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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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An A(Fare) to Remember!

THIS IS NOT A GARDENING POST. BUT I’VE INCLUDED IT ON THIS SITE, INSTEAD OF ONE OF MY LINKED SITES, BECAUSE A Fare With Nature is just such a perfect place for gardeners on holiday and in search of good accommodation with an interesting edible garden as an extra bonus.
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Sometimes, you just get lucky! And we got very lucky indeed when we went to stay at A Fare With Nature at Prom Road Farm near Wilson’s Promontory National Park. The “Prom” is one of Australia’s great natural wonders and lies to the extreme south of the continent, sticking out from South Gippsland into Bass Strait (see my article on Wilson’s Promontory on the Tamborine Dreaming website; click on tab above). It’s a “must see” for nature lovers, photographers and bushwalkers.

This is an area of gentle green hills, fat dairy cattle, gorgeous beaches, forest pockets and quiet, meandering backroads. If you want an overseas comparison it’s very like Devon and Cornwall, or parts of America’s Carolina coastline.

A Fare with Nature sits right in the middle of all this beauty; a small B & B which offers just so much more for the money than most. I’ve stayed in guesthouses/B & Bs all over the world and this is my favourite because a variety of small details come together so nicely here to make a happy whole.
First, there is the location, on a hill overlooking the beautiful bay of Corner Inlet which is almost encircled by the rugged northern coastline of Wilson’s Promontory. To the southwest are views of Waratah Bay, on the promontory’s western side, which is studded with rocky islands. Behind the guesthouse the hills rise in gentle swells and in the folds lies a temperate rainforest running down a long, secret gully where the only sound is trickling water and the quiet songs of small birds. The national park is only a short and pretty drive from here while Foster, the nearest small town, is just minutes away.

A sign of good things to come!

A sign of good things to come!

The blue waters of the bay

The blue waters of the bay

Wonderful Wilson's Prom in the distance

Wonderful Wilson’s Prom in the distance

There are also splendid country views

There are also splendid country views

...and another one...

…and another one…

The guesthouse is only a few years old and modern in style

The guesthouse is only a few years old and modern in style

On one side it overlooks this lovely dam, stocked with fish and good for birds too

On one side it overlooks this lovely dam, stocked with fish and good for birds too

I go exploring up the hill behind the house and find   a peaceful and mysterious temperate rainforest

I go exploring up the hill behind the house and find a peaceful and mysterious temperate rainforest

The B &B from the back,  as the winter afternoon sun goes down behind me

The B &B from the back, as the winter afternoon sun goes down behind me

We arrived on a perfect winter’s day when the waters of the bay were as blue as the sky. We drove up the long driveway to the house through emerald fields grazed by black-and-white cattle, for this is a working dairy farm more immaculate than any I’ve seen. When we stepped out of the car the view grabbed us because it takes in such a vast sweep of coastline. The hills of Wilson’s Promontory are much larger than expected (Mt. Latrobe is 754 m and is, I think, the highest point) and make for a dramatic skyline. We were delighted at the thought of waking up to such a view.

The house is modern Australian in style, of brick, with a large upstairs veranda on two sides and a patio downstairs. Inside, the guest accommodation is country in style but not the overly fussy ye olde kitsch style beloved of so many Australian B & Bs. At A Fare With Nature the style is one of simple comfort yet bright and pretty with interesting paintings and photographs on the walls. And, it is amazingly generous as to space. The five bedrooms are all large and the bathrooms equally spacious; ours was so big you could have thrown a party in it! There are two guest lounges too, one upstairs and one down, also of large proportions and very comfortably furnished.

The bedrooms are all spacious and very comfortable - electric blankets on the beds

The bedrooms are all spacious and very comfortable – electric blankets on the beds

Here's another one, which has splendid views of the water

Here’s another one, which has splendid views of the water

I was rather taken with this pretty blue room

I was rather taken with this pretty blue room

But we opted for the twin room - with its giant bathroom

But we opted for the twin room – with its giant bathroom

This isn't our bathroom but gives an idea of the space, modern features and cleanliness - oh dear, I sound like an ad!

This isn’t our bathroom but gives an idea of the space, modern features and cleanliness – oh dear, I sound like an ad!

