Grow chillis for health

If you really want to spice up your garden this summer then now is the time to plant a chilli bush or two.

Maybe you don’t much like the hot taste of chillis?  Then consider this – there is more vitamin C in a chilli than in an orange and other health benefits besides.  Chillis are also rich in vitamins A, E, potassium and folic acid.  And, despite their fiery flavour, they are (used in moderation) very good for stimulating digestion.

The hot zap is all in the seeds and the secret is all in the cooking.  If chillis are cooked long and well they lose some of their fire (and also some of their vitamin content).  If you want to reduce chilli heat in a recipe, remove some of the seeds.  Or buy one of the several less fiery varieties.

Chillis are dead easy to grow, in the ground or in the pot.  They will tolerate poorish sandy soil but not heavy clay.  The best growing environment is an improved, loamy soil and a sunny position.  Water well every day or so for the first month after which a chilli bush will only need watering a couple of times a week.  Feed with blood and bone or an all-purpose fertiliser though for best fruiting results I recommend using a special fruit and/or vegetable fertiliser. Cut the bush back once fruiting is finished.

The peppery fruit is, not surprisingly, repellent to most pests – but not all!  Birds will take the fruit so your plant/s may need protection. Caterpillars and grasshoppers will eat the leaves and if this starts to happen use a spray or dust recommended by your garden centre.  Chillis are in the same genus as tomatoes and though less susceptible are still subject to the same wilt diseases.  So make sure the ground or container is well-drained and always use a good quality potting mix.

Chillis today come in large and small fruit sizes, long or round or “udder” shaped and in decorative colours from white to purple as well as red and orange.  All can be used in cooking and green, unripe chillis are better than mature red for some dishes. If you have a large crop you can freeze or dry them and then use them whole or ground to make you own chilli powder. Crushed or powdered chilli spread on the ground around plants makes an effective slug and snail repellent.




A (short) Winter’s (birding)Tale

Some of our merry band – the Alpha women anyway. As for the men, Peter is taking the photo, and Syko is lurking behind the girls I think, and the other David has wandered away hoping for a pic of the elusive Rose Robin.


Ten of us, including David Neradil’s neighbour Peter, set off in glorious weather for the monthly bird adventure on August 9, this time to the Lower Beechmont Reserve at Clagiraba.  As we drove along the spine of Tamborine the mountains to the west stood out dusky blue against the more vivid blue of the winter sky.  When we turned east to descend Henri Robert Drive the ocean ahead of us glittered like a vast silvery-blue mirror.  Just a perfect day to go birdwatching!

Though even at 7.30, where we reached our stop at Clagiraba Creek, it was COLD! Down to seven degrees Celsius and the ground covered with a light frost.  So we stayed only long enough to pick up a few brave birds before driving the short distance to the reserve entrance.  Here we met Gold Coast birdo Shirley who had arranged to join us.

The silent trees soon offered us a few peeps and tweets and as the sun penetrated the canopy we soon found ourselves surrounded by Yellow Robins, Scarlet Honeyeaters and Brown and Striated Thornbills.  This was one of those expeditions where everyone in the group contributed to bird identification and soon the list began to grow.  Including a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles which flew majestically and rather scornfully from their roost with several Sulphur-crested Cockatoos screeching in alarm.

It was a relief to get out of the trees and into the sunlit open area around the small lake.  Here we stopped for smoko and watched a White-faced Heron gracefully fishing around the edge of the water and an Azure Kingfisher obligingly flyin low from one perch to another so we could get good photos of it.  While some of us munched our snacks, David Neradil went off and found the much-desired Rose Robin. And David Sykes then hunted for the next part of the track, resulting in a scramble through the forest and across the creek with Julie muttering all the while that she was SURE there was a better track further along.  As indeed there proved to be, and in future we’ll know where it is.  There are several old and new well-marked tracks in the reserve today  and they deserve further exploration.

