Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ghastly Moments in Gardening

Gardeners are a bit closer to nature than most, and are generally less squeamish as a consequence. While digging you inevitably cut worms in half, meet spiders and centipedes, and try to avoid toxoplasmosis, tetanus and Legionnaires' Disease. You deal with poo, with live animals, dead animals. My ghastly moment yesterday involved a half-dead animal in the vegie patch.

Earlier in the day I had laid down newspaper and spoilt hay to renew a garden path there. In the evening, I was nearby planting out lettuces, chillies and basil before it rained, and talking to The Geek. I turned around to pick up some of the hay to use for mulch, and there in the middle of the path was a small rat. Writhing. At first I thought it had been poisoned elsewhere and staggered out to die, but then I realised that I had probably stepped on the poor thing on my way, and broken its back.

"Should we call The Twig over to have a look?" The Geek suggested. I eyed the poor twisting thing and firmly told him No. (What on earth was he thinking?)

It kept writhing. It dawned on me that I'd have to put it out of its misery, or it might be there for a while.

A swift blow with my trowel and the job was done. Now what?

Well, I am a gardener, and I'm not squeamish. I've buried it in the middle of the vegie patch for its nutrients.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

La Nina!

It comes as no surprise when the Bureau of Meteorology tells us a La Nina event is in progress, but what surprises me is how fast things can change. The rainfall totals here for September and October were about 20mm below average.

Then in November our total rainfall was 170mm -- the highest ever recorded. The November average is 80mm. The mean for December is 42mm, but so far we've had 120mm. We've also cracked the highest monthly rainfall again; the previous December maximum was only 84mm. I should point out that these numbers are not for Sydney as a whole, but for the weather station a couple of kilometres from my house.

Surely there are no problems in having so much rain? Well, there are. My clay soil is now completely saturated. It is much too wet to plant anything. It has been too wet to plant anything for a couple of weeks, and my vegetable seedlings are getting bigger and bigger in their punnets. At this rate, I might have to pot them up! And I can't plant seeds (beans, watermelon, cucumbers etc); they'll just rot. Even weeding is pretty difficult in such waterlogged soil. Very frustrating! But at least it isn't too hot to work -- that will probably be my next complaint!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Kikuyu Attack!

Three weeks of my being sick. Several weeks of showers and warm weather. Perfect growing weather for kikuyu grass. And it's grown like Jack's beanstalk! It's past my knees in the vegie patch and trying to swamp everything!

I have tried to stop it in the past with a lemon grass hedge around the perimeter of the vegie patch, and a path just inside that, but the lemon grass keeps dying, presumably because it's been strangled by the kikuyu.

Secondly, the only thing that kills the stuff is glyphosate, but that doesn't work in a well-watered area -- so I can either spray the kikuyu or I can keep my vegies watered, but not both. The spray drift is another issue, of course.

In one spot, I laid a piece of old corrugated iron on the ground to kill what was underneath. It does seem to have worked, but that's only two square meters or so, and I've killed everything else underneath as well. Nonetheless, I will plant the edge of this area up with lemon grass and see if it survives.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Meme: Big Eight for Gardeners

Dollfinn has tagged me for a meme, but I felt it wasn't quite the thing for a gardening blog. So here is a smaller gardening version!

Favourite Eight Plants in my Garden

Acacia fimbriata
, the Fringe Wattle. Just the right size for a garden wattle. Small leaves of a green green, and a graceful drooping habit that has it dancing in the wind. The early spring flowers have a light, sweet scent and are a pale yellow.

Grevillea 'Moonlight'
. I love the dark green leaves and the creamy white flowers. 2m by 2m. I'm using it as a loose hedge to shade the front garden against late afternoon summer sun.

Rosa 'Grandmere Jenny', given to me by my friend Anne. A lovely fragrance, and a stronger pink-and-apricot combination than the Peace rose.

Dietes grandiflora
. So reliable in Sydney. Pretty violet 'cups' on white 'saucers'.

Shasta daisies
-- they've just opened today!

