Tuesday, August 31, 2021

And now for something completely different: a short video

 Late this afternoon I decided to do a short experimental video, wandering around part of our garden.

And so here is "And now for something completely different" a short walk around one part of our tiny garden on August 31, the last day of winter.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Smashing success: repotting my curry leaf tree

I didn't think I'd be doing a detailed "how to" involving a hammer and a sharp knife when I woke up this morning, but here we are anyway (and it was a smashing success I might add). 

I have more than one curry leaf tree growing in my garden, and quite some time ago I had promised to give my one-metre tall potted curry leaf tree to my good friends Jolanda and Paul.

They used to have a productive curry leaf tree in their garden, but while they were away travelling for several months in 2019 (lucky them!) the tree didn't survive, so they needed a replacement. The problem is that my potted tree really needed repotting before I handed it over to them, so "now is as good a time as any" became a very good reason to repot the tree this Monday morning.

Here's how it all went ...  

I do like terracotta pots for many reasons, but this shape is all wrong. Leaving the existing tree in there too long meant that it had filled the bulbous centre and just won't come out by pulling it out. It's stuck in there!
The existing pot is 28cm wide and 28cm high

So I found a perfect replacement that is 33cm wide and 33.5cm high, bigger the than old pot all round and offering room to grow, but only one size up, not too big. And it has the right shape, so in future years if the tree needs repotting, it can be pulled out easily.

Just one gentle tap with my hammer produced the perfect result. Away fell one full half of the original pot, and the rootball lifted out easily. I know, seems like a radical thing to do, but I don't have much inclination to hang onto badly-shaped pots. 

If you think taking a hammer to a pot is a radical manoeuvre, then wait till you see me perform surgery on the rootball with a sharp knife. The rootball was fairly tight at the base, and so I made several vertical slits in the most tightly packed sections then lightly teased out the roots.

Now the roots will happily start moving their way into the fresh potting mix that will surround them in their slightly bigger new home.

The new pot is bigger than the old one, so how much potting mix to add to the bottom, before adding the rootball? I just did a test fitting of the rootball into the new pot, 10cm short.

So I added about 10cm of new mix in the bottom, before sitting the rootball on top.

That worked out fairly well, so I carefully added new mix to fill the gap in the sides. Shaking the pot gently helped to settle the new mix into the gaps.

Ideally, never add much potting mix on top of the existing surface, as there are lots of "feeder roots" right at the soil surface. However, I spread a super-thin layer on top to even out some bumps.

After all the trauma of surgery by Dr Gardenamateur, my curry tree will be a bit stressed, so I made up a seaweed solution and gave the plant a good watering with that. This product is called "eco-seaweed" and I have been using it for years. It's a competitor to Seasol in the market, isn't as well known but does just as good a job. It comes as fine desiccated flakes that you add to the watering can (I add one teaspoon to a 9-litre can of water). 

Finally, to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds, I added a layer of mulch to the pot, making sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk itself.

As a tropical plant, our curry trees don't like Sydney winters at all, and they often lose some or all of their leaves by the end of July. As an annual thing I always prune back the tree a bit, then by early spring the whole thing is sprouting new leaves and greening up rapidly.

So the curry leaf tree is ready to be handed over to Jolanda and Paul. They can leave it in its new pot for a couple of years before planting it out, if they like, or they can put it in the ground straight away. Whatever suits their plans ...

Meanwhile, my "bonsai" curry leaf tree actually provides me with all the curry leaves I need in cooking. It's still covered in leaves, they're a bit down on tropical green-ness at the end of winter, but generally the plant itself seems healthy. 

Last of all, here's a photo from about 10 years ago, of our original backyard curry leaf tree. We originally had it growing in a pot, but then one day its roots got too big and strong and it cracked the pot. So we put it in a bigger pot and a few years later it cracked that one, too.

So maybe Jolanda and Paul's plan to get their new tree into the ground is the best idea. If you grow these things in pots in Sydney, they love our warm wet summers so much that eventually they'll start causing some kind of headache for you ... but along the way they're an elegant addition to any Sydney garden, as well as a delicious addition to so many South Asian and Southeast Asian dishes.


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Five garden jobs you can do this spring

How's that gardening motivation level going? Out of 10? Locked down by covid and nothing to do, lovely garden out there and you're still a motivational "1" out of 10?

