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Holly's Summer 2019 Newsletter

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The star jasmine, the wisterias and the jacarandas have finished. The roses are at their peak, and the frangipani are promising a performance of holiday colours. Welcome to my Summer Newsletter.
Lazy days are here - but also hot days, which your garden may not appreciate. It’s time to prepare the garden to survive the heat. It’s also a time to enjoy the flowering plants that thrive in the heat: murraya, blue ginger, frangipani and bougainvillea.
And there are plenty of frangipani and bougainvillea in my latest book, my first work of fiction: a ‘novella’ called The Reluctant Spy. You can read more later…. 


1 the reluctant spy holly kerr forsyth lo res

And my last non-fiction book, Country Gardens: Country Hospitality, is now in its second printing, and is again available.


2 Country Gardens Cover


I’ve also written a ‘Memoir’: It’s not all wine and roses; a journey to survival, my story of surviving cancer, having been given a ‘less than one percent’ chance of survival. It’s not a ‘misery memoir’: rather. it’s written to give people who are on this challenging journey strength, support and information. The story is intertwined with my travels around the world, photographing the world’s best gardens, but often experiencing dangerous situations. I am still looking for a publisher.


 its not all wine and roses cover




My Christmas would not be complete without the glorious scent of the gardenia, which I place in small jugs throughout the house. Even a single flower fills a room with fragrance, a mix of lemon, passionfruit, apple and honey.


There are around 300 species in the gardenia genus, part of the coffee family, Rubiaceae, all native to Africa and Asia: most demand a frost free, north-facing position. The fleshy, white, highly scented flowers appear through summer, if given plenty of water and fertiliser. (Yellow leaves with green veins are a sign of iron deficiency, remedied by a feed of iron chelate, while leaves bearing a yellow rim, with an arrow shaped green centre, are indicative of magnesium deficiency; counter with Epsom salts.)


Employ the different species in different positions in your garden; the ground covering, small flowered Gardenia radicans for planting at the front of a border, or to cascade down a retaining wall. Gardenia augusta is probably the most widely grown, native to China and Japan and has large, glossy, deep green foliage. Its cultivar ‘Florida’ grows to about a metre tall and has double flowers from spring to the end of autumn. ‘Grandiflora’ has larger leaves and glorious white blooms; ‘Magnifica’ has the largest flowers of all.


3 gardenias 2




I was in India in May last year, for a friend’s birthday. It was very hot, and the bougainvillea were loving it. In the glorious palace hotels of Rajasthan, they were employed as hedges of pink, apricot or yellow backed with a loosely clipped, informal, second hedge of deep burgundy bougainvillea. 


You’ll see several colours planted together and closely clipped to form an impenetrable barrier along an entrance or road. In large gardens, often around the grand hotels, they are clipped into clouds and domes.


4a Bougainvillea hedge FNL 8325

In Australia bougainvilleas are mostly used as climbers, decorating fences and pergolas with brilliant colour early each summer. There are many other ways to use them in garden design, however. They can scramble down the bank of a dam to stabilise it: try planting several colours together for a virtuoso performance. Use any of them, espaliered along traditional vertical or horizontally stretched wires, or in a fan shape, on walls; let them cascade over unsightly fences. Grow them in pots, urns or hanging baskets; allow them to drip from window boxes.

They flower at the same time as the jacaranda: a cerise bougainvillea scrambling through those blue-purple flowers is a sight to behold. Their flamenco colours in summer can’t help but fill you with joy.


The flowers of the bougainvillea are, in fact, insignificant: white or cream trumpets inside bracts, which appear like pieces of vibrantly coloured tissue held together with hope alone. The bougainvillea is tough, however, and its stems are often armed with frightening spines that aid the plant in its scramble toward the sun. Native to Brazil, this climber was named for the French admiral Louis de Bougainville (1729-1811) who introduced the genus to his countrymen in 1768.

