Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Inclusion 2003
Deborah Grigg-Hawkes, Ann Streckfuss, Lisa Magri
glazed earthenware clay
North Coast Regional Botanic Garden
 Coffs Harbour 
New South Wales
This sculpture, created by the ceramic artists listed above has a nice story behind it .The artists consulted with the Coffs Harbour Support Services who work helping people with disabilities. Some community members who use the service were invited to join a workshop to contribute ideas for the sculpture.These people valued and felt joy at being included in the project ,hence the title.
The rock like forms of this sculpture have a lot of power. Underneath the blanket of clay lies a live form waiting to escape.

Datura metel

Datura metel "fruit"Datura metel
This small shrub with spectacular purple and white trumpet flowers is just starting to produce its fruit which sometimes go by the name of devil's apple or thorn apple, as they are poisonous though related more to a tomato than an apple. I treat this plant as a short lived perennial as it is often difficult to kept it going over winter even in a fairly warm spot .It is unusual not only for the flowers but also for the stems which are black .The leaves are prone to insect attack especially spider mite which causes a silvery appearance and loss of vigor to the plant. Many Daturas are weedy and appear in waste places or vernacular parks (those areas of ground where you find some really interesting plants while out walking) but their flowers are so unusual and produced in such abundance as to be note worthy.
2017 update: I no longer grow this plant.

Plumbago capensis 'Royal Cape'

Plumbago capensis 'Royal Cape'
As a blue flowering shrub this is one of the best for purity of colour but it is a nightmare to grow if you are not prepared to keep it under control. Given a tough dry spot in poor soil seems to be the way to treat it while giving it a bare amount of fertilizer to stop the leaves from going yellow. Under ideal conditions to will reach 5 metres up trees or sucker and grow through concrete. It is often grown as a hedge plant but as it flowers for such a long part of summer and well into autumn, it means cutting off most of the flowers to keep it in shape so why bother using it as a hedge . It sometimes gets the common name of Leadwort as the underside of the leaves have a grey bloom similar to lead. It is also a bit of a sticky shrub so be prepared to be covered in spent flower heads if you go anywhere near it.

Green Catbird

Green Catbird 
Ailuroedus crassirostris
Getting a visit from this bird is a bit of a rarity as it usually stays fairly close to the local rainforest habitat. Perhaps it was on a foraging expedition to some nearby fruit trees. What alerted me to its presence was the extraordinary loud harsh noise it was making while having a bit of an altercation with a wattlebird which did not like having it in its territory. It gets its name from the typical yowling cat sound it makes but the sound from this bird was much more guttural and plaintive.
2017 update: Recently came visiting after berries from the night scented jasmine Cestrum nocturnum. What a racket it made early in the morning.

Agave stricta var nana

Agave stricta var. nana
This is a favourite Agave because it forms such a neat round shape of symmetrical leaves. It eventually grows to form a small colony of spherical rosettes in a garden situation because unlike other Agaves ,it does not die after flowering but sends out new offsets from the parent plant. It is native to Mexico where it grows in dry limestone country.It makes a good pot plant or garden specimen if grown in a dry spot or on a raised mound to provide adequate drainage.
2017 update: I have a couple of plants of it available but because of the angle of the spines it is difficult to work with and therefore not on the top of my grow list.

Encephalartos ferox, Zulu Cycad

Encephalartos ferox
 Zulu Cycad
Any plant with the species name ferox (meaning fierce) is bound to be full of spines or of stiff appearance and such is the case with this Cycad.It is from the coastal region of Mosambique and northern Natal in South Africa and makes a striking feature plant in any garden given plenty of space and a well drained soil. It will grow across a range of climates and will even tolerate a light frost. Though they can be slow growing ,Cycads will produce brightly coloured cones from when quite a small plant. Many Cycads are endangered plants in the wild through destruction of habitat and over harvesting of seed.
2017 update: This is not a plant I grow.

Hedychium coronarium, White Ginger

Hedychium coronarium
 White flowering Ginger
If you go to Hawaii you may be given a leis made up from the sweetly scented flowers of this ornamental Ginger, though these plants have become a bit of an invasive weed plant there.This one is native to India and south western China and grows to about 2 metres .The flowering stems can become a bit top heavy and lurch sideways so it is best given plenty of space to grow. Flowering continues well into April and old flowering stems are best cut off to keep the plant tidy and productive. It does best in a semi shaded position with a rich moist soil but will tolerate less fertile sites by growing less tall but still flowering.
2017 update: I no longer grow it because of its susceptibility to stem borer.

