Friday, September 24, 2021

Small change, big difference


These YouTube videos are making a lazy blogger of me!

Yesterday, for reasons unrelated to gardening (ie, I was changing where I parked my motorcycle in the backyard) I ended up moving my potted Thai lime tree from the spot it has occupied for the last five years to a new spot just four or five feet away.

And this morning, when I stepped out into the backyard I was taking in a much more colourful, flower-filled view of Garden Amateur Land than I have ever enjoyed before. The spring flowers no doubt help, but moving a "blocker" from the foreground has worked wonders.

And the only thing that prevents me from changing my name from Garden Amateur to The Lazy Garden Blogger is that I am too lazy to make the change right now. It's sunny, 27°C, light winds, perfect picnic weather, and a 30-second video is all I can muster the energy for right now.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The bare and the beautiful


There is no time of day to compare to the mornings in our garden. As you stand at the back door and look out, the low morning sun appears in the far right corner of the north-facing property and steadily lights up every plant as it rises.

However, as an early riser who's often out there before the sunbeams appear, the truly best time to view it all is that gentle brief time between dawn and the moment the sun starts casting shadows. 

That soft, low morning light allows the many different greens and the subtle greys to do their version of glowing, before old shiny guts appears over the fence and starts bleaching the light for the rest of the day.

So, early this morning was the ideal time to attempt my next video of the garden, and my focus this time was on the bare beauty of our two frangipani trees. They're all just branches right now. It'll be another couple of weeks, early October, before the leaves appear, followed by the fragrant flowers in November.

So for this next attempt at a low budget, iPhone video production, I've learned my lesson and will only post a link to the YouTube video, all 1 minute 19 seconds of it.

Here's where you click and watch the show:

Meanwhile, here's a few photos of what to expect later this spring, plus as a special bonus for language lovers, one of my favourite pieces of wordy trivia.

The 'big' tree grown from a cutting is the classic Sydney frangipani, the white one with the yellow centre. I love it.

The smaller tree, also grown from a cutting supplied by a local art studio where Pam teaches, is a much more tropical looking, colourful piece of confectionery. I've called it Frangipani 'Serendipity' because it has been such a happy discovery.

And now for my favourite piece of English language trivia. 'Serendipity' is an invented word, and we can almost trace it back to a specific day and date: January 28, 1754, in a letter written by Horace Walpole to a friend. Pictured above is the page from The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of Serendipity.

The word Serendip is the ancient Persian word for the beautiful island we know of today as Sri Lanka, and as Walpole explains in his letter, in the fairy tale 'The Three Princes of Serendip' the heroes were always making discoveries by accident, of things they were not in quest of. Happy accidental discoveries, if you will. And to describe that fortunate phenomenon, he invented the word 'serendipity'. 

What all this has to do with gardening is precisely nothing, other than for the fact that whenever I go out into the garden I don't always think about gardening.

Take yesterday morning as an example. There I was pulling out all the weeds growing around the base of my little tropical frangipani, and instead of contemplating the exacting business of pulling out weeds, I was thinking of dictionaries, writers, Sri Lanka and invented words. 

And before I knew it the drudgery of weeding was over and it was time for a cup of tea.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Saturday cook up

Way back in the good old days when the word "lockdown" was mostly used when reporting on the aftermath of prison riots, I loved the tradition of a big Saturday cook up – a more spectacular weekend meal where I'd go to a lot of trouble to make something nice.

Being a very enthusiastic but not especially skilful home cook, sometimes there'd be triumphs when everything turned out perfectly ... and other times there's be slight depressions and post mortems about where it all went wrong.

And so, despite our current existence taking on an imprisoned-at-home monotony of samey days that we all desperately wish to be over, I've decided to keep up a few weekend traditions, and that includes the Saturday cook up.

A lot of locked-down people are reporting that their sleep patterns are totally weird, and I'm definitely in that category. It's nothing unusual for me to be awake at 3 or 4 in the morning, unable to sleep. So instead of lying in bed I get up and read, or in the case of this early Saturday morning, I get up and cook. Or, to be more specific, I get up and bake bread, just like proper professional bread bakers do every day of their working lives.

One thing I love to be is unfashionable. (You should see my wardrobe of plain check shirts!). In the 2020 edition of covid lockdowns, everyone was baking sourdough bread, it seemed at the time. So I was determined not be fashionable and take up the craze, even though I've always been fascinated by the idea of baking bread. This year, it seems bread baking is out of fashion, so this was my big chance to strike while the iron was cold! Here's this morning's sourdough loaf, which will be turned into toast on Sunday morning, and topped with scrambled eggs for Pammy.

This year's foray into bread baking came about by accident. Just prior to the latest covid breakout in Sydney, Pam and I visited our good friends Margaret and Rob in Adelong, in southern New South Wales. When we arrived Marg was baking a loaf of sourdough bread, and it was delicious, and so she put some sourdough starter into a plastic container and it came home with us. I still don't know how to make a sourdough starter. All I had to do was say "thanks Marg" and it was mine.

