Monday, December 24, 2018

Festive snooze

Gosh, absolutely no postings so far in December ... I must be in holiday mode! If only, but things have been a bit quiet here in the garden. With all the rain storms there has been little need to water anything, and all the flowering beauties don't need any help from me. They know what to do.

And so in the middle of this festive season snooze all I really want to say is I hope everyone has a safe and delicious festive season. This garden blog will continue to update occasionally, whenever something worth talking about occurs, and so until then, here is the latest from Amateur Land.

Our baby frangipani 'Serendipity' is looking good all over. Lots of amazingly multi-coloured flowers and plenty of new healthy growth. I think it likes it here.

I always feel duty-bound to report my failures as well as the successes, and this pretty pink hydrangea might seem a big success when Pam pops some into a vase in the living room, but the sad fact is that I was hoping they'd be blue. Last season I tried to acidify the soil in an effort to encourage blueness. Nothing doing. So then this year I've bought a "blueing" fertiliser, followed the packet directions ... and this is the result so far. 

But let's finish my festive well-wishing on a positive note. The bonsai curry leaf trees are not only still alive, they are thriving. And some radical pruning a few months back (which for a week or two looked more like the kiss of death than the kiss of life) has promoted much bushier growth from both. So far so good, but with growing bonsais from seed, it's a years-long project and this is merely a good year.

So let's end 2018 on that note. If 2018 has been a good year for you, may 2019 be even better. 

And if 2018 wasn't up there as a great one — a bit like my hydrangeas — then I hope 2019 is blessed with some lush curry leaf growth, even if that means life might need a bit of pruning here and there before things improve.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and have a great 2019!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Four weeks in one day

We Sydneysiders can be quite oddly proud of our rain at times. We get quite a lot of rain, especially for such a sunny city, so how do you combine lots of sunshine with lots of rain? Easy ... just make sure the rain buckets down when it does so.

This morning is a classic example: a whole average month's worth of rain (83mm for November) in a couple of hours in several parts of Sydney. My how it rained (and still is)! As a rain radar fan, I just have to share this random shot of our fair town this morning.

The red and orange bits show the heaviest rain, and this morning they are doing their thing complete with thunder and lightning flashes; at its peak the grumbly bits seemed to be about 10 seconds apart. It was a good one, if you were safe inside your house that is.

All the truck and delivery drivers, commuters, public transport staff, homeless people and emergency services workers had a different, more scary experience, of course, so all I can do is hope they got through it OK.

But here in selfish little gardener-who-works-from-home land, it was mostly perverse fun.

(I should at this stage put in a special mention for art teachers, too, such as Pammy. She is conducting a watercolour workshop this morning on, ironically enough ... skies and clouds, and so her mobile phone has been running hot with text messages from students asking whether the workshop is still on. It is, and god bless their cotton socks, all of them are still attending, and with help from her loyal driver and husband, Pammy will have to make the dash to the studio a couple of streets away where she conducts her classes.)

Click on this photo and should come up as a big, wide, soggy panorama. No need to water the garden this morning!

This downpour is perfect timing for our garden. I spent all of Sunday pulling out weeds, spreading mulch, and adding some fragrant Dynamic Lifter (chicken poo) organic pellets here and there. Thanks Huey for the perfect timing. Garden health is rated good right now.

This soggy sight is the other side of the garden, and in the middle foreground, that little bare patch of ground with green seedlings coming up is an experiment with seeds. Last year I grew little Zinnia linearis there, and they flowered all summer long. At the end of summer I harvested the seed heads, popped them into paper bags to dry off in the shed over winter, and so a month or so ago I scattered the seedy contents of the paper bags over the bare ground, watered it well that day and every day for the next two weeks, and lo and behold I have stacks of zinnia babies coming up.

The other great thing about very rainy days is the opportunities it provides to amateur photographers like me. Leaves and water are a magical combo, such as this mini lake perched precariously on the tough, strong leaf of our potted fig tree.

The other photogenic thing about rain is the sight of usually glamorous garden beauties drooping and drenched with rain. This NSW Christmas Bush, also in a pot, is looking truly gorgeous in the late November sunshine, but even in the aftermath of today's storm it's still lovely to behold.

