Holly's Winter 2018 Newsletter
'The colour of springtime is in the flowers: the colour of winter is in the imagination, writes modern-day essayist,' Terri Guillemets.
Winter is the season when the retiring hellebore takes its much-deserved place: centre stage. Described by Elizabeth Strangman, the English breeder, as 'Nature's gift to gardeners in the dismal months,' this easy-to-please, charming plant blooms in a range of colours and shapes, some pointed, some rounded, from dazzling white, to pink, to black-purple. Some are intricately marked with speckles or splotches, some are double. Some hellebores have jagged leaves; some foliage is the deepest forest green, others blue to steel grey. Fascinating foliage and elegant flowers ensure that the collector and plant hunter in each of us is captivated.
Hellebores are native across much of the globe, from Britain to the Balkans, Turkey, and into Russia and China; there is a species suited to almost every climatic zone in Australia, therefore. Often described as the 'winter rose,' the most common is Helleborus x hybridus which will multiply in anything but the poorest soil, and copes with hot summers and winter rains.
The caulescent species – those with an obvious stem - cope best with the humidity of coastal regions. These include Helleborus argutifolius, which will stand erect at the rear of a border and bears impressive serrated leaves; it flowers early in its life with large sprays of yellow-green flowers. H. x sternii 'Boughton Beauty' has jagged, blue-green, toothed leaves: H. nigercors and H. lividus are for colder districts. H. argutifolius and H. x ballardiae like full sun in cool climate gardens, but in warmer areas thrive in shade, particularly in a southerly position.
H. ericsmithii, (pictured here) which can be a little hard to find, will cope with extreme drought while H. lividus likes the damp.
In late winter H. foetidus 'Wester Flisk', flowers with a chandelier of small green bells held high on red stems for weeks, and with deeply cut foliage of forest green. She tolerates dry shade.
Hellebores enjoy an alkaline soil; add lime in summer, when the flower buds are forming, and water in well. They can't be too fussy as they thrive in Sydney sand and also form impressive carpets in the acidic, basalt soil in cold climate gardens.
Propagate by division to ensure each offspring replicates its parent: this simple process is best done after flowers have finished. Lift the clump, turn the clump over (after trimming the foliage), divide with a sharp knife or spade, and re-plant.
And, if you remove most of the leaves of your hellebores in late summer you can fully appreciate the emerging flowers in winter.)
Rhododendrons have been favourites with gardeners for many years, with good reason. Among the most generous of the winter-flowering plants, the rhododendrons are beginning to unfurl large buds, most often held on evergreen, upright branches. They thrive in all but the warmest climates and flower in either brilliant colours, or gentle shades, for months, from late autumn to early spring. Many are scented.
Their allure for many of us is the mystery attached to the exotic places in which they occur naturally, from throughout the Himalaya, to northern China, to Japan. Some of the most interesting occur in Papua New Guinea (as in the image below, which I photographed beside an alpine lake a-top Mt Wilhelm); others are native to North America.
Like most plants, rhodies grow best in Australia in areas that mirror the conditions of the regions in which they grow wild. Most are happiest in the cool mountain areas behind the major cities, where many of the gardens are named after mountain outposts on the Indian subcontinent, or after treacherous and inaccessible Himalayan passes such as Doshong La in south eastern Tibet where the plant hunter, Frank Kingdon-Ward found 20 species, out of more than 100 he discovered during his 47-year career.
Rhododendrons range in size and habit from massive trees reaching over 20 metres, with huge leaves and waxy, bell-like flowers, to epiphytes that cling to the sides of mist-shrouded mountain ravines, and to tiny, ground-hugging species suited to rockeries or garden understorey.
To see a vast range in a garden setting visit Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden, at Burnie in North West Tasmania. www.emuvalleyrhodo.com.au
My favourite winter-flowering species are the daphnes, the easiest of which is Daphne odora. Give them an east or south-east position and they will reward you with glorious scent. Underplant them with grape hyacinths: picked for a vase, the pinks and blues together would brighten any winter heart.
There can be no more cheering sight in mid-winter than the large shell-pink, goblet-shaped, flowers of Magnolia soulangiana. Each year in late June, when the magnolias unfurl their pink and cream flowers, on a tracery of black-grey branches, against a clear, intensely blue winter sky, you might agree at the absolute perfection of the simplest things in life. There are more than 80 species and dozens of cultivated varieties to ponder (such as M. s. 'San Jose', pictured below.) So there is a magnolia for every size of garden, for any use, and for all climates.
