Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bang on schedule

Last year I posted some photos of our "false cardamom" (Alpinia nutans or Alpinia calcarata) which bloomed for the first time after 20 or so uneventful years in our garden.

At the time it occurred to me that this might be a once-in-every-20-year bloomer, but no, it's not. It's in flower again, and I think it's looking better this year, too.

The wonderful red-speckled golden mouths are much more colourful and prominent this year, while the white surrounds are almost pearlescent before they fade to a coppery brown. 

And there are more flower stalks this year, as well. 

It remains a mystery to me why this tropical plant has waited so many years to bloom for the first time, and is now blooming away right on schedule (almost to the day) like it has been doing it for years. It's on my list of questions to ask of the Great Gardener in the Sky, should I ever make it up there at the end of my brief term down here on Mother Earth.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Posting too soon

I just love stepping outside into our garden in the mornings. There's always something slightly different to see that wasn't there the day before. And this morning it was the sight of the big pot of Louisiana iris which I had posted about only last Saturday. 

I had posted too soon! This morning the big pot is at its peak. I've never seen so many big blue beauties open at the same time. So, without further ado, a few extra photos of the big pot on its very best day of the year.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

October surprises

Some mornings, I know exactly how daisies feel. It's not enough for the sun's early appearance to turn night into day. What daisies need is to feel the sun's warm, direct rays beating down on their flowers, and then (and only then) will they open up and do their thing. 

Looking like a cluster of mini suns, the "surprise" part of this purple-leafed, yellow-flowered daisy bush is that it's a lettuce plant enjoying its floral fling before signing off on a life well lived, however briefly.

This handsome purple tower was once a low-growing, purple patch of "pick-and-come-again" loose-leaf lettuce, looking much like its green lettuce siblings growing at its feet. Then, two weeks ago, it made its break for adulthood and rose daily, inches at a time. I watered it and gave it a feed to encourage it, and in the last few days it has repaid the favour with its own flower show. Bravo!

In a recent posting on bees I showed you a photo of this shallot flower, but it's so delightful I want to show it again. And it's not alone in this world, either. While I have another mini patch of shallots growing well in another bed, I've very happily watched these shallots doing their flowery thing for the last few weeks. There used to be more of them in fact, but in the last few days both Pammy and I have harvested some from this patch for dinner, and they're still perfectly fine to cook with, but probably getting a bit too strong-flavoured for salads anymore. 

My final little October surprise is this perfectly predictable scene of our common sage bush in bloom. The "surprise" factor is simply that it is flowering so well this year. It was looking utterly rough, scrawny and bedraggled in the middle of winter, so I adopted the simple policy of "cut off all the ugly bits" (and there were a lot of them, too). It seems to have worked. All the healthy wood that was left has burst out in new growth and, in the last few days, created this explosion of mauve good health.

Sage has wonderfully complex flowers, too. With their mouths agape as if singing a long, high note to finish a song, sage flowers remind me of some orchids. 

I have no problems imagining that on other planets, alien life could easily be comprised of flowering plants that talk.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Louisiana iris

I do love all those spectacular, show-off blooms that strut their stuff for just a week or two, then disappear until the same time next year. Right now, it's Louisiana iris time. The whole glorious display will be over before November comes around, yet each time I see the "real things" in bloom I feel that same sense of magic that I felt the first time I saw these enormous bluey-purple dazzlers.

Each of these pond plants' blooms flowers like this for just a day or so, and then as it fades another comes up to replace it, then another, then another. It's as if it has its own rhythm section, its own conductor telling each bloom, showbiz-style, that "you're up on stage now, go for it."

Here's one of my three Louisiana iris pots. This one is filled with water, has goldfish swanning around inside rather beautifully, and there's a small, second pot inside this larger pot that holds the soil and the iris plants. The smaller pot sits on an unlovely stack of bricks, so that the water level is always about an inch or two below the top of the soil level. That means the roots are permanently in water, which is how they like it.

