Sunday, August 26, 2012

Making the bed

So much work and so little to show for it, but that's making the bed for you. Garden beds, I mean. It's a classic piece of 'behind the scenes' work, much the same as all the scraping and sanding that precedes a decent paint job.

My garden is so small that I need to do things in a certain order, due to a lack of space. Today was 'prepare the beds where the gardenias will go' day. This is the bed I showed in my previous post, where the mother-in-law tongues once lived. Over the 22 years I've been gardening here this poor bed has hosted a range of different, grumbly and troublesome grevilleas; a totally out-of-control monster rosemary bush; and the potted curry tree, plus various others. 

The last time I tested the soil pH there was when I moved in 22 years ago, and it was mildly alkaline (7.5) back then. 

What a difference 22 years makes: now
it's acid, pH 6. Glad I checked!
It took three hours of hard yakka to
get the bed right. I made the mistake at
some stage of thinking a pebbly mulch
would look nice, and over the years the
pebbles had worked their way down
deep into the soil. There were far too
many of them, so out they came, one
by one. Then I added three bags of
cow manure, and numerous handfuls
of lime, to help correct the pH level.
Dug over, raked over, watered well,
it now has a week or two to settle in.

One good bit of news is that I scored a
nice plant this morning. I went down to the
local Marrickville organic vegetable market
(on Addison Road, Sundays 8.30 to 3), which
is well worth a visit. As well as all the fruit
and veg and other foods on offer, it also hosts
all sorts of people with stuff to sell, including
some very good little plant stands. I ordered my
Tiger grass from one plant stand and on the way
out spotted another one selling orchids, clivias,
bromeliads and lots more. The orange clivias
are the common ones, and don't cost so much,
but the other colours, such as the yellows and
reds, usually come with a hefty price tag.
$30 isn't a super bargain but it's a good price
and the plant looks very healthy indeed.
I hope that Radox stuff works its magic on my poor old back. At some stage today I used every heavy-duty garden tool in the shed: mattock, spade, fork, rake and gave my back quite a workout. Combined with yesterday's heavy lifting of all those bags, I am waiting to see what tomorrow brings when I attempt to get out of bed in the morning!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Heavy lifting

It's a glorious, sunny Saturday afternoon and here I am inside blogging on my computer, when I should be outside weeding, digging, planting and, well you know... gardening! Never fear I am just giving my poor old back a long, late lunch break before I saunter outside for a final burst of activity. But I haven't been slacking this morning: I've been doing some heavy lifting, all in a good cause.

I went out to Turtle Nursery at Rouse Hill in north-western
Sydney. It's about an hour's drive from my inner-western
former crime den now trendy village of Marrickville. I
was on a mission to buy some sand, the right sand, for
my succulent beds, and Turtle Nursery is the place to go,
so I've been told. As Turtle also has the pebbles and
manures I also need, I loaded up my poor little Citroen
with about 380kg of bagged garden goodies there, then
slowly drove home, my little car looking like a lowered
hot-rod, when the truth was a lot slower.

Once I got home, the serious heavy lifting began.
Eight 20kg bags of 'P-Coarse' sand, at $6 a pop. It's
the right stuff: nice, clean, washed, coarse-grained
river sand, ideal for adding to potting mixes or to make
soils sandier. Not having a trolley or barrow at hand,
I pressed our wheelie garbage bin into service, popping
two bags at a time on the lid and wheeling each load up
the narrow passage along the side of our house.

Six 20kg bags of 10mm-size Cowra white pebbles,
at $10 a pop: the future mulch around the planted
succulents. An organic mulch (eg, bark chips, leaf litter)
would hold too much water during one of Sydney's week-
long drenchings that happen a few times every year.

Six 25-litre bags of aged cow manure,
at $6 a bag. These are to enrich the soil
where I will be planting the gardenias, and
the leftovers will go into the vegie patch,
along with lots of home-made compost.
Well, that's the heavy lifting done: I'm going to give my back a rest today and begin on the digging in and spreading around chores tomorrow. In the meantime, there is still plenty more to do in the way of removing existing plants, weeding and cutting back. 

I'm making progress on this garden renovation every day now. As I work from home it gives me the chance to do a bit of gardening in the early mornings, just an hour of activity before I start work each day. And yes, it's hard to drag myself back to the desk sometimes. I'm in the mood to be out in the garden all the time, right now. I think I've got my gardening mojo back!

