Lilies of the field

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I love lilies! I mean why would you not – they are as easy to grow as they are gorgeous. I especially love the tall, stately, so-called Oriental lilies which every late spring and early summer offer such a fine reward for so little effort.

Have a look at this splendid specimen in my own garden, which right now is putting on a show that distracts the eye from the sorry state of our pond. We have had no significant rain for four months now so the pond is rather low – much to the delight of the herons that fish there daily for frogs. The poor old frogs are not nearly so enthusiastic though and must be desperate for rain not only so they can start breeding but also to put more water in the pond so they have somewhere to hide from the predatory birds.

Anyway, back to the lily. In its first year after the bulb was planted it produced one fine flower. In the next year it was taller and produced a couple more. Last year it put on a better show and we had the pleasure of it for several weeks. This year it is, as you can see, a wonder to the eye. Not just by day but at night too, because it glows in the dark even when there is no moon, and can be easily seen from the sitting room window.

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The “Oriental” lilies sold in garden centres or available from bulb suppliers today are highly-bred hybrids of several species of (mostly) Asian origin. They are similar to, but not quite the same, as those commonly called “Asiatic” lilies, just to make things confusing! The latter, however, are generally less tall and stately. They often have colour-contrast centres and are better in pots than the Orientals.

Both Asiatic and Oriental lilies are easy to grow but the latter are REALLY tough. Conventional horticultural wisdom says they do best in good, loamy soil, in part shade, with either well-distributed rainfall (especially in summer) or regular watering. Plus a couple of doses of fertilizer a year.

Well, my beauty gets none of those things! It is growing in the most horrible, hard, stony soil you could imagine. It gets sun for most of the day and water only when I remember, which isn’t often. Sure, it gets deluged for a couple of months in high summer but we’ve just had four months with only a couple of inches of rain (about 45 mm) many weeks apart and only twice have I remembered to give my tall and splendid darling a drink! And I never feed it at all! Nor mulch it, though there is a fair bit of leaf litter around its base.

Yet there it is, flourishing wonderfully. In this past year it has withstood both deluge and drought, strong wind and fierce sun. The older I get, and the more years I study and write about horticulture, the more I realise that plants are like children – they grow best and sturdiest if they are not too spoiled and protected and over-indulged.

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I don’t even know my lily’s exact name and nobody has yet been able to tell it to me. It looks a bit like the variety ‘Santander’ and a bit like ‘Rialto’ too, though it is too greenish in hue to be either. Perhaps it is an old variety and the name has been lost as new varieties come along. It looks like some sort of cross between L. auratum and L. speciosum, as most of these types of lilies are, probably with a couple of other species in the mix as well. Never mind, what’s in a name! All I do know is that I plan to get a few more of these lovely lilies when bulb-buying time comes around again.

Australian Frangipani has flowers like cream and honey

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The Frangipani is the only flower I know that is named for a perfume, rather than the other way round. It was a famous perfume in its day, invented in the 16th century by the Italian Marquis Muzio Frangipane. According to legend, the tree’s seductive perfume led to its discovery for horticulture by the French monk Plumier. Apparently he’d planned to travel the world and grow rich (an unlikely ambition in someone who became a Franciscan monk at the age of 16, in a monastery famous for its austerity but still) and was told by a fortune teller to “search for a tree that grows near churches and graveyards; its blossoms are the colour of the new moon; its fragrance will overpower your soul; if you uproot it, the leaves and flowers continue to grow. When you find it you shall be rich.*

Well, he found it, when collecting plants in the Caribbean region during the 17th century and though he didn’t name it after himself, others did – Plumeria. How it came by the common name of ‘Frangipani’ nobody seems to know.

The funny thing is, the description of the blossoms of this plant, as given in the legend, resemble the Australian native frangipani, Hymenosperum flavum, far more than they do the plumeria types commonly known as ‘frangipanis’ today.

For one thing, the Australian frangipani has flowers that resemble the ‘golden coins’ described in the legend, which plumerias do not. Hymenosperum flowers start off as a creamy white, deepening to old gold as they age. Thus a tree in full flower looks as if it’s had a great bowl of cream and honey poured over it. For another thing, the flowers of Hymenosperum, like those in the legend, have a much stronger perfume than those of plumeria species.

