Saturday, June 25, 2011

Talking heads

There's a famous TV ad here in Australia that has become part of our folklore, and the line that everyone remembers from that ad is "oh my God, the chips!". This refers to the person who puts some potato chips on to deep-fry, then the phone rings, then the conversation distracts her.... next thing you know the kitchen is on fire. Hence "Oh my God, the chips".

This morning, I had a far less fiery, far less dangerous moment, when it occurred to me "Oh my God, the succulents!". As it turns out, it has all worked out rather well. The shed hasn't burnt down, the fire brigade was not needed, and Pam's mum is getting some more succulent cuttings coming her way. When I realised that I had completely forgotten about some leaf cuttings I had taken for her, about five weeks ago, I wondered what had become of them.

Life, babies, new succulents coming through, that's what! Talk about a ferocious will to live, this little graptoveria (well, I think it's one of those) is ready to be put in a pot.

Several weeks ago, I had uprooted numerous baby succulents as complete plants, potted them up then took them up to Pam's mum, Val's, snazzy new townhouse. Val is a great gardener, and though she has downsized the residence there's still sunshine and space, both on the front porch and sunny rear balcony, to grow herbs, succulents and flowers in pots. In addition to the rapid-start bunch of potted whole plants we took up to her, I took some leaf cuttings from assorted succulents and left them in an old metal baking tin in the shed, to dry off for a couple of weeks prior to potting on. And then I forgot all about them.

This morning, when my brain finally kicked into gear, I went out to check on them, and all of them have sprouted babies and roots and want to get down to business. All I really need to do is lay them down on some lightly moistened soil, and they'll do the rest.

I liked the look of these little sprouted heads so much I arranged them in a circle, like a bunch of talking heads in the village square solving the world's problems, or at least exchanging the latest juicy gossip.

Succulents are plants which really don't need a gardener at all. I imagine that if leaves are broken off by passing animals, then scattered on the ground, those leaves will soon enough sprout roots and up will come another succulent plant, and so the hardy little colony grows. I know I've said this before, but out in the garden, I keep on saying to myself: "Ain't Nature wonderful?"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Set and neglect

As soon as I typed in the 'Set and neglect' heading for this little post, I thought "I've used that one before". But it turns out that no, I haven't. Last time it was 'Set and forget', and the plant I blogged about on the previous occasion (also a succulent in a basket) is about three feet away from the one that is in bloom right now, pictured below, no thanks to me once again. I did nothing, your honour, and that's why it's happy.

Traaa daaa, the zygocactus is starting to bloom. Its other name is schlumbergera, but I prefer zygo.

You won't need sunglasses to cope with the dazzle, as there will only be a few flowers this year, but that's more flowers than I was expecting. Its parent was the poor old original zygo that we bought about 15 years ago. It lived out its average lifespan of a dozen or so years, and at the time it faded away I made a very poor job of striking new plants from leaf cuttings taken off the old one. I fussed over them, and they all died.

Well, almost all of them died. Just one cutting seemed to take, and so I changed tack. I decided that the problem was me, and if this plant was going to make it, all I needed to do was put it somewhere semi-shady (such under the evergreen shade of the olive tree) where natural rainfall would keep it just barely watered from the drip-drip off the olive leaves. Apart from that, all it needed from me was a steady course of neglect.

I hadn't bothered about the zygo for at least two years now. It's not out of sight by any means, as its basket swings around above the lid of the compost bin, a place I visit quite frequently, dedicated composter that I am. But I've never so much as looked at the zygo over countless visits to drop off yet another load of vegie scraps. Well, that is until about two weeks ago, when I spotted the unmistakable pinky-apricot hue of the first flower bud swelling up to size.

So now, what do I do? Of course, nothing! Keep on neglecting it and just hope it grows and grows over the coming years.

While I was taking a few photos of the flowers I remembered some great advice that Homer Simpson gave Bart one time, when Bart was disappointed after trying hard at something (for a change) and it didn't turn out well.
Homer: "You had a try and failed, Bart, and so the lesson is: don't try."
What a parent! He might be wrong most of the time, but when it comes to zygocactus culture here in my backyard, Homer was right.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hello Greenland!

