Thursday, May 17, 2018

We have a fernery!

Here we are in the middle of autumn and the summer has finally passed, although it put up a hell of a fight this year, not wanting to end. We've experienced a very warm April indeed, making autumn a lot shorter, and now we're in May, still getting lots of sunny warm days, but at least the mornings and evenings are nice and chilly. 

And I am pleased to report that our fern garden out the front of the house has become nicely established. All inmates are healthy and happy, and to celebrate the successful completion of Phase One of the fern garden project, this afternoon we introduced two caretaker gnomes to oversee the coming winter. (Hopefully, if you click on the photo it will come up a lot bigger).

Hard to see, are they? Of course they're hard to see, because we've put them well into the centre of the front garden, where there are lots of spider webs to deter cowardly thieves.

Now, I don't want to be too snobby about gnomes, because we love all our gnomes equally in our little Utopian democracy here in Amateur-Land, but not to put too fine a point on it ... these are our two most expendable gnomes. Or if you prefer, our worst gnomes, but I really don't like that kind of ugly language.

The gnome on the right, with the bright red hat, is Stumpy. He suffered a nasty accident in the garden shed a while back, while being repainted. Stumpy fell about three feet off the painting table onto the shed's hard concrete floor, shattering his left hand and his left foot into so many tiny little fragments that there was no hope of gluing anything back on. So I have buried Stumpy deep into the mulch, where his missing limbs can't be seen. Should a thief ever crawl through the spider webs to nick Stumpy, I hope the sight of his ghastly handless & footless condition gives them a fright.

The gnome on the left, Spruiky, is a very humble plastic one, an advertising press release handout from Seasol, with the inscription "Don't Forget the Seasol" plastered on the rock that he's sitting on. He might lack the class of a true concrete gnome, but he seems to like his work and I hope he has a long career as a fern caretaker.

Now, all the fern garden has to do is survive winter, get seriously bigger next spring, and I think I can call our little fern garden project a success. Thank you Pammy for suggesting it in the first place!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Good old Rain Gods!

Thank you Huey! It is so nice to wake up this morning to hear the gentle hiss of rain on the tin roof that covers the back part of our house. And to look out upon the garden and see the pathway covered in a shiny film, I know that finally the plants are getting a proper watering, a soaking of their souls that a mere gardener with a hose and a watering can cannot hope to provide. 

Pictured below is soggy land this morning, bathed in the dull light of low grey clouds.

I am sure I must have mentioned it a few times before on this blog, but I love watering the garden. Even though we didn't have much of a garden in the home where I grew up, as a little boy I still loved watering the garden. All we had then was two hydrangeas, a lawn and a row of unruly oleanders that didn't need any help whatsoever from wistful little boys. But for me even then, watering the garden was a lovely time of quiet contemplation and daydreaming.

Despite my lifelong love of watering our garden, some mornings I do get a bit sick of it. As the weather cools down (finally!) this autumn, the garden's established plants don't need extra water, but we always have some new crops that need a regular drink. And so yes, some days even one of my favourite things can become a chore. Sigh. Being a grown-up can be so boring sometimes ...

And so here's truly heartfelt thanks to our Rain Gods, for doing a wonderful job and also letting me have the morning off.

Friday, April 20, 2018

A good wall pot plant

Keeping a diary is something I have always been very poor at. A classic gift idea, diaries. I have been given many of them over the years and I've hardly opened or used any of them. I realised, however, some time ago, that this gardening blog of mine is probably my best effort at keeping a diary, and lo and behold I've been doing it for almost 10 years now. 

And so when I checked back on my blog/diary to see when my Vriesia bromeliads last flowered, it will come as no surprise to find out it was also in late April. In fact, a scan down through the years shows they flower like clockwork ... "hmmm, the bromeliads are flowering ... it must be late April".

Here they are settling into their work this sunny April afternoon. Now, I was expecting something weird to happen to their flowering time this year, as the weather here in Sydney sure has been weirdly hot and not remotely like any Autumn that we know of. But as far as these clockwork flowers are concerned, their inbuilt calendar isn't going to be upset by some stupid heatwave. Hell, they're from Central America anyway, and they love heatwaves.