Eucalyptus 'Summer Beauty'
. Delightful shell-pink gum-blossoms, 5cm across, in summer.

Eucalyptus haemastoma
, the Scribbly Gum. Large blue-green leaves and creamy trunk; thriving in its preferred conditions. It will be the first proper tree in the back yard.

'Broad Ripple Yellow Currant' tomatoes. I had to put in a useful plant somewhere! The fruits are under a centimetre in diameter but look and taste fantastic.

Big Eight Elements I Want in My Garden

A pond
More permaculture influence
A cubby house
Water tanks
A secret garden
Loads more grasses
Fairy wrens

Just give me another ten years or so...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Little Self-Indulgence

Last Saturday, the fair garden which is the Australian electorate turned on its chief gardener. After eleven and a half years, he was energetically weeded out. A fair amount of force was applied to the seat of his pants, and he was last seen flying inelegantly over the white picket fence. The garden itself has become noticeably Greener.

The shattered assistant gardeners have taken their forks and trowels and left. There is a faint sound of argument coming from beyond the fence line. Some of us are peeping over the fence in the hope of seeing some fisticuffs on the footpath.

The new head gardener seems to have a gentler, more collaborative yet more practical style. The old fellow had become preoccupied with theory and with how much the place was worth, rather than in having a garden that was actually nice to live and work in.

Best of all, the dog-whistle has gone. The problem is that it attracted dogs, and we all know what they leave behind in a garden.

There is a sense of expectation, of possibility... it feels like Spring.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Meme: Garden Motifs from Childhood

Kris at Blithewold asked:
Do you see childhood views in your gardens/landscapes?

My back yard does have some resemblance to my Dad's back yard. Firstly, it's on the large side. Our block is about 822 sq m (about a fifth of an acre); my Dad's is a trifle larger. Now while the "quarter-acre block" is is a byword here, the fact is that most Sydney suburbanites have considerably smaller blocks than these (I think they're on 1/32nd of an acre now in the new estates). When we set about finding a house, I had "Land > 700 sq m" as an essential. The desire for a large back yard came straight from the freedom I felt at Dad's. I'm even on the same clay-belt.

There is a swing-set in my back yard, and I hope one day a cubby-house as nice as the one Dad built us will appear.

The commonalities go down to species. My bananas, fuchsia, bush cherry, flowering quince, pelargoniums and violets have all come from cuttings from Dad. I have a vegie patch. I have chooks and guinea pigs, the same animals I had when I was a child. I still love the plants that I grew up with -- when I was a kid, there were two jacarandas down the back of Dad's back yard, along with an ancient mulberry tree. I share my Dad's interest in vegies and unusual herbs. And I wish I had Dad's buffalo grass instead of kikuyu for my lawn!

But there are differences, too. My part of Sydney is flat, so I don't have the view that Dad has from his back verandah. Dad isn't interested in Australian plants. And I want a bit less lawn and a bit more mystery.

The sense of mystery probably comes from my great-aunt's place. There was a section of garden under small trees. There, you found curving turf paths between dainty garden beds -- it was like fairyland! Now that is an atmosphere I'd like to have in my garden. Auntie Goog died twenty years ago, but I remember her well, along with the feeling her garden gave me. It is strange how sure I am that that section was her garden. She lived with her daughter and her family, but when I remember their personalities I know that they built the patio and mowed the lawn. Auntie Goog was the gardener. I hope I am one, too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


November is jacaranda time in Sydney. Jacarandas are South American trees but do wonderfully in our climate. The plant drops its leaves in late winter and flowers on bare branches, the light-grey trunks providing a foil for the blue canopy. Afterwards, the leaves arrive in time to provide relief from summer heat. Jacarandas can grow to a massive size (10m high with a similar spread, if not more) and impressive age. There is also a white-flowering form which, although attractive, somehow lacks the It Factor of the original.

