Saturday, June 26, 2010

Floating an idea

I had one of those Homer Simpson "D'oh" moments recently, when I saw a plant in another garden growing as it should grow, unlike my version of the same plant. It was in a pond that I saw some Nardoo (Marsilea drummondii), our native floating fern, doing what it should do. Float. On the water. It's a simple game. Float on water = floating fern. Trouble was, my floating fern didn't float. It kind of hovered over the water. D'oh!

Problem solved, here is my nardoo, floating on the goldfish pond like it should.

And here is nardoo doing it all wrong a month or so ago. The problem was simple. I had not put the pot deep enough underwater. That's all. The pot was sitting on a brick, with the top of the pot about 2-3 inches below water level. Wrong! I took out the brick, sank the pot to the bottom, so it was 6 or more inches below the water level, cut off all the foliage, and started again.

While it was a bit of an anxious wait to see whether my drastic action worked, it took only four weeks for the first new leaves to float into position, just like they should have all along. But now all is well with the world, the fish seem to like their new floaty cover, and I've learned something.

And so the moral of the story is to be a gardening stickybeak – you might just learn something useful. Now, I'm sure many blog-readers from around the world won't be familiar with the word 'stickybeak' but it's a fine old Australian term that's fairly close to the English 'Nosy Parker'.

In its worst sense a stickybeak is someone who pries into others' lives, but in the grand sense of the word it just describes what we all can't resist doing: having a look at something, whether or not it's often over a fence, through a fence, or from a vantage point.
Stickybeak often = get a life.
Stickybeak occasionally = national pastime.

And that's what I was doing, walking around the local area stickybeaking at others' front gardens, and in one I saw the nardoo floating serenely, just as it should. That ended my stroll in fact. Headed for home, 'fixed' the nardoo problem then and there. Good, productive, stickybeaking stroll, that one.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A parallel universe

I've always taken the view that there's so much happening in my little garden that it's a complete world on its own, if you bother to look. It's a parallel universe so big that I'll never really get to know all of it in my lifetime. And now my darling Pammy has given me the incentive – and the equipment – to explore this 'other world', the micro world of nature.

It's our 21st wedding anniversary today, and Pam has bought me my first microscope. I've always wanted one, often talked about getting one, but never quite got around to buying one. And this one is perfect. It's a "Kid's First Microscope", and that's spot on, because I'm just a big kid at heart.

I love the packaging. As soon as we unpacked it we immediately set about examining seeds of parsley, lettuce and silver beet in various magnifications. Amazing detail, such complex structures I never imagined were there. And then we looked at each other romantically and said "pond scum!" Borrowing a blob of water from our outdoor potted water garden, we were amazed to see the micro wildlife swimming around on the glass slide. Yikes!

Suitable for ages 9 and up. Yep, I qualify, with several decades to spare!

Pammy is a truly gifted when it comes to buying presents. She's a legend in her family for her gift-buying imagination plus her attention to detail. The gift papers are always something special, the cards equally so. This beautiful carrot paper wrapped up my microscope box.

And this lovely lemon paper wrapped up a couple of little extra gifts for this boy who loves gardening, and his girl.

While I don't imagine that I'll be able to take any photos of the amazing things I am already seeing in my tiny parallel universe, I know that the insights which will come to me via Pammy's microscope will somehow end up in this blog.

Even without a microscope I've always taken the view that there's a million fascinating little things happening out there in the 9m x 7.5m of our little garden, but with the new close-up viewer I had better upgrade that estimate to a zillion.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Goldilocks rain

It began as all good Goldilocks rain should. Early in the morning, before sun-up. We could hear it on the roof. Then it had its moments, falling ubundantly for a little while, without causing any problems. And then the sun came out. Goldilocks rain – not too little, not too much, just right, with sunshine soon after.

To qualify as a Goldilocks-pleaser, there'd have to be sunshine lighting droplets on pretty plants like this floating native water fern, nardoo.

And for another thing it would be heavy enough to thoroughly wash all the foliage, too. I'm sure that nature isn't meant to have jets, cars and diesel trucks throwing soot into the air, so all the gunk and grime of the city needs to be washed away for plants to be happy and breathe freely. At least that's what I think.

