Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Banksia spinulosa

Banksia spinulosa 
This is a variable species of Banksia and historically it is one of the earliest Australian plants to be described. After the establishment of the new settlement at Port Jackson, just north of Botany Bay in 1788, the surgeon John White found this Banksia growing. It was named by English botanist James Smith in 1793. In that year a Spanish exploring expedition under Alessandro Malaspina visited Port Jackson. Luis Nee, a naturalist aboard, made an extensive plant collection and it was from this that Antonio Cavanilles named several new Banksias in 1800.
Banksia spinulosa is found on both coastal sands and mountain clay loams .It usually grows as a large open shrub to 3 metres  but many coastal forms have adapted to salt laden winds and therefore may be compact and low growing . Flowering time is usually April to July. The colour of the flower can vary from honey, to gold, amber to burnt orange with variation in colour of the flower part known as the 'styles' to yellow ,red or black. It will tolerate frost down to minus 8C. All Banksia species attract nectar feeding birds and are decorative and hardy garden plants.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bat Plant

Tacca chantrieri
 Bat Plant
The curious bat plant or Flor de Murcielago is from South East Asia and is found in the shady forest understory. It is fairly easy to grow in the garden in similar conditions with well mulched soil or even in a pot in any warm temperate climate. The bat like flower is made up of wide spreading wing-like bracts of rich maroon-black accompanied by long trailing 'whiskers'. It starts to flower in late winter and continues through summer. There is a white flowering variety available as well.
2017 update: I do not have any stock of this plant.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sedum 'Gold Mound'

Sedum mexicanum 'Gold Mound'
Many of the Sedums are from alpine areas and grow between the cracks of rocks obtaining moisture from melting ice and snow.They put on a massed display of flowers in the spring time and often shrivel and look sad during the heat of summer. This bright yellow foliaged Sedum looks great through the winter months and by spring it is covered in fluffy yellow flowers.It is very fast growing and is able to fill a pot or large area of ground in no time. After flowering it needs to be cut back hard. It dislikes the heat and humidity of summer especially on the coast and it may need to be replanted after a couple of seasons .Pieces left on the ground usually regrow in no time.It makes a great contrast plant with darker leafed plants.
2017 update: I have plants available in winter and spring

Monday, June 22, 2009

Epacris longiflora

This small native shrub always provides a bright spot on a grey day when you come across it when out on a bush walk. It is sometimes given the common name of Fuschia Heath because the tubular bell like flowers resemble the exotic Fuschia.It likes to grow in sandy soils or amongst rocks so it can be difficult to grow in a garden. It grows to about a metre and the thin wiry stems are quite prickly. The bright red ,white tipped flowers occur from April to November.
  Epacris longiflora, Fuschia Heath

Sunday, June 21, 2009


To reduce greenhouse gas emissions it is best to buy food which is locally produced or grow some of your own if possible. In the supermarket it is possible to buy fruit or vegetables which have been imported from another country because they are out of season here. In the process they clock up lots of 'green miles' and in a small way make a contribution to climate change. With that said ,the only exception I make is with the mangosteen which is in season now and imported from Thailand. It is called mangkut there and is often seen piled up in a basket and sold beside the road in villages and even in the city of Bangkok. The mangosteen tree is called Garcinia mangostana and is a true tropical tree though it will grow in any warm climate but the flowers will not set fruit.It can reach about 20 metres in height. The flavour of the fruit is delicious sweet and irresistible.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Narcissus (1594-96)
Caravaggio M. (1573-1610)
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica

Narcissus papyraceus Paperwhite Jonquils

Rain ...rain ...rain and the ground has turned to mud! The Jonquils are peaking and look cheerful.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Lyrebird

Apollo holding a Lyre
(God of Music, Poetry and Oracles)
2AD Roman Statue
The Lyrebird
John Gould (1804-1881)
British Museum 1840-48

The Superb Lyrebird
Menura novaehollandiae
Winter is the time when the male Lyrebird turns into the 'dancing queen' of the local bushland. I have yet to see one doing his version of shake-a-tail-feather up close but I did see two today beside the Jamberoo Mountain road. What an extraordinary bird , as it not only performs a dance but includes mimicry in its song repertoire The sound of a baby crying or a chainsaw in action could be included in its vocal antics and interwoven with its magnificent mellow song.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Caldo Verde Kale