Regular readers of my gardening blog might, if they have an exceptional memory, remember a posting I did in October last year, wondering if anyone with a relative serving on a scientific base in Antarctica could persuade them to visit my blog and give me at least one lovely red dot to signify that "I have visited Jamie's blog from here on the icy continent, Antarctica".

So far no luck on the Antarctic front, but yesterday I noticed a red dot in just as good a spot, but way, way up north: the north-west tip of Greenland, with water views of the Arctic Ocean. Hello Greenland! How's your summer going?

Here's a moderately blurry screen grab of the spinning wheel thingy on the right side of this blog, which shows a red dot for every visitor here. While all the visits from Australia, NZ, Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and beautiful islands everywhere are always a pleasure to behold, I've gone all silly about that red dot in Greenland (helpfully circled in green)! And so here's a photo for everyone in the icy north who drops in here, presumably to warm up...

No, this isn't my shot, I pinched it from this website, but I just thought it was appropriate to mark the occasion. I don't grow gerberas and we don't get snow here in Sydney, but I just liked the idea of a flower in the snow (it's almost certainly a florist shop's gerb just bunged into the snow and photographed quickly, before it carked it, but it's art).

I like visiting gardening blogs from all around the world, because they all eloquently say that no matter where you are, there is life growing, and a crazy human is there to lend a hand. There's a famous Australian expression, first coined by a boxing champion from my own suburb, 'The Marrickville Mauler', who, after yet another win in the ring, told his fans "I love youse all".

Looking at that spinning wheel of the Earth, you can see red dots all the way up the northern coast of Norway, into the Arctic Circle; there's one on the western shore of Hudson Bay which I presume is around the town of Churchill in Canada (hi!), I see two lovely red dots on Iceland, and there are red dots on the northern, Arctic Ocean side of Alaska, too. Hi to all of you, too! Thanks for visiting my little green patch here in the temperate zone.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lotus Quest: a book review

One of the most pleasant ways to come across an enjoyable book is to be given it by someone who not only has just read it, but who has been talking about it enthusiastically over recent conversations. My Pam is a great reader, but not necessarily a great one for talking about the books she enjoys. Mostly she just likes to enjoy her many and varied books quietly, offering up simple summaries which end in "you'd enjoy it, I did."

This book which she handed to me a week or two ago is an exception to that rule. It has been coming up in her conversation spontaneously at all sorts of odd times; it's one of those books with lots of anecdotes, new stories about amazing people you have never heard about before. You keep on thinking about passages in the book long after you have put it down.

And so, for the formal introductions, this enthralling new book is called 'Lotus Quest', by Mark Griffiths, a British horticultural writer whose credits are many, but in the book department have previously been in the line of writing learned Royal Horticultural Society dictionaries and guides to growing beautiful plants such as orchids.

This book is different, it's all about his passion for the lotus (Nelumbo), a quest that takes him travelling the world, with his longest stay and most enjoyable chapters about his experiences in Lotus Land, Japan.

If Pam hadn't given me this book, I would probably have bought it on the strength of its topic – I love plant explorer stories – and it would have romped in my other bookshop tests of reading the first paragraph, then random paragraphs here and there.

He passes all those tests with aplomb, but it's the first chapter that had me hooked after Pam handed me her copy of the book. One of his Japanese friends sent him three lotus seeds, which he describes as 'diamond-hard'. So he took a file to them to work a nick into the outer shell, then soaked them. Later, 'an emerald comma' of growth appeared. Life! Then he grew the seedling on. As lotuses do, it died back over winter, then next spring, new growth appeared. And the following summer, beautiful yet short-lived lotus blooms which, they say, make an audible 'pop' at dawn as they open.

So far so great, but where did the seeds come from? His Japanese correspondent mentioned something about "an archaeological dig" in her reply. Yikes! It turns out the original seeds from the dig were 3,000 years old. They were successfully struck in the 1950s, and the seeds sent to him were from the original 3000-year-old-timer that is still growing happily in Japan.

