Monday, November 30, 2009


Flower arrangement using Ginkgo leaves and rose buds

This arrangement was on display at a recent flower show and was submitted by the eleven year old granddaughter of a friend. I thought it was really neat and showed a great deal of flair and imagination. Simplicity is sometimes the key to making a brilliant statement.
The Ginkgo tree is much revered in China and Japan and is grown throughout the world as a 'living fossil' and a link to our ancient past. It is one of my favourite trees especially
in autumn when the leaves turn a wonderful butter yellow colour.
Ancient Ginkgo at Shilleuksa Buddhist Temple in Korea

Ginkgo at Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine , Kamagura, Japan

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Oregano varieties

Spanish onions, Greek 'Righani' and ripe tomatoes
Tomatoes with everything and every day is the case for me at the moment after the hot weather has ripened them all at lightening speed. Instead of the usual basil with tomatoes in a salad, a Spanish version can be made using powdered oregano. The oregano I like to buy is imported from Greece and is the dried flower stems and aromatic leaves tied in a bunch and packed in a long cellophane bag. For those interested in the botanical side of Oregano it can be a bit confusing to sort out the varieties. The main ones are : Origanum vulgare var onites from Italy which is much favoured in the making of Pizza;  Origanum vulgare var heracleoticum from Greece and called Righani for Greek salads and marinating fetta cheese and Origanum virens from Spain,called Ouregao in Portugal.  A fourth variety Origanum marjorana or Marjoram is a sweeter milder variety which can be used both fresh or dried. I like to use this one for making bread stuffing for roast chicken. For those who like Polish sausage it is one of the ingredients in the making of Kielbasa.
In Greek, Oregano means joy of the mountains derived from oros, mountain and garnos, joy or happiness. It has brought much joy to cooks for at least 2000 years.

Albizia julibrissin, Silk Tree

Albizia julibrissin, Silk Tree

I saw this tree in flower yesterday in a local garden. It was late in the afternoon of another hot day and the flowers had unfortunately wilted and faded. There are no conspicuous petals on the flower just a tassel of stamens and on the bright pink form called 'Rosea' these make quite an impact. The tree is graceful and shapely with soft ferny foliage and it usually grows to about 5 metres. It is native from Iran to Japan and is commonly grown in Mediterranean gardens or in warm coastal gardens with a dry climate and light sandy soils. The genus Albizia was named after the Italian naturalist Albizzi in the 18th century.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rosa 'Marilyn Monroe'

Rose Hybrid Tea 'Marilyn Monroe'
Named for screen legend Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) this rose was released in 2002 .The colour is usually described as apricot and it is certainly that in bud but under our harsh sun the colour fades to a buff as the flower opens. In the photo below it is successfully teamed with an orange Kniphofia flower and striped Phormium or New Zealand Flax to great effect.

Rose 'Marilyn Monroe' photographed by Mark Delephine in his garden in California

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Oriental Poppy

Papaver orientale 'Raspberry Queen'
This is one of those big flowering perennial poppies and if you have a cottage style garden they are ideal to grow in a sunny corner in rich moist soil where they produce a succession of flowers from Spring well into Summer. They form a neat clump but also spread out from underground runners so you can dig up any excess plants with ease. A range of coloured cultivars, mainly in shades of crimson, orange-scarlet, pink, white and usually with a black mark at the base of the petals have been bred and all are descendants of the wild forms found growing in the Caucasus, N.E. Turkey and N.Iran. They are best suited to cool temperate climates but are adaptable to warmer ones.
2017 update: It's too hot and humid to grow them well on the coast.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Artichoke Flower

The vibrant purple flower of the Globe Artichoke

I always let a few of the globe artichoke plants go to flower so that I can collect the seed. The flowers are really dramatic and look great either in a vegetable or a flower garden.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Apricot tree......Xing

Picked today some Apricots
Climate change and global warming may have a big impact on the growing of food plants, not only in broad scale agriculture and horticulture but in the home garden as well. After the warmest Winter on record and lots of hot days during early Spring it was to be expected that the crop from my apricot tree was to be small even without the possums beating me to half the crop. Apricots, like most stone fruit, require a period of winter chill to result in good fruit set and are perhaps better suited to a more temperate or Mediterranean climate than is provided locally. That said, even without a bountiful supply of fruit, they are quite an ornamental tree with their rounded glossy leaves and pleasing overall shape.The tree these fruit are from is barely 2 metres tall and would be expected to easily double that over time.
Apricot trees are thought to be originally from India but are also native to China where they are found growing wild in the mountains of the north and into southern Mongolia. Records indicate they have been cultivated for their fruit and kernels as early as 500 BC.They are called Xing or 'successful candidate flower', the appearance of their blossom coinciding with imperial examinations.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Calodendron capense, Cape Chestnut