Strobilanthus dyerianus, Persian Shield

Strobilanthus dyerianus, Persian Shield
This shimmering purple and silver foliaged shrub from tropical Burma is much hardier than you would expect. It grows to about 1.5 metres and likes a spot in the shade where its iridescent leaves can be shown off to best advantage. When combined with the blue flowering Ginger as above it makes a stunning display.As growth is fairly rapid it needs to be cut back regularly to stop it getting too "leggy" .In cooler climates it can be treated as an annual foliage plant or brought indoors or placed in a conservatory over winter.Flowers are insignificant and these can be cut off as they appear in much the same way you would do with Coleus.
2017 update: see my comment below

Monday, March 30, 2009

Colletia paradoxa, Anchor Plant

Colletia paradoxa
 Anchor plant
This shrub from southern Brazil and Uruguay is really for plant collectors or those with a warped sense of humour. Growing to about 2 metres, the whole plant is just one tangled mass of spines shaped like a boat anchor and zig-zaging all over the place. It is actually in flower now with tiny white flowers appearing at the base of each spine. Something so cruel looking is of course adapted to growing under harsh conditions so it is not particular as to soil or watering.

Callicarpa rubella.Beauty-berry

Callicarpa rubella
This shrub from China is rarely grown now perhaps because it is fairly ungainly in habit and is difficult to form into a compact well rounded shape ,a trait now desired of almost all shrubs. The small shiny violet coloured berries which develop at this time of year are quite decorative and last long after the leaves have dropped off during winter. If picked for a flower arrangement the stems last well in a vase.The native species C. longifolia is found in north eastern parts of the country and is occasionally offered for sale though unlike this exotic species it is not frost hardy.
2017 update: I no longer grow this plant.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

* 'It's Clever but is it Art?'

The High/Perpetual Xmas,
No Abstractions 2008
Brick,stone,steel,aluminium,2-pack paint,acrylic,neon glass tube,fluorescent glass tube
Scott Redford QLD b.1962
GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) Brisbane, Queensland

Scott Redford's sculpture takes us on a journey to the mid 20th century world of Queensland's resort city of the Gold Coast while paying homage to a 'neon mercury vapour-stained Miami sky'* style of 'Googie' architecture along the way . Googie style could easily be dismissed as a kitsch branch of Modernism but in reality it contributed to the landscape alongside more distinguished work such as that produced by architect and landscape designer Karl Langer. (1903-1969)(Lennon's Broadbeach Hotel 1956) Much of Googie, both here and in America, has been demolished to make way for high-rise and yet we are left with evocative names such as the El Rancho Barbeque, Rio Vista, El Dorado Motel, Florida Gardens, Miami Keys etc. Langer was also instrumental in the development of the canal estates ,a new style of living attracting such celebrities as 'Our Glad', Gladys Moncrief (1892-1976) 'Queen of Song' who graciously waved to passing tourists while her glorious soprano voice was reproduced in a less than glamorous manner. The major influence on lifestyle at this time came via 'the magazine for western living' the Californian based Sunset Magazine especially the Patio edition which had as its design advisor the brilliant landscape architect Thomas Church.(1902-1978). 'The Sunset Look' was achieved by creating a close relationship between indoors and outdoors....evolving into the outdoor room we know today with everything including the kitchen sink within reach for rinsing your hands after artfully arranging the prawns!

A Thomas Church designed roof garden using cactus and succulents.

The Gold Coast was the perfect location to reflect the Californian Modernist ideal of Sunset Magazine of 'blue pools in the squinting sun and the hissing of summer lawns'* but it would be many years before the landscape profession was able to catch up with the likes of Thomas Church.
Reynold's sculpture, like so much of our public artworks, fails to sit comfortably in its given location but it is so generous in its scale and concept as to allow free reign to the imagination as to where it could find a home..Perhaps on loan to the New South Wales town of Parkes during the Elvis Festival in January, at a muscle car show ,or in a garden setting of bold and quirky plants? Overall it is a celebration of our 'cultural cringe' and our ability to laugh at ourselves. It would not be out of place on the set of Muriel's Wedding in the town of Porpoise Spit or gracing the entrance to Fountain Lakes, home to Kath and Kim.