Conifers invoke so many memories: many of us fell in love with them when we read of the whispering pines in the mountains of Switzerland in Johanna Spyri's book,'Heidi'. 'Clara had never seen anything like these tall old trees with their straight trunks and long thick branches sweeping almost to the ground,' writes Spyri. '.....the fir trees, the mountains with great grey peaks in the sun.' These words seemed, to my 10-year-old self, to offer the promise of adventure and travel the world over.
The sight of pencil pines (Cupressus sempervirens) might remind you of the Italian countryside, where they contribute so much to the 'sense of place,' winding up rolling hills and leading the eye into the distance.
Part of the magic of Bhutan are the pines that drip with mosses which waft in the breeze as you hike to ancient monasteries. And the palaces of the capital, Thimphu, are framed in the local Pinus wallichiana (pictured below) , with its coffee-coloured cones that hang on for months.
And you see conifers growing in their natural stage, as you travel over the mysterious Dochula Pass.
Conifers have featured in Japanese gardens since the 11th century, and signify certain desirable qualities, such as endurance. Two species of pine are most often used in Japanese landscaping: in Kanazawa, at Kenrokuen garden, pictured below, the 'Karasaki Matsu', the black pine (Pinus thunbergia), is revered. In Imperial gardens the red pine (Pinus densiflora), has been shaped over centuries to create layers of horizontal limbs. The five leaved pine, (Pinus parviflora) is also used, along with the slow growing Buddhist pine (Podocarpus macrophyllus) which is often pruned into 'clouds'.
The elegant Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) which develops tiny green cones that turn brown and hang on the tree through winter, is treasured also for building and for furniture.
Agathis robusta, the Queensland kauri pine, was popular with early landscapers as august plantings on grand country estates: you can see it as a double avenue in Sydney's Centennial Park.
The beautiful spruces, (Picea spp.) a genus of about 45 species, must be among the most elegant of the conifers. Members of the Pinaceae family, and from high altitudes in the northern hemisphere, the slow growing spruces demand rich acidic soil and plentiful rainfall.
Picea abies, the Norway spruce, is your quintessential Christmas tree, although not one to be planted out into a suburban garden after the festive season, as it can reach 60m in the wild. Small growing forms include 'Little Gem.'
Picea pungens 'Glauca', the Colorado blue spruce, is slow growing, but the beautiful, conical shape it develops, with layers of horizontal arms with soft, blue-grey needles, make it a must for any cold climate garden.
TO DO IN THE GARDEN
As I've said many times, winter is not the time to prune wisteria. Tidy wisteria only if there are long strands that you neglected to pull away in summer: hard pruning now would remove the buds that are fattening to develop into scented racemes in spring.
There is plenty to do in the winter garden, however. You should prune hydrangeas now: cut back stems that flowered in summer and use prunings to propagate more plants to give away, or to thicken a border. Ditto the blue ginger, (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora ) ....but take care, some people can have an allergic reaction to this plant, as they can, also, to hellebores.
August is the month when many of us prune our roses. That's fine for those classes of rose that are remontant - such as the old-fashioned Bourbons - which flower on new, fresh spring growth. Repeat-flowering modern roses, and David Austin's, will usually flower about 70 days after pruning: useful information for those planning a garden wedding! But don't prune too early if you live in a frost- prone climate as you don't want the plant to shoot too soon, when there is a risk of frost burn on young, fresh growth.
Old Roses that treat us to a big spring flush of blooms flower on the last season's wood, so should be pruned around November, when flowering is finished.
Those important details established, let's begin by removing any diseased, damaged or old wood, right back to a healthy joint. Cut out any crossing branches that might rub on others, creating wounds that will encourage disease. Remove any surplus branches to ensure the continued 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. Cut just above a bud, or 'eye,' from which new shoots will emerge.
To encourage the greatest flowering from your climbing roses, with blooms all the way along the stems, tie them down flat – as horizontal as possible - to promote stress, and shoots, right along the branch. After flowering cut back to one or two shoots for repeat flowering. Tip prune the water shoots in autumn or winter. Or, plant multiples of the one rose, and tie canes in repeating 'S's' to encourage dense flowering. And, to encourage roses to flower right up a pole (particularly useful for people who garden in a small space) prune to encourage each shoot to develop in a different direction.
Weigh down the 'arms' of standard roses with rocks, to encourage each branch to grow downwards, rather than horizontally, to promote greater flowering.
