Monday, December 27, 2010

Anise-Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum

Agastache foeniculum

Flowering now, this metre high short lived perennial herb is familiar to many who keep bees as it is a great source of nectar over the summer. It is native to the United States and Canada and is much loved for the aniseed scented leaves which are suitable for use as a herbal tea, and for the tall spikes of lavender blue flowers. It is an easy plant to grow and is not troubled by pests and diseases and not particular as to soil or water. A Dutch raised hybrid between this species and the Korean A rugosa is worth looking out for as it has up to 120 spikes of flowers on each plant. It is called 'Blue Fortune'.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bay Leaves and Garlic

Street seller of bay leaves and garlic
18th century print by Delpech after an original by Vernet
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A ghost from Christmas past and a tough way to make a living... I have a crop of garlic planted which is still green but I will dig some soon as it is good to use fresh. I have a small bay tree which is a plant I can't live without. Garlic and bay leaves , essential ingredients for a great meal and Christmas fare.

Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun'

Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun', Blanket Flower

The blanket flower is so called because the flower colour resembles native American woven cloth and the original species G. aristata is indigenous to the dry plains of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. This cultivar is a real winner because it stays dwarf and compact and flowers for all of summer if deadheaded regularly. It prefers soil on the poor side and does better in sandy soil than clay. I don't have any pest and disease problems in growing it. Propagation is from seed or cuttings in late summer.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Monarda citriodora, Lemon Beebalm

Monarda citriodora
 Lemon Beebalm

This is another native American plant found from California to Florida and Nebraska to Texas. I have grown it in my community garden plot as a companion plant and one to attract beneficial insects. The other species Monarda didyma is difficult to grow here as it gets powdery mildew on the leaves and I just don't think it gets cold enough for it. It is commonly called Bergamot or Oswego Tea and is said to be a flavouring ingredient of Earl Grey tea. Luckily I photographed the Lemon Beebalm last week as sadly today after some gale force winds, yes that crazy weather again, it blew over and split from the middle with all the stems broken. I am hoping it will regrow from the base before summer is over.
2017 update: I no longer grow this.

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea 
 Purple cone flower

Echinacea, which is flowering now, is indigenous to the dry open woodland and prairies of central North America.The American conservation organisation, United Plant Savers has listed Echinacea spp. as at risk, becoming rare mainly through over-harvesting or loss of habitat.
 It is a herbal ingredient, the roots are used, in a range of products including toothpaste, cold remedies, face creams and shampoo. Long before its current popularity it was used by Native Americans as a cure for infections and snakebite, hence the origin of one common name 'Kansas snake root'. According to Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, it was from the medicine men of the Mohawk and Cherokee Indians we obtained our first knowledge of the plant.
In Australia, it is mainly the purple and white flowering forms which are grown. It is an easy care perennial, not demanding of special growing conditions or soil. It goes to ground over winter and sends up its tall metre high flowering stem in early summer. A more compact dwarf form is available which goes by the name of 'Knee High'. However the plant breeders at Terra Nova Nurseries have produced the most exceptional cultivars in an extraordinary range of colours and forms. It is worth checking them out at their website. Love the "Mac n Cheese" golden flowered one and the red "Tomato Soup", clever names for brilliant flowers.

Bull's Blood Beetroot

This is new variety of beetroot I have grown for the first time. The leaves are dark metallic purple and as a micro-green are excellent for adding to salads or using as a decorative garnish on a plate. The root itself is neatly round and well formed growing quickly to just the right size.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


First Zinnias of Summer
The zed/zee sound of mosquitoes droning around my head just after the lights get switched off at night or the sound of me snoozing during afternoon siesta on a hot day..... The Z flower, Zinnias are just starting to flower. I like their bright colours, the coarse raspy texture of their leaves and their smell like old library books........

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cosmos sulphureus

Cosmos sulphureus
  You gotta love this summer flowering Cosmos. It self seeds and comes back every year if the conditions suit it. I am using it as an edge planting to winter planted Asparagus crowns which are sending up lots of feathery plumes and growing very nicely. It will be a couple of years before I can enjoy the tender spears however.

