Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Salvia semiatrata, Riviera Sage

Salvia semiatrata, Riviera Sage
Salvias have become one of the most popular garden plants because they are almost always in flower and are hardy over of a range of climates . The Riviera Sage above was still in flower in July when this photo was taken ,though the bi-coloured flowers are usually a more vibrant shade of violet and magenta during the summer. It grows to about 1.5 metres in the garden but is taller in its native habitat of Sierra Madre del Sur in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. It has been given the common name of Riviera sage because it has been grown in that part of France for decades. Like many Salvias the stems of this one are brittle so it may need a protected spot in the garden, otherwise it is both drought and frost hardy.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kangaroo Paws

Wind resistant Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthus cultivars)

After three days of gale force winds with gusts in excess of 100km an hour ,there is not much left of the Spring blossom trees.
 Kangaroo Paws are one of the great plants which have adapted well to our harsh climate and put on a great show regardless of the weather.There is a whole range of interesting varieties available in a range of colours. They require a bit of maintenance such as removal of spent flowers and thinning out a clump if they become congested. A side dressing of organic fertilizer after flowering keeps them happy. Birds love the flowers as well.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A white Marigold

Tagates erecta
 Marigold white cultivar

The 30cm tall African Marigold is bold in flower producing large heads of usually yellow or orange flowers on compact upright plants .Flowering commences anytime from late Spring through to Summer from winter sown seed. I grew this white form a couple of years ago and can't be sure of the variety name. It is either 'Vanilla' or 'White Knight'. Marigolds are fairly easy to grow given a sunny spot but need old flowers removed to keep them flowering well and to improve overall appearance. Their strongly scented leaves are said to deter insect pests so they are useful inter-planted amongst vegetables in the garden.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Christo: It's a wrap!

Christo, Wrapped Coast, Little Bay, Sydney 1969
Cloth and rope 1.000.000 square feet, (photo by Harry Shunk
Forty years ago, Bulgarian born American artist Christo, assisted by hundreds of volunteers, wrapped one million square feet of Sydney coastline in fabric. John Kaldor (John Kaldor Public Art Projects) was the man behind bringing this to Australia .He was also responsible for Jeff Koons' Puppy at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
Wrapped Coast entered popular culture when used as the background for the music video of the then 'King of Pop',John Farnham for his song One.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Teucrium marum, Cat Thyme

Sammy surrounded by his favourite plant, Cat Thyme ,Teucrium marum
This small leaved silver shrub is native to the islands of the western Mediterranean region and is adored by cats who like to nibble on the leaves or break off small pieces so they can roll around on it. The leaves have a very pungent smell like a combination of ether and mustard, an odor which is quite distinctive and strong. If you have a cat, plants in the garden or in pots will be kept to a neat rounded shape by the constant attention and tip pruning, so they may not reach more than 20cm high. Bright pink flowers are produced in summer which contrast well with the grey foliage.This is a good plant to grow in seaside gardens or for places which tend to become seasonally dry .
2017 update: I currently don't have any stock. RIP Sammy

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Life on Mars

This morning
Eerie is the word everyone used to describe what it was like outside this morning. The whole atmosphere turned red and everything is coated with red dust.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gee Whiz Geums

Geum 'Jess'
There are about 50 species of Geums some of which are native to Australia but most of the garden plants are derived from the temperate northern hemisphere native Geum rivale or "River Avens". They are delightful and hardy perennials which do quite well in warm temperate climates as well as cool temperate ones. Flowers are produced on tall stems from late winter right through summer with flower colour usually bright orange , red or yellow as well as some softer toned pastel forms such as the pink flowered 'Jess' pictured above. They require a good moist soil and a part shaded position to do well . When stressed by a lack of water, the rosette of rounded leaves which forms the base of the plant wilts and individual leaves often turn brown at the edges . Lack of water also results in healthy plants becoming vulnerable to spider mite attack which shows up as distinctive silvering of older leaves. Some of the cultivars I have grown which are readily available and easy to grow are 'Mrs J. Bradshaw' (scarlet flowers), 'Lady Stratheden' (bright yellow) 'Tangerine' (bright orange) 'Blazing Sunset' (bright red) and 'Lionel Cox' (creamy pale yellow).
2017 update: I no longer grow Geums.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Surfrider'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Surfrider'
The beautiful Hawaiian Hibiscus seem to be at their best in early Spring and early autumn (April /May) when the sun is not too harsh and the blooms are able to last for at least a couple of days. This is one of the best cultivars and is an old favourite. The flowers are large golden orange with ruffled and overlapping petals. The growth habit of this one is low and compact and the leaves are large and glossy. This specimen is growing in front of an apartment block close to the city with no obvious irrigation system . Hibiscus are quite tough plants and have low water requirements once established. 
2017 update: I have no plants available for sale. I have lost five plants which turned up their toes suddenly.


