Saturday, September 28, 2013

Carex elata 'Bowles' Golden'

Carex elata 'Aurea' syn 'Bowles' Golden'
In the chapter on 'Aquatics', in his book My Garden in Summer (1914), Edward Augustus "Gus" Bowles (1865-1954) leads us on a 'boy's own adventure' along rivers and reed beds across the Norfolk Broads where he happened upon this plant one hundred years ago. 'I noticed two or three shoots of a sedge with a fine gold band on their leaves, so dropped on my knees and severed them from the main tuft with my pocket knife, brought then home, and planted them where they have formed this fine specimen.' His 'home' was Myddleton House in Enfield where he established a remarkable plantsman's garden which is now restored and open to the public.
At this time of year, Bowles' Golden Sedge awakes from winter dormancy and puts on a fresh display of bright yellow leaves, eventually reaching a height of about 40cm and spreading to form a clump of 90cm. It is ideal as a pond edge plant or in a spot which is constantly moist and though it will tolerate full sun I find the foliage burns easily if not given some protection.

It could be planted around the base of Fuchsia 'Canary Bird' which has contrasting red stems to its equally bright yellow leaves.
 Front cover photograph shows Rosa moyesii 'Geranium'. This book was published in 1914 by T. C. and E.C. Jack, London and reprinted by Timber Press. Portland. Oregon in 1998.
It is available online as a free digital download.

Gus Bowles: Gentleman Gardener
Photograph: 1910, Florence Darrington

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Azalea Bonsai

Azalea indica variety
Compared to Azalea bonsai which you see at special shows or illustrated in books, my small one here is a rank amateur, but is proof that Azaleas are fairly easy to grow as bonsai, and, as with the crabapple from the last post they can be moved into a sheltered spot and enjoyed indoors when in flower. The roots on Azaleas are fine and fibrous and can be easily trimmed down to fit a suitable container. Though the small leafed Gumpo (Satsuki) or small flowered  Kurume Azaleas such as the hardy varieties 'Kirin' which is pink and 'Christmas Cheer' which is red are ideal candidates, the larger flowered ones can be trained in a 'cascade' style.
 Often towards the end of the flowering season it is easy to pick up small low priced Azaleas from chain stores which can be used to experiment on as far as pruning goes, trimming off branches to make an interesting shape or wiring to form a miniature "tree". This is the humble origin of the one pictured here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Blossom Bonsai

Crabapple blossom, Malus floribunda
I bought this Crabapple at a specialist bonsai nursery last week. It has been pruned and just needs to be placed in the right container. Growing spring flowering blossom trees as bonsai  means you get to enjoy different trees which you either don't have space to grow or which are outside of their normal climate range to grow well. I like the fact that you can move the plant to a sheltered spot if there is likely to be rain and wind which can ruin the flowers very quickly, and it can be kept cool on a searing hot summers day.
This weekend (21 & 22 September) the Bonsai Society of Australia is holding a show in Sydney called "Reflections" at the Don Moore Community Centre, Cnr North Rocks Rd. and Farnell Ave. in Carlingford. For further information call Maureen on 9871 4162 or Georgina on 9636 4261.
 C'est le Printemps! and at least the weather has cooled and there has been good rain though many plants have already finished their display. The Wisteria shot into leaf before the flowers had opened properly. Maybe next year we will have "normal" weather.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Anne Cheers'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Anne Cheers'
 This Hibiscus was bred by Fred Westerman from a pod parent of 'Tarantella' and a pollen parent of 'Crantastic' and released in 2002. The hot pink flower is a large 200mm, single cartwheel form with ruffled overlapping petals and these appear on a tall 2 metre bush. Flowering so early means it promises to be a good all rounder and tolerant of cooler growing conditions. 
Over the weekend I lightly pruned my Hibiscus, removed all the old winter blighted leaves, checked them for the dreaded Hibiscus beetle which are just hatching out, and gave them a feed of worm castings fertiliser which acts as a slow release plant food at this early stage of the growing season.

Microgreens & edible flowers:Art on a plate.