This is a very good small garden tree for many climates because though it originates in the subtropical rainforest it does very well in dry Mediterranean and warm temperate areas too. In fact, it generally does better, in purely ornamental terms. This is because in the rainforest it tends to grow tall and thin and straggly with very large internodes and sparse branches. Take it out of the rainforest and put it in full sun and it is more compact, bushy and floriferous. It flowers in spring, usually for about a month.

Hymenosperum flavum makes an excellent street tree, requiring little care after establishment.

HOW TO GROW

Where: Sun or shade but flowers better in full sun. Grows faster in good soil but will survive in just about any reasonably well-drained ground.

Buy: Available from most nurseries in Australia but overseas buyers might need to shop around a bit.

Water: Give plenty of water during the establishment period for faster growth. At least twice a week after planting out. After the first year, leave it to nature and only water during long, dry periods (more than two months without rain).

Fertilising: Feed with an all-purpose tree and shrub fertiliser in early summer and again in late autumn. Fowl pellets or blood-and-bone will do fine for general growth but a formulation containing phosphorus will encourage better flowering.

Pruning: This is the secret of growing a really handsome Native (or Australian) Frangipani. Tip prune right from the start after planting and keep doing this on a regular basis to the young tree to promote density and a good shape. The tree may not flower for five years or more – once it does, a good prune of the top growth after flowers have finished will encourage compact growth and prolific flowering the following year.

*(from Hidden Stories in Plants), by Anne Pellowski,
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Roaring Meg is pretty in pink

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Last year at this time I did an article on the lovely Fraser Island Creeper, especially the cultivar Roaring Meg which is more florific than the original species sold in nurseries.

This year my own “Meg” put on a really great show. She’s about three years old now and really coming into her own – this is a climber/creeper that needs a bit of patience before you get a really good floral output but once Meg comes of age she really is a generous beauty.

One of the best things about Meg is that she is perfect for small areas and lightweight supports because she knows how to behave herself – doesn’t grow too vigorous, or too heavy, and is very easy to keep under control with minimum trimming. And, she flourishes well in a nice big pot.

Another good thing is that Meg is a low-maintenance lady who likes a reasonable amount to drink but can go a long time without one. Yet, provided her feet aren’t wet for long periods, she’ll handle heavy wet seasons well too. As for feeding; she’s permanently on a diet and only needs a bit of a feed in late winter to really give of her best.

And here’s another good point: Meg will grow in full sun or light overhead shade, though she’ll flower better with plenty of morning sun.

And if you want to know where Meg likes to hang out – subtropical and mediterranean Australia, Florida, southern California, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, Hong Kong, Singapore, most of Africa, anywhere in the tropics and subtropics. And if you have a warm, sheltered, well-watered spot in a temperate garden where there is no frost or snow, she’ll probably do well enough there too.

For more on this plant, go to the October 2012 archive on this site.

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Memories are made of this

 

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Kenya friends reunited – or at least united!  From left, Karin, Marcia, Jill, Robin,John,Barbara and Graham.  Jinx had already gone home and Ruth is taking the picture.

 

 

Why is it, I asked myself this morning, that I am driving for over an hour to have lunch with a bunch of people, most of whom I’ve never met before?  And that gave rise to another question – what is it about Kenya that seems to bind those who grew up there, or ever lived there, in such a way that after all these years we still enjoy getting together with those who share our memories?  It’s because Kenya was – and in many was still is – a special place.  And that makes us all a bit special too.

The luncheon today was for members of the Kenya Friends Reunited Facebook sub-group, or at least those few members who live in south-east Queensland.  Most of us had not met before, yet we immediately felt like old friends.  Such is the power of Kenya – and of those childhood memories we all hold in common.

It’s also a tribute to the power of Facebook and let me say this, knowing that there are those out there who don’t seem to approve of this wonderful social network facility – Facebook has added a whole new wonderful communications dimension to my life and I am proud to be a subscriber.  I have an often insanely busy life, many friends, plenty of hobbies and interests. And Facebook makes all that easier for me because I can so readily and pleasantly keep in touch with friends and relatives around the world and “see” what they still look like and what they are doing.  As far as KFR is concerned it has reunited me with many old friends and brought back many memories – wonderful!