Now, the purpose of this rare update on my blog is simply to let you know that if you have a boring brick wall somewhere, especially one that gets no direct sunlight at all, then these are ideal plants to plant in a wall pot.

They need very little maintenance, apart from the occasional sprinkle with the hose (and not too much, either). My wall pots are completely under cover, under a covered pergola, so they never get rained on. So, I just make sure that every few days when I'm watering the vegies, that I sprinkle my bromeliads as well. As their pots sit right above the spot on the wall where my hose reel is mounted, I never forget to do that job.

The plant label name of this commonly available bromeliad is Bromeliad vriesia, and it sometimes is also labelled as 'Isabel'. Its flowers should last for a few months at least. And when they're not flowering, at least the potted plants offer up a lot of pleasant, green, strappy foliage.

Prior to these bromeliads I had tried some other plants in wall pots and they were either too much work or at least didn't thrive. These guys loved it from Day One.

The best way to kill a bromeliad, if you really enjoy plant murder, is to place it in full sun (you cruel beast), or overwater it (I also suspect the over-waterers also own fat cats and fat dogs, but that's just a theory). 

I plant mine into a 50:50 mix of orchid potting mix and normal potting mix, and that's all they need. I never fertilise them, and I water them very sparingly in winter, but more often in summer.

They do have little water "cups" at their base which some people become obsessed about and constantly fill up, most of the time killing their bromeliads at the same time.

If you're in Australia and reading this blog now, in April or later on in May, these plants might be in flower at your local garden centre. Maybe. Perhaps. If you're lucky. They should be. They're a great plant for apartments and balconies, too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Climate comparisons

Just saw this little map online and thought it was worth sharing. It's a map of Australia that has been divided into the climate zones of other regions around the world, just for comparison. 

The matches aren't perfect, as the little notes panel mentions. For example, rainfall amounts may differ, but the comparisons are handy for readers internationally who understandably might struggle with figuring out if their own garden's climate is similar to that of the Aussie blogger they sometimes read.

Here at Garden Amateur in Sydney, we're comparable to Argentina — hola Buenos Aires! — while up in Brisbane it's more like Sao Paulo. Melbourne is Fremont, Perth is Los Angeles, Darwin is Mumbai ... etc. 

The extra map below is of little Tasmania, which is not to the same scale as the map of Australia. This always happens to Tassie. It gets its own separate panel (much like Hawaii and Alaska do in maps of the USA). It's a very pleasant climate down in Tassie. The winters can be chilly but they do have the loveliest summers, especially on the east coast, which is comparable to Southern Chile.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Potting up an art class

When a boiling hot day is forecast, do all your gardening as early as you can in the morning. Then, as a well-earned reward, enjoy a pot of tea. And so here I am, sipping tea and blogging late on a very warm Sydney Saturday morning in March.

It's been a fun morning too. I've been selecting and potting up a bunch of succulents from our succulent garden, in preparation for the watercolour workshop on cacti and succulents which Pam will be running on Wednesday, March 28. I'll add in details of the class at the end of this posting. If you're in Sydney and interested in joining Pam for a relaxed, enjoyable few hours of watercolour painting, get in contact with her. And beginners are welcome!

Here's the first tray all potted up ...

And here's the other one.

As you can see from the photos, there's an amazing variety of shapes, colours, leaf forms and plant forms. To cover the whole variety found within the amazing world of cacti and succulents, you'd need a thousand trays. So we just kept it down to a couple of dozen little pots, as a beginner's representative sample. Here's a few of them ...

As soon a people clap eyes on this Kalanchoe 'Copper Spoons' they want one. I've done some other postings on Copper Spoons before, such as here. They are very easy to propagate, and autumn is a nice time for them, as they are starting to colour up right now with that coppery glow.

I'm a sucker for variegated leaves (here and there, not everywhere!) and this little Crassula looks like the perfect subject for the soft tones of watercolours. 

We have far more succulents than cacti here, so recently I popped down to our garden centre to see if I could add a few cacti to the mix, and I fell in love with this cute little spiky person — I've named it 'Arizona' — and its spherical pal.