That was back in June, and since then I have been learning how to make and bake sourdough bread every weekend. Some successes, some failures but I've been getting steadily better at it, I think. 

Pam says I fuss over my sourdough starter like it's a pet. That's because you have to regularly "feed" your starter to keep it active and healthy. Basically, starter is just flour and water and natural yeasts from the atmosphere. The yeasts feed on the flour and water, and once a week you need to add some more to keep everything bubbling away. It isn't rocket science, but it is science.

A set of digital kitchen scales makes life much easier. For example, if you have 100g starter, feed it with 50g flour and 50g water. Stir well, put the lid back on the container and leave it in your fridge. There are only one zillion websites pontificating on sourdough starters and sourdough baking, and some of them are a wonderful source of information, others are mostly disinformation that will lead you astray ... reminds you of any other hot topic right now?

Enough of this morning's cooking enthusiasm, tonight I'm returning to a cherished favourite cuisine, North African cooking using the spice blend "chermoula" and the whole meal cooked in a tagine.

The fun part of making chermoula is that you can do it with a mortar and pestle. I just love the ancient low-tech vibe of a mortar and pestle, and I think it actually gives you better results than whacking everything in a blender. The ingredients used vary depending on whose recipe you use, but they usually include ground ginger, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, garlic, salt, olive oil, fresh coriander and fresh parsley.

I finely chop the coriander and parsley before adding to the mortar and pestle in small batches. After 5 or so minutes of village-peasant pounding, all the ingredients fuse together into a fragrant, luscious marinade that you can then use with whatever meats and vegetables take your fancy. I've used it with fish, then another with lamb, and tonight we'll be enjoying a chicken tagine flavoured with chermoula. You need no other spices, but most recipes do ask for chopped tomatoes and onions to enhance the flavour.

This is my snazzy Scanpan tagine that Pammy gave me for our 20th wedding anniversary, way back in 2009. While I freely admit that as an enthusiastic but not very talented home cook that I have my  fair share of successes and failures, I'd have to report that the magical combination of chermoula and a tagine has never let me down yet. And I think it's because it's a "pop in the oven, set and forget" style of cooking.

So there you have it, the Saturday cook up continues.

Meanwhile, out in the garden I've cut back the big clump of lemon grass so it's now a set of clumpy stumps about 30cm tall. 

I've gone crazy and impulse-bought a Grosse Lisse tomato seedling from my local Woolworths supermarket. "No more tomatoes," I've told myself before, "too much trouble" I said. And there it is now, out there in the garden, making a start.

And the never-ending battle of the weeds continues ... but at the going down of the sun, we're off to Morocco!


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

What seeds have taught me about patience


One very strange thing I haven't been doing lately is visiting gardening centres. Prior to all this covid disruption, you'd probably find me browsing through a garden centre at least once a week. They were right up there with bookshops for me: regular haunts. But that was back then, and I haven't been to a bookshop for quite some time, either.

So, instead of picking up a punnet of seedlings at the local garden centre, for the last few weeks I've either been sorting through my stash of seed packets, searching the small section devoted to seeds at my local supermarket, or — by far the best fun of all — I've been browsing seed catalogues online, placing orders, then waiting for our poor overworked Postie to deliver me the goodies.

Another small padded envelope of seeds arrived in the mail today, and so I thought it's about time to share with you "What seeds have taught me about patience". It's not all good news, but it isn't a disaster story, either. 

On with the slide show.

I love the way coriander seeds hang around on top of the baby leaves until the very last moment. It looks like the baby plants are telling the seeds to "buzz off, now scram!"
It's a tiny bit late in the season for coriander — I normally start sowing seeds in autumn — but this will be my last batch for 2021. They have just a couple of months to grow into lovely leafy herbs before summer comes on. O
nce things get seriously warm they go berserk, become seedy in no time, and the leafy herb I love is no more.

I only sowed these basil seeds last Monday, and they're up as fast as those other legendary quick sprouters, rocket. I'm looking for a crowded pot of little plants that will look very photogenic for a few weeks and supply lots of leaves for tossing into the mix with tomatoes, especially. What a team!

I'm not fussy about where/who I get my seeds from, and my seed tin stash has all major and minor companies represented.

These English spinach seedlings came up only a day after the basil, and it's a good thing they're making a fast start. They're another crop which does better in the autumn and winter months, but I've got them in a partly shaded spot to avoid the heat, and I plan to fertilise the daylights out of them to make them grow faster. If we get a good crop, there's nothing Pammy likes more than a Japanese style Gomayagochi spinach salad with her grilled Teriyaki salmon. Home-grown spinach flavour here we come.

