Monday, May 30, 2016

Loving it here

Do you have a plant in your garden which just thrives and does well, no matter how little you care for it? (And that's not counting weeds, of course!).

Here in Garden Amateurland our happiest little person is that humble herb, thyme. Several years ago, it was almost taking over the joint, spreading across the pathway and loving life in a most fragrant and deliciously useful way.

This photo was taken back in 2010, and at least two-thirds of the plant is actually sitting on our pavers. Just the small portion on the far left had roots in soil. It's a good example of how in the wild thyme spreads itself over rocks on sunny hillsides. It's a sunbather of a plant.

Well, in 2012 we dug this herby marvel up and planted one remnant in a pot. It had to go as this is where our succulent patch is now located, and that big bush really was enough thyme for a thousand families, and there's just Pammy and me here doing the cooking and eating.

The wide, shallow pot of thyme still loves life here just as much as when it was in the ground, and it has spilled over the side of the pot and its roots have managed to find some soil in the gap around the base of our clothesline (that green thing poking up on the left side of the photo). 

It might just be my imagination but I think the thyme growing in the ground, around the clothesline, is a bit more fragrant than the pot-grown herb.

The pot-grown thyme is a bit more lush and green than the in-ground stuff, and that's because I do water the pot regularly. I guess the thyme in the ground must get some extra water from splashes and the moisture leaking through the drain holes in the pot, but it's just a tough plant that is doing great with hardly any help or encouragement from me.

I probably use thyme in the kitchen as often as I use parsley or basil, which is a lot. So all my regular harvesting of leaves does constitute pruning, and it certainly does make the plant bushier. Every now and then, if I haven't been cooking a lot lately, I do give the plants a very quick and crude haircut, grabbing handfuls and shearing them off with the secateurs. Into the compost it goes, and the aroma of the whole exercise is sensational.

I wish I could tell you the secret of keeping thyme thriving and lush, but I think that would mean that somehow I can take some of the credit for the fact that this little herb just loves almost everything about this backyard, but I suspect that least of all, it's me.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Stinky does it again

When do stapelias bloom? When they feel like it, it seems. Mine is blooming now, mid-May. But the last time it bloomed was in 2015, January 3. Here's the post from back then. 

The previous post says most of what I know about stapelias, but I would like to thank the very cooperative blowfly who stayed perfectly still on a nearby pebble while I took this photo with my phone. The poor blowfly is wondering "where's my rotting flesh, I want to lay eggs on it?" but alas, the stapelia is smarter than the average fly, which is not really saying a lot, other than "ain't nature wonderful".

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sweet shade

Success has its rewards, but like most drugs it also has its undesirable side-effects. Here in sunny Garden Amateurland, our modest success in growing things in all our lovely Australian sunshine is, ironically enough, lots more shade, and less sunshine.

Avert your eyes from our captivating tresses of Spanish moss for a moment if you can, because in the background you can see our two major shade-makers. In the centre is a lemongrass patch that has grown that big in one season, and on the right is our beautiful frangipani tree, which once was a cutting but is now approaching youthful adulthood. The little patch of straw mulch in front of both was once our garden's sunniest spot, a thriving little vegie patch, but right now it barely gets an hour of direct sunshine each day. It's overshadowed by success and I'm not sure what to grow there.

What to do with the lemongrass is a simple matter of cutting it back a month or two from now, in what was once known as "midwinter". I suspect we won't get much of a winter this year, if our warmest-ever autumn is any guide. However, the lemongrass will benefit from a very savage cutback, but will be this size again, same time next year. It's one of my favourite plants in the garden. It's very pleasantly lemony-scented to be near while I'm weeding, and its many graceful arches look like a green fireworks explosion frozen in time.

As a result of all this shade, I have swapped around the roles of a few garden beds. This is eastern side of the garden, now our sunniest spot.

One little bed is now our salad patch. In the foreground, another row of radish seeds have just sprouted this morning (hello!), next to them some lettuce seedlings are doing their thing, and barely visible, slender baby shallots/scallions are making their usual hesitant start.

Next door to salad-land, in our other sunny spot, that's parsley in the foreground, grown from supermarket salad parsley 'micro-sprouts' (see this older post for more on that), and behind the parsley is Pammy's 2016 crop of Iceland poppies, something I grow for her every year.

