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!

Gardening jobs, Easter Weekend 2020

Easter weekend is one of the best weekends for gardening in Southern Australia. The weather is still warm enough to plant veggies and have them take off nicely, but cool enough to spend a lot of time outside.

I spent most of this weekend planting brassicas. I sowed a lot of caulis, cabbages, and broccoli about four weeks ago, and this week they were large enough to plant into the garden.

I planted the brassicas direct into beds that were prepared two weeks ago (pelletised chicken manure, rock dust and mulch), and covered each with a cloche made of PET soft drink bottles cut in half (see photo above). You can see from the photo that my veggie garden is a mixed planting of flowers (pansies), lettuces (self-seeded cos), annual herbs (basil), and perennials (rhubarb and lemon verbena). This mixed garden has come about due to a crossover of seasons (some Summer plants are still growing), and a lack of space, so I cram as many of the plants I love into the space I have. In between the brassicas I have sown some root vegetables so I can take advantage of the space:

  • Onion Californian Red
  • Radish Heirloom Mix
  • Beetroot Forno
  • Beetroot Chioggia
  • Turnip Early Purple

I also planted some flowers: Freesias (bulbs) and Sweet Pea Flora Norton. These are a sky blue sweet pea that I am excited to grow (although I am always excited to grow sweet peas). Normally I plant sweet peas on Anzac Day, but I have four packs of sweet peas to plant, so I am staggering the planting throughout April so I can get them all in. I am also expecting a big order of bulbs to arrive next week, in addition to the daffodils and crocuses I already have to plant, so that will keep me busy throughout April.

After planting, I mulched everything in the garden that was not already mulched with chopped sugarcane straw, and watered all the new plants with a weak liquid fertiliser to give it all a boost. We are expecting a couple of very warm sunny days this week (high 20s-low 30s), so this is a perfect weekend to plant and give all the plants a good chance to take off before the cold weather sets in.

Cutting back

Autumn is also a good time to cut back woody perennial herbs like Oregano, Thyme, Lavender, Sage, and Mint. Honestly, these are pretty hard to kill (especially Mint), so if you were to do it anytime with the exception of high Summer, you can’t really harm them. But right now they are all looking very straggly and cutting them back will give them time to recover in the Winter and put on lovely new growth in Springtime. I used to use ye olde garden shears to do this job, but my husband gave me electric hedge trimmers that make this task much easier and quicker. I filled up our empty green bin in half an hour! And that was just from one corner of the garden (we have a lot of plants to trim). I trim Oregano and Mint right down to ground level. You can see the new plant reshooting from the base, so it is fine to do this. Thyme is a bit fiddlier – it grows very woody over time and you need to try to shape the plant more carefully. For all varieties of Lavender, I just cut off the spent heads at a level. It will reshoot again.

If you don’t take the time to cut back these woody herbaceous perennials, they will become less prolific and healthy over time, and you will have to replace the plants. By giving them a haircut, you will keep the plants you have for many years, and give your garden a tidy appearance in preparation for a beautiful Spring showing. My personal favourite are the Thyme and Sage flowers each Springtime. I feel that it is truly Spring when the beautiful purple Sage flowers.

Social distancing garden jobs, 6 April 2020

There is something so relaxing about sitting in yon pumpkin patch. I think it is because pumpkins are the least demanding of all vegetables. Although I have pumpkin seeds, I rarely plant them. The pumpkin patch in my backyard is entirely self-seeded from compost, and that’s fine by me. I never water them. I never feed them. The closest I come to care and attention is the regular hand-pollination I do in the mornings while they are flowering, but I am not even doing that anymore (it’s getting too late in the season). Once they start fruiting, they require no further care. They quietly swell until they are ready to be picked.

By contrast, brassicas are fiddly and demanding beasts. I have to keep a close eye on the seedlings to fend off cabbage moth caterpillars. Today my eldest daughter and I spent a good twenty minutes scraping caterpillar eggs from cabbage and kale seedling leaves and squishing the occasional baby green caterpillar that had just emerged and was munching away. Whenever she saw a cabbage moth my daughter would wave it away, yelling “Go away, you monster!” That was entertaining, if fruitless.

