Saturday, September 17, 2016

Made for the shade

Just like me, our garden is slowly ageing, but unlike innocent old me, our garden is getting shadier ...

Our major shade-spreader is our frangipani tree, and as it’s so beautiful and fragrant we’re enjoying letting it grow. By midsummer, once its canopy fills out, there’s a lot more shade in our garden than there used to be.

The frangipani is one of “Pammy’s plants” and it’s a favourite child of ours because we have raised it over many years from a single cutting taken from a friend’s garden. So it has a history that makes it even more special.

So, with major cutbacks off the agenda, we’ve decided to take it easy and grow more shade-loving plants in a our increasingly shady areas. Such as these yellow clivias, which love life under our frangipani tree.

Yellow clivias? Yep. The usual ones are orange or salmon-orange. The other colours (most commonly pale yellow) cost a lot more — they’re twice the price of orange ones in our little local garden centre — but they are becoming more available, and I prefer the yellow to the orange. We bought our yellow ones at a garden show, and they weren’t outrageously overpriced.

Clivias are yet another happy South African migrant to our shores, they’re everywhere in Sydney and that’s because they’re easy to look after. Over the years they’ll form bigger and bigger clumps.

Eventually, and I mean after several years, the flowering of the clumps might slow down due to overcrowding, so you will need to dig up the clump, divide it into several smaller plants, replant them, then put your feet up for another decade. Well, that’s how it works in heaven.

We had orange-flowered clivias growing here in the early 1990s, and they thrived back then, but I decided to get rid of them in one of our occasional garden renovations, gave them all to our good friend Zora (sister of Krissy, our frangipani cutting supplier, so we’re going full circle here, folks), and they’ve been thriving at her place ever since. These plants really do love East Coast Australia.

As far as caring for clivias goes, I almost don’t. Never water them, no nothing. Apart from being included in the annual Aromatherapy Garden Festival called “The Casting of the Chicken Poo”, which always takes place on a day when rain is forecast in late winter (this is as close as my life gets to religious festivals), the clivias just have to fend for themselves.

Mind you, Sydney gets a fair bit of rain every year, so if you are somewhere that gets less rainfall, you might have to point your garden hose at your clivias occasionally.

Also doing very well in our shady spots, New Guinea Impatiens have a good future here. We planted some two years ago and they’re still doing OK. Being from New Guinea, they don’t love Sydney winters but they do survive them, and once summer comes on they’re happier again.

The first batch we grew came in a punnet of seedlings, and the only problem was the flower colours: too many reds and pinks for our liking, and only some white.

This time we’ve bought larger potted plants, with the rich salmon flower colour than Pam and I prefer.

Our brilliant plan is to take lots of cuttings of the salmon-flowered plants over the coming months, and slowly but surely turn our shady patches into little seas of green new Guinea impatiens foliage topped with a mosaic of salmon and white blooms, with our cuttings-grown plantings.

Yes, cuttings are a great way to save money but they’re also the ideal way to make sure you are getting (and multiplying) the flower colours you want.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A lazy million

Although our backyard garden blog takes place in the middle of a rather large city, I’ve always thought of Garden Amateur Land as a quiet country town. Maybe it’s not even that big. We're more like a village. It’s pretty quiet around here most of the time (if you don’t count the planes occasionally passing overhead …)

So today, it’s quite a big occasion for our little green backwater, because our blog has just had its millionth hit!

Mind you, it’s taken a while. Garden Amateur began way back in June 2008, and has been chugging along, with a couple of holidays here and there, ever since then. And today’s celebratory effort is our 620th Garden Amateur posting.

Compared to some truly busy “great metropolis” news websites, which can record a million hits in less than an hour, and even popular city-sized gardening blogs, which probably do a million a week (I’m just guessing), our quiet village-sized blog sees a few hundred hits per day most days, a lot of them sent here by search engines looking for solutions to gardening problems, rather than people thinking "I wonder how Pam and Jamie are doing. Must go check on them."

So, purely to mark the occasion, here’s a rundown on what has proved most popular over the first million hits.

Our greatest hit? The post on growing murrayas in Sydney, called “Too Easy”, is the all-time champion. I posted it back in February 2009 and I’m still getting emails from people who seemingly don’t bother to read the comments/answers, because about 90 per cent of them ask the same questions already answered by me several times before in the same comments section. So far it has had over 43,500 page views, and each day adds some more.