If you can get yourself all the way up to a "3" or better, doing that first gardening job might just propel you to the dizzy heights of 5s or 6s. So here's a short "to-do" list just in case the spring weather starts getting to the gardener in you.

Plant some spuds

Spring is the ideal time to get some spuds planted. The good thing is that specialist spud suppliers have been taking orders online for many years, so that's how to get started.

You can of course grow spuds in the ground, but a big pot works fine, so does a large "grow bag" that has holes included to help water drain away.

To get started on your 2021 Spud Mania, try these links to well known suppliers:

Garden Express:  https://www.gardenexpress.com.au/shop/edible-produce/certified-seed-potatoes/

Sow some seeds

Spring is the ideal time to sow seeds of so many delicious crops, such as all salad greens, tomatoes, shallots, basil, silver beet, carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini — there are countless others — and the good news if you are locked down is that major supermarkets often stock the seeds you are looking for. I bought my Yates seeds for these babies pictured below at my local Woolies supermarket. 

On the left are some shallot seedlings enjoying the morning sun, while on the right are seedlings of "mesclun" salad greens, which is a mixture of different greens. After sowing the seeds the fastest ones – the rocket (or arugula) – came up in just four days. The slowies took two weeks. The shallot seedlings came up in 7 days, so on each and every morning I was out there misting the seedling trays with water, there was something new coming up.

After about three weeks the seedlings are ready for more sunshine, so in my garden a lovely half-way house is under the dappled shade of my potted Thai lime tree. The seedlings get a bit of direct sun on them during the day but big brother lime tree shades them most of the time. In two weeks from now, they'll all be much bigger and potted up in their troughs in full sun, ready to roar away as spring warms up.

Sowing seeds is a bit hit and miss sometimes, but I find I get 10 hits to every miss, so give it a go, the odds of succeeding are really good.

Salad greens like mesclun, rocket, lettuce etc are very reliable and worth a try.

Basil is a good bet once the weather becomes truly warm.

If you're nervous about tomatoes give cherry tomatoes a try.

And if you want to fire up your lifestyle, chillies are so much fun to grow from seed. So many types and, given you probably only need one or two plants of each variety to knock your socks off, you're bound to have lots of success.

Go potty

Spring is a good time to do a bit of repotting. Here's one simple job I did this week, part of my succulent and cactus patch renovation.

God knows how many years ago, these three were tiny, cute midgets in baby pots that could sit on a windowsill. So I put all three in the one pot, put it out in the garden and forgot about them – and my, haven't they grown. Time for an upgrade in accommodation. 

Half an hour later each plant has its own home, and if I manage to neglect them for the next decade they'll probably need an upgrade in size by then. Without repotting, each plant would have crowded the other and all three would have suffered and probably died in the end.
This way, all three will just keep on growing.

So if you have a single plant that has grown too big for its pot, or you have too many plants in the one container, do everyone a favour and remove all the plants from the pots, upgrade their accommodation, and they'll be with you for many years to come.

Renovate your compost bin

Smelly compost? Open the lid and a cloud of little flies swarms out? Chances are your compost is too wet. What it needs is more dry matter to balance things out. And for me, the easiest source of dry matter is my big bag of sugar cane mulch. 

So I've been adding a few generous handfuls of mulch to my tumbler compost bin, giving the lot a twirl so it all mixes up nicely, then adding some more mulch a few days later. 

If, like me, your kitchen fruit and vegie scraps bin is the main source of new materials for your compost bin, your compost bin is in danger of being too wet. When that happens composting slows down and things can get smelly. Add some dry matter (raked up autumn leaves if you have any), but if you have a bag of mulch, it's the easiest and quickest way to get your compost bin back in business. 

Feed everything!

Spring is fertilising time, so get out there and do it. Doesn't matter what you use, usually, but there are so many specialist types of fertiliser to choose from it's easy to become overwhelmed with choice. 

The only plants you need to be extra-careful with are natives, and they definitely need specialist native-friendly food that won't harm them but will feed them. The good news is there are many native friendly plant foods around now.

The best rule to follow, apart from reading the instructions on the packs, is that it is much much better to under-fertilise than overdo it. More is not better with fertiliser. So treat the maker's recommended dosages as the "maximum" dose at all times, and there's nothing wrong with lighter, half-dosage feeds, either.

To keep things simple I mostly just use a liquid food (mixed up in a watering can) for all my edibles. Leading brands such as Dynamic Lifter, PowerFeed, Charlie Carp all do the same kind of job, and there are several others in the same category. In the growing season (ie, now) I liquid feed crops once a fortnight.

