doing here. I don't really. It's all likely to be a big, mistake-filled experiment that might work out well, or might not.
All I know is that curry leaf tree seeds sprout very reliably and easy, which is why they are regarded as a weed. This is our second tree. We had our first one for many years in a pot, and it just grew and grew, and when its berries dropped to the ground they sprouted without any help from me. I pulled most of them out of the ground and composted the seedlings, but I also gave away one or two potted-up babies and they are now in friends' gardens, looking great and doing well.
So for this bonsai I hope the seeds will sprout. I will pick the healthiest of the two seedlings, and regularly clip it back and keep it small. My "starter" bonsai pot is too small for the eventual bonsai, so I will look around for a nice "big" bonsai style pot in the meantime. The challenge will be to clip back the bonsai plant both top and bottom: leaves on top and roots down below. Now I've made a start, I will post the occasional update on how it's all going. Wish me luck!
Posted by Jamie at 7:16 AM
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
I'm not sure about you, but coming up with a plan can take me ages, and then at the last moment, just before I'm about to implement the agreed PLAN A, I come up with what I convince myself is a much better PLAN B, and that's what happened with our plans for "what to do with all that Spanish moss" on the weekend.
To cut to the chase, here's what we did, pictured below. We've stuck it on a wall, or rather, hung it on a wire trellis on a wall.
The wire trellis is very solid, mounted on bolts drilled into this brick wall, with the wires fairly taut. And so I've just stuffed goodly handfuls of Spanish moss behind the wires, and draped the tresses over the front. We've already had two rainstorms and a fair bit of wind, and almost none of it has blown off, so it's "so far so good".
Our Spanish moss grows like crazy here, and that's because I water it a lot. We draped some light strands in our olive tree a year or so ago, and with regular watering they are now wonderful, thick manes of the stuff. As the the wall of moss is next to our thirsty lemon tree, I am sure I won't forget to give it a good, light spray whenever I'm in that part of the garden.
The only way we'll know if this idea works is if it works over a decent period of time. If it does, expect an update in a year's time. And if it turns out to be a dud, I'll let you know about that, too. But somehow I think it's going to work ... I'm a bit tragic like that when when I come up with my last-minute PLAN Bs.
Posted by Jamie at 1:39 PM
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Labels: frangipani, Frangipani Serendipity, Grevillea 'Peaches and Cream', how to plant a small tree, Plumeria
Well, it only took two months to get our latest frangipani planted. I thought it would take longer, being a pessimist about my workrate during summer, but the last two cooler mornings have seen the whole job done.
Regular readers might remember this blog posting from December, when Pammy came across this very nice little baby frangipani tree at a local ceramics gallery, where she conducts painting classes. Home it came to our place, I blogged about how wonderful it was, then followed the hottest, most humid and nasty summer for many years. In the last two days the weather looked a lot better, so I got to work.
(I like to do my summer gardening very early each day ...)
If you haven't planted out a baby tree from its pot, the basics are simple.
Water the pot first and let it soak for a while, to loosen the root ball, while you dig the hole. The hole itself should be no deeper than the pot itself, but twice as wide. Don't add any fertiliser to the hole.
Take the plant from its pot, very gently! Sit it in the hole and do a few checks.
Make sure it is facing the way you want it to face.
Next, make sure the soil surface of the pot's soil is at least level with the surrounding soil. (Lay down a straight stick/rod to check your levels are OK.) Lower than the surrounding soil is bad, slightly higher is OK, level is fine too. Then fill in around the hole with the surrounding soil. Lightly tamp it down, but don't pack it down. And never cover the pot's soil with garden soil.
Did I say don't add fertiliser? Well, don't. Then water it generously from a watering can, to which you have added some seaweed solution (here is Australia it'd most likely be either eco-seaweed, or Seasol). That's it.
Now, finally, a photo to finish of the dead grevillea, and its empire of Spanish moss, because we've come up with a wonderful idea for where to put the Spanish moss (if it works). AND, I've also started up a bonsai growing project that has been on the back burner for quite a while. So expect a few more February postings from this little amateur gardener.
Farewell old Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream'. Sad ending, but you were a wonderful native garden shrub, stunningly colourful, a mecca for squabbling honeyeaters, and in your demise, a hauntingly memorable display stand for our beloved Spanish moss. You will be missed!
Posted by Jamie at 1:46 PM
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Labels: chile. chile paste, chilli paste, chillies, food garden, free seeds, Sambal oelek, Sambal ulek, seeds, supermarket produce
Everyone loves a bargain, and the closer you get to paying almost nothing, the better the buzz. Bargains are different from freebies, of course. For a bargain, you have to pay at least a few cents, and today's gardening bargain probably has cost me at least 25 cents. I'll be coming back for more.
Way back in 2016, this little gardener bought some of his favourite largish red chillies at the supermarket. I saved the seeds from one of them, popped eight plump seeds into a punnet of potting mix, all eight came up in a week or so, and now, a few months later, I am harvesting my bargains.
