Saturday, October 30, 2010

Loving the Mist

"Hey Pam, the first love-in-a-mist flower is out," I cheerfully called to my darling girl on Friday morning, to which she replied: "It was out yesterday". This is of course not the first time that has happened. She's always first to notice things in our backyard. An artist by training, she's just more observant than I am, I guess. But I'm delighted to see it blooming, even if I am a bit slow off the mark. Growing annual flowers from seed is as much fun as growing vegies from seed. I'm loving it, and that's how I've grown this love-in-a-mist – and best of all, they were free seeds.

There's a couple of different flower colours happening here, as my seeds came from a free packet of Yates Persian Jewels, which is a mixed colour range.

This is a different blue compared to the one above.

And this one is a blue and white two-tone, quite dazzling.

Viewed side-on, you can see the 'mist' of fine green foliage surrounding the flowers. It's this partial covering of the flowers which gives the common name of 'love-in-a-mist'. Botanists call this plant Nigella damascena.

Standing further back to give you an idea of the whole plant, it's a green cloud of very fine foliage. There are flower buds everywhere, but only three flowers are out now. What you're looking at is about six or seven plants, grown in a cluster. They blow about in the slightest wind, reach about 60-70cm tall when standing up, but several have been so bashed about by winds that they have flopped over and are leaning on neighbouring plants, but all are starting to bloom now.

The little flower buds are quite attractive in themselves, and after flowering finishes the large seed pods offer some last-gasp visual interest as well.

I planted my free seeds in early May this year, and so it has taken them six months to slowly progress through all the stages of growth until flowering time now in late October. They haven't been grown in perfect conditions, either. It should have been sunnier but all the sunniest spots were taken. So it has been a good trouper growing and flowering so nicely, despite everything.

I'm actually attracted to the fact it's one of those neglected 'out-of-fashion' plants, an old-style cottage garden plant. I won't grow it every year but I will definitely sprinkle around some more love-in-a-mist seeds again at some stage in the future, as it's a wonderfully pretty and delicate little thing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mrs Lithops' change of life

As far as the Mayor of Succulent City, Mrs Lithops, is concerned, I am that dreadful paparazzi man. Every time she looks around, there I am with a camera pointed at her, invading her privacy, mercilessly capturing her at moments of crisis, tragedy and now at that delicate phase known as the change of life.

No woman wants to be photographed when she's not looking her best, and at first glance Mrs Lithops looks so crook that Pam and I actually thought she was headed for heaven. But hooray, we were very much mistaken, even if my camera and I were unwelcome.

Take a peek from the 'helicopter' view and you can see that Mrs Lithops is merely discarding her winter wardrobe and is quite sensibly putting on her summer frock.

The side-on view tells the story. A beautiful young Lithops, the latest thing, is on the way. As it turns out this takes a while to happen. We first noticed Mrs Lithops' seeming 'decline' on October 7, and it's only today, October 25, that the transformation is complete.

This is October 15, and one side of the old overcoat is threadbare and about to become rags.

A few days later and the youngster is just bursting with good health and ready to party, impatient to shrug off its elderly chaperone.

But the wrinkled, withered old party-pooper hung around for another week.

That episode is all behind her now. She's a young, optimistic Lithops looking forward to a hot dry summer, just like the ones back home.

I haven't had the heart to let the kid know she's in humid coastal Sydney, where the downpours are frequent and February a sauna. I'll let the other succulents fill her in on those facts of life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Christmas comes early

My Christmas Bush insists that the biblical scholars have got it all wrong. It says Jesus was born sometime in mid-November, not in late December. But my Christmas Bush is a strange little thing. Most of the other native Christmas Bushes here in my home state of New South Wales do their 'blooming' in December, when most other people agree Jesus was born. But not my ornery little bush. It's a non-conformist. It's a November flowerer.

Here it is this morning, just starting to colour up. Its formal name is Ceratopetalum gummiferum, which is why everyone calls it Christmas Bush, because it's easier and it is when this thing usually flowers. That blush of pinky colour belongs to the bracts around the flowers, which are white and tiny. In that sense it's like bougainvilleas, in that it's not the flowers which put on the colour show, it's the bracts around the flowers.