We relished the space. Those who know us know that we are not usually partial to B & B-style accommodation which requires more sociability than is natural to us (especially Bob!). We usually prefer the anonymity of hotel/motel rooms or self-contained cabins. So part of the great charm of A Fare With Nature for us was that the guest bedrooms are all very separate and private and the guest lounges (two for five rooms!) are so large and well-furnished that you can share them with fellow-guests without feeling overly intimate.

A view of our downstairs guest lounge

A view of our downstairs guest lounge

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...and from the other end

…and from the other end

Despite the bright sunshine the fresh air of South Gippsland was chilly so we were glad to go inside where a log fire was awaiting us in the downstairs guest lounge. And also in the kitchen, which is the heart of this house, as it should be in any good country B & B. This is a kitchen large and splendidly-enough equipped to feature on Master Chef and presiding over it is the REAL secret of A Fare With Nature’s success – the owner and hostess, Rhonda Bland.

Bob with Rhonda in her big and cheery kitchen

Bob with Rhonda in her big and cheery kitchen

Rhonda is a rosy-cheeked countrywoman with a heart as big as the universe and an ability to turn her capable hands to anything from sawing logs and milking cows to grafting pear trees and cosseting guests. She has lived and farmed in the area all her life and her four children are all dairy farmers; one of them runs the farm on which the B & B stands and Rhonda still lends an experienced hand with milking if she’s needed. You just can’t help loving Rhonda the minute you meet her because she is just so cheerfully down-to-earth and dispenses hospitality so lavishly. Her anzac biscuits may just be the best in the world and in her big, warm kitchen she creates all sorts of other country delights. She’s very modest about her cooking but we loved it and others do too. Much of the produce comes from her own garden and the pantry shelves are all aglow with pickles and jams made by her and members of the family.

And then, there’s the house specialty, Rhonda’s rhubarb champagne!

We drank a bottle of this delicately pink, refreshing, sparkly drink and could have drunk several bottles more, but didn’t like to be greedy! It certainly went wonderfully well with Ronda’s roast pork and crisp crackling.

We had to pack a lot into our three days at “The Prom” so didn’t spend as much time as we’d have liked on the property itself (1270 acres/514 ha), though I did have some fun walking around the orchard and vegetable beds, as well as climbing the hill to visit the temperate rainforest which is a place of great enticement for a birdwatcher. As is the large reed-fringed dam beside the house. We spent the first afternoon visiting Waratah Bay and Sandy Point on the western side of the promontory, both gorgeous beach areas even on a cold day (see pics). We also went into the pleasant little town of Foster where you can get food and drink and basic groceries (the pub has an excellent bistro). It was good after this active afternoon to get back to Rhonda’s hospitality and the comfort of our guest lounge. On closer acquaintance we realised just how very well-equipped this was, down to the smallest detail such as tea, coffee and sugar in matching caddies, bowl of fruit and another of chocolates on the dining table in the guest lounge, home-made biscuits in the tin, lots of fresh milk in the ‘frig. The guest lounges have kitchenettes immaculately equipped for limited self catering and Rhonda will provide lunch and/or dinner for those who would like full board. Breakfast, of course, is included in the room price and it’s up to you whether you want the full cooked bacon and eggs and trimmings or just fruit and cereal and toast.

Despite the chill that evening we went on to the upstairs deck to watch the moon rise over the sea while sipping Rhonda’s rhubarb champagne. It seemed an appropriate way to end our first day. Next morning we were up early to enjoy a breakfast of eggs from Rhonda’s chooks before heading out to the national park. I’ve described this in detail elsewhere so it’s enough to say here that we had a great day exploring this very large wilderness area and were exhausted by dusk, when we returned to the warmth of Rhonda’s hospitality – and her roast pork. And more of the rhubarb champagne! The sight of four wombats feeding by the side of the road (not all together for they are solitary critters) was an added bonus because we don’t get these lovely animals in our part of Queensland.

Watching the sun go down over Wilson's Promontory...