Calodendron capense
 Cape Chestnut

This spectacular tree is in flower at the moment in my neighbourhood and has held the mass of pink flowers for several weeks now. When I drive past it I expect to see the flowers carpeting the ground as well but this has not been the case as yet. The botanical name Calodendron is derived from the Greek kalos meaning beautiful and dendron meaning a tree. Capense means it is native to the Cape region of South Africa. Its common name 'chestnut' refers to the nut like fruit it produces ,however this is not edible. Mature specimens such as this one are rare as it is a very slow growing tree and perhaps not as popular as the quicker growing Jacaranda. It is frost tender when young but grows well as far south as Melbourne.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jasminum nitidum, Angelwing Jasmine

Jasminum nitidum 
 Angelwing Jasmine
This sweetly scented Jasmine is in flower for most of the year and on hot days, when given a spray of water, it releases its wonderful fragrance into the air. Like many Jasmines, it has trouble making up its mind whether it is a climber or a shrub. During Summer it sends off long thin shoots as a climber does which either weave their way through neighbouring plants or collapse onto the ground. Cutting back these shoots helps turn this Jasmine into a fairly compact shrub about 1.5 metres tall. There is also much confusion as to its botanical name . It is also known as J.laurifolium. In Florida it has been referred to as J. ilicifolium and in California as J. magnificum.
It is native to the Admiralty Islands, the group of some 18 islands to the north of Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific. The Admiralty Islands are part of the Manus Province of PNG.
2017 update: I currently don't have any plants in stock. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hydrangea Blue

Hydrangea macrophylla

A bit of blue to cool down now that we are breaking all the temperature records. In peak of flower at the moment are the Hydrangeas.
 For more information on Hydrangeas in Australia there is the National Collection of Hydrangeas at the George Tindale Memorial Gardens, 33 Sherbrooke Road , Sherbrooke Victoria 3789.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Desiree Potatoes

The all purpose Desiree potato dug today
This heatwave is limiting gardening activities to early morning and evening only. So I dug the last of my potato crop this evening, barefoot and clad in a pair of old boxer shorts. Luckily I didn't spear my toes with the garden fork . This potato variety was bred in the Netherlands in 1962 and has a slightly yellow waxy flesh. It is a nice flat oval shape with very smooth pink skin and not prone to turning into an underground giant like the Pontiac. All novice vegetable gardeners should plant a crop of potatoes in a newly prepared site . They are great at breaking up heavy or clay soils and if you have mulched the bed with pea straw, the earthworm activity when you dig the crop is tremendous. Tomorrow, before the predicted 41C heat, I will dig in some compost and plant some bean and sweet corn seed.
When the heat is on, I usually head to the ocean or a pool but today I found myself in the dreaded shopping mall, which was abuzz with noisy pre-Christmas clamour.
What caught my eye was a new food and travel book called MoVida Rustica ,Spanish Traditions and Recipes by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish. Included is a recipe for a Summer potato salad, Ensalada Campera, in which 'roughly cut boiled potatoes, ripe tomatoes,onions,olives ,a tin of Tuna and a little egg' are combined 'to make a great lunch on a hot day'..... sounds perfect for tomorrow with a little jazz from Miles Davis 'Sketches of Spain'

Friday, November 20, 2009

Snakes alive

Red Bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)1794
by James Sowerby (1757-1822)
'Zoology and botany of New Holland and the adjacent Isles'State Library of Victoria

The hot weather has brought out all the reptiles from hibernation and the most common local snake is the red bellied black . Just in the past week a local man was bitten by one when he went to pick up his surfboard which he had left on a grassy headland. The snake was hiding underneath the board. A friend found a 1 metre one in his garden sadly killed after getting entangled in some garden netting. When caught in this way, this snake releases a strong smelling fluid from its vent as an auxiliary means of defence. Though venomous, its bite is not fatal and it often only strikes in a half-hearted fashion and mostly in bluff. But even a small bite can be painful due to the prevailing haemotoxic elements in the venom. The reason it is fairly common is that it can produce up to 40 live young which are about 20cm (8inches) long. It is also a skilful swimmer and can even stay under water for a period of time. If you come across one in your garden it is best to telephone the animal rescue service (Wires) for help with relocating it back to bushland.