Maybe the reason my Christmas Bush's timing is all out of whack is that it's growing in a pot, not in the ground. Could be. But it has long been one of my 'hospital patient' plants, a struggler for its first few years and misshapen now in its adulthood. Pam has been nagging me to get rid of it and buy a nicer shaped plant for years, and I always agree and then do nothing about it. So it's hardly a handsome plant but it's my patient and I love it when it flowers. And this year's dense covering of tiny white blooms promises that in about a month from now it will be a glorious red-coloured thing. (Perhaps mine celebrates the Russian Revolution of November 1917 and is actually a Communist Athiest plant? That could explain a lot...)

The pinky tinge that is dotting itself here and there all over the plant gets redder and redder as the weeks go by.

As well as being a native Australian plant, it's also a local from here on the New South Wales coast, where I live, so it's no wonder it likes it here. I love this transitional, colouring-up phase the most, to tell the truth. When it's in its colourful Christmas/Communist red glory it has lost the delicacy it possesses right now.

Speaking of colourful glory, this is a shot from last year, to give you an idea of the colour that the bracts develop into. This isn't 'full bloom' either – with all those white flowers still waiting to redden up, it's only half-done at this stage.

In December the florist's shops are full of Christmas bush sold in billowy bunches to be popped into vases for a brief few weeks around Christmas. And then the show is over until same time next year. Pam is one of our local florist shop's best customers, and she always comes home with armfuls of Christmas bush. While it looks wonderful it's not the greatest cut flower, as it doesn't last all that long, so I'm content with my revolutionary dissenter's season of glory, which lasts about five or six weeks, from these pink-blush beginnings in late October until its decline at the start of December, the time when all the true-believer capitalist market Christmas bushes are just getting into their stride.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chilling out

I was looking at the little spinning globe thingy on the top right side of my blog, the one which records little red dots for all the different places where visitors to my blog have come from. I love the fact that there are dotty people on every continent dropping in here occasionally. I sometimes wonder how people in Uzbekistan, Alaska, the Congo, central Saudi Arabia and all sorts of very different places could end up here, but they do, and I love it. So, as I explored the world checking out visitors I then spun the globe around to the view from way, way, way Down Under and – shock, horror – there are no gardeners in Antarctica!

And so I was wondering if anyone out there has a relative working somewhere in Antarctica who could do me a little favour. If you contact them via email, could you ask them to drop by and visit Jamie at Garden Amateur, so I can have a nice red dot on that crisp, white background, to complete my "red dots on all continents" collection?

I guess I could do a posting on "fun with algae" or "hardy mosses for windy spots" or "coping with frosts below -50°C" to increase my chances of a spontaneously generated Antarctic dot, but I hope the quicker route of appealing for readers to email relatives serving on an Antarctic scientific station might do the trick.

In the meantime, a big THANK YOU to all those dotty visitors out there, wherever you are, including Antarctica. I plan to keep a lookout for red dots way, way down South.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Set and forget

Before I launch into the pleasant discovery of the day out under the olive tree, I would like to send a heart-felt gripe to Huey the Weather God for the dreadful fizzer that was yesterday's non-deluge. 5mm of rain – call that a deluge, Huey? Well, to be fair, several towns in southern Australia were flooded, one dam burst, and there was wet and windy mayhem in many places. Then powerful winds woke me up at 4am this morning with every window in the house rattling like we had a whole cemetry-full of hungry zombies outside, wanting to get in. Grrr, Huey, I hate windy days!

Where was I? Oh yes, 'set and forget', the title of today's blog posting. This is a plant that I barely remember setting, and which I completely forget forgetting, it was so forgettable. Guess what? It's in bloom, it's happy and it will stay happy provided I keep on leaving it alone.

Here is the happy camper in its element. Its name is probably Sarcostemma, if my succulent book is right. It was given to me some years ago and no matter where I put it, it was a miserable thing most of the time. Its last assignment was hanging basket duty, where it failed to thrive, with bits breaking off repeatedly. However, it wasn't dead, so I just put the basket in the crook of the olive tree at the very back of the yard and completely forgot about it. And that means no watering, no feeding, no visits – not even a friendly 'hello' from me. It was the Invisible Plant.

And then Pammy came in this morning with that "I've discovered something" gleam in her eyes, and guess what? The Invisible Plant is flowering!

