Gardening jobs, October 30 2021

Mulberries! Finally!

We spent almost eight hours in the garden today, building trellises for the fruit trees in Pie Corner. That is to say, my husband was building the trellises, while I did other stuff.

Firstly, I cleaned out the chook shed (boring but necessary), and collected seven (!!) eggs.

Then I mulched the entire back garden, which is a big job. However, it is definitely reaching the warmer part of the year, and mulching is a necessary task. It saves water and keeps weeds down. Over time, it breaks down and builds soil structure, and it stops the soil becoming hydrophobic, which can be a big problem in Australian soils. I use chopped sugar cane mulch, which is a sustainable by-product of the sugar cane industry. It’s cheaper than lucerne, and lighter, so it lets the water through. I have used it for years, and I think it does a great job. Some people prefer lucerne or pea straw, but I have compared both and I personally don’t think there is much of a difference except price.

Mulching a garden the size of ours takes quite a long time. I took little breaks to pick a kilo of rhubarb, a big bunch of silverbeet, and pull out most of the older plants to feed the chooks (much to their delight, it’s their favourite), weed the opportunistic weeds that came up after this week’s rain, and pick flowers for the house. Mulching is quite boring, so doing these jobs helped keep me going. I also had to water it in, so it doesn’t blow away and undo all my hard work.

Building trellises and espaliering fruit trees

This is how our old trellises looked:

Old trellis

They were ‘built’ from star droppers and wire, and were not large enough for the apple trees. The wire was casually looped around the star droppers, and could not be tightened, which meant that the wire sagged as the tree grew and the weight pulled on the wire. Also, the whole set up looked ugly. A dodge job all round.

New trellises with espaliered dwarf apple trees

This is the new set up, with newly espaliered apple trees. Some of the undergrowth you can see there are berry plants that are yet to be trained up a new trellis. Once they are moved onto a new trellis all of their own, it will look neater and nicer. Also, btw, expecting a bumper berry crop this year. The plants are covered in blossoms. Very excited about that. My husband loves the boysenberries, which is a pretty sweet reward for all his hard building work.

Espalier dwarf apple tree

The trellis has been built with wooden poles, strong wire rope, and turnbuckles to enable us to tighten the wire if it sags. We chose to use wood for the supports rather than metal, but you could use steel poles. We prefer wood for the aesthetic, and because it is much cheaper. We are building five large trellises across our garden, and need thirteen tall poles, so cost is an important consideration.

In addition to the three trellises in Pie Corner, we are building a large trellis along the back garden fence to support three passionfruit plants, green beans, cucumbers, and a pepino, and a trellis for our three year old grapevine. I want to use as much of my vertical space as possible.

The espaliering is probably not textbook, but as Homer Simpson says, it’s my first day. I’ll keep shaping and training them and soon, hopefully, they’ll look like some textbook French potager effort. Or at least, ok. Whatever, we’re getting apples, so it’s all good.

We’re also getting grapes on our grapevine for the first time. I’m very chuffed about that. I will guard these little baby grapes with my life. Or at least some kind of netting.

Hello, little baby grapelings

The rest of the day, I potted up more petunias and a new Chinese Jasmine I bought on a whim, and cleaned up the patio because we have guests visiting tomorrow. Our yard continues to look like a construction site as we always seem to be building something, but at least the patio is as tidy as it can be, and the house has lovely fresh flowers. I do hope the construction site is cleared away before Christmas though…is exactly what I said last year!

Maybe if I want that to happen I should stop asking his nibs to build stuff.

Weekend gardening jobs, 16 & 17 October 2021

If you’re a gardener, and if you want to grow a food forest, and if you are so inclined to partner up, can I recommend you seek out a person that can build stuff? Gardening requires a surprising amount of building and engineering, if you have a largish sized plot. Unfortunately, I am not an engineer. I know what I need, where I want it, and how it should look, but not how to build it. My husband, on the other hand, enjoys being outside and the results of gardening (i.e. the eating) but is not really into the digging, composting and planting. However, he is pretty great at figuring out how to build the things I need.