Edible flowers(clockwise from top): Dianthus, Star flower, Calendula, Rose, Viola, scented Geranium, Rosemary, Nasturtium, and Borage in centre
A quick walk around the garden and it is easy to find a selection of flowers which can be used for special occasion meals or for using day to day in a salad or vegetable dish. My tip is to use whole flowers as decoration and just petals if they are going to be eaten. Some flower flavours are quite strong. Nasturiums are hot and peppery, Star flowers taste strongly of garlic, while Borage can be coarse and bristly if you leave any stem in place. Moderation is the way to go and if you are uncertain about whether a flower is edible best avoid it , however pretty and decorative it may look. I'm thinking of the very poisonous Oleander flower as an example.
Microgreens have finally gone mainstream after years of being the exclusive preserve of fine dining chefs. A few weeks back I was reading Gardening Australia magazine in the newsagent, as you do, and noticed a small pack of Mr Fothergill's Microgreens Seed attached to the cover. I didn't have time to find out whether there was a story in the mag on them as I was given one of those 'this-is-not-a-library-mate' looks from the guy behind the counter. "Yeah OK mate I'm just a ten cents a dance nurseryman" I thought as I put the mag back.
I have to admit to being a bit sceptical about the taste of Microgreens given that they have been marketed as a newer and better version of sprouts and originate from their spiritual home of southern California. I have never been a huge fan of sprouts having eaten too many takeaway salad sandwiches crammed full of sour tasting ones of the alfalfa or mung bean variety.(Snowpea sprouts are OK) However once you try Microgreens with their clean fresh taste and crunchy texture you are hooked. If they have not been given the tag of 'superfood ' then they certainly deserve it.
Mr Fothergills have several different packs available including 'Mediterranean Flavours' of Italian Basil ,Rocket and Sunflower and 'Flavours of Western Europe' which includes Cress, Pea 'Morgan' and Red Amaranth. They also offer a tray kit so you don't need to muck around with soil to grow them in.

The kit consists of a plastic tray which sits on top of a reservoir which is filled with water. You need to place the seeds on a damp piece of tissue paper and as the seeds germinate the roots grow down through the tray into the water. The seeds need to be sprayed with a fine mist of water to keep them moist until they germinate. Now this is where I came unstuck and got it wrong. My horticultural "expertise" went out the window and I tried growing three different types of seeds at the same time, forgetting the basics about different rates and times of seed germination. So in this case the cress was up and running after a couple of days followed by the peas by which time I had already snipped off the growing cress, while it is not really warm enough yet to grow the Amaranth as it is a true summer plant.

Don't be alarmed if the tissue on which the seeds germinate turns brown. This is just stain from the tannins in the seed coat as it is cast aside when the first 'cotyledon' leaves emerge.
The tray growing kit is ideal for apartment dwellers who don't want to muck around with soil and it also has the advantage of being able to be placed directly on a meal table allowing guests to snip off the fresh leaves if they so desire. It would certainly be a real talking point.
So my microgreens education has only just begun and I hope to perfect the art of growing them over the coming months with more photos to add to this post.
The link to the Mr Fothergills web page is below.

Seeds, Vegetable Seeds, Flower Seeds and Herb Seeds

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Planted side by side and flowering together at the moment are Grevillea 'Flamingo' and Viburnum burkwoodii. The Flamingo Grevillea produces so many flowers that the branches become lax under the weight and reach almost down to the ground. 'Burkwoods' Viburnum is a deciduous shrub and produces masses of sweetly scented flowers in spring before the first flush of leaves appear. The tiny buds are bright pink before opening to white flowers. Both these shrubs are hardy and are able to withstand drought conditions.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tillandsia growing problems

 I have trouble keeping the "air plants" or Tillandsia alive from year to year and the losses can be put down to my killing them with kindness by over-watering or pampering them too much. It is hard to get your head around the fact that these plants obtain their moisture from the air and that their tiny roots which attach themselves to bark or a rough surface are able to get enough nutrients that way to survive.
 Over winter I lost my large plant of T. secunda which had reached a metre tall. It rotted in the centre from too much water. Mature Tillandsia are stunning to look at especially if they have colonised a sculptural piece of wood or decorative container and at this time of year they often carry iridescent purple or hot pink flowers which contrast with the silvery felty leaves. 

In the garden the Tillandsia 'Spanish Moss' or 'Old Man's Beard' has been very succesfull in the shade of a large mandarin tree

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ranunculus asiaticus, Levant Buttercup

I have had this framed silver gelatin photo of Ranunculus for many years. Though I bought it here, it originated from Webster's Photo Gallery of Wellington, New Zealand which was established in 1910, and is still going strong apparently despite changes of ownership over the years. As for the date of this photo it is hard to say, regardless I like it as a reminder of this very, very briefly flowering spring tuberous rooted bulb. 
While the word buttercup is usually associated with water plants, this species originates from dry limestone hills of the eastern Mediterranean to North Africa. I imagine the true species is faced with a short hot spring like we have and has to get the business of being showy, attracting pollinators and setting seed over in a very short space of time.
I planted the shriveled claw shaped 'bulbs' facing downwards about 50 to 75mm deep in autumn and the soil was kept just moist and free of weeds. Some were planted in a large round ceramic pot and others meant for the garden in 10cm plastic maxi pots. Of course the ones in the 10cm pots never made it to the planting out stage, though needless to say both batches are peaking in flower at the moment and looking just fine. Like a lot of bulbs they are used to eking out a living in sometimes inhospitable ground and as long as they get a drink they will still flower well. Ranunculus foliage is lush and parsley like and very attractive, but once the first flower buds appear the leaves shrink back and take a back seat as the flower stems rise up to knee height and the display of brightly coloured flowers begins. The satiny lustrous petals with the central jet black boss in the red and pink varieties or the apple green centre in the golden yellow ones is very appealing. No wonder the variety names include artists such as Picasso and Rembrandt, and, because they have been popular garden flowers for such a longtime it is possible to look back 60 or more years to see the selections which were once sold in the nursery trade.
In the middle of the 20th century it was the "Claremont No 9" variety or 'Huntsman' red, 'Bonnie Lassie' pink, 'Golden Glory' yellow and 'Sunset'  'art tones'. While Leslie Brunning's Australian Home Gardener from 1950 gives the confusing information that there are separate varieties called Turban, French, Persian, Scotch and Asiaticum, mixing common names with species, though his inclusion of a Scotch variety may indicate that the true wild species was once grown. If you visit the online Scottish Rock Garden Club, members still refer to the different colours available in the wild type.  In the 1990's bulb books were suggesting planting the dark maroon and near black flowered Ranunculus with silver foliage plants for a very chic look and perhaps this was a reflection of the revival of interest in the work of garden designer Russell Page who famously mixed black and white tulips in his designs. 
These days it is the compact short stemmed types which make an appearance in Garden Centres at this time of year to be sold as instant  'potted colour'. However for very little effort it is worth planting the bulbs fresh each autumn for a wonderful display of pickable flowers.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Azalea indica 'Magnifica'

