Saturday, September 29, 2012

Spring cleaning

There's a major cultural event happening this weekend in Australia, known as 'The Festival of the Boot', and so this is the perfect chance for me to spring-clean my garden shed with a radio playing in the background. 

(So, "What's the Festival of the Boot?" overseas readers will no doubt enquire. It's football Grand Final weekend here in Oz. In Melbourne on Saturday, it's one code of Football (called AFL) in which Sydney plays a Melbourne club (Hawthorn) to find out the winner of 2012 Supremacy. And for a completely refreshing change of pace, on Sunday, in the other, totally different, culturally 'other' code of Football (called NRL) it's Melbourne against a Sydney club, Canterbury, to decide the 2012 champion.)

While I cannot bring myself to spend much time watching football on TV, I do enjoy listening to it on the radio while I work. And as my shed is a disgrace in need of redemption I have the perfect Saturday afternoon ahead of me.

Here's my tiny little shed (on the right). On the left
is our bigger, original garden shed, which is now part
of Pammy's art studio empire. Such is love...

There was hardly any room to move in my shed, no
tabletop space to do anything... clutter, clutter

and lots more clutter. A complete disgrace!
So, in such a tiny shed, the only way to clean it and
tidy it up is to take almost everything out then get
stuck into cleaning, sorting, throwing out, tut-tutting
and wondering "why in the hell did I keep that?".

Then put 80% of it all back, and throw out the rest.

Though it's hard to tell at first glance, this is how things
look after two solid hours of spring cleaning. There's
shiny brown polished timber tabletop space, and take
my word, there's space to stash more crap here now!

(And yes, one of these days, I will finish painting our
latest batch of gnomes, probably when I retire!)
I've even added major environmental
upgrades to shed comfort levels. I like to
think of this as air-conditioning. Admittedly,
it is just a fan and it does work best with the
door open and a southerly breeze blowing,
but that cheap little fan makes quite a
difference to comfort levels now. As far as
I am concerned, it's an upgrade!

Looking through the window out to the garden, my
aspirational (tin) chooks love the view. Oh how I would
love to have some real chooks here, but at this stage
these are as clucky as I can get here in Amateur Land.

The other major improvement here is
the new artwork. My friend Jolanda
found online this great image of
Superheroes 'Victory' gardening, and I
then found a big enough jpeg of that
image that printed out OK on our printer.
Pammy had a spare frame that was
almost the perfect A3 size. I love it!

This corner of the shed is now my
'pretty' area, with my modest collection
of decorative tins underneath.
I love old-style tins. On the left is a tin of cookies I
bought in Savannah, Georgia, and on the right is a
brand new commemorative 125th Anniversary seed
tin put out by Aussie seed company Yates.

Whenever I see a special biscuit tin at
our local supermarket, I snap it up.
Arnott's is our major biscuit maker.
Neither Pam nor I eat biscuits, but I buy the 

nice tins no matter what's in them!
In this Arnott's tin I keep all the plant 
labels of the major plants growing here, 
plus all the latest annuals/vegies as well.
Finally, after spring-cleaning the shed
I gave the barbecue its major spring
renovation, fired it up to make sure
it all works perfectly, and tonight I'm
kicking off the 2012-13 barbecue
season with a deboned, butterflied
shoulder of lamb.
And stop press: Festival of the Boot, part one, is over, and the Sydney Swans have defeated the Hawthorn Hawks in a thrilling nail-biter which went down to the wire and used every cliche not once, not twice, but a hundred times!

While I didn't get to see the game, thanks to the immortal radio call of HG Nelson and Rampaging Roy Slaven (Aussies will know who I am talking about, a comedy duo who broadcast sport in their own immortal way) I was there living every exciting, groin-straining moment... while I cleaned out my garden shed.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Surprise, y'all

Well, I didn't expect to see this sight when I wandered out the back door this morning. Louisiana iris in bloom! So early – they were just furled blue flags only yesterday and already they're fully out, gorgeous big blue and yellow carnivals of colour saying "hi y'all" to the world.

And there's a third one on the way, probably bursting
out of its frock by early this afternoon.

This blue is the classic Louisiana iris, and this cultivar
is called 'Gulf Shores'.

One little-known fact about Louisiana iris is that
Australian breeders have become so successful at
developing new colours that we are now exporting
Louisiana iris to other countries, including the USA!

