Saturday, November 30, 2013

German Chamomile, Die Echte Kamille, Matricaria recutita

 Matricaria recutita syn Matricaria chamomilla (Asteraceae)
It's harvest time for my German chamomile flowers though I have yet to meet anyone who shares my enthusiasm for this herb. The flowers are alive with insects which are probably attracted to the nose twitching scent. No wonder they call this annual 'stinking mayweed' as it is very much a part of a northern hemisphere spring.
 I sow seed in winter in trays, separating out the seedlings once they are large enough. It could also be sown direct in vegetable garden plots or in any open sunny spot with not overly rich soil. Seedlings can be slow at first but grow quickly during the first warm or hot days of early spring eventually sending up flowering stems to 30cm or more. When all the flowers are out and the petals are not downward facing I cut them, placing the flowers in containers and putting them straight into the freezer. They stay quite separate after freezing and it is easy to get out a small handful for later use. I use chamomile for herbal tea, mixed with peppermint, and as a garden fungicide spray against damping off in seedlings. Terrific stuff from an easy to grow plant.
Worth looking out for and very helpful to use on calloused gardening hands is this chamomile handcream from Germany.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Pink Rays'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Pink Rays'
This Australian Hibiscus has been on the scene for a long time so it could even be given the tag of 'old fashioned hardy variety'. It is an upright bushy fast grower and flowers from an early stage. The distinctive light cardinal red streaks over the cream petals are displayed in a recurved cartwheel formation and are complimented by the light orange stigma pads. Over summer the cream petals become flushed with a deeper pink and the whole flower draws the eye to the bush.
This Hibiscus was bred by Roy von Stieglitz from unknown varieties.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Work of Art'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Work of Art'
Probably more like work-in-progress at this time of year for this Hibiscus will change colour as the season progresses and will develop large yellow patches on the petals . At the moment they appear as just streaks. Tomato ketchup red with a bit of mustard could be used to describe the colour? This is an Australian Hibiscus bred by Greg and Julie Lindsay from two Florida varieties namely 'All Aglow' as pod parent and 'Evelyn Howard' as pollen parent. It was registered in 2001. At this stage I don't have information on how big it grows. This specimen is grafted.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Scented Geraniums

 Scented leaf geraniums (Pelargoniums) are ideal low maintenance plants because of their  water use and fertilizer requirements, small root system and, in some spreading or cascading habit. The varieties pictured here, clockwise from top, include fine leaf 'Royal Oak', lime scented, variegated peppermint-rose, apple, peppermint, lemon and nutmeg in centre.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Salvia uliginosa Bog sage

Salvia uliginosa Bog Sage
During the Scotland V Wallabies Rugby game this morning, which was played at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, the commentators gave some tongue in cheek gardening advice on the state of the boggy turf, citing that it was perhaps caused by nematodes which could be fixed with garlic spray. No, I thought, it's the bleeding Scottish rainy weather and a really good place to grow this Salvia
I am in two minds about recommending this plant. The sky/cyan blue flowers are adorable as they sit on thin wispy stems to 1.5 metres and wave about in the breeze all through summer but underground there is a lot of sinister action from a vast network of spreading roots which literally stink when dug up. The plant pictured here is actually in a pot and the roots have gone down into the surrounding soil which means it can be contained in a more manageable way. During my younger garden maintenance days I was once faced with removing this Salvia from the edges of a creek bank which ran through a property and even with digging out and spraying it proved difficult to remove; so plant it with caution. It will grow quite happily in a dry location as well and can also be stopped in its tracks if planted in combination with other robust plants such as a contrasting tall orange Canna or a foreground of Shasta daisies which provide a barrier to its spread.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Adrenalin'

 Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Adrenalin'
This is an outstanding Australian Hibiscus which was bred and released by Phil and Mavis Barry in 2003. The flower is so large and heavy it often points downwards so I had to pick this one to get a good picture and thus appreciate its form in close up. The colour is a vibrant hot orange with golden yellow reverse and pale pink centre. The central staminal column is fused with fluted, twisted and quilled petaloids which give it a marvellous sculptural quality. Almost hidden amongst these central petaloids is a hot pink 'raspberry' of fused stigma pads attended by a small group of tufted gold anthers. 'Adrenalin' was bred from a pollen parent of 'Jol Wright' and a pod parent of 'Harvest Moon' which are both prolific varieties. 'Jol Wright' was once described as 'without a doubt the best Australian bred hibiscus', though as it requires grafting onto a more hardy variety for successful growth it is perhaps less well known than it should be.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve'

