Sunday, November 25, 2012

Love me tendril

Almost everyone is a sucker for baby animal photos – lion and tiger cubs are the cutest little tackers, and I've even got a soft spot for baby hippos and rhinos. Now we all know the fearsome beauties these cute little baby animals will grow into, and it's pretty much the same story with today's baby plant photo. A cute little passionfruit vine tendril, its first, looking for something to cling to and climb up.

And yes, I know what this cute little baby is going to grow into: an animal of a plant that will roar up a wall in no time, covering it in greenery, looking for roof eaves to climb into and other plants to monster. Call me an optimistic fool, but I'm hoping to become a passionfruit tamer who'll bring baskets of delicious, tangy black fruit into the kitchen for my passionfruit-loving gal to enjoy. (I might even eat a couple of them, too.)

Another of nature's little wonders, the touchy-
feely tendril seeking out something to cling to.

For the record, this is a seedling of the common
Norfolk Island black passionfruit. One important
little point of note is that it's NOT a grafted
seedling. Unfortunately, the rootstock used in
grafted passionfruit sold in the last two decades
proved to be too, too vigorous, sending up suckers
everywhere and generally making a nuisance of
itself. Passionfruit are susceptible to a root disease
called Phytophthera (it attacks grapevines, too)
hence the resort to using grafted rootstock to get
around the problem. So, with seedlings there is
an element of 'fingers crossed', which I don't mind.
Now, a little background is needed. This is what used to cover
the wall where I have planted the passionfruit. This was a
creeping fig, Ficus pumila, and it, too was an animal of a
thing which I thoroughly failed to tame. It needed constant
clipping back, wasps loved it as a site for nests (nice to come
across when you're on a ladder clipping it back!) and it
got under the eaves of my neighbour's garage. Bad plant!

Then one stormy summer's day, a really stormy
windy horrible day, the whole creeping fig came
down in one enormous clump, smashing into
my baby lemon tree, which miraculously
survived all that crushing weight. I let the fig
die down, then rubbish removal guys did the rest.

While the creeping fig was a supposedly 'self-clinging' creeper
which attached itself to the wall with suckers, a passionfruit
vine needs something to hold onto, so I have set up a frame
of thick wire threaded through bolts sunk into the brick wall. 

Though it's almost impossible to see, there's a rectangular
wire frame on that bare wall now.

The 'central' wall bolt is like the hub of a railway system. All
the wires sit about an inch out from the walls, and the wires
aren't perfectly taut either, so hopefully that'll be enough for
all those passionfruit tendrils to cling to and for the vine
itself to snake in and out of.

The vine itself has been in the ground for
about six weeks now, and those chewed leaves
you can see were chomped by a harmless
leaf-cutter bee. After that little bee had taken
enough for its nest-building, the plant has
grown well without any signs of chomping
by other suspects such as caterpillars,
katydids and grasshoppers. 

Finally, the top of the plant is close to the
wire frame, and the first tendril is snaking its
way up towards it (with some help from me!).
Passionfruit usually do well in Sydney, so I'm hoping that's what mine will do, too. They can be a bit temperamental at times. Being tropical in origin, apparently they don't love sudden cold snaps or cold winds whistling around them. That brick wall where I am growing my vine faces west, so it should be warm year-round, especially in winter when a bit of extra warmth is probably very welcome.

Time will tell whether I can manage to keep this rampant animal of a vine under control or not, but at least I have the baby photos of when it was just a little cutie!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Frozen delights

Woo hoo! I've made it into the Arctic Circle with the little red dots of readership of my Garden Amateur blog. See below for what I'm rabbiting on about this time...

I'm talking about that 'Small World' Revolver Map thingy
at the top right side of my blog, where the world
spins around serenely, with little red dots showing the
places where all the blog readers come from. Circled
in green above are the readers from inside the
Arctic Circle. Not sure what part of my semi-
subtropical blog lured them here, probably just
the promise of lush greenery and time to dream. 

For the geographically challenged, this is what
I mean by the Arctic Circle. It's the bit where the
sun don't shine in winter, or where the sun never
sets in summer (depending on how you view that
proverbially half-empty/half-full glass, I guess).
It's the area above latitude 66.6° North.

Down South, there's a whole lot less land inside
the Antarctic Circle which isn't Antarctica. In
fact there's none. The closest I can get a loyal/
occasional blog reader is in the Falkland Islands,
also known as the Islas Malvinas (don't want to
alienate the Argentinian readership!).
A couple of years ago I published a totally fruitless blog posting here begging for someone to contact a scientist/relative stationed in Antarctica, asking them to just visit my blog for a second or two, so I could earn a precious red dot on the icy southern continent. But alas, no such luck. It would be nice to feel that all Continents have readers who drop in here at least once or twice, but this map-loving boy can only hope.

