Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pitcairnia flammea

Pitcairnia flammea, the 'flame' Bromeliad

This is one of the more cold tolerant bromeliads from Brazil which forms a rosette or clump of long smooth leaves , dark green in colour on the surface and felty white beneath. The layer of white is called scurf which sounds like some form of dandruff which it resembles. This is the first time I have seen a flower on this Brom . The flower spike does resemble a flaming torch but it does lurch over under the weight of the head. As it requires a certain amount of soil moisture to do well, it is better suited to a woodland garden of retentive humus rich soil rather than the dry shade under trees which other bromeliads are able to cope with. When not on flower this plant can look a bit scruffy when not given ideal growing conditions, with the leaves becoming marked and ragged when water stressed. It will take a full sun position but the leaves may be paler verging on yellow.
2017 update: I have plants available from time to time.

Plant pathology:Clover stunt virus on beans

Downward curving leaves and thickened stems characteristic of clover stunt virus which is spread by several species of aphid including the green peach aphid and the potato aphid. Flowers and thus bean pods do not develop. This crop of dwarf butter beans was planted in early February ,which is a difficult time of year for vegetable gardening on the warm humid coast when insect pests are at their most active.The cabbage white butterflies have been seen in vast numbers during this month.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Globe Amaranth,Gomphrena globosa

Globe Amaranth
 Gomphrena globosa

This summer flower is easy to grow from seed and is long lasting as the flowers consist of round heads of papery bracts which are quite raspy or prickly to touch but pleasingly retain their colour for picking as a dried flower. It is native to Guatemala and Panama and is therefore quite resistant to prolonged hot weather and even dry spells.The entire plant is neatly rounded to about 60cm and there is also a smaller compact variety called 'Little Buddy' which lives up to its name and is a good edging plant in a flower border or amongst vegetable plants.
In warm climates, flowering continues well into autumn and it is worth scattering a few seed heads around as it sometimes makes a welcome return the following year.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hot summer border

A hot weekend ahead with the mercury set to go over 30C again.The late English gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd was the master of the hot summer border using colours to enliven the sometimes dull and grey British weather. In this local garden, red, yellow and orange coloured leaves and flowers of Amaranthus, are grown with black leafed Dahlia 'Fire Mountain', spikey accents provided by Agave americana and Bechorneria yuccoides. Background shrubs include Callistemon 'Great Balls of Fire",a neat rounded shrub to 1 metre which produces flushes of bright red new growth.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium

Feverfew,Tanacetum parthenium
Double flowering Feverfew,Tanacetum parthenium 'Plenum' syn 'White Bonnet'

Feverfew is one of those plants which has been grown both as an ornamental garden plant and medicinal herb for centuries throughout the world, far and wide from its native habitat of the rocky and scrubby hillsides of the Balkan Peninsula. In Australia it is equally at home in sub-tropical Queensland and cooler temperate climates of the south. The vernacular name Feverfew is derived from the Latin words febris.....a fever, and drive away, hence it was first known as febrifuge for its tonic and fever dispelling properties. There has been much confusion as to its position in the botanical world and at various times has been included in genus' Chrysanthemum, Pyrethrum, Matricaria and Leucanthemum and finally Tanacetum. It often confused with and substituted for the insect repellent plant Pyrethrum daisy which is in fact Tanacetum cinerariifolium. The botanical name is derived from Greek, tanacetum from athanasia meaning immortality, because the flowers are long lasting; and parthenium because it was used to save the life of a man who fell from the Parthenon when it was being built. This fact according to the Greek biographer and moralist Plutarch and perhaps an urban myth.
As a medicinal herb, Feverfew is used today in the treatment of rheumatism and for those suffering migraine headaches but in centuries past it was used specifically for women's health and well-being. In the 18th century, a decoction of leaves was given to women as a cure for hysteria and large quantities were simmered in water and then used as a sitz bath for ladies' private parts. The real cure for hysteria did not come till the late 19th century with the invention of the vibrator. This aspect of cultural history currently under the spotlight, in the Sydney Theatre Company production of the play In the Next Room by Sarah Ruhl.
Feverfew is seldom grown as a commercial nursery plant but seed is usually available from organic seed suppliers and plants always turn up at Church fetes, which is where I picked up the double flowering form. The golden leafed varieties are worth seeking out as they brighten shady gardens and are undemanding as to growing conditions.The cultivar 'Golden Moss' often makes an appearance in floral clocks and as an edging bedding plant for its acid yellow leaves and neat appearance. All varieties could be described as short lived perennials but once established they self seed and replace themselves without ever becoming weedy. It will grow anywhere but prefers well drained soil preferably enriched with some compost. In partial shade the foliage becomes larger, greener and more fern like. At this time of year I cut my plants back hard as the foliage is often marked and damaged by leaf miner, the only pest which seems to affect it. Under ideal growing conditions, plants can reach 60cm and the mass of tiny white daisy flowers on tall stems make it a terrific cut flower.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Plant pathology:Collar Rot on eggplant