There are 14 main species in the genus, all from South America. The two most common species, Bougainvillea spectabilis and B. glabra, have given rise to dozens of hybrids in a paintbox of fiery colours, from the common B. glabra ‘Magnifica’ and the very vigorous ‘Mrs Butt’ to the fruit salad reds, pinks and oranges of ‘Tropicana Gold’, the red ‘Barbara Karst’ to the hot pink of ‘Killie Campbell’ and the softer pink shades of ‘Mr. Buck.’ Bougainvillea ‘Lady Mary Baring’ is gold and ‘Apple Blossom’ is white; ‘African Sunset’ starts off peach and deepens as it ages.

In my last garden ‘Mrs Butt’ flowered an intense cerise, along with the soft, pink and white colours of Rosa ‘Pierre do Ronsard’; together they scrambled, over a rear fence, through a blanket of cream, very scented Chinese star jasmine. I’ve seen B. ‘Scarlet O’Hara’, clear red fading to orange, tumbling down a retaining wall of large rocks, behind a mass planting of CannaTropicana’ and ‘Bengal Tiger’, with their brilliant, striped foliage, and flowering in fiery reds, yellows and oranges.

The small growing, Australian-bred, ‘Bambino’ varieties are suitable for more restricted spaces and in hanging baskets. They make excellent hedges in a small garden, as they only reach about 4 metres. Try the red-flowered ‘Bilas’; ‘Arora’ blooms in pinks and creams, ‘Miski’ is orange, and ‘Zuki’ has purple flowers.

Bougainvilleas love heat, and flower best under stress. Don’t be too generous with the fertiliser, as this will produce abundant foliage, at the expense of flowers. And don’t fret about watering.

Do cut off those strident shoots that reach for the sky: restrict root growth to keep them under control. And, as with most plants, the general rule for pruning is after flowering, to maintain desired size; they flower the following season on the new growth produced.

While they may be too bright for some gardeners, bougainvilleas have been welcomed in many country gardens where drought and depleted soil can be challenging. If winter is dry they will put on a brilliant performance, come summer.

As bougainvilleas don’t use suckers to attach themselves to walls they are not likely to damage brick point work. Be brave.



Of course, it’s rose time. You may have enjoyed the first flowering in Spring, and removed spent flowers, making way for the next flush of blooms.

About my favourite rose is ‘Crepuscule’, a golden climbing tea rose that cascades over a neighbour’s fence, teaming perfectly with the foliage of her Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’. It’s rarely without a bloom.


The Tea Rose is the result of a cross between ‘Hume’s Blush China’ and ‘Park’s Yellow Tea Scented China’ (two of the original four China Roses) with various of the Bourbon and Noisette Roses. Success came first in 1835 with ‘Adam,’ a very double latte-coloured Tea Rose bred in England.

With their DNA from the southern part of China, the Tea Roses are the choice for those who garden in the more humid parts of our country. Tea Roses are repeat flowering, with thick, shiny, large petals and beautiful flower buds that have a high, pointed centre.

The luscious, pink-to-cream ‘Marie Van Houtte’ is a sprawling, climbing Tea Rose, as is the golden ‘Lady Hillingdon,’ with her blooms that hang down on red stems. They demand good circulation and will thank you for growing them on a pergola.

The Tea Rose is one of the parents of the modern Hybrid Tea, along with the Hybrid Perpetual (itself a combination of several different classes), which provides hardiness, large flower size and thick, shiny, large petals, vigour, deep colours, strong scent and, most importantly, remontancy.


Hybrid Teas are probably the best known of all the classes of rose. It was the French breeder, Jean-Baptiste Guillot’s breeding of ‘La France’ in 1867, that firmly secured the place of the Hybrid Tea on the rose family tree.


Hybrid Tea rose bushes are upright, with none of the romance of the Old Roses, nor the voluptuous form of the Teas: they are valued, however, for their repeat flowering habits, their hardiness and their fragrance.


The loveliest of the older Hybrid Teas includes the so-elegant pink ‘Mme Abel Chatenay.’ Raised in France in 1895, she is a cross between the Tea Rose ‘Dr Grill’ and ‘Victor Verdier.’ The gorgeous, climbing ‘Lady Waterlow,’ bred in France and released in 1903, bears very fragrant salmon-pink blooms, seen here at the wonderful Manor House at Upton Grey, the most perfectly restored Gertrude Jekyll garden in the world.