I've never understood the frequent suggestions to plant kurrajongs with jacarandas. Kurrajongs flower a staring red, and the combination of red and violet is migraine-inducing. It occurred to me that the golden flowers of silky oaks would look much better with violet. I was impressed to find that Peter Olde has a whole avenue of this combination on his Oakdale property, 'Silky Oaks'. I wish I could be out there to see it today!

The silky oak, unfortunately, is another giant. The largest grevillea species, it can reach three storeys in height -- taller than the jacaranda, but without so great a spread.

At my place, we have a very small jacaranda, a seedling collected by my friends Lucy and Peter. It's planted near the mailbox, where in time I hope it will become a welcoming shade tree. Unfortunately, this is a bit uncertain. The Geek hit it with the whipper-snipper a while ago and now it constantly tries to shoot from the base. Since I hacked off the side shoots, it has the proportion and grace of a Jersey cabbage, and we haven't seen a flower on it yet. Imagine a three-metre stick with a green pom-pom on the end, and that's what we have adorning the front garden. If the damage to the base is serious enough, it might suddenly keel over, so I've planted a bopple-nut (Macadamia tetraphylla) underneath as an instant replacement. In a few years I'll decide which tree gets to stay.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

My love is otherwise

The soft colours of this template remind me of Australian native plants, which I love. It's partly patriotism: our flora is completely different to that of other places. Joseph Banks was so excited by it that he persuaded Captain Cook to rename 'Stingray Bay' to 'Botany Bay' -- and that's where I grew up, not that there was much left of the native flora by then.

Our plants are very good at giving us a sense of place. Sydneysiders are home when they see the salmon-coloured trunks of Angophora costata, for example, and an Australian can be moved to tears by finding a gum-tree in a foreign land. To plant native plants is an expression of love for a beautiful country.

People can be a bit foolish about native plants, though. A Banksia coccinea is an Australian plant, but it comes from the sandy soils and dry climate of Western Australia. It will not cope with the humidity and clay in my Sydney garden, and why should it? It is 4000km from home! By natives, I mean the local flora, which has evolved to suit the local conditions. If you can find out what your natives are, you instantly have a group of plants that you know will cope in your garden with very little attention. In fact, the lack of cosseting required can sometimes be surprising. I planted out a large native garden bed two weeks before water restrictions commenced in spring 2003. Once restrictions commenced, I ceased all artificial watering to that bed because I had to focus my efforts on the vegie patch. In the next six months, I didn't lose a single native plant. It is painful to remember the deaths and poor yields in the vegie patch during the same period.

Most Australian native plants have evolved to deal with difficult conditions -- drought, flood and fire. The rambunctious games of The Twig and The Sprig do not disturb my native plants at all, nor do my chooks. My vegetable patch, on the other hand, is fenced off!

Don't forget that native plants also provide habitat and food sources for native fauna. If you are lucky you could tempt rare birds, insects or even frogs into your garden this way. But how do you find your native plants?

Councils and public libraries sometimes have lists of local flora (some councils even propagate their own plants, which they then pass on to local residents for a nominal fee). Heritage sites and major parks in your area might also have such lists, as will local environmental groups like Greening Australia, Landcare and so on. Your local branch of ASGAP will also be a valuable resource. Tracking down the information is all part of the fun!

Hakea salicifolia closeup

Friday, November 2, 2007

Two Canberra Photos

The Sprig with our state floral emblem, the waratah, at the Australian National Botanic Gardens. I am attempting to grow my third waratah at the moment, and it's about 20cm tall. Sigh.

The pointy plants in front of the Telstra Tower are called Grass-Trees. These were maybe two metres tall.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Weekend in Canberra

Last weekend we were in Canberra visiting friends and seeing the sights that small boys like: Questacon, Telstra Tower, the National Botanic Gardens, Cockington Green. The Geek has remained behind in Canberra with the camera, so you will have to wait for photos!