Today I:

  • Started trimming back woody herbs (mint, thyme, oregano, lavender) with my trusty plant chainsaw aka electric hedge trimmers. My friend calls electric hedge trimmers a ‘plant chainsaw,’ which I think sounds much more bad ass. This is a job that will take me days to do, given the overgrowth in the yard, so I am taking it a few bushes at a time;
  • Fell down the front steps while plugging in the plant chainsaw to charge. We have a big front staircase, and it was still slippery from yesterday’s rain. Ouch;
  • Cleared up some unwanted plants (self-seeded lavender and mint) and weeds (Oyster Plant and the dreaded creeping Oxalis) that were making themselves quite comfortable.
  • Dug up some lavender and geraniums for my sister to plant at her place. She specifically requested “unkillable.” Bless;
  • Removed the spent Love-In-A-Mist seed pods and was happy to see baby Love-In-A-Mist plants already popping up;
  • Spread some Calendula seeds about the place;
  • Checked out the pomegranates to see how they are ripening. Not much longer!
  • With my daughter’s help, planted out the garlic, and mulched it with chopped sugarcane straw;
  • Planted out some Curly Kale, after double-checking it for cabbage moth eggs;
  • Prepared a new planter box for Asian vegetables (most likely Pak Choy and Coriander);
  • Sat in the pumpkin patch, drank a coffee, and meditated on life for a bit.

My body is aching like hell, mostly because of the aforementioned fall down the stairs, but I feel good.

Tomorrow I will try hard not to be a clumsy goose, trim some more plants, and hopefully plant out the broccoli seedlings that are now looking lovely and ready to go.

Weekend garden jobs March 28 2020

Listening to Talkback Gardening on the ABC may not be everyone’s schtick, but hear me out.

Two months ago, I had my tickets, flights, accommodation all booked to go to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. On this day, I should be nerding out with all the other gardenerds from around the country at the biggest Garden Show in the Southern Hemisphere. I had been saving all year for it. Not only that, my dears, it was to be my first ever trip alone (excluding the many work trips I have been on to remote areas) sans kids, husband, etc since I got married almost 25 years ago. It was a big deal.

Now I recognise my privilege, well and truly. I get to be here at home in my own house with a backyard, and I still have some work (for now), and I don’t have COVID-19 (for now), and I am just so fortunate. But I was looking forward to it.

So what can I do instead of going to the Garden Show?

Firstly, I took all the money I had saved for the Garden Show, and spent it on garden supplies, bulbs, seeds, and other gardening paraphernalia online from gardening retailers that missed out on being able to sell all their things to me at the Garden Show – because missing out on the biggest event of the year has likely cost them thousands of dollars. Seeing as that money was set aside for splurging on garden supplies, I figured I should still give it to them. Plus I have the fun of receiving presents and extra gardening while stuck in social isolation.

Next, I listened to the gentle dithering tones of Jon Lamb, resident talkback gardening expert on the ABC Adelaide on a Saturday morning, while dithering around myself in my own backyard. The gentle Q&A of a gardening show is about the most low-risk, quiet listening experience a person can have, especially right now.

Today I started potting on some of the seedlings I grew from seed a few weeks ago. Seedlings of this size are soft, sappy little babies that need to be hardened off. If you don’t do this, they will be like the teenage boy that is never taught to do his own laundry: if you plant them in the garden they will most likely collapse and bring their laundry home for mum to do.

And I ain’t doing it, kiddo.

Prick the seedlings out with a small tool. I use a plastic chopstick that I keep in my garden shed for many purposes: seed dibber, general hole poker, plant lifter, hole unplugger, etc. It’s a great all-rounder. You can see in the photo below that I have used it so much that it is a bit broken. It still pokes though, so it’s all good. When it finally dies, I am sure I can find another one around the place. You could also use an old fork, but for general all-purposefulness, I recommend the chopstick.

You can see in the photo that something has been having a go at these little seedlings. I did some exploring and found a tiny little white sap-sucking bug, about 1mm in size. I did go full terminator on them. That means I squished them: I don’t use poison. If I find more, it will be hasta la vista, buggos.

I moved each seedling to a recycled, clean small pot, filled with premium potting mix, and labeled each one.

I make my own labels with old plastic milk cartons. These are as better than the shop-bought labels, which I find snap after exposure to the sun for any length of time, and add to plastic waste, whereas the homemade ones just use a flexible plastic that was going to recycling anyway. They look a bit wonky, but no-one sees them except me and the twelve people that read this blog (hi, Mum!)