5 Rosa Lady Waterlow

Newer Hybrid Teas include, in the whites, ‘Elina’, a perfectly shaped, very scented cream rose with very long stems. Among the apricots try ‘Joyfulness,’ with copper-salmon flowers and with a very long stem, excellent for picking. And for an informal hedge team the very hardy ‘Apricot Nectar’ with salmon-coloured ‘Just Joey.’ Hard to beat.

The roses bred in England by the late David Austin have the luscious, relaxed form of the old-fashioned classes, but are very scented and repeat flowering. New offerings from this celebrated rosarian appear each year. This year the new releases are:

Olivia Rose Austin, a truly lovely rose wih flowers of an even, soft pink colouring opening to beautiful cupped rosettes. Flowers have a strong fragrance with fruit tones.

The Poet’s Wife bears strong yellow flowers at first - softening as they open. A compact grower suitable for the front of a rose border. It has a wonderful rich perfume with strong lemon tints.


6. Olivia Rose Austin Ausmixture

7 The Poet s Wife Auswhisper

If you have not already done so, it’s time to prune your roses, unless you live in an area prone to late frosts: you don’t want the plant to shoot too soon, when there is a risk of damage to young, fresh growth. Begin by removing, with disinfected secateurs, any diseased or damaged wood, right back to a healthy joint. Remove any crossing branches that might rub on others, creating wounds that would encourage disease. Remove old wood to ensure the continuing development of the shape you want, to encourage a succession of young and healthy shoots, and to create a shrub open enough to allow air to circulate. Fertilise after pruning with aged poultry manure, mulch and water well.



As we all know, many who live west of the coastal cities are suffering dreadfully from the drought. And, owners of properties on elevated sites know that wonderful views most often come at a price; that those vistas also expose a garden to the onslaught of damaging winds. Those who garden by the sea face a similar challenge: the greatest asset of the site also provides its biggest problem. And for these gardeners, salt, enemy to most plants, adds extra drama.


There are many plants well suited to exposed positions and salt winds, that cope with dry, poor soil; plants that don’t need pruning, staking or training and won’t grow too large. Sounds impossible?


The huge range of species that comes under the general term of succulents, is increasingly popular as Australians deal with watering restrictions. They are also fire-resistant, make excellent groundcovers, require minimal weeding, spraying or fertilising; they don’t shed their leaves and can grow in almost no soil.


Succulents are plants that store water from good seasons, to be used in times of drought. The term can be applied to a great range of genera, from aeoniums to agave and aloes, to bromeliads and cactus, echeverias, euphorbias, sempervivums - and many other xerophytic plants.


They come with a range of adaptations that allow them to cope with, and thrive in, difficult situations. Some store water in their base; others have leaves that are modified to present as little surface as possible to the sun, some only breathe in the cool of the night.

Their great variety of form and their ability to cope with dry shade, exposed hillsides, areas in rain shadow, rooftops, rockeries and containers make succulents incredibly useful.


While they are the easiest of plants to care for, their form is not to everyone’s taste: in many cases that somewhat questionable word ‘architectural’ – to my mind somewhat akin to a back-handed complement - is the kindest adjective you might find to describe their bizarre shapes. Any of them, cleverly used, en masse, and combined with cousins from other genera, can be stunning, however. The trick, as with many aspects of design, is not to mix up too many types of plants: use multiples of the one species for most impact.


If it is a garden of low-care, grow-anywhere plants that you want – and one that will still be smiling when you return from your summer holidays - succulents are the answer.
A few are:

Aeonium spp.
Among the most effective are the aeoniums, particularly the purple-leaved variety, Aeonium atropurpureum ‘Schwartzkopf,’ (pictured below) which survives on almost no water and makes a great foil for more difficult colours such as orange and hot pink. Combine it with its lime-green, less flamboyant, big brother, A. arboretum, and back, perhaps, with a mass of the tall growing Euphorbia characias, which flowers for months in lime green spikes which have a maroon ‘eye’. 