Almost everything in this photo had to go. Pam has
never liked the mother-in-law tongues in the background
here, although I admired their tenacity, if not their looks.

Gone now, the mother-in-laws and the money tree.
The mulched foreground was once occupied by quite
a large sage bush, but it is making way for that
purple-flowered tibouchina on the left. I've dug up
a small piece of the sage bush with a good root system
attached and new baby leaves all over it, so I hope sage
junior keeps up the fine tradition set by its parent plant.

All is not sand, manure and destruction here right
now. The potted herbs are all off to an early spring
start. I already had a packet of chive seeds, so I
combined a cheap new pot of chive seedlings with
a surrounding sprinkle of seed. The seed has come
up nicely, the seedlings are happy and this should
be a nice, dense clump in a month or so.

The common mint and spearmint are both thriving
in their new potting mix and the regular liquid feeds
haven't done any harm, either. Happy plants.

A few weeks ago, I saw a Mr Fothergill's packet of
coriander seed set into little circular pads of seeds
(like seed tapes, only round). I've never used seed tapes
much and so something in me said 'give them a try' and
they seem to be working quite well.

Finally, the rest of the garden is very
definitely of the opinion that spring has
sprung. My potted Turkish Brown fig,
which was Underperformer of the Year
in its first year in the garden last year,
is off to an early promising start in its
second growing season. Good!

Well, lunchtime is over, my back seems (touch wood) to feel fairly normal, and I'm back out into gardener's playland for an afternoon session. I think I'll stick to weeding, though. That's enough heavy lifting for one day.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

We have a plan!

Well, it's not an especially cunning plan (and it certainly doesn't involve turnips either), but Pammy and I have finally come up with a plan for remodelling our little backyard garden. Pictured below is how it's going to be laid out. 

Now, first of all I owe Pam and apology for pinching and using her old watercolour plan of our garden, which she did several years ago. I've fiddled with it and changed it a lot in Photoshop to suit the revamp, so all the bits which look a bit rough are undoubtedly all mine (especially the ugly big numbers).

Just follow the numbers below
for your indispensible guide to
what we have in mind.
Just to orient yourself, the bottom of the plan is the back of the house, and the outlook from there is to north-north east, so it's nice and sunny garden most of the time. Morning sun comes up on the right, goes down on the left and the sun just beams on in at midday.

1. That's an existing olive tree, and it stays.
2. That's an existing murraya hedge which hides the compost bins and barbecue, and it stays too.
3. A few things stay here, such as the small frangipani tree and a clump of scadoxus. All other plants are going, replaced by several more clivias, winter flowerers with a variety of flower colours hopefully.
4. The large, unruly clump of cardamom and ginger goes, replaced by a tidier clump of tiger grass, a bamboo-like lush green screen that will hide the metal Colorbond fence but won't get out of control.
5. My herb garden is shrinking down to a series of large pots not only here, but elsewhere. In the ground they were too happy and too big! I am hoping they will be happy and potted, but smaller (still growing sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, coriander, chives, mints, chervil).
6. The espaliered lime tree stays (of course!).
7. My vegie beds are smaller, but in the sunniest part of the garden. A constantly changing feast as the seasons change in these three little beds.
8. The Grevillea 'Peaches and Cream' stays, but will be subject to even more pruning discipline to keep its spreading tendencies under control, and to allow lots of sun into the next-door vegie bed.
9. An existing large, clipped murraya next to the outdoor entertaining area stays.
10. The existing second olive tree stays, too.
11. A new 'purple' flower bed with a centrepiece of a Plectranthus 'Mona Lavender' will be surrounded by purple annuals, replaced each season. I'll probably start off with gomphrenas.
12. Another new purple and yellow bed with a centrepiece of a Tibouchina 'Jules' (1m high and wide purple-flowered shrub) plus a Tibouchina 'Groovy Baby' (60cm) and some Italian lavender, plus yellow annuals.
13. A major change here: a row of Gardenia magnifica 'Golden Magic' as an informal (ie, unclipped) hedge naturally about 1.5m high. It has lots and lots of white flowers which quickly age to gold and stay on the bush. As they can be a bit bare-legged, I'm planting low-growing Gardenia radicans (white flowers) at the base of each 'Golden Magic' to fill in the lower level. (A big 'thank you' to our magazine's resident gardening expert Elizabeth Swane for that great idea, plus several other really good suggestions, like the Tiger grass.)
14. Another major change: the formerly potted succulents are going into the ground. I'm planning to add a lot of sand to these beds to make it even more free-draining (it's pretty good already but Sydney can get soggy). I have such a big variety of succulents here it should be fun planting them out. After planting I'll be spreading around an off-white 10mm gravel mulch between all the succulents.
15. Another good tip from Elizabeth, this is another small row of low-growing Gardenia radicans. This is a truly rotten spot in the garden. It gets no sun in winter, and blazing hot late afternoon sun all summer long. Tough old G. radicans can handle it, and it provides a lush green backdrop to the succulents when viewed from the house.
16. The existing lemon tree, plus the underplantings of hellebores there, remain.