You can see that the seedlings look sad. They will perk up and toughen up. I will give them a good week to ten days to grow larger and healthier, and then plant them out.

I placed the pots in an old wheelbarrow that is rusting out, watered them with a weak liquid fertiliser solution, and covered them with bird netting to stop the sparrows getting them, and placed them in a sunny corner. Then I rinsed out the seedling tray so I can start up the next lot of seedlings.

This week I am planting a mix of flower and vegetable seeds. I received quite a few free packets of flower seeds recently, so I decided to plant most of them next to the retaining wall, which has a bare spot that is prone to weeds. If even a few of the flower seeds take, they will provide cover that will hopefully out-compete the weeds, and provide food for the bees.

I planted:

  • Nemophilia Baby Blue Eyes
  • Love in a Mist Mulberry Rose
  • Californian Poppy Purple Gleam
  • Wildflower Pink Star
  • Candytuft Fairy Mixture

I also planted English Daisy in a seed tray.

Love in a Mist, also known as Nigella, is a gorgeous plant that naturalises easily. I have it growing in the front garden – the traditional flower is the blue you see below. The seeds I planted today are a reddish-pink variant. I hope they take, as I would love to have them naturalise in the backyard. Bees love them, and so do I. Also you can eat the seeds, which are known as kalonji, in Indian cuisine.

Finally, I refilled the clean seed trays and planted:

  • Lettuce Tennis Ball
  • Climbing Spinach
  • Chicory Italian Mix
  • Broccoli Green Sprouting

You can never have too much lettuce, I think, plus I was looking forward to growing this variety, which was a favourite of Thomas Jefferson. Heirloom gardening is so cool. Imagine eating a lettuce now in 2020, that people loved to eat almost 300 hundred years ago.

Later this week, I will be planting more peas, as the peas I planted a few weeks ago didn’t come up (sob) and continue preparing the soil for brassicas and garlic. This means adding pelletised chicken manure, rock dust, and mulch.

Social distancing garden jobs, March 25 2020

Welllllllll, I don’t know about you mob, but listening to a Prime Ministerial presser just before bed just ain’t the snooze inducer it used to be.

In fact, I didn’t get much sleep last night. I am worrying, like the rest of us, about the future, my family, my friends, catching a deadly illness, work, whether my kids (both of whom have a disability) will cope with social distancing and the shut down of their entire world.

Just a couple of concerns, then.

This morning, I had to get outside. If it was blowing a gale, I was getting outside. If it was pouring with rain directly over my noggin, I was getting outside into my garden.

Luckily, it was one of those perfect Autumn days we get here in Adelaide, when the sky is clear, the sun is shining, and the temperature is light and airy, but not too cool. Perfect for planting blueberries.

Blueberries do not grow well in the ground in our area. They require an acidic soil, and most soils in Adelaide are slightly alkaline. Not all of them though: we lived in a southeastern suburb many years ago that must have had perfect blueberry conditions. I know this because it was home to giant, stunning camellia bushes. I have never seen such camellias. Camellias, azaleas, and blueberries are all acid soil loving plants, requiring a special acidic potting mix if you are going to grow them in a pot.

I am growing two varieties: Blue Rose, and Brigitte. I know nothing about the respective pros and cons of these varieties, except that they cross-pollinate each other. I am growing them on our sunny balcony, and hoping it will not be too hot for them. If it is, I will move them. I planted them in large pots, with a full bag of Azalea/Camellia potting mix in each pot. I want the blueberries to have room to grow well. If they do well, I will probably plant more: blueberries are one of my favourite fruits.

I also planted more seeds in new and recycled trays. This time I mostly focused on salad and Asian greens:

  • Pak choy;
  • Shungiku, also called Chop-suey greens;
  • Four kinds of lettuce: Amish Deer-tongue, All-year, Australian Yellow, and Marvel of Four Seasons. Australian Yellow Lettuce is from the Digger’s Club and is the most reliable and delicious variety, but I grow Marvel of Four Seasons and Amish Deer-tongue because really: such cool names. Marvel is from Green Harvest Seeds.
  • Coriander;
  • Cauliflower Purple Sicily;
  • Silverbeet Fordhook Giant.

Finally, I washed some more pots in diluted methylated spirits (although I recently discovered you can make hand sanitiser out of it, so maybe I shouldn’t waste it on old pots!!), and potted up some violas. Because salad greens are all very well, but if I am going to be stuck at home, I will be surrounded by flowers.