8 Suculents Ballarat Bot Gdns



Agave spp.
The architectural agaves come from the Caribbean, Mexico and the West Indies and most often have striking grey-green toothed leaves, and flower with dramatic spires. One of the most widely grown, the stemless Agave americana, has sword-like leaves emanating from a central point. The stunning yellow flowers, which appear on a 6 metre tall stem, take up to ten years to appear. ‘Marginata’ and ‘Mediopicta’ with their yellow markings on the leaves, are very popular cultivars.


The Aloes:

You’ll see the orange flower spikes of an early Aloe species planted along the drive at Elizabeth Farm, and also at Camden Park, the second home Elizabeth and John Macarthur built in the new colony of New South Wales. These plants, along with many others, would have been collected by the earliest settlers as they rested at Capetown on the way to the new colony. Native to South Africa, Madagascar and the Arabian peninsula, the aloes are a varied genus of up to 300 species: some are trees, some shrubs and others are stemless perennials. Like most succulents, they like well well drained soil and hot climates.


The rare Aloe polyphylla, native to mountainous parts of Africa – but which looks stunning at Larnach Castle, near Dunedin in New Zealand’s south island - grows in stemless, sharply toothed rosettes, from which a series of brilliant red flower spikes erupt. Combine it with some of the lower growing aloes and soften the look with sempervivums, which spread to form a dense matt of rosettes.


9 Aloe polyphylla2




The cotyledons, members of the Crassula family, are quick-growing and easy to care for: there are nine


species in this genus of succulent shrubs and sub-shrubs. Cotyledon ‘Silver Ruffles’ and ‘Silver Waves,’ have white to grey to silver, wavy, fleshy leaves. Cotyledon macrantha looks wonderful with any of the purple foliaged succulents.


Crassula spp.
This very varied genus of about 300 species is comprised of easy to grow and easy to propagate ground covers, perennials and shrubs. The silver jade plant, Crassula arborescens, is one of the most widely grown, spreading out to some three metres, with blue grey succulent foliage. Thick edgings to dry-garden beds can be formed by the old fashioned succulent Crassula ovata , with its bright green leaves and feathery flower heads.


Echeveria spp
Most of the 150 species of echeverias hail from Mexico and have fleshy, smooth-edged or crimped leaves, most often in rosettes that sit just above the soil. They mass out to drip over the edge of rockeries and in summer send up flower spikes in umbers, oranges or acid yellows.


Euphorbia spp.
The genus Euphorbia is another that is proving to be the gardener’s saviour in times of low rainfall and water restrictions. The 2000-odd species of euphorbia occur in a wide range of climates, from the tropical, subtropical and dry parts of South Africa and its close neighbours, to the dry Mediterranean countries, as well as in the snow-fed meadows of the Himalayan ranges. Perhaps the best known species is the poinsettia tree, Euphorbia pulcherrima, native to Mexico and reaching several metres in frost free climates: others are herbaceous perennials, some are ground covers and some are succulents with cactus-like forms.


Most euphorbias are extremely drought tolerant, and flower - in wonderful colours, from acid greens and yellows to oranges - for months, from the depths of winter until mid summer. Best suited to the chorus, euphorbias were not created to be solo performers. Plant them in sinuous drifts that will provide a calm backdrop to the garden divas. All are good for massing out; some are best standing at the back of a border. Most are frost hardy: some cope better than others with humidity. The books tell you it is impossible to kill them, useful in the conditions that prevail at present.


That goddess of the natural, blowsy, ‘garden pick’ style of flower arranging, Constance Spry, promoted this easy-going plant in the 1960’s. Since then, the frost hardy and sun loving E. characias ssp wulfenii, flowering early with acid-yellow heads atop blue-green leaves and with a dense habit, has become everyone’s favourite. Several cultivars are now available, including ‘Blue Wonder’ and ‘Lambrook Gold’. ‘Burrows Silver’ and ‘Portuguese Velvet’ are varieties of E. characias ssp characias.


To add drama to any border, and to prevent any sense of predictability, add a sprinkling of oranges and blacks. Try the bronze to burgundy foliage of E. dulcis ‘Chameleon’, which grows to about 30cm in height, makes it a candidate for a bold arrangement, perhaps teamed with such flamboyant beauties as the red flowered Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw.’ Tone the mahogany stems with the burgundy-flowered thistle, Knautia macedonica. Pinks of all strengths – think of cistus, salvias and penstemons - tone well with the lime green and chartreuse-flowered euphorbias.