Cosmos and Asparagus

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Lemon Cucumber

This is the first time I have grown this variety of cucumber. As it matures the skin turns a bright yellow and looks exactly like a lemon. From the first harvest, I made pickled cucumber by slicing it thinly, placing it in sterilized jars and pouring over a vinegar sugar mix with some added dill seeds. I used it after a few days and will have to make more as it is delicious on salad sandwiches.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marvel of Peru, Mirabilis jalapa

Mirabilis jalapa, Marvel of Peru or Four o'clock flower

I quite like this plant even though it has the reputation of being a bit of a weed and is rarely available in nurseries. The fused trumpet shaped flowers are sweetly scented and open late in the afternoon over summer or during the day if it is cloudy. It is a shrubby plant to about 90cm growing from a large underground tuber. It produces lots of viable large seed so it is a case of once you have one plant you will have it in your garden for life come drought or flood. There are some interesting variations in the flower colour, with yellow and white forms and ones which are curiously splashed and variegated or neatly blocked with half the petals one colour and half the other, two tone really. It grows easily from seed or division, will tolerate coastal sea spray, poor soil or a difficult garden site in semi shade or full sun. It can be cut back hard after flowering or just run over with a mower if you are pressed for time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The blue balloon, Platycodon grandiflorus

Platycodon grandiflorus 
 Balloon flower

I bought this plant at a garden show last month and it had a label made from an old yogurt container which simply said "the blue balloon". The lady who sold it to me had a distinct Russian accent and I wondered whether it was a plant which was perhaps familiar to her from her earlier life in that country. This perennial is native to Russia ,east Siberia and other mountain meadows of east Asia. It has just started to flower now and the buds which are greyish blue are more hexagonal than balloon shaped. According to one of my garden books it requires a moist, well drained friable loamy soil and that established plants resent disturbance. Now I just have to find a spot for it and resist the temptation to divide it up for at least a few years. Hopefully it might set a bit of seed in the meantime.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Insect safety in numbers

I found these larvae today resting on some gum leaves just hanging around waiting to turn into a leaf eating beetle to strip one of my young eucalyptus trees bare. Approaching them they reared back their heads in unison, pincers held up in defence while squirting out a drop of eucalyptus oil. I usually call them "spitfires" as a common name. I don't know what species of beetle these turn into. They are not unlike the saw-fly larvae which are black and are often found hanging together around a stem or branch. Despite their destructive potential, I couldn't come at squashing them but left them out as a meal ticket for some creature who may not mind their oily taste. And I just had to photograph them sitting on a plate decorated with gum leaves.

Stokesia laevis 'Rosea'

Stokesia laevis 'Rosea', Stokes' Aster

This clump forming perennial is from S.E. USA and occurs in conifer woods on moist acid soil. It is an easy plant to grow, forming a clump to about 45 cm, in sun or light shade. Flower colour can vary from deep purple to lavender, pink or white and it is continually in flower over summer with long enough stems to make a good cut flower. I bought this one labelled as the variety 'Mischung' which is supposed to be lavender-blue in flower but I think this is just the pink form 'Rosea'.
2017 update: I no longer grow these.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mood Indigo: Salvia 'Indigo Spires'

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' with Mauritius Hemp (Furcraea foetida var. mediopicta)

Salvia 'Indigo Spires' with Yucca elephantipes ' Silver Star'

I like to grow this Salvia amongst my spiky plants as the long dark infloresences weave their way through the stiff upright stems for most of the year and make a great contrast against lighter coloured foliage. This is a hybrid between Salvia longispicata and Salvia farinacea and was discovered as a chance seedling at the Huntington Botanic Gardens in 1979.It needs no other care than a light prune at the end of winter and it is back to flowering non-stop.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock of this Salvia.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oenothera speciosa var.'Rosea',an Evening primrose

Pink evening primrose

This perennial from south west USA and Mexico was once a popular ground-cover here and then disappeared but is back in the limelight again. I am not sure whether it fell out of favour because it became invasive somewhere or whether it was because, as it is a true herbaceous plant ,completely dieing down over winter, it can be difficult to sell to customers who don't want a bare spot at any time of the year.
I picked this one up at a garden show recently and it was given the cultivar name of 'Twilight' perhaps named before the vampire franchise but certainly redolent of a glowing evening sky in summer. This is one very hardy plant and can cover a metre or more. It is worth considering as a ground cover for a difficult site .

2017 update: I am currently out of stock.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

flower and foliage colour combos

Iris x germanica

When this Iris flowered last week, I thought of two things; the Hawthorn Football Club and that 70's cop show Matlock Police where it was possible to wear a brown suit with a canary yellow shirt and be considered the height of fashion. Fashions for particular colours in flowers and in garden design come and go and I am no longer sure what is in. For awhile there burgundy and black reigned supreme especially during the last decade when foliage colour allowed for year long interest in the garden, as opposed to the brief splash that flowers often supplied. Variegated leaves which were once considered of dubious taste are now celebrated for their unique leaf pattern. The gold and yellow variegation can still appear a little harsh and scream at you when placed in a sunny position but plants in that mode can light up a dull corner which is in in shade for much of the day. I am thinking here of the variegated Gardenia called 'Tropic Snow'. My favourite variegated plants are those which have silver and cream stripes with added pink tips to the leaves.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Achillea ageratifolia: Greek Yarrow