As we drove in to the Botanic Gardens, we discovered that the Australian Native Plant Society was having its Spring Sale. Being realistic about my growing conditions, I refrained from looking, but as we started looking around we met a member straight away. This lovely lady told the boys where to find water dragons in the gardens, and sure enough we did! We met her again in the cafe (which I heartily recommend) and talked plants. The locals told me what the beautiful gums were on the Federal Highway just inside the border -- the dominant Eucalyptus mannifera subsp. maculosa -- but we weren't entirely sure as the gums are somewhat stunted. I think it must be rather dry there as it is grassy woodland, which makes the beautiful trunks stand out. They are a slightly pinkish-grey with mahogany streaks -- stunning!

I had thought something seemed "different" about the Northbourne Avenue plantings, and indeed there is, said my fellow native plant enthusiasts. The avenue used to have green lawn grass with big gum trees in rows down the middle, but the original gums languished because this area was irrigated. They were replaced with a species that likes more water. Now Canberra is on water restrictions, so the new gums are languishing for lack of water. The lawns are brown too, of course. Canberra receives very little summer rain, so they will be brown for a long while yet.

Design highlights from the Gardens include the borders around the Visitor's Centre, and the Woodland/Grassland in the parking area. I wish I had their eye for composition! Another kind of highlight was spotting a brown snake basking on a drain-cover right next to the path. It was only a metre long but we were very cautious going past. They are both venomous and aggressive.

We enjoyed Cockington Green, but I have mixed feelings about the gardens there. The "scenery" plantings around the miniatures were lovely. They do not bonsai the plants but use naturally small types. I particularly admired an assembly of mixed thymes, and all the little conifers (note that I generally don't like conifers much). On the other hand, the paths are all lined with a single row of really loud annuals. Two gardeners at war?

It was quite disturbing not to see Lake George at all. In the 1980s it lapped the Federal Highway, but my Canberran friends tell me the lake has been receding for the past ten years. Is it drought or is it climate change?

A Cautionary Tale

I was admiring Liz and Paul's garden, with its cottagey feel. One sunny herb-bed had a few big gaps in it, which I had assumed were in preparation for tomatoes. Alas, no -- they had had house-sitters recently, who assumed that the luxuriant growth was weeds...

Canberra is Not a Country Town

We know this because you can't get a good cup of tea. We stayed at Rydges Lakeside, where an order of tea at breakfast brings you two Harris teabags tucked underneath a jug of hot (not boiling) water. At Cockington Green you pay $2.20 just to hold a mug -- it's self-serve Dilmah, and I wonder when some kid will overturn that hot water urn on himself? I pay $2.20 for a good cafe latte at work. Oh, Rydges has some kid charging extra for amateur cafe lattes at breakfast. The best coffee was at Zeffirelli's, a family pizza restaurant, like Pizza Hut circa 1982. A really rich, malty coffee, better than I've had for a while in Sydney. I think I had better put the kettle on.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why I No Longer Make Compost

The compost fairy did not touch me with her chocolate-brown wand when I was born. I have trouble getting compost heaps hot enough, big enough, wet enough. Not being a particularly hefty person, I also have trouble finding the time, inclination and muscle to turn the heaps. So I have more or less given up on making compost.

Instead, I rely on animal-mediated sheet-mulching. Kitchen scraps go either to the guinea pigs or chickens, depending on the material. Used guinea-pig bedding (mainly dry grass clippings) goes onto any garden bed that appears to need mulch.

The real composting area is under the chook dome in my vegie patch. There the scraps and any other handy organic matter is mixed with chook poo, rainwater, and turned over energetically. Suddenly, compost appears, without my having done anything much. And I don't have to shovel it into position either!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day, 15 October

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Is there somewhere you could plant a tree? Your nature strip, your front yard, your back yard? It's a proven way to sequester carbon; a much better option than digging big holes in the ground and pumping CO2 in. Yes, John Howard, I'm looking at you!

Do you have somewhere to plant some vegetables? It might be a single pot of parsley on your window-sill. It might be a few troughs on a verandah. Or perhaps you have some unused garden bed that is crying out for strawberries or bush beans. Or you could turn your whole back yard into a permaculture food forest, if you like.

Could you do with an indoor plant to purify your air? Even one plant will sequester an astonishing quantity of the nasty chemicals that outgas from our new lounge suites and carpets.

