Category Archives: Garden lessons

The Time of the Brugs

This week in the garden has been all about the flowering of the Brugmansia. Grown from a pencil thin cutting in a pot and neglected on and off over three years of changing houses and living in rental places, it never sulked or worse, gave it up and died. Once in the ground at this house it proved that flowers will always find a way. Every three months it blooms like mad for about two weeks. Then it goes quiet and lets nature work under the surface. I wish we had evolved to perform as silently. Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, trace elements and of course the sun – all work away, not once needing applause or validation. And then, when their part is done, you are rewarded with this!

brug-2

Cuttings have been taken and rooted in a glass of water on the window sill. Two of those clones now grow in other parts of the garden. In another year they should be giving their parent a bit of competition!

brug-1

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Another garden goodie from the Cape of Good Hope

This little gem is Oscularia deltoides.
Oscularia, because the little tooth-like edges make each pair of leaves look like a little mouth or osculum (Latin) and deltoides or delta-shaped as each leaf is triangular. In its home in South Africa, this succulent is known as dassie (hyrax) vygie (small fig) or sandsteenvygie because it grows in the sandstone country. I guess the rock hyrax must either live in the same terrain or like munching on the plant.

It has been doing beautifully in our Adelaide garden, in pots in morning sun and all day exposure to whatever weather we are having as well as in the ground, like the one in the photograph. The startlingly pink flowers are said to be almond scented, but mine are too low near the ground for me to breathe the perfume.

A tough plant for the Mediterranean garden despite its spun sugar flowers and celadon green fleshy leaves.

oscularia-deltoides

Photo: my own

Bare roots and all! Tree planting season is upon us

It is that time of the year again when a gardener’s thoughts turn lightly to bare-rooted trees, as a future feast for both the senses and the body. The youngest was kind enough to indulge me with the first of the season’s garden gifts with nineteen trees, or was it twenty two? These include trios of flowering dogwood or Cornus and forest pansy or Cercis and a solitary Magnolia grandiflora or Southern bull bay. The others are trios of Chinese tallow, katsura, Japanese maple and some others I will need to go and check.

Why trios? Well, trees look good in odd numbers just like Ganesha statues or shirtless photos of Brad, Salman or Putin. Actually, scratch that last one. Trees generally look good in groups, being social things.

Of the new arrivals, I am especially looking forward to seeing autumn colour on the maples. But wait, there is more as the Sham wow guy says on television. The Katsura is famed for colour and a sweet perfume from its autumn leaves that is variously described as caramel, candy floss or brown sugar! Imagine, candy floss on the air and not on the hips.

The other one is the Chinese tallow, with its three lobed fruit enclosing nuts covered in pure white wax. The Chinese used to boil the covering away to make candles. After the wax has been removed the seeds are apparently used as purgatives in herbal medicine. I kid you not.

But the one I am looking forward to most is the M.grandiflora, the one with giant cup shaped white flowers and waxy leaves with brown felted undersides. These are the classic corsage flowers, loved by authors of Regency romances and couples walking in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens alike(there is a splendid tree there).They are the Scarletts of the plant world, showy, dramatic, delicate but strong.

Frankly my dears, as you may know by now, I give many a damn when it comes to plants. Now to find someone willing to keep a shirt on and dig some holes and heft a few sacks of compost and rock minerals about, while I sip on a refreshing minty julep or three.

bare-root-trees.jpg

Photo: http://guildfordgardencentre.com.au/bare-rooted-trees/

Not quite Sissinghurst! But better.

I have always wanted to go to England; for the gardens and the RHS shows; for the lush green plants, all seemingly bathed in an eternal downpouring of light that is as watery and serene as a Gainsborough oil; for the sake of seeing the gardens of THAT garden show in May where Australians like Jim Fogarty have won gold with their unique show gardens.

Bel phool

White flowered Jasmine

But for the time being, that trip seems to be slightly out of reach. So, I sulk a little and then knuckle down to creating something of my own that will at least have been inspired by my love of British gardens. After all, I have drooled over enough shows with Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh patiently pointing out the differences between potentilla and potential disasters and drawn up enough lists of plants that would look cottagey as well as survive Adelaide’s wet soggy winters and bone dry summers. These must also hold up against the bone white light of Southern Australia, more bleaching than a bottle of Chlorox on the unmentionables.

When inspiration strikes me, it does not do it by halves. I decide that I am going to plant up the wide bed that wraps around the empty space to the left of our house with a mixture of plants such as salvias, bulbs, perennials and annuals in a colour graded plan. I will start at the front of the space, where the wide bed sits atop two terraces held back by stone filled cages or gabions. The colour for that bed will be mainly white, grey and green. Blue will help enhance the whiteness of the whites and the greyness of the greys. This will be my Sissinghurst, only on a bed that will be hundreds of times smaller when compared to THAT white garden. My ambitions and plant wishes of course are more suited to something the size of the entire estate. I am blissfully aware that I am not Vita, nor do I have her means or the deep pockets of Harold Nicholson to assist me in my adventure.

