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.