Anyway, back to our first KFR lunch in this part of the world.  The venue chosen was The Lighthouse Restaurant at Cleveland, a bayside suburb of Brisbane. It’s situated at the end of a narrow point of land pointing straight into Moreton Bay – Brisbane’s Bay of Islands.  On a fine and sunny southern hemisphere sub-tropical spring day this should have been a splendid setting but, alas, the weather was not kind.  It blew a gale, sent down a shower or two and forced all the diners at this large restaurant/pub/cafe complex to eat indoors.

This was a particular shame for Robin Swift who had suggested the event – and the venue.  There he was when I arrived, having set up a large table at the side of the restaurant, complete with Kenya flag, and it was all being blown away.  Thanks to Facebook, Robin and I recognised each other immediately.  And fellow KFR members will be glad to know he is just as lovely as we all thought he must be!  As is his wife Jinx though, poor girl, she had to put up with all we Kenyans reminiscing like crazy.  Jinx, I should explain, comes from That Other Place stuck between SA and Zambia that’s ALMOST as nice as Kenya except it doesn’t have beaches and decent-sized mountains.  It does, however, have that well-known humanitarian Robert Mugabe – which is probably why Robin and Jinx and their family don’t live there any more.

Sitting with Robin and Jinx was Graham (can’t remember his second name), another ex-Kenyan who had been at the Duko with Robin.  As is always the case, we immediately found we knew people in common and were busily investigating this when Ruth Davies arrived.  Ruth is a KFR member who never contributes (too busy) and she and I were at both primary and high school together and our mothers were friends.  So we get together pretty often…but never often enough.

So there the five of us sat, waiting for the others to arrive.  Waited…and waited…!  The weather drove us indoors and we went to the bar section – very cosy on a wet day – and ate fish and chips.  After  a couple of hours of reminiscent chat along came Karin Blowers who told us that she and the rest of the expected guests had been sitting in the restaurant section, wondering what had happened to US!  Just a bit of a mix-up made worse by the weather that forced us to abandon our outside table. So we picked up our glasses and joined the others – and met Marcia and Anne, Barbara and John.  More reminiscent chat.  More old ties established.  I knew Anne’s parents (as did my husband and father).  Marcia’s son lives a street away from my home at North Tamborine.  And John and Barbara live down the bottom of the mountain.  Though none of us knew any of this before. Even more surprising, I only found out just before I left home this morning that the Swifts are the parents-in-law of the son of one of our close friends on Tamborine Mountain!

We forgot the horrible weather in sharing our memories as well as our Australian experiences.  The time went all too fast and given the distances some of us had to travel (only Robin and Jinx live near Brisbane, the rest of us came from either the north or south coasts which means at least an hour’s driving) we decided to call it a day at about three o’clock.  And wouldn’t you know…the clouds rolled back, the drizzle went away, the rain died and the sun shone brightly, just as it’s done for weeks now. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and meeting people in the flesh whom I’d got to know through Kenya Friends Reunited.   We are planning another such get-together down the track and next time we’ll make sure we all meet up at the right time in the right place.  Here are the photos:

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 The venue – this is the cafe/bar side of The Lighthouse Restaurant at Cleveland Point, bayside Brisbane

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The actual lighthouse after which the restaurant is named – looking across Raby Bay.

Jill, Ruth, Jinx, Graham and Robin in the bar, wondering why the others haven't turned up.

Jill, Ruth, Jinx, Graham and Robin in the bar, wondering why the others haven’t turned up.

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After she's come in search of us - and found us - Karin returns to finish this very large fish.  Looks like she's enjoying it!

After she’s come in search of us – and found us – Karin returns to finish this very large fish. Looks like she’s enjoying it!

And now we get to meet Anne and Marcia, both of whom live well over an hour's drive away

And now we get to meet Anne and Marcia, both of whom live well over an hour’s drive away

We also get to meet John and Barbara - and that's Ruth on the left of them (our left)

We also get to meet John and Barbara – and that’s Ruth on the left of them (our left)

Another pic of Ruth, this time in typical pose

Another pic of Ruth, this time in typical pose

And here she is again, with John.  Ruth is one of my favourite people in the world so I like to have lots of pics of her

And here she is again, with John. Ruth is one of my favourite people in the world so I like to have lots of pics of her

And here's lovely Robin who got us all together

And here’s lovely Robin who got us all together

Anne and Robin confer, Karin concentrates on her lunch and Graham hits the bottle - but its only water!

Anne and Robin confer, Karin concentrates on her lunch and Graham hits the bottle – but its only water!

