Monday, November 26, 2012

Viola tricolor, Heartsease

 The Violas go into panic mode at this time of year and put on a last hurrah of masses of flowers to ensure they leave enough seed behind to complete their life cycle. It is on dull cloudy days they look the best and the plants which grow in poorer soil in full sun have the most compact habit and more flowers. There are even tiny plants covered in flowers which grow through the cracks of pavement. However once the really hot days of December arrive it will be time to pull them out, though I usually scatter the spent plants around, as this most pleasant of 'weeds' is always welcome back in the garden. They usually don't make another appearance till winter, mainly in my vegetable garden. As soon as I see the young seedlings emerge I dig them up and nurture them in pots till big enough to plant out uncongested and where I want them to go. I love the many and varied common names given to this plant which include Johnny-Jump-Up, Call-me-to-You, Love-in-Idleness, Three-Faces-under-a-Hood as well as the most common one of Heartsease which may refer to use as a love- charm especially in a Midsummer Night's Dream. Good old Shakespeare loved his flowers.
The name Heartsease also refers to its many and varied uses in herbal medicine. These days the flowers are a favourite decoration on plates of food or added to salads. No episode of the series Masterchef was ever without these little beauties making an appearance and I assume that in the more temperate parts of the country they may just go on flowering for most of the year.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turmeric and Galangal

Tumeric (Curcuma longa)

Galangal (Alpinia galanga)
Coming out of their long winter hibernation after being placed in boxes and covered in a mix of sand and perlite, these Asian spice plants are ready to plant out.The pointed buds are starting to swell and are changing colour from pink to pale green. In less than a month new leaves will start to push their way through the earth and thereafter growth will be rapid. The galangal will soar up to one and a half metres by the end of summer.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fiskars shrub rake

Fiskars 'shrub rake'
Gardeners can spend a lifetime acquiring their tools of the trade. Some of the best garden tools I have found have been for sale at local market stalls , old tools re-fashioned or made-over by weather beaten men of European extraction who look as if they have spent a lifetime tilling the soil.Their callused hands caress the wooden handles as part of the sales pitch while I ponder what use I can put to an ancient scythe more at home on the Russian steppes of a previous century. Occasionally I get excited about a new tool and marvel about how well designed it is. This Finnish designed shrub rake is so called because in the northern hemisphere, where lawn does not grow like stink as here, it finds a use for removing leaves which fall over beds of ground cover and for reaching up over hedge plants to remove the spent prunings. To a certain extent these uses make it ideal for any part of the gardening world but in Australia rakes are mostly associated with lawn care and in this use it does not disappoint either. This is the perfect small rake with a 140mm wide head for use in narrow tight garden corners. The handle is lightweight aluminium, strong and long for hard raking over lawn or for reaching up onto the top of shrubs to retrieve pruned branches. Ten out of ten thanks Fiskars.

Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'

Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'
The plain green form of this plant is more commonly known as Vietnamese fish mint, giap/diep ca or phak khao tong in Thailand. Leaves are added to soups, used in salads or in rice paper rolls. As it has quite a strong flavour it has not become well known or popular amongst 'foodies' here. In the world of ornamental horticulture however this 'chameleon' cultivar is regarded as a hardy herbaceous perennial suitable for boggy or wet sites or for brightening shady corners of the garden. It grows across a range of climates forming a dense spreading ground cover and can become invasive in some climates. As the weather warms up it puts on a wonderful display of intensely marked leaves which range in colour from yellow to hot pink and cream. Best kept in a pot with a deep saucer of water underneath or in a pond if you don't want the hard work of keeping it under control.
2017 update: I usually have stock available in early summer.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Chameleon Rose

Miniature rose 'Chameleon' (Bob Dylan 'Blonde on Blonde' 1966)
Actress Cate Blanchett gave a very interesting interview on the radio today in which she  gave an insight to her role playing Bob Dylan in the Todd Haynes 2007 film 'I'm not there', describing Dylan as 'chameleon'.
As it happens the Chameleon rose is if flower at the moment. It starts life as yellow, changes to vibrant red flushed with yellow before turning pink and white. Lovely, but a bit prone to black spot on the leaves though fairly easy to remedy with Eco rose fungicide.
 And from Dylan's Blonde on Blonde I like 'Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again....'