"Untitled" Marble sculpture, GOMA, Brisbane ,Queensland

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tiger Grass, Thysanolaena maxima

Thysanolaena maxima
  Tiger Grass

Tiger grass is a clump forming grass resembling a bamboo and is an excellent screening or landscaping feature plant. It grows to about 3 metres tall but remains a metre wide at the base. During winter it produces terminal pannicles of pink/brown flower heads which are quite decorative. At this time of year I cut off the old flower stems and give it a feed of some nitrogen rich fertilizer. It does well in full sun or part shade and though tolerant of dry poor soils, best growth is achieved in good soil with adequate moisture. It will only tolerate light frost.
2017 update: I had trouble keeping stock alive over winter in pots so no longer grow it. In ground plants remain tall and lush.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Coriander, Cilantro, Yuen sai

My Coriander patch

One plant I can't live without is Coriander. There is no comparison between the store bought kind and the home grown variety. Home grown Coriander has large shiny leaves and a stronger taste. However it is really at its best during the cool months. As soon as the weather warms up it bolts to seed. Usually I leave the plants to dry up and then scatter the brown seed around so that it grows back by its own accord. I have grown the 'slow to bolt' variety but this still behaves in the same way and starts to flower in a matter of weeks during summer.The solution in summer is to grow Saw Tooth Coriander, Eryngium foetidum, so called Thai coriander which has the same taste and withstands cooking without any loss of flavour. This plant is native to Central and South America but has become naturalised in parts of Asia . In Thailand it is known as phak chee farang and in Vietnam as ngo gai. Leaves are often sold in bundles in Asian grocery stores. Like other members of the genus Eryngium this species produces lots of very prickly flower heads which are best kept cut off to encourage more leaf production. I sow seed during late autumn and young plants are usually ready for planting out now . It is interesting that the name coriander is derived from the Greek word koris which means bug, alluding to the stink bug smell of the crushed leaves.

Eryngium foetidum, Saw Tooth Coriander

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pea Straw Mulch

Pea tendrils growing from pea straw mulch
The mulch I like to use in the vegetable garden is pea straw which is available in big compressed bales. The bonus you get from using it is that after a couple of weeks of putting it down you get a crop of new peas which can be cut to use in stir fries or salads.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spring Orchid Show

Dendrobium speciosum, Rock Orchid
Last weekend the Australasian Native Orchid Society (Illawarra Branch) held their spring show in Wollongong. The first thing which knocks you out when you go to a native orchid show is the intense heady perfume which these plants emit. I can only describe it as vanilla mixed with musk combined with other sweet notes. The Rock Orchid above is one of the most hardy, popular and easy to grow species . In my neighbourhood, some gardeners grow it in full sun often as a feature plant in a small garden bed near the mail box. In its native habitat it grows on sandstone cliffs and rock outcrops which can be seasonally quite dry. Flowering lasts from August to September. Below are some other Orchids from the show but I have yet to learn their names.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Orchid Tree Bauhinia x blakeana

Bauhinia x blakeana 
 Hong Kong Orchid Tree (Hunghua Yangtijia)

I saw this in flower this morning and had to stop and take a photo .It is more striking than Bauhinia variegata as the flowers are a rich magenta purple. Sadly this specimen had been badly pruned from the base and was not in great shape . This is a sterile hybrid and does not set seed and is possibly a hybrid between B. variegata and B. purpurea. It is the floral emblem of Hong Kong and was discovered in 1908 and named after Sir Henry Blake, Governor of Hong Kong from 1898 to 1903.
2017 update: I have not been able to get this tree anywhere.

Hollyhocks & The Beatles

Alcea rosea, Hollyhock

The digitally remastered music of The Beatles, released on CD this week is a real treat to listen to. Included with each album is a booklet of photos and with the "White Album" there are some great shots of the 'Fab Four' taken in the gardens of St. Pancras Old Church in the London borough of Camden . Apart from the tongue in cheek pic of them sitting in front of a "Please Keep off the Grass" sign , there are a couple of great photos of them standing in, and partly obscured by some towering Hollyhocks. The photos were taken in mid Summer when the flowers were at their peak . Here they may flower anytime from mid winter onwards, though because Hollyhocks are prone to rust, they are not grown as much as they used to be. A local gardener grows the beautiful double black/maroon variety Alcea rosea var nigra . According to Peter Valder in his book The Garden Plants of China, Hollyhocks have been grown as garden plants for a very long time , 'becoming by the 9th century a symbol of passing time'.