Jinx takes a pic of the rest of us taking pics!

Jinx takes a pic of the rest of us taking pics!

Karin is probably thinking about the trip she's going to take to Tanzania soon - or else just digesting that enormous fish!

Karin is probably thinking about the trip she’s going to take to Tanzania soon – or else just digesting that enormous fish!

Graham shows us how he used to land his plane when he was a pilot in Kenya!...seriously though, he's going to kill me for publishing this pic.  Good job he lives two hours away!

Graham shows us how he used to land his plane when he was a pilot in Kenya!…seriously though, he’s going to kill me for publishing this pic. Good job he lives two hours away!

View from the restaurant - no sitting out on the verandah today, alas.  Though the weather was soon to clear.

View from the restaurant – no sitting out on the verandah today, alas. Though the weather was soon to clear.

And here we all are at the end of a very enjoyable afternoon - all except Jinx, that is.  And me, who was taking the pic.

And here we all are at the end of a very enjoyable afternoon – all except Jinx, that is. And me, who was taking the pic.

The king of orchids

This orchid is grown on a smallish rock on the ground, with overhead shade and early morning sun.  It gets better every year;  this year there are 16 flower spikes.

This orchid is grown on a smallish rock on the ground, with overhead shade and early morning sun. It gets better every year; this year there are 16 flower spikes.

THE KING OF ORCHIDS

Sue Horder wrote to me recently asking for help with her king orchid (Dendrobium speciosum), also known in Australia as the rock orchid.

This really is the king of orchids for its sheer size and magnificence, once it reaches sufficient maturity to produce four or more spikes, And it’s very easy to grow – provided you give it the right conditions.

All a king orchid actually needs is something firm on which to grow and a position in light shade or direct sun in the morning only. The fork of a tree that’s either briefly deciduous in late winter, or has a light canopy of foliage (such as a jacaranda, erythrina or frangipani) is ideal Or a rock with light overhead shade. The orchid in the picture (above) is grown under the eaves of a house with an easterly aspect; it gets plenty of early morning sun in the cool season but is shaded from direct sunlight for most of the day in summer.

This type of orchid is an epiphyte, which means it occurs naturally on trees or rocks where it gets strong support, good aeration and perfect drainage. The roots can spread where they will without constraint. Nutrition is supplied by insect carcasses and plant debris, with some minerals taken from the bark or rock over which the roots spread. An epiphyte is not a parasite so the plant does not take its sustenance from the host.

Grown in the fork of a tree, this fine specimen has spread its mat of thick, fibrous roots over the bark, giving it very strong support.

Grown in the fork of a tree, this fine specimen has spread its mat of thick, fibrous roots over the bark, giving it very strong support.

In cultivation, king orchids should be given a growing environment as close to nature as possible. If a tree branch (preferably a fork, for stability) or a large rock is not available then a tree stump will do. If you have bought your plant from a garden center then it will be on some sort of support already and you merely have to place this somewhere the orchid has plenty of space to grow – because king orchids can get very large indeed. If you have obtained your plant from, say, somebody else’s garden then you will need to fasten it firmly in place with string or thin rope made from organic fibre that will rot away once the plant roots have established themselves in the new habitat. (see photos).

A wicker basket also makes a suitable growing environment because it provides perfect root drainage if filled with bark and leaf litter or an open orchid-growing mix. A couple of small rocks will add stability and enable to orchid’s roots to extract important minerals. The basket can be placed on the ground (slightly raised on rocks or timber is best) or suspended on strong supports. Choose a position which is lightly shaded all day or which gets direct sun only in the early morning (no later than 10 a.m.).

WATERING
If your orchid is in a tree,and if you live in typical king orchid country with plenty of summer rainfall, you don’t really need to water it at all. In the dry season the orchid will still be able to extract water from the tree bark. In an artificial growing situation, however, and especially if you live where prolonged drought is common, it’s best to sprinkle lightly every couple of days in dry weather. If you have a misting attachment on your hose, this is excellent as king orchids grow mostly in environments where mists are frequent and provide much of the moisture required by the
plant. Always bear in mind that these are plants that like a lot of moisture in the air for most of the year and don’t like aridity. So the important thing to remember is that the root system SHOULD NEVER BE WATERLOGGED YET NEVER ALLOWED TO COMPLETELY DRY OUT FOR TOO LONG. A dry spring, however, will produce larger and more prolific flowers and at this time just a light misting is all that’s needed.