We followed the creek back down to join the main track and Kylie found a nesting Striated Pardalote while Shirley spotted White-throated Honeyeaters bathing in a rock pool.  A lot of birds were obviously taking advantage of the overall warm late-winter conditions to start their spring nesting; we found (and photographed) a lovely little Eastern Yellow Robin’s nest and other birds we saw ad heard were obviously in mating mood.

For once we kept to our schedule of a half day only and were home by noon, with a nice round number on the list of 50 birds for the morning – not bad for a leisurely five or so kilometre meander through a small area of limited habitat variation.

Our first stop by Clagiraba Creek and with all that frost on the ground a shivering Jan is begging for us to move on!


  1. Red-backed Fairy Wren (outside reserve)
  2. Superb Blue Fairy Wren
  3. Brown Cuckoo-dove
  4. Spotted Dove
  5. Bar-shouldered Dove
  6. Pied Butcherbird
  7. Magpie Lark
  8. Magpie
  9. Crow
  10. Pied Currawong
  11. Noisy Miner
  12. Olive-backed Oriole
  13. White-browed Scrubwren
  14. Large-billed Scrubwren
  15. Brown Thornbill
  16. Striated Thornbill
  17. White Ibis
  18. Whipbird
  19. King Parrot
  20. Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
  21. Figbird
  22. Wood Duck
  23. Pacific Black Duck
  24. Australasian Grebe
  25. Scarlet Honeyeater
  26. White-throated Honeyeater
  27. Lewin’s Honeyeater
  28. Silvereye
  29. Striated Pardalote
  30. Spotted Pardalote
  31. Eastern Yellow Robin
  32. Rose Robin
  33. Varied Sitella
  34. Kookaburra
  35. Azure Kingfisher
  36. Grey Fantail
  37. Fantail Cuckoo
  38. Satin Bowerbird
  39. Mistletoe Bird
  40. Wedge-tailed Eagle
  41. Masked Lapwing
  42. Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike
  43. White-faced Heron
  44. Red-browed Finch
  45. Welcome Swallow
  46. Grey Shrike Thrush
  47. Golden Whistler
  48. Rainbow Bee-eater
  49. White-throated Treecreeper
  50. Cisticola


Green Island in the Sky


Dainty flowers of the Blue Lilly Pilly

Dainty flowers of the Blue Lilly Pilly

At last – somebody has put together a book celebrating the beauty and diversity of the mountain I love to call home.

The adventurous and versatile medico/journalist/artist/photographer Jaap Vogel has created a work of great beauty, featuring his own photographs of Tamborine’s natural attractions and the works of several local artists which interpret nature in various ways.  It’s a truly lovely book and the name is perfect – we DO think of ourselves as an island up here, a green and peaceful place inhabited by as rich a mix of artists, musicians and writers as you’d find anywhere outside a major city.  Development and the urban horrors of the Gold Coast creep ever closer to the base of the mountain but still we remain islanders; invaded by tourist hordes each day, it’s true, but all our own between the hours of 4pm to 10 am.

Jaap has been involved in various community organisations in his years of association with Tamborine, and once brought a creative flair to his role as a president of Landcare that showed us how meetings could actually be fun.  He’s unusual in that he combines the role of artist with that of scientist…the very human embodiment of the fractal!…and can talk about sculpture and photography with the same enthusiasm as he brings to any discussion of artificial intelligence.

To learn more about Jaap and his book go to


Birds, scenery and sculpture – a picnic at Lake Maroon

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Wouldn’t you just know it…splendiferously perfect weather all week and then on the day we decide to go for a picnic and a bit of birding the clouds come up and the rain comes down!

Still, we decided to go, heading west in the hope of avoiding the coastal showers. Weatherzone radar was wrong again – true it only spat with rain for a bit around Rathdowney but the clouds remained heavy and lowering all day until mid-afternoon.

