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?