Now, the spot where my Louisiana iris lives is in the
middle of Paul's pond. (Well, I think this is Paul.
Three years ago I had four goldfish: John, Paul,
George and Ringo. Poor old Ringo was the first
to go to goldfish heaven, and as the others sank
by the wayside I lost track of who was who. So I
think this is Paul, but I'm not certain. The 
wire is 
an unfortunately necessary anti-pussy-cat security
measure) Anyway, back to the iris. That's its pot
on the top right of this photo. It sits in the water,
with the iris rhizome just at or above the waterline.

I wondered what Paul's view of the iris would be,
and I think it's something like this. Very pleasant!

The other good news about Louisiana iris is that they're easy enough to grow. They're a pond plant, either in the pond in a pot, or by the edge of a natural pond in a damp spot. Mine's in a pot stuffed with cow poo and compost and it grows and spreads vigorously. Though this is just a guess, I suspect it'd spread like mad if it liked the spot it was planted in the ground pondside.

A lovely woman who's an iris-growing specialist told me at a garden show that Lousiana iris are "the teenage boys of the plant world – it's almost impossible to over-feed them" and so I've been diligent about keeping up the supply of slow-release fertiliser to them. I use slow-release pellets for azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons, as the iris like soils and life in general to have an acid tinge, as do azaleas etc. Not sure if it's the right food for them, but it seems to work OK.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Creche expectations

Venturing out into the garden every morning during spring with my little camera in my pocket feels like I am gathering the news, except that I'm mostly a reporter for the new births department of the local Daily Star. And so here's this morning's news from our backyard creche.
The NSW Christmas Bush family are proud to
announce the arrival of their first open bloom, the
first of several hundred to follow. They have every 

expectation that their little pale babies will in due course
turn into many bracts (not brats) in festive pink.

Tip: click on the first photo above and it should 
(hopefully) turn into a clickable slideshow of all the
other photos (although I don't think this will work
in the emailed version of this blog, sorry!).
Our visitors from Louisiana say they just love it here
in Sydney and their new daughter, Iris, promises
to be a resplendent blue Southern Belle very soon. 
This feisty little Australian native orchid, though it's
no bigger than a five-cent piece, would like everyone
to know that it is a fully formed adult, thanks very much. 
Poking its head out amongst the figs and orchids
to see what's happening, this little bromeliad bloom
from the South American rainforests is looking 

forward to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. 
And though rather hairy legged and bald at the moment
this baby Roma tomato will soon be growing rapidly 

on a steady diet of water and healthy organic feeding. 
Quite honestly, I simply couldn't decide which photo
of our young Roma tomato I liked the most, so I
decided to include both of them, because I can.   
Spring really is a wonderful time of year to be in a garden with a little camera in your back pocket to capture what's going on. There's lots happening!

Monday, September 24, 2012

A little deficiency of mine

One of my favourite blog titles (and blogs), is 'Patient Gardener', the ongoing story of how Helen is going in her garden in Malvern Wells, in England. I've been tempted occasionally, and not very seriously, to rebadge my blog 'The Impatient Gardener' because I am afraid that is what I am. Here's a small example of the impatient gardener at work, courtesy of a small citrus problem I discovered recently.

All is well in this close up of my 'Eureka' lemon tree.
Flowers galore, bees buzzing and, if we had a 'scratch
and sniff' blog tool you'd be expecting sweet lemon
blossoms, only to run screaming in the other direction
as the chicken poo smells waft out from your screen. 

Ditto the 'Tahiti' lime tree: healthy new
leaves, chicken poo smells, too many
flowers and happiness all-round.

Even the hospital patient potted Thai
lime tree has staged a recovery, new
leaves galore thanks to the change
of pot and potting mix, plus lots of TLC.

The Thai lime is also covered in teeny
little flower buds, the signs of many
uniquely ugly fruit to come. Ugly?

Yep, ugly. I love just being around this Thai lime tree,
as every molecule of it is fragrant. The leaves are a
joy to harvest and chop, and these wrinkled, not-very-juicy
little fruits are equally well-scented. It's the rind which
is the harvest here, Thai zing personified.

OK, if everything is so hunky dory in the citrus department, where's the impatient gardener tale? See below... 

While photographing my somewhat healthy and happy
Eureka lemon tree I noticed that quite a few of the baby
leaves looked like this, very pale green with darker
green veins. Sure signs of some sort of deficiency, but
which one? (And how dare it be deficient in anything with
all the chicken poo, compost and mulch I've been
giving it... wretched ungrateful prima donna plant!)

