Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

Speak Of The Devil!

First spears of the season! I’m in love!

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Tomato Cuttings

I can’t believe that I haven’t told you all about this one before! After all, I’ve been teaching anyone who would listen for the past few years. Did you know that you can get mature tomato plants mid-season simply by taking cuttings from established plants? Absolutely! It’s very easy and I will show you right now.

I have explained what laterals are in previous tomato posts but I will go over it again for you so that we’re all clear: Laterals are the shoots you get between the stem and the branch (see below). You know those “side shoots” that get long and dangly and make your plants a big leaning mess? Well, if they are large enough we can use them to grow new tomato plants.

Tomato - Lateral

This is the ideal time to take cuttings from laterals because by now your plants should be fairly well established and will no doubt be producing laterals thick and fast. Usually I would suggest that you pinch off the laterals when they are young and tender in order to keep your plants tidy and that’s not just me being fussy! By removing the laterals before they get too big you are helping your tomatoes to save the energy they would otherwise be wasting on lateral branches. This will encourage better fruit production. Having said all of that, if you allow a couple of laterals to grow you can use them for cuttings.

I have used laterals that are 15cm long or greater. This is the point at which these cuttings will be able to thrive on their own. I cut them off as close as possible to the stem. Now if you have laterals that you have removed during pruning which are very large, that’s quite alright. They can virtually be whole plants. However, there are two important things to consider:

1. As with all cuttings you need to remove 1/3 – 1/2 of the foliage. This is to prevent moisture loss. Don’t be afraid to cut! They will grow very quickly and before you know it you’ll have forgotten how much you had to remove. If you leave them as they are they will certainly wilt and you’ll be lucky if they survive! FYI – I remove the lower branches that would either go below the soil or sit too close to the surface. This is generally about 1/3 – 1/2 way up the stem.

Remove the lower branches.

I cut the rest of the larger branches in half and any remaining leaves that are on the large side (basically, anything you think might wilt) I cut in half too! It’s fine to do that.

Cut the branches by 1/3 - 1/2. Just the branches, not the stem.

Cut the leaves in half to reduce moisture loss

2. You need to make sure that your cutting is relevant to the size of the pot or hole that it will go into. If it’s too long cut the stem to shorten it so that it is happy holding itself up.

There are three ways you can use these cuttings:

  1. Plant them directly into a prepared area of soil
  2. Plant them directly into a pot
  3. Place the cuttings into a jar or a bucket with water and leave them there for 10-14 days. By that time they should have grown plenty of roots.

The latter is my preferred method. I have found that with the first two I have had about 50% success. It is inevitable that you will lose some this way. However, with the cuttings in the jar method, I have had about 95% success.

Place the cutting in a jar for 10-14 days

So, if you want to try a bunch of different types of tomatoes ask around and if your family or friends have different varieties see if you can take some cuttings from their plants. That way by the time your original plants start to get to the end of their time your new ones will be bearing fruit.

Rainy Day Activity #2

We are now half way through spring and the weather is warming with every passing week. So, now is as good a time as any to fertilise and get that mulch topped up.

I know that nobody really wants to be out in the rain but, believe me this is actually the best time to be out there spreading mulch and fertilising your garden.

Fertilisers – pellets, drenches or powders – all need to be well watered in so what better time to spread them out than when it’s about to rain or raining. The same goes with mulch, particularly straw based mulches. They can be very dusty and are always best to be watered in. Even better, I like to break my straw bales into biscuits and soak them in a big tub before putting it on the garden. It will do a much better job of keeping the soil moist and it will start breaking down very quickly.

Soak the straw in a tub first.

I generally use pelletised chook manure or ‘pearls from my girls’ when I fertilise our garden. Everywhere except where the chooks forage. For those areas I use my blood and bone mix. If you have pets and are concerned about using pelletised manure the try this as recipe for a safe alternative. I like to make up a bucket full of mix so that as and when I need it I can plunge my hand in and know that it is ready to go. Now that’s good home economics 😉

Blood and Bone Fertiliser Mix: 9 cups of blood and bone to 1 cup of sulphate of potash. Add to a bucket and mix well. Now, this is just a ratio – 9:1 so, just keep going until your bucket is full. You can spread this anywhere in the garden that needs a feed, lawns too! Spread at a really good handful per square metre. I do this in my orchard so that my chooks don’t eat the pellets.