Perhaps you feel you can only manage a small thing. That is fine. Just do that one small thing. Do it today. Do it, and change the world one small step at a time.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday is Planting Day

I must first tell you that the 'Rattlesnake' runner beans didn't grow. That bed was turned in and planted with three' Tommy Toe' tomato seedlings, and seeds of Cucumber 'Sweet & Striped', mixed decorative gourds, and some 'Early Summer Crookneck' squash. I hope they'll all be happy to climb the trellis.

In the wheaty bed next to it, I've put:
  • 4 tomato seedlings
  • 2 eggplant seedlings
  • 2 chilli seedlings
  • my single capsicum seedling (in my defence, the packet was out of date!)
  • 'Stringless Dwarf' and 'Italian Romano' beans; the former should bear before the latter
  • sprinklings of rocket, dill and chervil seeds
Across from there is my first planting of 'Golden Bantam' corn and cucumbers ('Spacemaster' and 'Mini White), with bok choy and perilla seedlings tucked in at the eastern end. After I stop the water, I'll throw snail-bait around. I had hoped to become completely organic but it's either snail bait for seedlings, or no vegies.

Ready for harvest:
  • Crimson-flowered broad beans. Not getting these again; they don't germinate well and the pods are half the size of normal ones.
  • Snow peas. At least, I think they're snow peas!
  • Silver beet
  • Beetroot

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Grasses Cause Trouble

Three weeks ago, The Geek noticed the lawn was looking a bit ragged, and brought the Victa out. It wouldn't start, despite tinkering. He changed the spark plug the following week, and it still wouldn't start. Last weekend, he took it to be repaired.

Turns out that it's Bad to tip a mower on its side to clean off the blade. It should be tipped backwards onto the handle. Why has The Geek been tipping it sideways? Well, it's more stable that way, and we have two boys who like helping Daddy clean the machine. And this sensible behaviour has just cost us $95 as it sends oil into the wrong bits of the engine.

The Geek finally got to mow the lawn this morning. It was a beaut day for gardening, too -- sunny, but a cool breeze. The clippings are spread under our carport. When they dry, we use them as bedding for our piggies, and afterwards as mulch in the vegie patch. We have plenty of clover, so these clippings are particularly nitrogenous: I might be able to use them for other purposes than piggie bedding.

One of the unforeseen side effects of using a chook dome has been the growth of lots and lots of wheat in the vegie patch. Today I turned in some young wheat as green manure. I've never
done the green manure thing, and frankly it's not as easy on the back as other methods of soil improvement, but I can see that all that Good Stuff will make a real difference to my heavy soil. I don't really have a choice, anyway. I planted out the whole bed straight after the chooks vacated it, and only a single rainbow chard seedling survived -- the rest were swamped by wheat!

The soil does look much better than it used to, even without this additional material. It is dark damp and full of worms. It's still heavy--I was turning over big clods, but they do crack apart without too many blows of the fork. I expect to plant the bed up tomorrow.

Friday, October 12, 2007

First Picture Posted

Here is The Sprig on the Children's Lawn at Merry Garth garden, Mount Wilson, with his Teddy. The photo was taken by the Geek.

We were up at Merry Garth in early September for their early spring flowers--crab-apple and fritillaries and daffodils--too early for the wisterias. The camellias were in abundance. After travelling through the subtle colours of the bush, it was rather a shock to face a four-metre camellia completely covered by its Barbie-pink flowers, each the size of a dinner-plate! I think I've lost the taste for flamboyant display since I've become interested in native plants.

Merry Garth is lovely. It has a very 'English' feel, with its lawns and rockery, but there's a little patch of temperate rainforest too, now a mixture of natives and exotics, particularly rhododendrons and pieris species. It's also a collector's garden, being filled with rarities, some of which the owners propagate and sell. Children (and adults) will enjoy the little paths everywhere. Just give yourselves a couple of hours to enjoy wandering around.