Ensure the holding arm grips the section of the bush to be discarded, so that you don't bruise the remaining plant, inviting dieback. Dip secateurs into a disinfectant bath between rose bushes to prevent the spread of any disease present.
Spray scale on roses, figs and other plants with lime sulphur, when the plant has lost its leaves.
After pruning any plant comes feeding, then deep watering and mulching. One rosarian applies sheep manure, blood and bone and pelletised chook manure, in that order, at a rate each of two handfuls per square metre, immediately after his roses are pruned. The gardens are then mulched heavily to cap in any disease. One spray with lime sulphur is applied immediately and, after two weeks, a spray of copper oxychloride is followed by white oil to combat scale problems.
As you know I am a huge fan of Majors Mulch (www.majorsmulch.com.au), created by Sarah Curry, on the family property at Quandialla. The new Majors Mulch Balcony Bags were designed specifically for the urban gardener, and are perfect for your pots.
And now that the calypso blooms of the frangipani have dropped to reveal its twisted, architectural branches, it's time to propagate cuttings, which you may have begged from established trees in your neighbourhood. You can plant several different colours into a large pot for a joyous rainbow of fruit salad colours, come summer.
Also known as the temple tree, the pagoda tree, the egg flower tree or the West Indian jasmine, these treasures are very slow growing, so an established frangipani will add value to any property. The five-petalled flowers are used by both Hindus and Buddhists as temple decorations and in Hawaii to make special-occasion presentation leis. In Indonesia you can see the tree planted to shade Muslim cemeteries, as you can in Bomana War Cemetery just outside Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.
Named for the 17th century French botanist and explorer, Charles Plumier (1646 – 1704), the tough but beautiful frangipani (Plumeria spp.) is a genus of just eight species, mostly deciduous.
Frangipanis come in thousands of varieties, most bred from Plumeria rubra. The easiest to grow, and most common in Australia, is the yellow and white P. rubra var. acutifolia.
The pink to carmine flowering P. rosea has gorgeous orange to yellow centres tp evoke dreams of tropical sunsets. Plumeria rubra f. rubra (pictured here) bears crimson flowers on a broad canopy.
Frangipanis are extremely undemanding, requiring only a frost free environment, well-drained soil and several hours of sun daily. They become deciduous in a climate with a dry season; many thrive south as far as Sydney, where they lose their leaves in early winter. In the cooler climates place frangipanis near a north facing wall where they can benefit from stored heat. Fertilise with a high potassium product.
Frangipanis can be successfully employed in many ways in large or small gardens. They make wonderful features for courtyard gardens, creating shade in summer, but welcoming the light and warmth when bare in winter. The dwarf cultivars are suited for growing in containers in cool temperate climates, where they must be taken inside for winter protection.
As William Morris said, 'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to useful or believe to be beautiful.' That's the frangipani.
THE EDIBLE GARDEN
Turmeric (Curcumin oblonga) is part of the ginger family. You might have seen it growing in great swathes by the road, if you have ventured up into the hills of northern India...
Anyone who likes to create curries knows about tumeric, which adds to the deep orange colour of sauces: the rhizomes can be ground or finely sliced, to add , along with other spices. According to US researchers, turmeric also has health benefits, said to improve memory and mood, and even, perhaps, to ward off Alzheimer's Disease. At the end of this newsletter is a curry recipe, Murgh Ka Mukal, given to me by Zafar Ali, Executive Chef at the Leela Kempenski Hotel on the shores of Lake Pichola, in Udaipur. You can find more of his recipes in my book, 'Seasons in My House and Garden.'
In warm climates you can plant potatoes in June or July, although friends on the Southern Highlands of NSW plant a little later, in early spring, so that new foliage is not burnt by frosts.
You can cultivate your potatoes in 'Grow Bags,' hessian bags, or, if you have the space, create a circle with wire netting held in place by four stakes. Add compost, old manure, some slow release fertiliser and good potting mix. Plant certified virus-free potatoes, bought from your nursery, or from on-line suppliers, at a depth of about 15cm, and about 50cm apart. Cover with soil, fertilise and water well. As the leaves emerge, add more soil, compost and straw to ensure the plant develops tubers up the stem: this is known as hilling. Potatoes like about six hours of sun each day.
