Festive tomato

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Dec 242014
 

In the late 1970s Dad and my great-aunt started comparing notes from their respective vegie patches in Albury and Canberra. A friendly rivalry developed, the goal being to produce ripe tomatoes in time for Christmas lunch. No greenhouses allowed: winning was as much about luck — and the vagaries of the weather in those cool-climate cities — as it was about horticultural skills.

These days Dad doesn’t do much gardening, but my sister and I carry on the family rivalry in our own vegie patches on either side of Port Phillip. This year we declared a dead heat — we both harvested our first ripe tomatoes on Christmas eve.

The first harvest of tomatoes for 2014-15

My first harvest of tomatoes for 2014-15

The photo below shows corn ears (far right of picture) just about ready for harvesting. Yum. You can also see how heavily-laden the two tomato bushes are with slowly ripening fruit.

Tomato bush and corn ears

Tomato bush and corn ears

Most of the sunflowers have finished blooming; they’ve added a gorgeous splash of color to the vegie patch over the last 6-8 weeks.

Sunflower

Sunflower

Years ago I bought several packets of oriental poppy seeds and tried planting them in various parts of the back yard. No success at all, over a period of about 4-5 years, and it’s been at least that long again since I emptied the last seed packet.

And this summer — a delightful surprise. Just near the vegie patch, where I had carelessly discarded some plastic bits and pieces, up sprang a little red poppy.

Accidental poppy

Accidental poppy

It’s produced multiple flowers and is now setting seeds on the spent stalks. If you squint, you can see a couple of seed pods in the photo.

Two hours of garden maintenance

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Oct 052014
 

A gorgeous spring Sunday.

Planted three Echium Pininana ‘White Tower’ seedlings in the driveway garden bed, at the street end, to fill a gap where Lawnmower Man has whippersnippered several thymes and a Dianetes grass bush into oblivion.

Echium - Snow Tower

Echium – Snow Tower

Tidied up the vegie patch and spoke encouragingly to the sunflower seedlings, which are around 10 cm high now. The corn and peas are thriving (pea pods already appearing!) and the strawberries are starting to set small fruits. The tomatoes have added about 20 cm in height since they were planted.

Planted three Alcea rosea var nigra “The Watchman” (black hollyhocks) near the birdbath.

Alcea rosea var nigra "The Watchman" (black hollyhock)

Alcea rosea var nigra “The Watchman” (black hollyhock)

Drained, rinsed and refilled the water lily bowl, and moved it out of the shade of next door’s big old eucalypt. It’s now sitting at the sunnier western end of the back verandah.

Finally, I repotted the cymbidium orchids. They’re not going to flower this year and were looking a bit pale and strappy in their sheltered spot at the side of the carport. Have moved these, too, onto the sunny end of the back verandah, having taken the precaution of double-potting them to help keep the roots cool.

 

A new vegie patch

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Sep 032014
 

This metre-square black (recycled) plastic planter box was on sale at the local nursery; at home there were several bags of vegetable-potting mix stacked in the shed. An hour later — voila, a new vegie patch in my north-facing back yard.

My new vegie (and rose) patch.

My new vegie (and rose) patch.

At the front are two truss tomatoes and a Hot Chocolate floribunda rose that’s been sitting in a pot on the verandah for more than a year (so slightly the worse for wear).

Centre left and right are Lowanna strawberry plants and two clumps of green peas.

Across the back there’s a row of sweet corn seedlings alternating with Golden Prominence F1 sunflower seeds (which haven’t yet sprouted).

The ceramic toadstools in the centre were a gift from my sister, several years ago.

New in the garden

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Feb 122013
 
Grevillea Peaches and Cream at the Cranbourne botanic gardens

Sunday was the only forecast cool day in a fortnight of over-30 degree temperatures, so it was a good day to plant some recent acquisitions.

We had around 1 mm of rain in January. Under the mulch and grass, the soil in the back garden is just dry dust. Water beads and rolls off it. *sigh*

Heliotrope baby blue - Heliotropium arborescens

Heliotrope ‘baby blue’ (Heliotropium arborescens) by Haar’s Nursery.

Two heliotrope ‘Baby Blue’  plants (Heliotropium arborescens) went into the bed under the front bedroom windows. Quite a few other species have met their makers here, so I’m only cautiously hopeful about these. They’re in flower at the moment, lovely blue flowers, fading to lilac, above dark purple-tinted foliage.

Out in the back yard my gorgeous Scarlet Blaze wattle died in last summer’s heatwaves, so I’ve now filled the resulting gap with several other natives.

The Grevillea ‘Peaches and Cream’ is a relatively new variety, the result of an accidental cross-breeding in a Brisbane garden. It’s now available commercially.

Grevillea Peaches and Cream at the Cranbourne botanic gardens

Grevillea Peaches and Cream at the Cranbourne botanic gardens. Photo by me.

Nearby is Grevillea ‘Rosemary’s Choice’ (Grevillea rosmarinifolia), also called rosemary-leafed grevillea because — you guessed it — its foliage looks more like a rosemary bush than like a standard spiky-leaved grevillea. This variety was developed from Grevillea winpara hybrids and grows to about 2 m in height. It produces pink, yellow and mauve flowers.

Since childhood I’ve loved the waratah, the State flower of New South Wales. Now I have two, planted amongst the new grevilleas where I hope they’ll thrive. The Telopea ‘Bridal Gown’ (Telopea speciosissima x oreades) is a white form and of course the second is red.

Red waratah, Telopea speciosissima

Red waratah, Telopea speciosissima

The grevilleas and waratahs form an east-west line with the Acacia Lime Magic, which is now about 2 m tall and nearly as wide. If the grevilleas grow as expected/hoped, they and Limey should provide a good screen to hide the ugly back fence my neighbors refuse to replace.