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve'
Earlier this year this small shrubby perennial was a contender in the 'Plant of the Centenary' at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in the UK, so when I saw it recently at a plant market I thought I had better give one a go. I have grown these perennial wallflowers before and they are very hardy shrubs which are good over a range of climates as long as they are given a spot in full sun and have free draining soil. The trouble with them is that they never know when to stop flowering and though their peak flowering time is mid winter to spring the flower stems hang on into summer and become quite elongated. I gave the flower heads the chop yesterday and am pleased to say that the form of the growing plant is very pleasing , it being neat and compact with its grey green foliage. If it grows to a metre by a metre as indicated on the pictorial label it could make a nice low hedge or path edger and would certainly be a welcome addition to any garden for its mid-winter flowers. The other mauve variety is called 'Winter Joy' and this is possibly a select form of that one. 'Bowles' Mauve' has been around since the 1980's and was named for the great gardener E.A.'Gus' Bowles

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hibotan Moon Cactus

 Gymnocalycium mihanovichii 'Hibotan'
A friend gave me a couple of these brightly coloured cactus some time ago. I am never sure what to do with them as I think you need a lot of them planted together to really make a statement. They are very popular around Christmas time and appeal to youngsters and those who want something in their garden which is a bit of fun. (Nein est ist verkitschung!! I hear you say?) 
It's a hell of a long botanical name for this South American cactus and perhaps for this reason it rarely gets mentioned.They usually go by their Japanese cultivar name of 'Hibotan' or simply as a 'moon cactus' because of their bright colours and shape. As they don't have any chlorophyll , the green stuff necessary for growth, they are normally grafted onto a climbing cactus such as a Cereus species.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mini cactus garden

 Mammillaria species in flower now
I am always on the lookout for interesting containers or bowls in thrift shops which can be reused as decorative pots. Low flat bowls make good homes for groups of cactus and succulents or for bonsai 'forests' of miniature trees, while in cooler climates they make excellent scree gardens for alpine plants.
This ceramic casserole dish was planted out a few months ago with various cacti and some are just starting to come into flower. Cactus flowers always draw your eye as they are often extremely bright, though these are only at the bud stage and will probably turn more red than hot pink as they age. Handling cactus can always be a bit tricky as you do your best to avoid the spines. I always use a piece of folded newspaper wrapped around each plant as I position them and tamp down the soil around them with the handle of a small trowel once they are in place. Special soil mixes which contain plenty of grit are worth using for potting on and you will be rewarded with lots of flowers in the spring and a fairly low maintenance easy care garden.

Ammi majus 'bon ami'

Ammi majus under-planted with Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
A good friend for the garden by attracting beneficial insects and helping get the biodiversity right, Ammi majus is in flower now along with its equally useful friend Alyssum. These two are often combined in seed mixtures of 'all white flowers' or in special 'good bug' mixed packs. Seed planted in autumn or during winter can be given any odd spot in the garden or simply grown in pots. They are not fussy about soil and will still flower even if the conditions are not particularly good such as with variable weather conditions or low soil fertility. This is a polite way of saying they can be a little on the weedy side and will come up in the cracks of pavement given half the chance.
I hesitate to use the common name Queen Anne's Lace for this plant as it can be easily confused with the other plant of that name Daucus carota which has more ferny foliage and more cream coloured flowers. Both these plants belong to the Apiaceae family which includes the vegetables carrots and celery.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Zephyranthes drummondii

 Zephyranthes drummondii 
A bit of a 'lone star' in more ways than one. I have waited four years for this to flower, or maybe I have just missed it last time as the flowers are said to come out in the evening. One flower and one wonder this is not a common plant in cultivation. However it must love it in south east Queensland as it appears on the 'Atlas of Living Australia' growing in a few locations as a 'garden escapee'. This bulb is native to Texas, New Mexico and Mexico and like others in its genus it is stimulated to flower after rain and not just by the occasional watering. The flower is strongly perfumed and I suspect that this is to attract moths which may be flitting about at night. It could be given a place in the garden beside a path or in a rockery with well drained average soil, and, preferably in a spot where it is not likely to be overtaken by neighbouring plants which may out-compete it for light. I suspect that it is slow to increase by division of bulbs for off-sets and that saving seed is an option for increasing this little gem.
 Zephyranthes drummondii | Atlas of Living Australia

Verbena x hybrida

Verbena x hybrida 'Flagship' (Verbenaceae)
During the 'hottest October on record' I thought it best to choose and plant out summer annuals which are better able to cope with dry and hot conditions. One of the most adapted to these conditions is Verbena. I am nostalgic for the old spreading kind with the highly perfumed flowers which I used to grow in my youth but the best on offer these days is the compact growing sort such as this variety 'Flagship'.The disappearance of the spreading kind once sold as bedding plants in punnets may have more to do with economics and fashion than anything else. Verbena can be slow and difficult to grow from seed and as they are susceptible to mildew if they stay congested in a container for too long, they have been perhaps passed over in favour of the more reliable Petunia. 
It is the flower colour range of Verbena which holds a lot of appeal for me. Most of the blooms have a white contrasting eye which makes the surrounding colour stand out even more and included in the range is a navy blue, though this deep dark blue is probably closer in reality to a dark purple. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Variegated Oleander, Nerium oleander 'Splendens Variegatum'