The silver or blue-foliaged species such as E. rigida are more suited to dry climates, and cope with exposed coastal areas. The tough Euphorbia myrsinites is a low-growing, trailing species that spreads across a 60 cm diameter; it looks particularly effective in rockeries or walled borders, where it can cascade over edges like an arrangement of cubes.

You could also experiment with more temperamental beauties such as E. griffithii, from the eastern Himalaya, and its smart cultivars, the rust-flowered ‘Fireglow’ and ‘Great Dixter,’ although these will demand summer moisture. E. sikkimenss and E. schillingii, while also from the Himalayan region, are not summer flowering and therefore a little more tolerant of dry conditions. The new E. ‘Diamond Frost’ has lime green foliage and flowers in a froth of white blossom. It grows to less than half a metre tall and enjoys a sunny spot.



All euphorbias share one characteristic: they exude a sticky, milky sap when cut. This is poisonous and the smallest amount may irritate skin and eyes as well as stain clothes.


Kalanchoe spp.
So easy to grow, Kalanchoe pumila has masses of soft-pink flowers, grey leaves and a trailing habit. Plant a leaf to propagate more. They are particularly useful for growing in pots or window boxes where watering might be difficult.


Schlumbergera spp
Flowering for months, in a range of colours, from pink to cerise to red, is the flamboyant zygocactus, more correctly called Schlumbergera spp., effective hanging from baskets or pots, as they bloom from the tips of fleshy limbs. Give them morning sun in a frost free climate.


Sedum spp.
The large Sedum genus, which contains some 400 species, with their interesting foliage and textures, good structure and strong lines, are invaluable in any garden, particularly as they love a hot and dry climate.


That so-smart member of the succulent group, the ice plant, Sedum spectabile, native to China and Korea, is one of the most useful, and blooms in clusters of pink star like flowers that are popular with butterflies.


The pink flowering Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ is a perennial that copes well with drought - but not, I should warn you, with humidity. For many gardeners, the foliage and the fading winter flowers are smarter than the hot pink blooms – unless you are going for the lime green and pink combination afforded by the euphorbias and sedums together.


Sedum ‘Chocolate Sauce’ has lime green foliage that ages to bronze. Leave flower heads on the plant to add drama to the winter border.

Sempervivum spp.
The sempervivums are a genus of about 40 species, most of which grow in symmetrical rosettes that spread out to form a dense matt. They are stunning in rock gardens, hugging the base of retaining walls - or growing in soil pockets in a wall – or in pots. They also love a sunny spot in well drained, gravely soil.


Most succulents will cope with light frost, but most don’t like high humidity: look to their native habitat for tips on cultural preferences. Most require a well drained soil and enjoy full sun, although some will cope with dry shade under trees. All look effective with a mulch of pebbles and stones.


Salvias are also forgiving of dry conditions. Australian Perennials has just released a new salvia: Salvia ‘Amante’ – with bright fuchsia-red flowers and a vigorous habit. Perfect for a border, with other perennials – perhaps softened with grey-leaved species.



Apart from the plants I mentioned in my Spring Newsletter, and the oleander, datura and frangipani, some people have an anaphylactic reaction to certain other species, including ivy, hellebores and primulas. Even the beautiful blooms of the blue ginger (Dychorisandra thrysiflora), which flowers through summer and autumn in warm climates, can cause an anaphylactic reaction.

Many plants have been employed through the centuries as poisons. Among the favourite poisons of the Middle Ages was the beautiful monkshood (Aconitum spp.), a member of the large Ranunculaceae family. The blue-flowering Aconitum napellus was used to poison arrow heads, for executing prisoners, and as a fly killer. The components, which are mainly nitrates, affect the cardiovascular and central nervous systems.

All parts of deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), a member of the Solonaceae family, (which contains many dangerous plants), are poisonous, but it is the pretty black berries that are the most toxic. Gardeners also know that potatoes (in the same family) become poisonous if exposed to light, which turns them green and allows the development of glycoalkaloids. And all parts of Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.) are poisonous.




