Bob’s Big Day

Source: Bob’s Big Day

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.

Trim cordylines for better growth

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Cordylines are reliable, hard-working plants from the tropics and subtropics and today are grown all round the world in warm-temperate to equatorial climates.  In cooler climates they are popular indoor plants and continued breeding now brings us cordylines in bright stripes and splodges of cream, peach, orange, red, burgundy, pink, yellow, cream and many shades of green.

This range of colour, and the leaf shape that varies from strap-thin to broad and fleshy makes them ideal year-round foundation plants.

Only problem is, cordylines get very straggly once the stems start to gain height.  Where I live, gardens are full of such sad and ragged-looking specimens, because people don’t know how to manage them.

The secret with keeping your cordylines in good shape – and colour – is to be ruthless and cut off their heads!  Yes!  Decapitate them with gusto and they’ll serve you well for many years.

Cordylines look at their best when keeping a low profile. So when a cordyline becomes too tall and straggly for its position, take a clean, sharp pair of secateurs, shears or loppers and remove top growth, leaving about 1 foot (40 cms) of bare stem.  The amount of stem left standing is not critical and may depend on what height you wish to maintain your plant – taller growth at the back of a bed, shorter growth in front.

This can be done at any time of year though I prefer to do it at the start of the cool season, so the plant can remain dormant for a while and gather its strength for a boost of new growth when the warm weather starts again. Where I live, most rainfall occurs in summer. HOWEVER, do NOT do this where you have a lot of cool season rainfall because the leafless plants will tend to rot if left in cold, wet ground.  In such climates, do your cutting back at the end of the cool season.

To encourage new growth when warm weather starts, add some compost or blood and bone around the base of the plant. Water well but don’t over-do it because cordylines will rot if the ground is saturated for long periods.  Like most tropical foliage plants, cordylines benefit most from regular misting.

Dracaenas can also be cut back in this way, when they become too tall and straggly.

For more information on managing tropical foliage plants go to