Watching the sun go down over Wilson’s Promontory…

...and then watching the moon rise

…and then watching the moon rise

Next morning, before leaving, we did a tour of Rhonda’s edible garden. Though it was winter and the garden not of course at its best, the size of it and the variety of fruit and vegetables grown in it is impressive. The climate of South Gippsland, or at least this part of it, is mild enough, yet cold enough, to grow an amazingly wide range of things; Vietnamese mint flourishes here, and citrus, but so do gooseberries (real English ones as well as the so-called “cape gooseberries”), raspberries, blueberries, greengage and other plums, nectarines, peaches, apples and pears. Some of the latter have been espaliered along trellises by Rhonda’s skilful hand. Vegetables include Jerusalem artichoke and its relative the Yacon, a root cropping plant from montane South America which looks like some kind or radish and has the same crunchy texture, but is juicier and sweeter with a faintly earth taste – it is in fact a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family and kissing cousin to the sunflower. Bob and I had never tasted this root before and thought it very similar in texture and flavour to the water chestnut.

We wake up to a lovely fresh morning

We wake up to a lovely fresh morning

Rhonda loves her garden. It’s open and sunny and when she’s working in it she can look up and see the sea. The soil is good; improved by mulch regular composting and mulching – and a dairy farm provides plenty of rich manure! Guests love the garden too, especially those who are gardeners themselves and can appreciate how much love and hard work have gone into this one. And there’s a definite charm in strolling around tasting things and knowing that the produce you’re admiring in the ground is likely to be on the table that night.

Say hello to the chooks and admire the pumpkins

Say hello to the chooks and admire the pumpkins

One of Rhonda's favourite places, the warm and sunny conservatory on one side of the house

One of Rhonda’s favourite places, the warm and sunny conservatory on one side of the house

Bob in front of the house, ready to do a tour of the garden

Bob in front of the house, ready to do a tour of the garden

But it gets a bit chilly so he puts on his jacket...

But it gets a bit chilly so he puts on his jacket…

Two gardeners happy to talk together about one of their favourite subjects

Two gardeners happy to talk together about one of their favourite subjects

Rhonda hates being photographed so she'll kill me for this - but just have to show her with the trellis she built herself - and where she espaliers some of her pear trees

Rhonda hates being photographed so she’ll kill me for this – but just have to show her with the trellis she built herself – and where she espaliers some of her pear trees

In this extensive garden Rhonda grows many unusual and interesting things such as Yacon and Jerusalem artichoke - she loves experimenting!

In this extensive garden Rhonda grows many unusual and interesting things such as Yacon and Jerusalem artichoke – she loves experimenting!

I'm pushing my luck here, showing anothe photo of Rhonda - but it's just such a pleasure to see her with her fruit and vegies.  Here she checks out some pepinos - giant sized!  I only wish I could have been there in the spring when her wonderful orchard is in full bloom.

I’m pushing my luck here, showing another photo of Rhonda – but it’s just such a pleasure to see her with her fruit and vegies. Here she checks out some pepinos – giant sized! I only wish I could have been there in the spring when her wonderful orchard is in full bloom.

All too soon we were on the road again because this is a good place from which to visit the small townships around Corner Inlet westward along the South Gippsland Highway, and so we still had some exploring to do. We left reluctantly though, having fallen in love with Wilson’s Promontory, with the rolling green hills of South Gippsland, and with A Fare With Nature and Prom Road Farm. It’s a long way from Queensland – but we’ll be back down there as soon as we can! If you want to check this lovely place out for yourself, here’s the link to Rhonda’s very friendly website:
http://afarewithnature.com.au/

You’ll find we are not the only guests to give A Fare With Nature a rave review.

And so here I am drinking a toast to A Fare To Remember in Ronda's super rhubarb champagne - in the hopes that one day we will be back in this place we love so much.  Thank you dear Rhonda for one of the best holiday breaks we've ever had!

And so here I am drinking a toast to A Fare To Remember in Rhonda’s super rhubarb champagne – in the hopes that one day we will be back in this place we love so much. Thank you dear Rhonda for one of the best holiday breaks we’ve ever had!

Abutilons – Chinese lanterns for year round colour

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Chinese Lanterns (Abutilon hybrids) are one of my five top plants for a warm climate garden.

They ask so little and give so much; the dainty lantern-like flowers come in so many delightful colours; they provide colour in the garden for most of the year.