We’ve agreed that good gardens are not created without good soil: that caring for your soil by not depleting it through over-use, by not dousing it with chemicals and by keeping it correctly watered, fed and mulched, will guarantee beauty, along with bounty. And we know that compost adds vital structure, as well as nutrients, to the soil. 

It’s not always possible, however, to erect a compost bin, or the ultimate three-bale bin in a small garden – impossible, surely, if you live in an apartment. Worm Farms are a wonderful composting solution for small gardens, or for those who garden on a balcony. Once you get the hang of them, your reward will be buckets of rich worm tea to pour on your plants.

There are several brands of worm farm available: you buy a starter kit of at least 1000 worms when you purchase your worm farm, which is available from most good-sized nurseries and some hardware stores. Some packs of worms are supplied with bedding, which the worms will eat before climbing up, into the top tier - known as the working tray - to demolish the food scraps. Don’t be too hasty, in the first few months, to fill the working layer with food. Too much food, supplied too quickly, will rot, encouraging the tiny vinegar fly, which is attracted to anaerobic and acid conditions, which will make your unit smell. (Vinegar flies are annoying, rather than unclean, however.)

You should see worms eating, and converting, the food waste before adding more scraps. This can be slow during the early months until the worms multiply, after becoming accustomed to their new environment, and until they demolish the original bedding.

You can balance the environment, to assist the entire process, by tipping a handful of garden lime - dissolved in water as undiluted lime would burn the skin of the worms - over the working tray, after ensuring that the tap is open, so that you don’t drown your worms. Keep the tap all the time: place a jug or bucket under the tap. You can then pour the ‘worm tea’ – which I dilute - onto your garden, or add it to your watering can to give your plants a beneficial foliar drenching.

Worms will eat up to half their weight in food each day. Once you have a thick layer of castings in the lower tray, remove and add to the garden, either as a tonic around plants, or as part of a mulch. It sounds like a little effort, but your garden will applaud. You can read more about Worm Farms and Composting in my Seasons in My House and Garden






The ingenious Majors Mulch was invented by agronomist Sarah Curry, who lives with her family on a property at Quandialla, in the central west of New South Wales. Pelletised Lucerne, pesticide-free, which expands when wet, these tiny pellets are perfect for gardens of all sizes, for vegie gardens, pot plants and between seedlings. Sarah also makes a terrific compost For more information: 


And a friend asked me if suckers from crab apples and crepe myrtles “ever amount to anything.” My answer was that if the plant had been grafted and the suckers were emanating from the graft, they should be removed. If not, they could be gently pulled away and potted up for planting out later.



Just about the only way to be sure you are eating pesticide-free vegies is to grow them yourself. You don’t have to garden in a large space to grow much of your vegetable needs: you can also ‘grow your own’ on a balcony. Cherry tomatoes are particularly successful when grown in pots. 


As you know, it’s essential to prepare your soil before planting by digging in sulphate of potash and dolomite, along with aged manures. In my last (large) garden, at the beginning of spring I would dig several bags of Majors Compost into our above-ground vegie garden. Then, after allowing that to settle, I planted broccoli (a vegetable said to be particularly high in pesticides when commercially grown), beetroot, broad beans and snow peas and a variety of leaves – spinach, ruby chard, rocket and a selection of colourful lettuce. This year I’ve also planted a variety of micro-greens from Yates Seeds, and scattered Majors Mulch in the pots.

In most climates it’s time to plant ‘cut and come again’ lettuce, silver beet and spinach, along with beans, snow peas, beetroot, carrots, late harvest broccoli, eggplant, strawberries, rhubarb, sweet corn, zucchini, leek and cucumber, herbs, radishes and spring onions. If your frosts are over, it’s time to plant a selection of tomatoes. Use prunings to create tee-pees and tents to support climbing vegetables.

The horticultural company, Seasol, has released a new Powerfeed formula for Hydroponic gardeners….but it would benefit all your vegies….


Summer is the time to enjoy stone fruit, including plums and apricots. It is also the time to choose your favourite fruit trees to plant in late autumn.