He recently finished the retaining wall, and has started to re-pave the backyard with recycled pavers (we want to build a backyard in-ground firepit for next Winter). But before he can continue that task, we are building trellises for all the backyard fruit trees and canes. This is a task that has been on my mind for about two years. I built short-term trellises to espalier our dwarf apple trees, but they look, well, craptacular.

Dodgy espaliering job on dodgy trellis

The problems are many: star pickets look ugly, the wires were not strong enough and have started to sag, the trellis was quickly outgrown by the apple trees etc etc. It had to go. The trellis for the berry canes in Pie Corner was similarly horrible and the berries are just free-forming it all over the place (as you can see in the above photo). I have also recently planted several passionfruit plants that are going to outgrow the temporary trellises, and I have also recently planted dwarf plums that I wanted to espalier properly. Hence, I need a builder.

I did look for professional landscapers but they are booked out everywhere, and honestly my job is not large enough for most tradies to be interested in. Plus, my husband and I thought we could tackle it ourselves.

I watched several YouTube videos about building a trellis to espalier trees, and visited the Botanic Gardens to look at the way their very professional gardeners had done it. I still couldn’t figure it out. My husband watched the same YouTube video, and off we went to the Big Green Shed and in an hour we were back home with all the stuff we needed to build a trellis. Bloody hell. I mean, I love him.

I left him to it, and did the following:

  • Dug out enough compost from the two bins to add to an entire section of garden, which I lightly dug through and have left to settle.
  • Planted three varieties of climbing beans (Kentucky Wonder, Purple King, and Blue Lake) and one of dwarf beans (Yellow Wax).
  • Picked a whole heap of veggies for dinner, including carrots, broccoli, spinach, onions, and asparagus. I made an Ottolenghi spinach and feta pie for dinner, and it was amazeballs.
  • Planted beetroot, sunflower, carrots, and lettuce seeds, and pulled out some old spinach and coriander plants and fed them to the chooks.
  • Planted up a lovely pink calibrachoa for the front stoop, and watered all the balcony plants.
  • Fed the passionfruit with some fish emulsion and seaweed fertiliser, and cursed a bit when I saw some little critter has been having a nibble on them. Couldn’t find anything so I think it has gone away now.
  • Waved to all the bees, including at least a couple of native bees hovering among the flowers.
  • Admired the bronze iris that finally flowered after I thought all hope was lost.

An update in the trellis and espalier efforts next time.

Gardening jobs, October Long Weekend 2021

It’s the October long weekend here, which is one of my favourite mini-breaks. I love it because it’s Springtime in Southern Australia, a few months before Christmas, and we have a bit of time to get some things done around the garden.

It’s always great being in the garden at this time of year, because there are flowers everywhere. All the spring flowering bulbs are out, as well as my favourites, the sweet peas. This year I have three varieties in flower. They always make me feel happy.

This time I am not spending the whole weekend in the garden as I have a deadline, but I decided to take two full days off for the first time in…bloody ages actually.

I booked a big skip bin and my husband and I made plans to clear out our sheds of extraneous junk. A lot of the junk was left over from the guy that lived here before us (yes, still!), and from building our retaining wall and renovating our bathroom. Some of it is just from the accumulation of life.

We filled up a 4m cube bin really quickly. I would not say we are collectors, but it was kind of depressing how quickly we filled a pretty large bin.

The other job left over from building the retaining wall was moving the clean fill back to the garden. This has taken me many months, partly because it is a boring job, partly because there is a lot to move, and partly because it’s really hard. There’s only so much shovelling dirt into buckets and moving it around the garden I can do in one hit before this old lady collapses in a corner. However, this weekend I managed to clear a whole section. I am really happy about that. You can actually see the pathway next to the shed now. Only one section to go (the biggest, of course), then all I have to do is power wash the whole thing and it will look great. Or at least, not filthy.

Pumpkin Mounds

Some of the buckets of dirt went to build pumpkin mounds. Curcubits (pumpkins, zucchini, squash etc) are prone to powdery mildew, which is exacerbated by getting their leaves wet. A way to help prevent this is by planting them on little hills or mounds, then watering the base of the plant. I used the spare buckets of dirt (which was originally from my garden), to build hills. Then I mixed in a bit of compost, and planted pumpkin seeds in the top. I planted four types of pumpkins: Australian Butter, Queensland Blue, ye olde Butternut, and Buttercup. Hoping for a great pumpkin crop this year after last year’s sad effort.