My personal preference is to fertilise first and then lay mulch on top. I do this for two reasons: First – I don’t like the idea of other animals consuming fertiliser pellets or granules (organic or not!), Second – fertilisers like chook manure and blood and bone are compost activators and I treat mulch in our garden just the same as I treat our compost. These fertilisers kick start the composting process and this is great news for our soil. This is why I am never stingy with the mulch. I lay it as thick as I can and I top up as soon as the mulch starts to look a bit thin.

Don’t forget your pots too! They can use about a tablespoon of fertiliser per 30cm in diameter and in most cases there is a suitable mulch for plants that are in pots. Mulching pots will slow down evaporation and help plants survive the hot summer. Just remember this: The more arid the plant the more coarse the mulch should be. For instance, with fruit trees and vegetables use straw, with succulents use gravel or pebbles.

Quick Tip: If you know of anyone who is doing weight training and is buying buckets of that awful powdered supplement bollocks, ask them for their spent buckets. Or try your local café’s. They often have spare buckets with lids. The important thing is to find one with a lid so that you don’t get unwanted critters in your bucket and your contents stay fresh.

You know, the best thing about gardening in the rain is the beautiful hot shower or bath you have when you come inside. Go on, get your rain coats on and get out there!

Last Night I Gave a Bee a Bath!

True story:

Last night while we were packing up our garden things I spotted a Bee on the leaf of a kale that I had just removed to make way for my tomatoes. Now, it was quite late as we were gardening under the spotlights. So, I thought, “Perhaps I should take this little one in for the night. Figuring that it probably needed some sustenance to get it back in action for the next day what did I give it…? You guessed it…Honey! =) Lucky for Bea I always have the good (local) stuff on hand.

So I stuck a fork into my honey pot and transferred three little drops of honey onto the base of the jar that was going to house Bea for the night. This worked out well at first. Paul and I were watching Bea’s little tongue sucking up the much-needed nourishment.

That's Bea recharging her batteries with a bit of local honey.

However, after climbing the walls of the jar for a while little Bea fell wing down right in the drops of honey!

Oh Beehave!

I gently helped the poor dear back onto her feet but alas; her little wings were all stuck together. [note to self: next time, put the honey up on the side of the jar!] I wondered for a while if she would be able to clean herself. I walked away to leave her to it. However, when I came back I found her wing down again stuck to the bottom of the jar. So, out came a new, clean jar and I transferred her across.

I went into the bathroom, grabbed a cotton bud and little pichbowl with warm water. When the cotton bud was soaking wet I placed it gently over her wings and moved ever so slightly back and forth. The cotton bud actually didn’t even touch her as the water droplets were acting like a force field. When I was satisfied that the sticky honey had dissolved I got out a piece of super absorbent paper towel and just touched the water droplets which immediately sucked all of the water off of Bea and into the paper.

I left her in a warm spot for the night. This morning guess who was alive and rearing to get back out there? Buzzy Bea!

I just took my little friend out to the spot where I found her. I said “Madame Bea, I hope you have enjoyed you stay with us. Bee safe and enjoy your day!”. (Ha-ha!)

Off she went, straight to work.

Hard at work on my boysenberries.

Bye-bye Bea.

Please check out Plan Bee Campaign

Mid-Spring Plantings

You know, I don’t usually get blisters while gardening. /of course, that’s not to say that I don’t work hard because I most certainly do! 😉 However, today I came in with two blisters. Paul and I have been slowly filling the two new vegie beds with compost, straw and excess soil that we’ve built up around the rest of the garden. These are the two beds that are now located where the hot house used to be. It’s a bit deceiving for me to say that they are new beds because in fact these garden beds have been all over the place. The whole veggie garden started out life around the back where our orchard now lives. See:

Jo and Nao in the garden. An oldie but a goodie.

That’s me on the phone to my girlfriend Naomi who was in London at the time and rather coincidentally, is again today! /now that’s what you call being in two places at once!

At the time it seemed like the right place to put the veggie patch because we spent a lot of time on that side of the house although, now we’ve moved it, I can’t imagine having it anywhere else. That’s the interesting thing about a garden. It can dramatically change the way in which you interact with your house.