So don't just stand there at your window looking out at your soggy mess. Get out there in amongst it; you'll get some great photos and see a side of your garden that only happens now.

If that sounds weird, don't worry. I'm from Sydney, we like our rain. We're strange that way.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Popping up all by themselves

If you want to bring out the inner child in a gardener, let them discover a pretty flower in their garden which they know they haven't planted themselves. 

They'll never see it and think "weed" ... they'll always think "I'm blessed, a pretty flower has chosen my garden to grow in". 

For a while they might entertain fantasies that it's a rarity, that they'll be visited by botanists wanting to see it ... but they keep these daydreams to themselves mostly.

Later on they'll ask a spoilsport of a gardening friend what their beautiful visitor is, and it's then they'll discover that their magical find is, in fact, a notorious spreading weed which needs to be eradicated ASAP.

I am such a spoilsport, so be prepared for some disappointing news if you ask me about that delightful new mystery visitor to your little slice of heaven.

It's happened this week, it being spring and all, so here's just one example. 

I can't be 100 percent certain, but I reckon this pinky person poking through this Sydney lawn is called a cape tulip, Moraea miniata. Or at least that's what the government's weed identification website told me. It's the first place I visit when trying to identify a plant a friend sends to me. Nice flower, but it's a weed.

On the other hand, when I am completely out of guesses about identifying a mystery plant, I contact one of my old horticulturist workmates from gardening magazine days. See the next photo below. It had me stumped, because I couldn't find it on any weed listing ... and that's because it wasn't a weed.

Sarah, a friend (and former workmate) who's now living in the Central West region of NSW, sent me a photo of this shrub with the unusual orangey-brown flowers. I didn't have a clue, and so I sent it on to Elizabeth, an expert horticulturist. She got back to me via email, writing: "Now to that brown flowering plant. I first encountered this back in 2013 in a “dry garden” in Wellington NSW. It is Salvia africana-lutea; it’s really interesting, unusual and very very tough!"

So, not all mystery plants are weeds, but I'd still bet that the one you have discovered popping up all by itself in your backyard garden this spring is, in fact, I regret to inform you, bad luck old friend ... a weed.

However, I'd hate to conclude my blog posting on such a negative note, and so I hereby confess to having introduced a wide array of very persistent flowering weeds into my own garden, which may well have wandered into neighbouring gardens somehow and made my neighbours wonder where their pretty visitor came from.  

All that aside, it's a pleasure to see my weedy beauties popping up here every year, all by themselves, from seed dropped by last year's flowers. Here's some favourites:

I hereby declare Love-in-a-Mist my favourite weed.
Johnny jump ups (Heartsease) have been here since we planted them 28 years ago.
Same with the primulas, they always pop up here every year.

Then again, some weeds in our garden look like weeds, behave like weeds, choke other plants like the worst weeds do, they cannot be eradicated no matter what I try ... and I detest them ... and then they pop up with a pretty flower that I can't resist admiring, such as this vivid blue tradescantia bloom. Doesn't make me like tradescantia the garden thug one bit ... I just think of it now as a bully with piercing blue eyes.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Kiwi rescue

"I think its days are over" ... "eeeeew, not a happy chappy" .... "needs a bigger pot" .... These were just some of the perfectly accurate comments my sad-looking potted New Zealand Christmas bush attracted two years ago. It was thin, bedraggled, its leaves dull and sparse. It was a wreck and it was, I am ashamed to admit, all due to my prolonged neglect. But now, two years later, it's back in good health, like it should have been all along.

The only thing my NZ Christmas bush now lacks is good timing. It always flowers in spring, rather than at Christmas, but there's nothing I can do about that. It lives down the side of our house, and one of its main jobs is to hide the view of our garbage wheelie bins from passers-by. It's not alone in that task, as there are also some large cane begonias in pots doing a similarly good screening job.

Rescuing Mr Sad & Bedraggled was a fairly simple task. First step, get out the secateurs and cut off everything that is spindly and unhealthy. So that meant cutting off a lot of stuff. One simple technique I use is to keep on cutting stems until I can see green wood. If a cut reveals dry and dodgy looking wood, cut some more. Once you see green signs of life, there is hope.