These poppies have just been fed, and so truly A-Grade Golidlocks rain falls the day after you have fertilised some plants, and they just start to grow like crazy when that happens.

Of course a bit of rain does knock over some floppy-leafed people for a short while, but it doesn't bash them up. This little moisture-loving lettuce leaf is probably giggling with pleasure about the rain this morning.

Out at the rain gauge the reading was excellent, a classic Goldy number. 8mm. That's one-third of an inch or about 30pts on the other scale. Definitely enough rain to soak into the soil, but not enough rain to wash seeds away or hurt any delicate petals.

We can't get the rain we want when we want it (ie, 10mm every Tuesday and Thursday nights, between 3am and 5am), as that would make things far too easy. But there's no reason why we can't get the occasional dose of pure Goldilocks rain in between the drizzle, the downpours and the droughts.
This morning, I loved your work, Huey!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Creche expectations

It's vewy, vewy quiet here in the plant creche I call Amateur Land at the moment, but some of the babies are stirring while others are still sleeping.

It took four weeks snoozing underground before the curly parsley seeds 'hatched' and now about three weeks later they are adorable toddlers. They're getting on with the business of growing, helped along with some smelly organic liquid plant food. I think this is perfectly appropriate, as toddlers and pongs are natural companions. I hear it builds up their immune systems, or so they say.

The cruelty is over. For the last few weeks I have been pinching out every aspiring poppy bloom-ette, telling the precocious plants that there will be plenty of time for blooming later on, and that they ought to just get on with the business of growing roots and leaves, thank you very much, Class of 2010. Of course they all squeal "But we want to party now" but I revel in my role of party pooper. You can read all about the art of poppy pinching here. Works a treat, every time. This morning I gave them a dose of flower-boosting fertiliser, and in the next couple of weeks Pammy should see her first poppies of the year.

The baby spinach isn't in the ideal spot, but I am afraid that is its bad luck, as I have nowhere else to plant it! However, so far so good, they've sprouted and grown well, and once the shortest day of the year is over in a few days' time the spinach should start enjoying something closer to the amount of sunshine it needs and should belt along.

Finally, babies of an altogether more experimental kind. If this works properly (and we'll know that in about three months' time) I'll bore you silly with a step-by-step posting, but for the meantime I'll just add in this pot of baby Japonica cuttings, to complete the Creche theme for this posting.

Japonicas also also known as flowering quinces. They're deciduous plants which bear simple, red or pink flowers on bare stems in late winter (before the leaves reappear). They're also spindly and thorny (a bit nasty to bear near in fact) but unfortunately for me Pam likes them, of course for the pretty winter flowers in particular.

In fact Pam especially likes the plant I took the cuttings from because it's one from her childhood. The cuttings are from the plant at her mum's place, and as her mum is selling her house and moving on (after almost 50 years there), Pam asked me to strike her a plant from the original. Couldn't say no to a request like that, could I?

I have read that Japonicas can make nice bonsai plants, and so that's my five-year-plan (sounds a bit Stalinist, that?). Hopefully I'll be able to slowly turn one or two japonicas into a mini thicket of them in a pot for Pam. At the moment they are just sleeping babies, and I have my fingers crossed that at least one of them will come good, hopefully a few more than that.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Daisy's in Heaven

Avert your eyes, sensitive souls, for I have some bad news, amid some good news. The good news is that Daisy is in Heaven (where it doesn't rain at the wrong time of year), but that means the bad news is that Daisy, the beautiful little golden daughter of Mrs Lithops, didn't quite make it here on Earth.

Now, while I am not a believer in blame games, I do think Huey the Rain God has not covered himself in glory with this soggy little episode. Biblical levels of rain, starting just the day after Daisy first peeped out, then continuing for days and weeks thereafter. Downpour after downpour – she didn't stand a chance, really.

Several readers have made supportive comments, willing Daisy along, and I know that they will all share my disappointment. Yet life goes on.

I am pleased to report that Mrs Lithops is taking the bad news well and is getting on with life, which is both sensible and all she can really do. A real trier, she assures me she'll back back next autumn with another little daisy for the world to admire, and I don't doubt her determination one bit.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A break in the rain

As it turns out the break in the rain only lasted till early afternoon, but at least the sun came out on a Saturday morning, so it was agreed by all that we were all enjoying some quality time with the Sun God.