At this time of year I make lots of Caldo Verde ,a green soup made from kale and potatoes. It is easy to vary the ingredients and add some chorizo or make a seafood version with small pieces of fish .At the last moment of cooking I add a squeeze of lime juice and some chopped shallots which are plentiful at this time of year.
There are two types of kale I grow. One is the curly kale, a red form of which is pictured below. This is known as chou frise in France and couve galega or couve frisada in Portugal.
Brassica oleracea var. sabellica, Curly Kale
A similar variety which has thick white ribs on the leaf is Madiera Seakale ,Brassica oleracea var. costata This is known as chou de Beauvais in France or couve tronchuda in Portugal (couve portuguesa in Brazil)
Brassica oleracea var acephala ,Palm Cabbage
This variety has become more popular and is sold by the Italian name of cavolo nero or Tuscan Black kale .In France it is known as chou palmier..
All kales are easy to grow and are productive for at least 2 years and will grow quite tall as you harvest the leaves from the bottom upwards. Insect pests are many especially white fly ,aphids and caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly. The curved and curly leaves make it easy for the insects to hide and avoid the spray of pesticides.
2017 update: Kale has become very popular as a vegetable but I have found it needs a cold winter to improve the flavour.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Brugmansia sanguinea

This 'Angel's Trumpet' is a remarkably cold hardy shrub and a very tropical looking plant which you do not expect to find flowering in winter. Because it is native to the mountainous Andes of Peru it is tolerant of the occasional icy blast of snow .It grows to about 3 metres but remains fairly open in habit which means it is easier to see the pendulous bright orange red flowers. It prefers a sheltered spot under the shade of trees or close to buildings which may afford some wind protection.Very easy to propagate from cuttings during the warm months.

Brugmansia sanguinea

 2017 update: I no longer grow this species.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Paper Daisy

Rhodanthe chlorocephala ssp rosea
Today I planted some seeds of this annual pink paper daisy which is native to south Western Australia and into South Australia. The seeds are interesting as they are covered with a soft white 'fur' and is quite soft to touch. They are large enough to handle individually and are best planted in groups of three. The plant grows to about 30cm and the stems are fairly weak and are coloured pale grey green. I grow them in pots as they need a sandy free draining soil which is not always easy to provide.

Xerochrysum bracteatum, Golden Everlasting
This is the common golden paper daisy which is a short lived perennial and fairly easy to grow .This wild form starts to flower now and goes right through to the warmer months. I often catch a glimpse of it beside the road when driving to Sydney. It is a cheery colour to brighten cold winter days.There are lots of showy large flowered varieties of this plant in a whole range of colours including white ,red and pink. They are fast growing and provide great colour in pots and garden beds without much attention.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mareeba Topiary

The north Queensland town of Mareeba has a population of 8000 and one very keen topiary artist.

Mareeba was once one of the main tobacco growing districts of Australia before tobacco growing was banned on the 26th of October in 2006.

Tobacco harvesting in the 1960's

The Mareeba Rodeo in 1967 with the distinctive mustard coloured ambulance vehicles lined up to take away the injured. Not a blade of grass to be seen as the Rodeo is held during the dry season.
This year the Mareeba Rodeo Festival is on from the 27th June to the 12th July 2009.

Bottle Tree, Brachychiton rupestre

The Bottle tree, Brachychiton rupestre is a remarkable tree from the sub coastal regions of Queensland. It has a conspicuous large swollen trunk.Though much of its native habitat has been cleared for cattle grazing, many fine specimens have been saved.The tree once formed an important part in the diet of Aboriginal people.The roots contain a valuable source of water in a very dry part of the country.The mucilaginous exudate from wounds in the trunk was eaten as well .The bark fibre was also used to make twine for weaving baskets. The Bottle tree is mentioned by early explorers of the region. In 1846 Major Mitchell made a jelly from wood shavings of the bark and Ludwig Leichhardt wrote that the young wood 'containing a great deal of starch between its woody fibres was frequently chewed by our party'.When cattle were introduced to the area, the soft tree trunks became a good stock food during times of drought.
  Standing under a Bottle tree in Dalby,Queensland

