Saturday, August 31, 2013

Spring started weeks ago!

One of the fortunate things about my new life as an erratically employed freelancer is that I get more time off to do gardening, whether I want the time off or not! The pay is lousy but the lifestyle is terrific. As a result, my garden looks rather tidy at the moment. As the heading for this post says, spring started weeks ago, so this posting is nothing more than a wander around my happy and unusually tidy spring garden. 

For me, this light, fresh green is the true colour
of spring. In this case it's the top leaves of my
potted Turkish Brown fig.
Flowers do announce the new season nicely, and our potted native
orchids are producing sprays of these tiny, fragrant little blooms.
Small but perfectly formed orchids less than an inch across
from side to side, the other nice thing about them, speaking
as a gardener, is that they are very easy to grow.
Our two lavender bushes have been blooming
their heads off for a month, the bees love them
and they aren't looking like slowing down any
time soon. I've added its fellow Mediterranean
classic, the rosemary, to keep them company.
Wet weather can truncate the show of the superb
scadoxus, but with hardly a drop for the last few
weeks they're putting on their best show ever.
Our self-sown strawberry patch (which came
up out of some compost spread in this spot) is
still rudely healthy. Its spot is a bit too shady
in winter so it's content to snooze then, but now
the amount of sunshine it's getting is growing
daily it is flowering (with liquid feeds from me
to help the cause) and the first fruits are forming.
The end of winter is one of the two times of the
year when my in-ground citrus are fed, and a
week ago our garden was resplendent with the
heady aroma of chicken poo. Now the Eureka
lemon is flowering its head off quite fragrantly. 
Our potted Thai lime is clapping on a lot of
deep maroon new growth, but as it's in a pot I
feed it lightly once a month, unlike the other
citrus trees growing here.
I sometimes channel a bit of Basil Fawlty when
I am yet again caring for my potted mint, as
what mint needs "is a damned good thrashing".
What I mean by that is mint needs constant
taming and cutting back, sometimes all the way
down to pot-rim level. I did that for the
umpteenth time about three weeks ago, and
since then with regular watering and liquid
feeds, it has bounced back nicely yet again.
It's a high-maintenance herb, mint, but it
does look and smell lovely in these peak times.

I'm not going to say too much about the passionfruit vine
trained on my neighbour's garage wall, other than to report
that it's ludicrously lush and green, and has no flowers and
is doing sod-all in the way of producing fruit yet.
The small gaggle of garlic plants raised from
sprouted supermarket cloves is growing on well.
I told you the garden looks neat and well mulched at the moment.
I pulled out the winter crop, dug it all over as usual, then planted
seedlings of lettuce, basil and chillies, along with pretty little French
 marigolds for some colour. The round bare patch on the right
rear is where I am raising Collard greens direct-sown from seeds.
The Collard greens came with the Soulicious eBook cookbook 
Pam and I bought from our friend Awia Markey.
New plants have been added recently, too.
This row of four Gardenia magnifica should
grow to about 2m tall and cover up that
white Colorbond fence. I am hoping for dense
glossy green growth, white fragrant flowers
in summer and no problems, please!
And finally, if it all grows too big and everything
gets out of hand – start again! That's what we
are doing with a potted bay tree. Our last one
was here for ages but grew too big, then became
pot-bound then got sick and ugly. All my fault.
So here is "Son of Bay", my attempt to make
amends for all my bay-tree growing mistakes
perpetrated over the last 20 years. Whether I find
redemption or not remains to be seen, but I do
like adding just a touch of epic theme to
gardening here. It puts things in perspective.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blink and you'll miss it

I hope the hymn-writers union doesn't mind me borrowing their line about "all creatures great and small" when discussing "all things bright and beautiful" because I'd like to toss in a lyric delighting in "all flowers great and small" if I can. It was only last Friday that I posted some photos and words about our most spectacular bloom, our Scadoxus. Well, this warm and sunny Sunday morning I think it's time to throw in a teensy little speck of balance by stopping to admire the tiniest, least spectacular flower that is also in bloom in our garden right now.