Sydneysiders will know what I'm talking about. Gosh it's been wet lately! While I can't quite come at trainspotting as a hobby, I have been a sucker for rain gauges for some years now. According to my records, since May 18, when the heavens opened and haven't stopped, we've copped 262.5mm of rain, or 10.3 inches in the old money. So, in just 17 days we've received a bit more than one-fifth of our total annual average rainfall. Can't complain, especially after these years of drought.

Anyway, with the break in the rain the sun came out and I quickly realised that some of my plants are simply loving it! Here's a quick lap of the highs and lows of life here in Soggy Bottoms.

Orchids aplenty. Dozens of spikes are up, out and flowering. What a show!

The brodiaeas (spring bulbs with blue flowers) are all up in unison.

Lettuce seeds have turned into lettuce seedlings.

Mrs Lithops is almost there with Daisy. This is turning out to be a difficult delivery, isn't it?

The thyme is outrageously happy, fragrant and healthy.

At the other end of the scale, the Scadoxus has definitely died down for the winter. It should be back in bloom in spring, if last year's effort is repeated.

And finally, even the doormat in front of Pam's studio at the bottom of the garden is sprouting plants! She's delighted, and not at all deterred by my comment that they're probably just weeds. "They might not be" she said with motherly optimism. We'll see. I'm not allowed to touch them.

As I mentioned at the start of this little blog, the sunshine lasted till early afternoon. It's sprinkling again, more rain is forecast, and this wet patch definitely isn't over yet. It's good fun for the rain gauge people, though. We email each other with readings! It's bearable excitement, but I think the dry, drought-hit soil is very happy - it's still saying 'more drinks please'. Chin chin!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Noisy distractions

Yes, I could easily blame the weather, which has been as leaky as a wicker roof lately, but that would be unfair on my old mate Huey, the Aussie Weather God. No, I only have myself to blame for a quiet patch both in the garden and in the blogosphere. Oddly enough, I've actually been quite noisy during this recent quiet patch. Mechanically noisy, that is. Yep, the Death Wish has taken hold and this old gardener has bought himself a motor-sickle (with Pam's blessing, surprisingly enough – what a gal!). I once did earn my living riding and writing about bikes, before I became a genteel gardener, so a regression into some kind of wistful remake of my wild youth has always been on the cards.

And it's quite a nice way to do it, in fact. A lovely Italian Moto Guzzi 750.

It looks new but it's not, but it is only one year old. The previous owner likes polishing bikes in the same way I like growing plants.

Well, I think it's pretty. The paint is pearlescent white, the chrome suitably gleamy. The sound is a deep baritone burble. And it's not garish and insect-like, like so many modern bikes. It has a simple elegance that works for me.

Talk about distractions. Last Sunday, the heavens stopped leaking for a few hours. I could have gone out into the garden and thinned the seedlings, pulled weeds, picked up fallen fruit. But no, as the weather forecast for the next few hours was fine, I put on the helmet, headed south and rode off into the distance, making a deep burbling sound as I did so. I was back for lunch, mind you, but what a lovely distraction after so many years away from motorcycles.

Now my gardening is going to take on a completely new dimension. I am going to have to redesign my garden so it's easier, less time-consuming to care for. I need time on sunny weekends to spend time out on the highways. Yet I still want a lovely, productive garden.

Now, this might not make too much sense, but spending so much time in a garden, as I have done in recent years, almost makes gardening too easy. If I couldn't grow nice plants given the hours I spend out there, I really should give up. No, the new challenge is to grow nice plants with half the available time. It's a bit like a "gardener's challenge" which this whole new arrangement offers up.

I guess this probably does mean a lot less garden blogging, but I don't plan to give it away completely any time soon. I'm quite intrigued by the idea of what lies ahead. And so if any of you are regular readers and you notice that there aren't anywhere near as many posts as there used to be from wordy, long-winded old Garden Amateur, now you know why. I'm probably out on the road somewhere, listening to an Italian Moto Guzzi sing its beautiful highway Opera.