Variegated Oleander growing in front of Furcraea foetida 'Mediopicta'
Plants with yellow variegation in their leaves really stand out in a garden and when combined with pink flowers they are even more striking with the clash of colours  not for the feint hearted. These two plants work well together because they have similar sword shaped leaves and both are hardy and dry tolerant. The variegated Oleander is slower growing than the plain green leaf varieties and will occasionally throw out a stem with pure yellow leaves, these entirely lacking in chlorophyll. Likewise it may send out green leaved shoots especially when grown in some shade and these are best trimmed off to retain the distinctive variegation. A cream and green leaf cultivar called 'Mrs Runge' is often pictured in books but as far as I know this variety is unavailable in Australia.
For more details on the variegated Oleander go to this website:Variegated Oleander (Nerium oleander 'Splendens Variegatum') (Department of Natural Resources and Mines)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dianthus x 'Supra' TM F1

 Dianthus x 'Supra' TM F1
(Dianthus interspecific hybrid from D. chinensis D. barbatus D. superbum)
The Supra series of Dianthus were bred by Hem Genetics in The Netherlands and released about 7 years ago. They are a short lived perennial but better as a spring or summer annual.The purple form won an All American Selection Award AAS in 2006.
This Dianthus has the strongest perfume of any that have been bred so far. You don't need to put your nose into the flowers as they perfume the air around if you are close by. It has been bred with a bushy compact habit and grows to about 30 cm high by 20 cm wide so is a perfect size for use as a container decoration indoors. Flowers are large and shaggy with a deeply cut fringe, with a colour range including red, pink, purple and white. Flowers are also long lasting and weather resistant. The warmer the day the more fragrance that is released, making this a ten out of ten plant for the home and garden.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cooking with Michael Pollan

This is the time of year when all the new books hit the shelves in time for the Christmas market and when you start to think about the relaxing days of summer ahead with reading or dozing in the shade of a tree during the hottest time of the day high on the list of the day's agenda. Earlier this year the thought proving American author Michael Pollan released a book called 'Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation' It is on my must read list having sampled the PDF introduction available online. The quote I always remember from Pollan  is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.", and in this new book he deals with the philosophy behind four elements which have shaped culture through cooking and food, namely fire, water, air and earth. In fire he writes about cooking whole animals over an open fire. In water he deals with cooking in a vessel by boiling or braising. Air is about baking and earth is about fermenting, the process used for cheese making and brewing.
So my humble poached chicken from the other night has taken on a whole new meaning when it is described thus :"The pot dish, lidded and turbid has none of the Apollonian clarity of a recognizable animal on a spit but is a primordial Dionysian soup" as the "marriage of plant and animal foods in a liquid medium is preferable to cooking either food over direct fire" with the added "onions, garlic and herbs containing powerful antimicrobial components  which are able to survive the cooking process" and which are therefore very beneficial to health and well being. While I am on the right track here and enjoy cooking I am also an eater of the microwavable frozen convenience meal, the very thing Pollan rallies against in his books, because they have been made by a huge corporation and you have absolutely no idea what is in them and where those ingredients come from, for, in the long run "You are what you eat eats".

Lavatera trimestris 'Mont Blanc'

Lavatera trimestris 'Mont Blanc' (Malvaceae)
'Nice day for a white wedding'......In flower now and easy to grow from seed sown in autumn or winter, this 'mallow' or annual Hibiscus family member is native to the Mediterranean, Morocco and Syria. It is pink or mauve in its wild form and grows in sandy soil near the coast. In Spain it is known as Malva and in France as 'Mauve royale'. This pure white form 'Mont Blanc' grows to about 100cm tall, likes full sun and a position where the soil is well drained and not too rich. Adapted to a dry and variable climate it does the curious thing of conserving energy before flowering by shedding lower leaves just when the buds start to form. This can be a bit disconcerting as you think the plant is going to die when these leaves turn yellow and drop off. The upper leaves are delightful as they appear neatly folded over the buds like a piece of Japanese Origami.
Lavatera is named for the 16th century Swiss Doctor and naturalist J R Lavater.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Powder Puff'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Powder Puff'
Pink, soft and delicate, this Hibiscus is of unknown origin but I suspect it has as a parent 'Mrs George Davis' which is one of the old fashioned prolific flowering varieties. 'Powder Puff' grows as a bushy shrub to an average height of around 2 metres and would be suitable to grow as a hedge or clipped specimen.