Once you get addicted to growing plants from seed, as well as actually planting some of the seeds (eg, the spinach, silver beet and spring onions in the top row) you also end up buying packets of seeds in a "seemed like a good idea at the time" kind of way. I fully intend to grow leeks, lettuce and radish some time soon, I hope. No reason why not, really ...

Here's one of those lessons in patience that seeds have taught me. Usually I am dead lazy about growing chives. Every winter my pots of chives turn into dense, unhappy clumps that turn yellow and look crook. Always a glutton for punishment, I have tried de-potting the clump, diving up the plants and replanting them in fresh mix, and the results have never been all that great. So most years I just buy a fresh punnet of little chives, plant them in a pot and they zoom away! This time, I decided to do it with seeds, and what do you know? (See below) ... 

It takes 14-21 days for the seed to sprout, and this pot took all 21 days to sprout (that was all of July). Now, 6 weeks later, we're in business snipping chives to go into Pammy's scrambled eggs on Sunday morning. But the lesson I have to share with slow-sprouting seeds is to know this in advance, plan well ahead, and try to see the year in three-month-long blocks of time. Impatient "days and weeks" thinking is just too hurried. If you grow chives from seed, think "third quarter of the year" as chive time.

Much more fun, quicker and prettier to look at, the wonderful world of lettuce is a great place for beginners to get started with seeds. There's a zillion varieties to choose from, especially when you start shopping online, and usually lettuce will sprout for you quite quickly.

I've been growing spring onions/scallions/shallots (call them what you will) from seed for several years now. My problem is that I hate wastage, and buying just one punnet of seedlings gives me about three times more seedlings than I have space for them, so I raise small batches from seed each time I start a crop. I cook with them all the time, adding them to salads and stir-fries, as well as using them as a mildly oniony substitute when I don't have any onions at hand. And that classic Chinese ginger and shallot dipping sauce for poached chicken is just heaven on a plate. I miss Yum Cha!

This is what arrived in the mail today, from my favourite online seed supplier, Eden Seeds. Like all the good quality specialists they have a wide range to choose from, and their customer service and delivery speed is reliably very good. This time I succumbed to the lure of two very pretty loose leaf lettuce, and a packet of the hard-to-find, tricky-to-grow and finely flavoured herb, chervil. I've been banging on for years about how good chervil is and so far I think I have convinced no-one. But Pammy loves chervil too, and that's all I need to know to enjoy its flavour. Its lightly aniseedy delicacy is superb with mild-tasting vegies such as zucchini and squash. Transforms them from bland to beautiful.

As well as being a sucker for lettuce varieties in seed catalogues, I am also very susceptible to limited edition tins of biscuits or other products on supermarket shelves. My shed has a goodly number of "collectable" supermarket tins filled with glues, nuts & bolts, and seed packets. All the cricket heroes on this Weet-Bix tin have long retired but this tin has aged nicely, with almost all the colours fading to a bluey-grey, as if there has been a printing mistake at the factory. Inside that tin is a cornucopia of seed packets that is constantly being added to ... more Aladdin's tin than Aladdin's cave.

Last but not least in the slide show is confirmation that not everything in that Weet-Bix tin is an edible. I know that cosmos is a bit weedy, so I have planted a row of cosmos seeds at the back of my Big Red geranium patch. So the plan is this summer the cosmos will add cheery yellow and orange flowers towering over the scrambling concourse of red geraniums, and then after the cosmos season has ended, the Battle Royal will ensue as weedy cosmos grapples with ever-spreading geraniums.

So, even though growing everything this year from seed is like gardening in slow motion, time ticks over steadily. It's spooky, like it has something to do with the position of the sun in the sky or something.

If you are impatient, don't even think about growing chives, chervil or parsley from seed. They're seeds of patience, for the long-term planners.

If you are impatient, get out there and start sprinkling around the basil seeds, the spinach, the lettuce, the rocket. There'll be something happening before one week has passed. 

I'm somewhere in between when it comes to patience. I do have some patience, but not a lot. So I do love it when seeds come up fast.

But I have learned that there's a deep satisfaction when real patience, the long-waiting, not-much-happening-yet kind of patience is rewarded. It's as if time has become an old friend with whom I am strolling through the year, hand-in-hand. 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

A resounding shambles – sorry about the video links ...


Hi everyone


Just a short (for me) and apologetic posting to everyone who subscribes to my blog via email. Apparently lots of you have been getting the text, but instead of the videos there's just a huge black box with nothing in it.

That wasn't the plan!

So, to repeat the video postings of the previous two days for anyone interested in spending five minutes on YouTube looking at my guided tours of Garden Amateur land, here are the links, just as old-fashioned links to click on.

Handy hint: turn the volume of the sound up!

Here's a link to the first one (west side of the garden)

And here's a link to the second one (east side)

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

First day of spring: a video on the other half of our garden


After showing you briefly around the western half of our small Sydney garden in the video I posted yesterday – the last day of winter – today I have another little video showing you the highlights of the eastern half of Garden Amateur land on this, the first day of spring.