It has been a very mild Summer so far, though I suspect it is about to get hotter! Apart from the odd day in the late 30s/ early 40s, it has been more like a late Spring, which has been wonderful for gardening and has given us the opportunity to clean up and reorganize the cutting garden, which had started to get out of control! We have now moved all the Narcissi to their own little patches under trees and the ends of the pergola and arches, and the old freesias to their own bank, bordering the car parking flat, where they can run riot and naturalize to their heart’s content! We have divided all the replicating Dutch Iris, tulips and anemones, which we then replanted throughout all the newly dug beds. I was surprised how many new bulbs there were and hope they all bloom successfully next Spring! We transplanted the self-sown feverfew seedlings down the centre of the Dutch Iris and old zinnia beds and moved the latter’s self-sown seedlings on a very cool day to their own patch behind the dahlias in the recent peony poppy bed, leaving a few seedpods of the latter to dry out for seed. The zinnias are such tough plants and all have survived and are set to bloom in January. We were also fortunate in that another self-sown sunflower seedling is blooming in the same spot as last year and we have sowed the seed of some bright scarlet Mexican Sunflowers Tithonia on either side of the Helianthus annuus. They may not be successful, as the packet stipulates sowing them in Spring, but given the cooler weather we have been experiencing, I decided to give it a shot and see what happens! All going well, it should be a stunning display late Summer. The dahlias have already put on a wonderful show. I love all their rich vivid colours, as well as their more muted, softer pastel shades. They make wonderful bouquets for the house and the Christmas table! I also made a lovely, wild, blowsy bouquet from the early Summer flowers in the Soho and Moon Beds : bright blue Cornflowers, paler blue flowering salvia, mauve wallflowers, pretty white feverfew daisies, pink peony poppies and the seedpods of the latter and Nigella orientalis ‘Transformer’. While we are still getting the odd peony poppy in the Soho Bed, the cutting garden has had masses of stunning ladybird Poppies, interspersed with a few self-sown Iceland Poppy seedlings from last year. The Soho Bed has settled down from its early November peak, but it still has nice colour with the roses (Lolita, Mr Lincoln and The Childrens’ Rose), and bergamot (photo 1), stachys and blue flowering salvia, replacing the wallflowers and the geum Lady Stratheden (photo 2). We have two other blue salvias in the Moon Bed : Indigo Spires, which we bought from the nursery at Foxglove Spires, and a light blue variety, grown from a cutting from my sister’s old garden. They contrast well with the white feverfew daisies and the gold daylilies, also given to me by my sister, along with this unusual flower, whose identity I have yet to ascertain. Any suggestions? Elsewhere in the garden, roses in bloom include : Autumn Delight (photo 1) and Penelope are reflowering in the white hybrid musk hedge; Frau Dagmar Hastrup (photo 2) in the rugosa hedge; Devoniensis on the pergola (photo 3); and Alister Stella Gray (photo 4) in preparation for its future entrance arch! However, the standouts of the Summer Garden are the cooling blues and whites : the blue Convovulus maritima and the Madonna lilies with their pure white trumpets and gold stamens, heralding the start of Summer. They look so beautiful with the sun shining through their petals; The potted gardenia at the back door with its sumptuous white blooms with their exotic sharp spicy sweet scent, which always reminds me of Christmas!; The white and blue blooms of the agapanthus bank, flowering in tandem with the mauve and white Acanthus mollis; and the soft blue shade of the new hydrangeas, their huge bushes showing great promise; and finally, the honey-drenched blooms of the pink and mauve buddleias down the path, constantly full of butterflies, bees and wasps! We have also had a few exciting surprises! Our new hosta Peter Pan has flowered with sprays of mauve flowers, which complement its blue-green foliage; Our dogwood Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’ has bloomed for the very first time. Its green buds turn white, and finally a deep pink by the end of Summer; The Sprekelia (Jacobean Lily) bulb nearby at the bottom of the steps has grown back after disappearing for a long while, after a mishap with the whipper-snipper, and most exciting of all … we discovered that we actually have more Jacobean Lilies, with an up-till-then unidentified bulb at the end of the tulip bed coming into bloom with its distinctive red flower, another Christmas treat! While the NSW Christmas Bush flowers have yet to turn red (delayed due to the cold I suspect!), Lady X grevillea (photo 2) is doing the right thing with masses of red blooms for visiting honeyeaters, while the wattlebirds love my neighbour’s red hot pokers (Kniphofia), another Christmas flower (photo 1). The newly transplanted lemon verbena is also in full bloom and the rainforest plants are growing madly, including this beautiful staghorn on the loquat tree. Other garden stalwarts include the bromeliads, the pinks and geranium Rosalie in the Treasure Bed and the honeysuckle climbers on the fence. With so much in flower, the bees and butterflies are in seventh heaven. The fruit trees and vegetable garden are a mecca for the bats and the birds, though huge breeding flocks of Little Corellas and Galahs have taken over the trees, recently vacated motels for visiting flying foxes, which have now mostly disappeared to raid other areas. The skies are full of these noisy party acrobats, with the odd Sulphur-Crested and Yellow-Tailed Black cockatoo cousins joining in. The King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas are enjoying the scarlet Duranta berries, while the Satin Bowerbirds have been feasting on our beans and raspberries! This beautiful immature Crimson Parrot sent us scurrying to our bird books to confirm its identity!We were very excited when some White-Faced Herons decided to build a twiggy nest platform, high in the Black Cottonwood tree, though I suspect these two were visiting youngsters, as they don’t have the white adult face. We watch the parents’ changing of the guard (they share incubation duties) from our vantage point on the verandah. Apparently, the incubation period is 21 to 24 days, so hopefully, we will have some new baby herons for the New Year! We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying a relaxing break. All our very Best Wishes for 2017! xxx