For most of my potted plants I use slow-release fertilisers, brands such as Osmocote and PowerFeed leading the field. These are almost "set-and-forget" in that you apply the little pellets, then you don't need to re-apply for months after that. Read the instructions and you'll see that some last 3 months, others 6 months. That's about it.

And for general garden use and feeding citrus trees I use organic-based pellets such as Dynamic Lifter. The good thing about chicken poo style fertilisers and other organic-based products is that they also feed everything that lives in the soil, not just the plants.

Compost is a fabulous fertiliser for feeding the whole of the soil, so is blood and bone. Seaweed is a superb soil health tonic too. 

All the pure organic, or organic-based fertilisers are the best long-term option for improving the overall health of your garden soil. The benefits don't happen overnight, but over the years they are the outstanding option.

So get out in the spring sunshine, plant some crops, visit your growing babies each day to care for them, then start harvesting the organic home-grown goodness that you've raised yourself. It's a satisfying feeling in a trying time. Give it a try.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Gladiator V Onion Weed

Pictured below is nothing less than a disgrace. A weedy disgrace, a total temporary victory by the evil onion weed.

And so last week I decided I had to do battle with this almost invincible foe, or die in the attempt. More to the point in my current state of health, I didn't so much fear death by onion weed than a relapse in my recovery from the broken foot/wrecked ankle. Neither happened, I'm still here. I won (kind of), and here's what happened in the Coliseum Match of Gladiator V Onion Weed.

Neglect onion weed for a few weeks so it gets a foothold in your garden, then wait for a thoroughly wet week or so of rain and suddenly you have this appalling problem to deal with.

And this is how it looked about three hours later. Every plant removed from the patch, plus half a wheelie bin full of onion weed. And as well as getting the big strappy leafed onion weeds with the bulbs on the bottom, of course there are approximately one million baby bulblets left behind, waiting for their chance to make my life a misery. I managed so sift out a few hundred thousand bulblets, but have no illusions about the task ahead. All the white dots you can see on the soil surface are the remnants of my decorative pebble mulch that has never managed to suppress a single weed in the last decade. Pretty, but useless ... 

Apart from leaving in place one large Crassula shrub and a pretty Kalanchoe 'Copper Spoons', I pulled every other succulent out of the ground. This trug full of haworthias isn't all of them by any stretch. These things multiply almost as well as onion weeds.

Little guys like these sempervivums somehow survived the smothering weeds, but from now on they are going to be growing in their own comfy pots.

Some of these Senecio 'Chalk Sticks' will be popped into pots, and a few put back in the ground. Lovely grey-blue colour.

I don't look like much of a Gladiator, but it was a torrid battle that lasted most of the day in the end. One of the things I like about digging soil is coming across all the worms and other little critters who call this soil home. I suspect they were all very upset by my presence. 

So the brilliant new plan is to grow many more succulents in pots, and only the very hardiest things (like those multiplying haworthias) in the ground. I've alway grown a small selection of cacti in pots, and the succulents make perfect company for them.

I used up every spare pot I could find in no time. The best ones for growing succulents are the "wide and shallow" ones. And I used up all my special Cacti & Succulent potting mix in no time, and most of these are now growing in good old ordinary potting mix, which will probably suit them just fine anyway (but it was all I had in the shed, so I couldn't be fussy).

As mentioned earlier, I have left the established 'Copper Spoons' shrub where it is, in the ground. Love the coppery colour of the new foliage. Every now and then a few leaves that fall off soon sprout into new plants on the ground, without any help from me.

Years ago when I first started this blog I made it a mission to find out the actual botanical names of my succulents, and it was no easy task. I tried hard but did get several wrong and was then corrected by succulent specialists who got in contact to set me straight. I am almost back where I started, though, as I now have half a dozen succulents, including this handsome one, whose name I don't know. I call him 'Pagoda guy'.

Since I renovated the succulent patch I've only been disappointed that there's still no sign of the first onion weed shoot popping up through the soil. I'm keeping a close watch and heaven help that first sprout! However, the real test will be whether I can keep up the vigilance if warm spring and summer weather gets wet. That's when the onion weed will really get cracking and try to take over again.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Shade-loving flowers on song

A rare event is happening out there in our garden this week. All the shade-loving flowering plants are singing from the same song sheet: they're all flowering at the same time, and it's never happened before.