The flowers might be small but, as you can see from this branch, it's bubbling with buds and good cheer. And the whole plant itself has grown, almost doubling in size. 'Inspired neglect' is what I call this gardening technique.

While I was taking some photos of the Sarcostemma, it occurred to me that there is a lesson to be learned here, and it's this: if there is a plant in your garden which has not responded at all to your well-intentioned fussing and caring, try plan B - ignore it completely. Forget about it. Put it somewhere where Huey will water it for you, but apart from that leave it to fend for itself.

This option of course does have a higher fatality rate than fussing and caring, but it does have its successes, too. Especially with succulents.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Before the deluge

I'm addicted to the weather bureau's online weather radar, and today the forecast is basically "deluge headed your way". It's one of those big big ones, with about half the continent covered in swirling grey clouds. While this is great news in the long run for our dry rivers and farms, over the next 48 hours it's bad news for delicate flowers, spindly seedlings and people planning outdoor weddings. And so I thought I'd pop out this morning to capture the scene here in Amateur Land, before the deluge.

Yet another of my Photoshopped panoramas, if you click on the photo it should come up much bigger on your screen. While it isn't exactly a carnival of colour, there are lots of things in flower now. I've been a bit distracted with work and other projects these last few weeks, and the garden has largely been looking after itself quite nicely. A few close-up details are in order.

Oh goody, another excuse to show you my Louisiana iris again. Each flower lasts only four or so days at best, but as it fades another bud rises, opens and takes its predecessor's place. I found the plant label in the shed, and this is Lousiana iris 'Gulf Shores'.

Just behind the Louisiana iris, the Grevillea 'Peaches and Cream' is coming back into flower, after a major cut-back two months ago. It's lovely the way the flowers change colour from one end to the other.

All the brodiaea bulbs are flowering now, and while they're too sparse to be spectacular the colour is complex and their sheer unusualness will do me.

When viewed from above you can see the brodiaea's star shape most clearly. If I grow them again next year I'll plant them twice as densely as the bulb packet said to plant them.

Growing close to the brodiaeas, the love-in-a-mist is almost there. All this flower bud has to do is survive the forecast strong wind and rain over the next couple of days. The 'mist' part of its name is of course the fine green 'hairs' which surround each bloom like a veil.

Needless to say the poppies are still popping up daily, now past their fourth month of doing so. The pinky-purple coloured ones on the left are self-seeded 'wild' poppies that always make a welcome appearance in the second half of the poppy 'season'.

We have two wonderful pelargonium plants here, both of which are actually grown for their foliage, but right now they're enjoying a little burst of spring flowering. This pale-leafed pelargonium is a shocking garden bully, muscling in on everything else in the local area. Perversely, it loves being cut back and grows back vigorously every time. It's one of those 'beat me, whip me' kinds of plants.

On the other side of the garden, the lemon-scented pelargoniums are putting on a very good effort at flowering. You can smell the foliage of the plants from a few feet away, and brushing against it while you're weeding or working on a neighbouring plant is like stepping into a perfume shop. But right now it's sending up little clusters of pink blooms which dot the plant, rather than cover it. A major wind-and-rain storm last spring belted the daylights out of this long-stemmed plant, but true to the indestructible ethos of the pelargonium genus, it bounced back, as it will this time if the winds knock it around.

And as combatants in any contest in the modern media like to say, "bring it on" (the wind and rain, I mean). I do enjoy a good storm and lashing rain, and even if the garden gets knocked around, watching nature grow back after a battering is almost as fascinating as watching it basking beautifully in the sun.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

In their own peculiar way

Everywhere I look now there are flowers making an appearance, such as the Louisiana iris only yesterday, and my little succulent patch inmates are joining in on the fun, but in their own peculiar way.

Looking like confectionery from another planet, gasteria blooms dangle from long arms which arch over the other succulents. And if you think the blooms are peculiar, wait till you see mum.

Mrs Gasteria does seem like a stern matriarch but she's really quite the nurturing type, sending up weirdly glorious blooms above while sprouting new Gasteria babies around her skirts. She might need repotting in a year or two, she's doing so well.

