Saturday, December 20, 2014

Frangipani dreaming

Some excellent news for frangipani growers here in Sydney: don't lift a finger! That's right, don't do anything. Don't water them, don't feed them, just get up close every now and then to inhale the flowers' oh-so-sweet perfume (just to show you care) but that's about it for frangipani-growing tips in Sydney.

I'm a classicist. White frangipani with a yellow centre for me.
Others go for the red 'Rubra' variety but there are many others
to choose from. I just like the yellow one.

No, it's not a cake decoration, it's just perfection doing its thing.

Grown from a cutting (thanks Krissy!) taken earlier this
century, our frangipani tree was a slow grower for the first
few years, but it's now settled in to its new home, and
is growing better than ever, thanks to a judicious lack of
'helpful' interference from me.

The same growing tips of "do nothing at all" apply equally to the
other champion plant of Sydney gardens: Murraya paniculata.
However, the murraya's scent is nothing like the sweet
frangipani's, so getting up close isn't something a lot of people
like to do. In fact the murraya's scent comes over to you, it
seeks you out whether you want its company or not.
And right now, here in Garden Amateur land, the murrayas are flowering and so too the frangipanis, and I didn't lift a finger to make it happen. They did it on their own.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pots & rain, a handy tip

All Sydney gardeners don't need to be told about the weather right now, but for those of you elsewhere on the planet, we are living through a stormy, tropical style summer this year. Hot, humid days, with violent thunderstorms every afternoon and evening. 

And that's the kind of weather which can kill a lot of potted plants, for the simple reason that gardeners think there's no need to water their potted plants, as Huey the weather god has that job covered. And that's my handy tip: go check your potted plants. There's a good chance the soil could be dry (amazingly enough), and so you should still think about watering your potted plants, crazy as it sounds. I checked my potted plants this morning, and they all needed watering. Here's why...

This potted cherry tomato's leaves form a virtual
umbrella over the top of the pot, and the "catchment
area" of potted soil for water from that violent
10-minute downpour of rain is no bigger than
a handkerchief. When I checked this morning, the
intense heat of yesterday had dried out the pot,
and the downpour of rain hadn't made up the
shortfall of moisture. So I watered it.
It was the same story with my potted fig tree, and
right now, as those delicious fruits are forming, this
little Turkish Brown fig tree loves water.
The Thai Lime is also forming fruits galore, and
even though it is in a big pot (as is the fig), it
still needed watering this morning.
So this is an old gardener's tip that is well worth repeating. Never take it for granted that last night's shower of rain has properly watered your pots. Check them the next morning, and you could save a life — a precious, delicious, fruit-bearing life!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pure Gold

For we humans those age milestones of 21, 30, 40, 50, 60, etc, all the way up to 100 are all special occasions... and one of the most endearing little people we know, our outdoor water bowl's resident goldfish, Paul, has clocked up his own biggie: he's five years old. Happy Birthday Paul! As you can see in the photo below, he pigged out on extra goldfish flakes that day.

Regular readers of this blog will probably know the story behind
Paul's name. We started out with four goldfish – John, Paul,
George and Ringo – and five years later Paul is our survivor. He's
been through 45°C summer scorchers, survived every attempt
by the local pussy cats to turn him into a midnight snack,
and he just comes up looking for food each and every morning.
Having a name drawn from music legend, it probably comes
as no surprise to discover that Paul can sing. Here he is
belting out "Back in the USSR" on one of his rowdy days.
And Paul has even been immortalised in a painting by
Pam (this was part of her '31 Days' exhibition this year,
at Gallery Red in Leichhardt). It's beautiful, Pammy. 
© Pamela Horsnell 2014

So, happy birthday little buddy. I'm looking forward to celebrating your 10th, because it means I'll still be around in 2019, too!