I cleaned out the chicken coop, and let the chooks go for a wander while I did that. After I replaced their straw I went looking for them, calling out their “chookchookchook!” call that lets them know it’s time to come inside. One of them trundled along, but the others just called back and didn’t come back to the yard. After a bit of searching I found all three tucked up under a rhubarb bush, having a dust bath together. I decided to let them be. Twenty minutes later I caught them trying to dismantle a new pumpkin mound, and unceremoniously tossed them back in their pen. Naughty!

Seed Starting

It was raining on and off, so when it was raining I slipped undercover and planted up some seed trays for Summer veggies. This year I am not giving quite so much space to tomatoes, because I need the soil to recover from all the tomatoes I grew last season. It’s not good to grow tomatoes in the same spot, year-on-year. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a massive space, that reduces your tomato-growing opportunities. I will grow a few, but I just can’t grow as many. This year the plan is go hard on squashes and zucchini, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, corn and beans, as well as the necessary chillies and eggplant. Hopefully I can swap some of these with my brother, who always grows great tomatoes. So far I have planted:

  • Chilli Devil’s Tongue;
  • Tomato Sweet 100;
  • Tomato Moneymaker;
  • Tomato Jaune Flamme;
  • Onion Long Red Florence;
  • Corn Jubilee;
  • Cucumber Crystal Apple;
  • Cucumber Marketmore;
  • Melon Pocket; and
  • Watermelon Golden Midget.

The Devil’s Tongue are from seed I saved a couple of years ago, and that I am hoping are still viable. These were seriously great chillies. Lovely and hot, but still flavourful, and the most prolific plants I have ever grown. Fingers crossed at least some of the seeds grow.

I do not have the greatest of luck with cucumbers and melons, yet paradoxically have generally good fortune with pumpkins (last year notwithstanding). What works for one should technically work with the other, as they are related, however it doesn’t seem to be the case for me. Therefore I intend to give them yet another crack and try something different. Not entirely sure what that will be yet. If anyone has any suggestions to grow cracking cues and melons, I’m all ears.

These were planted up in trays with seed-raising mix. It’s a smidge cold still but I decided to give it a shot anyway – it’s the start of October after all, and if I wait too much longer it will be late November before I have plants large enough to plant out.

The rest of my garden space will be set aside for climbing beans and a little bit of space for some eggplant. I will wait until the end of October/early November to plant them. Once my major deadline is done in late October, I plan to have a week off and then it’s planting time. Can’t wait!

Weekend Gardening jobs, May 22 and 23 2021

Boy, it’s been a while! I have been working so much lately that I have not been outside much, let alone out in my garden. I think the last time I really spent much time in the garden was Easter weekend. I have really, really missed it. I have seen it – from my office window. That is not the same thing at all.

Broccoli starting to form heads

This weekend I told my husband that no matter what happened, I was getting out into the garden. It also happened to be a very sunny and beautiful Autumn weekend, so that was lucky for me – but I would have gone out there in the hail, I was so desperate to dig in the dirt.

So much needed to be done after a month with no attention. I had to:

  • Repot plants on the balcony and remove Summer annual plants from the balcony garden;
  • Trim plants in the front and back garden (herbs, asparagus, etc);
  • Remove the last few pomegranates from the pomegranate tree;
  • Water and feed everything;
  • Weed the veggie patch;
  • Remove the dead Summer annual flowers from the backyard;
  • Plant out the last of the Autumn veggies before Winter sets in;
  • Finally plant the rest of the Sweet Peas before it’s too late;
  • Dig out the parsley plants that are setting seed.

That’s a lot!

Saturday

I started with the balcony garden, which was looking very sad. The eggplant and tomatoes were well and truly done, but had been sitting out there ready to move in to the compost for at least a month now. I pulled them out of their pots and removed half of the potting mix. I topped up each pot with fresh potting mix and soil wetter granules. Some of the pots I re-potted with a Dragon Fruit plant and climbing monstera, but the remainder I have left empty for now. I fed everything with liquid fertiliser. The full pots can stay out there over Winter, regularly watered, and I will plant them back up in the Springtime.