Achillea ageratifolia, Greek Yarrow

Flower detail

What do you do with miniature plants which are really at home growing in a rock crevasse covered in snow at this time of year.This is a delightful little plant and takes the form of a tiny silver grey cushion with stems of white daisy flowers at this time of year. I really need about fifty of it to make any impact in the garden but I have planted the one I have close to a path where I can keep an eye on it . To make it feel at home I have added some limestone chips to the soil trying to replicate its native habitat in the mountains of Greece and the Balkans. I just am not so sure how it will cope with the summer humidity here on the coast. Time will tell.
2017 update: I no longer have this plant.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hemerocallis 'Corky'

Hemerocallis x 'Corky'

This is one of the best Daylilies I have come across in a long time. It is a completely deciduous variety with very fine grassy foliage appearing after winter dormancy and forming quite a clump in a very short time. It is just starting to send up some pencil thick flowering stems which are tinged with purple and holding up to a dozen buds.The flowers are pendulous and have a stripe of reddish brown on the back of each golden yellow petal.I think it would need to be planted in a group of five for maximum impact or used to edge a pathway.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Borage, Borago officinalis

Borago officinalis

At the community garden, the herb Borage has self-seeded and appears on many of the members plots. The pendulous star shaped azure blue flowers are always attended by many bees making it an important plant to include in the garden to ensure good pollination of vegetable plants. What I like about Borage however is the aura it evokes of classical antiquity. Most references to it quote the Latin phrase Ego borago gaudia semper ago : I borage ,bring always courage; so one can almost imagine a Roman soldier with his spirits braced by a cool tankard of borage brew....refreshed, invigorated, encouraged and ready to go into battle with the chemicals in the herb possibly acting on his adrenal gland. Sparks would fly if any remaining leaves were thrown into a fire as they are rich in potassium nitrite and create fireworks when burning. Borage is thought to be indigenous to Aleppo in northern Syria, a region once a Roman province and now a city in ruins since the Syrian conflict. References are also made of its use in the Middle Ages by the Arabs of Andalusia in southern Spain where it was referred to as abu-raj or 'father of sweet'.
The famous Herbal of John Gerard from the 16th century is often quoted for its positive spin for he says: The leaves and flowers put into wine make men and women glad and merry and drive away all sadness, dullness and melancholy'

The name borage is thought to be derived from the Latin burra meaning woolly or hairy referring to the shape and style of the leaves. This drawing captures this aspect perfectly as does the French common name for the plant of langue de bouef.........!
The leaves are indeed quite bristly and care should be taken when removing old plants from the garden and it is advisable to wear gloves and long sleeves if you don't want a slight skin rash for your efforts.
The blue flowers of Borage have always been a popular embroidery subject and the image has been recorded as being used as a decorative motif on handkerchiefs given to men departing on a crusade as well as on domestic historical works dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
These days borage has a more subdued and genteel reputation with the cucumber flavoured flowers and leaves being used to decorate cakes or being added to a nice glass of Pimms on a hot day.
Finally, there are no special requirements for growing borage. In warm climates it does best during the cooler months with the best flowers in spring and autumn. Once you have one plant you will get a repeat performance for years to come, such is the nature and quantity of seed produced. A white flowered form is an occasional sport and will come true to seed but you really can't beat that true blue flower with its black cone of stamens like a central beauty spot.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Poa labillardieri, Tussock Grass

Poa labillardieri 
Tussock Grass

Though this native grass is widely used in public landscaping and roadside plantings it deserves a place in the home garden as well. It is in flower now and the shimmering gauzy flower stems look terrific, as pictured above, when moving in the breeze with a sparkling surf beach in the distance. I like to plant it around spiky Agave and Yucca plants as the fine blue grey foliage makes a good contrast to their thick broad rigid stems. Maintenance of this grass involves shearing off the old flower stems after they have dried off. New growth appears very soon after.
This species is named for Australian explorer Jacques Julien Houtou de La Billardiere
Jacques Julien Houtou de La Billardiere (1755-1834)
sketch by Julien Leopold Boilly 1821
Wellcome Library, London

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Isolepis nodosa syn Ficinea nodosa:Knobby Club-rush

Knobby Club-rush, Ficinea nodosa with clipped Westringea fruicosa

If you like exploring coastal ecosystems you would be familiar with this native plant growing in hind dunes or bordering damp swampy places. Despite this origin, it is perfectly adaptable to the home garden situation where it can be grown as a decorative plant in ordinary garden soil or as a container plant. The tall stiff stems to 90 cm carry globular flower heads at this time of year which last for many months and which make terrific cut flowers. The plant is slow spreading by underground runners and can be maintained by shearing off old flowering stems once a year. The old flower stems often lurch sideways under the weight of the developing seed heads. The plant is still known under the old name of Isolepis despite the name change to Ficinea.