The only problem I have experienced with these plants is that they multiply like crazy! I can't keep on setting up water pots everywhere (as they are high-maintenance things) and so when it was apparent mid-year that the iris population was outgrowing its existing two water pots, I decided on a desperate move: I planted up some of the excess iris rhizomes into ordinary potting mix and set myself the task of keeping them well watered.

And they've thrived. So, here in Sydney's mild, humid, temperate climate I think you could classify Louisiana iris as a potential weed if they made it down to the riverbanks, which is their natural habitat.

They need so little encouragement to grow, they multiply like mad (my whole three-pot empire of the things started off as a single pot containing one baby plant back in 2009 — read about it here).

Apart from providing the water supplies that are so essential to them, all I give them is slow release fertiliser pellets. At first I was Mr Keen, buying slow-release pellets for azaleas and rhododendrons, which like the same kind of acid-soil conditions as Louisiana iris. Lately I've been giving them "All Purpose" slow release Oscmocote, and it seems to be working far too well as far as I am concerned.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Making a beeline

If there is one thing I don't want in my garden, it's an automated watering system. Without the daily pleasure of getting out there and hand-watering the garden each morning, I don't think I would enjoy gardening one-tenth as much as I do right now. And I am sure I would miss out on seeing a lot, as well.

This morning was a classic example of what I mean. Forecast is a sunny day, max of 27°C. Doesn't get much better. But I have baby seedlings of lettuce, shallots and coriander to mollycoddle, and the newly planted New Guinea impatiens will love a good dose of tropical-style "hot and humid" — it will make them feel like they're back up in Port Moresby for a day.

And so I did a very enjoyable "lap" of the garden, watering the thirsty and stopping off to clean and refill our two birdbaths while I had the hose in my hand.

I wasn't the only person out there, of course. I had company. Dozens of bees humming their tunes were busily collecting pollen, sometimes buzzing close to my head as they scooted around their mysterious highways in the sky.

Grand Central Station for our garden's bees right now is our Tahitian lime tree, which is covered 50/50 in white flowers and green fruit buds that used to be flowers. The closer I got to the lime tree, the louder the hum became.

I love the thoroughness of bees. They don't miss a thing, they don't miss a single grain of pollen if they can help it. They dive deep into flowers and come out covered in their fluffy yellow harvests.

Of course bees' diligence is also beautifully fair. If you're a flower in this garden, expect a visit from the Bee Patrol. No exceptions made. They don't miss a thing. (Although, speaking of missing things, you'll have to believe me that there was a bee there just a moment before I clicked the digital camera button. They're a terribly difficult subject for an amateur photographer like me to capture every time.)

Just for fun, I like to let a few of our vegetables live out a complete life cycle (I think it's latent vegetable-harvesting guilt at work, a product of me thinking far too much). Here's a shallot (spring onion) flower dusted with water droplets. And yes, it's a waypoint for the loyal, hard-working members of the Pollen Gatherers Union.

In our world of endangered species, it's sometimes hard to wrap your brain around this concept when your own little sheltered existence is filled with these endangered creatures, the humble bee. I read the scientific stories and many newspaper reports and am filled with the same helpless sadness that I am sure so many of you share with me about the dwindling numbers of bees in so many countries. 

But that word "helpless" is misleading. There actually is a little bit I can do to help, and I do it in my garden. 

For starters, I use very few pesticides at all, and only organic ones occasionally, and none of them in the mornings or evenings, when the bees are about.

Next, I grow a good variety of flowers wherever I can. It doesn't matter which ones, as far as the bees are concerned. Even vegies well past their "harvest-by" dates can help. And if you can also manage it, try to populate your garden with plants so that you have something in flower every month. In Sydney's garden-friendly climate that's a lot easier to do than elsewhere.

That's the basics of being friendly to bees. It's only a small, very local gesture, but the more people thinking and acting locally, the better off are our bees.