Here it is, a Vriesia bromeliad flower, trying to go unnoticed.

Just to put things in perspective, my Vriesias began "blooming"
with their colourful bracts back in early May. This photo is
dated May 12, and it wasn't as if I took it on the day the bracts
came out to play. As well as these wall pots I have several
other plants in pots here and they're. They're easy to grow.

When young the bracts are green and red,
but as they age they become yellow and red.
The trick is, however, that bracts aren't flowers.
They might be called "flowers" because they
look great, but they're just extremely evolved
attention getters, and they do that job very well.
However, flowers they ain't.

Over time, little blobs of green develop on the ends of the bracts,
and these finally burst open for the teeny, tiny little white,
fluffy flowers to shyly poke out, hoping to go unnoticed.

The flower stalk itself is no more than
10mm long, and the bloom is only 2mm
across its fluffy width.
To tell the truth, I am not sure what the flower's purpose is in life. Bromeliads prolifically produce babies (called 'pups') as new plants growing up around the base of the mother plant. The mother plant, once it flowers, slowly dies, leaving behind a brood of the next generation to carry on the cycle of life.

So I am a bit mystified as to what the flower's role is here, as the plant doesn't seem to reproduce from either seed or fruit. I guess that's something for me to research and report on one of these days, or maybe I'll get lucky and a kind bromeliad expert will wander past this blog and helpfully tell me what I need to know.

In the meantime, here's a salute to all the teeny, tiny, unnoticed flowers of this world. I'm on the lookout for you, as I'm fascinated by all the different ways of life, and my very modest little garden has plenty of room for you.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Our torches are glowing

"Crikey, what are those things?" asked the tradie working around the back of our house. He was pointing towards the quartet of dazzling orange scadoxus in bloom at the rear of our yard. With the low afternoon sun catching their vivid tops, for an hour or so every day it looks they are torches on fire. These flowering bulbs have several common names, including Natal Paintbrush, which tells you where they're from, and Scadoxus puniceus will help you find it in a reference book or online catalogue. Every year I do a blog posting about them, and that's what I am doing again.

Even from inside our house the Scadoxus are
the first thing you notice when you look outside.
Perched on fast-growing 40cm tall stalks which
had barely poked out of the ground just seven
weeks ago, in early July, the flower heads
take about two weeks to fully unfurl. 
Then when they do unfurl they'll last another two to three
weeks in this condition, depending on the weather.

They've bloomed much earlier this year, thanks to the mild
warm winter we have enjoyed. Usually September is their time.
The countless hundreds of little pollen tops help to explain why
the blooms look so afire when the low sun hits them.
Pollen falls constantly from the blooms, dusting the deep red leaves.
The vivid flowering is testament to the
health of these very easy-care plants, but
as confirmation the little thicket of baby
bulbs forming around the base of the
older bulbs promises that the scadoxus
shows will just get more spectacular as
the years roll by.
In my previous posting about the succulent Senecio in the hanging basket I mentioned how lovely it is to have plants given to you as gifts – every time I look at them, especially when they're at their very best, I think of the person who gave me the gift of the plant.

Well, by happy coincidence it's the same story with these scadoxus; they were a gift from another gardening writer who I worked with, the lovely Geoffrey Burnie, who is now editing Your Garden magazine. Thanks once more, Geoffrey, your scadoxus bulbs are loving life here in the mostly shady (but not always shady), sheltered spot you suggested I plant them.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cool colour

One of the things I love about so many plants is the way they change colours throughout the seasons. Many succulents throw on their glad rags during winter, colouring up in all sorts of ways you'd never expect while they're surviving another long summer in their basic green outfits. Right now, one of my favourite succulents is giving just a flush of winter colour, and that's because we've had a very warm, dry winter here this year, and the chills have been few and barely caused a shiver.

This is Senecio jacobensii, a trailing succulent
that puts on a pinky-purple glow in winter. This
plant was given to me by a good friend, the Herald's
gardening writer, Cheryl Maddocks, who worked
with me at Burke's Backyard for a number of years.
Cheryl is an absolute whizz with succulents. It's so nice
to have plants which remind you of friends, and the
little cutting Cheryl gave me about six years ago has
turned into a pair of very healthy plants.