FERTILISING
Feeding king orchids is not really necessary, especially with tree-grown plants. However, blooms will be more and better if you give your plant a feed once a month from June – August, using a cheap soluble all-purpose formula such as Thrive or Aquasol mixed in a spray bottle at half the strength recommended for pot plants. The less “natural” your orchid’s growing environment the more it will need to be artificially fed because it may not be able to get adequate nutrition otherwise. I fertilise my king orchids again after flowering is finished, to promote new stem growth, and again in December – January. I have one “kingie” in a tree and that one I never feed at all!

GENERAL CARE
If grown as recommended here you shouldn’t have any problems. I’ve never seen an insect attack on a king orchid that was worth bothering about though you might like to remove unsightly spider webs if they form (I don’t: I think they help feed the plant and also keep more harmful insects away). Stem rot can occur from injury that allows harmful bacteria to enter the plant – if you see any obviously unhealthy browning of the stem, cut it away with a clean and sharp knife. The most common problem is root dry-out during drought. If this occurs the foliage will droop and the stems will look yellowish and unthrifty. Just keep watering the plant well (these orchids are amazingly tolerant of hard times) until it responds with fresh new growth.

It’s easy to move a king orchid. Just cut the roots very carefully with a sharp, clean knife and remove gently from the supporting structure. Pack in damp hessian (burlap), peat moss or some other soft, moist material and keep this with the plant when you transfer it to its new home. Tie firmly in place (including the wrapping material which will supply protection and moisture), spreading out the roots gently over the new surface.

And that’s it. A very easy plant that, if given the basics of horticultural care, will reward you with splendid flowering that just gets better every year. Do remember, though, that this glorious flowering period is brief, so don’t put your plant where it needs to offer a spectacle for the rest of the year.

King orchid growing in its natural habitat, high on a mountainside overlooking a ravine.  here it gets its moisture from summer rains and frequent mist.  An epiphytic plant like this won't thrive with its roots in deep soil - such as a pot.

King orchid growing in its natural habitat, high on a mountainside overlooking a ravine. here it gets its moisture from summer rains and frequent mist. An epiphytic plant like this won’t thrive with its roots in deep soil – such as a pot.

Rosemary – a garden favourite

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People often ask me “what is your favourite herb?”. My standard reply is “It depends!”. When it comes to culinary herbs (the only kind I grow) I have several favourites of equal status, influenced by the time of year or the type of dish I’m cooking. Thus chives, dill, parsley, basil and thyme would be by more most-used herbs while mint (various kinds), sage, chervil and oregano would follow a little way behind. I’m not keen on the flavour of anise so fennel lags a little behind, though I still grow and use it quite regularly.

But the herb for which I have the greatest affection, just as a plant to grow and all culinary reasons apart, is rosemary.

Where cooking is concerned I class rosemary with my B list favourites, though when it comes to lamb and roast potatoes this has to be a Number One choice. To me, the main virtue of rosemary in a dish is that its resinous flavour offsets fattiness – one reason of course why it goes so well with lamb. But rosemary works equally well with both pork and beef spareribs, adding a keen edge to the overall eating experience.

The real reason I am so fond of rosemary, however, is because it is more aesthetically pleasing than most herbs and very rewarding to grow. A little rosemary in the kitchen goes a long way but because it’s a useful landscape plant I grow a lot of it anyway. It’s a great plant for borders (my herb garden is bordered with trimmed rosemary), rockeries (because it likes good drainage), dry spots, pots, or just as a single specimen. One of the most effective simple garden beds I ever saw was in Italy, on a dry hillside, where six parterres of clipped rosemary each encircled a single white rose bush.
Rosemary grows in all but very tropical climates with heavy monsoon rains and though it looks at its best and lasts longest in Mediterranean and warm-temperate climates it adapts very nicely to desert and subtopical zones. It can even be grown as a summer plant in cold climates, but heavy snow will kill it so it should be kept in a pot and brought into a warm, protected environment in winter.

Rosemary comes in various forms today; some have bright green leaves while others have the traditional grey-blue foliage.  This has the most flavour and comes from "hardening" the plant with full sun exposure and a low water regime.  Regular watering and part-shade will produce a softer, greener foliage with reduced flavour.