So, get out my copy of Judy McMaugh's great book,
'What Garden Pest or Disease is That?' and in no
time it seems that we're talking iron deficiency, folks.
Iron deficiency is more common in alkaline soils,
and the basic treatment for iron deficiency is a dose
of chelated iron. And so Mr Impatient mixed up a 
batch (one teaspoon to a 9-litre watering can),
applied it to the root zone around the lemon tree,
watered it in well. Take that, iron deficiency!
Then, only afterwards, it occurred to me that maybe I should check with an expert that what I did actually was the right thing. So I did, and it turns out that yes, that does look like a case of iron deficiency, but not super-serious. It's in its early stages and probably will right itself. Just keep on watering well and let the chicken poo break down and slowly work its magic. Should come right, I was told.

Oh oh... well at least I followed the packet directions for the iron chelates and didn't overdo it, but – and it's a big but – if I was a truly patient gardener I would have noticed the problem, checked with the experts first, waited a while and probably it would all have come good all by itself.

Patience is not merely a virtue, it also has its virtues. It's a shame that I seem to regularly remind myself of that just after I've been impatient yet again.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Charles Darwin's Strawberry

Call it an unexpected bonus or, better still, something for nothing, but we've got a strawberry crop on our hands here – without planting strawberries.

Well, we have a crop of one strawberry so far, and so I guess technically it's just still a single fruit. But when the second strawb gets to 'condition red' we've got a crop on our hands, and it's courtesy of our compost tumbler bin that we have this sweet little developing patch at all.

I don't know what variety it is but let's call it
Strawberry 'Supermarket Surprise', because that's
where it came from. Pam loves strawberries and
we buy them year-round at the supermarket. All
the hulls left over from preparing the strawbs
go into our compost bin (as do all our fruit and
vegie scraps), and so all we know is that one of
those hulled bits of strawb survived composting
last year, and when I spread another load of
compost around late last summer, a few weeks
later, up popped a healthy young strawberry plant.
This plant has grown like crazy all through autumn and winter, sending out runners in all directions, so I've kept on feeding it and mulching it, ripping out the weeds (especially the rotten oxalis), and now we have a bona fide strawberry crop on our hands. Probably not a heritage type, more likely a gorilla of a modern hybrid, but it's flowering its head off right now and baby fruits are forming here, there and everywhere.

This strawb probably deserves a better name that mere 'Supermarket Surprise'. I like to think of it as 'Darwin's Natural Selector', as its story is a classic tale of survival of the fittest. There's something very vigorous and healthy about this plant which, amongst several hundred strawberry hulls tossed into the compost bin last year, managed to keep enough of its vigour and strawberryness intact to hit the ground running the moment it got a chance.

Maybe I should call it 'Gorilla'? Or 'King Kong'? Gosh, this naming new plant varieties thing is complicated. Maybe I should stick with 'Supermarket Suprise'?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I think they like it here!

I really do think they like it here. Who? My succulents, of course. You can read all about the succulent garden makeover here, if you like, but a couple of weeks down the track and they're starting to either send up flowers or produce new leaves. We have had a wonderful spring so far, with lots of sunshine, and all the succulents seem to be saying "we like this new, extra-sandy soil and all that sunshine" in the nicest possible way.

I'm always in a muddle about the correct names for 
succulents. This person sending up a flower stalk is
either a haworthia or an aloe. Haven't got a clue
what's right, as they both look very similar.

This is the amazing flower stalk of one of my gasterias.

And here's the bottom half of that gasteria.

Again, I'm not sure of its name, but by Googling at
Google Images I think this is a Graptoveria, but the
main thing is that it is sending up a flower stalk.

Ditto this one, great to see the flower stalk coming up,
and my best guess is that it's a Graptopetalum.

I'd never get a job at a succulent nursery, as I'm not
sure of this one's name, either, but Google and I think
this is a Pachyphytum flower stalk, because...

... this is its mum.

Oh hell, ummm... arrr... another Pachyphytum? No
flower stalks yet, but the foliage has coloured up really
gorgeously since leaving the confines of its pot.

