Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chinese Elm, Ulmus parvifolia 'Lang Yu'

The Chinese Elm, native as well to Korea and Japan, is one of the perfect smallish (10metre) trees which can be safely planted in medium to large gardens without fear of it blowing down in one of the regular gales which now feature as part of our more extreme climate.  It is relatively low and spreading with graceful, flexible and pendulous branches and small leaves which means it is better able to cope with strong wind gusts. It is usually regarded and grouped with deciduous trees but in warm climates this may only partly be the case. Some blanches facing away from cold winds may retain most of their leaves throughout winter. 
My attention has been drawn to this tree because I have a bonsai version of it which has a new flush of tiny scalloped leaves emerging like tiny fans along the branches and delightfully shaded a silvery pea green. 
For landscape use this elm is ideal when planted in a raised garden bed or above a wall so the attractive orange and brown patchwork bark can be seen to best advantage. A local housing development has used them as an avenue planting on top of a retaining wall which allows visitors to walk under the arching canopy.  There is always a worst case scenario when it comes to tree placement and from my observation the Sydney suburb of Rockdale takes the cake for the street planting on a main road. There is clearly not enough room for the branches to spread on a narrow footpath or across parked cars, and, to make it doubly ugly the trees have been given a flat top haircut just in case a branch dared to reach a power line.
This tree is a good choice for situations where a wonderful shade tree is required which is both hardy and of low maintenance. There is no massive leaf drop requiring the overuse of a blower and the seeds which occur in autumn make minimal mess.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Banana harvest

Tree ripened, just picked, full of flavour, perfect...
I am thinking of Queenslander, "banana bender" and tennis champion Samantha Stosur  who is defending her US Open title in New York City at Flushing Meadow at the moment. Good luck Sam! Talking bananas today to a couple of work colleagues who are unable to get their trees to fruit because they get damaged by winter frost and cold. So I count myself lucky that I can grow a good crop because the flavour is just so different to the artificially ripened ones you buy at the greengrocer. Another work mate gave me a bunch of his 'Lady Finger' variety (pictured below) which he grows in his garden in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville. The recent gale force winds brought down his trees and did lots of damage to many gardens throughout the region. Who else hates the last two weeks of August and the unpredictable weather?

Part of New York City rock history is the famous recording by The Velvet Underground and Nico with cover art by Andy Warhol.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Narcissus 'Silver Chimes'.

Narcissus 'Silver Chimes'
Some plants produce blooms which look as if they have been made out of porcelain...... delicate, refined and fragile looking. This Narcissus is one such bulb which is just coming into bloom. It looks like the kind of perfumed flower which would be terrific growing in a large container to bloom in time for a spring garden wedding or brought indoors for a party.
This is the first time I have grown this variety. The early flowering Narcissus or jonquils finished flowering a month ago and I was not even sure whether this one would produce any blooms as the leaves come up months ago and nothing seemed to be happening. I immediately thought that maybe it was not cold enough to trigger blooming. I am delighted by the results.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Le Jardin Serge Gainsbourg, Paris

Australia is at the forefront in developing gardens, parks and open spaces which are conceived and managed as ecological green spaces. Some have that additional role of  garden as memorial, such as my local park which records the history of the coal industry, thus allowing for the value of exchange of inter-generational memory. "I remember when this was just a horse paddock" is what was told to me about this park by an octogenarian.

One of the interesting international examples of this is the garden dedicated to the singer Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) at Porte des Lilas (Paris XIXe). The garden which was opened two years ago covers some 1.4 hectares and was developed on top of a section of the Paris Ring Road (Peripherique Motorway). A gently sloping pathway links the various sections of the garden which includes water features, sport's courts, shade structures and spaces for seating. Planting is largely naturalistic using grasses, native trees and wild meadow style planting as well as small intimate spaces featuring brightly coloured flowers. It is interesting that the flowery sections feature in videos uploaded to YouTube as this style of planting is still perceived as what a garden should be all about, despite it being the least sustainable. The garden site was chosen because of its connection to the first hit song by Gainsbourg, Le Poinconneur des Lilas, a fun song from 1958 about a ticket puncher from the local railway station. This is where memory comes into play as elderly visitors to the garden may have to explain to youngsters that people actually once had jobs like tram conductors who punched a hole in your ticket to indicate your destination.Though with songs from the past often so firmly imprinted in the mind, many visitors here may get nostalgic about les amour perdues (lost loves) or les oubliettes (the forgotten).
What I like about this garden is that no attempt has been made to hide the fact the it has been built on top of a motorway .The main paths lead to a viewing platform of it and to the urban sprawl across the Plaine Saint Denis. Some bloggers have noted that the lawn areas are a bit patchy, weedy and worse for wear but this could be expected since no water is wasted in their upkeep. When the garden was inaugurated, Jane Birkin quipped that people could 'picnic on the grass like the English'. I wonder if she was being tongue in cheek given the Englsh obsession for fine turf and 'Keep off the Grass' signs in public gardens.
I like to listen to the early jazz influenced songs of Gainsbourg. The song below, En relisant ta lettre (On re-reading your letter) is fairly sardonic and bitter, but it does remind me, in an off-beat sort of way, of the wonderfully funny book by American, David Sedaris 'Me talk pretty one day' in which he attempts to get his head around the nuances of the French language.