 Azalea indica 'Magnifica'
If you live in an older suburb in a capital or regional city of Australia chances are you will see this shrub in flower at the moment. Hard to miss with those incredibly bright magenta flowers, and, as this year has given us a dry spring, they are looking very fine as rain spoils the show very quickly turning the petals brown overnight.  The big old shrub Azaleas which grow up to 2 metres are very hardy but are probably considered old fashioned these days even though they make great hedge plants or clipped specimen shrubs such as this one. Is it is their susceptibility to insect damage during the growing season that has made them less popular? If you give them regular doses of fertilizer and compost as well as consistent water they usually are less prone to bugs and look much happier.

Spring Herald

The inaugural Australian Garden Show Sydney is in full swing this weekend at Centennial Parklands and last night Graham Ross gave it a good rap on 'B.H.&G' in his usual enthusiastic and knowledgeable way. There is no way I can drag myself away from the potting bench to attend but it is wonderful to see a Sydney based show taking the limelight.
Later this month on the Central Coast of New South Wales is another new garden show called the Plant Lovers' Fair. It is being held at Kariong Mountain High School, Festival Drive Kariong on the 28th and 29th September. More details can be found on their website:
Home Plant lovers Fair - Central Coast Garden Shows

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Looking up at Trees

 The paintings of Australian artist William Robinson invite us to look at trees in a fresh way. They are not painted face on or in profile as we are used to seeing in traditional landscape paintings but from the inside looking up into the canopy and sometimes from above with a birds eye perspective looking down to earth. Their forms are lush and sinuous, writhing and jostling for space to grow.
These days many gardens have become too small to include large spreading trees so it is a delight to visit a botanic garden or park where you can gaze up into the branches and get an understanding of what Robinson is trying to convey in his work. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Nemophila 'Baby Blue-Eyes'

 Nemophila menziesii 'Baby Blue Eyes'

 Nemophila menziesii 'Baby Blue-Eyes' (Hydrophyllaceae)
This is the first time I have grown this spring annual, a former Californian wildflower which has made the transition to popular garden flower world wide. I was interested to know more about it when I read about the Nemophila Harmony Festival held during May in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki, Japan. The whole hillside of the Hitachi Seaside Park turns pale blue during the Festval. Why this flower? I have no idea but it looks amazing.
It is certainly easy to grow. I planted the seeds in early winter and only lost a few seedlings early on to snails who mowed down the tender young ferny leaves overnight. It is a soft and fairly delicate looking plant but reasonably tough, forgiving if you forget to water it, by springing back to life after wilting. Though regarded as a shade loving plant I am growing a batch in pots in full sun and these can be moved if the expected 30C days come next week. An ideal garden spot for it would be growing in humus enriched soil under deciduous trees.
As mine are just coming into flower now I shall update this post after they have finished so as to give an indication as to how long it performs.

Nemophila Harmony Festival
Hitachi Seaside park
Ibaraki, Japan

Anisodontea capensis

 Anisodontea capensis (Malvaceae) Hibiscus Family
This small South African shrub with its pink star shaped flowers, delicately 'painted' with dark 'whiskers', has been flowering non-stop for months. It is a thin and wispy character however with barely there leaves and very open habit. How to place it in a garden without it disappearing altogether? Plant several dozen together one imagines to make an impact. It could look quite good alongside Gaura 'Passionate Blush' which has a winter down time. The Anisodontea could replicate the look of Gaura over winter and spring. Alternatively it could be placed as a background shrub in a mixed garden of succulents as it likes similar growing conditions being undemanding of water or fertilizer.

Monday, September 2, 2013


There is a long tradition of scarecrow making across the world and it was interesting to see some in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens yesterday. Not only do they help scare birds away from edible crops, they are are also very decorative and are a great way to get children involved in gardening.