Holly's Summer 2016 Newsletter
The jacaranda flowers have fallen, along with the red bracts of the Illawarra flame tree: they look so wonderful together, don't they? The bougainvilleas are begging to be pruned. The bindi-eyes are taunting those who dare to go barefoot on lawns. And the cicadas continue their noisy drumming, which seems to hover above the heat haze. School holidays, along with summer, are here.
PRESENTS FROM THE GARDEN
Even if Christmas is just a memory by the time you read this newsletter, you may want to think about presents you can create from your garden.
If you propagated hydrangea as you pruned in mid-winter you'll have some established plants to pot up. Some may even be flowering, like the lace-flowered Hydrangeamacrophylla 'Blue Wave' or 'Beaute Vendemoise'.
Or, buy small pots of a miniature northern hemisphere conifer, such as the soft foliaged dwarf Alberta spruce (Piceaglauca 'Nana'), and dress up the pot with Christmas paper and ribbons.
Beautifully wrapped flowering pots of Christmas lilies to decorate the house are surely welcome, and, when finished flowering, can be planted in the garden. Or, pot up advanced punnets of petunias in festive reds and whites in pretty hand painted tubs. Box is easy to propagate, although slow to grow - or you can buy advanced spheres or pyramids for the smartest of gifts. Buy a selection of herbs and stuff them into a generous-sized, shallow terracotta pot. Label each plant and add a decorative mulch of white pebbles for a stunning indoor herb garden that will always be a welcome gift. Alternatively, plant up a selection of succulents, from the never-fail Kalanchoe spp. to the echeverias and sempervivums.
A herbal tea mix from your own garden is easier to make than you might think. Pick and dry lemon verbena (Aloysiatriphylla), peppermint and thyme; add a little sage and mix well. A few caraway seeds provides a delicious summer freshness. Seal in glass jars and tie up with ribbons and decorate with your own label. Or, make a pot pourri with lemon verbena and other herbs; add the scented leaves of the nutmeg bush (Tetradeniariparia), an old fashioned shrub that flowers in a froth of pink mid-winter.
Any of the beautiful pruning products from Fiskars, the Finnish company that produces virtuoso titanium and aluminium tools would be welcome. Several in the range come with orange handles; the new limited edition 365 range, forged in titanium, has black handles while the new Quantum Range has cork handles. The QuantumTM range, made with top-quality forged aluminium, consists of three tools; the short-handled precision Bypass Pruner (RRP $69.99), the mid-length Hedge Shear and, the long-reach BypassLopper.
I'd welcome the perfect gardening glove. You need a glove that allows you to garden without holding back, diving your hands deep into the soil; a glove that would allow you to then prepare dinner without hands that look as if they are home to dangerous pathogens.
And, a book voucher is always on my present list and there are several great new gardening books out.
CENTREPIECES FOR THE TABLE OR MANTLEPIECE
You don't have to be a professional florist to form wonderful decorations with flowers, foliage, nuts and pine cones. And you can design magnificent table centrepieces, wreaths, hanging globes and other arrangements using some of the tricks that florists employ.
You might want to decorate your table with arrangements of eucalypt blossom, flannel flowers and gumnuts. Here's how: buy long oases, in plastic trays, or bases, from the florist or from the suppliers you will find at your wholesale flower market. Don't try to economise by re-using an old oasis, which will be full of the bacteria that will reduce the life of economise your arrangement.
Before you add your decorative material, allow the oasis to float in deep water, perhaps in laundry tub overnight: never push the oasis into the water, as this will cause bubbles to form, creating dry sections in the foam. Remove the oasis from the water and place it on a protected surface to create your arrangement.
To start, cover the oasis with the green moss you can also purchase from the flower market or florist. Stretch the moss out very thinly and pin it in place with 'hairpins' of fine wire. Don't be tempted to be too generous with the moss, or you won't be able to push your flowers through. To make the 'hairpins' use 22-guage florist wire cut into short lengths and bent double. In this way, it only takes about two minutes to cover each oasis. Spray with water to keep the moss cool and fresh.