The second technique is to give the potted plant lots and lots of seaweed solution. I just made up a watering can of it (here in Australia my shed has two containers of seaweed product in two major brand names: Seasol and eco seaweed — but there are others). Seasol is already a liquid, while eco seaweed is a dry flaky powder. Both products are diluted in water. I kept on applying a 9-litre can of seaweed solution every week for the first month or two, and scaled back to monthly when it started to show some new growth.

This pot and plant has got to the stage that it's too big and heavy for me to lift any more, so I couldn't use the alternative method, which is to soak the whole plant, pot and all in a very large trug of seaweed solution for an hour or three. Ideally, try have the liquid covering the top of the soil level. This totally re-wets ultra-dry soil, which is why it's the ideal treatment option.

This might be the best option, but it's not practical with this big pot and my dodgy old back. If you are thinking it might work for your sick plant, and you can manage lifting the pot, etc, the best product to use is Seasol Super Soil Wetter and Conditioner. Just follow the packet directions in mixing it up, but here's a tip: don't add the product before you add the water, as it foams up like dishwashing detergent. Add the product to the water, towards the end of filling. I've recommended this treatment to friends with sick potted plants, and the success rate has been very good.

So, while I've been rabbiting on about products and watering cans and trugs, I've also been showing you some photos of how worthwhile the whole project has been. NZ Christmas bush (Metrosideros) are beautiful, tough and well worth growing in the ground, if you have space, or in pots if you don't have enough space. 

I feel a bit guilty about neglecting it and letting it get bedraggled, but as it is now one of my star patients in the hospital ward of my garden, I hereby promise never to neglect it again!

PS: Note to Auto-Correct Spell Checker Software Thingy ... When I type in the word "trug" please do not auto-correct it to "drug"! It gives my readers a totally misleading impression about me, and my methods. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The blue and white Louisiana iris show

I guess it's fitting that we have both blue and white Louisiana iris growing here in Marrickville. Blue and white are the traditional colours of Greece, and as we have had the same wonderful Greek neighbours on both sides for almost three decades now, the least we could do is have a Greek-themed flower festival every October, (even if Louisiana iris are very unlikely to be found growing anywhere in Greece). On with the show ...

Not only are they in full bloom now, they're still popping out by the hour. At 7am I photographed this lovely white Louisiana iris with a gaggle of blues behind it. The other white bloom was still a furled bud at that hour.

By 9am, the furled person had gone "boing" (I think that's the technical term ...) and suddenly we had the full blue and white show. 

I truly do love my blue iris, but these white ones I love maybe just a little bit more. It's the fine green stripes on each of the petals that I can't take my eyes off. So many, so perfectly fine and such a mellow green.

One of the great features of these water-loving irises is that you can tell what's coming up next just by looking at the furled flower buds. This is the white one, photographed yesterday.

And a blue one. These buds keep on appearing, as the lifespan of each Louisiana iris flower is just a day or two. As each big bloom (10-12cm across) fades, another bud lower down on the stem readies itself for its brief 48 hours of glory. The whole show lasts less that a fortnight, but it's a seasonal highlight that is well worth the wait.

This year the neighbouring pot of New South Wales Christmas Bush is having its best-ever flowering season, and so the combination of one enormous blue showboat against a backdrop of hundreds of dainty dancers is well worth pausing to enjoy.

For overseas readers unfamiliar with the New South Wales Christmas Bush, this is a flowering plant with lots of relatively insignificant flowers at this time of year. Later on, closer to Christmas, the real show begins. This close up provides a preview of what lies in store. The outer bracts around the flowers turn all sorts of shades of reddy-pink, pinky-red — Pam says "think coral, and it's more red than pink" — there's quite a few variations. Right now it's a pleasantly white-flowered bush, but in a few weeks it will be something entirely different. 

In the meantime, it's the Louisiana irises' turn to be the star. The large pot pictured here is about 50cm across and high and it's full of water. Inside that pot, sitting on some bricks, is a wide shallow bowl about 40cm across and only 20cm deep, and it is full of the Louisiana iris rhizomes. The roots are inundated with water all year round, they love slow-release fertiliser, they breed like rabbits and provided they get the conditions they like they are very low maintenance.

