Holly's Autumn 2017 Newsletter
Trust in nature for the stable laws of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant and autumn garner to the end of time: the 19 th century poet, Robert Browning.
Although the year is well underway, this is my first chance to wish you all a Happy New Year. I pray that 2017 is happy, healthy and busy for each of us. If you are heading off on adventures, travel safely. And speaking of travel, I’m am taking a tour to Bhutan in October this year, and a tour to Japan in late March, 2018. See the Travel section, at the end of the newsletter, for more details.
Welcome, everyone, to my Autumn 2017 newsletter…and to all my friends in the northern hemisphere, I trust you are enjoying the promise of spring.
What could be more exciting for a gardener than watching the seasons change?
Autumn is also a generous time: the bounty of the garden rewards the hard work of the previous months. Apples are ready to harvest (if the birds have not stolen them), and are at their best in the markets. There is the scent of quince slowly roasting, ready to be used under cuts of baked meats or in cakes and puddings. The orange globes of the persimmon hang on the tree like glowing orbs. Picked, they add light and colour to an arrangement of leaves and autumn berries.
Among the most exciting aspects of autumn are the brilliant foliage colours many trees develop. Perhaps the loveliest of the autumn performers are the acid soil-loving tupelos (Nyssa sinensis and N. sylvatica) which colour in a range of pinks and reds. Parrotia persica, an elegant small, spreading tree that reaches about four metres and turns yellow, gold and orange at the end of summer. The dogwoods, tulip trees, maples and many fruit trees also colour wonderfully.
The maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) has survived little changed for over 200 million years. A Monotype (a genus containing only one species) this deciduous tree, which turns a rich gold in autumn, can live for several thousand years. Ginkgos are found at Buddhist temples in China, Korea and Japan. Like their cousins, the cycads, they contain many poisonous chemicals, although tests of the leaves and seeds are being conducted for medicinal purposes, from pain relief, to treatment for lung disease, to relief for Alzheimer’s.
And all over the country gardens are opening to show off autumn colours. Visiting good gardens is a great way to decide what trees you would like in your own garden. Go to the travel section for where and when autumn gardens are open.
Foliage plants must be among the most forgiving and generous of garden species, and Begonias are surely the ultimate foliage plant. They are greatly loved by ‘amateur’ gardeners and professional landscapers alike - and are flowering now. The breeding history and nomenclature of begonias is extremely complex, only surpassed, perhaps, by the complicated history of the rose. They were first described in 1690 by French botanist, Charles Plumier, who named them to honour his friend, the amateur botanist Michel Begon (1638-1710).
Begonias are content as house plants if their foliage is sprayed with water weekly. They are happy in pots and hanging baskets and are the ultimate choice for conservatories and greenhouses. In the NSW country city of Orange, the begonia house in Cook Park (officially named in 1882 in honour of Captain Cook and pictured below) is particularly exciting from February to April, when the collection is flowering. The first begonias in the collection were donated by the City of Ballarat from their Botanical Gardens.
There is some evidence that begonias – of which there are several groups - were cultivated in China as early as the 14th century, but the Englishman Richard Pearce is credited with ‘re-discovering’ begonias in South America in 1864.
The most commonly grown group, the tuberous Begonia tuberhybrida, likes a mild summer climate and won’t cope with searing temperatures or high humidity. Dying down over winter, they thrive in cold climates. Other groups include Begonia x semperflorens, with small, white or pink, double or single flowers among bronze leaves and Begonia rex, which is native to Assam and is grown for its flamboyant foliage.
All begonias like partial light or filtered sun, although too much shade can result in lush foliage at the expense of flowers. They prefer moist, but well drained, soil. Some are propagated from seed, but most by stem or root cuttings, or by dividing rhizomes.
With their rather formal and rigid flower shape, dahlias have been out of favour for years, thought by many to be in bad taste. Flowering in the richest of hues, from cerise and purple, to yellow and orange, and popular between the two world wars, when they joined hybrid tea roses, carnations and gladioli to grace garden beds cut into front lawns of couch or buffalo, dahlias could never be accused of being discreet. They bloom in a wide variety of forms: some are single-flowered, some round, others like pompoms. Some are cactus-formed, some like stars; others resemble peonies.
Native to Mexico, where it is the national flower, and to Central America, the dahlia is a genus of about 30 species, although most of the modern varieties have been bred from just three species, D. coccinea, D. pinnata and D. hortensis.