You'd think if someone said to you "here's three different spring-flowering, shade-loving plants for you to grow" you'd naturally enough picture all three of them in glorious bloom together: in this case a golden orange, a pale yellow and a dusky pink.

Yet over the years I've had these three growing in the same spot, the best I've managed is two at the same time, with the third missing in action. Not this year! The full orchestra is on song, and it's looking lovely.

This is Scadoxus puniceus, otherwise known as the paintbrush lily or the Natal paintbrush, and you'd be right in guessing that it's originally from Natal and other provinces in South Africa. I'm just pleased to get one flower this year, as earlier the year while my ankle was in plaster we got in some boys to cut back hedges etc, and they stomped all over the Scadoxus bulbs and left them poking sideways and looking the worse for wear — such a shame. I replanted them when I was able to in early winter, but they don't like being disturbed, and I was fearful that none might flower. There's lots of babies, and at least I have 14 bulbs growing now. Four are 'adult' sized, and the other 10 are bubs which might take another 4-5 years to flower. So there's a good reason to live right there! Imagine 14 Scadoxus in flower — can't wait till I hit my mid 70s! 

This pink person is Velthemia bracteata, and as well as producing dusky pink blooms it has the added bonus of always reminding me of our good friends John and Liz, who gave us three bulbs, all of which are flowering nicely. And it's another South African, from the Cape Province and elsewhere.

Rounding out our trio of spring flowers is, very suitably, another South African shade-lover, Clivia miniata. This is better known to most people as an orange-flowered, strappy-leaved clump-forming perennial, but at a flower and garden show several years ago I came across a guy with a clivia stand and had to buy these yellow ones, just to be different (who, me?). The clumps are slowly spreading, so I am hoping that coming years will be even yellower.

Finally, here the view from the clivia end of the patch. All three plants are growing in the shade of our frangipani tree, which is bare of foliage right now. You can see the Scadoxus baby plants and their upright clumps of leaves growing happily around the big flowering adult plant. On the left, barely visible, is a tall murraya hedge that shades the plants from the northern sun, so it's shady in here most of the year. 

This 'South African' part of the garden is not in deep, dull shade, though. In fact I love to stop here in summer when I am filling up the birdbath with fresh water and have a look inside this tiny 2m x 2m shady zone. Under the full foliage of the frangipani it's like a peaceful little shady forest with bright green light, hopefully somewhere these shade-lovers can grow and thrive for many years to come.

Last but not least, I love this little patch of my garden because of the memories it conjurs. As I mentioned earlier, when I see the Velthemia I think of John and Liz, who live almost nearby in Sydney but under these covid restrictions, they're too far away for us to get together.

And when I see the Scadoxus I am reminded of a lovely co-worker, Geoffrey, an expert horticulturist who just bought in a bag of scadoxus bulbs one day and left them on my desk, with a very Geoffrey "see me" note attached. After expert tips on where and how to plant them, they have thrived. I haven't seen Geoffrey for quite a few years now, but I have thought of him often.

And when I look at my little South African patch I think of our dear friend Amanda, who's a whole border crossing away in Kyneton, Victoria. She's a mad keen gardener too, and I'm just hoping that she'll see this little patch of South Africa and think of us, just as we often think of her.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

It's citrus feeding time, folks!

Don't you just love it when a plan works? I do. Last week, looking at the weather forecast, I spotted the magic word "rain" predicted for Tuesday August 24. And Huey the Rain God didn't let us down. The rain started late yesterday and it's still raining. 

A creature of gardening habits, I knew that the weeks spanning the end of August and the beginning of September are the ideal time to fertilise my citrus trees, so it was always at the top of my "to-do" list. All I needed was to wait for a good day of rain to come along, because that way the rain will water in the many handfuls of fertiliser I scattered around my Eureka lemon, Tahitian lime and Thai Makrut lime trees.

While I was at it and had plenty of fertiliser to spare, I scattered it around all manner of other plants that could do with a boost in spring, but the main game was feeding citrus. If you have a lemon, lime or other citrus tree in your garden, try to get out there over the next few days (showers are forecast through to the weekend) and your citrus trees will reward you with bumper crops.

I love a shiny footpath and water dripping off foliage. It means I have a day off from watering the garden, and I can watch the rain do the last stage of fertilising for me.

