Monday, January 30, 2012

The Katydid

The Katydid (Caedicia sp.) resting on Tomatillo leaf

I have a new respect for the insect Katydid since reading the book The Garden Jungle by Densey Clyne. She talks about them thus: I share the beauty of dahlia flowers in the garden with a gentle vegetarian katydid with wings like tapering green leaves, a small head and inquisitive antenna. While it is the colour and the shape of the dahlias that I enjoy , the katydid enjoys the flavour of the petals, although when dahlias are out of season it feeds on almost any kind of foliage. The katydid never makes its presence felt in the extroverted manner of some of its relatives, but creeps quietly about feeding or gazing into space with its beautiful pale green eyes.
What I find interesting about them is that they have the ability to change colour depending on what they are feeding on, as a form of camouflage. So you can come across bright pink ones which have been feeding on rose petals and the new red shoots of rose plants. They have an interesting call as well which is a sort of zip zip sound. There is a lesson to be learned here and that is; share your garden with lots of insects and don't be too worried by a few holes in the leaves of your prize plants.

Amaranthus viridis

Amaranthus viridis

It is more of a European thing to go foraging for wild weeds to use as food. There is a tradition in Greece to search out this Amaranth in Spring when the young shoots are at their most flavourful .It goes by the name of vrasta or vlita and is cooked and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. However it is much more easy to identify in late summer when the green tassel like flowers begin to appear.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Salvia runcinata

Salvia runcinata flower detail
One of the fascinating small aromatic shrubs I have growing in my herb garden is this Salvia species. It is indigenous to South Africa,  growing over a wide area from Northern Gauting to the Free State, and has a long history of being used in traditional medicine as well as being burnt to fumigate houses. Research has been carried out on the essential oils found in this and other Salvia species pertaining to their antimicrobial properties. The major compounds found in Salvia runcinata are caryophyllene (18%), bisabolol (71.7%), humelene (2.1%) and cis-lanceol (6.2%).
When crushing the leaves it is hard to pinpoint any familiar aromatic notes but a breakdown of the individual components gives you a better understanding of where they comes from. Caryophyllene is one of the compounds which contributes to the spiciness of black pepper, while Bisabol is the main component of German chamomile. Humulene is a chemical compound which contributes to the taste of Vietnamese Mint ,Persicaria odorata, which we all know smells like crushed bugs. My own conclusion is that the leaves of Salvia runcinata have the odour of cough medicine and that it is perhaps best not tested for culinary use. As the flowers are fairly insignificant, it will never gain a huge fan club amongst gardeners looking for a showy plant but it is still a wonderful gem to grow amongst thyme and oregano. For those living in Melbourne it can be found at the Royal Botanic Gardens:
Salvia runcinata at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Problems growing Parsley

This photo shows the symptoms of crown and root rot in curly parsley, which is a fungal disease known as Fusarium wilt. Similar fungal problems can also occur in winter and are caused by the water moulds, Pithium and Phytopthora primulae. Both flat leaf Italian parsley and curly parsley are susceptible to this disease. Part of the reason it occurs is that parsley grows with a long tap root which often reaches down into poorly drained soil which may have become waterlogged after heavy rain. The advantage of the strong tap root is that parsley is often able to find a space and force its way down to grow between rocks or cracks in pavers, though it may never reach maturity when eking out a living in these conditions. While it is possible to get a good second crop out of flat leaf parsley when it self sows in a garden bed, curly parsley is best started off from fresh seeds or seedlings planted when the days start to become cooler and shorter. For the next six weeks or so I will be lucky to be able to even pick a leaf of it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chilli variety, Numex Joe E Parker

NuMex Joe E. Parker Chilli Pepper, (Capsicum annuum)
I had only ever heard of Colonel Tom Parker and now I am growing the Joe E.version.
This is the number one green chilli grown in Mexico and the United States. It is called a premier cultivar because the plant exhibits strong main stem growth, uniform branching and a high yield. When cut in half it only has two cavities which makes for easy removal of the seeds and pith. I like the heat strength which is mild to warm, complementing tomatoes, red onion, mint and cucumber. I used this combination in a salad with Australian green lentils from Victoria.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Palmarosa Grass, Cymbopogon martinii

Palmarosa Grass
  Cymbopogon martinii
This is another ornamental grass which comes into its own over summer. Related to Lemon grass it grows to about the same height of about a metre though it forms a more narrow and graceful clump and the flower heads are more interesting as they resemble barbed-wire encircling thin stems standing erect above the lovely foliage. Propagation is usually from seed, which is how I grew it, but clumps could perhaps be divided during the warmer months. This is something I have yet to try.
Over winter growth slows and the whole plant develops a bronze or rusty red tinge. Though sub-tropical in origin, it has good cold tolerance and could be grown as far south as Melbourne. As for most ornamental grasses, maintenance is to cut it back in spring to allow for new growth to appear as the weather warms up. Palmarosa grass releases a warm rose geranium scent when the leaves are crushed and oil extracted from the plant is used in the perfume industry.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Miscanthus x giganteus