Lauded by one early 20th century Australian garden writer as “The King of the Autumn”, new, more relaxed cultivars like the single, clear red ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, with its stunning dark foliage, and ‘Yellow Hammer’ have given dahlias another chance to be fashionable. The apricot Dahlia ‘Heat Wave ’ and ‘Tally Ho’, with its orange blooms above green-to-pewter coloured foliage, are also delightful.
When water is scarce dahlias can be garden saviours. Team Dahlia ‘Fire Mountain,’ with its double, pure red, flowers and black foliage, with the tough, fire-engine red Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’; temper these hot colours with bronze fennel.
Dahlias can be grown from seedlings, cuttings, or tubers. Plant tubers - which will guarantee your chosen variety - in rich soil, at a depth of about 8cms, and a sunny, sheltered position, in spring, for summer to autumn flowering. They are heavy feeders: prepare soil by adding aged manure a fortnight before planting. Apply more fertilizer when plants reach about 30cm, and, for award-winning results, apply a high potassium liquid fertiliser every two weeks after buds form.
Leave undisturbed for the best flowering. In areas of heavy frost, however, you might lift dahlia tubers after the first frost blackened the foliage: they should be stored, in sawdust, out of sun and away from damp and rodents.
When dividing tubers, make sure you leave at least one ‘eye’ present to ensure new growth. You can propagate also by taking cuttings of new sections that shoot from the tuber: these should flower that same season.
So, when many of the stars of the summer garden have retreated with heat exhaustion you may be grateful for the dahlias, which, dressed in garish costumes, will bring their bling to your garden, laughing loudly at those who obey the rules. This picture is of the Lodhi Gardens in New Dehli.
TO DO IN THE GARDEN
Now that autumn is here it’s time to tidy the garden. This means pruning, which is easy - if you follow a few simple rules.
Hedges, borders and edges of flowering species such as murraya and gardenia, with their glorious scent over Christmas, should be pruned now. Prune earlier, in spring, and you would remove the all-important buds that are forming. Hedges should be pruned from the time of planting to prevent them growing too quickly and becoming sparse and ‘leggy.’ Resist the temptation to allow them to grow to the desired height before starting to prune.
Wisteria, which flowers on ‘old wood’, needs to be hard-pruned once flowering is over: tidy it in winter and you’ll remove those essential buds. Many trees, including magnolias and jacarandas, should be pruned as little as possible as, if pruned incorrectly, they will send shoots skyward in a most unattractive way. If you must prune, ensure that you cut flush with the fork of the tree.
Pruning has its place, of course: it promotes flower and fruit production, creates a desired shape, and can facilitate maintenance. First, consider how each species grows naturally. Does it flower, and therefore fruit, on this season’s, or last season’s, growth, or ‘wood’? As I’ve said, you don’t want to prune when and where the flower buds are forming.
Shrubs such as may (Spiraea spp.) buddleia and philadelphus, which send out long canes from the ground, should be cut back a few canes at a time (after flowering), at the base of the plant, to maintain that romantic, arching shape.
For gardeners who love wielding the secateurs and don’t need a maintenance-free garden, there are many forms of decorative pruning that are beautiful and useful in a small garden or courtyard, or to divide a large vegetable garden into manageable segments. Most are varieties of espalier, which is the art of pruning a plant to lie flat against an upright support.
Espalier turns the plainest surface into a work of art. Many species – from tall-growing trees such as magnolias, to fruit trees and vines – can be successfully trained against a flat surface, as you can see here in this picture taken at a chateau in the Loire Valley. Pruning of an espalier usually takes place in summer to keep rampant growth in check, and also in winter to create a frame.
When using pruning equipment, including secateurs, ensure the holding arm is gripping the section of the plant that will be discarded: hold the pruners so the cutting blade is on the section of the plant that will remain on the bush. This ensures you don’t bruise the remaining wood, inviting disease. Dip pruning equipment into a disinfectant bath between plants so that any infection won’t be spread. And if you would like to receive a small booklet on pruning and the art of espalier (sent to me by a reader, John W Taylor), email me on email@example.com
IT’S TIME TO ORDER SPRING BULBS
It is perhaps difficult to believe that when the autumn colours are only just appearing on our deciduous trees and climbers, we are being asked to think about the spring garden. If you want to enjoy the anticipation and excitement of spring colour and fragrance, however, you need to start planning. The bulb catalogues have started to drop through letterboxes around the country.
Bulbs are most effective when planted in multiples, either in borders, or in expansive drifts under trees, as the Irish writer William Robinson (1838-1935), dictated in ‘Home Landscapes’. While you may not possess the 500 hectares on which Robinson gardened, at Gravetye Manor in the south of England, there is a bulb for each of us, whether you live in a city on the coastal fringe, or on country acres in a cold climate. Even in a small garden mass plantings remain the most pleasing.