What better way to celebrate the start of Summer than with a feature post on the wonderful exuberant Sunflower, Helianthus annuus! Sunflowers belong to the daisy family, Asteraceae, and the genus Helianthus has over 70 species, most of them native to North America, except for three species from South America. Most are ornamental, frost-hardy herbaceous perennials, like the Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, but the Common Sunflower, familiar to most people, is an annual, as indicated by its species name: ‘annuus’. The genus name Helianthus is derived from two Greek words: ‘helios’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘anthos’ meaning ‘flower’.Mythology
In Greece, the sunflower is a symbol of the water nymph Clytie, who was turned into a sunflower after she lost her love Apollo, and constantly faces the sun, awaiting the return of his chariot. The visual similarity of the flower to the sun makes it a symbol of worship and faithfulness in many religions. In fact, the Incas used South American sunflowers to worship the sun in their temples, where priestesses wore necklaces of sunflowers, cast in gold, as well as sunflower crowns. The Hopi Indians of North America also used sunflowers in their tribal rituals, as well as for food and a purple dye. In China, the sunflower is an auspicious symbol, denoting long life and good luck, its bright yellow colour symbolising vitality, intelligence and happiness. Vincent Van Gogh is famous for his series of paintings, depicting sunflowers in vases, one of which sold for $39 Million in 1987. Here is my daughter’s sunflower painting- just as special and always makes me feel happy.Habitat and Distribution
Native to North America, the sunflower was first domesticated in South-Western USA over 5000 years ago and soon became widespread throughout the Americas. Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizzaro, saw large crops in 16th century Peru and the sunflower was carried back to Spain, where it was cultivated and hybridized. By the 19th century, it was being cultivated on a wide scale in Russia, the Ukraine and the Caucasus regions for the manufacture of vegetable oil. The sunflower is the State flower of Kansas and the National flower of Russia. Mostly grown in temperate areas, it is now also grown as a commercial crop in the United States, Argentina, India, China, Turkey, the European Union (mainly France and Spain) and South Africa. In Queensland, it is widely grown in the Central Highlands and on the Darling Downs, as seen in the photo below.Description
Helianthus annuus is an annual forb, which grows up to 5 metres tall, with a well-developed tap root, which extends up to 3 metres into the soil. There are now a number of cultivars, varying in colour (yellow, orange, rust red) and height, from dwarf varieties less than 1 metre tall to taller cultivars over 3.5 metres tall. The tallest sunflower ever recorded was 7.76 metres tall, though there is a German record of 8.23 metres tall! There is also a discrepancy in growth rates: one source states 30 centimetres in one day, while another estimate is 2 metres in 6 months- that’s 182 days. For mathematicians, that’s 2000 centimetres in 182 days or 11 centimetres a day! Suffice to say that they are one of the fastest growing plants in the world! Our Burgundy Spray sunflower reached 2 metres last year and was harvested and ploughed in at 20 weeks- that’s 5 months- but we did use plenty of manure! The erect stem is rough and hairy and is branched in many wild varieties, but unbranched in cultivated varieties. The petiolate leaves are dentate (toothed margins) and sticky. The lower leaves are opposite and ovate or heart-shaped, while the leaves higher up the stem are arranged spirally.
Blooming in Summer, the inflorescence is a terminal head (capitulum), 10 to 50 centimetres in diameter, with a world record of 87.63 centimetres. Each flower head is surrounded by three rows of bracts (phyllaries)- see photo above- and is composed of sterile outer yellow (or orange/ rust red) ray florets, which attract pollinators, and fertile inner brownish disc florets. A single flower head may have up to two thousand disc florets, each with the potential to develop into a seed. If there are multiple flower heads on the same plant, the number of disc florets per head will be much lower. The disc florets open in sequence, beginning at the periphery of the disc and moving inward. The disc florets are arranged in spiral whorls from the centre of the flowerhead, according to the famous Fibonacci sequence, which allows for the uniform packing of the maximum number of seeds on a seed head without any central overcrowding or bare patches at the outside edges. The Fibonacci sequence is a number set, in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers: ie 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610 and so on, and was described by Fibonacci (also known as Leonardo of Pisa) in his book : Liber Abaci in 1202.
In the case of sunflowers, count the clockwise and counterclockwise spirals that reach the outer edge, and you’ll usually find a pair of numbers from the sequence: 34 and 55, or 55 and 89, or—with very large sunflowers—89 and 144. Another interesting mathematical fact is that each floret is oriented to the next by the Golden Angle, 137.5 degrees. Botanists have not yet been able to determine a mechanistic model that fully explains how the sunflower seed patterns arise, as some plants don’t always show perfect Fibonacci numbers. A study published by the Royal Society Open Science on 18 May 2016 of 657 sunflower photos revealed one in five flowers had either a non-Fibonacci spiralling pattern or more complicated patterns, including near-Fibonacci sequences and other mathematical patterns that compete and clash across the flower head. See: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/3/5/160091 . Another interesting link is: https://plus.maths.org/content/sunflowers. Click on the first article in the search results: ‘Citizen scientists count sunflower spirals’ by Marianne Freiberger.
