Retro re-fit

I have a guilty garden secret, a love of retro garden pots, so much so that I just have to buy them whenever I see them. Blame my gardening family, I love those old concrete pots from the 1960’s that featured in the gardens of my grandparents and my aunt. My favourite hunting ground is the local tip shop where I have snapped up some real gems. Occasionally I also find the less common anodised aluminium pots. Whatever retro pot I find I just have to drag it home to join the collection.

When I woke up to an unusually overcast day recently, (a pleasant break from the baking hot weather), I decided to tackle a job that would give both my garden and me a bit of a lift. I decided to ‘makeover’ some of my retro pots.

Great pot stand, just one design fault, it falls over all the time!

I had several problems to tackle. Many of my pot plants were looking rather rubbish after our two month holiday. There was also the problem of my completely unstable plant stand (only a physical problem thankfully). The top circumference of the stand is wider than its base. With the slightest knock or being placed on a bit of uneven ground it falls over. I loved it’s retro style but I just needed to find the right pot to help my stand stay upright.

When my partner moved all the pots off the ‘lawn’ so he could mow, I suddenly saw the answer to my dilemma. My anodised aluminium pot, with its flared top was the perfect shape for the plant stand! That broad top was wide enough to combat the tendency to fall over and the pot shape fitted the stand as if it was made to go together.The plant it had contained had died, so that was even more reason to get it replanted.

My anodised aluminium pot, great style, but it comes with some practical problems

Of course I did need to think about why, beyond just general neglect, the plant had died. I thought that the metal pot conducted too much heat and cooked the root zone. It turned out the opposite was the case. When I turned the plant out and discovered that the plant had drowned in waterlogged soil, due to completely inadequate drainage.

So in went a few more holes into the bottom of the pot before re-planting began. I decided to reuse the epiphyllum from my concrete pot and fill the rest of the pot with echeveria cuttings (sorry but I’m not 100% sure of the names).

Re-potted and topped with broken terracotta pot pieces

I also re-potted the concrete pot with echeverias and haworthia pups. There’s nothing like a bunch of succulents to say retro style.

Echeverias and Haworthias

I was really pleased with the result of my mornings work. I know that other retro delights await me. Now how do I persuade my neighbour in the next street to sell me their Mexican hat planter?




A buzz

Along with all the work we are doing in the vegetable garden there has been some major weeding happening in our front yard. It has been hard to see the garden plants out here from the weeds that sprang up while we were overseas for two months. Thankfully our chickens find the weeds pretty palatable so disposal is easy.

Bulbine Lilies, the yellow flowers in the foreground , struggle to be seen against sappy weeds and unwanted grasses

At least after the weeding we can now see our ‘grassland’ again. It has also been fantastic to see just how many butterflies, bees, hover flies and other pollinators are feeding on the flowers in this part of the garden.

The white paper daisies are attracting masses of pollinators at this time of the year

Having ripped out the weeds it was clear that there was plenty of space for some new plants. I couldn’t resist trying some Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus exaltatus ‘Joey’) that I found at the local nursery. I’m not completely convinced about just how frost hardy they will prove to be in our garden (they are rated to withstand light frosts). I can only hope that they  will get sufficient protection from our nearby gum tree.

The newly planted Mulla Mulla, with the pink flowers

I was in the process of cutting back the flower spikes, to help the plants get over the transplant shock, when I had to stop. I could hardly believe my eyes. The Blue Banded bees, an Australian species, had appeared out of nowhere to feed on the flowers.

A Blue Banded bee getting into the flowers of the Mulla Mulla

I left them to it.


Bean and Gone

It’s taken a while for me to get back into the swing of summer planting, but getting some beans into the ground has been a priority. I like to plant both climbing beans and bush beans.

The bush beans are generally very heavy croppers and I want to have some for freezing. The choice of bush bean was easy because I already have several packets of Cherokee Wax bush beans in my seed stash.

Young Cherokee Wax seedlings springing from the ground. These have protective collars as they are closest to the path and easiest trodden on.

I didn’t have any climbing bean seeds so I bought some Blue Lake seeds, as they were the only climbing beans available at the shop. Thankfully they are a widely recommended variety to grow. I had previously planted out seedlings of an unknown variety of climbing bean, that had been decimated almost immediately by snails.

This time I was taking no chances. I direct sowed a number of Blue Lake beans into the area previously demolished by the snails. These sprang of of the ground really quickly and almost as quickly were chewed to the ground yet again. Some people never learn.

I also sowed a further 15 Blue lake beans into toilet rolls to try and give them some protection. Once I saw the roots popping out of the bottom of the toilet rolls I planted the whole lot into a new bed that I had started in the front garden where, I hoped, that they would survive long enough to develop tough unpalatable stems.