Next time we visit Mount Wilson, we will stay in the area a few days, and view a number of gardens. Travelling 200km there and back in a day is a bit tiring, especially for little boys!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Garden To-Dos for October

My list has been adapted from the list at Global Gardening this month.
  • Prune back shrubs that have finished flowering.
  • Keep going at the bindii, though it's almost too late now at my place. I'll try boiling water for the next little while.
  • Sow (and plant) more vegies. Sow small numbers of seeds frequently, say every fortnight, for an extended and glut-free harvest.
  • Mulch and mulch and mulch!
  • Make sure you are watering deeply rather than frequently, to encourage deep-rooted plants (assuming that restrictions aren't forcing this upon you).
P.S. Two words for you all: home-grown asparagus!
P.P.S. The Painted Lady sweet peas are still going strong.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What is it about Edna?

I can't remember now where I first heard of Edna Walling, but I own most of her books now. The ABC has a comprehensive Walling site, including her beautiful garden plans.

What made her gardens exceptional? The ABC site doesn't really go into this. To me, the magic of Walling lies in her ability to conceal. Firstly, she hides the ugly. She definitely believed in hiding the workaday parts of the back yard from the rest (who wants to look at work when they are relaxing?). Contrast the detail in the "garden" parts of the Ledger plan, and the lack of detail in the "working" areas. Note also that the fences are almost invariably hidden behind shrubs.

Secondly, she hides parts of the garden from each other. See, for example, the bottom right corner of the house on the Oldham plan. The steps that curve around the house are invisible from the lawn until you are almost at the fountain. The fountain is large and formal, designed to be the centre of attention. The little steps surprise with their modesty and informality as well as their location.

The more Walling drawings you look at, the more you see similar surprises. What surprises are there in your garden? Or does it keep all its goods in the shop window?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Watch Sean do the Bindie Ballet*

Bindies are evil little plants. Their ferny new growth is hard to spot at first, and looks so unassuming -- but by late spring, a little rosette has formed at the base of each plant. It is the seed-bearing part of the plant; the problem is that each seed -- and there are lots of them -- is equipped with a very fine spine, pointing straight up. A direct hit with a bare foot garners you a collection of bindies, which fall off as you stumble about in agony.

Two years ago we had no bindies in the back yard. Last summer, I thought we must have a few plants. This spring, I have pulled out probably a hundred plants. We've always had a bindii problem in the front yard. This year, I've started to tackle those plants too. I have sat there pulling out bindies until I could see them when my eyes were closed They are easy to pull from damp soil, at least.

I'm now trying to make the area less hospitable for them. I have added Dynamic Lifter to encourage the grass. Unfortunately I can't do much about the compaction; it's the part of the lawn between the door and the gateway and is trodden on every day. The rosettes are starting to grow spines now, so I'm off for another go...

Vegie patch update:
  • The climbing beans have germinated poorly (or been eaten by snails)
  • Planted out the Broad Ripple Yellow Currant tomato seedlings. The Tommy Toes took considerably longer to sprout and won't be planted for another week or two
* From an old TV ad for a bindie-killer

Friday, September 28, 2007

Summer Starts Now

The difficult part of being a Sydney gardener is dealing with sudden changes in temperature. We'll have spring weather with maximum temperatures in the low to mid-20s, then one day the maximum will suddenly leap to 30, at which point I consider summer to have begun.

That day was today. Yesterday it was about 25˚C, but it reached 29.2˚C here today and the relative humidity is presently 14% (it's 4pm). Some plants just won't cope with the shock, particularly newly-planted seedlings. I gave my latest plantings a couple of litres each this morning, and will be repeating the process shortly. They won't receive a proper watering until Sunday, owing to our water restrictions. Tomorrow the forecast is for 22˚C, then back up to 25-plus for the rest of the week. No rain is expected.