For more information about sunflowers and the Fibonnaci sequence, see :
and https://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/nature-golden-ratio-fibonacci.html.Another fascinating fact about sunflowers is their heliotropism (sun tracking) when young. During growth, sunflower leaves and flowers tilt to face the sun during the day, accounting for their French and Portuguese names: Tournesol (French) and Girassol (Portuguese). As the buds open, the flexible part of the stem tissue (the pulvinus) hardens and heliotropism ceases, the sunflower blooms permanently facing east, thereby acting as a living compass! Sunflowers are pollinated by bees, though some modern varieties are fully self-fertile. The following website has some interesting information about sunflower pollination, which highlights the importance of bees. See: http://www.pollinator.ca/bestpractices/sunflowers.html. Initially, each floret is male, the pollen-bearing anthers extending above the rim of the floret, then later on, the style emerges and the stigmatic lobes spread, opening the receptive surfaces for pollination – see the photo below. If there is enough pollinator activity, the pollen is removed from each floret before the stigma opens, reducing the chances for self-pollination. The resultant seeds are 15 to 25 mm long and vary in colour from white to brown and black and even striped.Growing Conditions and Propagation
Heat and drought-tolerant, sunflowers are very easy to grow in most climates, so long as they have full sun all day (6 to 8 hours) and well-dug, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. They are propagated by seed. Dig the seed bed well with plenty of manure/ compost, as they are heavy feeders, then rake the soil level. Broadcast the seed and rake into the surface or plant seeds individually to a depth of 2 cm. In cool temperate climates, sow seed in Spring after the last frost (we sowed our Burgundy Spray sunflower seeds on 7 October last year); in warm temperate climates, from late Winter to late Spring; and in frost-free subtropical and tropical regions, seed can be sown all year round, though Autumn to Spring is best. Sunflowers prefer long, hot Summers and hot wet humid Summers increase the risk of fungal diseases like downy or powdery mildew or rust. Mulch the seedbed with chopped sugar cane or lucerne to retain moisture, keep the soil cool and deter pigeons or mice. As the seedlings develop, thin them according to the size of the plants. Giant Russian sunflowers grow to over 4m high with a flowerhead of 5o cm, so require 1.5 m between each plant. Water or foliar feed weekly with seaweed extract in the morning, so that the foliage is dry by sunset, also reducing the risk of fungal mould and rot. For show flowers and maximum seed production, apply two handfuls of poultry manure per square metre when the seedlings are 15 cm high and a 4 cm layer of well-rotted cow manure and compost when they reach 0.5 m in height. Stake the stems when necessary- old pantihose are good. The dwarf varieties should flower within 10 to 12 weeks of sowing, while the taller varieties take 12 to 16 weeks to bloom. Our Burgundy Spray sunflower had its first bloom open at 12 weeks, just in time to celebrate the New Year! We harvested the seeds on the 23 February 2016.
If your plants are affected by fungal disease, a general fungicide can be applied. Slugs and snails love browsing on the stems and leaves of sunflowers, so spray the seedlings with an organic snail bait or a mixture of 1 part espresso coffee to 3 parts of water, then mulch, repeating after heavy rain or irrigation. Bees and butterflies love the flowers, while birds, rodents, squirrels and deer are attracted to the sunflower seed, though large amounts are fatal to the latter! There are numerous insect pests, most of which attack other plants as well. More information on these insects and their management can be found on :http://ipmguidelinesforgrains.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Sunflower_IPM-Workshops_north-March2013.pdf and https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/pests/e1457.pdf Seed heads should be harvested when very dry ie once the back of the flower heads are turning yellow or brown. Tie paper bags over their heads, then cut the stems and hang upside-down in a dry, well-ventilated place till fully dry. The seed head can be sharply struck or rubbed across an old washboard to release the seeds. To process sunflower seed for consumption, soak them overnight in a bucket of 1 gallon (4.5 litres) water and 1 cup salt. Redry in a 250 degree Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius) oven for 4 to 5 hours and store in airtight containers.For replanting, the seeds are viable for 5 years, according to: http://tcpermaculture.com/site/2013/06/14/how-long-will-seeds-last-stay-viable/, but if you want to check their viability before planting, see: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/check-sunflower-seeds-viable-68389.html.
Sunflowers are grown extensively throughout the world for human and animal food and sunflower oil production. There are two types grown. The first is oilseed, a very small black seed with a very high oil content , which is processed into sunflower oil and meal and is also the seed of choice of most bird feeders. The second type is non-oilseed (confectionery sunflower), a larger black and white striped seed used in a variety of food products from snacks to bread. Sunflower seeds are rich in healthy fats, oil, vitamin E, protein, fibre and minerals and can be eaten raw or roasted for a savory snack or ground into a seed paste (Sun Butter) like peanut butter. They are excellent for promoting heart health and lowering cholesterol. The seeds can also be ground into a sunflower meal and used as a substitute for wheat flour in breads and cakes and the seed husks can be ground into a coffee-like beverage. Sunflowers are also widely used as an animal food, mainly for birds (seeds) and cattle (forage crop or a high protein meal, which is a by-product of sunflower oil extraction and is often blended with soya bean meal). The seeds can also be pressed to make an oil, which has been used in salads and for cooking, margarine production and in industry : as drying oils for paints and varnishes and in beauty products like soap and cosmetics. However, readers should be aware that there is some research about health risks associated with cooking with vegetable oils. See these links for further information: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11981884/Cooking-with-vegetable-oils-releases-toxic-cancer-causing-chemicals-say-experts.html and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20886885. The cooking oil is recycled as a biofuel. For more on the commercial industry overview of sunflowers in the United States, see: http://www.sunflowernsa.com and http://www.soyatech.com/sunflower_facts.htm. Sunflower oil can also be used in medicine: for constipation and lowering bad LDL cholesterol or applied directly to the skin for poorly healing wounds, skin injuries, psoriasis and arthritis and as a massage oil.Native Americans also grew sunflowers for food and oil, medicine, fibre and dyes , as well as to provide shelter for crops of maize, pumpkins and beans. The juice from the stems was used to treat wounds and an infusion of the plant in water was used to treat kidney and chest pain. The fibre from the stalks could be made into cloth and both the seeds and flower heads yielded a dye: purple, blue and black from the seeds and a bright yellow from the flowers.Sunflowers can also be grown as a green manure crop, the plants being dug into the ground once the seedlings reach a height of 30 cm. The plants can bioaccumulate heavy metals in contaminated soil, like lead, arsenic and uranium, and were used to remove nuclear fallout after the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.And finally, sunflowers are commonly used in floristry and are often given on the third wedding anniversary as a sign of adoration, strength and loyalty. Stems should be cut early in the morning before the flowerbuds are fully open- preferably ½ to ¾ open. If buying them, the leaves should be a strong green colour and the stems should be strong. They must be sold with a water source, as they shock easily. Remove any foliage below water level and cut the stems on a sharp diagonal (2 to 4 cm from the stem ends), under water if possible to avoid air blockages in the stems. Do NOT bash the stems. Use a preservative to maintain open flowers and change the vase water daily. The flowers have a vase life of 7 to 10 days. The leaves will wilt and die before the flowers, so only retain the upper leaves. To help prevent leaf drooping, add 10 drops of household detergent to 5 litres of water and leave in this solution for 1 to 3 hours, but no longer than overnight. If the leaves do start to droop, immediately recut the stems up to 6 cm and place in deep water with preservative for up to 3 hours. If the flowers droop completely, recut the stems and place them in boiling water to clear the blockage quickly (though the lifespan of the flower will be halved).