And this little Sedum is so happy here it has, in the
last two weeks, put a very rosy glow on its cheeks.
So everything is barrelling along nicely here in the shiny new succulent patch. The only downside I've noticed so far is that the weed seeds are thanking me very much for so thoroughly digging over all that soil and bringing them up to the surface where they can sprout. They are brushing past the pebble mulch as if the pebbles were turnstiles at a sports ground and I'm plucking the weeds out like bouncer removing troublemakers from a brawl.

Apart from that it's all sunny days, flower stalks, new growth, rosy cheeks and scratching my head about what their real names are. So far, so succulent!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Retail therapy

We were discussing online shopping the other day, and I must admit that I am a devotee of this modern trend. Not completely, but quite a bit. For me it goes like this: if I know exactly what I want, I shop online. If I haven't really made up my mind or worse still haven't got the foggiest notion about what I want (such as the next book to read, in particular) then there's no substitute (in fact nothing anywhere near as good) as stumbling into a few stores and browsing, coming across something I didn't have a clue existed. Oh God I love a good bookstore! And I'm quite partial to garden centres and hardware stores too, but more for the cornucopia-style pleasures they offer.

However, when I know exactly what I want and it can
be a pain to go shopping for something because it's
not easy to find, I love shopping online. And the
best bit, even better than the shoppin' n surfin' is when
the package arrives at my doorstep. Pictured above is
today's modest purchase: a packet of half a zillion chervil
seeds and a thousand or so lamb's lettuce seeds from
The Italian Gardener. I'm dividing up the packets with
my old pal Fenella, then mailing her share to her, and
hopefully that large, empty wine-barrel planter of hers
will be lush, green and tasty two months from now.
It's ironic that one of the real pleasures of super-modern online shopping is the old-style one of opening up parcels sent through the mail. It harks back to the late 19th and early 20th century worlds of buying from catalogues (such as the famous Sears Roebuck catalogues in the USA back then). It's not just garden stuff that I buy online – I have another hobby of collecting, and almost everything for that arrives by the Australia Post courier. My courier knows me so well he toots the horn of his van and waves when he sees me walking by on Illawarra Road!

I can understand the Japanese love of wrapping gifts
beautifully. It increases the thrill. Now, this package
of garlic from an online supplier is hardly up to the
fine arts of Nippon, but it's multi-layered in the right
way. First the outer brown paper wrapping with
addresses and stamps on it goes, the box opens... to
reveal padding and another layer of brown paper
packaging, with lots of handy instructions. Love it!

Finally, the inner sanctum of garlic bulbs is revealed
like so many precious gems glittering in a casket.
Oh come on, calm down, it's not that good! I think I would have made a good archaeologist though, unearthing ancient treasures, opening dusty caskets or urns which have laid there for centuries. Next life, maybe, for that one. In the meantime I'm happy to open packages in the mail. Almost as good.

My favourite, absolute favourite bit (and this happens occasionally with my collecting) is to open a parcel containing something which, quite disgracefully, I have completely forgotten that I have ordered (usually due to the lapse of time). Surprise! That's almost decadent, that bit, but it has happened a couple of times. With the chervil seeds, I ordered them last Thursday and here they are Monday, and so I was expecting them. Still loved opening the parcel!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Got it covered

Oh what a difference mulch makes! We've all been indoctrinated in recent decades to value mulch for its ability to disappoint weeds and to keep the soil moisture where it's needed around the plant roots, but today I looked back on a couple of hours of mulching (after a lot of planting) and the thing that really hit me was how much better a garden looks with a fresh layer of mulch. It hides all sorts of blemishes. And down at the landscape supply place it's clear that there's a couple of dozen different mulches to choose from. It actually took me a while to decide, too.

In the foreground, a fresh layer of fine
pine bark mulch around the purple patch
of lavenders and tibouchinas. Much better
looking than plain, dark brown earth. In the
background, the succulents' pebbly cover.

All the vegie/salad/herb beds are mulched with straw.
It's a nice farmyard look on the day it's laid down,
but this stuff breaks down fast, so it'll need topping
up in a month or so. No worries with that, as I keep a
big bag of sugar cane mulch in the shed for this routine
job, but that bag of mulch also comes in handy as a
magic ingredient in making compost. Every few days I
spin the compost tumbler bin, like a good boy should,
but before I do I add a very generous handful of straw
to the bin, which is mostly full of wet vegie/fruit scraps.
The dry straw balances out the wet-dry mixture, and
ever since I started this habit several years ago,
the quality of my compost improved enormously. 