Behind the Banana trees and bamboo, in that section of the garden known as the jungle. I have a planting of Miscanthus x giganteus. In the late afternoon it is the perfect place to relax to listen to the music of rustling leaves and birdsong.
The silvery pink flowers shine in the sun and you know that summer is peaking.
Miscanthus x giganteus
This grass is native to Japan and is a sterile hybrid between the species M sinensis and M. sacchariflorus. It dies down in winter and is often slow to return but makes rapid growth once the days become long and warm. It is more widely known in both Europe and the U. S. as a commercial energy crop for the production of electricity and biofuel. It is one of the so called C4 (carbon fixation) plants of note as it has greater photosynthetic and water efficiency, and lower fertilizer requirements than most other plants. I am not aware of it being grown commercially in Australia but that may have something to do with the risk tall grass crops have as a fire hazard given our recent bushfire history.
Miscanthus x giganteus is a terrific ornamental grass for tropical style or informal gardens. It can be grown by dividing plants in spring as shown in this video. This may require Herculean effort however so just don't ask me to supply you with a plant.
2017 update: I have one plant in a 300mm pot in stock.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Nepeta govaniana, Yellow catmint

Yellow Catmint 
 Nepeta govaniana
I hadn't done my homework on this perennial before planting it. I thought that if it is a "catmint" it will like a hot open position and will not be too concerned about getting a drink over summer. Wrong on both counts. It is native to the Himalayas from Pakistan to Uttarkhand growing at an altitude of 3000 metres so it really should be in a cool shaded position and probably in a cooler climate. I am not really convinced that it is particularly garden worthy as the flowers are fairly small and insignificant . The leaves have since burnt off but that is entirely my fault .The plant forms a small loose open clump to about 60cm. Score out of ten? I give it a five but maybe if I move it next autumn it may improve its rating.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chestnut-breasted Finch

Chestnut-breasted Finch or Barleybird 
Lonchura castaneothorax
Today was one on those drizzly cool days after a night of some rain. It was a perfect opportunity to pull out summer weeds while the soil was friable and easy to work. While I was working, a pair of these Finches arrived to eat grass seed nearby. It was my first sighting of this bird, well a pair actually, but I have since read that it is fairly common on the east coast of Australia. They are quite striking in appearance but I would dispute the colour description as they are more caramel coloured than chestnut.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Red Leaf Philodendron

Philodendron x 'Red Leaf'
Most of the Philodendrons which are used as indoor plants or warm climate garden specimens originate in tropical South America. I have this one in a pot on a sheltered patio and am always amazed by the red colouring of the new leaves. As the leaves age they go a deeper metallic purplish red. The original "Red Leaf Philodendron" was a hybrid species of domesticum x erubescens, the so called "blushing philodendron". It was bred by a Mr Manda and hence bore the name x mandaianum. It was released in the United States in 1936 for use as an indoor plant.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Edwardian Striped Petunia

I like the stripes of summer especially in Petunias like the one pictured here. The stripe was the height of fashion during the Edwardian period; that first decade of the 20th century. It represented a jaunty casting off of all the stuffy Victorian gloom. The Australian artist Emanuel Phillips-Fox captured this in his sun drenched summer painting The Arbour from 1910. The boldly striped dress of a woman seated in a wicker chair is as vibrant as the boy in his red sailor suit who is ready to leap out of the scene and chase his hoop. The joys of summer.....
The Arbour 1910
Emanuel Phillips-Fox (1865-1915)

The height of fashion for men: the striped trousers with matching tie of the morning suit.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Heliotropium europaeum

Heliotropium europaeum

This is the first time I have come across this weed growing near the coast. It is normally found in southern inland New South Wales, northern Victoria and the southern parts of South Australia growing mainly in the summer months on fallow ground or amongst pasture grasses. It is a significant weed because it is poisonous to sheep and cattle, with leaf samples indicating the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids ( helitrine, lasiocarpine and 3 others). Grazing and consumption of the plant causes liver damage which may not manifest itself until the second year. Damage to the liver by the alkaloids leads to an abnormally high uptake of copper from the pasture. When the animals are stressed by say, sudden cold, droving or fright, the copper is suddenly released and they develop the haemolytic crisis of chronic copper poisoning; dropping dead due to kidney failure. Cattle are more susceptible than sheep. Nasty weed indeed.

French Marigold 'Sparky'

Marigold 'Sparky' Tagetes patula

It really is Marigold week as I notice them in bloom in lots of gardens at the moment. I have a low planter filled with 'Sparky' and its rich mahogany red colour is incredibly bright.