I start of course with order. I draw up a list of all the white plants I have. I do this once by hand, just numbering the plants. I then do another one, grouping them by height. This will be the final one I intend to work from. I am sure I will be over-planting the bed, given the number of plants I have and the space constraints. But I am flexible about that. I plan to get around that by simply widening the bed till I can fit everything in. Told you I was flexible!

A lot of these plants are passalongs, which simply adds to the pleasure of planting. Each person, each nursery and each trip to get the plants will be revisited, every year as the plants reach their full blowsy potential. That after all is the best part of gardening!

THE LIST:

  TALL PLANTS   MEDIUM PLANTS   FRONT OF BED   CATCH UP PLANTS
1 Pale Sweet Peas Hi Scent 1 White Salvia Greggi 1 Alyssum 1  
2 Salvia discolour 2 Stevia 2 White Santolina 2  
3 Artemisia 3 Cotyledon orbiculata 3 White flowered Basil 3  
4 Arum Green Goddess 4 White poppies 4 Rain lilies 4  
5 Jasmine Sambac 5 Variegated Kalanchoe 5 Garlic chives 5  
6 Potato Vine 6 Pale orange Salvia Greggii Pumpkin 6 Chincherinchee 6  
7 White rose perfumed 7 Stachys byzantica 7 Tuberoses 7  
8 Ammi Majus 8 Clary sage 8 Candytuft 8  
9 Brugmansia 9 Russian sage 9 Spring Onions 9  
10 Salvia Finnisgrove 10 Spring Onions 10 White Ivy geraniums 10  
11   11 Leucophyta 11   11  
12   12   12   12  
13   13   13   13  
14   14   14   14  

 

When a little lizard comes asking, are you my Mummy?

 

This little blue tongued lizard took a walk on the tame side and ended up under my bed and then a little further into the walk in closet.

Blue tongue lizard

Who are you gonna call? Not the RSPCA, they don’t do healthy animals. Not Fauna Rescue, they help everything from microbats to possums but no mention of reptiles. So you call your student who owns Reptile City, find he is unavailable and then you arm yourself with bacon, grapes and a spatula. The grapes are for it, just in case it was a vegetarian. The spatula was for courage. Eventually patience paid off. Little Bluey is united with the great outdoors and I can finally take a break.

I will add lizard whisperer to my resume later on.

There is a huntsman afoot, all eight of them

My non-Aussie friends might think I live with David Attenborough (I wish I did too), but this was yesterday’s find. This red fanged, eight eyed, zebra legged freak is the Badge Huntsman. It is not inside the house, but sitting on the outside of the patio door keeping every loving eye on our activities.

Badge Huntsman

My kids are struck by the difference in responses to a recent blue tongue lizard post on Facebook.
Local gardening group friends told me to grab it gently behind the neck, stroke it under the chin, feed it a spoonful of rum and of course, release it.
Friends from the old motherland asked if I was going to kill it, whether it was a snake and thought I ought to get some sort of bravery award. And yet in each other’s eyes, one is the land of the fierce tiger while the other has its cute kangaroos, cuddly koalas and fluffy wombats. And the Badge Huntsman. Which shows a ‘cling’ reflex when handled and having clung, then bites to give you local pain and irregular pulse rates.

Australia, beautiful one day, spiders the next!

Bel phool, Jasmine Sambac or Arabian Jasmine – what is in a name?

Bel phool
The label said jasmine sambac or Arabian jasmine, but this gardener knew what she had found. The bel phool that grew on the roof terrace in her ‘baaper bari’ or father’s home. Nothing can smell sweeter! As the proverb goes, even the crows sound better at the ‘baaper bari’. Two plants were promptly loaded on to the trolley and wheeled away, paid for and brought home.

For a thrifty person, the price was a bit of a sticking point but I turned the inner voice off. I imagined the perfume, flooding in through windows left open on summer nights. I imagined gajras a la the most florid Bollywood mummy role, although I am the last person to do anything that adventurous with my hair. I even sighed over the romance of wilted jasmine petals, forgotten on the pillow once night is gone. A Sastra (Indian scripture) endorsed sign of spent passion or unrequited love (depending on who you are) if there ever was one!

Well, I am happy to say no gajras have been inflicted on anyone yet. A few buds, picked as they turned fat and white from pale jade green, have found their way to various tiny vases, offerings to the many Buddha and Ganesh figurines around the house. Pick them any earlier and they will never open. Wait till the next day and you are greeted with dead flowers, dry and purple. The perfume is yet to flood through any windows, but only because my parents close their window at night all year long. I should probably place one outside the front window which is left open in all but the most freezing weather.

But the two bushes have doubled in size, filled out in every direction and blossomed their hearts out. They have filled my heart and made me sing snatches of songs. They have not needed much more than a splash of water every other day and a feed every fortnight. But they have repaid me a hundredfold.

Bel, Mallika, Kundumalligai or Sambac – whatever you want to call it – this is how happiness smells.