I like these bigger than average chillies (they're about 3 inches long). They still have a chilli kick but it isn't too savage. And as I think I've mentioned before in this blog, I like to just toss a whole chilli into a tomato sauce and let it slowly infuse what the Italian restaurant menus like to call "a touch of chilli". Civilised heat.
I've always been fond of growing chillies, and if you are a beginner gardener they are one of your best bets for success. Chillies love life, and most of the time you should succeed in getting a colourful crop.
Yes, they do need a sunny spot, and yes, they like some fertiliser and a steady supply of water when they are young plants. The only extra care my chilli bushes received was the support from a garden stake. As the fruit grows, the plants can become top-heavy and blow over easily, so tying the trunk of the bush to a sturdy little stake will let the bush get on with the business of producing a bumper crop of fruit.
I love how chillies turn from green to red, almost in the blink of an eye. A few days ago all my chillies looked like this: very green.
And now they're turning into that vivid red. This one would have been green two days ago, and tomorrow it should be entirely red.
So, what do I plan to do with my glut of chillies? They keep quite well in the crisper section of the fridge, for a week or two, so some of them will go there for general use in all sorts of meals.
Another big batch will become my "Sambal Ulek" chilli paste, which is an Indonesian basic ingredient (alternatively spelled sambal oelek).
At its simplest, Sambal Ulek is just minced chillies, preserved with some salt and vinegar. Whizz it all in a blender, pop it in a clean jar and it keeps in the fridge for several weeks at least.
If you go searching for Sambal Ulek recipes online you'll find people adding in extras such as garlic, ginger, lemon grass, shrimp paste, fish sauce, vegetable oil and sugar (as well as the salt and vinegar).
And opening up the spice-stained pages of my beloved bible of Asian cookery, Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook, she suggests substituting tamarind liquid for the vinegar, but her recipe is just salt, vinegar or tamarind liquid, and chillies. Nothing else.
However, to keep things basic, try this Sambal Ulek for starters. Aim for 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon sugar per cup of chopped chilli, and enough vinegar to turn the fairly stiff chopped mixture into a paste in your blender (so just add a tablespoon of vinegar at a time until it's a paste — for 1 cup of chopped chillies this should be 1-2 tablespoons vinegar). Oh, and whatever you do wear disposable gloves from beginning to end when handling big amounts of chilli. They prevent regrets.
Some people add a surface covering of peanut oil to the paste in the jar, to help seal it up. Of course store it in the fridge at all times, and if it ever changes in the way it looks, that's your big signal to be sensible and throw it all out.
Posted by Jamie at 8:53 AM
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Lots of Sydney gardeners will tell you that we don't really have four distinct seasons here. We kind of spend most of the year in a lovely, mild warm season, then it gets cold for half a dozen weeks in the middle of the year, and horribly hot and humid for another half-dozen weeks around this New Year time of year.
In the same sense, we also don't really have one particular "peak" season, as cool climate gardeners tend to enjoy each spring. We enjoy several little peaks every year, and right now, in the middle of the horribly humid and hot time, when we're almost tropical in every way, well-watered Sydney gardens go berserk. Which is what our garden is doing now.
So here's three "panorama" style wider-angled photos of midsummer madness in Sydney. Hopefully if you click on each photo, it will come up a lot lot bigger.
Using my iPhone's nifty "Panorama" function, this photo starts on the left with the rather ghostly looking sight of Spanish moss covering the bare branches of our recently carked-it ex-grevillea. On the left is a patch of cucumbers, chillies and assorted flowers. Big frangipani rear left, and on the right is a lemon tree, succulent patch, basil, Thai chilli, lots of geraniums and assorted others.
Taken from the other end of the path, this is the succulent patch, and beyond that are basil, shallots, geraniums behind, and mint bushes behind the geraniums.
The dominating, broad-leafed thing in the left foreground is the "Cute Cucumber" which has spread far and wide, and produces about four or five new cucumbers to harvest every day. The yellow flowers are hardy marigolds, the white and reds and New Guinea impatiens, and the blue is salvia. Herbs include chives, garlic chives, thyme and the lovely big lemon grass in the background.
And so there you have it. A well-watered Sydney garden loving the heat.
One handy tip right now for Aussie gardeners is to keep on watering pots well, especially on days when "a few showers" are forecast. Usually the showers do manage water the soil a bit, so you might not have to use the hose, but these light showers hardly do anything for potted plants, which can dry out amazingly fast in the summer heat. So I water my pots every day, unless it is truly pouring rain.
Posted by Jamie at 10:40 AM
Tuesday, January 3, 2017
In a word, "YUM"!
*What on Earth is he on about this time?*
See the previous post — here. I made my first-ever batch of dill pickles. I've had to wait a few days, and today it passed the taste test very well.
However, I do tell a fib-ette (which is not a full-blown lie). I am not a huge fan of dill pickles. For something to qualify for an exalted "YUM" it probably needs to be made of potato, but that's another blog posting altogether. However, I can report that my dill pickles taste like real ones, and I intend to eat some more over the coming days and weeks.
Posted by Jamie at 6:36 PM