Jane Birkin and Charlotte Gainsbourg with portrait of Serge Gainsbourg
At the garden inauguration July 8th 2010 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cape Gooseberry, Physalis peruviana

 Cape Gooseberry Fruit
Before I get arrested by the weed police for growing a plant which is prohibited from sale or commercial propagation in New South Wales and Queensland, I should make it known that I bought my Cape Gooseberry bush from a grower in Victoria. I have it growing underneath a couple of lime trees and it has already made good use of their branches to scramble up into the canopy, spreading and climbing in all directions. Today I have been foraging underneath all this tangle for the fruit which lie on the ground quietly protected by a papery calyx without interference from bugs or slugs.They are delicious when eaten fresh as they have a good balance of tart and sweet flavour and the more golden coloured they are the better they taste. The papery husk becomes almost like lace after a time and that is a good indication of when the fruit is at its best. I guess they are no longer a commercial crop here because harvesting them is fairly labour intensive and not all the fruit on a bush ripens at once. However old timers such as myself who grew up in Brisbane will remember the wonderful cape gooseberry jam produced by Mason's Jam factory in the Brisbane suburb of The Gap up until the early 1970's. A fantastic artisan product in the days before farmers' markets and organic growers.
The fruit has more of a tradition of use in Europe. In France where it is known as coqueret du Perou, the fruit is glazed, cut in half and used on top of cream iced petit fours thus resembling a charming miniature fried egg. The tart fruit flavour perfectly balanced with sweet cream. No such imaginative use here, even though it is recorded as having been grown in Sydney as early as 1802, appearing under the name of Physalis pubescens ,a reference to the soft downy stems and leaves.
Because it is a weed I won't give any horticultural cultivation notes for growing it but happy foraging for those who live on the warm east coast. The NSW online Flora database gives all the districts where it can be found.  Remember to always to get positive identification of a wild plant from an expert before eating anything if you are not sure whether it is ok.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Apple scented geranium, Pelargonium odoratissimum

  This demure velvet textured plant with its pale green scalloped leaves and miniature white flowers is no longer in vogue. Perhaps if it were given the macro photo treatment with its flowers made to appear ten times bigger than they actually are it might stand a chance at making a comeback in this age of big, bold showy foliage plants . I have been growing it as a garden plant since the 1980's and like its superb Granny Smith apple fragrance. It is a neat border plant or path edge specimen and mine is currently nestled beneath a Gardenia florida which had become a bit leggy by showing bare stems around its base.The apple geranium has formed a rounded cushion underneath it and in summer it sends out delicate trailing stems which bear the sprays of flowers. It is quite undemanding about watering or fertilizer and never suffers from insect problems or disease.
 As it has been in continuous garden cultivation since 1724, after its introduction to horticulture from its native habitat of South Africa, one is bound to get some interesting references to it in gardening literature. So I had a step back in time to 1947 on an imaginary visit to Dorcas Brigham at Village Hill in Williamsburg, Massachusetts whose garden included a 'Scented Geranium Terrace' of some 75 different varieties. The entrance to the terrace was up a small flight of stone stairs which featured ancient black kettles supported on tripods filled with luxuriant specimens and, on a warm summer morning this was indeed a pleasant spot to be for the aroma was tantalizing and pleasing, evoking memories and increasing enthusiasm for geraniums.
2017 update: I always have a few plants available.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Median-strip plants

Everyday I drive on a freeway or motorway and join that random group of vehicles all going at 100kph or more across 2 or 3 lanes. Going any less than this speed means you find yourself being tail-gated or worse, but that is another story. Along the way (eyes on the road of course) you see quite a diverse range of plants, with some being planted to plan but more often than not, it is just the usual assortment of feral weeds. Looking at weeds can be really quite disheartening when you see the way they have degraded the landscape. Embankments of Lantana stretching over 50 square metres or vines such as "Balloon" or "Madeira" smothering tall Casuarinas, are my least favourite sights. However other plants stay imprinted on your mind long after the journey. What springs to mind immediately ......the golden wattle in bloom right now beside the Hume Highway with purple Hardenbergia and Clematis in summer; the Bottlebrush, "Bird of Paradise" and cascading Bougainvillea on the drive into Sydney from the airport; the statuesque Agaves and the robust young Moreton Bay Figs on sections of the M7. The figs on the M7 are juxtaposed against a dramatic curved flyover which always reminds me of a Jeffrey Smart painting. 
This post is to remember the great Australian historian and art critic Robert Hughes who has passed away in New York at the age of 72.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Doronicum orientale, Leopard's bane

 Doronicum orientale syn. D caucasicum  has sent up a near perfect solitary yellow daisy flower measuring some 5cm or 2" across, glowing at the top of a short stem. I thought I should record that I actually got this plant to flower, for, without being too pessimistic, it may well have disappeared from my garden and be just a memory in years to come. So many plants have done this for me and in pre-blogging days I kept no record of their existence or brief appearance. We all like to grow plants which are really quite unsuitable for the climate or which need some special growing conditions but there is nothing quite like a challenge in the gardening world. This small creeping rhizomatous perennial which has slightly hairy ovate scalloped leaves is from the cold Northern Hemisphere woodlands and meadows of Siberia, the Caucasus, Turkey and Lebanon. My RHS encylopedia tells me it is prone to root rot and powdery mildew and needs a humus rich sandy soil. I agree about the root rot as one out of my three plants is barely hanging on. Without a garden soil which matches this growing requirement, I have made up a special potting mix using a sand based seed raising mix combined with some Perlite and coco-peat. Hopefully I can report in a years time that it is still growing strong.
2017 update: Sadly I no longer have this plant.