*Title It's Clever...from The Pursuit of Paradise (A social history of gardens and gardening) by Jane Brown (1999 HarperCollins Publishers)
* 'neon mercury......Joni Mitchell from Otis and Marlena
*' blue pools in the .. Joni Mitchell from The Hissing of Summer Lawns(Nonesuch Records,Warner Music Group)

Some plants for an imaginary garden surrounding this artworkAgave americana 'Variegata'
Multi -coloured grafted Cacti
Bismarckia nobilis , Bismarck Palm
Bright flowering Marigolds and Vinca

A blue foliaged Agave species

Pandanus veitchii
And some favourite cars......

'58 Buick

'67 Ford Galaxie Convertable

'62 Ford Thunderbird Hardtop

'59 Ford Thunderbird Convertable

Ford Galaxie 500 on the street at Nelson Bay

Taraxacum officinale, Dandelion

Shockheaded dandelion,
That drank the fire of the sun:

Dandelion , Dent de lion, Dienta de leon
At this time of year the air becomes filled with floating seeds from the Dandelion looking for a new home . They usually end up on a lawn and become a cursed weed ,sending down a big tap-root and becoming firmly entrenched ,. However given a little care, the dandelion is a good plant to have around in the vegetable garden as the leaves are full of vitamins and minerals and it is quite a tonic herb. Dandelion is derived from the French 'dent de lion' because the leaf is shaped like the teeth of a lion. This grooving of the leaves is nature's ingenious way of supplying the plant with water,by conducting it straight to the root through the rosette of leaves. The leaves are at their best in spring when they can be added to salads or boiled with other greens and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice as in the Balkan ,Horta vrasta (Xopta in Greek) or baked into pies using filo pastry. The roots can also be roasted and make an acceptable coffee substitute. The leaves and flowers have also been used in the making of country wines. Drinking Dandelion wine may be quite a liver tonic.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Adiantum, Maidenhair Fern

Adiantum capillus-veneris 
 Maidenhair fern at the hundred fountains ,Villa d'Este, Tivoli ,Italy

Adiantum aethiopicum local species of Maidenhair fern

One of the memorable gardens to visit is Villa d'Este at Tivoli outside Rome where Maidenhair fern can be seen growing profusely out of rock crevices and clothing the fountains. The local species does much the same thing if given half the chance and only really needs the occasional cut back of old fronds to keep it looking good. After recent rains and milder temperatures, it is sending out a flush of pale new growth and looks exceptionally fine and delicate. It is actually quite a hardy plant though and 'goes to sleep' during dry periods coming back to life when conditions are right. It will even tolerate a position in sun without any burning of the fronds. Cutting it back to ground level seems to be the way to go if it ever looks tatty as it will quickly come back to life when conditions are favourable.

Austromyrtus dulcis. Midyim Berry

Austromyrtus dulcis 
 Midyim Berry
  growing as a low hedge in Hunter Region Botanic Gardens ,New South WalesMottled purple and white berries of Austromyrtus dulcis

Of all the native edible plants, the fruit of the Midyim Berry is the most pleasing to eat straight off the bush by the handful. It is sweet and just mildly aromatic with the small seeds adding a nice crunch. It made a brief appearance on the supermarket shelves as a 'bush food' flavour of jelly crystals about ten years ago and then disappeared without a trace. It impressed the 19th century Quaker missionary James Backhouse, who came across the bush growing in coastal sand-dunes in Queensland and wrote in his journal 'These are the most agreeable native fruit I have tasted in Australia; they are produced so abundantly, as to afford an important article of food to the aborigines.' Austromyrtus is easy to grow in any garden and quite ornamental .New leaf growth is silky pink and the small star shaped flowers are quite appealing. It grows to about a metre and can be used as a ground cover or kept trimmed to a low hedge.
2017 update: still a favourite though I no longer propagate for sale.

a sculpture

Metaphysica series 2007, bronze and brass
Ah Xian, China/Australia b1960
GOMA (Gallerry of Modern Art) Brisbane ,Queensland

a sculpture

Curlicue 1991,Copper Wire
Bronwyn Oliver 1959-2006
GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art), Brisbane, Queensland