Here’s some of last year’s jonquils to cheer you up.

Gardening jobs, Week beginning 17th November 2019

It was a stinker of a week here in our Southern states of Australia, with temperatures reaching 42 degrees C in my area before a windy cool change. I pre-emptively watered my garden ahead of the heat, with the hope of saving my newly planted tomatoes, chillies, eggplant, capsicum and zucchini. Last year, a one-day heat blast (48 degrees C) wiped out everything in one hit. Happily the intensive watering kept everything alive and well.

Next weekend I will be mulching heavily – a little late, but at least before Summer starts in earnest.

Dead-heading

Halfway through dead-heading the biggest lavender bush

This is a dull, repetitive task that I put off – I would rather weed than dead-head flowering plants. However, it is a necessary task to keep flowering shrubs looking their best and flowering longer. Ideally I would do this about three times a year, but honestly it is more likely twice yearly. I have about 15 lavender bushes in my front yard; these have all reached the point that they need their semi-annual haircut. I spent an hour with the hedge trimmers chopping back four of these, including the largest of the English lavender bushes, a monstrous beast that is also encroaching the neighbour’s yard. I will leave the rest for the weekend.

Wait to dead-head, as the name suggests, when the flowers are mostly spent. You can see in the photo above that there are still a couple of fresh lavender flowers on the bush, but that the majority are dried out and dead. Try to choose a cooler day to dead-head if you can, to avoid stressing the plant. I chose a warm day, early in the morning, because that is when I had the time. Often gardening is about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

At least trimming lavender smells divine, making a boring job a bit more pleasant. I also have three climbing roses, about a dozen calendula, sage bushes, thyme, oregano, and mint that all needs a tidy up. When I cut back the herbs, I will put them in my dehydrator to make mixed dried herbs. I usually live to regret this, as scrunching them up into jars afterward takes a long time. By the time I have pulled them off their stalks and put them into recycled jars, I end up with a disappointing amount of herbs for all my hard work. But I cannot bear to toss all those beautiful herbs in the compost, even though I know they are a renewable resource (unlike my time).

Feeding and Weeding

The rest of my time this week was spent digging compost out of the the second compost bin, side dressing all the tomatoes with a solid shovel of pelletised chicken manure each, giving the plants in pots a liquid feed of diluted worm wee, and weeding. At this time of year, the task of weeding is endless. Driving around the city, I see that the local councils are barely able to keep up with all the weeding. If they can’t do it, how can I manage it all?

I bet all the damn weeds survive the heat.

Finally! Rain!!

No posts for a few weeks, because it has been raining! It has been truly wonderful to see the soil soak up the water and the garden begin to look fresh and green again.

However, today was a warm and relatively dry day (24 degrees in the middle of May! Crazy!) so as soon as I could pull on a pair of jeans and a beanie, because even at 24 degrees I still feel the cold, I was out in the garden.

I really had no specific plans once I was out there, so I decided to dig a hole and see what the soil was like. Damp and beautiful, was the answer. The rain has really sunk through now and the soil was lovely.

I noticed that the lettuces I let go to seed have germinated, and there are baby lettuces everywhere. Some of my favourite little bulbs, Sparaxis or Harlequin Flower, have popped their heads up as well. Can’t wait for these beauties to flower for the third year running. At this point they have naturalised in the garden.

Sadly, there have been a couple of casualties of the extended dry. I had a magnificent creeping thyme plant that looks like it has been touched by a Dementor, and I am not sure it will recover. One of my rhubarb plants looks very sad. The rose bushes are still not established enough to cope with such extended dry weather.

I decided that today was a good day to plant out the lime tree I have had growing in a pot under my patio for the past two years. It has grown quickly but is quite spindly and just does not have the lushness that I would expect from two years of growth, even though it has been fed and loved. I think it needs full sun.

Digging the hole was fun. I have not dug a good, deep hole in a while. If you have the space, capability, and the time, I recommend it. Work has been busy and stressful, and I sit down most of the day. Digging a hole uses muscles that my sedentary body does not often exercise. I started sweating embarrassingly quickly.

When planting a tree, you should dig the hole twice the size (depth and width) of the root ball. Some gardener once said you should dig a fifty dollar hole for a ten dollar plant.