Anyway, we first found a delightful spot by a creek for smoko – a giant apple and cream turnover for me and an equally large apple and walnut scroll for Bob, plus iced coffee.  We set up our chairs and got out our binoculars and admired the scarlet display of callistemons all along the creekbank.  At this time of year this graceful riverine tree is in full glory.  Here and there, twined among the callistemon branches, were the bright golden flowers of the Twining Guinea Flower (Hibbertia scandens).  And birds there were a-plenty: Scarlet and Brown honeyeaters, Bar-shouldered Doves calling continuously, Noisy Friarbirds living up to their name, Leaden Flycatchers, Striated Pardalotes, Rainbow Lorikeets and many more species typical of the habitat.

Scarlet callistemons all along the banks of Burnett Creek as far as the eye could see

Scarlet callistemons all along the banks of Burnett Creek as far as the eye could see – looking up and down stream

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Then on to Lake Maroon which looked moody and rather like a Scottish loch, backed by brooding mountains and with its polished pewter surface reflecting the overcast sky.  A very different palette to the last time we visited, when everything was vivid blue and green with an occasional fluff of white cloud.

Approaching Maroon under a lowering sky - then the moody lake and (if you look) some new plantings of native trees and shrubs to enhance the lakeside

Approaching Maroon under a lowering sky – then the moody lake and (if you look) some new plantings of native trees and shrubs to enhance the lakeside

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But at least it wasn’t raining.  A meander around part of the lake shore gave us Coots, Jacanas and a duck or two as well as a splendid pair of Black Swans.  Fig Birds and a single Oriole were busy in the fig trees scattered around the picnic area as these were heavy with fruit.  As we use every opportunity when birding to make observations for our ongoing aggression study Bob was quick to observe a couple of stoushes between a pair of Willie Wagtails and other birds, notably a Magpie Lark.  Sure enough, we soon discovered the tiny, exquisitely-wrought nest of the Willie Wag on a bare branch sticking out of a dead stump about five metres offshore.  And right next door to it was an equally dead and bare tree, with the mud cup nest of the Magpie Lark.  Neighbours but by no means friends!

Willie Wagtail nest and larger Magpie Lark nest

Willie Wagtail nest (below) and larger Magpie Lark nest above. If you look hard at pic below right you can just make out  the Willie Wag nest at left (halfway up right leaning branch where it intersects with straight branch) and the Magpie Lark nest at top of  dead tree to the right.

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We sipped our beer and ate our giant hunks of pita bread stuffed with rare roast beef, horseradish sauce and green bean salad, plus hard-boiled eggs and olives and biscuits-and-cheese.  We were too full then to move, but with plenty of vegetation nearby we were able to keep on watching the avian variety theatre without getting up from our seats.  It was good to see (and hear!) the big Channel-Billed Cuckoos back with us after winter and in fine voice too and we also heard the first Koel of the season.

Two young Welcome Swallows still being fed by parents and trying their wings

Two young Welcome Swallows still being fed by parents and trying their wings

The Port Jackson Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) absolutely laden with fruit and attracting lots of birds

The Port Jackson Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) absolutely laden with fruit and attracting lots of birds

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A dainty little Scrambling Lily in the woods behind the lake

A dainty little Scrambling Lily in the woods behind the lake

Once our digestions were in reasonable order again we set off for home with an ice cream stop at pleasant little Boonah and a longer stop at Lake Wyaralong, outside Beaudesert.  Here we were able to watch a group of sculptors at work, as part of the Wyaralong Sculpture Festival and Symposium which has attracted seven acclaimed sculptors from here and overseas.  Each one is working on his or her piece for 16 or so days and these will form part of a sculpture park on the lakeside, at the eastern end of the Mt Joyce mountain bike/walking track.  It was interesting seeing modern sculptors at work, using power tools and looking more like tradesmen that artists – dunno what Rodin would have made of it but Henry Moore would probably have liked having all those modern tools with which to make big holes!

Sculptures at Lake Wyaralong

Sculptures at Lake Wyaralong

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Then it was home, tired but happy to have once again spent some time enjoying the beautiful country that lies behind our mountain.

