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.