Sunday, July 31, 2011

Late for the Sky

The days are finally getting longer and warmer. On a late afternoon walk near the lake everything turns to blue just before it gets dark.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bark like satin

Largerstroemia indica 
Crepe Myrtle
One of trees which really shines in the winter sunlight is the Crepe Myrtle. The satin smooth bark reflects light onto the surrounding garden and contrasts well with the sombre green clipped star jasmine planted underneath.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Carex testacea

Alstroemeria aurea dwarf cultivar

Carex testacea Orange Sedge
with Cape Daisy (Osteospermum ecklonis 'Nuanza' Copper Purple

The New Zealand native sedges/grasses which are shaded brown usually get politely called bronze, orange or tan coloured and can be an acquired taste if you are not used to seeing them planted as garden ornamentals. The reaction when first seeing them is that they must be dead and indeed can look so if planted in groups on bare ground or just surrounded by mulch. Perhaps they evolved this colour so as to appear unpalatable to grazing animals. When used in a garden they make a terrific foliage contrast with silver leaved or purple plants as well as with warm coloured flowers with orange tones. I like to use them with the bright Cape daisies or the richly coloured dwarf Alstroemeria aurea, pictured above, which is just coming into flower.
The other New Zealand Carex species to look out for in this colour range include Carex buchananii (Leatherleaf sedge), Carex comans 'Bronze" and Carex petriei. The latter takes on a wonderful soft pink tone at certain times of the year. All are frost hardy and suitable for container growing and deserve a place in both large and small gardens.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Doryanthes palmeri, Spear Lily

Sir Arthur Palmer 1819-1898
Queensland Premier 1870 -1874

Doryanthes palmeri named in his honour.
The giant spear lily is just starting to flower with its enormous flower spike (a panicle technically) snaking skywards up to 5 metres.This species is found on cliffs and rocky hillsides above 600 metres, from Mt Warning in northern New South Wales to Mt Mistake in Queensland. I prefer this species to the more common, especially around Sydney, Doryanthes excelsa , the Gymea Lily, with its more upright flower stem. Doryanthes palmeri has adapted well to cultivation and will grow as far south as Melbourne being tolerant of frost. It adds a lot of drama to a garden with its robust clump forming habit and long leaves even when not in flower. It needs a spot in rocky well drained soil preferable on a slope. Propagation is usually from seed but seed grown plants will take up to ten years to flower. If collecting seed you need to wait at least six months after flowering has finished for seed to be mature. I have never attempted to divide a clump which is another way of getting new plants but I imagine it would be a bit like trying to divide a clump of Strelitzia, Bird of Paradise. You could do all that work only to find it fails to flourish after planting.
2017 update: I have limited stock available in 200mm pots.

Doryanthes palmeri

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grevillea 'Scarlet Sprite'

Grevillea rosmarinifolia 'Scarlet Sprite'

This compact metre high Grevillea has been a favourite of mine for many years. It is just starting to flower and I probably should have waited a couple of weeks before taking a photo of it . The only down side to this sharp leafed Grevillea is that it can cause some skin irritation or rash if you come in contact with the foliage. I give this one a light pruning constantly, as it is growing, so as to enhance the shape. If mass planted it would make an excellent retreat for small nectar feeding birds which would be protected from predators put off by the prickly leaves.Trouble free to grow and not really requiring special treatment one established other than a light prune from time to time and a handful of fertilizer in summer.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Grevillea 'Fireworks'

Grevillea 'Fireworks' 
This is a terrific small growing (1metre) Grevillea which I planted about eight months ago and it is just coming into flower. It is one bred by Bywong Nursery which is situated about 30 km north east of Canberra in the settlement of Bywong. It is a hybrid between Gevillea rosmarinifolia 'Scarlet Sprite' and Grevillea alpina. What I like about it is the compact growth habit making it an ideal low hedge plant as well as the brightness and quantity of flowers which explode in all direction from the top of the bush.The leaves are also soft with no spines or prickles. This Grevillea is protected by plant breeders rights PBR.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Camellia Show Time

Camellia 'Henry E Huntington'

The main Camellia Show of the year is on this weekend presented by Camellias Illawarra Incorporated in conjunction with Camellias Australia Inc. Despite the gale force winds of late, it has been a good year for Camellias and there are many more blooms out than usual. These are some of my favourites from the Show.

Camellia 'Grape Soda'

Rare yellow species Camellia nitidissima

Camellia 'Eryldene Excelsis' Variegated

Camellia 'Margaret Davis'

Camellia 'Okan'

Small flowered Camellia 'Maroon and Gold'

Camellia S.P. Dunn

Camellia 'Winters Own'

Camellia 'Black Magic'
Camellia 'Black Magic'

Camellia 'Surusumi'

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Last flowers on tree dahlias

Dahlia imperialis, Tree Dahlia
Despite the horrendous gale force winds of late, the tree dahlias still have a few flowers hanging from the top of the plants. I have been waiting for them to finish so that I can cut down the giant stems and start taking some cuttings. Cuttings usually consist of stem pieces cut into lengths with two ridges or nodes remaining. These are placed length ways just below the surface of the ground and when the weather warms up, shoots appear from the nodes and a new plant is off and running in no time. I usually place lots of cuttings in a Styrofoam boxes, cover them up with potting mix and forget about them. These get potted into large pots just after the shoots appear and roots have formed. 
2017 update: i no longer grow them for sale.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Agave desmettiana 'El Miradore Gold'

