Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Rudd garden

Not sure if you've noticed or not, but apparently there's been this thing called a Global Financial Crisis (GFC) happening lately. It's a bit like swine flu, but economic. With both epidemics, most countries have had their dose, or are still doing so. Some have had it worse than others, and each country is responding (and suffering) in its own way.

As for the GFC, our Australian Federal Government, led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, decided to stimulate the economy with a cash injection by giving every taxpayer a cheque for $900. The idea was for us to spend the money like good consumers should, and stimulate the retail economy in particular: ie, buy a plasma TV, get the kids new sneakers, mend the fence, etc. Well, I decided to spend a good slice of my little undeserved windfall on my mother-in-law, Val, who I've blogged about before, here. The garden at the back of her house is basically fine, but it needed a makeover. Pensioners aren't taxpayers and lots of them didn't get any cash. That offended my sense of fairness!

So, a few weeks ago I spent a day cutting back some of the overgrowth in the back garden, and then we paid a guy to haul it all away (and he also did a bit more cutting back and carting away). Today, I removed all the weeds from the pathway at the back, covered it with new woodchip mulch, planted two roses, lavender, roses and various herbs. Here's the 'rose garden' section at the end of the day.

The mulch on the paths is chipped hardwood that will last for ages. It will break down slowly, but the odd annual top-up should keep it in good nick.

It's midwinter here in Australia now, and so the garden centres are full of bare-rooted roses. These are two really lovely hybrid tea roses: 'Just Joey' an apricot coloured rose with a superb sweet scent, and 'Friesia', a pure yellow rose with an equally wonderful perfume. I have a standard 'Friesia' in my own garden and our hallway smells so nice when Pam cuts a few roses and pops them in a vase. Pam's mum Val is also a great one for filling vases with blooms from her garden and I'm sure she'll love both of these.

Val used to have a lavender bush, but it was a victim when the new green steel fence went in. So I bought her a French lavender plant. Unlike Italian and Spanish lavenders, which tend to flower mostly in spring, and English lavender, which simply dies in Sydney, French lavender flowers all-year-round in Sydney. It's a wonderful plant with one little problem: it's fairly short-lived in Sydney – only four or five years, on average, in my experience. They usually cark it during the worst of February's heat, rainfall and almost subtropical humidity.

I also bought Val a rosemary bush, as she's a keen cook and needed a new bush to replace an old, tired one which had succumbed to too much shade from the overgrown trees which we cut back a few weeks ago. Both the rosemary and the lavender are in pots, as the soil is pretty horrible clay here. Roses don't seem to mind clay, but lavender and rosemary don't thrive in heavy soils. They're better off in pots.

And so here's the colourful scene late afternoon (sorry about the shaky focus, but the light was low and the camera's shutter speed was down to super slow by the time I got around to happy snap time). I actually ran out of redgum mulch and had to dash off to the garden centre for more, and it was only when I emptied this stuff out of the bag that I realised what a truly lurid red colour it is. Val loved the colour (or at least was good enough to say so!), but it should lose its ultra-saturated colour over the next couple of months' worth of Aussie sunshine. No colour lasts in the Aussie sunshine, especially anything red.

Val's a very good cook and loves to use herbs in her soups, casseroles, salads and with her vegetables, too. Her herb pots needed some TLC, so from left to right: thyme, mint, curly parsley and chives went in, along with new potting mix and some fertiliser.

And finally, Pammy asked me to see how the japonica was going and take some snaps of it. These are also known as flowering quinces, and they flower here in winter. So far it has barely started flowering. For some reason this was the only cluster of blooms, but I thought I'd finish off with them simply because they're growing at Nanna's and they're lovely, just like Nanna!

A funny little postscript to this garden – it's famous! Well, if being mentioned in the newspapers means you're famous, then it's famous. Val was at a community event attended by various politicians, including the Federal local member (Julie Owen) and a senior Federal minister (Jenny Macklin). The pollies were asking the audience what they were doing with their $900 cash stimulus cheques and Val (never a shy one at community gatherings such as these, which she often attends and sometimes helps to organise) piped up with her story of her son-in-law spending some of his cheque on her garden makeover. Always the one with a good one-liner, Val added that it had been named "The Rudd Garden".

Well, the local media, presumably bored to tears by the not-very-exciting community meeting with the Federal pollies, decided that "The Rudd Garden" was the best story to come out of the event, and so it made into a couple of the local papers as the lead item in the report on the visit by the Federal Minister!


Jess said...

Just wanted to say hi and that I enjoy reading your blog about gardening in Australia (the only one that I subscribe to currently!).

I just wondered if you have some advice for me - I live in Brisbane and have mainly a potted garden = some outdoors, mostly indoors. For the outdoor herbs etc do you think I should start fertilising now, or wait until the end of Winter?
Thanks very much!

Jamie said...

Hi Jess

Glad you like the blog. Herbs aren't doing a lot of growing now, so it is a good idea to wait until the end of winter for the outdoors herbs, although in Brisbane that would be some time in August, I guess. The general principle with feeding plants is to keep on checking them, and if they show a glimmer of new growth, fertilise then. You generally can't force a plant to grow by fertilising them.

Some herbs, such as parsley, basil, mint and coriander, like to be fed monthly (I use Nitrosol), but others such as sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano need not much food at all - just some slow release pellets (I use Osmocote) once a year seems to keep them happy.

The main thing that herbs (apart from mint) need is sunshine,and that's often the problem indoors – not enough sunshine. Good indoor herbs are mint and chervil, both of which actually do best in semi-shade outside.

Good luck!

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