Both the lemon tree (pictured) and the lime are covered in flower buds right now, so a big feed is all they need to turn flowers into fruit.

The Eureka lemon is the ideal variety for Sydney gardens. In cooler climates the Lisbon variety is preferred, while the Meyer lemon is great in pots in all climates.

As is the Tahitian lime the ideal one for Sydney.

And this wrinkled weirdo is the Thai Makrut lime (also called the Kaffir lime), whose culinary value lies in the grated rind of the fruit (it produces hardly any juice), and the wonderfully aromatic foliage, which I toss into all sorts of South-East Asian curries and stir fries. The Thai lime is a great choice for pots, too, because it's naturally quite small.

This is my preferred citrus food not only because it's organic-based and the smelly aromas don't last long. It just happened to be what I had in the shed. 

Right now it's hard for locked-down gardeners everywhere to visit one of those big Hardware superbarns such as Bunnings. I actually bought my Dynamic Lifter a while back at my local Woolworths Supermarket, so try there if you don't have any in your garden shed at the moment.

There's also a small but well run local garden centre which I support by paying a bit more for the mulch, fertiliser, plants and seeds they stock, and it's still open. So maybe there's a small garden centre near you that is still open, or at least open for a click-and-collect shopping expedition?

In these difficult times, it doesn't really matter what you feed you citrus trees with. Almost any fertiliser I can think of is better than no fertiliser at all. If it says something about "fruit and flowers" then this is the good stuff, but even if the fertiliser just says "general purpose" you are in the citrus-feeding business.

Try to read the instructions on the pack before you get started. If you do your fertilising now, while the ground is wet and more showers are forecast, all you need to do is wait for a break in the rain, get out there like a mad person, laugh at the sky if the neighbours are watching, and scatter the fertiliser around the base of the tree. 

Don't direct the fertiliser at the tree trunk itself — there's no roots there. Instead, spread it out under the whole canopy of the tree, and especially around the ground directly below the outer edge of the canopy (that's called the 'dripline', because that's where most of the rainwater drips onto the ground).

The dripline area is where a healthy tree has oodles of roots. Direct your fertiliser there and let Huey the Rain God do the rest.

And after you've done the job and the poor locked-down neighbours with nothing to do are still watching, permit yourself to send one last chuckle skywards. All your gardening mates will know exactly how you feel.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Pam's plants

For those of you new to this blog, a little bit of recent history to start with. Late last year I stupidly broke my foot and in the process damaged a bunch of tendons and ligaments in my ankle, and so I was sidelined from gardening for months.

With my leg in a cast and reduced to camping out on our living room sofa for weeks on end, my intrepid wife Pammy took over garden maintenance duties with a dedication and competence that, quite frankly, surprised and delighted me at the same time. She's a real gardener, and a good one!

Pam has always been deeply involved in our garden, but for the first 30 years here it was largely a "hands off" role. I was the one covered in dirt, pulling the weeds and spreading the fertiliser. She was the one who spotted pests and other problems, suggested new plantings, came up with the idea for the complete re-design of the garden about 15 years ago, and turned so many details of our garden into beautiful paintings.

Until Covid struck, our garden had been the venue for many of Pam's art classes, and even after covid limited the numbers of students who could attend, the garden still provided a really lovely venue for small watercolour art classes.

So, that's the background to who this "Pam" of today's topic, "Pam's plants", is. Ever since we moved here Pam has taken a special interest in certain plants. Sometimes she has straight-out suggested we buy something. Other times she just comes home with a plant in a pot and says "I have an idea where this might go". 

And even if I bought a certain plant, planted it and cared for it, at some time in its life it became one of Pam's plants. 

So, on with some examples of all these stories of "Pam's plants".

Thank goodness this person started flowering just this morning, right on time for this blog posting. This is Convolvulus cneorum, and around the middle of last year, Pam came to me with a newspaper advertisement from Flower Power nursery, with the photo of Convolvulus cneorum circled, and asked "can we buy this?". 

Given it was in the middle of a not very strict set of covid restrictions on shopping etc, I knew this wasn't an ordinary request. Bought it home, planted it in a sunny spot, and it then proceeded to flower its head off with these charmingly simple white disc flowers with a yellow splash in the centre. 

Then it did the unexpected and faded, wilted, looked a bit sick, sickened a bit more, wilted a touch more ... and the conversation had to be had. Do you think it will survive? Let's give it another week or two. It was never going to be my decision to give up on it. It was one of Pam's plants ...