Getting back to the two “new” beds; The first one is our corn bed. We had a couple of bins full of mushroom compost, which were left over from the last trailer load we bought in. I added those to the bed along with a big bag of well-composted sheep manure and a bucket full of Uncle Barry’s finest charcoal. That all got turned into the soil before I sowed the corn seed.

The next bed was a real mixed bag. I planted these seeds in rows across the bed, in this order:

Coriander

Carrots: Royal Chantenay and Amarillo (yellow)

Lettuce: Red Velvet, Amish Dear Tongue and Yellow Curl

Celtuce

Kailaan

Tatsoi

Parsnip

Pak choi

Radish ‘watermelon’

Red and Green spring onions

And climbing peas ‘everbearing’.

BY THE WAY: Please pay no attention to the ads that have started popping up below. They are RUBBISH! I absolutely do not endorse anyone or anything unless it is in my writing. I’ll be doing something about these ads very soon. Cheerio!

Bendigo Wildflowers

A few weeks ago I was up in Bendigo and the surrounding goldfields with my friends at APS – Keilor Plains checking out the amazing display of wildflowers. It was a wonderful adventure. We saw the most beautiful plants and some spectacular animals too. The number of echidnas that were out there really fascinated me. Although we didn’t spot any there were signs of them everywhere.

We were fortunate enough to see an Eastern Bearded Dragon, and a Lace Monitor (Goanna), pictured below.

Photo by Anne Lagmaid, Greater Bendigo National Park, Victoria. Sept 2011

We started out at Black Hill Reserve, about 3km north of Kyneton. From there went further north to Turpins Falls near Redesdale – such a nice surprise!

Turpins Falls, Victoria

Winding our way along towards Eppalock we stopped in at the Kimbolton State Forest where we found many beautiful plants, in particular Gravilleas and Orchids like this beautiful Sun Orchid below.

We stayed at Camp Getaway in Axdale, 15 min from Bendigo. The facilities were great with very clean and comfortable dormitory accommodation. The couple that look after the place, The Mitchells, were incredibly warm and friendly and good cooks to boot! They spent an afternoon with us discovering the spectacular plants that they never knew existed right on their doorstep.

Westringia Longifolia - white form.

Westringia Longifolia - white form.

Peach Heath - Pink form. White flowered heath also found nearby.

We spent most of the following day in and around the Greater Bendigo National Park uncovering absolute beauties like this fabulous Boronia ameminifolia. This was the most beautiful thing that I saw on the whole trip. Thanks to Bev for spotting it. I think it should be named ‘Bev’s Beauty’ =)

What I found most interesting about the wildflower display was that the most impressive stuff was hiding beneath the acacia flowers. At first glance all you notice is a sea of yellow and occasionally drifts of white flowers above as you see in the picture below. I’m sure the locals are zipping past at 80-100km/h thinking “Gee the wattle is bright!”, completely oblivious to the treasure below. However, when you get out of your car and look up close there is a world of colour that lies beneath.

This carpet of acacia certainly was breathtaking.

Photo by Chris Clark, Axedale, Victoria. Sept 2011

If anyone out there can identify this caterpillar, please let me know and I will add it to natureshare.org.au

These “choral” Corellas woke us up in the morning and I must say that it was a really pleasant sound. I could happily wake to their chitter-chatter every morning.

Photo by Thomas and Ros Nataprawira, Axedale, Victoria. Sept 2011

You know, when we’re walking through the bush, no matter how remote, we always find broken glass. When we do we pick it up. I really feel that it’s important to mention this because clearly people forget that there are wild animals running through the bush completely unaware of the danger. If they seriously injure themselves it’s not like they can whip out the detol and patch themselves up or waltz into the closest doctors clinic. They have to suffer and often die a slow agonising death. If you see broken glass anywhere, please do the right thing – pick it up.

Please don't leave broken glass out there in the bush.

Many thanks to Thomas and Ros Nataprawira, Anne Langmaid and Chris Clarke for their photos.

Augcember – its a Harry & Paul thing!

Well if that wasn’t my busiest month ever I’ll eat my hat!

Augcember seemed like a really appropriate way to label this past month or so because it really felt like August and September morphed into one month.

I feel like I have done “all the things” lately. All except, of course, the things in my garden.