And to our blog readers, if you're wondering how goldfish go as backyard pond, or potted pond, people, they're as tough as can be, and they're always very pretty to look at, with their snazzy gold colourings flashing under the water. And if you're really lucky you might get one who sings, but there's no promises on that one ...  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Delicious surprises

Regular readers of this blog will know that Pam and I have been on a short holiday break. Well, when we returned home we had a few delicious surprises in store for us. One was the amazing way our zucchini plants have grown and started to produce crops, and the other pleasant surprise was a package containing a new kitchen gardening DVD created by the man I worked with for many years, Don Burke. But first the zucchinis, then I'll tell you about Don's new DVD...

Our neighbour Katerina always does a brilliant job watering
our garden while we are away, but this time she excelled
herself. When we left the zucchini (courgette) plants were still
relative babies, but in just one week they had turned into monsters
and were starting to produce both flowers and fruit.
A small harvest for dinner that night: small zeeks with the flowers
still attached. Pam loves these! These vegies can grow into monster
marrows, of course, but they do taste best when small, like this.
Meanwhile, out in the garden, lots more little zucchinis are
already popping out. Yes, we're going to have a zucchini glut!
One extra detail that I am pleased about is that the chervil I sowed
to go with our zucchinis is starting the thrive. The chervil plants are
in a row of pots in a semi-shaded spot under the lemon tree
 and just behind the zucchinis. So, when I pop out to harvest more
zucchinis I also harvest a handful or two of chervil, a herb with
a delicate, slightly aniseedy flavour which teams superbly
with zucchinis. Isn't it nice when plans work out well!  

And now, for the second delicious surprise awaiting me when we got back from holidays was a little parcel containing this new DVD by Don Burke. It's called "Backyard Farming: Back to the Kitchen" and so it's all about my favourite topic, which is growing your own food, then harvesting it to enjoy in the kitchen. As you can see there's a chook on the front cover, so Don has also included some segments on keeping chooks so you can have a supply of freshly laid eggs to accompany your homegrown organic produce.

I'm sure many many readers of this blog were also fans of the popular 'Burke's Backyard' TV show that was for many years a regular part of Aussie Friday nights at home with the family, watching the television. This DVD is what I would call "classic Don Burke". He really knows his stuff and deals with an incredible array of backyard farming topics, and the treat is the sense of fun and good humour he brings to every segment. It's very easy to watch, very enjoyable viewing – just like tuning in to the Burke's Backyard TV show once again.

While I scored a freebie from Don, it won't set you back much – just $24.95 – to enjoy the fun of watching the DVD at home. At this time of year, of course it's a great Christmas gift idea! Either drop some major hints around the home, or buy a copy for a gardening friend (or do both). You can order it direct from the Burke's Backyard website,, but you'll probably also see it sold at leading retailers such as ABC shops, Sanity and various other outlets. If you Google "Backyard Farming: Back to the Kitchen" you'll get lots of hits from all sorts of online retailers, so it's very easy to get a copy.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Holiday snapz

Today is the last day of a mini holiday Pammy and I have been enjoying on the far south coast of New South Wales, one of my favourite parts of the planet, and so I have a few holiday snapz to share with you.

All the photos this time come via my iPhone, and this time I discovered the iPhone's "Panorama" setting, which allows you to sweep your camera from left to right – and the iphone takes care of the rest, getting rid of all your wobbles to create a nicely postcard-like image. I love it, and if you click on the photos all of them should pop up much larger and look nicer.
Camel Rock beach, just north of Bermagui.
Looking south from the Blue Pool, near Bermagui
Mount Dromedary, viewed from Bermagui.
Old Tathra Wharf, 40km south of Bermagui
I tried to make the edges of this sandbank, which is about
four feet high, look like it's an impressive cliff formation that
you might find while dying of thirst in the Sahara.
Mystery Bay, so named because in the 1880s a boat was found
washed up on the shore. It should have contained three locals
plus a Government Surveyor and his assistant, but none of
the poor souls was ever found.
Mystery Bay contains a seemingly endless series of beaches.
Wander each beach's length to the rock platform at the end,
round the corner and another beach stretches ahead. 
That's the beauty of the South Coast. Hundreds of miles of
unspoiled beaches, crystal clear water. I hope it stays like this
forever, but the best I can realistically hope for is that it develops
as slowly as possible, and large stretches are marked as
"never to be developed" so future generations can experience
the joy of wandering along miles and miles of natural coastline.
Finally, a few close-ups to finish. Whenever I look down while
walking on beaches, I momentarily think I am in a desert.
What a dazzling colour for a beachside flower. If I was a
bee I could spot it from the next headland.
Seashells, seaweed, bluebottles and driftwood
Finally, here's the best part of the town where we stayed:
the wharf at Bermagui, where fish and chips is a way of life.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Heading for the mountains