I really enjoyed researching my last feature post for this year. The sunflower is a fascinating plant and I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I enjoyed writing it. If I have whetted your appetite to know more, it would be worth trying to source ‘Sunflowers: the Secret History’ by Joe Pappalardo. See: http://www.overlookpress.com/sunflowers-the-secret-history.html.
The February garden has been full of excitement and industry with the construction of the Main Pergola, the decommissioning of the pumpkin patch and the harvesting of all the Summer fruits and vegetables, not to mention finishing the brick edging of the Moon Bed and the multitude of Summer tasks from weeding, watering and mulching to lawn mowing and planting out new vegetables and seeds!
We were so thrilled with the Main Pergola and even though it is far from finished, the positioning of the new stringybark uprights gives a real sense of its potential and provides a framework and a perfect entrance way to the garden, as can be seen in the photos below. We used 2 old tall fenceposts (from the old Kiwi trellis) in the middle of the pergola. which lend it a rustic air and fit in well!
Wombat Ross dug all 6 holes by hand, all to a depth of 850 mm, which was as long as his arms could reach to scoop out the loosened soil with an old salmon can, but that was sufficient!
We strung up a horizontal wire and tied the laterals of the climbing roses to it, finally providing them with their much-needed support! As we source the wooden beams, we will gradually complete the top of the pergola, but the major part of the work has been done!
Having achieved the major goal for February, Ross then turned his attention to the rampant pumpkin patch, which was again threatening to take over the maple tree and was growing pumpkins up the back chook fence and sneaking through to the neighbour’s garden!Even though it was still producing tiny new pumpkins on a daily basis, we felt we had more than enough for the season and Ross was keen to reinvent the No-Dig Bed. My friend’s prized dahlia seedlings were up and running and we need to thin them out and transplant the extras to a larger area. I just hope that they last the distance and can reveal their beautiful flowers before the late Autumn frosts!He was also keen to establish a Winter crop of peas, cauliflowers and brussel sprouts, while we still have this wonderful growing weather. He has already planted new chard, carrots, lettuces and baby spinach, as well as a late Autumn crop of Dutch Cream potatoes.But back to Ross’s revenge attack on the pumpkin patch! It was swift and it was brutal and in no time at all, we had a new vegetable garden, as well as 37 Queensland Blue pumpkins and 4 GINORMOUS marrows, which are really zucchinis or courgettes, which have been let go (or forgotten in our case!)
Leaving one for our neighbour, we stored the rest in the shed in our trailer, bringing back memories of Ross’s mercy mission, when he and his brother delivered a trailer load of Queensland Blues to the starving people of Brisbane after the massive 1974 floods! A bit ironical really, given that Ross has always disparagingly referred to them as ‘pig food’! Please don’t read that the wrong way!!!
We much prefer the smaller, striped Jap pumpkins, which are growing in the future chook enclosure and to which we have allowed a grace of one extra week to fully mature!!!So, plenty of hearty Winter Pumpkin soups ahead! Fortunately, our son is staying with us at the moment, so not only was he able to help Ross out with the pergola posts, but he has been concocting the most delicious lunches and dinners from produce, fresh from the garden, including the dishes photographed below. As my son remarked, he feels he has given the humble and much-maligned marrow a measure of respect! Even though considered quite bland and requiring other ingredients with strong complimentary flavours, the texture of the flesh was superb! I had half expected this old zucchini to be tough and stringy, but it is tender and really quite delicious, even on its own. I’m a fan!!!
Today, we enjoyed an exquisitely light and creamy home-grown Red Cabbage Soup, garnished with parsley and an Italian Lavender flower! Red Cabbage is also incredibly healthy: see website:http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/healthy_eating/eat-a-rainbow/anthocyanins-blue-purple-food.htmWe harvested the last of the Dutch Cream potatoes. When Ross dug up the old pumpkin patch, he discovered another bucketful of this delicious and much-coveted potatoes. We are storing them in a bucket under the house, but I dearly wish we had kept our old wire safes to store them!!!
We have also been very impressed by our colourful capsicums, a first-time crop for us!The heritage tomatoes also produced a large crop and we made tomato chutney and a spicy tomato sauce, not unlike Barbecue Sauce, as well as using them in all our salads and on toast for lunch!
We also made a Sweet Apple Chutney from our small apple crop. Unfortunately, the birds had demolished a fair number of them, even though they were not ripe enough to eat!
The neighbour’s Beurre Bosc pears appeared to be about to suffer the same fate, so we picked them all for her (and lucky us!), to later discover on researching their harvesting that pears are always picked unripe and stored in the fridge to ripen. We have already enjoyed 3 delicious dessets of stewed pears and cream. It really is a beautiful pear with a sweet taste and firm flesh.
I knew it was only a matter of time before the birds stooped to harvest the tiny new crab apple, being one of the last fruits left for the moment, and I didn’t want to see the fragile branches damaged with the weight of the raiding Vikings, so I picked all 135 fruit, yielding 758g fruit, just enough for 2 scant jars of crab apple jam. The fruit was quite golden by this stage, despite the reddish tinge, so I am assuming its labelling as a ‘Golden Hornet’ crab apple was correct after all!!!So now we are waiting for the raspberries, our one fig (courtesy of the neighbour on the other side!), our first lemonade fruit and our cumquat marmalade crop!