Rosemary comes in various forms today; some have bright green leaves while others have the traditional grey-blue foliage. This has the most flavour and comes from “hardening” the plant with full sun exposure and a low water regime. Regular watering and part-shade will produce a softer, greener foliage with reduced flavour.

This plant is so versatile that the different climates merely mean a slightly different management regime. As with lavender, in my subtropical mountaintop climate I don’t treat rosemary as a perennial in the real sense of the word but replace my bushes every five years for maximum good looks. The plant continues growing long after that but starts to look straggly. In colder and less humid climates rosemary bushes keep their looks a lot longer.

The basic rules for rosemary are good drainage, regular watering (but not over-watering), and regular tip pruning with a good cut back (about one third) in autumn. This means profuse flowering when spring comes round again – and my rosemary flowers from spring right through to the following autumn. I don’t give my rosemary any fertilizer as such but add a dose of compost around the base of newly-planted seedlings about three months after they go into the ground. I repeat this once a year in late spring, Pot plants get fed twice a year with a cheap all purpose liquid fertilizer . Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers or plants will be reluctant to flower. My soil is rather acid so I sprinkle dolomite around my rosemary bushes twice a year, in early spring and late summer.

The best mulch for rosemary is gravel – the paler in colour the better. This will warm the plant, help prevent root-rot diseases and protect the shallow roots from heavy rain and soil erosion. It will also keep down weeds. Coarse bark is also an acceptable mulch, or nutshells, but “soft” mulches such as hay and leafmould will encourage the root-rot pathogens that are the only problem that ever seems to effect this tough herb.

Whether or not rosemary actually stimulates the memory, as has been claimed, I’ve no idea. Some recent studies do tend to indicate that its scent has some beneficial effect on brain function but this isn’t conclusive. I DO know that this plant looks good all year, gives a healthful smell to the garden, is useful in the kitchen and as a dried herb for fragrancy in drawers and cupboards, is much-loved by bees, versatile in landscaping – and requires very little effort to grow.

The rose of Mary – you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the grace of this name. No plant, in my opinion, deserves it more.

Rosemary flowers are usually a deep lavender blue though various shades of this colour are available.  One form is so pale that it appears to be white.

Rosemary flowers are usually a deep lavender blue though various shades of this colour are available. One form is so pale that it appears to be white.

The vision splendid in one garden

The Visitor Centre at Carnbourne, seen from beyond the "red centre" garden area.

The Visitor Centre at Carnbourne, seen from beyond the “red centre” garden area.

And he sees the vision splendid
Of the sunlit plains extended
And at night the wonderous glory
Of the everlasting stars

Most Australians know these lines from Banjo Patterson’s epic poem Clancy of the Overflow and they are very dear to our hearts because they so perfectly encapsulate a land whose beauty is often more subtle than spectacular.

When I visited the Australian Garden at Cranbourne the other day The Banjo’s words came immediately to mind. This garden, incorporated in the Cranbourne division of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, has been a long time in the making. And let me say two things up front – This is not the popular idea of what a “botanic garden” should be. It is the realisation of a vision of the Australian landscape and lifestyle through the medium of design and horticulture. As such, it has perfectly captured the very soul of this big, wide, wonderful and often very challenging continent. My second point is that this garden is very new. The vision is there for all to see and for my part I’m glad to have seen it at this early stage, so I can study the bare bones of each beautifully-realised concept. Others – those looking for something merely “pretty” – may find it all a bit bare and stark. To them, I say come back in a few years when it is more mature, but in the meantime strive to appreciate the textures and the land forms, the horticultural ideas and the in several interpretations of how this land shapes us and how we in turn have shaped it.

Bob and I found visiting this garden an inspiration. And a revelation – for this is more than just exhilaratingly contemporary, it is as new as tomorrow. Interesting to think, therefore, that when enough tomorrows have passed, The Australian Garden at Cranbourne will become as definitively “classical” as the traditional botanical gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries seem to us today.

