Weekend garden jobs, Sunday August 30 2020

Yesterday was the kind of perfect Spring day we get in our part of the world: clearest of clear skies, slight breeze, warm air without any hint of pollution or odiferousness. Perfection. This is why I love Spring and why it is always my favourite time of year. Every second of the day I felt lucky and happy to be alive, especially when I heard the tragic news of the death of Chadwick Boseman at just 43. I appreciated so much the gift of my life and how lucky I am to live so freely in such a beautiful place, and felt keenly how unfair it was that not only he had lost his life so young, but that so many people around the world have lost their lives this year.

I had been planning to spend the day in the garden, but my husband and I had a couple of hours of KFT (kid free time) and decided to take a trip to our favourite nursery, which is in a town a bit up the road. It’s also a nice town for a stroll and has an excellent bakery, so it seemed like a pretty great way to spend an almost-Spring day.

This nursery has some of the most beautiful pots you can buy, and lots of beautiful garden-themed knick-knacks (that usually sucker me right in), but I was a gardener on a mission this time. This is partly because I had a mental list and a plan, but also because I have bought so many pots and indoor plants over the Autumn and Winter that I need to take a break. I probably have almost twenty indoor plants now. Have you seen the movie Poltergeist? That house is my life goal. The indoor plants aesthetic, not the terrifying ghosts and skeleton pool. The 70s were where it’s at when it comes to indoor plants. Indoor plants seemed to disappear after the early 80s and have come back again in the past five or so years, thank goodness. Anyway, I went ham on them recently, and I probably need to take a break and make sure I can keep them all alive and well before blowing more cash on indoor plants (and blow some cash on outdoor plants instead).

I was after flowers to plant by our retaining wall, with the goal of a blooming display by Christmas. I went full Christmas colours (red, white, and green). We usually host at least once at Christmas (often twice or three times), so I wanted the backyard to be full of big, blousy blooms.

I also found thornless berries to plant at the side of the house, behind the chook shed. We have a fence that is set in a deep recess, and the area next to it it is plagued by weeds. It is hard to keep clear, and it bugs both us and our neighbour, who has to look at it more than we do. Due to a pipe that runs from the main road, down through all the house blocks behind us and through to our street, we can’t plant anything with a deep root system in case we crack the pipe and flood both our house and our neighbour’s yard. Our house is two stories, so if we crack it, it will flood the bottom floor of our house. But I do have to plant something to take over instead of the flourishing thistles and the ivy coming over from our back neighbour’s yard (ivy – the cursed plant. Do not plant it because it is un-killable. Like the vampyre, it will rise again). I have considered many options, but I think that thornless berries will work well. They are quite shallow rooted, spread easily, require little attention, and if they do well, I can climb down and pick them without being torn up. If I don’t get to them, the chooks can eat them without being injured or becoming ill. Berries are also inexpensive plants, so if these don’t work, I have not blown hundreds of dollars on hedging plants. I also have a feijoa in a pot that is quite unhappy. As it is also relatively shallow-rooted, I will chuck that down there and keep it trimmed.

Like a hopeful sucker, I also bought tomato plants, far too early. I couldn’t help myself. I really should have waited another month, as the soil temperature is still too cold to plant them. I might have to pot them up to grow a bit larger, and then prepare the soil for them to go in the ground in a month or so.

Today (Sunday) Google Home kept promising me it was going to rain, so I stayed inside most of the day doing boring but necessary jobs, like laundry, and cleaning my office, and every so often eyeing the sky and my box of plants and wondering if I should risk being rained on.

Finally I thought, ‘nuts to this,’ and went outside to at least plant the flowers. I had a helper:

I discovered that gardening with chooks is a lot like gardening with small children: they don’t really care what you want to do, they just want to be where you are. Vanessa the chook is the smartest of our chooks. I watched as she slipped niftily through the barrier we have set up for them when they are let out to free range, while the other chooks looked on, quite puzzled (they did not figure it out). She followed me around the yard, watching what I was doing. When I realised that she was only going to hang out with me, I moved to a patch of weeding, and she helped me turn it over (I returned to the planting later). We occasionally stopped for little pats and my rendition of ‘Rocket Man.’ I think she’s forgiven me.

I also discovered she can understand me. I called her by name and told her it was time to go in, and she came back in to the yard (no food required). Peeps, I have a genius chook. And three dum-dums.

I did manage to get all the flowers planted, and as I am typing this, the rain has just started. Made it!

A beginner’s guide to indoor plants (by a beginner)

My grandmother always had a couple of pots of African violets on her windowsill, and a cyclamen in her house. My mother has always had a maidenhair fern in the bathroom and a jade plant in an interesting pot at the front and back door (for luck). But you may have noticed that lately every dude with designer facial hair and a one gear bicycle has a fiddle leaf fig in his house.

Indoor plants are cool now.