So here's the info you need if you want to book yourself into Pam's March workshop on cactus and succulents. As well as the monthly workshops, every Wednesday morning she also holds a casual drop-in art class at The Bakehouse Studio in Marrickville.

Also, at the same venue, The Bakehouse Studio, she and ceramicist Lisa Hoelzl host a regular Open Studio for painters, potters and ceramic artists every Friday. 

Pictured below is one of Pam's watercolours, of cacti growing against an old church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

54 Renwick Street, Marrickville NSW
Wednesday from 10am – 1pm, March 28

For more details, visit Pam's website at

Or, for info and updates,

And her Instagram feed at @pamelahorsnellartist

Friday, February 9, 2018

Summer holiday

Time does bounce along, doesn't it? It's been more than two months since I last posted anything here, and that's because I've been on a summer holiday of sorts.

No, we haven't been travelling much, apart from a short holiday break down on the NSW far South Coast. Instead, I just haven't felt like adding anything to my little gardening blog for these last 10 weeks. The garden is in summer mode, that is to say it's as thirsty as can be, every known pest and bug is doing its best work right now, and this little gardener is merely helping where he can, watching it all unfold.

So here's a little update on just a few things happening here, more for the record that any earth-shattering insights.

In its first full summer here, the baby frangipani which I've dubbed 'Serendipity' isn't breaking any records for speed of growth, but as you can see, it's a beautiful bambino.

Sometimes you have to measure success in terms of sheer survival, and this Pieris japonica is looking remarkably chipper despite having to spend summer in hot and humid Sydney. There's new growth everywhere, and last spring's dead bits, which I simply cut off, are well hidden by greenery. One secret to keeping this alive on scorching hot days when the temperatures reach into the high 30s and beyond, is that I have made a little shade cloth cover for it and pop it on whenever the weather forecast is unfriendly to delicate petals which would rather be under a cool forest canopy, if given the choice.

I'm not sure what the minimum allowable size is for a meadow, but I am hoping that four feet by four feet makes the cut. Even if not, I am also considering this a minor success, at least as a lesson in persistence, which I do believe is a close cousin of pig-headedness.
These simple little daisies are Zinnia linearis, grown from seed. I couldn't find the seed I wanted from any seed growers online, or in garden centres, so I bought a packet on eBay and they were complete duds. Hopeless. Nothing came up. So I tried online again, and second time round a grower in California came to the rescue, and her/his seeds sprouted well. I was hoping for yellow flowers as well, but I am OK with white and orange only.

I do love the way bromeliads quietly go about their business of producing outrageous flowers. This one is tucked behind the Thai lime tree and I like the way that it's in a "backstage" position in the garden and so very amazing when you finally discover it.

Meanwhile, in the vegie patch, all is quietly ticking over, and my only problem is the usual one of the backyard vegie gardener: Gluts.

This is far too much silver beet for two little people to eat. We've been harvesting lots, but that only makes it grow more, and quite frankly we're a bit silver beeted out. 

We also do not suffer from any shortages of purple/white striped/speckled eggplants.

I am currently fooling myself into believing that I've finally got on top of radish production, sowing just half a dozen seeds at a time, at spaced intervals of time.

However, I have saved the best for last. Well, it's not the "best" for everyone, but it is the one summertime gardening project which I've been most interested in. It's the little fern garden out in front of the house, sheltering under the dappled light of our wide-spreading Cootamundra wattle "ground cover" tree.

Last time I posted about this the begonia cuttings were just bare stalks stuck in the ground. Now they've sprouted their spotty leaves (which are a lovely deep red on the underside). The native violets are winding their flowery way here and there. All the ferns are well and truly alive and growing, and so too are the spidery trails of Spanish moss.

It's still quite hot and humid here in Sydney. In fact February is generally a rotten month to be a gardener here, so I don't expect to be very busy.

However, I was getting a minor sense of guilt over my slothful ways, and so by posting at least something, anything, I hereby announce that the 2018 garden blogging year has started, and all is well.