All the spent plants and old soil went into the green bin, because my compost bins are almost full.

I watered all the indoor plants and moved some around to make sure they get the best light.

Then I started on the weeding. Although I mulch well, the weeds still come up, so I started in the garlic patch and cleared the little weeds that had started to make their presence felt, along with the rogue potatoes from last year’s crappy potato plantings. I also noticed that the lime tree, which has a bad case of Citrus Leaf Miner, needed another spray of Pest Oil.

Lime leaves affected by Citrus Leaf Miner

Citrus Leaf Miner is a very annoying little critter that sucks all the goodness out of the leaves of citrus plants and weakens the tree. They are too small to see, but you can see the damage to the leaves: they look puckered and twisted, and if you look closely you can see the telltale tracks on the leaves. Of course because I have been out of the garden for so many weeks, I did not notice they had moved in until a couple of weeks ago when I was tossing something in the compost bin. I was cranky as, and gave the tree a spray of Eco Pest Oil, which is a natural pest oil spray. Pest Oil smothers the Citrus Leaf Miners and is organic. It doesn’t damage the tree, just coats the leaves so the little monsters cannot breathe. One coating is not enough to knock them off though, so today I needed to spray again.

The lime tree has been an ongoing hassle. When we first planted it, we grew it in a pot in our patio. It caught a shocking case of wooly scale, helped by farming ants. It took forever for us to get on top of it (again with Pest Oil). After finally clearing that, it didn’t really enjoy being in a pot or under the patio, and kept dropping its fruit. We planted in the garden, and this year we had our first crop of about twelve large juicy limes. Then the Citrus Leaf Miners moved in. We love limes (we eat a lot of Mexican food) so I am determined that this tree will survive.

Sunday

Today my first important job was to cut back the asparagus.

Yellow asparagus foliage

Asparagus should be allowed to set its fern at the end of the season, as this enables the plant to build its energy for next year’s spears. When the fern turns yellow in Autumn, it’s time to cut it back down. Cut it right back down to the ground. It looks horrible and messy while it is getting to this stage, but if you want asparagus, that’s the deal. The other part of the asparagus deal is that you can’t eat the spears for the first two years: you just have to let them run to fern. You also have to leave a couple of spears to run to fern each year. This will be my third season of asparagus this Spring, so we are finally able to eat the spears, and I will be very excited about it, let me tell you.

Note: If your asparagus fern grows little berries, it is a male plant and you won’t get as many spears or as delicious spears. Best to dig it up as soon as you can and try again. If you leave it for another year or so, you might not be able to dig it up as the root system will be very strong. That’s the other deal with asparagus: you plant it, you keep it.

I also cut back the Vietnamese mint, that had grown like crazy under the lime tree, but was now woody and horrible. Poor thing likes a lot of water and this season has been very dry. I managed to save a bit and it should come back ok.

I dug out all of last season’s dead and dying annual dahlias, some parsley that was running to seed (I have tons of it everywhere so I don’t worry about saving seed anymore), and then I fed the whole patch and the lime tree with a mix of pelletised chicken manure and blood and bone.

Then I had fun planting onion sets, pak choy, violas, more broccoli, lettuce seeds, snow peas, coriander, and a couple of hopeful packets of Sweet Peas. The veggie patch is really full now: I couldn’t cram anything else in there without pulling something else out.

I am saving space in Pie Corner for two dwarf plum trees, but it is too early for them to go in yet. I have another month at least: hopefully it will not be that long before I get out there again!

Gardening jobs, Easter Weekend 2021

I run my own business, and things are flat out right now, so I do not have the time to spend four days outside in the glorious Autumn weather, more’s the pity.

I gave myself one full day off, and the rest was to be spent looking outside at my garden from my study window.

Bee-attracting Dahlias

Good Friday: working.

Easter Saturday: Day off at the Meadows Easter Fair, a family tradition of many years.

Easter Sunday: working.

Easter Monday: working.