I was hooked. Seeds that are still viable after 3,000 years! It turns out that lotus seeds are famous for this ability to survive vast periods of time, but this book then tells so many other stories, of the central place of the lotus in so many religions, cultures and cuisines, from the Mediterranean all the way across the Middle East, India, China and through to Japan. It's a food plant, a sacred religious plant, and a botanical marvel able to withstand any amount of winter cold, and survive millennia underground, waiting for its chance to live again.

The lotus's place in Japanese culture, religion and horticulture is the final half of the book, and it is definitely the highlight. This is a book which gets better as it goes on. My favourite chapter is probably the one set in a restaurant which specialises in lotus-based dishes. His descriptions of the way the Japanese turn food into high art would normally be delicious enough to make the whole chapter very satisfying, but they're just the entree. The main course is his conversation with his two Japanese dining companions, who explain the intricacies of the lotus's various names and meanings, its history, and much more over the course of the meal.

That's always the theme that comes up in any prosaic description of a chapter's contents in this book. Beyond the simple description, you always have to add "and much more".

Finally, there's a spiritual significance of the lotus that is central to the book's quest for the 'sacred lotus'. Now, I'm not much of a religious or spiritual person, but I've always been attracted to the philosophies of Zen Buddhism (as understood by a middle-class Aussie with a love of gardening and nature, that is), and I had a good laugh at his line about Buddhism which goes: "It's an appealing spirituality for someone who has decided that God doesn't exist." I think that's me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pouring with rain, it's a beautiful day

Waking to the sound of rain falling on the roof tiles, you know the rain must be heavy, and with the windows rattling at the same time, it's windy too. And yet it's a beautiful day. It's my Pammy's birthday and we're celebrating in the rain! We went out to enjoy her favourite Japanese cuisine last night, and today we're going to have yum cha in Chinatown for lunch, then curl up at home this evening with a bottle of bubbly and as many potato crisps as she wants to eat.

Phone calls and prezzies are all part of birthdays around here, which we like to string out over a few days. And with this being the June long weekend holiday, too, we have three days to do the occasion justice. It all started with a knock on the door on Friday morning, and there was a delivery guy with a handsome timber box addressed to Pam. Inside was a beautiful gift: fruit.

What a beautiful looking gift. Grapes, apples, pears, pawpaw, grapefruit, oranges, mandarins, avocado, banana, custard apple. When this handsome gift arrived, the birthday weekend began. The box itself is packed with straw, is quite nicely made with a timber top that slides into place, and I'm sure it will be put to good use as storage for something once we've eaten all the yummy fruit.

This is just a gift suggestion for Australian blog-readers, but if you're not sure what to give someone who is a good distance away from you, a box of Snow Goose fruit isn't cheap, but it definitely is a highlight, a delicious surprise to receive.

As it is raining steadily, I had better put down my blogging tools and take my girl into town. We have movies to see, dim sums to devour, and when we get home, champagne corks to pop!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Routines and ruts

The other day I had an enjoyable chat with a friend about the difference between routines and ruts, and as a result I concluded that Pam and I have many happy little routines here in our patch, without the awful feeling that any of them constitute a dispiriting 'rut'. The difference between a routine and a rut is simple. You like your comfy little routines and you hate ruts to the point that you really want to get out of them (but, sometimes because of circumstances outside your control, can't).

I'm in my late 50s now, and I think I'm acquiring routines as quickly as I am losing hair from my ever-shinier head. Pam and I like to drink champagne on Friday nights. We love to see as many movies as possible every year, but two flicks on a Sunday, with yum-cha in the middle for lunch, is a heavenly indulgence we look forward to each time the chance arises. I ride my motorbike to work on sunny days. I love these routines.

And here in my gardening blog, right on schedule, I'm blogging once more in early June about the first of my cymbidium orchids popping out into bloom. I don't seriously expect you to do this, but go back to June 2010 and 2009 and you'll find postings about these orchids, too. It's one of the wonderful things about nature, and gardening, when you are witness to the seasons coming, going and returning once more with their own steady, deeply earthy heartbeat.