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Seedling Buddleja

Most nurseries  have plants which have been sitting too long in the one spot and before you know it, roots have been sent down and the plant has decided to anchor itself to the spot regardless of the constrictions of the pot surrounding it.This Buddleja started life as a tiny seedling which had come up close to another plant in a pot . I recognized the grey foliage so carefully removed it and placed it in a pot of its own wondering what flower colour it might have. Buddlejas are fairly tenacious and quick growing when they find the right spot and this one was no exception. It looks very much like B. davidii 'Ile de France' which has huge flowers of 30 cm or more in length topping a plant which is now more them 2 metres in height. It looks a bit ridiculous emerging from a 20 cm pot and will no doubt collapse with wilted foliage when I eventually move. I am just going to wait until the flowers finish.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pelargonium cucullatum

Often I will acquire a plant without knowing much about  where it is from or how big it grows and what sort of conditions it likes to grow under. I guess one of these days I will get myself a mobile device so I can do a 'net search while out and about. This Pelargonium seduced me with the fragrance of its small crinkly cupped shaped leaves which emit a rich complex scent when crushed. The leaves in fact remind me a bit of a cup cake patty pan.
 Apparently it grows to be quite a large shrub, with a woody base, of a couple of metres in height, in its native habitat of the Western Cape region of South Africa. As it prefers a sandy free draining soil, something which I don't have, it may have to live in a large pot. The magenta coloured flowers, which are just starting to appear, have dark purple feathery markings on the upper petals. and sit like a crown on top of the foliage. This species was used as a parent in the breeding of the 'Regal' Pelargoniums which are a vibrant part of the spring garden scene, though their popularity seems to have waned in recent years perhaps because they are fairly short lived and become woody and sprawling with age. Many of the hybrids have splendid dark almost black flowers.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Marigold 'Striped Marvel'

Marigold 'Striped Marvel' syn.  'Mr Majestic'
This is a heirloom variety of marigold which is said to be of Scottish origin. I am growing it again because it reminds me of summer and striped beach umbrellas and all things relaxing. Something to look forward to in the months to come. Also again I am reminded of that Edwardian period of Australian art as painted by E Phillips Fox and Rupert Bunny.  
Promenade 1909
  E Phillips Fox (1865-1915)
National Gallery of Australia 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crazy Daisy

 Leucanthemum x superbum 'Crazy Daisy'
Much of gardening is about the pursuit of perfection. Gardening magazines are filled with photoshopped images of work by garden designers who wear their status anxiety on their sleeves, and plant society show benches display prize specimens grown by retired corporate/politician men who have not lost their competitive streak while refusing to accept their feather duster reality. Fortunately many breeders develop plants which remain outside that world though they often get tagged with the terms bizarre or unusual. I am immediately attracted to seed packets which use those terms and 'crazy daisy' did not disappoint. Like facial hair which likes to sprout in all the wrong places, (I have a hair in the middle of my forehead which persists while its comrades have long retreated)  this daisy produces extra petals which emerge at odd angles including from the central boss of pollen. One I noticed today had a line of petals dividing it creating a Siamese twin flower. The one pictured in the bottom photo has decided to shrink to a 'shaggy gem' large coin sized flower. Though alas I think that cultivar name has already been taken..
Grow plants from seed as you never know what will turn up.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dahlia 'Black Beauty'

Dahlia 'Black Beauty'
One of the reasons I write this blog is so I can document particular events which have occurred on a given day, then on some future date I can look back to see what was happening.   This morning the total solar eclipse was wonderful to watch even though I didn't see it 'live' like the folks who live in Far North Queensland. Quite an amazing spectacle none the less.
This miniature dahlia has petals which look like one of those shaggy dogs, a bit all over the place, twisted and fluted. Continuing my obsession with dark coloured flowers I picked this one out of a seed catalogue last summer and was a bit late in sowing the seed. A couple of the plants managed to make it through winter without going dormant and dieing off so were fairly quick to come into flower this spring. It is a real miniature, compact and tight but covered in buds and I think more of a garden edging variety or useful container plant. Mass planted and contrasted with silver foliage plants it could be a real winner.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Collecting Anemone seed

Anemone coronaria
The Italian expression L'Ormbra della sera means shadow of the evening or night and I am wondering whether I can use it to describe this winter flowering bulb which should have entered its twilight time several months ago but has decided to keep on flowering by sending up new buds way beyond its time. Some bulbs reach perfection over the course of a mere week before fading, though that fleeting appearance of some flowering bulbs is part of the joy of growing them. I have been collecting seed of this Anemone which can be quite a tricky operation in itself as it is wind dispersed and only at the time when it decides it is ready to do so. The bottom photo shows the fluffy seed about to do its thing. Turn your back for a second and you end up speaking Maxwell Smart 'missed it by that much'......One time I was fortunate enough to find that the seed had been 'caught' by a nearby furry large leaf and was delicately arranged around its margin. Gotcha I said and off it went into a clip seal bag to the fridge to join all those other seeds, labelled, dated ,stored in old icecream containers awaiting their season for sowing.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A magenta coloured Aster