And I’ve been told that soaking shop-bought vegetables in a teaspoon of white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar, added to a litre of water will remove any residual pesticides that may have been used.



At Redlands, a large garden in central Tasmania, I saw clever plastic holders holding camphor hanging in the fruit trees to deter a range of pests.  And it’s time to hang cards of the parasitic wasp (Encarsia formosa) among your tomato plants, to combat white fly. 


11a Camphor

11b encarsia eggs

Watch out for cabbage white moth and for the caterpillars that can devastate cliveas. Spray camellias against the invisible tea mites, which enjoy low humidity and cause a bronze sheen over those normally beautiful, deep green leaves: use Yates Natrasoap, spraying under the leaves as well as over the bush. Start monthly spray with Natrasoap to protect azaleas against lace bug. In warm climates, watch for hibiscus beetle: spray with an organic product like Natrasoap.

Commence spraying against the bronze orange bug. Use organic methods such as hot water. Hang fruit fly traps.



Frangipani cake.

This very moist and absolutely delicious cake is a variation of the carrot cake. It is easy to whip up in the food processor, and, with its tropical flavours, is a perfect end to a summer luncheon. You can also find the recipe in my ‘Seasons in my House and Garden.’

½ kg carrots, grated or processed in the food processor.
½ cup caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup light olive oil or other vegetable oil
2 extra eggs. beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups self raising flour, sifted with pinch salt and 4teaspoons ground spices to taste (I like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, along with a pinch of cloves).
¾ to 1 cup each of walnuts and sultanas
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained (a 450ml tin)

Mix all ingredients, in above order, in either mix master or food processor, finishing by folding in the fruit and nuts.
Pour into lightly buttered 22 or 24cm spring form tin (I also line the base with baking paper).
Cook 45 minutes (or until the top starts to crack and the cake comes away from the sides) in pre-heated 180dC oven.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Spread top and sides with cheese topping and decorate with shredded coconut.


Mix together half cup pure icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 400gms cream cheese (or a mixture of cream cheese and ricotta).
Decorate with shredded coconut
Spread over cooled cake. (this cake, un-iced, freezes well.)

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla icecream

12 frangipani cake



My travel this year has been to promote my new book. I am delighted to report that, after eleven published non-fiction books, my first work of fiction,‘The Reluctant Spy, is selling well. It also contains plenty of discussion about gardens and landscaping. 


The story goes like this:

Tall, tanned and blonde, Rachel Edmistone, forty-something mother of three, lives in sparkling, harbourside Sydney and is married to the perfect man – Adrian, who has the looks to match his piles of cash.
Or so Rachel thinks.
Rachel is the powerhouse behind the star-studded Butterfly Ball, a fundraiser for causes in Sydney and Sri Lanka. She also runs a busy PR company.
Then tragedy strikes, when Adrian is killed in a freak accident – leaving her in overwhelming grief and in massive debt.
But when the stars align for a fresh start in Sri Lanka, will Rachel have the courage to take a chance on herself and discover what riches really mean?

This novella explores a slice of life more often seen on the pages of glossy magazines – and the cost of that life in reality. ‘The Reluctant Spy’ is a sumptuous trip from Sydney to Sri Lanka – one that shows no paradise is ever quite what it seems.

You can view it on my website and it’s available in ‘all good bookshops’ and my on-line shop.


‘Country Gardens, Country Hospitality’, a showcase of wonderful country properties around Australia, and the owners’ favourite recipes, often handed down through generations, is available again: go to my website….


As I’ve said, I’ve also written a ‘Memoir’: It’s not all wine and roses; a journey to survival, my story of surviving several cancers, having been given a ‘less than one percent’ chance of survival. It’s not a ‘misery memoir’: it’s written to give people who are on this challenging journey strength, support and information. The story is intertwined with my travels around the world, photographing the world’s best gardens, and often experiencing dangerous encounters. I am still looking for a publisher.


And I’m, taking part in a Yoga Retreat to Bhutan in April 2020. My role will be to point out the various endemic botanical species. For more information go to 


13 tigers nest



And, to everyone, Happy Christmas, and a happy and safe holiday season. 


14 xmas centrepiece best1



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