Easter Saturday

The Meadows Easter Fair is held in the little town of Meadows, about twenty minutes from our place. We trek along every year with close friends. We have the stalls we visit each year, and the items we always look out for. It is a traditional country fair, complete with hot donuts, sausage sizzle, homemade jams and pickles, and marshmallow rabbits. Our kids love it, even at the ages of 16 and 12.

There are also a lot of plants for sale. This year there were fewer plants of the kind that I was looking for, but I did manage to buy some Dutch Iris and Daffodil bulbs to plant in the front yard. The Daffodil bulbs were a plain yellow called Greg’s Favourite, which I bought mostly because I was tickled by the name. The Dutch Iris were a lovely ochre coloured variety called Bronze Beauty, which I have not seen in any of the catalogues (and you better believe I’ve been reading the catalogues).

Easter Sunday

Welllllll…I’m only human. Before I sat down to work, I gave myself a little bit of time in the garden. I have many indoor houseplants, and several of them needed dividing and repotting. I spent about an hour doing this, as well as taking cuttings from the overgrown Swiss Cheese Plant that has gone crazy in my study. I repotted the Fiddle Leaf Fig and a Hoya, and divided a Pothos Snow Queen.

Happy broccoli plant

I also repotted the silverbeet seedlings I have been growing from seed, and then watered all the repotted and divided plants with seaweed extract.

Then I checked all the brassica seedlings for caterpillars. I couldn’t find any, although I can tell that something has been having a little munch. I also noticed white fly around the place. The longer warm period has kept them hanging around. Generally I don’t spray, even with organic sprays because they can also kill beneficial insects, but if the white fly does get worse I might have to.

I cultivated around the brassicas to remove some opportunistic weeds (and some tomato seedlings that have popped up from the compost).

I quickly threw around some poppy and hollyhock seeds from my stash of seeds.

Then I waved goodbye to my lovely garden, and headed back inside to face my computer screen.

Next weekend, if I have time, I will plant out peas, sweet peas, garlic, and the bulbs I bought at the Easter Fair. Until then, it is time to work.

Weekend gardening jobs, 20/21 March 2021

Autumn is a busier time in the garden than Spring. In Spring, there is always another warm day to catch up on tasks if you miss out on a day in the garden due to work or family commitments. In Autumn, you are always playing catch up, because there are only so many warm days until Winter comes along. Those lovely mild days are critical for planting seeds and seedlings while the soil temperature is still warm enough for germination and for the seedlings to get a good headstart. There are lots of end-of-Summer jobs to finish, such as cleaning up old plants, preparing the soil for new plants, trimming and pruning, LOTS of weeding, and planting. I have been doing all of these things this weekend, and I am still not done.

Saturday

On Saturday, my husband and I visited an Open Garden. For those who do not know about the Open Garden Scheme, it is a program in Australia (maybe in other parts of the world too) wherein people with beautiful gardens open them up to visitors on a weekend. Each State has its own Open Garden Scheme.

This was the first time we had visited an Open Garden. Not being ageist, but we were easily the youngest attendees by a good decade. We had a lovely time. It was fun to see a different garden, established and maintained by people with a lot more space (and let’s be honest, a lot more cash) than us. Their garden was on a hillside in a winery in McLaren Vale, one of the premier wine growing regions in South Australia. It was not the kind of garden I would grow (too few veggies and fruit trees, too many ornamentals), but it was beautiful, and a very relaxing way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. Plus, the CWA were there with tea and scones. We sat on a verandah overlooking a hillside sipping tea, and felt like proper grownups.

We finished the morning at my favourite nursery in McLaren Vale. I love this place – it has the most beautiful pots and gardening paraphernalia, as well as stunning houseplants. I controlled myself and just bought seedlings this time around.

Sunday

I got up early and got into the garden as soon as I could. My plan was to plant out all the seedlings I have bought over the past two weekends while the weather is still lovely and warm, and to keep preparing the soil for Autumn vegetables.

I am still removing Summer vegetables and digging over the soil ready for new plantings. For each area, I have spread Dynamic Lifter and Blood and Bone to help replenish the soil, and compost or well-rotted chicken manure (depending what I have at the time). This time I had well-rotted chicken manure. I turned the compost bins lightly with a garden fork and added more material to them (old potting mix from tomato plants and kitchen scraps).