Like other Sydney gardeners I've talked to, I believe that vegetable patches should be allowed a little more water. Vegetable gardens are not so widespread that there would be a sudden enormous rise in water use, but they do need frequent watering to produce well. Three mornings a week would be better than twice on Wednesday and twice on Sunday. But I can cope -- there are many parts of Australia with much tighter restrictions than Sydney's!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Technorati gives quite a few hits for "gardening" and "garden design", but very few blogs are actually about these topics. Instead you get:
  • Garden landscape businesses. Long on promotion, short on actual ideas.
  • Magazine journalists. Think "garden design" is code for "how to add feature X".
  • Family blogs. Photos of canning projects.
  • Eco-warrior blogs. Garden as manifesto.
This blog will be more about the nuts and bolts of one particular garden, with musings on broader aspects of gardening and garden design. There will be infrequent descents into featurism and canning projects.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


My lawn has little, pink, six-pointed stars flowering in it. I'd forgotten about Puddings until we moved here. When I was in primary school, we used to dig up and eat Puddings while waiting for a turn at softball. They didn't taste of much, but were juicy for their size.

Why Puddings? The bulb is precisely that shape, but half a centimetre wide. The few thin strappy leaves are only a millimetre wide and perhaps 10cm long. The flower is about a centimetre across, and lasts only a day.

Of course, it's a weed. If my definition of lawn were less loose, I'd have to eradicate it. Puddings are Guildford Grass, Romulea spp.

If there is anything that I want to eradicate from my back yard, it's the kikuyu!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

My garden -- the basics

We bought our house in 1999. It was built in 1946 as public housing, possibly for soldier resettlement. In those days there was a brewery and an abbatoirs/meatworks close by (must have been unpleasantly smelly back then!); we still have the brewery. The block of land itself is (in the original measures) 59' x 150', or about 18m x 46m. Plenty of room for the necessities of traditional Sydney suburbia : children, the Hill's hoist, shed, the fruit trees and the vegetable patch!

The back yard runs almost magnetic north, and the house runs across the block, leaving plenty of space to the rear. We are planning to extend a bit. The block slopes gently to the northern corner.

We are not far from the former brickworks that is now Sydney Olympic Park: during the 2000 Games, we could see the Olympic flame from the kitchen window. Naturally, we have clay subsoil. Not that "sub" seems the right prefix: we have grass on top and clay immediately beneath. I planted a wattle early on, and it drowned on the first wet day.

We are far enough west that onshore breezes and rain do not generally reach us, so the climate is drier and hotter than that of the city proper. Rain falls more in summer, which can be quite humid -- worse than the coast, in fact, because of the lack of breeze. The prevailing wind is the legendary Southerly Buster (there's one blowing at the moment, gusting up to 48 km/h), but we also get pleasant nor'easterly breezes, particularly in spring. Here are the summary figures from the Bureau of Meteorology's closest weather station.

According to the excellent book Taken for Granted*, my part of Sydney was described in the 1879 Railway Guide of New South Wales as
an uninteresting piece of bush country, in which the (so-called) Tea-Tree Scrub is the principal feature
and even better, "monotonous wilderness"! One of my goals is to grow those despised local native plants.

*Benson, D and Howell, J (1990). Taken for Granted: The Bushland of Sydney and its Suburbs. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Busting out all over

There is a warm day in September when a Sydney gardener will realise, almost intuitively, that it's time to plant tomato and other summer vegetable seeds. For me, it was last Wednesday. I am sure it was something to do with the scent of flowers in the air, a mild form of the Darkovan Ghost Wind. Jasmine at work again, or perhaps my Painted Lady sweet peas, which have self-sown in the vegie patch a second year running.

I buy most of my seeds from The Diggers Club. They omit the apostrophe. I know where it ought to be!

The tomato seeds are a mixture: Brown Berry, Wapsipinicon Peach, Brandywine Pink, Jaune Flammee, and Purple Russian. They are in my mini-greenhouse, as our nights are still a bit chilly (10 C) for germination.

In addition, there are some mini cabbages, capsicums, rainbow chard, bok choy and lettuce, and some Bull's Blood beetroot, which is grown for its attractive salad leaves. I even strewed some dill and chervil seed under my quince tree. Chervil is lovely -- a pretty little plant with a flavour of mild anise, though that description fails to do it justice. Lovely on scrambled egg!