I do always love watching that Revolver Globe spinning around at the top of my blog, so wonderful to think that people as far apart as Alaska, Greenland, Brazil, South Africa, USA, UK, Italy, Yemen, India, Bolivia, Guatemala, Iceland, Argentina, Madagascar, Norway... (you get my continental drift... lots and lots and lots of places)... drop in here occasionally.

So a very big "HELLO WORLD" to absolutely all of you; hope it's all growing well in your little patch, and thank you for visiting my little patch.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Red & green

Such a pleasing colour combination, red and green. It's not just the looming festive season which makes me like red and green so much, it's a 24/7/365 thing. Just like the combo, and this morning I pulled out a couple of delicious looking red/green eating teams which have got to that enticing 'eat me now when I'm not so big' stage.

Beetroot and radishes.

Not that I am much of a radish eater, actually,
but free seeds are free seeds, and these came
as part of a lovely Yates 125th Anniversary
tin filled with Heritage Seeds. I was so taken
by the lovely seed packet that I thought: "Better
give them a go." And just a few weeks later,
radishes being radishes, they were ready to eat.

From the same seed tin, I also planted out a
few beetroot seeds. They're definitely not
called "ood red", the hot bet would of course
be "Blood Red" but as a 10-1 outsider maybe
it's actually "Good Red", but as I have lost
the top part of the packet I don't know for sure.
As for what I'll do with my radishes and beetroot, I am afraid that underwhelming boredom is all I have to offer on the radish front: sliced finely into a garden salad.

As for the beetroot, I am rather taken with them as part of a salad, too. First roast or boil, cut into dice, then start the salad making. I'm thinking cubes of real Greek feta cheese in there with the beetroot cubes, a mixture of different salad leaves, simple vinagrette of extra-virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar (3:1), maybe some dried oregano? Search the cupboards... pine nuts.. toast and toss a few. Cracked pepper of course. Something like that is what's in store for them. 

Must delve into that heritage seed tin some more and have some fun. I can see apple shaped cucumbers and stout leeks looking up at me, begging to be planted... maybe they're next? But in the meantime there's space for some more radishes and beetroot, so more of them, too. Must remember to soak the beetroot seeds before sowing, that worked a treat. As for the radishes, just sow them and stand back.

Love growing vegies!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My freebie salad bowl

Oh goody, free seeds attached to the cover of the magazine! In this case it was the mag I work for, but free seeds are free seeds and every time I get some from whatever quarter, I like to have a go at sowing and growing them. In the case of our mag, I do it to make sure they actually work. In the past we've given away stacks of different tomato seeds and they've all been a roaring success, if the letters and photos from readers is any guide, but this time the freebie to lure in magazine buyers was this packet of free seeds which came attached to the September issue.

It's called the 'micro-salad mix' and the idea is
that you sow them thickly and harvest them as
baby greens (which hopefully regrow after you
pick them – well, that's the theory). The seed
packet says it's a mix of Amaranthus mira,
beet 'Detroit', corn salad  and spinach.

So far so good with the first stage. Instead of being careful I
just grabbed a small handful of seed (about one quarter of the
whole packet) and scattered them evenly over the potting
mix, and covered the seed with a light coating of seed-raising
mix. They took about 10 days to sprout, and this is how they
looked after another two to three weeks. The pellets on the
surface are some slow-release fertiliser I added.

Since then I have been harvesting, regrowing, harvesting,
regrowing etc etc, applying some organic liquid plant food
about once a fortnight. This photo was taken last week,
on Wednesday, of me harvesting with scissors, cutting off
enough salad greens for a little salad for lunch that day.

The nice thing about the seed mix is that no matter where or
how you cut, you end up with a 'mixed' green salad.

And here's the same bowl, photo taken from the same angle,
six days later. Now, I'm not sure if the cut-off plants have
regrown, or other plants once suppressed in the thick jungle
of competing greens have finally got their opportunity to grow
and thrive, but whatever the sequence, I'm harvesting a steady

supply of mixed salad greens from this one bowl, and the
plants bounce back from harvesting literally within days.
One big tip: apply lots and lots of water to keep all those
competing plantlets happy – it's a thirsty bowl!

So, our free seeds work very nicely, it seems. I'm so impressed that I'm now going to scrounge the office to see if there are any spare seed packets anywhere, so I can keep the supply up for as long as possible into next year.