I have a number of indoor plants (because cool, see), but although I am an old hand at outdoor gardening, I am a total noob when it comes to indoor gardening. These are the plants I have right now:

  • Sedum or Jellybean plant x 2;
  • Pincushion Cactus (Mammillaria),
  • Pachyphytum hookeri;
  • Pachyphytum kimnachii (my favourite succulent – it looks like some sort of crystalline growth on a cave floor);
  • Fiddle leaf fig;
  • Fatsia;
  • Philodendron;
  • Aspidistra elata;
  • Peperomia variegated;
  • Diefferbachia;
  • Pothos (Devil’s Ivy).

I have also killed several plants, including several Freckle Faces for some reason. These are basically a weed, so killing these takes true talent.

These are my tips for keeping my houseplants alive and looking healthy and happy:

  • Watch the plant. My philodendron, Albert, was initially in the lounge room. He was miserable. His leaves would start off beautifully, then start to crisp around the edges and turn brown and wilt. I was not overwatering, and he was fed a slow release fertiliser for pot plants, so feeding was not the problem. I realised that light was the problem. Philodendrons have enormous leaves almost the size of small plates, which I figured were for photosynthesis. I moved Albert to our sunroom, which as the name suggests, is a much lighter room. Albert is now my most beautiful houseplant, happily unfurling leaf after gorgeous leaf. Every time I go out to the sunroom, I have to stop and look at him.
  • Keep an eye on light and temperature. The plants that I have killed have died due to either a lack of light (one bathroom is too dark) or too much heat (the other bathroom has a north facing window and plants placed there quickly crisped up and died). I have a houseplant in my office at work, and I bring it outside regularly for some sunlight and fresh air. I know my colleagues think I am slightly cracked because about once a week I take my little ‘friend’ for a walk outside. Houseplants can also die due to to overexposure to indoor heating, so I generally do not keep houseplants in my living area, where we have a fireplace going in Winter, and ducted cooling in Summer. The exception is one Sedum (Jellybean plant), which sits over the kitchen sink. It seems to be fine because the moisture from the sink keeps the air nice and moist.
  • Clean the plant. Houseplants collect dust. The dust clogs up the plant and prevents it from properly photosynthesising. I clean my houseplants every few weeks with tepid water to which I have added a few drops of olive oil. The olive oil helps to shine big houseplant leaves. Obviously, I don’t clean succulents.
  • Think about water. I only water my houseplants with bottled spring water. This seems like a wasteful choice, but in fact the spring water is a waste product in my house, because my eldest daughter buys water when she is out and then doesn’t drink it all (yes, I have suggested a thousand times that she takes a reusable water bottle, but she rarely remembers). I started using her leftover water on my plants rather than tip it down the sink, and discovered that my houseplants seemed to thrive on it more than tap water. My non-scientific guess is that it doesn’t have chlorine in it. Of course, if my daughter ever does listen to me and starts taking her own water bottle, then I will have to think about what else to do. Filtered water would be an option, or leaving tap water out for several hours for the chlorine to evaporate might also work.
  • Don’t overwater. This is the most commonly cited instruction for houseplants, but it is true. My plants get watered when I have a spring water bottle to empty. I check the dirt in the pot with my finger. If my finger comes back dirty, I move on to water a different plant. For my succulents, I have some cool German made self-watering pots that I found at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Pretty swish.
  • Feed. I use a slow release fertiliser especially designed for pot plants. I don’t feed the succulents.
  • Use cover pots. I don’t repot pot houseplants, generally speaking. I take the original plastic pot and place it inside an attractive cover pot. That way, I disturb the plant as little as possible. If the plant turns out to need repotting down the track, I will do it, but so far I have not had to do that. The only plants I have repotted are the two succulents pictured below. I re-potted them into the self-watering pots, which came with a special potting medium.
  • Elevate, if possible. If the plants are not on a shelf or a table, I use plant stands. I have found some el cheapo stands from K-Mart ($5-$8), and from Mitre 10 for $14. I personally think this keeps the plants looking good and helps keep them pest-free, but that could be confirmation bias on my part. I don’t see any pests on my plants, so those bug-fighting plant stands must be working…

That’s it – that’s all I know. I’m still learning, but since I killed the last Freckle Face last year, I have managed to keep all my houseplants alive and most are now starting to look pretty great.

One last note on plant choice: I’m kind of a tightwad. I don’t buy expensive mature plants. My most expensive plant was about $15. I figure the point and fun of a plant is to grow it. I understand if you are a decorator or designer, it might be worth spending a lot of money on an expensive mature plant, but that reason doesn’t exist for most people. If I were to buy Albert as he is now, he would probably cost about $65. I think I paid about $12, then helped him to grow into the beautiful plant he is now. I had much more fun doing it this way, plus every time I look at that plant I feel like a proud Mama. I just wouldn’t feel that satisfaction if I had bought him that way.

Also, imagine if you killed a $65 houseplant? You’d feel pretty f$#!ed off.

Twelve bucks: I feel the pain, but not so much.