Alyogyne huegelii 'Misty' by Austraflora

Alyogyne huegelii ‘Misty’ by Austraflora

There’s a 1 m easement along the back (northern) boundary, and I’ve placed three Alyogyne huegelii in the space between the grevilleas and the fence. Two are the white-flowered form and the third is called Misty, which bears lilac-colored flowers and has slightly blue-tinted foliage. These will require regular light trimming to keep them bushy and healthy.

Closer to the house, around the birdbath, I planted two Echinacea purpurea, an Alba (white) variety and a second that’s simply labelled as ‘assorted’ and currently has white, yellow and purple flowers on the same plant.

A bee pollinating an unidentified species of purple coneflower (Echinacea) at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington. CC-licensed image by Moxfyre.

A bee pollinating an unidentified species of purple coneflower (Echinacea) at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington. CC-licensed image by Moxfyre.

Also near the birdbath is a new Dahlia ‘Mystic Mars’ – this variety is so new, it doesn’t even appear on the breeder’s official Mystic Dahlias web site! It has dark burgundy foliage and vivid red flowers that fade to a burnt orange as they age.

Dahlia Mystic Enchantment

Dahlia Mystic Enchantment, similar to the Mystic Mars (but not quite the same), Image from breeder’s web site.

Finally, also in the vicinity of the birdbath, two Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, a variety I haven’t seen before. It’s supposed to be sun-tolerant, low-watering, frost-hardy and happy in either acid or alkaline soil. What a miracle!

Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance'

Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ – photo from PlantHaven.com

Spring plantings

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Oct 082011
 
Photo of pink boronia by mrpbps, published on Flickr.com with a Creative Commons licence - click to see original

Photo of pink boronia by mrpbps, published on Flickr.com with a Creative Commons licence - click image to see original

You can tell it’s spring by the madding crowd at the local bulk-buy plant nursery. Also daylight savings started this week.

Monday:  filled a terracotta urn with potting mix and poked four varieties of strawberry into its exterior pockets. A couple of the seedlings already have flowers and small, unripe fruits.

Tuesday: dug a trench between the olive tree (sapling, really) and the driveway, into which I dropped three Boronia heterophylla — two “Moonglow” (white) and one “Blue Waves” (pale mauve-blue).

I bought these just last weekend from a reputable nursery (not the aforementioned bulk-buy place) but their roots turned out to be terribly pot-bound and one of the Moonglows developed something like dieback the day after I brought it home.

Hoping they’ll recover, settle in and form a nice hedgelet in front of the olive tree (sapling).

A good day in the maternity ward

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Aug 272011
 
Masked lapwing (plover) with hatchling in nest. Photo by me, CC licensed.

Masked lapwing (plover) with hatchling in nest. Photo by me, CC licensed. Click to embiggenate.

The masked lapwings have been even more intensely vigilant than ususal in the last few days, and this morning the reason became clear — three chicks hatched just after dawn.

Parent lapwing protects the youngest chick in the next, while keeping an eye on an older chick that's wandered off

Parent lapwing protects the youngest chick in the next, while keeping an eye on an older chick that's wandered off. Photo by me, CC licensed. Click to embiggenate.

Two chicks were born quite early and a third appeared later in the morning. By the time baby sis (or bro) was born, the other two were already waddling around the lawn, pecking at the odd worm — all under the watchful eyes of both parents.

This final photo shows the whole family.

A family of masked lapwings (plovers) - two parents, three chicks.

A family of masked lapwings (plovers) - two parents, three chicks. Photo by me, CC licensed. Click to embiggenate.

I’ve read that plovers have a language of six to eight phrases that they use to manage their families — alert, alarm, go over there, come back to the nest etc. It will be interesting to see whether I can distinguish any of these phrases over the next couple of months as the chicks mature.

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Update Tue 30 August: Back garden has persisted in being  completely ploverless for two days now. I was ill over the weekend, didn’t see what happened. I wonder whether plovers feel grief or regret — and whether they’ll try breeding here again next winter. It might be a good idea to plant some more shrubbery, to persuade them to nest somewhere less cat-ridden.

Terror in the ‘burbs

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Jul 312011
 
Masked lapwing (Vanellus miles, or plover) nesting in my back lawn

Masked lapwing (Vanellis Miles, or plover) nesting in my back lawn. Photo by me, CC licensed. Click to embiggen.

A masked lapwing (plover) family has taken up residence in the back garden.

These birds are insanely protective of their nests. They doze but don’t sleep, so the slightest movement — day or night — provokes an ear-splitting shriek of alarm (MP3).

It’s also a shriek of warning. Approach too close and these fearless basket-cases will swoop and attack with claws, beak and spurs.

Winter pruning and planting will have to wait a few weeks.

A grand day out at Bolobek

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Mar 102011
 
Inside the walled garden at Bolobek - photo by me, CC-licensed. Click for a larger image.

Inside the walled rose garden at Bolobek - photo by me, CC-licensed. Click for a larger image.

The Open Gardens organisation in Victoria hosted a plant fair at Bolobek, a property at Mt Macedon, on 5-6 March 2011.

Oswald Syme, son of The Age editor David Syme, bought the property in 1911 and established its first garden. Many trees and much of the original garden design still survive.

The property has changed hands several times in the last century and for some years fell into disrepair. The current owners, Brigid and Hugh Robertson, are gradually restoring and adding to the 3.6 ha garden.

Helen and I visited on Saturday, spent several hours wandering around and chatting with random strangers, and came away with quite a swag of interesting bits and pieces for our respective gardens.

An eclectic haul - plants we bought at Bolobek. Photo by me, CC-licensed

An eclectic haul - plants we bought at Bolobek. Photo by me, CC-licensed

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