Next, add your green leaf base: for these Christmas table decorations I used argyle apple (Eucalyptuscinerea) as my base. Then, I added a light cover of Christmas bush: just short sprigs. Next I added short, but dense, sprigs of the bright eucalypt blossom: I used both the red and the orange; the hot pink also looks fabulous. Stagger this feature flower randomly over the oasis. (The eucalypt blossom is not long lasting, so if you do want to achieve this stunning hot-coloured effect, you will need to add this blossom just the day before.)
Next add your sprigs of gumnuts: for this arrangement I used several different species, including the giant Eucalyptusmacrocarpa and E. youngiana, the large fruited mallee. Then add your flannel flowers: the cream and white adds a great freshness and gives the entire arrangement a 'lift'. The flannel flowers are quite tricky to insert into the oasis as they are very soft, so, again, it is important that you have not covered the oasis too thickly with the moss. Small sprigs of hypericum, with their lime-green leaves also illuminate the arrangement. Lastly I inserted small sprigs of Christmas bush to fill in any gaps. Go to SEASONS IN MY House and Garden.
Keep the arrangement topped up with water, as the oasis will dry from the top down. Use a drip tray or fold green garbage bags and place under the arrangements to protect the tablecloth.
For a different look you can spray hydrangea heads, eucalypt leaves and gum nuts with gold paint: it is quick and easy and gives an instant stunning effect. Use these, also, to add glamour to your Christmas table: gold sprayed gumnuts make beautiful ties for your table napkins.
MAKING SUMMER HERB AND FLOWER FROZEN BOWLS
At the height of summer, ice cubes, in which herbs and flowers are embedded, add glamour to cool drinks. You can also create ice bowls into which a selection of pretty blooms and herbs have been frozen – choose nasturtiums, borage, tarragon flowers, violets or green leaves. It is easier than it sounds. Here's how:
Take two bowls, one smaller than the other to create the ice bowl. Place a small lid or ramekin in the base, or centre, of the larger bowl to create a void between the two bowls (when serving, the ramekin will not be seen). Pour cold water into this void, and push the flowers and leaves down into the water: a chopstick can facilitate this! Place in the freezer... Check after 1 hour and, if necessary, push flowers and herbs down further to create an even distribution of colour. (In fact, it is not essential to place the ramekin in the base, as the smaller bowl will float in the larger bowl.) Leave the ice bowl in freezer until completely frozen.
The 'mold' is easily removed by dipping into warm water for just a few minutes (or, if you have used plastic, the ice bowl will come away easily without using warm water). You can return the ice bowl to the freezer until ready to serve. Bring the bowl to the table holding prawns, or sorbet, and wait for the accolades.
With summer here it's essential to water, feed and then mulch your garden, whether you garden on country hectares, or in pots on your balcony. Remember to buy seed-free mulch, in whichever form you buy it. And if you are mulching with woodchips, ensure that they have been well aged before you apply them to your garden.
As I've written before, the ingenious Majors Mulch was invented by agronomist Sarah Curry, who lives on her family 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.
There are around 300 species in the gardenia genus, part of the RUBIACEAE family, all native to Africa and Asia: most demand a frost free, north facing position. The fleshy, white, highly scented gardenia 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 Gardeniaradicans for planting at the front of a border, or to cascade down a retaining wall. Gardeniaaugusta 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 end of autumn. 'Grandiflora' has larger leaves and glorious white blooms, while 'Magnifica' has the largest flowers of all.
In my last garden I planted several varieties in the one pot, creating an eccentric, flamboyant look. The easiest of the genus to grow is the popular yellow and white P. rubra var. acutifolia. The pink-flowering species (P. rosea), that is also seen in Sydney's federation gardens, has gorgeous orange to yellow centres that conjure up dreams of tropical sunsets. P. rubra is fabulous, with crimson flowers on a broad canopy some eight metres high. Plumeria 'Golden Kiss' has large trusses of deep golden to apricot flowers.