Ross continues to wage war on the stink bugs, who have now just discovered our new citrus trees, as have the Orchard Swallowtail Butterflies (Papilio aegeus) ! Despite the fact that they are bad news for citrus trees, I really do love these huge handsome butterflies, who are a mainstay of the garden. I have been voyeuristically chasing courting pairs around the garden with my camera, obviously to no real detriment, as their spiky progeny is now appearing on the citrus leaves!
These slightly plainer brown butterflies are also very attractive, as are these stunning flies, wasps and beetles!The praying mantis keeps a much lower profile in my washing basket, as do the house spiders with their cunning camouflaged egg sacs, masquerading as leaves, suspended mid-air in their webs.
Mid-air antics are not just the preserve of the arachnids however! On investigating some luminescent shiny tracks on our stone wall one night, we were introduced to the fascinating Leopard Slug (Limax maximus), one of the largest of the keeled slugs. Apparently, they mate mid-air, spiralling down a thread of their own mucus, which they consume after exchanging their sperm! For more information, see : http://www.molluscs.at/gastropoda/terrestrial.html?/gastropoda/terrestrial/limax.htmlWe did not see their twirling dance, but for mucus of a different kind, see the next photo:My sewing room is proving to be an excellent vantage point for bird photography! I really must clean my windows!!! Often, I will have my head down writing or sewing, only to look up at a Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo quietly watching me from the Pepperina tree or a King Parrot feeding its offspring!Now that the apples have finished, the King Parrots are feasting on the maple seed. We often watch them from the verandah or surprise them as we walk down the path, but they must be very hungry or very quiet, as they rarely fly off. And some like Oliver are just plain nosy parkers! He often startles us by swooping in close by our heads to land closeby and check out our latest activity! Candelo really is Cockatoo Heaven! This month, we hosted a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Convention down in the bottom corner of the garden. We are mystified about their food source, as the plums and apples are all gone. Perhaps the tiny fruit of the Floribunda crab apple has fallen!
And my beloved Gang-Gang Cockatoos have returned, doing their morning and night-time flyovers every day, though unfortunately, I haven’t yet captured them on film. I can however show you a photo of them feeding on Hawthorne berries last Autumn!We have also had garden inspections from a Spotted Turtle-Dove , a Red Wattlebird, a female Satin Bowerbird and some migrant Dollarbirds, as well as a very noisy, but as yet unphotographed, Cuckoo baby (possibly a Stormbird or Koel- its timbre is the same!), whose non-stop demands must really annoy its overworked host parents even more than us!!!And finally to the flower garden…
The Soho Bed, as generous and abundant as ever:
The Moon Bed, glowing in satisfaction with her beautiful soft David Austin blooms and flowering Paris Daisy, as well as her fully completed brick edging at long last!
Leander, the cutting which we just planted out on the shed corner, has been generously proving her worth, as has the continuous flowering Cornelia in the Pink Hybrid Musk Hedge and Frau Dagmar Hastrup in the Rugosa hedge against my neighbour’s fence.
The Cutting Garden has been ablaze with colour, the Zinnias taking over from the Dahlias, which are just about on their last legs. We also have some late Cosmos, in amongst the stock, and Foxgloves. I finally discovered the identity of these weird looking plants. I was mistakenly sent seeds for Nigella orientalis ‘Transformer’ instead of the blue variety : Nigella hispanica, which I had ordered. They certainly have dramatic seed heads!My Ceratostigma plants have finally flowered and have an electric blue colour, which goes well in mixed bouquets (see rose bouquet later). The Sunflowers were casualties of the pumpkin rampage, but fortunately most of their blooms had finished. I tied paper bags to their spent heads and hung them under the house to dry, so I can save their seed for next season. Our other giants, the Tree Dahlias, having attained their full height, are now gearing up for their brief spectacular finale before the first frost obliterates them. The grevilleas and Silky Oak in the rainforest area behind the shed are powering along!
And the Giant Bamboo on the side fence has finally made a recovery, as has the Banksia Rose over the outdoor eating area! The Woodbine is also well on the way to scaling the fence and has such pretty scented blooms! The hydrangeas are still blooming. I love their soft blue-green petals and the purity of their white blooms. The Cannas are beautiful at the moment with their orange flowers and ruby-red fruit!It is impossible to resist making up bouquets with all the beautiful garden blooms :
I just had to include a photo of my neighbour’s beautiful rambling back garden. I feel we complement each other well!!! Till next month…!