Harvest new potatoes a month after the flowers die; old potatoes when the leaves have died completely. If you don't have a large family to feed you can practice 'bandicooting' an old fashioned term where you reach down into the soil, to break off just one or two tubers. One kg of seed potatoes should give you about 10kgs to harvest. Fertilise tuber vegetables, including potatoes and kumera, with a potassium-rich product: nitrogen-rich fertilisers will produce leaves at the expense of tubers.
And, it's time to plant garlic: so important in boosting the immune system, and traditionally planted on the shortest day of the year. I plant masses of garlic, as I've been told that imported garlic is doused with methalbromide – the poison that is used as a coolant in refrigerators! Garlic is most happy in cool climates as it needs a cold snap to form good sized bulbs: it likes an alkaline, deep, rich soil which had blood and bone and mushroom compost added for a previous crop. A typical planting would be six each of Giant Russian (Allium ampeloprasum) Australian Purple (Allium sativum ) Australian White (Allium sativum), a variety that will grow well in a range of climates. Glen Large is a Queensland bred variety suited to warm areas. Plant garlic with root crops like carrots, onions and leeks.
PESTS AND DISEASES
Even in the coldest months, we need to be alert for pests and diseases. If you grow quince, apple or pear watch for the dreaded Pear and Cherry Slug, a tiny, ugly black slug that can defoliate a tree very quickly. Spray at budburst (and, next autumn, at leaf drop) with a commercial bordeaux product. Natural predators include wasps, birds and spiders.
Watch for white rose scale on rose stems, or, in warm climate gardens, on frangipanis: rub off with a toothbrush and then spray with a horticultural oil. And even never-fail orchids can suffer from scale in winter. Wipe off by hand or spray with a horticultural oil.
Keep fruit fly traps hanging on trees and replenished until all autumn fruit has been harvested.
And go to www.yates.com.au for more advice
You can visit my 11 published books at www.hollyforsyth.com.au. Go to my on-line shop to purchase any (except The Constant Gardener, and Gardens of Eden, which, sadly, are out of print.). My 'novel', mainly concerned with the empowerment, and disempowerment of women, is still a 'work in progress.'
I have finished my Memoir (It's not all wine and roses: a journey to survival) - it is now over six years since my diagnosis. My oncologist told me a year ago that the surgeons had given me less than a one percent chance of survival when they had first met me in March 2012. I'm so glad they kept that to themselves in those early, frightening days.......but it shows what wonderful doctors we have in this country.
Murgh Ka Mukul (Serves 6)
First, prepare the various pastes: the Garlic and Ginger, the Cashew Nut, and Onion pastes, and mix together your choice of spices for the Garam Masala for this curry.
200 g boiled onion paste *
Marinate sliced chicken thigh meat for one hour in a little ginger garlic paste.
Heat most of the ghee or oil in heavy based pan and gently cook whole garam masala mix until fragrance is released. Remove spices from pan and grind to powder. (Heat pan first, add oil, then add garlic to cold oil. Don't add oil to cold pan.)
To still-hot pan, add ginger-garlic paste, then boiled onion paste, yoghurt and tumeric: simmer 5 minutes. Add cashew paste, water and simmer, covered, on low heat for 1 hour (the oil will come to the surface.) Stir from time to time to ensure sauce does not catch.
In another pan heat about 10ml oil and cook ground garam masala, cumin, chillies and garlic cloves until they turn golden. Add the chicken and sear for 2 minutes. Add curry to this pan and simmer gently for approx 40 minutes, until chicken is cooked. Finish with cream, lemon juice and coriander.
Increase the spice with green chillies: red chillies are not used in a yellow dish. And, any curry which is yellow or white you will finish with cream.
According to tradition, if the gravy is dark you eat it with rice; if light you eat it with breads.
* Garlic Ginger Paste
* Cashew Nut Paste
* Boiled Onion Paste:
* Garam masala is a combination of different spices, and varies with each dish and through the different regions of India. Garam means hot and masala means 'a mixture of spices'. For this chicken curry, the mace is important: chef Ali used whole cardamom, cloves, a piece of mace (the outer skin of nutmeg), cumin powder, coriander seed ( which are ground to a powder after roasting). He used the spices whole at the beginning of the cooking process and finished the dish off with the same spices, powdered.
In some garam masala mixes, for instance when lamb is the meat being used, peppercorns are used. Star anise is used in the south, not the north. Chef Ali advises preparing the spices as they are required to ensure they remain fresh. As I've said, you can see more of Chef Ali's delicious recipes in my 'Seasons in my House and Garden'
Happy Gardening, and Happy Cooking.
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