Though among the absolute easiest flowering shrubs to grow, they do need a bit of strategic pruning to give of their best – read on!

Chinese Lanterns have absolutely nothing to do with China because most of them come from South America. The majority have bell-shaped flowers that hang down, though there is at least one pinky-mauve type that holds its open face straight out to the sun. Colours range from yellow to various peach and salmon shades to red and yellow to mauve/pink. Leaves are usually soft and downy with three distinct lobes. They grow to 10 feet (3 metres) and the long branches tend to arch over if not controlled by pruning.

CLIMATE

Subtropical to warm temperate (USDA 9-11). Will grow in tropical climates if given good drainage. Tolerant of mild frost but not prolonged, hard frosts or snow. In colder climates can be grown in tubs outdoors and brought inside in winter.

POSITION

Sunny or part-shade. A good plant for filling a difficult corner provided there is good light or direct sun for at least half the day. Protect from strong wind that can break the long branches or uproot the entire plant.

SOIL

Loamy soil that’s slightly on the sandy side is best but abutilons are tolerant of most soils if given adequate drainage.

WATER

Needs to be well watered during establishment; after that water only in prolonged dry periods as this plant is quite drought tolerant. Don’t plant in low-lying boggy areas because abutilon roots can’t stand prolonged wet conditions. If given reasonably good drainage they can take short periods of extreme wet and dry weather better than most shrubs.

FERTILISER

Feed newly-planted abutilons with a liquid fertiliser after 4-6 weeks to encourage growth. Then feed with any balanced shrub fertiliser for the first year. After that, if you have good soil, no further feeding should be necessary. In soils where nutrition is low, add a dressing of blood and bone or compost in early spring.

MULCH

Young plants will benefit from mulching with any organic material but don’t apply in winter so that sun can warm the surrounding soil.

PROTECTION

Abutilons rarely suffer from pests and diseases. They MAY occasionally be subject to chewing by caterpillars or infestation by mites, or even fungal diseases, but these are rare. If problems occur, deal with them in the usual way (get advice from your local garden centre or read one of my gardening books); in my experience the plants usually recover from any sort of attack without help from me.

LANDSCAPING

These are excellent shrubs as either background or specimen shrubs because the variety of available colours makes them ideal for co-ordination with other plants. Grown as standards (see below) they make dramatic and easy-care accent features.

PRUNING

This is the key to having handsome plants that will flower prolifically most of the year. Tip prune young plants to promote bushiness and discourage “legginess”. Mature plants should be cut back by at least one third (to the nearest joint) at the end of winter or whenever flowering has ceased or slowed down considerably. This is if you want a tall bush, which most of us do. HOWEVER, abutilons look stunning when grown as standards; just encourage the strongest stem on young plants but cutting out all the other stems, supporting the main stem until it is thick and strong enough to stand alone. Or, you can keep two or three stems and twine them, as with wisteria. I’m not clever or patient enough to do that but I’ve seen others do it with wondrous results. Abutilons grown as standards are great talking points in the garden; they look just so elegant with the bright flowers hanging off them like porcelain ornaments!

Also, you can turn the leggy habit of abutilons to good account by espaliering them to a support and creating an arbour or walkway, or tying the top branches of taller varieties overhead to train them into an arch (pleaching).

IN THE POT
Abutilons need large pots to accommodate their size and fairly large root systems. Use a quality potting mix that drains well, water regularly, feed monthly with a balanced fertiliser that promotes flowering and re-pot once a year. They can be grown as multi-stemmed shrubs but look even better in the pot if trained as single-stemmed standards. Tip prune regularly and cut back by one third once a year to maintain size and shape.

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True blue

This Rainbow Lorikeet tucks into some Blue Quandong nectar despite the rain

This Rainbow Lorikeet tucks into some Blue Quandong nectar despite the rain

The blue fruits and red fallen leaves of the blue Quandong lie thick on the ground

The blue fruits and red fallen leaves of the blue Quandong lie thick on the ground

When I hear the Rainbow Lorikeets squabbling even louder than usual outside my kitchen window I know the Blue Quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis, aka Elaeocarpus angustifolius) is in flower.