Frangipanis are perfect for small gardens: they make an excellent feature tree, or can be under-planted with a variety of summer flowering plants once they reach a good height. The dwarf cultivars are suited for growing in containers in climates where they need to be taken inside for winter protection. They become deciduous in a climate with a dry season; in Sydney they lose their leaves in late March.
Frangipanis are extremely undemanding, requiring only a frost free climate, well-drained soil and several hours of sun daily. They also thrive in coastal gardens. I've included, in this newsletter, a recipe for a delicious Frangipani Cake from my book, Seasons in my House and Garden. SEASONS IN MY House and Garden
TO DO IN THE GARDEN
The wisterias have only just finished flowering. It's now time to cut back those long tendrils that love to wind themselves around any structure attached to the house.
Hard prune wisteria after flowering, right back to several buds, which will fatten to form the racemes for the following season. Then, tip prune long suckers and tie them in the required position. All unwanted, untidy, long, shoots can be gently pulled away as they appear, particularly over summer.
It's time, also to:
THE EDIBLE GARDEN
In most climates it's time to plant 'cut and come again' lettuce, silver beet and spinach, as well as beans, snow peas, beetroot, carrots, late-harvest broccoli, strawberries, rhubarb, sweet corn, zucchini, leek and cucumber, herbs, radishes and spring onions. Plant tomatoes.
PESTS AND DISEASES
If you haven't done so, it's time to hang up those cards of parasitic wasps (Encarsiaformosa) to protect vegies against white fly. The wasp eggs can be purchased through Biological Services, a mail order company in South Australia. They arrive through the post as eggs, on small cardboard strips that are hung amongst your vegetables, particularly among the tomatoes. After they hatch the adult female wasp lays her eggs into the whitefly; the larvae then parasitises the pest.
Check for aphids on roses, citrus and murraya. Aphids spread disease as well as excreting honeydew which results in black sooty mould. Spray with Confidor or Natra soap, or combine EcoOil with EcoRose for your roses. Biological controls, which can be ordered from several on-line companies, include ladybirds and hoverflies. Use ladybirds as natural predators against sap-sucking insects, to protect a range of plants, including strawberries. There are more than 500 varieties of ladybird in this country, and as early as 1888 we were exporting them to the US to help in pest prevention. Be alert, however, for the 28-spotted ladybird, which will eat your crops, particularly damaging your potatoes.
In early summer the curl grub might lay its eggs in your lawn: if you see moths rising from the lawn, perhaps as you mow, it's time to spray with Confidor.
Be alert for snails, slugs and caterpillars: employ a variety of deterrents, including coffee grounds around plants, and beer traps.
Commence your fortnightly spray plan against the bronze orange bug: use horticultural oil.
TWO SUMMER RECIPES
Here is a delicious recipe from my latest book, Country Gardens: Country Hospitality. It's from the beautiful boutique hotel, Thorn Park at the Vines, and is on page 190 of the book.
Sugar Roasted Roma Tomatoes
10-12 ripe Roma tomatoes
Preheat oven to 175°C
Cut the tomatoes in half lengthways. Place them in a shallow baking dish, cut side up. Season with salt and pepper & splash over a little vinegar.
And from Seasons in My House and Garden
½ kg carrots, grated by hand or in the food processor.
Mix all ingredients, in above order, in either a mix master or food processor, finishing by folding in the fruit and nuts.
BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
My 11th book, Country Gardens: Country Hospitality, (Miegunyah Press) is now in its fourth printing. I travelled all over our country in 2011, and 2012, to capture the beauty of our landscapes, as well as the spirit and purpose of Australian country people. As well as sharing their gardens with us, and the history of their properties, owners have shared their favourite recipes, many of which have been handed down through several generations.
And I'm working on a few more titles, including one about 'the roaring 80's' (!!) As well, I've just finished my first work of Fiction.
I'm thinking about garden tours during 2017. Let me know if you are interested in accompanying me to Bhutan, or to Japan, in April or October 2017. On the Japan tour we will visit some of the world's best gardens, and exquisite galleries, while in Bhutan the landscapes are unrivalled.
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