"Pucker up!" say the dainty little bells of what I suspect is a graptoveria, but succulent labels being what they are (totally useless, merely saying 'succulent' and nothing else) I am guessing what this plant really is. This is it pictured below.

Wouldn't it be totally unhelpful if at the nursery all plants were simply labelled "tree" or "shrub" or "vegetable". Are succulents produced by spy agencies, who aren't permitted to reveal any more about their plants, for national security reasons? Whatever the cause, it remains a minor life ambition to find out each succulent's true name. Where was I? Oh yes, succulent flowers in spring. One more slide please, projectionist!

Yellow is a pleasant colour to come across, although you come across this hue while on your knees weeding, as they're vewy vewy tiny. At a rough guess, I'd say these are graptopetalum blooms.

Here they are in context. If that isn't a graptopetalum, let me know. I am thirsty for knowledge, as they say.

Spring is such a fine time here, as things pop up, burst out, open splendidly, come out shyly, appear all of a sudden and just emanate from the soil like magic. Succulents have a touch of the submarine about them. Periscope up, all is clear, blooom! I love their peculiar ways.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Star quality

Oh, wow. I expected the Louisiana iris to be nice, but not quite this nice.

It feels a bit like a Royal visit (if I was a monarchist, that is, but I'm not). Movie star. Yes, definitely an A-list movie star. Here, in my backyard!

I know I've shown you photos of my sage plant only recently, but it keeps on getting prettier and more covered in flowers as each day passes. I've never seen it looking this good before, and this plant has been here for several years now.

What the hell, one more pic of it. And this is meant to be just the culinary herb, Salvia officinalis, the 'official' one used by apothecaries (and cooks). As a welcoming committee for our movie star from Louisiana, it couldn't look any better. Of course they're getting on famously, my official blue welcoming committee and the movie star.

Finally, some action with the Nigella, the love-in-a-mist. No 'love' (ie, the flowers) yet, but we're getting a nice green mist developing as each day passes. Can't wait, but I'll have to!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Little blue people

"Come outside now," my beloved girl said with eagerness in her eyes. I knew that something cool was happening in the garden, and knowing Pam it could be anything – a completely new type of bird visiting, weird caterpillars or fungi in action – anything. This time it was something even better – our first Louisiana iris was coming out – we have blue people visiting!

We bought this Louisiana iris plant in November last year, as a little baby bulb (well, a rhizome, to be correct). It has grown more than steadily since then – it has multiplied into several plants, and now it's sending up flowers. It must like us!

This is where it lives. In a pot in the middle of a potted goldfish pond. Each Vee-shaped eruption of leaves represents a new branch of the rhizome forming under the soil surface, and each new branch is sending up flower stalks.

While some of the flowers seem to be popping out half-way up a stalk, others are the king of the hill, flowering at the very top of the stem. Any place they like to flower will do me. Several months ago I had plans of a symphony of blue flowers hopefully happening together, and some other plants in that vision splendid are chiming in nicely now.

The brodiaeas started flowering this week. These are South African bulbs planted here last autumn. They sent up very scrawny, unpromising little stalks a month or so ago, and in the last two weeks the top of each stalk then sent out several little arms, each arm bearing a blue star-shaped flower (or at least a flower bud, so far). Once they're all up (there are only half a dozen blooms in the patch so far, hence the close-up shot) it should look good.

These Ajuga reptans (commonly known as bugle) weren't actually part of my symphony in blue, but their little blue flower spikes are very welcome nevertheless. The third part of my little blue plan – some love-in-a-mist (Nigella) grown from seed are lagging slightly behind. There's still some hope that they'll come good, as they've been growing rapidly lately and might even catch up with the others. Even if I just managed a couple of weeks where all the little blue people were out together would be a stack of fun to see. Because that's why I'm doing it – just for fun.

And now for something completely different, to celebrate our Louisiana visitors. I have only recently figured out how those clever bloggers manage to embed You Tube videos in their blogs. As I am a major fan of Cajun music from Louisiana, and as I am spending a fair bit of my spare time researching all the different places and things I might see in the USA next year, I thought I'd roadtest my YouTubing skills with one of Louisiana's finest Cajun Bands, Balfa Toujours, in concert. They're someone I have seen before, when they visited Sydney, and who I'd very much like to see again.