Thank goodness we gave it a reprieve, as it bounced back in autumn, kept on growing a bit in winter in a weird, leggy kind of way, and now in early spring it's flowering. Yay! 

Pam recently brought this dazzler home from a local florist's shop, saying that our main frangipani tree, bare of foliage and flowers in mid-winter, was a good spot for a hanging basket of flowering Kalanchoe. It's the first thing you see when you enter the garden.

Pam has always loved nasturtiums and I've largely resisted growing them, because they spread and, well ... basically they are pleasant looking weeds. But as her reward for being such a great gardener during my long convalescence, I bought her a packet of nasturtium seeds, and said "you can plant these and let's see what happens". Well, nasturtiums happened, that's what! They do look nice with raindrops on them in the morning.

And the flowers produced by our little seed packets come in quite a variety, and they are a favourite subject for Pam's watercolour art students too. They love wandering out into the garden, picking a flower, then doing a painting of it. Good for the soul, painting.

Ever since Pam and I visited the United States in 2011, she has been in love with Spanish moss. All through the Deep South you'd see masses of this ghostly grey "air plant" draped over the branches of giant live oak trees. The streets of Savannah, Georgia, are one of the most unforgettable things I have ever seen on my travels. We came home in love with a plant, and it's been in our garden ever since.

The flowers of Spanish moss are so tiny, about a quarter of an inch across (that's about 5mm) and so Pam's gorgeously detailed painting of a Spanish moss bloom celebrates our garden's tiniest flower by allowing you a glimpse into its small but perfectly formed beauty. Time for a shameless plug, but if you want to see more of Pam's work, pop over to Instagram where she is at @pamelahorsnellartist

Bending the rules slightly here, as our main frangipani tree has no leaves, no flowers and is still asleep. But it's the biggest of Pam's plants in our garden. She loves this frangipani ...

... and she also adores this colourful frangi (also bare in winter) that she brought home from the nearby art studio, called the Bakehouse Studio, where she teaches painting. The parent of this tree is in the backyard at the Bakehouse Studio, so when they trimmed it back one year they turned them into lovely big cuttings which they sold to raise funds for a local school. Pam had always had her eye on this frangipani tree, so she brought it home. 

Like the frangipani trees, our New South Wales Christmas bush is not in flower, but it is definitely one of Pam's plants. This poor thing has been having a great time in its pot for the last few years, but it took ages to find a spot where it was truly happy, and every time it was unhappy, where pests attacked it, or the tree itself just looked sick, Pam was onto me. "It's not happy, what's wrong? Let's move it somewhere else? Is that pot big enough? She's taken a special interest in its welfare, and it's rewarding her with better and better colour shows each year.

Finally, one of the most recent additions to the roster of Pam's plants is this gorgeous, fragrant jungle of lemon grass. When we planted it, it wasn't an official "Pam plant". It just grew like mad and every now and then we'd cut a stalk when the Asian recipe we were cooking called for lemon grass stalks, chopped. 

Then, late last year, when my leg was in a cast, I was sidelined and Pam was looking after the garden, the lemon grass needed cutting back. It looked wonderful though, sending up super tall grassy flower spikes high into the air. But to keep the lemon grass clump down to a manageable size and keep it producing those juicy stalks, it needed cutting back. "I guess we could get someone in to do it" I foolishly suggested. "Nonsense, what do you have to do?"  

And that's when the lemon grass became Pam's plant. After describing what was involved in cutting back the big, tall, unruly clump of tropical grass, I thought I had put Pam off the idea of doing it herself. Then one morning I could hear telltale sounds coming from the garden. Clip, snip, clip clip. Foliage rustling. More clipping ... she was in there! The clump was a decent size, made up of three plants. It'd be no surprise if a tiger sprang out of the foliage in a surprise manoeuvre.

But in no time at all Pam had conquered the lemon grass clump, reducing the jungle from six feet tall down to a clump of obedient 12-inch stumps.

That photo of the lemon grass flower heads was taken this morning. I'm almost of a mind to ask Pam if, come October, when it's time to cut it back again, would Pam like to do the honours?

I'm afraid those days are over. She has proven that there's no job she can't tackle in the garden. It's just that with a willing fool standing next to her who's keen as mustard to get stuck into all the gardening jobs, why would she?

No, we're back to our happy zone. Me covered in dirt, her keeping an eye on things.