And what flowers they are – great masses of bell-shaped white blossom, each fringed at the bottom like a lampshade, or the dress of a tiny ballerina. They don’t always come out every year so when they do we take a particular delight in them, just like the lorikeets and other nectar-feeders.

This year the flowering is particularly abundant and though it’s easy to attribute this to a good wet season we’ve had similar prolonged drenching in other summers and yet the Blue Quandong doesn’t reward us with flowers.

After the flowers come the fruits and in a good fruiting year theses, too, are a spectacle. Large, round and of a blue so bright and clear it’s impossible to compare it with anything else in nature, the fruits litter the ground and provide a feast for all sorts of creatures – rodents and ground-dwelling birds. Pigeons love them too, and take them before they drop. The fruits have little taste because the flesh is thin; nonetheless they were a popular food with Australian Aborigines back in the day, and it is from them we get the name “quandong”. Pioneers of European stock sometimes used them to make jam and pies, when times were desperate.

This tree has a further aesthetic gift to offer; the long, serrate leaves turn a bright red when ready to drop and have a varnished look. This happens mainly in late winter and spring, coinciding with fruiting, and the sight of the bright red leaves and vivid blue fruit is quite something.
Blue Quandong grows into too large a tree for the average home garden because it throws out very long, spreading branches. It’s a handsome tree, though, and worth growing if you have the room. If not, try one of the several smaller-growing elaeocarpuses such as E.foveolatus, E. ferruginiflorus, E. holopetalus, E. eumundii or the darling little Blueberry Ash ( E. reticulatus). All have their slightly different attractions.

CULTIVATION
This is one of the easiest plants to grow from seed because the large kernels germinate fast and easily. Growth rate continues to be rapid and the tree can reach a good size within ten years.
Position: Anywhere in the garden, but well away from any infrastructure as roots are invasive and the long, long branches are a nuisance if allowed to overhang gutters. Leaf and fruit drop should also be considered – don’t plant too close to a driveway.

Watering: This is a tree from high rainfall areas but it will take at least 90 days without any rain or artificial watering once established with its roots down into the water table. Water well in the first couple of years after planting.

Feeding: Not really necessary but you can add any kind of balanced fertilizer at seedling and sapling stage to increase growth.

Pruning: YES! Blue Quandong tends to develop its side branches in layers out from the main stem; internodes are long and leaves born at the end of the branches, with an upright growth habit. Prune regularly when young, just cutting back the growing tips of the top and side branches about twice a year to promote a more compact, dense and bushy form. Flowering (and thus fruiting) may not occur until the tree is at least seven years old, sometimes not until 10 years old.

Propagation: As stated, fast and reliable. Some people have good success by just taking the fruits and planting them in a growing mix. I usually wash them first to remove any grubs, then peel away the flesh and crack the kernel within, to speed things up. Expect germination from 4 – 8 weeks. Other Elaeocarpus species are much slower to propagate.

You can also propagate from ripe top-of-the-stem cuttings.

Tea tip for healthy camellias

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“My grandmother always used to say that if you dose your camellias regularly with what’s left in the teapot you’ll never have any health problems with them. It worked for her and it works for me! Tea, after all, is just dried camellia leaf”.

Where I live, the first sasanqua camellias are beginning to bloom – the faithful old ‘Hiryus’ that have made a brave barrier between our house and the road for many a long year now, and the cup-shaped white` Narumigatas’, are always the first to appear. They are our harbingers of autumn and bring colour to gardens at the end of the wet season when other flowers are too exhausted to lift their sodden heads.

`Jennifer Susan’ and ‘Setsugeka’ are other early-bloomers here and years ago I planted a hedge alternating the two, so that in full bloom it is a long swathe of pink and white down one side of the garden.

New sasanquas are coming on to the market every year and it’s hard work keeping up with all the names. Many of these have more spectacular flowers than the camellias of yesteryear but I’ve found not all are as vigorous when it comes to tolerating a range of garden conditions. It’s impossible to know just how well these pretty newcomers will perform in YOUR particular garden until they’ve been in the ground for a few years so my tip is to be wary. If you are not a very good gardener, don’t have a lot of time to fuss over your plants, and the conditions in your garden are less than ideal for camellias (soil too heavy or too sandy, exposure to harsh hot or cold winds, rainfall too frequent or too light) then seek out those that you know do well in your neighbourhood.

