Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bonsai update – we have lift-off

One of life's little mistakes that most of us make repeatedly is to assume stuff. Assume X will be OK. Assume Y will happen. Assume Z will get in touch about W ...

And in the case of my little bonsai curry tree project, I just assumed on Day One that the seeds would sprout easy-peasy. After all, they have a "weedy" reputation, so I assumed the least of my worries would be getting the seeds to sprout.

Now, as a bit of a sworn enemy of assuming stuff, I like to look things up, to do my research. And so the next morning after planting my curry tree seeds, I actually went onto Google and looked up "Curry tree seed". Panic!

Well, more accurately, "unjustified panic!". A few of my Google hits told me that sprouting curry tree seeds was "unreliable", "sporadic", "inconsistent" ... you get the picture. Iffy at best, and so what you see below is my calm reaction to panic. I planted eight more seeds in a plastic seedling punnet.

I needn't have bothered to panic. Most of them are coming up, but not all of them. To refresh memories, I first posted about my curry tree bonsai project on February 24, then I went into panic mode on February 25, and here we are three and a half weeks later, happy as can be with six baby curry trees poking their little green heads above the soil.

I am not sure why the seeds in the plastic punnet are doing better than the one in the bonsai pot itself. All are in the same sheltered spot in the garden and all are receiving identical amounts of rain, warmth and sunshine. So I am adopting a "survival of the fittest" policy for the contender. 

A month from now there should be one or two seedlings that are doing best ... and that does encourage me to think that maybe having two identical bonsai-from-seed projects might not be such a bad idea, either. I haven't really got a clue what I am doing, apart from very very basic knowledge, plus Googling, so two pots doubles my odds of success, sort of.

The seedling in the pot itself currently is the weakest of all the candidates, but it's early days yet. Leaving a seed to grow undisturbed in the pot in which I hope it will spend many happy years is an appealing notion, so I will take a kindly, tolerant view of the progress of this first seed planted and be very reluctant to decide that it has to go.

Gardening is a bit awful like that. You get to cull the weak, decide the fate of other plants. There's just a tinge of being a conscientious medieval monarch to it all, don't you think?

Monday, March 13, 2017

A pinky-green morning

Our garden faces the morning sun, and this being a day when rain is around, the sunlight surged through the clouds in an ever-changing glow of pink. Pammy called out "come and look at this" and over the next few minutes — it's a brief show — the sky turned from a murky mushroom pink then swapped from murky to musky, then someone in the heavens switched on all the power at once as the sun crested the horizon, and for those last few minutes of the morning show we were on Mars. 

Nice start to the day. Do your work, rain gods! 

One thing our wonderful digital cameras cannot do is capture the subtleties of morning light. They turn the dusky pink sky almost white as they over-compensate to light up the deep, deep greens at ground level. The only evidence of our rosy awakening in this morning panorama is that our path and mulch look pinker than usual. As they say "you had to be there".

And yet as we looked out at our lush late summer garden, Pammy and I discussed how many different shades, tones and intensities of green that we could see as well. Tens, hundreds ... an infinite number? Unknowable, but a pinky-green morning is a good way to start the day.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Making a bee-line for salvias

Bees can "photobomb" my flower photos any time they like. There I was quietly trying to capture what it is I like about my lovely blue salvia flowers, when the Pollen Collector flew into the shot. Pure luck on my part, of course. All the various times I intentionally try to photograph a bee, I mostly manage to capture a blurry bee's bum zotting off to its next bloom.

However, photobombers aside, all I wanted to post about is that on this sunny Saturday, after two weeks of constant showers, I think our salvias are at their deepest bluey purple right now, which is why I grow them every year ... just to see that colour again.

I do plant annual blue salvias every year. They're so reliable, and I love their shade of blue. And when you look at their blooms close up, they're complex things, with a furry blue bee-anointer atop each bloom.