I’m not going to give you any dry details about this wonderful garden – you can get all that from the excellent website at
http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/visit-cranbourne/attractions/australian-garden

Instead, I’ll let my photos tell the story…though they are inadequate to the task they will at least give some idea. Various types of Australian landscape are represented and/or interpeted here: concepts include the dry river bed so common in arid zones and during drought; the seashore and in particular the granite splendour of Wilson’s Promontory (see article on this website); the Aussie backyard in all its aspects; the blue hills; the red centre; the eucalypt forests; the importance of water in the landscape and to the land and to our souls; the many forces of nature. There are wide promenades, giant metal “lily pads”, rocky “streams” in which children are encouraged to paddle, seating shaped like a long wave ripple, open swatches of grassland intercepted by serpentine land forms, imaginative uses for timber and rock and metal – and each has its story to tell. And, of course, there are more standard horticultural and botanical features such as plant collections representing their different habitats. Conservation concepts are expounded too – I was particularly taken with the collections of colourful watering cans in the water-saving garden. (On a more frivolous note, the chocolate brownie served in the cafe at the Australian Garden visitor centre is the best I’ve eaten anywhere in the world!).

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Best place to Veg Out!

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In the heart of Melbourne’s fun and funky St Kilda lies Veg Out, a community garden like no other I’ve seen.

It’s not very large, just about big enough for a large block of apartments. But it’s a little green gem in a busy metropolitan area, just a spit from the ocean, that has lodged itself firmly in the hearts of St Kilda residents.

The garden, which like St Kilda itself is full of colour and joy and good things to eat (St Kilda has the most best cake shops per square metre anywhere in Oz) is on the site of a former bowls club. The land has been set aside for community use since 1881 and is administered by the local city council on behalf of the State Government. Volunteers oversee the operation of the garden which is divided into 145 little plots plus communal space. Ten of these plots are leased by community groups, the rest by individual growers. Cost is only $8 a square metre a year (less for concession-holders) – but the waiting list is very long. Those keen to get started first join the “Friends” group, take part in working bees and generally demonstrate their commitment while waiting for a lot to become vacant.

Even in the middle of winter, when I visited, the Veg Out plots were rich with green leafy vegetables and herbs. I liked the way there appeared to be no obvious dividing lines between the plots; instead, you can make your way soft-footed along the mulched paths that wander throughout, admiring the contrasting crops along with the bits of garden art that add quirky grace notes. There are chickens, too, and quail and rabbits. The rich smell of compost fills your nostrils because, as you’d expect, composting is big here and the catchcry among the Veg Out volunteers is Stop Think Chop. Water conservation is also emphasised and restrictions on using the available town water are imposed.

St Kilda, with its long and curving sandy bay, has become prime real estate. And the community garden is very close to the beach, surrounded by multi-million dollar apartments and commercial buildings. And with the razzmatazz of Luna Park on one boundary. Yet there it is, thriving and full of activity. This is very much a family affair and the meeting area offers pram parking as well as chairs and tables and sinks and all the infrastructure for relaxing in between the hoeing and the mulching, and exchanging growing tips with plot neighbours. For novice gardeners there is plenty of friendly advice available, including a vegetable planting guide. And of course everything in THIS garden is organically-grown and chemical-free.

I really loved this happy little garden – it’s everything a community garden should be and then so much more. I mean it’s all very good worthy to grow your own vegies and take part in a community venture – but it should be fun, too. I think you can see that, in the pictures on this page – in fact you’ll probably get some good ideas for your own garden! And if you’d like to read more, visit the Veg Out website at http://www.vegout.asn.au/sitelinks.html.

Street view

Street view

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Water conservation is important here

Water conservation is important here

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Soft little paths meandering everywhere

Soft little paths meandering everywhere

The Luna Park ferris wheel and fun rides make a novel backdrop for a community garden

The Luna Park ferris wheel and fun rides make a novel backdrop for a community garden

Part of the community meeting and relaxation area

Part of the community meeting and relaxation area

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Colour everywhere to gladden the heart

Colour everywhere to gladden the heart

...and plenty of seating to relieve the back!

…and plenty of seating to relieve the back!

Whimsical garden art makes a conservation point

Whimsical garden art makes a conservation point

Pigeons, like humans, seek refuge in the garden from the busy streets beyond

Pigeons, like humans, seek refuge in the garden from the busy streets beyond

Another example of Veg Out garden whimsy

Another example of Veg Out garden whimsy

Good mulching and good composting are visible everywhere in the garden

Good mulching and good composting are visible everywhere in the garden

Some plot-holders keep chickens and quail

Some plot-holders keep chickens and quail

Bob wishes he could grow vegies like this

Bob wishes he could grow vegies like this

...and so do I!

…and so do I!

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