St Pancras Old Church. Camden, London.
Engraving from 1815

Friday, September 11, 2009

White Nymph Butterfly

Mynes geoffroyi subsp guerini, White Nymph
I came across this butterfly today, not in the garden but stuck in the radiator grill of my vehicle. It has quite vivid yellow and red banding on its wings and a distinctive bright yellow head.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Iris japonica

Iris japonica Japanese Iris
This Iris is one of those very hardy spreading plants which is great to cover some ground under trees where it may be a bit on the dry side or under shrubs such as Camellias .At this time of year it sends up a 30cm stem holding a cluster of delicate pale ice blue flowers with a distinctive yellow crest.It spreads by means of thin wiry stems usually just under the surface of the leaf mold or mulch. The new plants can be broken off or the whole plant can be divided every few years . It is very easy to grow and undemanding as to water or fertilizer though a side dressing of blood and bone after flowering will keep it happy.
2017 update: I no longer grow it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Orchid Tree Bauhinia variegata

Bauhinia variegata, Spring Orchid Tree
Orchid Tree as a street tree in my neighbourhood
Bauhinia variegata var 'Candida'

The orchid trees are just coming into flower and I must say I think the white flowering form is more showy than the pink/magenta one . Depending on how cold the winter is, most of the leaves fall just before flowering commences but this year a large percentage of the curious double lobed leaves have remained spoiling the overall appearance. This tree does tend to grow in a fairly ungainly way with many lopsided branches or even multiple trunks so it needs some careful shaping when young to correct this. It is suitable for large gardens, perhaps grown as a specimen tree with lots of space around it . The flowering branches arch over quite low so the lovely flowers can be admired up close. It is native to Southeast Asia growing across a range of climates and will tolerate light frost.It is hardy and adaptable to low rainfall conditions.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Spring Garden Fair

On Sunday the 27th of September the main garden shows/fairs in my district is on.
Here on the south coast, the Garden Lovers' Fair is at the Berry Showground from 8.30 to 2.00  This is a great event with lots of really interesting plants and garden related items on display and for sale.
2017 update: Sadly no longer held.

A Ferny Glade

Ferns growing in local bushland

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Durban Grass

Durban Grass or Sweet Smother grass, Dactyloctenium australe
This is the grass of choice if you want to establish a lawn under trees in heavy shade. It is a turf grass suitable to the warm east coast and available in Sydney from John Smith Turf. I love it because it is very soft to walk on or lie on, on a hot summer day. It is not really hard wearing so is not great for kicking a football around on or if you have a large dog which likes to dig.
Now is the time to start a fertilizer program for lawns .I like to use the Neutrog brand Upstart and Rapid Raiser because they are organic based and quick acting.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Rain at last

Wistaria in full bloom at the moment

After six weeks of dry weather and the warmest Winter on record it was great to see some rain at last yesterday, even if was only 5mm. Here is hoping that we get just a bit more soon to fill the dams.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Golden Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis aureus 
 Golden Rosemary
For a brief time in early Spring this Rosemary puts on new growth which is a glowing golden yellow. As the weather warms up it changes to a more soft green colour. It is a robust plant usually reaching about a metre or more in height and responding well to trimming and shaping.
Rosemary, being native to the Mediterranean seashores of France and Spain is given the name "dew of the sea" and is celebrated in literature especially poetry. The Andalusian poet Juan Ramon Jiminez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1956, wrote
"The flute and the drum announce the festival of spring:
Long live the roses, the roses of love!
Let the green meadows enter with sun!
Come to the fields for rosemary,come,come,
for rosemary and for love!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Purple Leaf Mustard

Brassica juncea var integrifolia 'Osaka Purple', a Japanese Mustard

This is one of the more ornamental vegetable plants producing big quilted purple leaves which are hot tasting and best used when quite small. The mustard seed produced later in the season tends to explode from the stem on a hot day and can be difficult to collect . The freely scattered seed ensures a future crop the next year and seedlings usually appear from July onwards. The only problems encountered in growing it come from insect pests such as aphids and white fly which congregate on the under side of the leaves.