Marigolds from seed

Marigold 'Sweet Cream' in the 'Jap' Pumpkin patch

Marigold 'Safari' yellow as edging amongst leeks

Last year a kind reader of this blog sent me seeds of these Marigolds as a thank you for sending her some other seeds. They are from the American company 2Bseeds which is an enterprise of the Busch family in Golden Valley, Minneapolis in the State of Minnesota. Their seeds are foil packed with a zip-lock which always comes in handy for ease of storage and less likelihood of spillage. However what I like about their seed packets and their web site is that they give all the technical information on sowing, germination and aftercare which is normally only provided for professional growers. For example the Marigolds are recommended to be grown at a pH of 6.2 to 6.5 as a pH of less than 6.00 may induce iron, manganese or sodium toxicity in the plants. Symptoms are exhibited on the lower leaves and include yellowing or burning of leaf edges. Marigolds can therefore be used as an indicator plant for acid soils.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Some Summer White Flowers

Dahlias in the Turmeric bed

The flowers are very attractive to bees and beneficial insects. It is worth waiting for the seed to go brown before removing the plants. Seed scattered around these plants will germinate as soon as the autumn rains begin.
Leucanthemum x superbum 'Chiffon'
A terrific Shasta daisy with petals which are crimped at the edges. Flowering on tall stems.

Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan'
What always amazes me about Echinacea is that they go completely dormant and underground over winter and then before you know it they are back in flower again so quickly. The white flowering form is a bit lower growing and more compact so is able to stand up to strong wind more easily.

Sambucus nigra
Lovely flat plates of flowers at this time of year . As the flowers drop off the whole umbel turns a vibrant dark burgundy red.
White flowering Borage
 Borago officinalis alba

The cycle of flowering, seeding and regrowing in a different spot continues all year for both the blue and this less common white flowering form of the wonderful Borage.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wild bird seed

Red-browed Finch
S G Lane Collection
Australian Museum
Flocks of red-browed finches have been hard at work lately making the most of the summer weedy grasses which have been producing lots of ripe seed. I often complain about weeds in the garden because they look untidy and then remember that they provide food for a diverse range of animals, birds and insects.

A patch of barnyard grass (Echinochloa sp), summer grass (Digitaria sp) and Millet (Setaria italica)

Chicory, Cichorium intybus

 Cichorium intybus

If you allow your winter salad green plants to go to seed, you can be rewarded by a tall 2 metre bush of chicory. The delightful shade of blue of this plant is a highlight of the summer garden, though as a garden escapee, it often seen on roadside verges as well. Flowers usually appear in the morning and close as soon as the sun becomes too hot. On cloudy days the flowers remain open for longer. This is a bit of a garden survivor as it produces a long tap-root which remains deep in the soil and regrows from the base if not all of it is removed. It is native to temperate Asia and Europe.

Gold Nugget Pumpkin

Pumpkin variety 'Gold Nugget' is always called a 'space saver' and indeed it produces an abundant supply of fruit in about a metre square. I planted this one in October and picked a couple within six weeks of planting. I will leave these on the vine, lay off the watering and enjoy their rich orange colour as a highlight of the vegetable garden.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cucumber variation

A man at my local Saturday morning market always brings along vegetable seedlings to sell. They are usually grown in ordinary garden soil and potted up at the last minute into milk cartons. This season I decided to grow his cucumbers and the resulting plants have produced an abundant crop of the variety pictured above. Growing amongst the fruit are some "mules", a misshapen green type as shown below. A case of open pollination at work and the importance of seed saving of unusual vegetable varieties.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Some Golden Leaves

Der Kuss (The Kiss) 1907-1908
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
Osterreichiseme Galerie, Vienna

The ultimate chill out concert by the Vienna Philharmonic on New Year's Day (Das Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker) which always features the calming music of the Strauss family composers, was this year dedicated to the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt as a way of celebrating his 150th birthday in 2012. Klimt used gold leaf extensively during his "golden years" being influenced by the Byzantine period of art. The painting from that period The Kiss is the most famous work and yesterday's concert included a ballet work performed in front of it.
I have always liked golden leaved plants but they can be tricky to incorporate into a garden as they can look harsh and turn brown when grown in full sun. However for dull or shady garden places they bring light and vibrancy and are indispensable as a contrast to darker foliaged plants which tend to disappear and lose impact in such spots. Here are a couple of examples of golden leaves.

The gold leafed Geraniums (Pelargoniums) do well under deciduous trees as they enjoy the winter sunshine and summer shade. They are able to cope with the often drier conditions brought about by tree roots as they seek out moisture. They can also easily be grown in pots and moved about to different places in the garden to add brightness where necessary.
More shade lovers here including the dwarf golden bamboo Pleioblastus viridistriatus, the variegated Viburnum tinus showing some small pink buds and below, the large leafed Acanthus mollis 'Hollard's Gold'. The golden bamboo is a runner but rarely reaches more than 40 cm tall. It needs a cut back in late winter to ground level to make way for the new leaves to emerge in spring. The Viburnum is slow but is quite delicate in appearance and a better choice than the strident Aucuba japonica 'Variegata'. The golden Acanthus is a favourite because the leaves change colour as they mature, and with the seasons, from bright yellow to lime green. The other shrub to look out for, which I have featured in an earlier post is Berberis thunbergii 'Aurea' which you can't beat for amazing golden colour.