I placed the tree in the hole, and then ran the hose in the hole with the tree sitting in it, next to a brick of coir.

Coir is great stuff. It’s cheap as chips (a brick of it costs about two bucks from the Big Green Shed, and a bit more if you buy it from a smaller nursery). It’s organic and sustainable (a waste product of coconuts, made from the fibre, chopped up and compressed). When you wet it, it transforms to ten times its size by volume. You can then use it as a mulch, a planting medium for raising seedlings, or as an additive to potting mix to help retain moisture. In this instance, I was using it as an additive to the soil.

While the coir was expanding and the hole was filling slowly with water, I dug three bags of cow manure into a bed that has been lying fallow since the Summer. Then I planted broad beans (Aquadulce) and Dwarf Snow Peas into the beds. Last year I grew two varieties of broadies (Aquadulce and Crimson Flowered). While the Crimson Flowered were gorgeous, they did not crop that well.

Some people don’t like broadies – I do. They are good for the soil, being nitrogen-fixers, and they are lovely in pasta or made into pesto.

Once the hole had filled half way with water, I poured some seaweed extract into the hole, broke up half the coir brick and spread it around, and filled the hole back in. I trimmed off some of the lower, spindlier branches. The remaining coir brick I spread around the base as a mulch.

That’s it for today – hopefully tomorrow the rain will hold off just long enough for me to do some weeding and to plant out some window boxes of violas. Then let it rain once more.

Autumn Planting 2019

Anzac Day is an important gardening day in my house. It’s the traditional bulb and sweet pea planting day in the Southern Australian region. Unlike every Anzac Day in my recent memory, it didn’t rain. This concerns me, although I’m sure it was a blessing for the Anzac Day marchers. It concerns me because we continue to have a long dry spell, following on from a very hot and dry Summer. If this continues, we are facing another dry Winter. The soil is extremely dry and on the verge of hydrophobic. There is only so long I can pump water into the soil – rain is what the garden really needs.

Today I planted a bunch of seeds into seed raising mix in trays. Because the season has stayed warm right up until the end of April (it was 32 degrees last week!), I am not at all concerned that this is too late.

I planted:

  • Lettuce: Marvel of Four Seasons (Heirloom) and Australian Yellow (Heirloom);
  • Kale: Curly Green Dwarf (Heirloom);
  • Poppy: Flanders Red (for the millionth attempt – this time I’m trying to raise in trays rather than direct where I want them to grow in the hope that I will have success);
  • Broccoli: Green Sprouting (Heirloom) and Romanesco (Heirloom);
  • Cauliflower: Year Round (F1 Hybrid);
  • Leek: King Richard (Heirloom from seed saved last year).

As you can see in the image below, I make my own tags. These were made from a recycled margarine container. I have also used recycled milk jugs. I use several seed trays: the tray shown below is a mini greenhouse type within individual cells and a clear plastic cover, but I also use a recycled maxi-punnet that once held violas for planting, and another flat tray that I scavenged from somewhere. They all work just fine.

I use a standard seed-raising mix. I experimented with jiffy pellets several times to see if they improved germination time and overall results. I filled half this tray pictured with seed-raising mix and half with jiffy pellets to see which was better, and trialled it several times with different types of seeds. The seed-raising mix beat the jiffy pellets every time for germination and overall seedling health. Not exactly a double-blind, randomised controlled trial, but good enough for my purposes, given that jiffy pellets cost about five times the price of a five kilo bag of seed-raising mix.

After planting out my veggie seeds, it was time to tackle the bulbs. I love Spring flowering bulbs. My favourite are crocuses, which are quiet, stunning little flowers that poke their heads up for only a couple of days a year.

Crocus Mr. Pickwick

Unfortunately they do not last, and do not produce the showy display of their other Spring-flowering cousins, Ranunculus, Dutch Iris and Daffodils. At the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show this year I picked up some Daffs and Giant Snowflakes, and again at the Easter Fair last weekend, some more Daffs, Dutch Iris, and Anenomes. I grabbed a big bag of cheap and cheerful Ranuncs and Freesias to throw all around for fun, and then grabbed my husband to help plant the haul.

Daffodil bulb planted in the ground – see how dry the soil is!