Hydrangeas have always been a favourite of mine. Their charming old-fashioned flowers are a stalwart of the cottage garden. I love their variegated flowers and their unusual and exquisite colour combinations, which are constantly changing as the flowers age.They are usually planted in groups or in shrub borders and are highly ornamental. Our hydrangeas are massed in their very own bed (photo 1), but they can be planted in a shrub border along a path (photo 2) .Moreover, they are tough plants, often surviving long after their original garden or house has vanished. In my childhood, we had masses of them down by the creek, way beyond the garden boundary. When we built our cottage at Dorrigo on the site of the old ruins, the hydrangea bushes were enormous- at least 3 metres tall- and even though we pruned them right back, within two seasons, they were back up at the level of the verandah roof again! Here is an old photo of one of the original shrubs on the old house site during the building phase.Hydrangeas belong to the Family Hydrangeacae . Their genus name is Hydrangea and contains up to 100 deciduous and evergreen shrubs, small trees and climbers. They are mostly found in temperate Asia (China, Japan, Korea and Himalayas) with a few species from North and South America. Their natural habitat is moist woodlands. They were introduced into Europe in 1735. Their name is derived from 2 Greek words : ‘Hydor’ meaning ‘water’ and ‘angeion’ meaning ‘vessel’, referring to the cup-shaped seedpods. They are thought to be over 140 million years old.Most hydrangeas are 1-3 metre tall shrubs with brittle pithy stems and dark green oval leaves with serrated edges. They are grown for their beautiful flower heads of white, red, pink, purple and blue. Small fertile flowers are surrounded by larger eye-catching 4-petalled sterile petals or bracts. You should be able to see some of the fertile florets in the following photos:The most popular species is Hydrangea macrophylla or Bigleaf Hydrangea. It is native to Japan and has thick individual canes, which grow from the base of the plant, big flat oval toothed leaves 4-6 inches long and 3-5 inches wide and huge round flowerheads up to 8 inches in diameter.There are 2 types of H. macrophylla :
• Mopheads (Hortensias): snowball type blooms; over 600 named cultivars, including more compact and dwarf varieties. We have the standard H. macrophylla, as can be seen in the photos above. There is also a variety called Ayesha, which is 1.5-2 metres tall and is photographed below:• Lace Caps: showy open sterile flowers hang down from a flat centre of tiny fertile buds; 20 cultivars.Hydrangeas flower in Australia from late January to February and into Autumn on second year growth. Their flower pigment changes colour in the presence of Aluminium ions, which is translated into soil pH, so :
- Soils with a relatively high availability of aluminium ions : acidic : pH 1-6 produce blue flowers and
- Soils with low levels of aluminium ions : alkaline soils : pH 8-12 produce pink or red flowers.
- When the pH is about 6, mauve flowers are produced.
Having said that, we did try checking the pH of our hydrangea bed. It was 6.5 under the white hydrangea and 7.6 under the pink hydrangea, but the soil under the blue and mauve hydrangeas was also 7.6! So either our pH measurer is dodgy, the roots of the blue hydrangea are in pockets of acid soil, which we cannot reach to test, or maybe the relative availability of aluminium ions is more important than pH as a colour determining factor. All a bit of a mystery, but it’s great having the colour variability!
The colour of hydrangea flowers can be manipulated by adding substances to the soil to change the pH, but it can take up to 2-3 years to achieve the final colour. Note : White flowers are not affected by pH or aluminium levels eg AnnabelleTo change pink flowers to blue : Add a blueing tonic containing aluminium and iron (eg 1 tbsp powdered alum or aluminium sulphate) to 1 gallon water. Apply once per month in March and April and again in August, September and October. Coffee grounds, organic matter and grass clippings, as well as a fertilizer low in phosphorous and high in potassium, can also predispose to blue blooms. In the past, iron nails and tin were often added to the soil . With our blacksmithing past, it’s no wonder that we have so many blue flowers!!! It is best not to decrease the pH below 5.0, otherwise the leaves will yellow.To change blue blooms to pink : Add 1 cup Hydrangea Pinking or dolomite lime (calcium carbonate) in 1 gallon water to the soil in Spring and a fertilizer with high levels of phosphorous.Hydrangeas are very adaptable plants , but their ideal growing requirements are:
• Moist rich composted soil with good drainage. They don’t like heavy clay soils.
• Partial or dappled shade for most of the day or at least past 11am. An easterly to southerly aspect is best in the Southern Hemisphere. Our hydrangea bed is in an ideal location on the south-east corner of the house (see photo below). Ultraviolet exposure burns hydrangea flowers and leaves. Full sun and wind dry the plants out. Avoid heavy shade (insufficient light) or positions under trees due to root competition.
• Regular watering, especially in late Spring to Summer: a deep soaking at least 1-2 times a week
• Mulch: apply bark chips, leaves, pine needles or straw in Autumn, as the fibrous root system is close to the soil surface
• Low fertilizer needs, though use a slow release fertilizer with micronutrients in Spring if the soil is sandy and light.Pests are minimal, though slugs like hydrangeas, but there are a few diseases including : powdery mildew, gray mould, rust, ring spot virus, leaf spots and white hydrangea scale. Powdery mildew occurs in warm wet weather or when there is too much shade or not enough water. The leaves are covered with a light grey powder, which starts on the bottom leaves and works its way up and it is worse on mophead varieties. It can be prevented by spraying the plants with 2 cups of milk in a bucket of water. White hydrangea scale can be picked off or if it is bad, sprayed with Eco-oil. Macrophyllas can also suffer from iron chlorosis (see photo below), especially in soil with a high pH, where less iron is available, so use a chelated iron fertilizer. For more on iron chlorosis, see : https://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/weeklypics/5-10-10.html Hydrangeas should be pruned every year to avoid the plants becoming leggy with dead branches and less flowering. Pruning should be done in late Winter (July/ August), when the plants are dormant. Each stem has a maximum life of 5-6 years. Old dead wood should be removed – look for exfoliating stems- and prune right back to the ground. Otherwise, trim back the green growth of the current season to ¼ inch above the 2 plump eyes or leaf buds closest to the ground. Do not prune stems, which haven’t flowered yet, as they will flower the following season. Apply compost after pruning. The photos below show our drastic initial prune at Dorrigo and the growth within one season.Hydrangeas can be propagated by softwood cuttings taken in Summer, hardwood cuttings taken in Winter and seed. If you need to transplant a plant, move it when dormant in Winter.Other species of Hydrangeas :
• H. paniculata : The Panicle or Cluster-flowering Hydrangea : Has vertical growth and long plumes of creamy-white flowers, turning a very light pink; Similar to lacecaps in late Summer; Deciduous; Very cold hardy and tolerates more sun, dry spells and frost than other species; Prefers semi-shade; Prune in late Spring for more flowers.
• H. quercifolia : Oak-leafed Hydrangea : Native to North America; Similar shaped leaves to Acer macrophyllum, which turn a deep mahogany red in Autumn; Long cone-shaped panicles of white to light pink plumes, which last on the bush until Winter; Can tolerate sunnier conditions and drier soils than other species, but does not like soggy soil! If it is affected by root rot, the bush looks wilted, but not for want of water, and it is usually too late by this stage, so good drainage is essential; Prune early Spring.