Haven't got a clue as to this cymbidium orchid's cultivar name. It was a gift in one florist's pot several years ago, and now it's a pretty plantation in half a dozen pots.

Say "aaahhhhh". If I was an insect I wouldn't go in there.

As it's also in flower and only two feet away from the orchid pots, I thought I'd shake up the routine "aren't the orchids pretty?" early June posting with a word from my newish bromeliad in a wall pot (who wasn't here last year). It thinks it is far more tropically dramatic and handsome that the marooney-pinky-browny cymbidium orchids, and wants equal blog time.

The riposte to the brom's claims from the orchids is that they have the meagre four bromeliad blooms outnumbered by several dozen orchid flowers to one, so could we please just focus on the orchids, projectionist?

OK, so here's another angle on the lovely show that is starting up now, and which will keep on going for well over a month or more. Pam will cut stems of them, as she does every year, and pop them into vases indoors, where they always last an astonishing amount of time as well.

Enjoying the orchids is one of those delightful routines which I hope we'll be maintaining many years from now. Each time they appear there's a freshness not only to them but also to our sense of delight at their appearance.

I hope I never weary of delighting in orchids, or gardening. I occasionally come across older people who are sick of life and would like to pull the plug now, if they could. I think that is partly because their own bodies are letting them down, but I also think it's partly because they don't have enough interests in life to keep them going.

But I also know one 'older' person in particular who's into her 80s now. Her arthritis is bad, particularly in her feet. Walking is becoming more difficult with each passing year, and you wouldn't blame her for losing interest in life. But no way! She's still a nature lover, a party girl, a music buff, theatre-goer, and interested in everything new, including politics, art, movies and theatre.
"More champagne, over here, waiter!"
"Oh wow, look at those camellias, that's the best they've been in years."
"That was a great jazz band last night, I wanted to get up and dance."
"It was a fantastic show. There's so much great young talent around. They amaze me."
She's my role model. She's Pam's mum.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

First Day of Winter

"Come outside," the love of my life beckoned to me, "and bring your camera, too." I was thinking a rare winged visitor had flown in perhaps from the tropical north and I was needed to record the historic ornithological event. Alas, no. Pam was just excited because her second nasturtium plant is producing yellow flowers. "Do a blog on it," she helpfully suggested.

"But I just blogged about your nasturtiums a few weeks ago, darling. They're nice but they're not that fantastic." Admittedly, this yellow one is really nice (much nicer than the orange one) but I let that observation glide by.

"I know what I'll do," I helpfully ventured, "as it's the first day of winter, and a warm and pleasant one too, I'll do something on that topic and include your nasturtium again." Deal done, here we go.

Traaa daaa, Pam's yellow nasturtium, in flower today, June 1, the start of winter here.

Now here's something a bit more newsworthy, winter-wise. My frangipani doesn't seem to know it's winter yet. You would have thunk it would be dropping leaves all over the place, as the May which just finished made it into the papers as the coldest May since Elvis died (or was it Buddy Holly?) Anyway, it was some long-distant milestone of time like that.

Not merely content to hang onto its foliage, the frangipani is still sending up flower buds. Perhaps this happened overnight? The minimum of 17°C last night was almost the warmest June minimum for Sydney since Elvis/Buddy Holly days, too, and so maybe the frangipani thinks there's still time to party?

Now here's something that is no surprise at all for the first day of winter, as this is the time of year when my potted cumquat should be covered in fruits rapidly turning a beautiful shade of orangey-yellow, which it is doing beautifully this year (due in large part to some great advice and help from our gardening writer, Elizabeth Swane).

My little pot of dill seems to be enjoying the cooler autumn-winter weather, so from now on I'll confine my dill-growing escapades to this time of year.

The plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' which I planted a few months ago hasn't stopped flowering since then. No doubt the soft accordion serenades of my gnome, Flaco, each evening, have made the plectranthus feel like part of the family from day one.

And finally, just for my Pammy, another nasturtium shot because I know she loves them.

On with winter, so far, so warm!