I started off with just one plant about 10 years ago, and my how they have multiplied! The white flowers are the gift of two dear friends, John and Liz (I swapped some of my blue ones for one of John and Liz's whites).

If you want to find out any more about setting up your own pots, I've done Louisiana iris postings every October for the last 10 years, so do a search and you'll find plenty of growing tips.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Visit the Witches Garden in early November

It's not often that I start a blog posting with a photo downloaded off the internet, but this time it's all in a good cause: this is the Witches Garden wisteria-covered bridge in full flower, and I pinched it from the Witches Garden website. You don't need to travel to France to get that Monet experience: just head to Mitta Mitta!

Regular readers will know from my last posting of holiday snaps that we recently stayed in a beautiful country cottage operated by the owners of the Witches Garden, Felicity and Lew McDonald. 

Felicity and Lew live just across the road in a big, lovely house, which is surrounded by their gorgeous two-hectare garden ... and this year their amazing garden is open to visitors as part of the Open Gardens Victoria scheme. So if you're in the area — which is south-east of Albury/Wodonga, in the same general region as Bright and Beechworth — put a note in your diary to include a visit to the Witches Garden on the weekend of November 3,4 and 5 (Saturday, Sunday and Monday).

Felicity and Lew are a wonderful team. He's a handy guy (who runs an earth-moving business) who welded up that curved Monet-style bridge across a lake, and when Felicity had the idea of including a cute "Witch's Cottage" in her grand garden plan, Lew knew what to do. It's hard to believe they started off with a bare paddock on the banks of the Mitta River 30 years ago, but what they have achieved is remarkable.

Felicity is a very talented artist in her own right, and she was one of the people attending Pam's watercolour course when we stayed at Mitta Mitta. Every aspect of the Witches Garden design reveals that this is an artist's garden. She is also a plant collector and is an expert on medicinal herbs, of which she grows many at Mitta Mitta. I liked the way this pretty garden seat was not only decorative but obviously a spot where she takes a rest for a while, with her shovel and secateurs getting time off, too.

We stayed at Mitta Mitta in mid September, when the garden was several weeks away from being in full bloom (which is why I pinched that wisteria-bridge photo) but nevertheless there were all sorts of pretty things in flower, such as this gorgeous pink pieris.

And speaking of gorgeous things, here's Pammy getting to know one of the many local king parrots that have become very well-mannered if you hold out a cup full of their favourite seed.

As well as enjoying wandering through the gardens, Felicity is including an art show in her new art gallery, as part of the fun at the Witches Garden open garden weekend. Pammy has submitted some of her work at the show, and they have also lined up musicians to add to the atmosphere. The musicians play every afternoon, and there is a Monday evening concert as well (details on the Open Gardens website). Oh, and there are pop-up craft stalls, plus coffee and cake.

So if you can make it down to Mitta Mitta in early November, I am sure you'll have a wonderful time.

And if you can't make it down there in November, but would love to visit the area at another time (Felicity says autumn is absolutely stunning at Mitta Mitta), remember that Lew and Felicity have a range of accommodation on offer. As well as the charming cottage across the road from the Witches Garden (where we stayed) their own large house also provides a warm welcome in B&B style accommodation.

Here's all the links again:

Witches Garden, Mitta Mitta

Witches Garden Open Garden Weekend, November 3-5

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Pam and Jamie's holiday snaps

Everyone comfy on their bean bags? Good. Settle back and relax as we bring you the latest holiday snaps from Garden Amateur's two little garden/art/nature lovers as we tour southern Australia in very early spring. First slide please, projectionist!

What a colourful way to announce to the world that we have left the city and are out in the country. All through our trip we saw huge, far-as-the-eye-can-see fields of canola crops in flower. This is where we first saw them, in Cowra, about 4.5 hours west of Sydney, where our real objective was to see the Japanese gardens there.

We stayed at the Vineyard Motel, which is far enough out of town to make us feel like we were among the paddocks. As well as enjoying its cool misty mornings, Pam and I almost froze to death at night, standing outside looking up at the dazzling Milky Way on a perfectly cloudless, starry sparkly night. It's good for the soul to stare at the Milky Way.