This is just my excuse to run another photo of my pebbly
little succulent patch. All seems well here, in fact I am
sure some of them are showing signs of growth already.

I've used the fine pine bark mulch around
today's plantings of Lomandra 'Tanika'
(the low grass in front) and the Tiger
Grass behind. This 'Tanika' stuff is evergreen
so it doesn't go through a crappy looking
phase each year. It's almost indestructible,
and is often seen in traffic islands and other
very inhospitable spots. I want my garden to be
much lower maintenance, and I'm hoping that
the Tanika, backed by the bamboo-like tiger
grass, will be the least of my worries over
the coming months and years. Time will tell
whether this works or not. It almost feels like
cheating or laziness to plant Tanika – heck, we
keen gardeners are meant to take on impossible
challenges! Well, this keen little gardener with a
dodgy back is simply hoping for a lighter workload. 
I think I've got off track in this post... where was I? Oh that's right, mulch! Without me thinking about this fact too consciously, it has worked out that a key part of the design for this little backyard makeover is that it's the mulch which defines the various beds. Pebbles for succulents, straw for food plants, and the foliage-only and flowering plants are mulched with fine pine bark. Works for me.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Aw shucks

Hi everyone, Gulliver here. Since my memorable trip across America last year with Pam and Jamie I've been taking it easy here in my little green patch, but I told Jamie that it's completely unseemly to blow his own trumpet, so I'll do the trumpet blowing on his behalf.

When Jamie opened his email this morning there was one from My Garden School informing him that he had been included in the My Garden School Top 100 Gardening Blogs, and that they had even included a little logo he could run on his blog if he wanted. Well, my first reaction was to say to Jamie: "Don't tell me, the award comes with a $5,000,000 prize, but they'll need your bank account details, including passwords, in order to make the cash transfer."

"Such a world-weary cynic, Gullo," Jamie replied, "I think it's a freebie, but I don't know who My Garden School is though."

Well I said "an award's an award Jamie, what other awards have you won?"

"I think I once got the best and fairest award from my under-12s baseball team back in 1965, but I guess I peaked early and the awards scene has been, well, pretty quiet since then," Jamie replied.

And so it's done. I told Jamie to "stop being bashful, put the award logo up on your blog, and I'll look after the PR side of things."

For all the other award winners, which includes links to many gardening blogs well worth reading, follow this linky to My Garden School.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The sound of trumpets

There's an old saying about 'what goes around, comes around' and in the case of clivias, they're back in my garden once more. I planted clivias here 20 years ago, grew them happily enough for about 10 years, dug them up and gave them to my friend and workmate Zora, who then planted them in Wollongong, and I think they're doing fine down there now.

And here I am again, about to plant clivias again. This morning I woke up to the sound of trumpet flowers blasting out a showy springtime tune, but instead of the much more familiar orange clivia colours, these trumpets do their cool thing in a lemon sorbet way.

It took no skill whatsoever on my part to produce these
blooms, as I only bought this plant two weeks ago and
it's still in its pot. But it's worth a blog mention anyway.

Alas, there's no fragrance to enjoy, but the good things 
about clivias are many. They're one of the all-time
 champion plants for shade, and they grow so well here
that you see clivias everywhere in Sydney. Though
not native (they're from South Africa) they grow so well
here that we're its home away from home. Their only enemy
of note here are caterpillars, which attack in swarms in
some years, but usually they don't kill the plants, just
disfigure them. Fortunately, new generation sprays which 
are non-toxic to bees (like Dipel and Success) can stop the
 caterpillars but you need to get in early and quick to
win that brief, destructive little war.  
I bought some coloured (ie, not orange) clivias two years ago at a garden show, and due entirely to negligence on my part one of them died (I planted it in a spot so shady and out of the way I forgot it was there, and it succumbed to the rampant competition). The other clivia planted two years ago is perfectly healthy and happy, but as it was only a baby when I planted it, it still hasn't flowered. The terrible/good thing is that I don't know which colour it will be! Could be red, but I think the other option is a peachy-yellow colour, so it could be that. Next year I should know, as it's now a healthy teenage plant. 

Just to balance the odds out, I'm going back to the man from whom I bought the yellow clivia next Sunday, and I'll get a 'classic' orange one to set up my shady grove of clivia colours. From there, if happy, they should spread and multiply over the coming years, and what went around, then went away, then came back home, will be another colourful little story my garden can tell.