Rainforest plants for a difficult corner

Lemon myrtle

Above: Lemon Myrtle – a lovely garden shrub


Plants from the rainforest are the best way to turn a difficult corner into an asset.

Just about every garden has a trouble spot where the soil is poor or the sun doesn’t shine – often a combination of both.  The fastest, easiest and most satisfying way of dealing with this is to fill it with a selection of flowering rainforest plants.

Why?  Because these plants not only look good but are perfectly adapted to the vagaries of our climate. They tolerate poor soil, sudden temperature changes and drought.  What’s more, they happily handle both sun and shade – deep shade will make them tall and straggly, full sun will make them more compact – and as a difficult corner may offer both these extremes, depending on time of day and season, rainforest plants are the ideal choice.  And they only need minimal management.

It’s important to select just the right plants so here is a selection of those that suit small gardens.  They are selected for suitable size, ease of growth and attractive flowers and foliage. Plant as wide a variety as space permits to create a mini-rainforest – but don’t overcrowd:

Lilly pillies – This name is given loosely to trees and shrubs in the Syzygium genus.  Best choice for the home garden are Blue Cherry (S. oleosum), the hybrid ’Cascade’ and the original “lilly pilly” S. smithii.  Riberry (S. luehmanni) is a good choice for larger gardens – in a small garden it must be regularly pruned.  Syzygium wilsonii has lovely powder puff flowers and is also small enough for a garden corner. The most commonly available lilly pillies are the many forms of S. australe, sold under a variety of names.  All are excellent plants but susceptible to infestation by an insect that distorts the leaves.

Other good garden choices are Golden Penda, Eleaocarpus reticulatus ‘Prima Donna”, Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), Gossia ‘Blushing Beauty’, Native Fuchsia (Graptophyllum), Ivory Curl (Buckinghamia),  Pink Euodia (needs pruning when young for denser growth), Tulipwood (Harpullia pendula – a popular street tree), Native Frangipani and Diamond Laurel (Auranticarpa rhombifolium).  An attractive shrub for the understorey is Cat’s Whiskers (Orthosiphon aristatus) and if you want a ground cover you can’t go past the Native Violet (Viola Hederaceaea) which bears little mauve flowers for most of the year.   Your best bet when you decide to deal with that difficult corner is to visit a specialist native plant nursery or a garden centre with a good native plant selection, explain your needs and get expert advice.

Once established, your rainforest corner will look good, add to your garden’s biodiversity by attracting birds and beneficial insects, and require very little watering, no feeding, and no maintenance beyond perhaps some annual pruning for size and shape.