Magenta 'Benary' Aster , Aster novae-angliae x Aster novi-belgii
Bit of a 'State of the Union' aster this one as it is a hybrid between a New England aster and a New York aster or is what we more commonly call an Easter daisy. Like many hybrids and improved plants you get flowering for a longer season or, what could be called a cut and flower again plant. This one may well flower again in autumn when the weather cools down. As asters are long vase life cut flowers I suspect that the breeding programme may have had florists in mind and not home gardeners. I grew a batch from seed and there is quite a variation in flower colour in the mix. This is the first one out and though the centre flowers in this photo are starting to fade they still hold their colour well. It is interesting that the shaggy petals are folding themselves over the central boss of pollen once the bee's work has been done. Are they doing this to protect the developing seed from insect predation or the weather? Where are you David Attenborough.
 Magenta is a tricky colour to blend into a garden as it is so damn bright. I think immediately of the spring flowering Azalea 'Magnifica' as well as climbing Bougainvilleas which really stand out in the landscape.
The late English gardener Christopher Lloyd coined the term 'magical magenta' as he was fond of the bougainvillea which he saw spilling over white washed walls in Mediterranean gardens. He liked to team magenta flowers with lime green or acid yellow such as seen in the foliage colour of the low spreading golden bamboo, Pleioblastus viridistriatus. Perfect for the soft light of English gardens but a combination which would really scream at you under our harsh sun.
 It is early days for me and this plant. Still at the trial stage I have to see how it performs over the coming season, what it looks good growing with, while slowly building up stock before it sees a commercial light of day. Regardless of its commercial potential though the question will be does anyone really like magenta?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hartweg's Lupin, Lupinus hartwegii

Today was drizzly and humid so the furry finger leaves of this annual Lupin collected raindrops in the centre of each 'hand' which made them shine like diamonds. I guess this water collection habit is an adaptation to the variable rainfall of its native Mexico, but it also makes it the easiest variety to grow in a warm climate. Mine drooped when running low on water but sprang back to life quickly when given a drink. I love the flower colours as they are so clear and bright...... sky blue, cobalt, pure white and pale to dark pink. I sowed seed in late autumn, treating the seed first with some hot water to break the hard seed coat. Germination was good and though it is recommended that they dislike transplanting after germination I did not notice any setback. Lupins like a fertilizer which is low in nitrogen as they 'fix' their own by producing it in nodules on the root system. This makes them a good plant to use in a vegetable garden and the whole plant can be dug into the soil following flowering. If you live in a cool climate the flowering season of this variety will continue well into summer if regular removal of old flowers is carried out. Plants normally reach about 45 to 60 cm in height when in flower.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Continental Parsley

Continental / Italian / Flat Leaf Parsley 
 I have been trying to keep my continental parsley from going to seed by cutting off all the emerging flower stems but this may be a waste of time as a plant always makes up its own mind what it wants to do regardless of any human intervention. It did get me thinking about the word 'Continental' and how it may disappear from general use in the coming 'Asian Century'. For Australians, the word had its peak of popularity amongst the beau monde who  travelled abroad in the 1950's and 60's ,coming home in search of anything sophisticated to remind them of their time in Europe. Author Ted Moloney had probably got the ball rolling in 1952 following the publication of his book Oh for a French Wife. However the most European style food on offer, if you were dining out, was Spaghetti Bolognese, Steak Chasseur or Wiener Schnitzel. Olive oil was purchased from the chemist shop, garlic and strong tasting herbs were not in general use. Though continental parsley started to become more readily available from the middle of the 1970's, it was really curly parsley which reigned supreme. Used primarily as a garnish and for decorating trays of meat in butcher shop windows, it most likely had more nutritional value than the plates of food it was displayed on. 
Herb gardening books of this era in Britain coined the term continental parsley perhaps as a reminder that it was really a bit foreign and undesirable, linked not only to their weedy and poisonous Fool's parsley, Aethusa cynapium, but to all those strange meals consumed abroad. Though credit was given to the Germans who cultivated a particular variety known as 'Hamburg' where both leaves and roots were used to make suppengrun, a strong tasting and hearty vegetable broth.
 My favourite use of continental parsley is for gremolada, that mix of chopped garlic, parsley, anchovy fillets and lemon zest as a final pre-serving topping to Osso Bucco Milanese. 
My least favourite use of the word continental is when it precedes the word breakfast, as it then amounts to little more than a cup of tea and a look around.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Aquilegia vulgaris 'Magpie'

Aquilegia vulgaris 'Magpie' syn. 'William Guiness'
One hundred years ago the Scottish architect, designer and painter Charles Rennie Macintosh was inspired by the stylized form of this flower and others like it, as they provided the principal source for the structure and detail of his designs. Writing in 1895 for Architecture he said 'If we trace the artistic form of things made by man to their origin, we find a direct inspiration from if not a direct imitation of nature'.
Compared to the more commonly grown, larger flowered and vibrant Mckana hybrid Aquilegias, 'Magpie' has both a more subdued colour as well as the distinctive angular 'design'. This one, like other species and cultivars does better in a cooler climate and is probably better treated as an annual in a warm one. In my experience the foliage becomes prone to mildew over the summer and then the plant fails to thrive the following season. If seed is planted in late summer, the resulting seedlings will flower by the spring. Seed is held in angular upright capsules and is easy to collect and will come true to type as long as no other variety has been grown in the vicinity. Unusual as well is the fact that 'Magpie' carries the colour theme to the flower stems and leaves as some appear to be spotted with that dark inky purple which stands out against the pale blue-grey leaves and stems.