• H. petiolaris: A climbing hydrangea : Native to Japan, Korea and Sakhalin, Eastern Siberia; Very slow growth; Can reach 9-15m high and 2m wide and takes 10 years to bloom; White lace cap type bloom in early to mid Summer; Likes filtered light; Do not plant against the wall of your house, as it leaves a residue, which is very difficult to remove.
• H. anomala : Another climbing hydrangea, but native to China, Myanmar and Himalayas; Grows up to 12m up trees and rock faces; Needs a support to climb or will form a ground cover 1.5m high; Popular with nesting birds, especially blackbirds. 15cm diameter flower corymbs in Summer; Does not require pruning.
• H. arborescens : Wild Hydrangea/ Smooth Hydrangea/ Sevenbark : Cultivars : ‘Grandiflora’; ‘Annabelle’ : Native to Eastern United States of America; 3-5 feet high; Thin leaves, so avoid bright sunlight; Large creamy-white dome-shaped flowers up to 1 foot diameter from Summer to Autumn; Cut back vigorously to 20cm at the end of Spring.
• H. serrata : Mountain Hydrangea/ Tea of Heaven : Native to the mountains of Japan and Korea; Similar to H. macrophylla but hardier, smaller and more compact with smaller leaves and flowers; Panicles of blue and pink flowers in Summer and Autumn with showy sterile and less showy fertile florets in each cluster; Deciduous.Hydrangeas are beautiful in a vase and last a long time, so long as the water is regularly changed and preservative added. Cutting their stems stops the colour-changing process and the further along the colour-change of the flower has progressed, the longer their vase life. A fully grown head near the end of its colour change can last up to 2-3 weeks. These photos show the development of colour as the blooms mature.Recut stems on the diagonal and do not split, sear or bash. Strip any leaves which would be under water. Preservative is essential. I love the subtle shades and colour combinations in the hydrangea petals, as well as the elegance of pure white blooms.They can also be dried. For drying, cut flowers late in the season, when they are almost dry, and cut them at night time when the humidity is low. Put in 3cm of water only and do not add extra water. Alternatively, hang stems upside down in a warm, dry, dark, airy room for 2-3 weeks. Keep them out of sunlight to prevent fading. These autumnal mottly colours are seen late in the season:
In the language of flowers, hydrangeas mean : ‘grace, beauty and abundance’, as well as ‘gratefulness and sincere feelings’. Pink hydrangeas are increasingly popular in Asia, where they mean ‘You are the beat of my heart’. My daughter Caroline used watercolours in this beautiful painting of a vase of hydrangeas.
In Japan, a sweet tea, ama-cha甘茶 , or’ Tea of Heaven’ , is made out of the dried leaves of H. serrata. The sweet substance in the leaves is phyllodulcin. The leaves are crumpled, steamed and dried to produce dark brown tea leaves, which are then used in kan-butsu-e (the Buddha bathing ceremony) on 8 April, supposedly Buddha’s birthday, in Japan. The tea is poured over a statue of Buddha and served to people in attendance. In Korea, H. serrata (hangul 산수국; Hanja 山水菊 ) is used to make a herbal tea called sugukcha 수국차 or ilsulcha이슬차. Hydrangea roots and rhizomes are diuretic and are sometimes used to treat urinary tract problems. However, great care must be taken as all parts of the plant contain cyanogenic glycosides and can be moderately toxic if eaten. H. paniculata is sometimes smoked as an intoxicant, even though it can cause illness and death from cyanide poisoning.
What a wonderful Summer we have been enjoying! Perfect temperatures in the late-20s with some mid-30s and the odd scorcher above 40 degrees Celsius, as well as Summer storms and beautiful rain, resulting in flooded creeks and river beds early in the new year. It is always good to see a decent amount of water in Candelo Creek and the birds love it! I couldn’t catch the fast-flying reed warblers, but I did see this gorgeous swamp hen on her grassy platform, which was at the back right of the large central island in the 2nd photo.
There has been so much growth in the garden! The stems of the climbing roses on the Main Pergola are so long and are urging its immediate construction! We ordered 4 freshly-cut, 3.2 m long stringybark posts yesterday, so the roses and I can’t wait for the building to start!Ross also wired up Lamarque, the climbing rose on the front wall of the house, to train its increasingly wayward canes, as well as making a raspberry trellis at the back of the northern vegie patch. We will transplant all the new canes to the vacant half of the trellis this Winter, so have sowed some multi-coloured sweet pea seed for a last crop in Autumn.
We also planted some very special dahlia seeds given to us by a dear friend. I can’t wait to see the colour combinations in Autumn. While Ross was sowing seed, I collected the bupleurium seed.
When we were ordering the pergola posts, we also picked up 50 old red bricks, so we were able to complete the brick edging around the Moon Bed. It looks terrific and will make maintenance so much easier. I would really like to edge the Soho Bed in a similar fashion, though we might have to use smaller broken bricks on their ends because of the continuous curve of the circle.
We have also done lots of watering, weeding and mulching throughout the month, not to mention giving that rampant pumpkin a severe haircut!!!All Ross’s hard work in the garden is now paying off! Even though the potato plants have struggled, we still had a good crop and we are harvesting red and gold heritage tomatoes every day. We made a second batch of Wild Plum Jam and more Basil Pesto.We feast on delicious fresh salads, divine home-made pesto and tasty pizzas for lunch! The pizzas were made with our own onion, tomatoes, capsicum, basil and pesto.
The plums have been superb! We have been eagerly awaiting the ripening of the large purple plums and after a spell of warm days, we harvested 2 buckets worth. We kept a third of the ripest to eat for breakfast, then experimented with 2 different recipes : http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/11891/dolous+dark+plum+jam and http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/backyard-plum-jam. Both have similar ingredients, but their method and timing differ. The first probably set better than the 2nd, but both are delicious and we now have 15 jars of divine Plum Jam for our pantry. And there are still more plums on the tree!
