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.


michelle hamer said...

That lemongrass is huge! Do you ever harvest any stalks for the kitchen? I had a nice clump of it going for a few years but it never got anywhere near that size and then it died. I've rooted a few stalks from the grocery store for a replacement but they will probably take a couple of years to really get going. I guess the cooler and drier climate here must be the difference, and it also keeps Frangipani trees out of the garden.

BTW, we visited Wendy's Secret Garden - what a magical spot! And we walked the harbor bridge to get there, another treat. All of Sydney was a treat, it's a beautiful city in a gorgeous setting.

Jamie said...

Hi Michelle

Glad to hear you enjoyed Wendy's Secret Garden, and also walked the Harbour Bridge. Sydney Harbour is such a beautiful place, isn't it?

As for the lemongrass, yep, I do use it in cooking, but my harvesting of a few stalks hardly makes a dent in its progress. The stalks are at their juicy best in spring and summer. By now the stalks are a bit woody and much harder to chop/crush, but after a midwinter cutback it grows back with new succulent stalks next season

Shivangni said...

Delightful garden with very appropriate words. If it were anyone else I would've rattled a list of shade loving plants. But you are a guru and I have so much to learn from you so please keep us abreast.
You had in an earlier post told that lemon grass doesn't like to be root bound and dies, so I transferred mine to ground where it is competing for space with an Ashok tree, small tulsi and a jasmine climber. It is nowhere as big as yours but is still alive. Do you manure it?

Those Geraniums in back ground look beautiful, I'm so envious

Jamie said...

HI Shivangni

I've been listening to the news about the high temperatures you're enduring right now. Best wishes for getting through the heatwave in good health!

As for the lemongrass, I feed it just once a year, in our spring, the beginning of the growing season, with manure. After that it needs no more food, but it loves a drink. So if you can keep on watering it, it will appreciate your kindness.

And as for those geraniums, they are the best I have ever grown. They don't need my help at all.

LaWreNce said...

hi Jamie,

i am new to gardening, and i am trying everything now. love the lemongrass plant that you are growing and love how your approach to gardening.

i stay in melbourne, do you reckon if lemongrass can survive in the cold climate, and if the lemon need lot of sunshine to grow well, and how and would be the best way to grow the plant, thru rooting off supermarket or a new plant? i really want to add this new addition to the garden and need all the advice i can get.


Jamie said...

Hi Lawrence
Lemongrass loves warmth, as it comes from tropical and subtropical countries originally. It should do well in your Melbourne summer if you plant it around October. Yes, it needs lots of sunshine and regular watering.

As for surviving winter, I am not sure. If you put it in a spot that is sheltered from cold winds, that will help, but I just don't know how it will go.

I doubt you can grow it from a supermarket stalk, if the stalk has its roots trimmed off. It would be more successful to buy a little potted plant at a garden centre, and plant that. Also buy some liquid plant food for it (eg, Charlie Carp, Powerfeed, or Nitrosol) and feed the lemongrass once a month, following the packet directions for how much to mix up each time.

You can grow lemon grass in a biggish pot, or in the ground. In Melbourne, a pot might be best, as you can put it in the sunshine most of the time, but in winter you could move the pot to somewhere that is sheltered from cold winds and horrible days.

Best wishes, I hope your lemongrass is a big, beautiful success, Lawrence.