Rosa 'Sea Foam'

Growing on the edge of a paddock is Floribunda Rose 'Sea Foam'
Rosa 'Sea Foam'
This rose was released in 1964 and has proved to be one of the most hardy and reliable roses with non-stop flowering from spring into summer. It is sometimes grown as a climber and is also listed as a ground cover but here it is growing as a 3 metre bush. The flowers are produced in clusters and are cup shaped with a faint pink blush in the centre.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spring cut flower arrangements

Viewing flower arrangements up close can give you inspiration for garden design and can show what colours work well together. This arrangement features the pale blue flowers of Nigella or 'Love in a Mist'. After flowering it produces curious horned seed pods which gives it another common name, 'Devil in a Bush'

Here is a good combination of pinks with some darker mauve and purple flowers to give the background some depth and solidity and some tiny white flowers to make it light and airy.
Deep blue Larkspurs form a solid background to the pastel shaded flowers overlaying them . The hint of yellow in the larger Alstroemeria flower adds a great contrast and lifts the whole colour scheme.
The papery flowers of purple and blue Statice last for ages. Here they have been arranged in a ripple pattern radiating out from a central yellow miniature rose which is embraced by a spiky spider Grevillea flower in rusty red.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Peony Envy

Paeonia lactiflora ,A double flowered herbaceous Peony

Called the king of flowers ,the Peony is one flower which I will never be able to grow unless I move to a cool temperate climate and provide a sheltered spot in a garden with rich moist soil. These flowers were on display last weekend at a flower show so were a treat to see up close. The cult of the Peony began in China where they have been grown for centuries both as an ornamental plant and a medicinal one.They are native to a large area of Mongolia,northern China and eastern Siberia and are known by the name Shaoyao.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Viola 'Kittens'

Viola x 'Kittens'

These tiny sweet Violas with whiskery faces are the last of the Spring flowers. This week has seen the start of summer temperatures with the mercury set to tip over 100 degrees F, in the old scale, for the rest of the week. If you live in a more temperate climate these little beauties will flower through the summer if given a spot in morning sun and a cool root run. Removing spent flowers is also important to keep them flowering longer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crinum pedunculatum, Native Swamp Lily

Crimum pedunculatum, Swamp Lily

The 1m long and 10cm wide, smooth leaves of the Swamp Lily
This Lily is in the Daffodil Family , Amaryllidaceae, and is native to coastal regions of Queensland and New South Wales. It grows both in sand dunes above the high water mark along seepage lines and on the banks of tidal streams, in lagoons and in Paperbark swamps. The flowers are at their best now but will continue well into summer and are followed by equally decorative large pale green fruit containing a couple of large seeds.
Despite its coastal origin,the Swamp lily has proven to be reliable in a variety of garden situations and even has been used in median strip planting on busy roads. The problems encountered in growing it mainly come from leaf eating caterpillars which can strip the entire leaf, starting at the top and working their way down the entire stem. If the plant is badly damaged ,it can be cut off at ground level and soon regrows from the large underground bulb. Propagation is usually from the large seed which can be germinated in sand
2017 update: I currently don't have any stock.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Suiseki is a branch of the Japanese art of Bonsai. It is an appreciation of natural stone. This appreciation takes the form of an object such as a mountain, caves or expanses of water where rocks are present. Small pieces are often collected and mounted on a wooden base called a Diaza.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Zucchini Fritti !