Weeds are starting to make their presence felt, so with my trust Ho-Mi, I spent some time grubbing out creeping oxalis from the flower beds in front of the retaining wall. Due to regular weeding and letting the chooks out for a run, the weeds are pretty well controlled, but the oxalis is a continuing problem. As I do not spray anything, it is something that just has to be continually managed.

After watering the newly dug and raked soil well, I planted another of the new passionfruit vines in against the back fence, and planted out a bunch of flower seedlings.

This season, I am planting stocks, violas, and pansies for winter colour, and I will also plant more Spring flowering bulbs (daffodils, iris, ranunculus, etc) for later colour. In a couple of weeks I will plant my favourite flower, sweet peas.

Dahlia in the veggie patch being visited by a bee

I always plant flowers in amongst the vegetable patch, to attract pollinating insects. This Summer, I planted dianthus, sunflowers, petunias, and dahlias. While the dahlias took quite a while to flower, they are now putting on a stunning display, and the bees are going crazy for them. I also always have alyssum, nasturtium, and calendula growing in the garden. These self-seed all over the place, acting as a ground cover and attracting bees and hoverflies to the garden.

One of the last sunflowers

Finally, all the seedlings, including the brassicas planted last week, were fed with a weak solution of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion to keep them growing nice and quickly in this warm weather. Feeding is critical for plants anytime, but especially when they are establishing, and especially for crops like brassicas and leafy greens. When they are young, a half-strength solution of liquid fertiliser is best. When they are larger, you can upgrade to full strength. Try to feed them earlier in the day and on cooler days to prevent burning the leaves. A weekly feed is best when establishing, but to be honest I am more likely to manage it fortnightly. Once the plants are well established, a fortnightly full-strength feed is fine. For larger plants, such as the passionfruit I have just planted, a fortnightly full-strength is preferred.

Broccoli seedlings

If I am to be completely honest, keeping up with feeding all of my plants is challenging. I am much more diligent with the fruit tree watering and feeding than I am say, with the roses and ornamentals, which I tend to leave more to their own devices. I would have much better roses if I was really religious about nutrition and watering. But as a part-time gardener, I only have so much time, so the plants I am most passionate about are those that receive most of my time and attention.

While I was watering, I noticed a couple of white cabbage moths fluttering around the cabbages and cauliflowers, and made a mental note to start checking the seedlings for those horrible green grubs in the next day or so.

After almost the whole weekend in the garden or garden adjacent, I still have so much left to do before the warm weather runs out – and not enough time to do it. Hopefully, next weekend will be warm and I can make it out there for a few hours.

Weekend garden jobs, October 10 2020

Ranunculus in bloom

The Spring bulbs I planted back in March/April are blooming like crazy right now. My five year old niece declared yesterday that I have a ‘giant fairy garden,’ which is just about the best compliment I could receive. I have to admit, it is looking pretty magical, especially now the herbs are in flower as well. Purple sage and several shades of lavender are also in bloom, along with dianthus, iris, roses, ranunculus, salvia, and my favourites, sweet peas. I don’t subscribe to the landscape gardeners nice neat rules and matching colour palettes. I was raised by cottage gardeners: my mother and my grandmother always had flourishing, rambling, colourful gardens that children loved. Plants go where they fit and colours are as bright as possible. It won’t win any design awards, but if my niece thinks it’s a fairy garden then it’s a win in my book.

Double Ranunculus

I didn’t have much time this week, but I did spend a couple of hours in the backyard. I built a few more tomato cages and planted bean and lettuce seeds. I had a bag of lettuce seeds that we had saved from a very prolific crop of Australian Yellow Lettuce a couple of years ago, so I sprinkled them liberally in bare spots around the place while listening to the gentlemanly David Tennant chat to Elizabeth Moss. If there is a better way to spend a sunny afternoon in Australia, I don’t know what it could be.

Tomorrow I have to work (sad face) but before I sit down to my desk I will make rhubarb jam because a) I have lots of rhubarb and b) Sunday seems like a jam-making kind of day.

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.