Our neighbour’s pear tree also has a bumper crop!We have had plenty of avian visitors to the garden, keeping a close eye on the ripening of the fruit. We have chased off a number of raiding parties of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos.
Oliver and Twist have been regular visitors to the verandah. They seem to like our company and chatter away to us, good-naturedly accepting our less-than-perfect-host behaviour by refusing to feed them! They like nibbling away at the fresh winged seeds of the nearby maple.
The Crimson Rosellas are also enjoying the Duranta berries and at least one of them has been led astray by Oliver and has tried joining him on the verandah!
We even have a young Butcher-Bird, much to the alarm of the other bird parents.The January garden is full of flowers! We have been so impressed with the pink sweet peas, which despite their late start, have positively exploded and are enjoying a long season!The Burgundy sunflowers are equally impressive for their colour, boldness and vigour, producing many many flower heads.
The dahlias are still brightening up the cutting garden with their generosity, as are the calendulas.
They have been joined by exotic scarlet, gold, orange and pink zinnias. Their colours are so intense, as is the purple of the cosmos.The Tree Dahlias have surpassed the shed roof and the corner of the house is a mass of blue and mauve hydrangea mopheads. They are my monthly feature plant for February!The agapanthus provide a sea of blue to cool the senses on the really hot days.And the roses continue to romance us! The Moon Bed looks so pretty with it soft pink, cream and gold David Austin roses.
The Soho Bed is also undergoing a fresh burst of blooms.
The climbers are also throwing out fresh blooms.
My rose cuttings from last Winter are thriving and their roots have reached the base of their 2nd larger pots already, so we have decided to plant them out in their final positions over the next few weeks to make the most of the growing season.
The diversity of the insect world in the garden continues to astound us. We discovered the culprit, which defoliated our potato plants : the larvae of the 28-spotted ladybird (Epilachna vigintoctopunctata). It appears that not all ladybirds are good!!!These red beetles were much more attractive, but had little impact on either the pumpkins or the sunflowers!These beetles were mating on rhubarb leaves.I love the jewel-like beetles on the raspberry below. One could almost forgo that berry for their beauty!But not our precious cumquats for the 2016 marmalade season!
Our stink bugs continue to thwart Ross’s efforts to eliminate them! Unfortunately, their awful smell cancels out any benign thoughts or appreciation of their own unique beauty!
This little moth is in heaven!
The handsome Orchard Butterfly is back, flitting heavily from the buddleias to the Soho Bed.There are some stunning wasps and spiders.These cute little grasshoppers are hopefully behaving themselves!
Summer also means lots of beautiful bouquets for the house!
And it’s been so wonderful having our daughter here on holidays. Lots of exploring our beautiful local area, as well as relaxing at home. Caroline always enjoys sewing when she visits and made this beautiful cushion- the pattern sourced from : http://cluckclucksew.com/2011/03/tutorial-sprocket-pillows.html.
We actually made it a little larger, so she could use it as a floor cushion. We had a quick impromptu lesson on tassel-making from the habadashery lady, as she had no gold tassels in stock, then Caro made all 12 from gold embroidery thread within half an hour! I was very impressed!!! We had even more fun attaching the central buttons! Having pulled both buttons together tight, we were trying to hide the thread end and actually lost the entire needle inside the cushion!!! Fortunately, we were able to retrieve it and disaster was averted!!!Caro has also had a lot of fun with her watercolours. Having had a lesson from her friend on the way over, she really developed her technique over the holidays. She loves painting animals, especially in quirky or fantastical situations. Here is some of her work!
This week started with a bang! Last Tuesday was a momentous day weatherwise with a meteorite shower from 1.30am to 4am, then a huge electrical storm out to sea between 10pm and 4am on Wednesday morning. Here in Candelo valley, we are nestled between two steep hills, but as we face east, we were able to sit protected on our verandah and watch both events safely. Unfortunately, the meteorite shower was a bit of a fizzer (Ross’s description), though we did see a shooting star every two minutes, even though it wasn’t very bright or for very long! It was still worth getting up in the wee hours of the morning for the beautiful starry night sky and the sound of the flap of bat wings from the neighbour’s apple trees and the melodic trill of the reed warbler down in the creek.And the electrical performance at the end of the day more than compensated for the earlier event and was totally unexpected! I drifted in and out of sleep for the first two hours, before I decided that I had better get up and see why the street light kept flickering on and off, only to discover that it wasn’t the culprit at all. Hughie was having a party upstairs and flicking all the light switches in the night sky! Because we are just over 20 km from the coast, we could not hear any thunder rumbles, but the chain lightning was spectacular and well worth capturing on film (though I had to use a Sports setting and the majority of the shots were black)!My butterfly obsession has now been replaced by birds in flight and the mass movement of Corellas! Every evening, we are treated to these spectacular shows- primarily Little Corellas, but sometimes Galahs as well.It is always interesting seeing which tree they decide to settle in for the night! When we first arrived almost a year ago, it was their cousins, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, who dominated the bird scene, and we do not remember such a huge population of Little Corellas. Perhaps, by the time we arrived, they had finished marauding Candelo and moved on to fresher, fruitier pastures!So far, we still have our plums, apples and pears, touch wood! I do hope we get to sample some of the fruit once it ripens!The insects are also enjoying all the fresh Summer growth!
Roses of note this week include the following:
I just adore arranging them into beautiful bouquets!
Photo 1 : EglantynePhoto 2 : Childrens’ Rose in centre; Eglantyne (soft pink) and Alnwick (warm pink); Troilus (cream) and Jude the Obscure (cream globular at back)Photo 3 : The above bouquet with stock, blue salvia, lavender and catmint addedPhoto 4 : Close-Up of finished bouquetPhoto 5 : Beautiful AgapanthusThe Agapanthus are so elegant and perfect, both in the house and the garden.