My favourite Eggplant variety, 'Snowy' is mellow and creamy tasting

Sudden demise of healthy eggplant at fruiting stage
February is the worst month for fungal type soil borne diseases which cause problems as 'Damping off' of seedlings and collar rot in vegetable plants such this eggplant. Most are caused by species of Phytophthora which are active during times of high rainfall, heat and humidity. The word Phytophthora is from the Greek and literally means plant destroyer. When it strikes there is not much to be done other than binning infected plants. Prevention methods include practising crop rotation, avoiding thick mulch around the base of plants and spacing of individual plants well apart from neighbours to allow for good air circulation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Ping Chilli

Chilli variety Ping

I am always buying those delicious small round chilli peppers stuffed with feta cheese, so this summer I decided to grow the variety which are used to make the pickled snacks I love. Unfortunately I will not have enough to even make a jar full but I can always save the seed to grow more next year.This is not a really hot variety and could be said to have only a moderate level of capsaicin, the lipophilic chemical which causes the burning sensation in the mouth. (For the chemical heads out there it is methyl vanillyl nonenamide)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Camellia flowered balsam, Impatiens balsamina

Impatiens balsamina, Camellia flowered balsam

This summer flowering annual could definitely be called old fashioned as it is now seldom grown as a bedding plant. It stands stiffly upright to about 30cm and would appeal to anyone who likes their flowering plants to stay neat and not flop about. It has largely been replaced by its cousin the New Guinea Impatiens which has much larger more showy flowers as well as interesting variegated foliage. This balsam is originally from India, Malaysia and China and has been cultivated as a garden flower for a long time.The small double flowers resemble a camellia in shape. It is very easy to grow from seed sown in spring but is fairly hungry for water and good rich soil, perhaps a reason for its decline in prominence during the years of drought.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thalia geniculata var Ruminoides

Red stemmed Flag, Thalia geniculata var Ruminoides

This plant from southern regions of the United States and into South America is sold as a decorative water plant and, as the name suggests, it has bright red lower stems topped with wide flag/ Canna like leaves. It forms a small clump to about 1.5 metres and like many so called water plants, it is perfect;y happy growing in garden soil which goes from boggy after heavy rain to setting like concrete a few months later. This hardiness aspect should set off alarm bells for those concerned about yet another exotic plant becoming a noxious weed. Best to remove flower stems before they set seed just in case a bird carries them off far and wide. It is tolerant of light frost and last winter my plant was hardly affected by the cold days. The genus is named for the German botanist and scholar Johannes Thal (1542-1583)
2017 update: I no longer grow this.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rosa 'New Dawn'

Rambling Rose 'New Dawn' 
(photo courtesy of Monica Jackson)
The rose New Dawn was selected by the Somerset Rose Company of the United States in 1930 and is a sport of 'Dr Van Fleet'. It is an extremely hardy rose producing a flush of well scented flowers from late winter through spring. This rose is a favourite of Sydney archaeologist , ancient jewellery expert and keen gardener Dr Monica Jackson.
Dr Monica M. Jackson

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pelargonium 'Madame Salleron'

Pelargonium 'Madame Salleron'

Cool, green and white, this never flowering geranium is a beautiful little bedding plant . Here it is hiding underneath a couple of arching leaves of a walking Iris. It likes a sheltered garden spot away from direct sunlight and needs some protection from snails and slugs which relish the tender scalloped leaves, otherwise it is trouble free.
2017 update: I no longer grow this.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Lavandin, Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso'

Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso'

It is too hot and humid here on the coast to grow English or true Lavender (L. angustifolia) but this Lavandin thrives and flowers all through summer releasing perfume, while keeping lots of bees happy. Lavandin is a sterile hybrid between English lavender (L angustifolia) and Portuguese Lavender (L latifolia) and was discovered and developed by Monsieur Pierre Grosso (1917-1996) in Provence, France in the early 1970's. It is now the main oil producing variety in that region and other parts of the world. After his death M. Grosso was returned to his native Italy near Torino and was laid to rest as Pietro Grosso. Apart from his namesake variety 'Grosso', I also grow the equally worthy 'Super', 'Seal' and Abrialis'.The main difference between these and true lavender is in the quantity of camphor contained in the oil distilled from the flowers. It is about 7% thus making it a useful as an insect repellent or for inhaling if you have a cold or want to freshen a room. If you are looking for a variety for cooking you need the sweeter English lavender to use in biscuits or ice-cream. Whatever type you decide to grow, they benefit from a top dressing of dolomite lime from time to time, even in a pot, and little or no fertilizer in a free draining soil. For more information on the Lavender V Lavandin debate the blog listed below is a terrific source of information:
The Jersey Lavender Farm Jersey Blog.
2017 update: I no longer grow this plant.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Za'atar, Origanum syriacum

Origanum syriacum, Za'atar

Today I potted on some seedlings of this Middle Eastern variety of oregano. It is an aromatic herb which when dried and mixed with toasted sesame seeds and the lemony tasting dried fruit sumac, it is sold under the name of Za'atar. Sumac is the fruit of the shrub Rhus coriaria, a native of southern Europe which is often grown amongst olive trees. I first encountered Za'atar at a Lebanese pizza and bakery in the Sydney suburb of Banksia where I often stopped early in the morning. It is the favourite topping on pizza or bread for breakfast and I was told it helps keep the mind alert and the body strong.