Getting moving!

Mid-afternoon it hit me, OMG I haven’t planted any seeds for summer crops! I’d like to blame it on any manner of distractions, including re-planting the front garden (going pretty well), but I’ve clearly been drifting along these past few weeks.

Wahlenberia, aka 'Native' Bluebell, an established clump enjoying the new soil in the front garden
Wahlenberia, aka ‘Native’ Bluebell, an established clump enjoying the new soil in the front garden

Luckily we have boxes, I do mean it, of seeds so I pulled out some trays and pots and got stuck in. Peas and beans are at the top of the list. Purple Podded Peas, Snow Peas and Lazy Housewife Beansand some White Eggplants. All of theses seeds have come from our own plants so they are well adapted to our garden.

I also planted some Sweetcorn Honey Bicolour that was such a success last year but #### I just checked and confirmed my suspicion that this variety is a hybrid so the seeds will either be sterile or revert to one of the parent stock. So I’ll have to get out some other corns seeds instead. 

Plant labels from old plastic milk cartons
Plant labels from old plastic milk cartons

I made labels for the pots from an old milk container, but couldn’t get my pencil or marker to stay put. I ended up covering the end with masking tape and writing on that. As I worked I settled in to the rhythym of the afternoon, not too hot and a pleasant breeze. I could see House Sparrows moving around the old kale plants, a sure sign that the plants are failing and as they do so attracting insects to their decaying leaves. I also noticed that my Alpine Strawberry already had some fruit – which disappeared shortly after this photo was taken!

Alpine Strawberry with fruit.
Alpine Strawberry with fruit.

I checked out the regular strawberries and found my first ripe fruit of the season there as well. Time to feed the chooks their afternoon scratch and toss the chicks some green weeds to tear apart with their voracious little bills.

Time too to pick young broadbean pods and asparagus from the garden which are joining an eggplant for a Japanese inspired dinner this evening.

Dinner is on the way.
Dinner is on the way.

Happy spring seed raising to you.

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Some light in the winter dark

We may have passed the shortest day of the year, but here in Canberra we still have quite a bit of winter still to live through. Like my garden I’m slowly coming to life again.

On the weekend we read in the Sydney papers that now was the time to start tomato seeds. In Canberra tomato seeds would be facing this prospect with all the ‘excitement’ of a small child being forced into a cold swimming pool. Here it’s not going to happen unless you have a warm space inside to protect your seeds.

On the other hand our broad beans, which were planted very late this season have now stuck their leaves up out of the ground.

Young broadbeans making an appearance
Young broadbeans making an appearance

My friend M who was far better organised this year actually has pods on her broadbeans!

The new front garden has survived, to some degree the vicissitudes of the people doing the guttering and roof repairs, but the ongoing frosts have really had a big impact on my smaller plants. Just how bad the damage is can’t be fully assessed for another two months when chances of frost have passed, when I can see what will re-shoot and what will need pulling out.

TB’s wasabi plants are growing away quite happily and the citrus trees will shortly be having a new lot of potting mix in their pots ready for growing away into spring.

Wasabi is growing well in our cold climate, under the protection of the tree canopy
Wasabi is growing well in our cold climate, under the protection of the tree canopy

My first hellebore flower has opened.

My first Hellebore flower (well the plant did it really!)
My first Hellebore flower (well the plant did it really!)

But best and most promising of all, our boss hen has started laying eggs again. So far we’ve had one every second day. Let’s hope the other two hens get the message soon!

There is no such thing as a gratuitous chicken photo!
There is no such thing as a gratuitous chicken photo!

Front yard update

Here are a few quick photos to update you on progress in the front garden. Since my previous post all the plants I had available were planted and two flat stones have been placed so we can now get to our letterbox.

The partially planted front garden, 1 May 2015
The partially planted front garden, 1 May 2015

The sticks mark the new plants. I decided I needed larger markers so I didn’t inadvertently crush the small plants. Although the plants are small now when planted as tubestock they will have a much better chance of adapting to and growing well in their new home.

Some larger plants have also been added. The main ones are correas, that produce lovely bell-shaped flowers that attract birds and bees into the winter garden. The current small display is an indicator of what we hope to see a lot more of in future years.

Correa 'Winter Belle' with it's recurved petals
Correa ‘Winter Belle’ with it’s recurved petals

Correa ‘Winter Belle’ is an upright, autumn/winter flowering shrub that produces these mid-pink bells that recurve as the flower matures. We have planted these in a loose line along the side of the garden closest to the road to create a slightly taller background to the rest of the garden.