When planting Anenomes and Ranunculus, it’s a good idea to soak the tiny corms for an hour or so beforehand. Don’t do this with the larger bulbs, or they will rot. Ranunculus and Anenomes are not true bulbs, but corms. Remember to plant Ranuncs ‘claws’ facing down.

Stunning double ranunculus from Spring 2018

Ranunculus might be cheap as old chips to buy and plant, but when they flower they can be the most stunning flower in the garden. I could cut them and bring them inside, but I just love to see them in the garden, so I leave them alone. Sometimes they do produce a second year of flowering but for the most part, I treat them as an annual and replant corms each year.

Larger bulbs like Daffodils and Iris should reward the investment of $8 or $10 in a pack of five bulbs with repeat flowering. However, they do require cold weather after their Spring flowering to really come back well. With the seasons the way they have been, I am not sure they will get the real cold they need. I am hoping that last year’s Daffs (a lovely white variety called “Ice”) will come back, but I am not going to bet on it. If they do, I will be very happy.

Another that I hope to see back is the Violet Sparaxis. Its cousin, the standard Sparaxis, or Harlequin Flower, reliably returns year-on-year. I hope this purple beauty is as kind.

Violet Sparaxis

Finally, I planted the sweet peas: a blue variety in between two climbing roses; a variety called Surprise (aptly named because I have no idea what it looks like); and my tried and trusted dwarf Bijou, planted every year and the most reliable performer. I look forward to sweet pea season every year, and Bijou always presents me with a riot of colour and perfume in September.

Sweet pea Bijou

The fun thing about planting bulbs and seeds is waiting for them to come up. The hard thing about planting bulbs and seeds is waiting for them to come up. I guess like Luke Skywalker, I will have to learn patience.

Easter weekend 2019 gardening jobs

I love Easter. It’s easily my favourite holiday. I love the traditions; the food (Hot Cross Buns! Chocolate – and I don’t care what anyone says, the chocolate at Easter tastes different and better); the four days off; catching up with family and friends. I love that we have enough time to spend time with family, veg out a little, and still have time to get a few things done around the house and garden without feeling rushed or stressed like you often do at Christmas.

This year in the lead up to Easter weekend, I had the plague an upper respiratory viral infection for several weeks and as a result, I have not been able to do anything except grumble in the direction of my poor, sad garden. Autumn has been very warm and dry, and everything just looks thirsty and in need of some TLC. I had a ton of jobs on my list but no energy for heavy gardening labour as I recovered from what the doctor assured me was a “flu like virus” but what I feel certain was the second coming of the Black Death. It was so bad we had to cancel a planned holiday so I could catch up on all the work I missed. I’m pretty cranky about it, when all is said and done.

This has been a Public Service Announcement to have your annual flu shot. Apparently I did not have the flu but one of a family of ‘flu like viruses.’ All I can say is, jab my arm.

Anyway, I did survive, and decided to take it slowly by doing a little gardening every day, interspersed with Hot Cross Buns and Season 6 of Game of Thrones. Gently does it. Don’t want to end up looking like a White Walker.

Day One (Good Friday) we went on our annual pilgrimage to the Easter Fair in the tiny country town of Meadows (regular population: 1300, Easter weekend population: one million). This event is a classic country fair, complete with Marshmallow Bunnies, Hot Donuts cooked while you wait, sausage sizzle, white elephant stalls, and Nanna-made pickles and jams. I have a list of items I buy each year (Marshmallow Bunnies and Hot Donuts, natch), which includes plants and bulbs. This year I was looking for interesting succulents for my lounge room. I bought some beautiful German-made succulent pots in Melbourne and have been looking for the right plants to put in them. I found them for the low, low price of $6 each, along with Daffodil and Iris bulbs. Unfortunately I have no idea about succulents so I do not know what all of them are called.

I don’t know the name of this succulent but I do love it

Smiling Hanger with Jellybean Plant
Pincushion Plant and another succulent in German self watering pots

Day Two, after we ate the Hot Cross Buns from the Easter Fair and made a trip to the brand new ENORMOUS Bunnings (So big! So green!), I potted up the new succulents in my fancy schmancy German pots and then spent a ridiculous amount of time arranging them on the shelf.