Having said that, camellias are tough plants. Just about the toughest of all when it comes to high quality, long-lived plants with good year-round foliage and beautiful flowers. Give them reasonable conditions in climates from warm temperate to sub-tropics and they need very little care.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure that your sasanquas do well this autumn:

. Lightly – very lightly – hoe or rake the ground around your camellias to open it up a little and let in sunlight. Camellias don’t like having their shallow surface roots interfered with so PLEASE do this with great care. Prolonged heavy rain will compact the soil in garden beds and around individual plants, preventing it from drying out and starving plant roots of vital oxygen. Cold, hard, wet soil is just about the worst thing for any plant.

. Mulch with something soft and organic such as stray, hay or leafmould. This will help protect the soil around the plant from compaction by heavy rain while at the same time the fairly open structure of the mulch will allow just enough water to percolate through. And of course the mulch will break down in time and improve the condition and structure of the soil.

. If you live where there hasn’t been much rainfall, or where the summer rain has diminished, make sure your camellias get adequate water throughout the flowering season. Don’t over-water them but give them a good soaking at least twice a week.

. Fertilising for growth should have been done swell before this, back in late winter, with a top-up in in early summer to promote good flowering. However, heavy rainfall may well have leached nutrients from the soil. If this is likely to have been the case, scatter a little blood and bone around the base of your plant and lightly hoe it into the soil. Do this before mulching. A light feed at this time will replace lost nutrients in the soil and help prolong blooming as well as maintain plant growth – but don’t overdo it!

. I always save my used tea leaves/left over tea and coffee grounds to put around my camellias. These break down and condition the soil and also help to maintain the right slightly acid pH level. My grandmother always used to say that if you dose your camellias regularly with what’s left in the teapot you’ll never have any health problems with them. It worked for her and it works for me! Tea, after all, is just dried camellia leaf.
You won’t need to fertilize or prune your sasanqua camellias until flowering time is over – but it’s as well to put those activities in your gardening diary now. In the meantime, when the sasanquas start blooming the japonicas and reticulates aren’t far behind. So at this time I always give mine a light dressing of blood and bone to promote longer and better flowering – this is necessary in the subtropics though not usually recommended in cooler climates where soil nutrients are not so easily gobbled up. You can, if you prefer, use a balanced chemical fertilizer with a high phosphorus content (read the bag label to see the NPK level).

Waterproof your garden

When the rain is pounding down, plants get a hammering and soil washes away

When the rain is pounding down, plants get a hammering and soil washes away

Where I live up here on Tamborine Mountain the wet season is well underway. We’ve already been through a wild cyclonic storm, three weeks back, which left us saturated, wind-wrecked and without power for several days. Now it’s starting again!

Like humans, plants can absorb only so much liquid and gardens can suffer badly during periods of prolonged, heavy rain. So here are a few tips to help you waterproof your garden.

Poor drainage is death to the garden so look to your soil. Mulch well with hay or straw at least twice a year to improve drainage. Do it more regularly if you are stuck with either heavy clay or very poor sandy soil (see my book How to Improve your Soil – The Natural Way on this website). If you live where there is a definite “wet season” mulch at least one month before the rain is likely to start. Keeping your mulch topped up also protects the soil from rain damage and erosion, while the open nature of a hay or straw-type mulch allows the sodden soil beneath to “breathe” and dry out between downpours.

If your soil is very heavy and poorly-drained; if the surface is impacted and muddy; if moss is growing there, you have a permanent problem that can only be solved by putting in drainage pipes and/or channels to get the water away from the bed. Poor drainage in one bed or area of the garden can impact on other areas too because when heavy rain falls instead of being absorbed into the soil it runs off, causing erosion and damage areas at a lower level.

Another solution to improving drainage in your garden is to make raised beds, using timber, brick or stone. Drainage pipes can be installed if required.