A hanging basket is the ideal spot for this trailing
plant, but it will also sprawl over a low mound
(and that's what Plant Number Two is doing over
in my succulent patch right now).
If I lived up in the Blue Mountains, or in Tassie perhaps, where frosts are common in winter, the colouring of the leaves would be much more pronounced. As our winter has been mild the colouring is only mild this year, but it's still a really lovely looking thing, one of the easiest-care hanging basket plants I have grown.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An eBook to savour

I've had numerous friends say to me over the years that I ought to turn my little gardening blog into a little gardening book, and a friend of mine who has just published a very delicious and professional looking cookery book in eBook form has given me the motivation to at least make a start on such a project of my own. 

Our friend, Awia Markey, has shown me the way forward by publishing her own eBook. It's called "Soulicious" and is subtitled "recipes and interviews from my Soul Food journey to the USA".

And so, let me give myself a year or so to get my act together, and in the meantime I want to tell you about Awia's inspiring and very delicious cookbook. (And don't worry, I'm keeping my amateur status pristine, folks, this ain't a paid ad: I just like what Awia has done and want to tell you about it. We paid the mere $20 + p&h for our own copy and I hope lots more people do so as well.)

First things first: here's the cover.

Awia is an artist and graphic designer who my Pammy met
many years ago when they worked together in a design studio.

Awia has always loved food, travel, art and design, and
this book is a wonderful example of how to combine them all in
an eBook. 'Soulicious' not only contains a stack of classic Soul
Food recipes, but also some fascinating interviews and talks with
famous Soul Food cooks and neighbourhood legends of the
kitchen from all across the USA.
Pam and I have been following Awia's progress (via Facebook mostly) as she's worked up recipes and posted updates and sneak peeks over the last year or so. So it was with great delight that we finally received our very professionally presented CD in the mail. It was so easy to load up the computer with the disk, download the 21.6MB Acrobat pdf to my desktop, and start browsing. It's an easy document to navigate. 

As I went through the book I really appreciated one little thing: when I spotted the recipe I wanted to cook that first night – Cajun blackened fish with dirty rice – I hit the "Print" button and I printed out just that page. I used that in the kitchen, accidentally spilled some spices on it and so, at the end of the meal the messed-up printout made its way to the compost scrap bin for recycling. Instead of having a big clumsy cookbook getting in the way on our crowded kitchen benchtop, as they often do, that single-page printout was lovely to work with.

This is Awia's photo of the blackened fish with dirty rice, not
mine, by the way. I really loved the spice mix she has created
for both. I often get frustrated with US cookbooks which rely
on proprietary spice blends (you know, "Just add two ounces of
Mumma Jackson's Louisiana blend") that you can't get outside
of Louisiana. Awia's spice blends go back to blending the
real, original spices, so it's possible to get the flavour right all
the way over here on the other side of the planet.

The blackened fish cooked perfectly and had the right amount of heat, but the revelation was the rice, which was a beautifully spiced side dish. Awia's recipe suggested a range of chopped vegetables to add to it as an option, and so I added chopped celery, capsicum (bell pepper) onion and garlic, as she suggested.

Just in case you mistakenly think this is a seafood cookbook, it's not. There are separate chapters on seafood, pork, chicken, vegetables, barbecue, salads, sides and, of course, sweet things aplenty, plus a few drinks to sip. The recipes include all the famous classics plus a bunch of local specialties Awia discovered on her travels. It's a wide-ranging, very well balanced selection of Soul Food dishes.

So that's enough of a plug/preview from me. If you think it sounds interesting and different and delicious, head on over to Awia's Facebook page to find out all about it.
Amazingly well priced at just $20 plus postage and handling (that'll vary a bit depending on where you are, I guess), it's beautifully designed, interesting and delicious, and as far as I'm concerned it's inspiring, too.

One of these days, I'm going to do a little gardening book and it's going to be an eBook. Thanks for giving me the inspiration to make a start, Awia.