Next morning, straight off to the Cowra Japanese Gardens, which were a couple of weeks short of being in full bloom, but still beautiful to behold with their clipped balls of greenery and tumbling streams.

They don't just plonk seats here and there at Cowra. Each is perfectly placed to take in a wonderful view of the garden, and this one high on the hill has its own little bamboo-posted walkway that feels almost ceremonial.

Taking advantage of a perfect seat placement, en plein air watercolour artist Pammy spent some very productive time capturing the scene. Wherever we travel, she takes a small painting kit with her.

Late September and early October is the peak blossom-filled time to visit the Cowra Japanese Garden, but we've been there at other times of year and it's always a wonderful place to wander for a few hours.

Next stop, Mitta Mitta in Victoria. In the same mountain zone as better-known Beechworth, Mitta Mitta is in a lush valley, from which you can see snow-covered Mount Bogong looming large.

Lucky us! We stayed at this cottage that is part of the Witches Garden (about which I will be doing a separate posting in a few days, as it has a large, gorgeous garden which will be open to visitors in early November). 

This cottage was a city couple's 'escape to the country fantasy' come true: beautiful stream flowing behind it, superb garden, log fires, big country kitchen, total privacy, native birds galore. We could've stayed for weeks.

As well as these rosellas, there were kookaburras cacking their heads off and dazzling king parrots hanging around, knowing that we had been given a big jar of birdseed to keep them happy.

However, we weren't just in Mitta Mitta for fun. Pam was there to teach a watercolour art class organised by her great mate, Marg (left), and the snazzy new Mitta Mitta Community Hall was a perfect venue.

Mitta Mitta has some very dedicated artists, but they weren't so familiar with watercolours, and that's where Pammy showed them the ropes. Here's one of her 5-minute quick landscape demos that she did for them.

That cane chair on the verandah proved to be the perfect spot for Pam to whip out the painting kit one day and enjoy some quality time painting that birch tree and those camellias.

She's only half-way finished at this stage, and I might be biased but I even love what she does with her watercolour palette — she ought to frame that as an abstract work, too.

After Mitta Mitta we headed through Bendigo and Castlemaine to see our dear friends Amanda and Mike in Kyneton, but on the way we stopped off in Bendigo to see the Chinese gardens there. We were the only ones there ... so serene.

If I was ever going to remodel a garden and its outdoor spaces, I think I'd ask a Chinese architect to come and lend a hand. Pammy could do the frescoes.

We stayed in Melbourne a few days, saw more old friends, and on our way out we stopped off at Ballarat. Why is it that houses by the water (actually rowing sheds on Lake Wendouree) seem so perfectly tranquil?

Lots of Aussies would know that Ballarat in not the most direct way home from Melbourne, and that's because we headed way out to western Victoria, where these elegant, gently weeping yellow-flowered gum trees proliferated.

We were venturing out west to ride the "Silo Art Trail" which features a set of six very large silos painted with portraits of local people by street artists. This one above is my favourite, and it's in Brim. 

This one, in Rupanyup, features a local netballer and a footballer. The whole trail of six silos is about a 200km drive, but out there the roads are straight and empty, so each leg of the journey doesn't take long.

It gets so amazingly flat out here, real "big sky country" that at one stage Pammy said "I think I can see the curvature of the Earth on the horizon." For really big skies, you need clouds, of course, so thanks Huey.

This area is so flat and outbacky that it even has several salt lakes. This is Lake Tyrrell, which was still carrying some water from winter rains when we visited, but the summer's heat bakes it white and shimmery. 

From the Wimmera Region and its painted silos, we had many more miles to cover before we made it back to Sydney, but on the way as we crossed the Murray River at Barham, we spotted some river boats sitting on the slowly moving river and fantasised about maybe floating down the Murray some time in the future. Who knows?

As I mentioned earlier in this posting, I'm planning on doing something about the wonderful Witches Garden at Mitta Mitta soon. It's open under the Open Garden Scheme in early November, so if you can somehow manage to be there, do not miss out on the chance to visit Mitta Mitta, see the garden, and maybe even stay a while in the gorgeous country cottage there.