Correa ‘Pink Carpet’, which as you may guess is a more prostrate plant, has slightly longer bells than C. ‘Winter Belle’. We have scattered the few plants we have in the mid-ground of the garden. I’ve had less success in striking cuttings from this plant than I’ve had striking cuttings from ‘Winter Belle’, but I have another batch underway and hope to produce a few more plants to include as the garden develops.

Correa 'Pink Carpet'
Correa ‘Pink Carpet’

One other plant which grows readily in our garden is the Australian pelargonium, Pelargonium rodneyanum. It spreads by swollen tubers, at a pace that allows you to keep the plant in check, but also promotes easy propagation. At present I’m planting these as a low cover around the large rocks and in some awkward areas where it would be hard to get other plants to grow. It’s flower is an amazing deep hot pink.

A new plant of Pelargonium rodneyanum settling in to its new home
A new plant of Pelargonium rodneyanum settling in to its new home

On Saturday I’m collecting my next batch of seedlings from a local Australian plant specialist. So the week ahead promises to hold a lot more work!

Elsewhere in the garden

I’ve long been inspired by our native bushland, particularly heath and grassland communities. But as those who have experienced the notion that ‘Australian native gardens don’t need any work’ find out the hard way, just shoving lots of plants into the ground doesn’t result in an attractive landscape. While my garden has worked rather better than that I’ve never quite managed to achieve the look I was after. As many of my original plantings are now starting to go downhill it is definitely time to give it another go. 

The practical inspiration for my garden renovation has come from two books that I read over the winter months. First off was The Layered Garden: design lessons for year-round beauty from Brandywine Cottage, by David L Culp with Adam Levine. In this book Culp ably demonstrates how to make a garden with year round interest, based on a woodland approach in his own garden in Pennsylvania.

The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage

At first Planting: a new Perspective, by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury, with a very scary array of planting guides seemed rather daunting, but the authors use the planting schemes to demonstrate a basic formula for planting that promotes interest throughout the year. This is a mix of plants that are fixtures of the garden year round and those that literally or figuratively disappear or recede for long parts of the year. I’m probably not explaining this too well, so I urge you to give the book a go. I found it a pretty interesting read with lots of wonderful illustrations to go with the words.

Planting: A New Perspective

So where to begin. My choice of ground to start this work, as you can see, is not very promising,but it is on the other side of the yard from where we found the termites. Until the termites go I can’t dig where they might be disturbed. This will be a garden renovation of many parts.

A sorry piece of ground for a new garden!
A sorry piece of ground for a new garden!

I spent the morning clearing the area. At least the chooks were happy to get all the weeds that I dug out. By the time I finished the initial digging and adding some compost things were looking rather better. The space is only about 1.5 metres square so its not a lot to start with.

Newly dug over, things are looking up for my garden.
Newly dug over, things are looking up for my garden.

I spent the next few weeks adding a lot more compost and doing a lot more digging in of manures before I started planting. My feature plants are two varieties of pink flowering Correa, Correa pulchella X ‘Pink Carpet’ and Correa ‘Annabell’; the yellow flowering shrub Ozothamnus diotophyllus ‘Gold Dust’ and Zieria prostrata ‘Carpet Star’. The taller plants will grow about 1 metre in height and the two ‘carpet’ plants will spread between 1-2 metres. I’m also using Pelargonium rodneyanum (Magenta Cranesbill) as a filler plant. This will gradually spread around the garden and can be dug out if it gets too exuberant. The remaining plants in this area are ephemeral annuals. I’ve included plenty of Wahlenbergia sp (Native Bluebell) and several plants of the Bulbinopsis bulbosa (Bulbine Lily).

The Bulbine lillies are still flowering wildly attracting plenty of Hoverfly’s which are a great garden predator, as well as a common pollinator of Australian plants.

A hoverfly pollinating a Bulbine Lily
A hoverfly pollinating a Bulbine Lily

I’ve also dug out and divided a clump of one of the most striking of our local plants Eryngium rostratutm (Blue Devil) which has the most stunning spiky blue/purple flowerheads. I’ve planted the new pieces in several places around the garden to encourage the spread of this handsome plant.

You can see from the photo below that I aim to keep the majority of the plants in this part of the garden fairly low. This allows the winter sun into the front of the house.

The new section of front garden.
The new section of front garden.

I’ve also extended some of the planting into the existing garden, adjacent to the new section. I hope in this way to start integrating the newer plantings with the existing garden. At least I’ve managed to get some of those poor plants that I bought pre-termite  moratorium, into the ground. Now I have to go and pot on the remaining plants so they can survive until I get the all clear to continue the renovation.