As for what to grow in the shadier spots, several different herbs do remarkably well in less than full sunshine. Here's some chervil supermarket mico-sprouts planted just yesterday. Chervil is a herb more people should grow and use in both cooking and salads, and it has the bonus that it is not only good in semi-shade (or semi-sunshine if you like), it actually seems to prefer the gloom. Parsley also copes fairly well with semi-shade, and as I've also planted a whole punnet of coriander micro-sprouts from the supermarket into the semi-shaded spot overshadowed by the lemongrass, I'll soon find out how it goes there. 

As for what to do about our garden's major shade-maker, the frangipani tree, it's a conundrum. It's beautiful, and as you can see here it's not just beautiful on the outside, with its fragrant yellow-centred white blooms. Even on the "inside", the space under the frangipani is a deep-shade mini forest that has a touch of the fairytales about it. It does need to be trimmed a bit, but not too much.

In years gone by the deciduous frangipani would drop all its leaves in June and would only fire up again in greenery in late August. In our ever-warming climate I suspect it will be leafless for just a few weeks every year.

The frangipani is also spreading so wide it's actually growing over the path leading out to Pammy's art studio at the bottom of the garden, so a few branches will be removed in winter so she can get out there without being fragrantly whacked in the face next summer. 

We haven't really made up our mind what to do about the frangipani. In the long run it will grow bigger and it will change how our garden grows. My instinct is to go with the flow and not to be too much "in charge" of everything that happens here. I'm just the gardener. While the odd bit of wayward frangipani might be lopped off, I suspect gardening here over coming years will take its own sweet-scented course.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Should they ever discover plant life on Mars I would not be a bit surprised if it turned out to be onion weed ... or oxalis. These two weeds are indestructible, and they have well and truly taken over our succulent patch in recent months. It was a disgrace: you could barely see the smaller succulent plants for the weeds, and so I've been waiting for the weather to cool down a bit so I could get stuck into the big job of yanking out all the weeds and renovating the whole patch back to "as-new" condition.

To kick things off, let's start with the finished, renovated succulent patch. Traa daa! 

This, dear readers, is how it now looks, six hours after starting on the project. It took a lot longer than I imagined it would.

The first step was to pull every small succulent out of the ground and toss them into a few trugs and trays. That's one thing I can say about succulents: these things grow and multiply incredibly easily. I was amazed how many there were.

The next step was the ugly bit, and it took a long time to do it: digging out onion weed and both type of oxalis (ie, the one with large leaves which grows from bulbs (Oxalis latifolia) and the "creeping" variety with small leaves that sends out runners in every direction (Oxalis corniculata).)

As I dug the soil I realised that there were probably more decorative "mulch" pebbles in the soil than on top of the soil as mulch, so I went into the kitchen, grabbed a large bamboo-handled wire scoop (bought from a Chinese food store) that we never use, and pressed it into service as a pebble sifter.

What a fantastic pebble sifter! It did a brilliant job, and along the way it also scooped up, oh ... about another thousand oxalis and onion weed bulbs.

Two giant trugs loaded up with sifted pebbles, and I was ready to plant the succulents back into the prepared bed. 

(By the way, pebble mulches are nice to look at and have one other benefit: they don't stay wet and so they are a good environment for growing succulents. As for slowing the growth of weeds? Utterly hopeless. In fact, the creeping type of oxalis loves spreading across pebble mulches, and onion weed powers through it. And over time, the pebbles slowly sink into the soil, so in general they aren't my favourite mulch at all.)

Replanting everything allowed me to re-arrange the plants, with the smallest ones right down the front, mediums in the middle and tall ones at the back. I know this sounds perfectly obvious, but when I originally planted the succulents I wasn't sure of their ultimate sizes, and a few have grown more than I expected.Pictured here are Gasteria (top left), sempervivums (left), faucaria centre right, echeveria (far right), Corpuscularia (top centre), and another type of echeveria (top right).

Some of those names above might be familiar to you, but if you haven't heard of corpuscularia, here it is. It's one of my favourites in the whole patch, and the renovation has allowed me to move it to a better spot.

The spiky guy in the centre is Haworthia attenuata. When I planted it back in 2012 the clump was almost this size. Now, four years later, I was able to divide the clump into two clumps this size. I honestly hadn't realised until I looked at an old photo how much this had grown.

As I mentioned earlier, I had dug out all the smaller succulents, but had left the larger, more established succulent shrubs in place. And they've also grown a fair bit since I first planted it all out in September 2012. Look at the photo below for the comparison.

While the weeds have multiplied, so have the succulents themselves. I am sure the weeds will be back in force in no time, but here's hoping the succulents will also keep on growing and take over the place. That's the plan ...