There's so much to like about blue salvias. They're trouble-free in Sydney; they flower for months and months; once the baby seedlings are established I don't bother to water them at all, as Sydney's rain is enough for their needs. They stand up about 60-70cm tall, rising above the herbs and vegies growing around them. And bees love them.

This is a more typical photo that I manage to take of a bee at work in the flower patch. There's lots of them about this sunny day, and I always like the way they tolerate me.

Little do they know or care that I'm the dude that planted the salvias for them. I'm just that pest with a shiny photo-taking thing who they wish would go away. And so I did, leaving them to enjoy their sweet work.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

How to grow a community

Pammy and I have a little standing joke that we always share with her lovely Mum, Val, every time we go out together. At some stage in the evening one of us, or all of us together, says "You're doing very well for your age, dear!"

Where that came from is one doctor who condescendingly told Val at each visit, with a pat on her hand, that she's doing very well for her age. Yes, it's true. She's a very active octogenarian, with a sharp mind, a great sense of fun and a full social life, and when she's relaxing at home she loves to do a bit of gardening.

Where she lives, in her own townhouse within a well-run retirement village in Sydney's north-west, her front porch and rear balcony are both filled with pots of healthy plants. She's always been a green-thumb, and happily says that the secret of her success is talking to her plants and sharing with them her love for life. 

A few years ago, being a community-minded person who has always been on the front lines of getting things done locally for charities, the arts and other community groups, she and several other residents of her retirement village convinced the management that setting up some garden beds for growing vegies would be a great idea. 

And so it has proved. It's been a roaring success, and today I popped up with a box full of new seedlings to plant in Val's plot for autumn. So here's a quick look at what gardening should look like in every retirement village around the country.

This is what we should call "Phase One" of the vegie gardens. Local schoolkids and their teachers enthusiastically came along, assembled all the metal raised beds and filled them with what must have been several cubic metres of planting mix. It was quite a day for everyone involved, a great activity for the kids, much appreciated by the residents.

With Sydney's appallingly hot, record-breaking summer now over, it's a miracle that anything survived, and while there are bare patches in most plots at the moment, there are plenty of survivor crops, too.

Val had told me a week or two ago that everything in her little patch had carked it in the heat, but since then it has been raining on and off for the last two weeks, and of course the thyme (far right) has bounced back, so too the mint (centre) and a small dainty daisy (at the back). Some of the older gardening blokes are vegies-only-in-my-bed purists, but our Val goes the potager vegie gardening route, and likes to have some flowers planted with her vegies (and so do I).

So, today we planted out some seedlings of Cos lettuce, curly parsley, chives, red-stemmed shallots, perpetual spinach and some more flowers — this time dianthus. We scattered around some fertiliser, watered everything in with seaweed solution, then spread around a layer of water-saving mulch. Minutes after we finished, it started raining ... so hopefully that is a good omen for this autumn crop.

On the other side of the area of open ground, this is "Phase Two" of the ever-expanding vegie growing complex. The composting system is very serious now, and there's a quartet of wooden raised beds where crop rotation looks to be strictly practised.

Next to the wooden raised beds there are little propagating tents where seedlings are raised. All in all it's a well-organised, practical and productive place for people to while away the hours.

As far as I am concerned, everyone involved deserves congratulations for what's happening here. The whole of the retirement village is beautifully landscaped and the team of gardeners here do an excellent job of keeping everything looking healthy around all the buildings. They also happily chat with residents such as Val about the plants around her own townhouse, and are very receptive to her ideas about the plants growing there.

So it came as no surprise that a village management with its own commitment to beautifully landscaped gardens would happily embrace the idea of a community vegetable gardening area.

As residents have seen the success of the vegie plots, more and more of them are wanting to get involved and start their own patches.

One of the extra benefits of having a community garden, apart from the healthy produce, is that so many residents enjoy the chance to be outdoors, having a chat with their neighbours, or helping others out — and so the combined effect of just starting up a few garden beds is a very healthy one for body, spirit, mind and community.