Second-placegetter is “Harvesting Coriander Seed”, another 2009 classic, with a flavour-filled 26,000+ views to date. Other practical postings on riveting topics such as powdery mildew, organic fruit fly controls and growing and harvesting rocket also have had several thousand viewers each, so I hope they have been of help to a few gardening folk.

Proving that a totally misleading heading can work wonders to your stats, if not your self-esteem, our ninth most popular posting is one from our epic 2011 Drive Across America series of holiday blog postings, that took up all of September/October/November that year. It wasn’t even one of the better postings from that trip, its popularity was all down to its song title heading “Getting Our Kicks on Route 66”. And so five thousand people no doubt have been thoroughly disappointed when their search engine took them to Pam and Jamie’s driving holiday, and not to Rock n Roll heaven. Bet you they didn’t stay long here, either.

And so it’s on to our next million, which will probably take another eight years! 

Thank you to everyone who has ever visited our blog, and an even bigger thankyou to all the kind folk who have left a comment either on this blog page or via their email subscription to the blog.

I always think of receiving feedback as being given a little posy of flowers, no matter if the comments are positive or not.

In fact, thinking of posies good and bad, it makes me think of an old joke a friend of my father liked to tell, of the man who named his three daughters after flowers: Rose, Petunia and Snapdragon.

Bye till next time!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The weeds are winning

To misquote Neil Young somewhat, weeds never sleep. We all know that, and at the end of this cool, wet winter in Sydney, the garden weeds have never been happier. They have been having a wonderfully invasive season. Here in Pammy and Jamie Land, it's the usual suspects: the oxalis, chickweed and onion weed in particular, plus a bunch of other little rotters whose names I still don't know.

As if that is not enough punishment for virtuous artists and gardeners, the real kicker is that some of our beloved own plants have decided to go over to the other side — the dark side — and become weeds. Pictured below is Exhibit A: the chervil that decided to plant itself in our Thai lime pot.

The parent patch of chervil which spawned this tropical runaway (pictured below) is about 20 feet (6 metres) distant. It truly beats me how an errant chervil seed made its way down here and UP(!) into the pot but it's obviously happy and healthy, taking advantage of my generous citrus feeding and watering policies, not to mention the cool, green shade provided by the Thai lime tree. 

This little episode starts to make me wonder if this chervil is normal, old-fashioned chervil. Could it be some lab monster? What makes me think this warped, twisted way is the fact that all this thriving chervil didn't come into the world via a packet of seeds. No, this stuff entered our garden via Woolies supermarket, where I bought a simple punnet of "healthy sprouts" that you're meant to snip into your marvellously healthy salad. Here's a link to that story.

Enough paranoia, let's move on to exhibit B: the maidenhair fern that has gone punk.

Compared to the runaway chervil in the lime tree pot, which at least makes gardening sense in that it chose a nice spot to become a weed, this maidenhair fern-ette has gone the full punk rocker and aspires to be a pathway weed growing out of a crack in the concrete. Call me conservative if you like, but this is just not right!

To set the scene, here's our dreary little side path where the garbage bins live, with the maidenhair "weed" in the foreground and some evil asthma weed (Pellitory) in the background, doing its wheezy worst. 

A full 15 feet (about 4.5 metres) away is the none-too-healthy but still alive parent plant, in its garden bed under the cool shade of one of our murrayas. Now I suspect some of you might think this unhealthy adult is the perfectly appropriate, dishevelled parent of a punk weed, but it is the end of winter, the cold winter winds rushing up our side path can be ferocious, and in another month or two this fern should bounce back to better health once the weather warms up.

While I am trying to confect a little outrage here at the thought that some of my garden lovelies want to become weeds, my real feeling is yet another burst of "ain't nature wonderful?"

Should it turn out at the end of my existence that I get the most almighty surprise and end up at a bunch of pearly gates, my name ticked off the guest list and allowed to enter, I will be making a bee-line for the Head Gardener up there in heaven. While there are so many questions I will have to ask (he/she must get sick of old gardeners bothering them) I will definitely be wanting an explanation of how maidenhair ferns turn into punk pathway weeds. Down here on Earth, I haven't got a clue how it happens.