There are bulb growers in each state, many in the cold, mountain areas of Victoria and Tasmania. Some grow rare species, releasing only limited stock, sure to tempt the treasure hunter in each of us. Others sell easy to grow bulbs in multiples and mixes.
Bulbs are so clever: a perfect package, the flower bud encased in protective, fleshy scales, just waiting for the correct temperature to emerge.
Daffodils (Narcissus spp.), perhaps the most widely grown, are coded by an international convention, from Trumpet Daffodils, to Double Daffodils, Swan Neck Daffodils, multi-headed and Split Corona daffodils, where the cup, or corona, is divided and curls back against the petals. They are all fascinating, and most are fragrant, but the most important consideration for those who don’t live with cold winters is when each variety blooms, helpfully noted for us by the growers.
In coastal Sydney and further north choose early-flowering varieties; the cooler north shore of Sydney will accommodate mid-flowering varieties, while the late-flowering varieties are for cooler areas where spring arrives later. The miniature daffodil, ‘Tete a Tete’ which flowers toward the end of winter, does well in Sydney, as does the vampish ‘Jetfire’ with her swept back petals and orange cup.
Jonquils are well suited to humid climates. Try ‘Paper White’, among the first to bloom in June, ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ which blooms butter-yellow with an orange cup, in July, and the cream ‘Erlicheer.’
And for an annual indulgence it’s not too extravagant to buy a few tulips – such a ‘Roccoco’, pictured here. You may not want to achieve the sweeps of late winter colour you’ll see in grand gardens like Amsterdam’s Keukenhoff (also pictured) but a few in your vegetable garden will appease the artist in you.
After your bulbs have flowered, don’t be tempted to ‘tidy up’ by cutting off the foliage. Leave it to die right down, as this forms the food for the flowers in the next season.
Refrigerate hyacinths and tulips for 6 to 8 weeks prior to planting to convert the starch to sugar, and to emulate the cold climate they enjoy. If you lift tulips, store in paper bags until the following January, before chilling. In warm areas, plant bulbs deep and keep well mulched.
A few bulb suppliers include:
Diggers: 03 5984 7900
Van Diemen Bulbs: 03 6442 2012
Blue Dandenongs: 03 9756 6766
Hancocks Bulbs: 03 9754 3328
Tesselaars: 1300 428 527
I was so very sad to hear of the death of the great plant hunter and rare bulb breeder, Marcus Harvey, of Hill View Rare Plants. Marcus was so generous in sharing his knowledge, and his treasures with his legion of devoted fans and customers. My thoughts and prayers also go out to his family and to his partner, the talented botanical artist, Susan Jarick.
GARDENING IN SMALL SPACES
Bulbs are also a perfect solution for those who garden in small spaces. They are content in pots, so those who enjoy apartment living don’t need to live without colour and fragrance, and the excitement of watching the seasons change. The good news is that greed is definitely good when it comes to container gardening. Forget restraint: more is more.
Among the many plants that perform well in pots, orchids and buxus are perhaps the easiest. There are plenty of other species from which to choose, however. Both wisterias and frangipanis are suited to pots. As frangipani is so easy to propagate, you can cram three or four different cuttings into a large pot, giving you a wonderful rainbow of colour within a few years. Wisterias, also, love life in a pot, as long as it is strong enough: choose ceramic, rather than terracotta. Plant several varieties for scent and colour over several weeks.
Always buy a potting mix that carries the Australian Standards symbol, and when handling, wear gloves and a face mask. Keep your face away from the bag when it is being opened, as you don’t want to breathe in that dangerous dust
THE EDIBLE GARDEN
While cooler mornings and evenings remind us that winter will soon arrive, autumn is also nature’s most generous season. Trees are laden with fruit and nuts; the vegetable garden is still bursting with produce. Figs, apples, pears and quince are ready for harvest. It’s a busy time in the kitchen, as autumn’s bounty needs to be conserved and preserved for use in the months ahead. The house is filled with the warm scents of cooking. Go to my Country Gardens: Country Hospitality for quince paste, warm plum or fig cakes, and plenty more great recipes.
It’s time to remove spent summer crops and enrich the soil with aged manures in readiness for winter vegetable planting. In all climates you can plant the winter-bearing brassicas, including the must-have Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. Leeks, which grow for several months before harvesting, can be planted now. Prepare your trellises and tripods, ready for the planting, into moist soil, of snow peas, beans and broad beans.