Elsewhere, close to the entertaining area near the house, all the other existing potted plants, such as the Turkish Brown fig, the Thai lime, the many orchids and bromeliads remain as they are.

There are lots of casualties of this garden revamp, some of them familiar and quite nice plants which I have blogged about many times before. All the in-ground herbs (such as the huge expanse of thyme and sage) have been uprooted (and cuttings taken from them, which have struck well and are growing on happily). The big potted curry tree also goes (it's as sick as can be right now and so I think its innings is over). However, losing it undid what was stalling the redesign. All of sudden a row of flowering gardenias in its place felt like a great idea, and that provided a relatively easy-care backdrop the succulent patch.

I've started pulling plants out already, I'm off to the landscape supplies place on Saturday to bring home lots of bags of sand, pebbles and other soil improvers. No planting this weekend, it's time for digging, cutting back and getting the soil right, but after so many months of midwinter indolence, I think we're back in action. More reports, more frequently, is what to expect!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mirror magic

I love the clear morning sunshine at our place, it's so fresh and clean in the way it beams through foliage like X-rays and sets flower colours alight in the early hours. Right now our garden is not all that afire with spring flowers, but with a well-placed mirror against the shed at the rear of the garden, at least we had twice as many flowers to enjoy this morning (that's lavender in the left pot, tibouchina on the right).

This is close to the view from our back door, brought up a bit closer here by the zoom lens on the camera. In fact I was standing in the kitchen looking out when the 'mirrored' view struck me as one worthy of both a pic and blog posting.
As the mirror is under the eaves of the shed, its gaps have been filled with silicone sealer, and its frame has been covered with about 4 layers of outdoor furniture varnish-sealant, it's standing up to the rigours of outdoor living quite well. Another good idea of Pammy's. "Let's put a mirror right there, in that spot, because you'll be able to see flowers reflected in it when you stand by the back door in the morning," she said a few years go. And she's right, you know!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Waking from slumber

Yawn, stretch, roll over, back to sleep... who, what... what time is it? 
Oh, that's right, I'm a blogger, and I'm meant to do some blogging, at least occasionally. Been a while, hasn't it? Nuffink in July, and only one bread-baking post in June, and rainbow watching in May. Not much gardening at all. That's what life has been like for us, too. Not much gardening at all, despite life being busy.
Well, like my garden, which is slowly waking up now after a very quiet winter, I too am waking up from a long blogging snooze – and a long gardening snooze. So here's a little update on the astonishing lack of progress here in Amateur Land. 

Posting this photo almost feels like cheating, but
not quite. This is a freebie plant given to us recently
at a gardening function. It's from PGA and is called
'The Princess Lavender'. We brought it home already
in flower and since then it has started to bloom even
 more. While we can hardly take any credit for growing
it, at least we haven't killed it in the three weeks
it has been with us! That's a minor achievement.
You don't actually need to do any
 gardening to make a nasturtium flower.
The main job is regularly pulling out lots
of it to stop it taking over. Alas,
Pam likes nasturtiums, and every now
and then, in a moment of weakness,
so do I, but I am sure that's only because
I like Pam so much.

This is a bit more my pace at the moment: a
self-seeding, flowering weed. We only bought
one punnet of primulas, back in 1990 when we

started out gardening here. We were just foolish
kids, your honour – no-one told us not to do it! 
They've been weedily with us ever since. I stopped
trying to pull the seedlings out about 10 years ago
when I realised they had me beaten. And I don't
like pink, either. My little punishment, these guys.

Again, without any help from Mr Slacker, the
scadoxus bulbs are slowly coming up again.
Pictured below is what we're looking forward to
in late August or early September, which is
when this photo was taken two years ago.

