Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Leftovers

OK, so here is a Christmas post for gardeners.

Only a very few flowers are left on my NSW Christmas Bush, so I had no Christmas Bush for His Adorning this year. The shrub is still fairly small and they tend to flower a bit erratically until they are older.

In Australia, you'll find a raft of Christmas plants. Maybe I'll try growing Christmas Bells some time.

But we don't stop there; in Sydney, we have Christmas Beetles! This one turned up the week before Christmas. It is about 3cm long, though they do grow bigger. Here it is on the Geek's hand.

We also spotted (geddit?) this 1.5-cm beetle on the Babingtonia virgata, which was a Baeckea virgata when I bought it -- or was it a Baeckia virgata? Even the Australian National Botanical Gardens can't keep it straight; no wonder they renamed the species! I had better mention that this is one of my favourite plants and that the beetle was collecting nectar from the little honey-scented flowers.

Of course our Christmas lunch isn't quite so light, and we tend to feel like this...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas to All!

May your understanding of Jesus Christ be deepened this Christmas...

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.

Frank Houghton (1894-1972)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Might I have a bit of earth?" -- Kids in the Garden

This month's Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop is about helping kids enjoy the garden. So here is a gardener's dozen of dos and don'ts.
  1. Children are less interested in lawn than you think. While a big lawn can be handy for ball games, it often becomes too hot to use in summer, and life is not all ball games; allow for more imaginative play. A large lawn is intimidating for littlies, and they will avoid it.
  2. Don't guard your garden. Avoid planting expensive rare plants in the first place. The kids are bound to run over them. Find forgiving plants instead. Besides, with kids, you don't have time to cosset choice specimens any more.
  3. Avoid spiky plants in the wrong places. We have a kaffir lime growing in a great spot... for a kaffir lime. Unfortunately, it's on the edge of our lawn. While nobody has fallen into the plant yet, it has punctured any number of soccer balls.
  4. Children want places to hide in -- not necessarily for hide-and-seek, but for the secret moon base, the robbers' den, or whatever it is today. Have a deep shrubbery or other secluded place for the secret life of children.
  5. Fit in a place to dig -- not to garden in, but to dig for archaeological relics, find China, or to form a quarry for the trucks to play in.
  6. Have a firm area to play handball or ride the trike.
  7. Grow a tree to climb.
  8. Make sure there is shade available during summer time.
  9. Provide a small garden bed for each child for their very own, and encourage plantings of hardy, fast growers (sunflowers, radishes, beans, peas).
  10. Start children off planting with large seeds rather than small seeds or seedlings; they are easier to handle. In my area, that would include French beans, sunflowers, nasturtiums, sweet corn, most cucurbits and most bulb plants. Provide older children with seedlings in plugs rather than punnets.
  11. Point out the local animal life to your children, and explain what they are doing. My children love to have St. Andrew's Cross spiders or cicadas or praying mantises pointed out to them. Keep an eye out for larger wildlife too, such as birds, blue-tongue lizards, frogs or possums. Consider ways to provide habitat for them: nesting boxes, a pond, hollow logs, bird feeders and bird-baths.
  12. Assume children will pick the strawberries, fresh peas and cherry tomatoes. Encourage them by showing them the right way to pick crops (using the "elbow" on tomatoes, for example).
  13. Leave children to their own devices in the back yard as much as possible.

Perhaps I should mention that my Mum gave me a garden sign for my birthday last week: "Beware feral children."

Monday, December 8, 2008

On Contrast

I have just been reading Joy Larkcom's wonderful book, Creative Vegetable Gardening*. In fact, I've read it once, browsed it once, and plan to read it again before I return it to my library. I won't review it here, but I will tell you that it is the kind of gardening book that makes you want to garden. And what greater recommendation could there be?

As you can guess from the title, the book is about creating potagers. I have never been particularly enamoured of potagers, feeling that they were pretentious, and a waste of garden space with all that box hedging, but Joy Larkcom covers not only the formal potager but the semiformal and informal types. The photographs are beautiful, and really do illustrate the text -- which shouldn't surprise me, but it does. I have grown used to photos that are tangential to the text.

Joy Larkcom says that there are two planting strategies for potagers. The first is the patterned type, involving geometric plantings like lines or blocks of identical plants. It is possible to contrast colours as well, such as red and green lettuces of the same variety. Of course that is the approach usually taken with the formal kind of potager, such as at Chateau Villandry.

The second approach is more a "landscape" approach: to plant specific focal points and have a tapestry effect around them, made up of various colours and textures. As my garden has a permaculture basis and is semiformal rather than formal, this approach suits me better. We need reminders from time to time that we can add arches, arbours, bird-baths and pots to our gardens, and that while star pickets and netting support climbing peas, there are other, more attractive ways to do it.

Somehow, I've been finding my vegetable patch lacks soul this year. The plants are going well this season, because of the rain we've had, yet I've been dissatisfied. Both the health and the chaos of my vegetable garden are visible in the photo above. I'm happy the soil is covered, happy about the growth of the plants, but it's a bit dull to look at, and this book explains how I can improve things.

One great help is the enlightening list of different textures.
Joy Larkcom lists the following:
Crepey, eg Savoy cabbage
Crinkly, eg curly parsley
Feathery, eg asparagus
Glossy, eg silverbeet
Mealy, eg borage

I am inclined to add Smooth, to cover plants like the onion family, or peas. The leaves aren't glossy, but they don't really fit any other categories. In the spirit of illustrative photos, here are some delicate white celery flowers contrasting with rugged blue Tuscan kale. I don't find this a jarring contrast at all.

What makes some contrasts annoying and others alluring, anyway? The celery differs in colour and texture, though not so much in habit or height. Somehow this contrast brings out the delicacy of the flower. So why don't the contrasting textures work in the top photo? I'm still figuring it out.

The other contrast, implied in the text, is of habit. Beetroot, parsnip and non-hearting lettuces all have the same general shape. Hearting lettuces and cabbages have that rounded look, while the sweet corn, sunflowers and onions are all strongly vertical. I am sure I can do more with habit, texture and colour than I have been.

The only omission from the text is in how to deal with plants that need staking, like tomatoes and the larger eggplants -- unless you buy those expensive twirly metal stakes. However, I think I have found a solution to unattractive stakes at Chloe's Garden!

* Larkcom, Joy (2004). Creative Vegetable Gardening (rev.ed.). Mitchell Beazley, London.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Jeepers Creepers...

We have some peepers!

We tend to call them the eep-eeps, and we've had them about two weeks. Annie is a White Leghorn and Clarabel is an Australorp. We also also bought Henrietta, a Rhode Island Red, but we found her dead in the coop one morning last week, after a few cold days. There are now two pyramids under the lemon tree.

The supplier is a chook breeder at Luddenham, so it's not as long a trip as I was imagining. I have right of return if the pullets turn out to be cockerels.

Penny has been rather confused about the little ones, as they are too young to be allowed to free-range without supervision. Sometimes she calls to them, and sometimes tries to peck them. I am not too worried about this: she has been debeaked, but these little ones haven't, so they'll soon be able to stand up for themselves.

Speaking of Penny: she still has gurgly lungs, which you can hear if you put an ear to her side. I gave her chlortetracycline in her water for about ten days, and she does seem better. Her tail has approached upright, and she is eating a lot (she really likes the chick starter food!) and is more energetic. On the negative side, her vent is still dirty and, of course, she still gurgles. Here's hoping.