Beetroot can be planted every month: they take many weeks to be ready for harvest. You can plant lettuce monthly, particularly the ‘cut and come again’ varieties, which are available in decorative colours.
The herb garden is still resplendent. Coriander, which can bolt to seed in summer, can be planted now, along with fennel and dill. You might still be harvesting the last determined tomato: those that refuse to ripen will make a delicious green tomato and chili jam. Conveniently, your chillies will also be ready for harvest.
Those in cold climates will know when their pumpkins are ready to harvest: the frost will kill the stems and leaves. For the rest of us, the pumpkin will sound hollow when tapped. There is a great recipe for a pumpkin soup, in the whole pumpkin, in Seasons in My House and Garden.
If you have not already done so, thin out clusters of apples to leave just one to grow to its full size. For those who garden in warm climates several varieties are 'low chill' – which means they don't need as many cold nights to fruit well - among them ‘Ballerina’, ‘Early McIntosh’, ‘Rome Beauty’ and ‘Vista Bella’.
Easter is the time to buy quince, when they are heartbreakingly cheap. Carry home as many as you can; pot roast them or turn them into jam or paste. You can simply chop them up roughly and pack them, skin, pips and all, into a heavy pot. Squeeze over about 6 lemons; add a litre of hot water in which an unseemly amount of sugar has been dissolved and leave in the slowest of ovens for 15 to 20 hours.( I use about 4 cups of sugar to 8-10 quince.) Eat them hot with ice cream, mash them into a paste, top them with a cake batter, and bake. Or lay them, with chopped and sautéed onions, beneath roasting lamb or kangaroo back-straps or pork loin: yum. And baked quince keep, frozen, for months.
Closely related to apples and pears, and also a member of the Rosaceae family, the quince - the lone species Cydonia oblonga - has been grown in Iraq and Turkey for thousands of years. They fruit after about five years: after the flowers appear in late spring, green fruits develop under the large leaves and the ripening fruit becomes so large that the branches bend under their weight. When the fruit, which is covered in a soft protective down, is ready to harvest it resembles glowing, yellow lanterns. In a year when a late frost has not hit the blossom one tree can yield up to fifty kilos of fruit. Often knobbly and gnarled, and scarred by birds, the fruit can, at best, be described as handsome, but a bowl of fresh quince will fill your house with the scent of apples, lemons and pears, all mixed into one soothing aroma.
The flowers are self-fertile, so you can achieve fruit from just one tree. Watch out for pear and cherry slug, which is the bane of apple, pear and quince growers in some climates. These nasty, slim, black, slimy slugs – the precursor to the sawfly - can defoliate the tree in summer and autumn and will eventually kill the tree. Spray with Bordeaux mix at blossom bud burst and again at leaf fall.
PESTS AND DISEASES
The hard work of summer – weeding, watering and mulching - may be over, but that doesn’t mean garden pests and diseases are hibernating. The sudden appearance of brown patches in lawns can indicate the presence of lawn army worm. Yates offers a slow-release fertiliser, Lawn Master, to apply now, before winter arrives.
Watch for white rose scale on stems: scrub off with a toothbrush and then spray with PestOil or Eco-Oil. Watch for black aphids on chives, and for the cabbage white moth on your brassicas.
Be alert for tell-tale silvery trails on citrus foliage, a sign of citrus leaf miner. This pest eats into new growth, leaving a silver trail and causing leaves to twist. Spray with PestOil, which adds a film to the leaf, smothering the grubs and preventing the adult citrus leaf minor from laying eggs. Or hang up little vials of camphor, like those I saw at Redlands, an historic property in Tasmania.
In cool climates, spray fruit and nut trees at leaf fall with commercial copper product to protect against pear and cherry slug and peach leaf curl. Keep fruit fly traps hanging on trees and replenished until all autumn fruit has been harvested. And once you’ve harvested your fruit, replenish the soil by adding a handful of pelletised manure around the base of each tree.
THE ESSENTIAL MULCH
It’s been a scorching summer in many part of Australia: it is essential, therefore, to mulch your garden beds and pot plants. Mulching and fertilising is important for healthy, disease-resistant plants. Slow release fertiliser is the most convenient way to add nutrients, or, try the liquid plant foods, including Seasol and Baa Baa Brew.
Created by Eleanor Cook, Baa Baa Brew, made from aged sheep manure, contains many elements to nurture your garden. Cock-a-BREW-dle-doo - yes, you guessed it - is made from aged chook manure. Both are contained in small cloth bags that you soak in a bucket or large watering can of water for 24 hours. The bags can be used twice.Go to www.baabaabrew.com.au or phone 63673025.