There is also always a warm day in August when a Sydney gardener will optimistically plant summer vegetable seeds in hope of an early crop. I planted capsicums, chillies, purple perilla, and two types of cherry tomato: Broad Ripple Yellow Currant, which has grown well here before, and Tommy Toe.

Lastly, I am experimenting. I've never had much luck with climbing beans (apart from snake beans), but decided that our hot humid summers were doing them in. This year, I've planted them early -- Painted Lady perennial beans (same name as the sweet peas, but scarlet-and-white flowers), and Rattlesnake, which are annual. Next summer. I'll try a late February sowing. If nothing works, I'll stick to bush beans therafter.

The jasmine sprig is sharing a bowl with some Painted Ladies whose scent has faded; just as well, as the fragrances might clash. The colours, however, are beautiful together: the hint of pink on the jasmine is only a shade lighter than the pink of the sweet peas. There is a sprig of blue Kangaroo Grass in the vase too, a greyed blue-green.

The Geek is suggesting that I accept a digital camera for Christmas. I wouldn't say no, but am a bit hesitant to inflict my poor photography skills on the world. I tend to be a verbal rather than visual thinker, and it shows. The Geek, on the other hand, is an excellent photographer.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

About Us

The Geek has the noted practical skills of his tribe. "Beware of programmers wielding screwdrivers!" he tells me. He didn't grow up with a vegetable patch, as I did. Apart from these flaws, and the fact that he is not a millionaire, he's pretty good value. His outdoor jobs include the mowing, and hunting out snails to offer to the chooks.

The Twig is in Year One at our wonderful local public school. His ambition is to be a professional lawn bowls player and train driver, or perhaps an archaeologist. His school recently brought in some speech therapists to work with the children. We want a silence therapist.

The Sprig is very like The Twig at the same age: unusually verbal, and very sweet-natured, but more single-minded than his brother. I do like two-year-olds! Except for the way they keep picking unripe strawberries. The plants are flowering in troughs on the back porch, but I expect another season of low yields. Perhaps I will be able to redirect him to the cherry tomatoes.

Our two guinea pigs, sisters Lilac and Millie, live in a Cubes-and-Corflute Piggie Palace in the kitchen. Very handy when I'm peeling the carrots, and the right height for the children to see them without being able to accidentally hurt them. They spend sunny days in a movable outdoor run.

The two Isabrown chooks came from Rentachook. They're in a run under the lemon tree at the moment, and they get any household scraps that guinea pigs refuse, as well as other things. Only Penny lays eggs. Rusty is our $100 chook: the cost of two trips to the vet, plus antibiotics, after an egg broke inside her and became infected. She probably will never lay again, but as she still cultivates, kills pests, and manures the ground, that's all right. I'd like to get a heritage breed bird that lays white eggs so that we can make pysanky at Easter -- and to provide us with eggs to give away.

I work part-time as a TAFE librarian. I'm also active in my church (we're Sydney Anglicans), the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and a (very inactive) member of the Australian Plants Society.

Everyone has a book in them

-- or at any rate, a blog. Even I do, though I only realised it this afternoon.

I passed an abandoned terrace house today, on my way home from work. After the manner of terraces, the back yard was about three metres wide, with a tall stringybark on the far side. A Hill's weeping fig had pushed down the side fence, and there was deep leaf-litter on the ground, a rainforest in miniature. Common jasmine ramped over everything, and as it is jasmine season in Sydney, you could smell it a block away. The front fence, too, had a wave of jasmine breaking over it. The terrace was white, a respectable terrace house, not tricked out in heritage colours. The dunny door was Brunswick green, but the shrubs stretching in front of it told any passer-by that the house must be derelict, as indeed did the deep jasmine across the front gate. The house is not too dilapidated yet, so it is a restful picture of green and white, not a depressing one. Why are tended gardens so much less interesting?

Thus I discovered that I wanted to write about gardening, and here I am, with a sprig of jasmine on a rainy afternoon.