Agave desmettiana 'El Miradore Gold'
During the recent long years of drought this Agave from Mexico became very popular adding a striking focal point and great form to large and small gardens alike. It is also frost tolerant so has a broader appeal and can be used by gardeners away from the coast. These pants are only a couple of years old and have reached 1 metre across in that time and have started to form "pups" around the base. They were rescued as throw away plants because the owner did not like the fact that the ends of the leaves have quite long thorns on them. Planted under the eaves of the house, they receive no water except when the rain blows in that direction. I imagine the roots of this Agave have gone off in all directions underground in search of water anyway.
I also like to plant Agaves amongst floppy perennial plants or grasses as they help give structure to a soft and light planting scheme.
2017 update: I have stock available.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Broccoli, Brassica olerarcea (Cymosa group var italica)

This year I decided to space my Broccoli plants a little further apart in the veggie plot and as a result the 'flower' heads have grown to an enormous size. I already have a fridge full and have been eating it almost every night so these will go into making some soup which at least can be frozen for later use. Broccolli was apparently "civilized" by the Italians in the 17th century having found its way there from the eastern Mediterranean , Cyprus and Crete. It slowly became more well known in the northern parts of Europe where it was initially called Italian asparagus.
The other variety of Broccoli I grow is a sprouting variety, 'Purple Sprouting' ,which does not form a central head but has plentiful side shoots which can be picked over a longer period. The stems are tender enough to eat as well as the florets . It is often sold now as a bunch under the name of 'broccolini'. The 'Romanesco' Broccoli is one of the most decorative types to grow and certainly the most colourful. The heads are bright lime green with the floret buds arranged in spirals like a minaret. I have yet to grow this type though the seed is readily available. Next year perhaps.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Growing Citrus

A good year for Mandarins
Right now you can buy Navel oranges for about 50 cents a kilo such is the plentiful supply of citrus fruits this year. I have a similar "problem" with backyard grown Mandarins. They are perfect and sweet and the ground is littered with fallen fruit. No special fertilizer given to the tree, but it had a fantastic supply of good steady rain over the growing season Likewise the lemon tree which also has a terrific crop this winter. The lemon tree would completely fail all garden magazine "how to grow the perfect lemon" advice. I decided not to fertilize it at all because I am tired of getting a crop of those humongous lemons which weigh the branches to the ground. This season I have plenty of juicy small fruit .......perfect really. The leaves however would surely send a citrus expert into a state of shock as they all pale yellow. And then there is the bark which is covered in scale. Just don't tell anyone.............

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Snowdrops are disappearing

Snowdrops all but covered by an Iresine
The problem with growing bulbs which go dormant for part of the year is that after they do their disappearing act you are often left with a big gap where weeds or some other plant is only too willing to take advantage of the empty space. So this is what has happened to the spot where my clumps of Snowdrops are normally flourishing. Fortunately they are such tough bulbs they are not adverse to being lifted and being moved even when in flower. I'll just add that to the list of garden jobs to be done on these way too brief days of winter when I'd rather be in front of the fire and reading a book.
I think the best place for Snowdrops is on the edge of a lawn area. The turf doesn't need constant mowing at this time of year and the Snowdrops are tough enough to push their way through the grass, and by the time they have finished flowering, the lawn is ready for mowing again. Snowdrops are hardy over a range of climates and are a delightful addition to the winter garden scene.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Pre-Raphaelites

Espaliered trees in the Bower Garden
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

D.G.Rossetti (1828-1882)

The Rose leaf (Portrait of Jane Morris) 1870
A major exhibition of artworks by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood has just opened at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on loan from Birmingham City Art Gallery and Museum:
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, lasted only five years but its style, popularity and influence on art and design has remained consistent in the ensuing years.Their inspiration, helped along by one John Ruskin, was found in medieval simplicity and purity which they considered had been lost in the pagan luxury of High Renaissance art courtesy of Raphael. The proclaimed leader of the group was Dante Gabriel Rossetti who portrayed women rebelling against Victorian convention and showed them with unpinned hair and unstructured medieval gowns flowing with lyrical freedom. His main squeeze was one Elizabeth Siddal, a melancholic consumptive who died of a laudanum overdose soon after they were married.
Gardens ,trees, and flowers especially thorn laden roses or poisonous foxgloves are an integral part of Pre Raphaelite artworks. The works themselves often avoid pictorial focus such as on the human figure, so the eye is able to wander over the often brilliantly coloured flowers and blades of grass shown in microscopic detail. Ophelia (1852) and The Blind Girl (1856) by John Everett Millais spring to mind as good examples of this exquisite detailing in their landscape painting.
I look forward to checking out this exhibition soon.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Penstemon 'Pink Cloud'

Penstemon 'Pink Cloud'

This is one of the large flowered summer blooming Penstemons which I have growing amongst some roses. I cut this one back yesterday and took lots of cuttings from the pruned stems. Penstemons often produce new roots at the nodes of the side shoots along the flowering stems. This makes it a very easy plant to propagate and cuttings will strike readily at any time of year. The larger flowering Penstemons are best replaced after a couple of years if they become to woody or straggly.
2017 update: I no longer grow Penstemons.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Penstemon 'Blackbird'

Penstemon 'Blackbird'

Penstemons are good plants for beginner gardeners as they are very hardy and undemanding as to their requirements . As long as the soil is well drained and they are given the occasional cutback of spent flowers, they will thrive across a range of climates. Here on the warm coast Penstemon 'Blackbird' thinks it is an English summer day and it is flowering better now than in January. This one was bred by professional gardener Ron Sidwell (1909-1993) of Evesham, Worcestshire in the UK around 1960, and is notable for the fine narrow stems which bend over under the weight of the rich dark maroon purple bell flowers. Each flower has a fine white stripe in its throat. The name Penstemon is derived from the Greek pente meaning five and stemon , stamen.
2017 update: I no longer grow Penstemons.