A dazzling sight in bloom, these scadoxus flowers sit on
stalks about 18 inches (40cm) high and last for three
or four weeks. They look especially aflame in the late
afternoon light, they're the most radiant blooms I know.
But that's it for the flower show at the moment, not really all that much happening, apart from some tibouchinas which I am holding onto for a few photos later on.

The last time I did any 'real' garden blogging I was talking about garden makeovers and grand plans last autumn. Let's just say we're still in the planning stage... But last weekend I became fed-up with the relatively decrepit state of everything, especially the kitchen garden side of things, and so I actually made some progress there: ie, did some work

First of all I repotted our Thai makrut lime tree. It has
been in constant trouble all year, attacked by the dreaded
citrus leafminer insect, and so I've gone back to basics:
fresh potting mix, cut off the ugly bits, water and Seasol,
plus the magic ingredient – fingers crossed!

All my parsley had gone to seed and we barely had any, so buying a punnet of seedlings solved that shortage.

That same gardening function where they
handed out the lavender freebies also
yielded a Yates Roma tomato seedling,
so it is chilling out in midwinter in
the sunniest spot I can give it, waiting
for things to warm up in spring.
So far, so good, so here's hoping.

This strawberry patch is a self-seeded,
delicious event. It came up all by itself
from compost I had spread around this
area. We eat a lot of fresh strawberries
bought at the fruit shops, and so I can
only presume that one or two of the
hulled sections tossed into the compost
bin are responsible for this patch.
Like the tomatoes, so far so good. 
Self-sown herbs, too! This is a little patch
of chervil that has come up on its own.

The chervil is a potential weed, I suspect.
Pictured here it's at the base of one of
the birdbaths (guarded by Bartholemew,
our skateboarding gnome) and has been
in almost complete shade all winter.
Worst spot in the garden and it's happy.
Must be a weed!

The hellebores have all survived the disaster of the
total collapse of a wall-full of climbing fig on top of them 

(during a storm last February). I was unable to clear
the wreckage for about a week, and yet the tough
old hellebores survived this indignity. As for flowering
this winter, sorry, they're sulking, flowerless, once more.
Next to the hellebores a bird's nest fern seems to have
taken to its new spot, having been dug up and replanted
last autumn. I didn't expect it to live, but it's obviously
much tougher than I imagined.

However, the sad truth of our garden is that a lot of
it is still bare. This is the site of the future makeover,
and the only thing there at the moment is mulch, lots
of mulch. We still haven't really figured out what we
want to do with it, and so it's just $30 worth of mulch

keeping the weeds unhappy. The worms are loving it!

Meanwhile, across the path the succulents
are waiting for their assignments in this
much-promised, but not-happening, makeover.
They're all getting out of their pots and going
into the ground, one of these days. As soon
as we come up with a plan we both like.

There's all sorts of colourful foliage soaking up the sun.

Including these cute little munchkins.

A while ago Pam bought home a potted
Tibouchina 'Jules', and it has been flowering
its head off ever since. I think she has subtly
laid claim to having a good purple presence
in our made-over garden, as we already
have another, smaller-growing, Tibouchina
called 'Groovy Baby', coming into purple
flower as well. I can take a hint.
There are all sorts of reasons behind our lack of progress on the garden makeover, several out of our control, but one of them is very happily of our own doing. Pam is flat out painting right now. 

She has two exhibitions coming up in the second half of this year. In October she's repeating her successful solo art exhibition in the art gallery at the Eden Gardens complex in Sydney's North Ryde. She sold stacks of paintings first time round last year, and you can count on me to promote it here when we get closer to the date.

But before that she is taking part in a group exhibition at Gallery Red in Glebe. It's called '31 Days', and for this Pam and five other artists have each done 31 paintings in the 31 days of July. (And that's a lot of work!) The theme for the whole exhibition is 'The Space Between', which is broad, really broad, but who wants to hem in the creative spirit too tight? Not me. 

For 'the space between' theme Pam is using our travels across the United States last year, and so to sign off today I think a bit of shameless self-promotion is in order. So here's one of Pam's images from the 31 Days exhibition. 
You can pop over to visit Gallery Red's
Facebook page to find out more about
the 31 Days exhibition. It begins in late
August, and anyone can pop in to visit.
Here's a link to the Facebook page:
And here's a link to the 31 Days preview