Uebelmannia pectinifera subsp flavispina.

Uebelmannia pectinifera subsp flavispina

I have this gnarly old cactus growing in a large flat bowl and this year it has decided to flower brilliantly. It is native to Brazil and is noted for the golden yellow spines hence the sub-species name flavispina. I have small plants available for sale.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Spinifex sericeus, Beach Spinifex

Beach Spinifex 
Spinifex sericeus
This native grass is familiar to anyone visiting a surf beach along the coast from Victoria to northern Queensland. It is one of the most important sand stabilizing plants in eastern Australia.The female inflorescence, which is pictured here, consists of a group of long narrow spines which change colour from blue-grey to straw as they mature. The spines are actually soft to touch and carry minute flowers. They are fertilized by the male flower which is a short fan shaped spikelet formed on a separate stem some distance away. When the seed is ripe, the whole female structure detaches from the plant and cartwheels across the sand shedding seed as it goes. They mimic the seed dispersal method of the desert tumbleweed familiar to those who enjoy old western movies.
I do not have any plants of it available for sale.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Plant pathology:Mosaic virus of Zucchini

Distorted, twisted mottled leaves are indications of mosaic virus on this Zucchini. The fruit is smaller and lumpy with variegation of yellow and dark green. The disease is caused by the watermelon mosaic virus which is spread by aphids such as the green peach aphid (Myzus persicae) and other species. Once the plant is showing symptoms it is best removed and put in a bin, not in compost, as the aphids which caused the disease have long gone.


Fasciation is an abnormality of plant stems in which normally round stems develop in a flattened way. The yellow Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate' pictured above ,which is in flower at the moment, has several stems affected by this mutation. It does not normally affect the health of the plant and can even be considered a desirable trait, particularly amongst succulent growers where the "crest" form of a flat stem topped with tightly packed leaves is considered decorative and worthy of the show bench.
Echeveria x 'Gilva' crest form

did i tell u i liked sweet peas?

picking a bunch every few days..........

Friday, November 19, 2010

Zucchini pest:The Pumpkin beetle, Aulacophora hilaris

Pumpkin Beetle: Aulacophora hilaris

I am beginning to think that having a plot at a community garden is a great opportunity to learn about pests and diseases. This is my first encounter with this 6mm long native beetle. It is easily recognised by the distinctive four black spots over its wings. From my observation, it seems to love company as large numbers congregate on one leaf which they shred until a lacy skeleton is left while neighbouring plants are left entirely alone. Old fashioned remedies to deal with them include dusting the leaves with flour or hydrated lime. Planting nasturtiums nearby is also supposed to be a deterrent. So far they are not doing enough damage for me to take any drastic action as to their removal and I can live with a few shredded leaves.

Illustration of Pumpkin Beetle by E H Zeck
from Insect pests of fruit and vegetables in NSW
by Hely. Pasfield. Gellatley
(published by Inkata Press)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pine Tree Pest, Pine Adelgid insect

White woolly secretion around the base of the needles of Pinus thunbergii indicates the presence of the pine adelgid insect (Pineus pini). This pest is related to aphids which suck the sap from plants. In my nursery both Pinus mugo and Pinus thunbergii have been affected possibly due to the plants being placed too close together and from an uneven watering regimen. I use an oil based spray to remedy it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sweet Chariot Rose

Rosa 'Sweet Chariot'

A mate of mine has decided he wants hanging baskets along one side of his new pergola and despite my best efforts to talk him out of doing so, re you have to water them twice a day in summer, he is going ahead anyway. I picked up this miniature Rose 'Sweet Chariot' at a recent garden show and it is said to be perfect for hanging baskets as it has a cascading habit. Reading up about it though, the proper Sweet Chariot should be a double flowering rose bred in California by Ralph Moore from miniature 'Little Chief' and the rambler 'Violette'. It has a delicate sweet perfume and iridescent magenta flowers. I am not sure why this one has reverted to a single flower but it is quite eye-catching none the less.
I have always liked the song Swing Low Sweet Chariot and on YouTube you can see the definitive classical version sung by Kathleen Battle, the soul version by Etta James and the vocal gymnastics of Beyonce on the pop version. And then there is UB40 who appropriated the song as the anthem for the England Rugby team . So we will ignore that entirely as they will be soundly trashed by the Wallabies in the test match played today (our time about 1.15 AM Sunday)