Sunday, May 26, 2013

Green finery

At last, a few days of rain, and again I'm reminded that there's a magic ingredient inside raindrops that good old tap water simply doesn't have. Stepping outside this sunny morning and all the greens were greener, the plants definitely happier, plump with growth. Though late May here is hardly a time for flower shows, it's a wonderful time to appreciate the beauty, complexity and sheer diversity of foliage. And that's what this little Sunday post is all about. Fab foliage.  

Pretty little chervil, a whole pot full of it
looking like a forest for tiny elves to hide inside.

Porky plump English spinach loved all that rain.

Rough as a cat's tongue, silvery sage.

Sandwich-bound this lunchtime, the mixed
salad bowl is a harmony of colours and textures.
The foliage of Florence fennel is wonderfully light and fine,
the garden's best dewdrop catcher every cool autumn morning. 
Back to the chervil, though, it's all coming up
from seed and in the full freshness of youth its
green is so light, the foliage soft yet dense.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Times a' changing

Should we ever misplace all our calendars, gardeners would always have a very good idea of what day it is simply by looking at what's happening out in their patch. Like this morning, when I wandered outside to discover that it's June right now! Surely. The first of the orchids are open, so it's the first half of June. They always open then. Alas, we're having a weirdo of a year as far as timings go, and things aren't happening when they should. (The fact it's also warm and sunny this morning should have been the big hint that it isn't really June, Jamie.)

Poor old regular readers of my blog. Every June I post a photo
of these cymbidium orchids, as a ceremony to mark the times.
Yet this year this orchid started blooming last week in fact, almost
a full month ahead of schedule.
Much better at time-keeping this year, our street
tree, a pink-flowering gum, Eucalyptus
leucoxylon var. 'Rosea' started its cool season
blooming right on schedule, in early April.
If all goes according to normal patterns (and
that's a big assumption) it should still be in
bloom, feeding the raucous lorikeets, wattlebirds
and clever little New Holland honeyeaters
in mid-September. What a tree!
Lots of other plants are having a weird year here. The frangipani, which should be dropping leaves now, is still full of leaf with a few flowers soldiering on. And the zygocactus (Schlumbergera), which always bursts into bloom in early May, is only now sending out its flower buds, and they'll be lucky to bloom before June arrives.

Of course, the answer to all this weirdness is the weather, as it always is. Summer saw all-time record high temperatures, while this May has been virtually devoid of rain, and we've also got close to Sydney's record for the number of consecutive days with temperatures above 20°C (68°F) for May, our last month of autumn here.

Not complaining, mind you. Wouldn't dare. Just observing!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hello walls

Until I tried bromeliads I never really had all that much success with wall pots. They're terrible things to grow plants in, as far as I'm concerned, but bromeliads are the kind of unfussy plants which really don't give a toss where they grow, provided it's warm.

And so, today, folks, my wall pots of Vriesia bromeliads are in bloom, as they have been for the last few weeks, and they will be for the next few weeks as well. Here they are.

I had tried other plants in these wall pots, such as impatiens, 
but they were all high maintenance and, in the end, too much
work and not that successful. These broms have been here
more than two years now and hardly need any attention.

There's hardly a boring bromeliad flower
in the pantheon, and this tropical fantasy
of youthful colour doesn't let the team down.

I guess if I was better at growing broms that
I might be able to egg it on to produce more
blooms, as multiple blooms do look good
together, but what I know about bromeliad
growing doesn't take long to share.
The first thing about them to know is that in their native rainforest habitats they don't grow in soil. They live on tree trunks, as ephiphytes, just like orchids. So for gardens, their potting mix should be very coarse and just somewhere for their clingy roots to hang out in. I use the one recommended to me, of a 50:50 mix of orchid potting mix and ordinary potting mix.

I also feed them with slow-release granules formulated for orchids. And I water them every now and then. I've been told that the quickest way to kill a brom is to over-water it, and so I take great delight in being a slacker about watering my broms. Seems to work.

The wall pots themselves are under a covered pergola that faces north, so it's very bright, but all light is filtered and the plants are never directly kissed by sunshine. That also seems to suit them fine. And of course I am in Sydney, which is frost-free through winter. Never gets that cold here. And that's it, that's everything I know about growing broms.

However, my main point with this post is simply to recommend bromeliads for wall pots in shady or semi-shaded spots, such as down the side passage of houses. I cannot for the life of me understand why optimistic desperados try to grow vegetables in wall pots down the sides of their houses. That is such hard work with the odds stacked against you right from the start. If you want some year-round greenery plus interesting flowers as a bonus that lasts a few months, I'd always go for bromeliads for that difficult assignment.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Toothy grins

I love watching plants go through the build-up to flowering. Some send up stalks plump with promising fat buds that advertise their coming delights to patrolling bees and other insects. Others are much more modest about their sex life, just popping out without fanfare, 'doing it' briefly, then resuming operations as if they're glad that awkward business is over for another year.