A note on the Big New Green Shed: it’s the same as all the others. There, now I have found that out so you don’t have to. You’re welcome. I did pick up more bulbs (ranunculus, anemone and freesias to sprinkle around the garden like Easter eggs), and blue sweet pea seeds. Sweet peas are my favourite flower, and I always plant them on Anzac Day as my mother taught me. I have three varieties to plant this year: Bijou (saved seed from last year, that I plant each year and is constantly excellent), a variety called Surprise (purchased from last year’s Easter Fair), and this blue variety. I also have poppies, kale, cauliflower, romanesco and green sprouting broccoli, leeks, lettuces and silverbeet to plant.

Adorable children visited and chocolate and Marshmallow Bunnies were handed out to much joy. Easter rocks.

Day Three (Easter Sunday), started with a Hot Cross Bun and a Salted Caramel Lindt Ball, reminding me again of why this is my favourite holiday, and a visit to an adorable three year old to hand over more sugary treats.

Our backyard soil needs considerable work after its hard slog over the Summer. I dug over the compost and pulled out a nice lot of compost for one section. Then I spread Rapid Raiser and Blood and Bone fertiliser over the bed I am planting garlic this year, and watered in well. Tomorrow I will dig in some cow manure, then let it sit until Anzac Day when I will take four bulbs of our precious homegrown garlic and plant it for the new season. Homegrown garlic tastes so much better than bought garlic, that it is always worth leaving room for it in the garden.

My husband de-seeded five very seedy lettuce plants that I had left to form seed heads, picking off thousands of tiny lettuce seeds. We will plant them out on Anzac Day as well. While he was doing that, I weeded and trimmed back some of the boysenberry canes for safety and tidiness.

The boysenberry and I have a love/hate relationship. Last year was only its second year, and it fruited quite well with very little care required. Its thorns prevented pests like birds pinching any, so we actually got a nice little crop. Those thorns though make it very painful to prune and manage, and like all brambles, it spreads like crazy. I dug out many rooted brambles today and potted them up in case anyone else (friends, enemies) wants Audrey II a delicious berry plant in their backyard.

Tomorrow is Easter Monday, the last day of a lovely, relaxing weekend. I plan to tidy up my dry, weedy front yard, feed all the plants, and plant some seeds into my seed trays for Winter veggies (a little late but given how hot it has been this Autumn, I think it will be fine). After that, I reckon I will have just enough room for one more Hot Cross Bun before bidding farewell to another glorious Easter weekend.

A visit to the 2019 Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show

Ah, Melbourne. Freezing one day, pouring the next. Coming from generally scorching and dry Adelaide, I knew to pack my Winter woollies and my brolly for autumnal Melbourne, and thank goodness I did, because it was colder than a polar bear’s backside, and raining as well.

I’ve never attended the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, but I’ve always wanted to. This year my sister asked me if I wanted to come away with her for a weekend, so I suggested we go the last weekend in March so I could spend a day with the rest of the garden nerds at the show.

I have to say this event is enormous and slightly overwhelming for a person used to small local garden markets. It took me at least an hour to find my bearings. I was really too overwhelmed the entire visit to take pictures, which is why I only took a couple. The rest of the time I wandered without any real sense of purpose, which I have to say I enjoyed immensely.

My favourite section was the amusingly named “Pathway of Achievable Gardens,” which was a section of gardens mostly designed by landscape gardening students. I mostly preferred these to the professionally designed garden displays which, while beautiful, are unlikely to be practical for most people’s homes.

I also loved seeing the display garden at the Diggers Club stand (which includes my nemesis, the listanda de grandia eggplant that I have never yet successfully grown). I renewed my membership and had a chat about garlic. They had beautifully espaliered apple trees that helped me see how we can do ours – a job for this season.

I would say that the biggest focus of the show was ornamental plants and landscaping, rather than edibles and organic gardening. My interest really is organic and heirloom gardening, so I was disappointed not to see more displays from organic and heirloom gardening companies. I had been hoping to find seeds for some unusual brassicas for my winter vegetable patch, but only one stand was selling seeds, and not the kind I was after.

A lot of stands were selling spring flowering bulbs. I bought daffodils but left most of my bulb purchases for when I’m back home.

My view is that this event is beautiful, very professional, and fun to attend for all gardeners – because gardeners are just good people to be around. Everyone was having a pleasant time, even in the rain, and it’s nice to be around thousands of people interested in plants and growing things. It’s especially excellent for ornamental gardeners, but for serious vegetable gardeners and those interested in heirlooms, it’s probably not the best event to source the plants you need for the veggie patch.