Plants have evolved to deal with heavy rain but it can knock new, young plants about badly if they have not had a chance to establish their roots. Herbaceous plants with succulent, fleshy, non-woody stems (such as impatiens) are particularly vulnerable. So if you know very heavy deluges are on the way, save planting anything new until the rain has lightened or passed. If you are only concerned about one or two or just a few plants it IS possible to give them some temporary protection – an upturned bucket, a piece of fine netting or muslin, shade cloth, even a light covering of straw mulch will do the job. Shade-loving plants will be protected by overhanging trees and shrubs.

Heavy rain washes away soil and nutrients. After a deluge, check your garden to see if soil needs pushing back or replacing. Fertilize to replace nutrients – the heavier the rainfall in your area, the more you need to top up the beds with organic fertilizers and soil enrichers such as blood and bone, fowl pellets or ruminant manure. Conversely, DON’T fertilize just before very heavy rain is due because instead of washing this deep into the soil it is likely to just wash it all away. Fertilizer of any kind needs a bit of time to be absorbed into the soil and taken up by plant roots.

Plants in deep, well-drained beds are better able to withstand long periods of heavy rain. Terraced beds are particularly well-drained. Rockeries are the best place for arid-zone plants, alpines and succulents but make sure you check after a deluge to replace any eroded soil or gravel.

If you have pockets of chronically poorly-drained soil in your garden and improving them is beyond you, consider filling the area with pots instead. I have such a corner in my garden and have turned it into a container-growing area, filled with life and colour that doesn’t depend on the soil beneath. Shrubs, flowers, vegetables and even trees don’t thrive in poorly-drained waterlogged anaerobic soil.

If you live in an area with very heavy, prolonged seasonal rainfall don’t grow unsuitable plants such as those originating in deserts or dry, rocky places. If you do want to grow these plants stick to containers or create terraces and well-drained rockeries.

If heavy rain is due, try to pick any ripe or almost ripe fruit and vegetables. Rainspots can damage the outer layer and leave the fruit or vegetable vulnerable to disease pathogens; strong rain and wind will also damage plants and knock fruit from the stems. Root vegetables that are ready to harvest should be pulled up just before, during or immediately after a prolonged downpour or else they may rot in the ground.

Tea leaves and coffee grounds are both excellent soil-conditioners that help make your garden beds better able to absorb water. Don’t throw them down the sink, put them into the compost heap or directly on to the garden.

Don’t use black plastic under mulch (whether soft vegetative mulch or gravel/stones) if you live in a climate with heavy, seasonal, monsoonal rain. The soil will become sodden and lacking in oxygen, and easily compacted when it dries out, and all this will adversely affect any plants growing through holes in the plastic. If the plastic is there to suppress weeds, do any planting in containers placed on top of the mulch or gravel, bearing in mind that should you ever change your mind and want to remove the plastic and turn the soil underneath into a bed, or a lawn, it will take a lot of hard digging!

After a prolonged heavy deluge check your flowering plants for damage. If roses, dahlias, chrysanthemums or any other flowers are hanging from bent or broken stalks, snip them off at once. Broken stalks offer opportunities to disease-bearing pathogens and certain harmful insects.

Don’t dig very wet ground. After a prolonged and heavy downpour, soil should be allowed to dry out to a manageable, crumbly, moist but not wet condition before digging, or its structure will be damaged (and it’s very hard work, too!). Don’t dig a garden bed before heavy rain is due, either. Good soil develops a light surface “crust” that protects it from damage or erosion during a downpour. Digging it over exposes the topsoil to all sorts of adverse effects.

Finally, learn the habits of plants. Some are better able to take up and utilize water than others. If you live in an area where heavy and prolonged rainfall is usual, where the soil is full of clay, where you have steep slopes and bare, exposed areas without vegetation, where the ground is naturally low-lying and swampy, then you need to take all this into account when choosing plants. Sure, do what you can to make improvements but there’s no point in fighting nature by trying to grow unsuitable plants.

Outside my window the rain is getting heavier – we are in for a long, wet night of it. But at least I can stay snug indoors, knowing that my garden is as well-protected from the deluge as I can make it.

In the wet season young herbs succumb easily to rain damage.  Grown in pots like this on a raised, dry surface they can be easily managed and moved under cover if necessary.

In the wet season young herbs succumb easily to rain damage. Grown in pots like this on a raised, dry surface they can be easily managed and moved under cover if necessary.

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