Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Blink and you might miss it

As we travelled the last few miles at the end of our recent 3500km driving holiday in southern Australia, Pammy said "I wonder what has changed in the two weeks since we left?" She was referring to anything and everything in our local area. "Look, that shop has closed down" ... "and finally they've taken down all the ugly hoarding around that construction site — that new apartment building is almost finished."

No matter how little time you spend away from your home base, in a fortnight something always changes.

And that proved to be true for our little garden. During our two weeks away, one of our garden's best flower shows reached its peak and then quietly faded (just like they do in the forest). New things burst into full bloom, and seeds sprouted. And we weren't here to see any of it. We blinked and missed it all.

Still, it's an interesting thing to do ... leave your garden to its own devices for a while. And so here's what we missed out on over the last couple of weeks.

In the foreground, our usually fabulous scadoxus looked like the stragglers on the morning after a very memorable party. Frazzled, tousled and tired, but they did have fun for a while. In the background, the yellow clivias were in a similar tatty condition.

Poor yellow clivias, they'll be back same time next year, and hopefully there'll be more of them next time (and there'll be an old blogger there to photograph them in all their glory and lavish them with praise).

The one very good thing about the scadoxus section of the garden is that all the baby plants are thriving. In recent years I have been painstakingly raising them from collected seed, and this spring they are growing stronger than ever. There's more than a dozen newbies here and there. I'm just hoping these are not plants that need 10-15 years in the ground before they do their first flowering. I'm not sure if I'll live that long to see all my work come into glorious bloom!

In other pleasing baby news, all the flat-leaf parsley seed which I scattered in a few spots a few weeks before we left have sprouted up through the sugar cane mulch and seem to be powering along. This year all I did was open the seed packet and shake it here and there in the mulched vegie area, then say "you're on your own, kids; good luck". I think this has been my most successful seed-sowing method yet for parsley.

Upon our return we were greeted by some new blooms, including these little mint bush beauties ...

... and all our hanging baskets of pelargoniums perked up in the spring sunshine. 

But the flower show which impressed us the most was this (next) unexpected one ...

Our broccoli patch was in its full glory as adult plants, and the loud humming of the bees all around the broccoli's yellow blooms was a clear signal from the bees to me to "leave our broccoli flowers alone". 

They're perfectly correct, of course. While we grow broccoli with the mindset of "food/vegetable" and tend to look upon these flowers as a signal to replace the crop, the bees adore this plant's flowers, and so until all the flowers fade our broccoli plants are staying right where they are, as a bee temple.

So that's my little report on how our little garden looks after a few weeks of slight neglect (although our wonderful neighbours Nick and Katerina did their usual great job watering the garden for us).

Oh, so how was the holiday? Great! 

I'm still sorting through the thousand or so photos that we took along the way, and once that's done I'll show you some of the highlights, especially the lovely gardens we visited and the new people we met (hi Kerryn in Kyneton!). 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Easy orchids

Orchids are difficult to grow ... right? Wrong! Some orchids are so easy to grow they barely need any help from me to do their thing. Just a bit of water, an occasional feed of liquid orchid food, and a sheltered spot that gets a bit of sun, but not too much. Mine are nestled up against a side fence, so they get no afternoon sun at all.

And they're flowering now. In preparing to write this little blog posting about my native orchids, I discovered a couple of things I didn't know previously. The first is that they are both closely related, even though one is a tiny little guy with flowers less than one inch wide and the other one is big, bold with "can't miss it" sprays of many yellow blooms. They're both dendrobiums.

This one pictured above is the little person, formal name of Dendrobium kingianum, common name of native rock orchid. Small but perfectly formed ...

And this big yellow personality is Dendrobium speciosum, with a few common names, including rock lily and Sydney rock orchid. But I think of it as the Sydney Mardi Gras orchid.

This is the first time the big yellow orchid has flowered, even though it's been in our garden for the last three years. Now, if I had done my research more thoroughly back then, I would have learned that if you buy a young plant then you are going to have to wait a few years for it to flower. For a while I wondered if I was doing anything wrong, as each year the little rock orchids flowered their heads off and the much bigger plant did nothing. It looked healthy enough, but it just didn't produce flowers. This year was its big debut, and what a spectacular entrance it has made.

I have several pots of the smaller rock orchids, including this white one, and they flower very reliably every year. Two years ago I repotted them all, as they were multiplying quite prolifically and getting overcrowded, and all the transplants have survived the experience.

So, what's the second thing I discovered about these orchids? Well, it seems that these are regarded as two of the easiest native orchids you can grow. Perfect beginner's orchids. And that explains a lot!

I think both forms look wonderful, and the fact they are hardy and do well even in the care of an absolute beginner makes them even more marvellous in my eyes.

Now, I should give credit where credit is due, and mention two Australian websites which are a good source of information on native orchids. One is this page on Angus Stewart's website, and this page at the Australian Orchid Nursery website, which is all about Dendrobium speciosum.

If you are looking for something to grow in a line along a fairly boring fenceline on the western side of your garden, then give orchids a try. Contrary to popular belief, many orchids are not difficult to grow at all. In fact they are remarkably tough, easy-care potted plants. As well as these native dendrobiums, look out for the cymbidium orchids, another excellent choice for beginners.

Buy your orchids already potted up and they should do well in that original pot for the first few years at least. Your local garden centre or major hardware chain will stock special orchid foods. I use a liquid feed that I mix up with water and apply from a can, but there are dry granules which you mix up with water, and slow-release pellets which you scatter around every few months. I find the liquid feed easiest, and I feed my plants whenever I remember to do it. I guess that's about once a month.

All the other stuff about them special potting mixes, etc is true, but it mostly has the effect of making people think orchid growing is difficult. It's not. Just buy a plant already potted up, plonk it in a good spot and you're nine-tenths on your way to success.

Good luck!