Pink Euodia

Pink Euodia

Growing lemon trees in pots

Lemon Lemon tree, very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet – but grow it in a pot and be prepared to face defeat! Well that’s my take on the old song, anyway.  And if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked “what’s wrong with my lemon tree” then I’d be a rich woman!  The Italians have been successfully growing citrus in pots for centuries but in the tropics and subtropics we rarely get it right.  This is because we’re challenging Nature by trying to grow a plant that thrives in dry climates with low winter rainfall and hot, dry summers.  Luckily most citrus bear fruit in the subtropical autumn/winter when it’s cool and dry but the soggy summers encourage pest and disease problems. So there are three main rules when growing a lemon tree (or any other citrus tree) in a pot:  The right environment, the right watering and fertilising program and the right care regime. ENVIRONMENT Choose a BIG pot that is wider at the top than at the bottom but not so small at the base that it can easily topple.  A lemon tree grows large and bushy and you don’t want to keep repotting so fill up any empty spaces with herbs that can be removed later. Choose a sunny position with plenty of space all around.  Citrus needs at least six hours full sun a day and an airy position discourages fungal diseases.  Perfect drainage is essential so put some gravel or small stones in the bottom of the pot, top with a 5 cm layer of coarse sand then fill the rest with a good quality potting mix. WATER AND FERTILISER Water thoroughly every two days; more in very hot weather.  Check regularly to see that the growing mix is neither soggy nor too dry.  Don’t spray the leaves because this encourages fungal diseases and sooty mould.  The potting mix will feed the plant for the first three months; after that apply a citrus fertiliser according to the instructions on the packet – usually every two months is enough. CARE Top up the potting mix every spring, first removing about one third of the old mix and flushing the rest with a hose at full strength.  Flushing breaks up a mix that is starting to harden and become too impacted around the roots.  It also gets rid of any build up of salts that come with regular fertilising. Lemon trees and other citrus are sadly prone to health problems and attack by insect pests. The leaves should always be a rick, deep green (darker in mandarins) and if they are not then start looking for problems. The most common health problems are due to incorrect nutrition and will show themselves by yellowing leaves or yellowing along the veins only.  If you are applying a complete citrus fertiliser regularly then this should not occur.  However, if older leaves develop yellow veins then dissolve a tablespoon of Epsom Salts in a 5 litre watering can and pour around the roots.  This problem is more common with citrus grown in ground than in pots.  Sooty mould is an unsightly black deposit on leaves and stems caused by the secretions (commonly called “honeydew”) from certain insects such as aphids and scale.  These are often found in association with ants so if you see ants all over the tree, check for their host insects and wash them off with soap and water.  This treatment also gets rid of the mould.  Adding some pesticidal oil such as Neem, or even a teaspoon of household disinfectant, will discourage the problem from re-occurring. The most common insect pests of citrus are Bronze Orange Bugs and Citrus Leaf Miner.  The former reveal themselves through a pungent, unpleasant smell and are either green (when very young) black or bright orange.  They can be picked off by hand but if the tree is badly infested use Pest Oil or Confidor.  If you handle them, they secrete a sticky, smelly liquid which is mildly corrosive.  Their sap sucking habit damages the branches and leaves.  Citrus Leaf Miner is the caterpillar of a moth that lays its eggs in new, tender young leaves.  The caterpillars leave pale, silvery trails through the leaves which become distorted and pallid.  Pest Oil discourages the moth from laying so be alert to the first signs and then spray the new growth and remove any leaves already affected.  This or any other insecticidal oil will kill off most insect pests.  However, it’s always safest to be sure so if your potted lemon tree looks unthrifty, with yellowing or distorted leaves, or blackening tips, get advice either on-line or from your local garden centre. Lemon trees grown in-ground in subtropical climates often show signs of citrus scab which are brownish lumps and patches on the fruit skin.  It looks bad but doesn’t harm the fruit.  However, as lemon trees are grown in pots for ornamental reasons you don’t want scabby, unsightly fruit so spray in mid-spring with a solution of copper oxychloride and white oil (available from nurseries/garden centres or hardware stores).  This stops the problem occurring and you should have lovely yellow unblemished lemons. Potted lemon trees need pruning, unlike those grown in the ground.  Lightly trim to shape as required but if you want flowers and fruit, don’t hard prune when flower buds start to appear.  Water shoots – the long, pale, branchlets with (usually) larger leaves than those on the main branches – grow from the base of the tree, below the graft mark, and should be removed.  If the branches in the centre of the tree are too thick and tangled, gently remove a few to open it up – this helps avoid fungus problems by letting more light into the centre of the canopy.  Always use sharp secateurs or pruning saws, and sterilise them first. After five years or so the constraints of being confined to a pot affect the roots of lemon trees and they begin to fail – symptoms are smaller leaves, leaf drop, fewer fruit or fruit drop.  The whole tree begins to look down at heel.  There are horticultural techniques to de-pot and trim the roots but these require a lot of skill and effort.  The obvious answer is to buy a bigger pot but if this is not feasible then just remove the tree and either plant it outside or just throw it away – you’ll have had plenty of value from it by then and no plant lives forever. Remember, if you want any more advice on this topic or any other, just email me at and I’ll try to help.