One interesting little snippet about free seeds on magazine covers is that we have discovered a perverse way of rating their popularity. The obvious yardstick would be magazine sales (it works!), but we've found another popularity meter: thefts! You would not believe the number of people who contact us to say they bought the magazine but there weren't any free seeds attached, someone must have stolen them and could they have some. I am of course shocked and appalled to think that some of my fellow gardeners would be light-fingered thieves, but apparently it's true! 

Nevertheless, whether you stole your seeds or bought them, I hope they worked just fine for you. I'm planning to be a salad bowl farmer from now on.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Katy did camouflage well

It's got to the point that every time I head out into the garden to do even the most mundane tasks, such as this morning's hedge-trimming, I keep my little pocket camera handy, because you never know what or who is going to pop up.

I would never have spotted this katydid in the murraya hedge itself, as its colour camouflage renders it invisible, but the whirring of the cordless hedge trimmer proved to be sheer terror for our little leaf-chomping beauty, and up he or she popped to safety on a nearby verandah post.

Noticed fair-sized chunks of foliage being chomped
but never able to locate the culprit? This could be
the person responsible, the katydid.
Katy tolerated my annoying habit of poking a camera in her face – "damn those garden papparazzi!" – for about 10 seconds, before she miraculously sproinged 30cm in one leap, back into the hedge. Try as hard as I might, I couldn't see her anymore, despite actually seeing where she landed. It's like she dived into a green lake and she submerged and was gone.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weedling or seedling?

All I have to show for a few hours of effort in the garden today is a thoroughly soiled pair of gardening jeans, especially around the knees. Weeding, the never-ending story.

In the middle of one patch of ground, I spotted this little fella coming up. "Are you a weedling or a seedling?" I wondered.

This being the spot where I sowed Florence Fennel seeds for
this first time about 10 days ago, there was every likelihood
this was a Florence Fennel seedling. But how very helpful of
the little tacker to come up with his distinctive Florence Fennel
seed attached. Coming out with its hands up..."Don't shoot!"
At this so intensely weedy time of year there are weedlings and seedlings coming up everywhere, and with crops that I've never grown before I always have that moment of hesitation when I think "Is that you?" upon spotting growth where I have planted seeds. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Growing a beard

A happy coincidence has prompted this little posting. Last weekend Pammy and I moved our Spanish Moss (aka Old Man's Beard, or more correctly Tillandsia usneoides), from the spot where it has not thrived into one where we hope it will do much better.

Then this morning I was visiting Ngeun's blog and there was his gorgeous watercolour painting of Tillandsia usneoides (along with lots of other really interesting watercolours). Time for a Tillandsia posting here at GA!

Pam and I have always loved Spanish moss, and our plant once was a thriving, healthy thing that actually flowered for us, but over the last few years it has gone downhill slowly but surely, and we thought it must be its position that's to blame. Time for a move to a better, kinder spot, because we both love this unusual yet wonderful air plant. 

Now, last year while in the USA we saw ridiculous amounts of Spanish moss thriving on the Southern Live Oak trees which they favour over there. Pictured below are just two examples from an old plantation in Mississippi which sum up the magic of this 'air plant' which has no roots and gets all its nutrients and moisture from the rain and runoff from the trees on which it resides.

This is the look we're after; just like the old
plantation down in Natchez, Mississippi
(which you can read about here). 

All we lack here is 50 acres of ground and a
hundred or so centuries-old Southern Live Oaks.

So our olive tree will have to do, and the
remnants of our unhappy Spanish Moss
will have to start up a colony there.

The former position of our Spanish Moss was
a pair of wall pots down the side of our house.
At first it thrived there for a few years, then
in the last two years it just began to die off
and wither. I thought its spot was semi-shady
enough, but perhaps it did get a bit too much
full sun in the midday blast of heat? There was
enough left in fairly good condition to start up the
current olive tree drapings, so I am hoping Sydney's
coming humid, wet summer will do the rest.
I think where I went wrong is that a tree is the only really satisfactory natural home for this plant. It needs the constant dappled shade of evergreen leaves, and perhaps there's a minuscule but important feeding provided by the runoff passing over the host tree's foliage? That's just me guessing, but where I had it out in a more open yet shady spot, draped from pots, was all wrong, despite regular misting by me and Sydney's generous rainfall.