My Blue Lake climbing beans growing happily in the front garden

These Blue Lake beans were doing really well as were the Cherokee Wax beans I planted next to them. For more than a week they shot upwards, until two days ago I went out to water them and found this.

Chewed to the stump!

Of the 15 beans I’d planted there were only six and a half left. I nearly wept. I then did something pretty unusual for me – I put out some snail bait. We normally run an organic garden, but this is a major lapse. Since laying the bait I have literally gone out every morning and collected dead and dying snails and slugs (nearly 50 so far) so that our local birds don’t eat them. So far there have been no more depredations on the beans.

Surprisingly the Cherokee Wax bush beans, corn and tomato seedlings planted in the same area were almost untouched by the snails. Clearly Blue Lake is a gourmet variety for more than just humans.

This morning I have re-planted more seeds directly into this bed. I will continue to hope that they new beans will develop quickly enough to avoid death by snail. We will see.


This evening it was raining so we went outside to see if there were any snails in the bean crop. We collected just shy of half a kilo of snails (420 grams) in under 10 minutes. I would not have had any beans left by the morning. We will check again before we head to bed.

A small step towards slow fashion

Like most people I’m attracted to the idea of ‘slow fashion’ but getting there from a large collection of existing clothing can be a challenge. I am regularly culling my wardrobe of good but no longer useful (to me) clothing,which goes to the local op-shop (thrift store), but what I have real problems with are T-shirts.

Mine have a tendency to fray at the neck and sleeves long before the body has worn out. And while I move them from ‘good’ to ‘gym wear’ to ‘gardening’, some of the t-shirts just don’t want to wear out. A case in point is my lovely ‘octopus’ pattern t-shirt from Stringybark. This one was made by the original company owners back in the 1980’s/90s, so it has definitely given plenty of service. It’s had one make-over already, you can see where I removed the original neckband, but I didn’t like this version enough to wear it much. 

The original t-shirt, minus it’s neckband, with the new pattern cut out

Then it dawned on me, I have a sleeveless tee that I love to wear in summer and I suspected it was almost the same dimensions as this t-shirt. Bingo! My sleeveless tee was an almost perfect match. I laid it out against the back of my t-shirt and drew around the armholes and neckline with a tailors chalk, allowing a 1.5 cm seam allowance (I ‘eyeballed’ this). I repeated the process with the front. Too easy.

I couldn’t be bothered dragging the sewing machine out just to sew the shoulder seams, so I back-stitched them by hand. I also hand rolled the edges on the neck and armholes and stitched them down with running stitch, using two strands of a blue embroidery thread I had handy.

Edge treatment and look how good that screenprint still is!
While I was stitching I remembered that part of the reason I didn’t like the previous neckline was that the machine stitching had a tendency to make the edge flare out.

So even though this shirt is not going to get beyond my garden, it will now get plenty more wear. I wonder if it will see out another 20 years of service?

Broad Bean rules

It’s undeniable, but some people on this planet of ours do not like Broad Beans! Hard to believe, I know.

But if you’ve only ever been served these beans in their nasty thick overcoats, then that’s hardly surprising.

This is NOT how to serve broad beans! These need second peeling

So getting a bit ahead of myself, Rule#1 is always double peel your broad beans! That means take the beans out of their pods then blanch the beans in boiling  water 1-2 minutes (if you’re not sure of this technique I suggest you ‘google’ it). Then take the beans out of the boiling water, using a slotted  spoon, let the beans cool enough so you can handle them and  then squeeze the inner bean out from their outer leathery pod. This is the result.

Broad beans, shiny and ready to go

You could just toss these in a bit of butter or oil and dress with salt and pepper and serve them as a side dish to just about anything . Another option is to saute them with some pancetta or bacon, cut into small pieces and swirl them through some pasta!

OK getting pretty excited here so I will just back track to some other thoughts.

Rule #2 don’t plant too many plants (guilty). Those large seeds encourage over planting. This year I planted out about 10 plants, some of which got dug up by an escaped chicken. But really that’s enough for two people unless you are a vegetarian,  in which case I’d say go your hardest as broad beans are great croppers for the ‘hungry gap’ and you can certainly store and use them frozen or dried all year round.

Rule # 3 pick early, pick often! I don’t completely agree with people who say you can eat the smallest broad bean pods just boiled, but picking when pods are smaller will allow you to get beans that blanch and shell more readily. Also regular picking encourages more flowers and therefore more beans.

Stoage options are to freeze the double peeled beans (you will be grateful you made the extra effort up front when you pull them from the freezer ready to go). Drying is the other main option just ignore all those pods, leave them on the plants and harvest them when the plants die back. Beans in this form are great for making earthy dips like ‘ful‘.

So, broad beans, not so scary after all. Enjoy!