At this time of year, the zucchini plants need to be checked on daily as they are producing loads of fruit. Leave them for a week and you come back to find a giant zeppelin marrow has appeared which is tough and tasteless. My favourite way of cooking them is to coat small ones, which have been sliced in half, with flour or with a batter and fry them for a few minutes in olive oil. Even the individual non fruit producing male flowers can also be used in this way and I like them stuffed with rice and pine nuts .They are delicious cold if there are any left over. Zucchini also cooks well with tomatoes and garlic and make a perfect pasta sauce when made in this way.
This is an easy vegetable to grow and as long as you dig in some good compost before planting there are few problems in growing them .That said ,by January or February powdery mildew has attacked the leaves and the bush is usually spent. A second crop can be started in February which will produce well into Autumn. Black Jack, Romanesque, or Greyzini are the usual varieties available as seeds or seedlings. Another variety Niggerboy which was highly recommended in Australian gardening books as late as the 1980's has disappeared in the interests of political correctness.
Again if you have too many you can always pickle the excess.Here is a recipe for Zucchini Pickle from the book The Gourmet's Garden by Sam Orr which was published by Ure Smith in Sydney in 1975. This is a great vegetable gardening book and still available in second hand bookstores.
Zucchini Pickle

You need one kilo of zucchini and half that amount of mild onions, a quarter of a kilo of sugar, around three quarters of a litre of vinegar, a good tablespoon each of flour and turmeric and some pickling spice.
Chop the onions and zucchini, salt and leave overnight. The next day drain and slowly simmer with the vinegar, pickling spice and sugar. Combine the turmeric and flour with a little water until it creams and then add to the mixture in the pot. Simmer for a few minutes more . Put into warm jars and seal when cold.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Salvia 'Hot Lips'

Salvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'

What a great name for a plant, though there is also a chilli variety called 'Hot Lips' which is also aptly named. This is another Mexican shrub which was introduced to horticulture by Richard Turner of the Strybing Arboretum of San Francisco. It forms a well rounded bush to about 1 metre high and wide and seems to have flowers for at least 8 months of the year. The flowers are often bi-coloured or some are pure white and some red. The leaves and flowers are only small but it is an ideal shrub for a small garden where it can be viewed up close. It is frost hardy and tolerates dry conditions well. For maintenance, it just needs the occasional once over with hedge shears to keep it looking good.
2017 update: Currently out of stock but available again soon.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Achillea 'The Beacon'

Achillea millefolium x ' The Beacon' syn 'Fanal'

One of the easiest perennials to grow in temperate or sub tropical climates, Achillea or Yarrow, puts on a great display of flowers at this time of year. The flat plate like flowers are born on tall stems to 30 cm arising from soft ferny foliage There are many different cultivars available in a range of colours. This is one of the Galaxy Hybrids. The flowers are good for picking and can even be dried. I like to grow them amongst roses which provide some support for the flowering stems . Propagation is simply a matter of digging up a clump and dividing the plant with roots attached and replanting where desired . Autumn is a good time for this.
As a herb, Achillea has a long history of many uses. In France it was known as carpenter's grass, herbe aux charpentier, as leaves pressed to a cut stopped the flow of blood and acted as an antiseptic. As a remedy for a cold, a few leaves can be combined with some sprigs of thyme in a herb tea for some soothing relief.
The leaves of Achillea added to a compost heap are said to act as an activator, accelerating the breakdown of organic matter .
Above all else however, its fame is as the plant of which Chiron, the centaur, taught Achilles the virtues so that he might heal his wounds in the Siege of Troy. Below are some examples of his story in the history of art.

Achilles 1884 by German sculptor Ernst Herter (1846-1917)
in the garden of the Achilleion Palace, Corfu, Greece.
The Education of Achilles by Eugene Delacroix(1798-1863)
Bibliothek des Palais, Bourbon
The Wrath of Achilles 1847 Leon Benouville (1821-1859)
Musee Fabre, Montpellier

The Education of Achilles 1772, James Barry (1741-1806)
Yale Center for British Art

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Banksia serrata

Banksia serrata,Old Man Banksia as a bonsai
This is one of the first plants collected by Joseph Banks in April 1770 at Botany Bay in New South Wales. It occurs naturally along the coast and in the mountains from Queensland to Tasmania. As a garden tree it is long lived and develops a wonderful textured trunk and decorative "fruit"or "cones" from the old flowers which led to the common name of 'old man Banksia'. In the books written for children by Sydney author May Gibbs these cones were given a sinister edge and featured as 'big bad banksia men'. May Gibbs' garden and house is preserved and open to the public in the Sydney suburb of Neutral Bay.
Banksia serrata is very slow growing in the home garden and impatient gardeners may give up waiting for it to reach a reasonable size. It makes a great bonsai however and the attractive bark and gnarled form can be viewed in miniature.