We'll know that our Spanish Moss is truly happy once more when it starts to flower. Back in November 2008, our Spanish Moss was so deliriously in love with life that it actually flowered. I blogged about that here, and they are teeny weeny tiny little flowers, but since then in subsequent Novembers it has failed to bloom. I'm expecting no baby green blooms this year of course, but my hopes will be up high this time next year. Stay tuned. In the meantime, and to finish off, three pix of the Old Man's Beard in full bloom, from the glory days, when it was healthy, young and carefree, in love with life. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Phantom Chomper

Time and again when I spot a little wonder in the garden I say to Mother Nature "Love Your Work" and today we're handing out extra praise for her very neat work. See Exhibit A below, Your Honour.

How's that for a neat semi-circle chomped from this leaf?

The plant suffering this nibbling isn't all that
bothered by the chomping. It's a baby Norfolk
Island passionfruit seedling, and when it grows
up it's going to cover a whole brick wall and
(hopefully) produce more passionfruit than
my passionfruit-loving Pammy can ever eat.

Lots of leaves are affected but the rate of growth of the
passionfruit is pretty rapid, given it has been in 
the ground
only three weeks, and all leaves are a lush green.

I had a suspicion who might be the mystery
chomper, but as I had never had leaves here
nibbled in this way before, I was prepared to be
surprised to discover it was something weird.
So it was out with my Backyard Bible, this
wonderful book by Judy McMaugh.

It turned out it was who I thought it might be, a leafcutter bee.
The good news is "Control not necessary". That is, let the
poor little nest builder nibble a few leaves, for goodness sake!
As the book says, the bees take the semi-circular 10mm
pieces of leaf "to make nests, which are cigar-shaped and
in situations such as cracks in fence posts or between two
bricks where the mortar has fallen out." Given the passionfruit's
mission in my garden is to cover the enormous, ugly brick wall
at the base of which it has been planted, I guess that's where
the bee is making its little nest – in a gap in the bricks.

Now, this is not my photo, it's a 'stolen' photograph taken by
Peter O, which I found at the excellent site,
– where you can read even more about this leaf cutter bee,
captured in this perfect action shot. Love your work, Peter O!
I know you can just as easily look up a lot of stuff online these days, and I do this every day, but I still love getting out a reference book from the shelf, a good quality reference book, and looking things up (then reading out the relevant bits to Pammy, of course).

The reference book thing is something that goes back to my childhood. My dear old Dad, in heaven since 1985, was a reference book lover, our house was full of them, on every conceivable topic, and whenever any topic of any sort came up in an argument, the cry went out in our house: "Go and get the book and look it up!". Love your work, Dad.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Soggy = Lazy

I suppose I should try to feign disappointment, even though I'm pleased that it's raining. "Oh darn and drat, it's raining today and so I'll have to put off doing all those boring garden jobs I had on my list for today - like trimming the hedges."

Reeks with insincerity, doesn't it? Yes I am pleased. And it's great to have the garden naturally watered by Hughie the Rain God. There really is something extra in rainwater than tap water doesn't offer. Plants just launch ahead in growth after a rainy day.

And so I have limited myself to soggy day pottering, pulling weeds foolish enough to show themselves, taking photos of raindrops on foliage... you know, soggy day lazy stuff.   

Raindrops on my Tiger Grass. Click on this photo to make it
come up bigger on screen and you can see its fine green riblets. 

This is the hedge I'm avoiding today. Lush green unruly
assaulter of passers-by, Sydney's favourite hedge plant,
Murraya paniculata, also called orange jessamine.
Soon, soon, I'll trim you soon. When the sun comes out! 

Water turns to gel once it hits this soft-fleshed succulent. 

Lovely big fig leaves, and fruit forming too.

Lettuce always looks lovely in the rain.

Here's a job lazy bones could do: thin out the lamb's lettuce
(ie corn salad, 
m√Ęche) seedlings to give the remaining ones
room to spread. This wide shallow pot should only have
4-6 plants here, and at the moment it looks like 46.

So glad to see the Thai lime happy. Nothing
to do here, just move right along, folks...

Tomato Numero Uno is coming into full colour now, all that
is wrong is its shape. It's meant to be an egg-shaped Roma
tomato, and it looks more like an oversized cherry. Most of
the others are egg-shaped. The first few aren't.

The NSW Christmas bush is starting to lay on the festive
colour a month ahead of schedule, as it does every year.
And popping up over the fence is my
neighbour Nick's Justicia Carnea, doing what
it does so well this time every year. This is
the ideal lazy gardener's flower, as I don't
plant it, water it, worry about or prune it.
But I do get to enjoy it all the same. Thanks Nick!
So, when the sun comes out so might I, but right now I have books to read, cups of tea to drink and a bit of feet-up rest to enjoy. Can't work in the garden all the time. As far as I am concerned, just sitting out there, doing nothing but enjoying the garden on a rainy day is still gardening! In fact it's one of the best bits.