Over the next few days I’d tell you all about them because while I haven’t had the pleasure of being in my own garden I have been in and around other people’s gardens. You know, there is a lot that we can learn from other people’s gardens.

I’ll start with the Australian Landscape Conference. What a fabulous few days that was. As always there were wonderful presentations from some of the most influential people in landscape architecture, design and gardening. Throughout the conference there was a lot of talk about people friendly spaces, creating a sense of place, working in harmony with the surrounding landscape and preserving the historical features in our landscapes.

I had the pleasure of visiting Stephen Ryan in his garden. It was an interesting day – we had sun, rain, hail and snow.

The name of Stephen’s garden, Tugurium – Latin for ‘hovel’ is an interesting one not just because it is unusual. In fact, it is a delightful garden, anything but a hovel if you ask me. It’s a lovely place to wander around or to sit and enjoy a quiet moment or perhaps a cup of tea. There are so many wonderfully interesting plants and little nooks that you could loose yourself for hours in what is not really a huge space. What I loved most from my visit was something that Stephen said and that was “I get a lot of visitors to the garden and I always say to them: I hope you enjoy the garden, and if you don’t then that’s your fault”. It made me laugh because it reminded me of the, sometimes nasty, things I have heard people say about the establishing period of my garden. (I’ll talk more about that later!). Gardens are essentially an artistic reflection of ourselves, our lives and our lifestyles. Like all art, our gardens are subjective. What appeals to us won’t necessarily appeal to the next person. It’s something to keep in mind.

Stephen Ryan's Vegie Patch

While up in the Macedon Ranges we also visited the gardens at Alton and Durrol.

What I found most interesting about these two places was the deep growth of moss that we don’t see back in Melbourne, indeed off the mountain. It was lovely. At Durrol, an Edna Walling designed garden, it was like a thick green blanket that was protecting the garden from the cold winter chill. I was particularly taken by the way that the paths were so defined even though they were covered in the carpet like moss. It gave the place a still, peaceful feel. It may look a little bleak in my photos but in the late spring – early summer I can tell you that the place springs to life.

Durrol - Path

Durrol - Stairs

Alton (circa 1870) is another beautiful estate in Mount Macedon, Victoria. It has a very long and interesting history. As you can see below the garden is quite structured and elaborate but it certainly sits well in the surrounding mountain landscape. It’s like a portal to the past. My favourite things about this garden were the beautiful stone structures, the tree fern walk and the inadvertent caterpillar sculptures below (two old radiators).

Alton - Fireplace

The Fern Walk

Alton - The Fern Walk

Caterpillar Sculptures

Alton - Caterpillar Sculptures

Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener of ‘Great Dixter’ in Northiam, England, ran a master class after the conference, which I attended. He talked in great depth about the need for year round interest in our gardens i.e. incorporating plants that give you interesting leaf colour or flowers in different seasons. He spoke about the importance of taking notes throughout the year so that you can identify gaps in your garden and fill them accordingly. Very wise!

During my class Fergus said something that really resonated with me. He was talking about this process of note taking and how Great Dixter had developed so well because of it. He said, “so, you’ve heard about ‘Slow Food’, well this is a ‘Slow Garden’ ”. I suddenly realised that these words so adequately described my style of design. I often design gardens that can evolve over time. I started working like that because I felt so strongly that the idea of an instant garden, or what I call the “Backyard Blitz Effect” is wrong for so many reasons (forgive me Don and Jamie). I mean, the truth is that you can’t repair your soil and make it healthy in one day. It takes a time and continuous care.

Often when people build their garden all in one hit they walk away and in the long term the space really doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. Plants die, the look fades and it becomes a much less welcoming space to be in.

I believe that your garden should grow with you. Of course, its nice to have it all done in one go but it is incredibly satisfying to stand back after a while, to look at photos of what the garden used to look like and see what it looks like now. How it has evolved over time and that it was your bare hands and hard yakka that made it what it is. That is a sure-fire way to draw people into their gardens and to love that space.

When we have a good design to work with, one that is broken down into manageable projects and relevantly ordered, we interact with the garden more effectively and get a real sense that we are achieving our goals. The added bonus, wether you are building it yourself or having it built in stages, is that the cost is spread out over time. This gives people a chance to afford the garden they dream of. We can all afford a fabulous garden, even with a shoestring budget. All you need is time and a bit of good planning.

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