Brachychiton rupestre 
Bottle Tree in Wollongong Botanic Gardens

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Balustrade

The balustrade is an example of an architectural and building form taking inspiration from the plant world. A baluster derived from the French balustre and from the Italian balaustra means Pomegranate flower because of its resemblance to the swelling form of the half open flower.
Pomegranate , Punica granatum A page of fanciful balusters from A Handbook of Ornament
Franz S Meyer 1898

Rococo Balustrade , Schlossgarten , Veitshoecheim,Wurzburg von Deutschland

(and under the balustrade.....)
'Declaration of Love' 1731
Jean Francois de Troy (1679-1752)

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Arctic/Alpine Botanic Garden in Tromso, Norway
(Photo by Harald Groven)
What a fascinating garden to visit and probably the only one you could see at 2 o'clock in the morning being in the land of the midnight sun. Tromso has put in a bid to host Eurovision in 2010.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bambusa textilis 'Gracilis'

Bambusa textilus 'Gracilis'
This Bamboo is one of the best to use for screening especially around swimming pools. I have planted it here in a narrow 30cm wide garden bed and after 6 months it has put on plenty of growth to provide a privacy screen .It is a clump forming ,fast growing species which is frost hardy to minus 12C.
2017 update: Can grow very tall but one of the best for privacy screens.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Gardening with Chickens

The joyful Jacques Tati film from 1949 Jour de Fete is a celebration of rural life. This near silent film has a soundtrack of chickens clucking and squawking and roosters crowing in nearly every scene. Though not seen, they are LOUD in the post office and in the barber shop.With Tati playing the bumbling postman Francois, he takes every opportunity to peddle his bicycle through a flock of hens just so the sounds can be added to the film. A delighful comedy to be sure. Gardening with chickens is also great fun and they have become a more integral part of gardening especially in Permaculture garden designs. 

Isa-browns in a Greek village. This is a hardy popular breed worldwide.It is a good egg producer but they are a bit flighty and not very intelligent

And roaming the village streets

The Australian Australorp is my favourite breed.They have glossy black feathers with a green sheen. They are quiet, intelligent, loyal and make good eye contact and hold a conversation with you. A dual purpose breed for eggs and meat.

Baby chicks in the straw

If you keep your chickens in a permanent house without access to green feed ,the winter months provide a good selection of weeds with which to supplement their diet. It is not often I photograph weeds but here is a selection which chickens love.

Chickweed (Stellaria media) has soft pale rounded leaves and spreads from a central point .Small white flowers in late winter ripen into capsules containing oil rich brown seeds.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica urens)
The leaves of the stinging nettle are rich in iron .The trick with handling nettles, to avoid the sting, is to grasp the leaves firmly but a better idea is to wear gloves when handling.
Winter grass (Poa annua)
Winter grass has a firm root system and it is difficult to pull out without taking a large clod of soil with you. A better idea is to scythe off the leaves with the seed heads attached.
Milk Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)

The milk thistle is a soft stemmed weed with yellow flowers which exudes a milky sap when picked. This plant acts as a host for a variety of insects pests such as leaf miner and aphids.It also provides a link in the spread of plant viruses so is best removed as soon as it gets to a reasonable size.The insects and the leaves are much loved by chickens.
2017 update: I no longer have chooks since moving :-(

Himalayan Bamboo

Drepanostachyum falcatum
 Himalayan Weeping Bamboo
This is one of the delightful soft clump forming Bamboos which likes to grow in shade. I have used it here in planter boxes which are open at the bottom to allow for expansion of the root system and better growth. It is ideal for spots between buildings which are narrow and sun-less for most of the year. This species grows to about 4 metres and is tolerant of cold down to about minus 10C. Bamboos like adequate water and respond to fertilizer in spring and summer.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Wattle Time

Wattles afire
With yellow torches scent the air,
As though a choir
Of angels had been resting there.

Arthur Bayldon (1865-1958)
Australian Poet