My favourite place to shop is at a Farmers’ Market. After winning an international Fellowship in 1998 to tour farmers markets in the United States Jane Adams brought the concept to Australia. To qualify to be part of the Australian Farmers’ Markets Association and for locations go to www.farmersmarkets.org.au Email is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone is 02 9360 9380. Jane has also developed a one-day workshop to help communities or individuals set up markets.
There are over 160 regular markets throughout Australia: those at Carriageworks in Sydney, at Orange (orangefarmersmarket.org.au) and several in Tasmania are among the best.
Robyn Mayo’s exhibition, VAST, of her exquisite watercolours of our indigenous species and landscapes opens at The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, 9 April – 28 May. It will travel to the Ballarat Art Gallery, Victoria, 16 June – 13 August and the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery, NSW, 8 September - 7 October 2017.
Now living in Tasmania’s beautiful Meander Valley, Robyn spent her childhood on the NSW Southern Tablelands, where her love of landscape, combined with a sharp eye for botanical detail, set the scene for her unique Australian paintings. They include the Fink River Mallee (Eucalyptus sessilis) and the Desert Oak (Allocasurina decaisneana), pictured below.
The exhibition contains Robyn’s watercolours, drawings and prints, created on travels through Arnhem Land and the Gulf Country, the Central Deserts, Lake Eyre and the Flinders Ranges between 1996 and 2013, and about which she writes in her diaries.
GARDEN TRAVEL AND TOURISM
The autumn colours will be at their best in Orange for F.O.O.D Week, (Food of Orange District), Australia’s longest running regional, and one of our top ten, food festivals. The Festival runs from March 31st to 9th April: go to orangefoodweek.com.au for details. In Cook Park, open daily, from 7.30am to dusk, the begonias will be at their best. Free call: 1800 069 466
(And you might diarise the November Millthorpe Garden Ramble to celebrate the 150th anniversary of this Central West town.)
Here are a few sites for open gardens in autumn:
Mt Wilson (New South Wales) www.mtwilson.com.au
Southern Highlands Tourist Bureau: www.southern-highlands.com.au 02 4871 2888.
In Victoria, contact the Bright Visitors’ Centre on www.brightescapes.com.au
At Mount Macedon, many gardens are open over several weekends. Go to the Information Centre on www.visitmacedonranges.com.au or phone 1800 244711.
And why not travel with me to Bhutan this October? It’s a stunning country, to which many of the botanical species we take for granted are indigenous. We will trek to sacred Tiger's Nest, which clings to the cliffside at around 4,000 metres (I did it last in 2013, four months after my left lung was resected!). We walk through pristine valleys, visit a village where the protection of a bird is so important that electric power is shunned and descend Dochula Pass. Because of the restricted availability of visas and Druk airline seats, places on this tour are limited. The tour will leave Bangkok at dawn on October 17 to fly past the snow- covered Himalayan peaks, and return to Bangkok on October 26. For further information email me on email@example.com And for the tour price and reservations contact Noel Bradey at Spencer Travel, on 02 92815477 or firstname.lastname@example.org
My March/April 2018 tour to Japan also promises to be very special. Garden making is deeply embedded in Japanese culture, as is the appreciation of all things of beauty. Japanese gardens are idealised representations of a wider landscape: they fall into several categories, although different styles might be embodied in a single garden. Stroll gardens - restrained, quiet and tasteful - were often created by the ruling elite as personal pleasure grounds, while tea gardens were incorporated into the grounds of temples, and embodied ideals of discipline. Temple gardens were intended to be more striking, many built by shoguns as a sign of power. Email me for details of some of the secret places we will visit. Again, for the tour price and reservations contact Noel Bradey at Spencer Travel, on 02 92815477 or email@example.com.
And each guest on my tours is provided with a detailed and illustrated booklet of the places we visit, and the plants we see.
You can visit my 11 published books on my website at www.hollyforsyth.com.au. Go to my on-line shop to purchase any (except The Constant Gardener, which, sadly,is out of print.). And, after the publication of 11 books of non-fiction, I have just completed my first Novel: it has the working title Through a Glass Darkly and is about a subject very close to my heart, the empowerment, and disempowerment, of women. I have finished my Memoir (It’s not all wine and roses: a journey to survival) - it is now five years since my diagnosis. My oncologist has just told me that the surgeons had given me a one percent chance of survival when they had met me in 2012. I’m so glad they kept that to themselves! And I have four non-fiction books underway.
I am now part of the author's site, wutheringink.com ….so. Stay tuned!
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