However, in the case of the star turn in our garden this afternoon, the little succulent Faucaria, it has being "going to" flower for a few weeks now, and today it's saying to every bee in the backyard "look at me, look at me". I can understand its desperation to be loved, too. It does have a rather unfortunate smile, a 'toothy' grin of multiple fangs that makes it look like it's a relative of carnivorous plants such as the Venus fly trap. It does look alarming. In fact it's nothing of the sort. It's just another weirdo in a succulent universe full of weirdos, and our weirdo is in love with life, trying to make babies once again.

And so here it is in flower, yellow daisies basking in the sunshine.

Two weeks ago, see what I mean about its little image problem?
Those things looking like lurid tongues protruding between its teeth
are the flower buds. Slowly but surely the faucaria developed a
whole ullulation of flower bud tongues, ready to burst into full
noise when the moment came.

Each flower is filled with pollen, ready for the bees to visit.
The botanical name of 'faucaria', rather unsurprisingly, means 'animal mouth'. This is a native of Cape Province and the Karoo Desert in South Africa (hi you guys!). I don't know the species name of mine, it doesn't quite match the photos I have checked out online. Maybe it's some subspecies of Faucaria felina, that's my best guess.

As for how to grow it, all I've done is plant it in free-draining soil in a spot that gets lots of sunshine. I let it survive on our natural rainfall, and I don't feed it (although I did apply a seaweed liquid a few times, to encourage the roots to grow). I do pull out weeds that try to muscle in on its territory, but that's about it. Since I planted it out from its pot into the ground, it has spread a bit further, but it is a slow-grower. That's fine by me, I hope it bursts into bloom same time, next year.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Nine days later

I had thought it was only a week since I planted the sprouted supermarket garlic, but I tell a little lie – that was nine days ago, not a mere week of seven. And haven't they belted along!

The thing that caught my eye as I stepped out into the garden
this morning was the uniform rate of growth, according to
the amount of sunshine received. Closest to the camera is the
relative runt of the litter, which goes into afternoon shade
earlier than the others. And furthest away is the tallest, the
last to lose the afternoon sun.

Some years ago, as we were doing some kind of gardening
project for the magazine, photographer Brent Wilson, himself
a dab hand in the garden, said "A dead stick would grow in this
soil." And I think he's right. It is good, fertile, loamy stuff,
clay which has been improved upon by successive gardeners
living here. No doubt the warm sunshine, regular watering and
a side dressing of Dynamic Lifter (chicken poo) have helped,
but these garlic cloves seem to have a real zest for living.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Right neighbourly

A knock at the door late this morning, and the beaming, lovely smile of my neighbour Katerina shines through the gauze on the screen door. She has a plate in her hand, covered with alfoil. Greek Easter!

Every year Katerina celebrates Greek Easter in style. A keen churchgoer to her local Greek Orthodox church a few streets away, she's a quietly religious saint of a woman who practises all the traditions of this very important time of her holy year, and that includes baking traditional shortbread cakes and giving gifts of them to her neighbours. 

Pammy and I have been enjoying Katerina's yummy shortbread for many years now. As she said this morning of all of us, her and Nick, me and Pam: "Nice neighbours". And it's true, we live separate lives mostly, but we really like each other and help out in whatever little ways we can.

The shortbreads will have disappeared by the end of the
weekend, and Pam will quietly dispose of the Caramello choccy
eggs in her own good time. The dyed eggs are a Greek Easter
tradition, symbolising both the blood of Christ (the red) and
rebirth (an egg). The interesting touch is that the red dye
is traditionally made from onion skins.
It's such a blessing to have good neighbours, and such misery to have inconsiderate or unpleasant yobbos next door. In our case we've had the same neighbours for all the 21 years we've been here. Nick and Katerina on the west side, and Michael and Soula up on the east. Both couples have been the best neighbours, and we've seen their children change from school kids to young adults and, in a couple of cases, parents who bring their beautiful children around to visit, and sometimes stay with, their doting grandparents.

I've mentioned Katerina many times over the years I've been writing this blog. She waters our garden when we're away on holidays, and if I'm not up very early on Thursday mornings, she will have already wheeled our garbage and recycling bins back up the side of our house after the garbage and recycling trucks have paid their weekly visits.

For our part I always think we never do enough to repay them their kindness, to tell the truth. So we talk, have lovely chats and enjoy that simple pleasure whenever the chance arises. Nick's a keen gardener, Katerina loves gardens and deftly influences Nick's choices of what to plant next, so we have a lot in common. 

One of Pam's paintings (of geraniums, which reminds Katerina of her mother) is in their house now. And a few days ago, I had the arborists in to again heavily prune the olive tree which would otherwise rob Nick of the much needed winter morning sun in his productive backyard. He always says "thanks, thanks, mate" because like all gardeners, he knows sunshine is as precious as rain. How could I be a good neighbour and rob my neighbour of sunshine?