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.