I hope you like looking at photos, because that's what I have in store for you this posting. Lots of photos (taken by Pam and me) of flowers, foliage, lichens, water cascades and more, all of them a highlight of our wonderful day spent with friends at the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens at Mount Tomah.

This is our 'cool climate' botanic garden, as it does get very chilly (and occasionally snowy) in winter up here in the mountains. The spectacular spring flowers are mostly South African proteas of various kinds (although there is a NSW Waratah as well among our pix). Pam's camera kept on heading for the lichens (I expect to see some paintings of them in coming months), while I gave my iPhone a thorough battery-flattening during our post-lunch walk. At the end of the post I have a few notes on how to get there, etc. And whatever you do, book a table at the restaurant there. It truly is fine dining up in the hills. 

Finally, one of my infamous pan shots courtesy of You Tube, looking over the gardens on what was a beautifully warm but unfortunately hazy day.

Here's the details.
Blue Mountains Botanic Garden is on the Bells Line of Road, which runs from North Richmond/Kurrajong over to Lithgow. The Gardens are a few kilometres past Bilpin. It took us a bit under two hours to drive there from Marrickville, and I do suspect that October and November, when all the spring blooms are out, is one of the two peak seasons (the other is in April and May, when the autumn colour is on show). 

The restaurant there is truly a fine dining experience, not cheap, but as good as you'd find anywhere in Sydney, and all the produce used in the restaurant is locally sourced. If your budget is tight, pack a picnic basket, as it's a super picnic spot.

Here's a link to the Gardens' website: 

Friday, November 14, 2014

A snob's progress

Being called a 'snob' is something we don't like to hear, but recently I called myself a snob, so that's OK. Because it was true. There I was at the garden centre, in the seed section, looking for radish seeds. They didn't have the packet of 'round' radish seeds I was after, but they did have round radish as seed tapes. Seed tapes? I'm a nut-case keen gardener who grows all sorts of stuff from seed… seed tapes are too easy… they're for beginners

That's when I called myself a snob: I took it on the chin (because it was true) and so I bought the packet of radish seed tapes, planted them, and harvested some of the proceeds this morning. Now I love them! Nice crops and so easy to sow, too. 

Small but perfectly formed, what a sensational combination of
red and green. Now, I don't eat a lot of radishes in salads, but
I do like to chop them finely and use them as a flavour zinger,
much in the same way as you use salad dressings. Besides,
I just love the way they look in bunches. I'd grow them just to
look at them, come to think of it.
Yes, the seed tapes are easy. Just lay them on prepared soil,
cover with a bit more soil, water in and wait. They worked
well and all the seeds came up nicely and grew well. But the
cool thing is that a few weeks after the first sowing, I thought
to myself "I need another 20cm of radishes" so I snipped off
a length of tape, laid it on the soil, covered with soil, watered
in and in about 1 minute the job was done. 

And so this little gardening snob has learned his lesson. Gardening doesn't have to be a test of skill, all it has to do is grow things. Doesn't matter how. I am now a seed tape convert (well, as far as radish growing goes, I am). Not sure what else is available in seed tapes, but next time I see them I'll think "oh goody, seed tapes".