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: roses, 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....
And my last non-fiction book, Country Gardens: Country Hospitality, is now in its second printing, and is again available.
I was in India a few months ago, 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 – as you see in this picture.
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, 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 Canna 'Tropicana' 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. Many gardeners are suspicious of this genus, not only because of it brash colours, but also for its inclination to thug-like behaviour. But bougainvilleas seem so full of the joy of living that it is impossible not to admire their flamboyance. They might remind you of that person who so overwhelms you with her enthusiasm for life that, while her exuberance can irritate, it is impossible not to love her.
As bougainvilleas don't use suckers to attach themselves to walls they are not likely to damage pointwork. Be brave.
The FRANGIPANI is exhilarating when in bloom - but it can also be dangerous. As a member of the poisonous Apocanaceae, or dogbane family, along with the oleander, allamanda and periwinkle, this genus exudes a milky sap from leaves and flowers that can damage eyes and cause skin irritations.
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 cemeteries, as you see at Bomana war cemetery just outside Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. (pictured here).
Named for the 17th century French botanist and explorer, Charles Plumier (1646 – 1704), (Plumeria spp.), the tough but beautiful frangipani is a genus of just eight species, mostly deciduous and native to Central America, and the West Indies.
Trees can reach up to 14 metres in height; the fragrant salver-form flowers, from 50mm to 130mm in diameter, appear in early summer at the end of bizarre, tortured, rubbery branches, and before the leathery, deeply veined, mid-green leaves appear.
Frangipanis come in thousands of varieties, most bred from Plumeria rubra. The easiest to grow, and probably most common in Australia, is the yellow and white P. rubra var. acutifolia.
Plumeria alba, native to the West Indies, is the largest species, with a canopy as wide as the tree is tall and leaves that reach no more than half a metre in length. Plumeria obtusa, from Cuba and Jamaica, reaches some eight metres, is evergreen, and bears very white, recurved flowers, often with pale yellow centres.
The pink to carmine-flowering P. rosea has gorgeous orange to yellow centres that evoke dreams of tropical sunsets. Plumeria rubra f. rubra bears crimson flowers on a broad canopy fruit salad colours.
One of many attractions of the frangipani is that is so easy to propagate. Beg cuttings from established trees in your neighbourhood: the older trees seem to flower with a richer colour. You can plant several different varieties into a large pot for a joyous rainbow of scented colour, come summer.
Frangipanis also 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 will thrive outdoors 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. Fertilize with a high potassium product.
Frangipani make wonderful features for courtyard gardens, creating shade in summer, but allowing in the light and warmth when bare in winter.
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 Teas 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 include 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. An early single-flowered Hybrid Tea, 'White Wings' with its dark green foliage and chocolate-coloured anthers, remains as popular today as when it was introduced, in the USA, in 1947.
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 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.
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 will 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.
Apart from the plants I mentioned in my Spring Newsletter, and the frangipani, some people have an anaphylactic reaction to certain 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 is the beautiful monkshood (Aconitum spp.), a member of the large Ranunculaceae family. The blue-flowering Aconitumnapellus 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 (Atropabelladonna), 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.
TO DO IN THE GARDEN
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. I 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.
Among the many species of grasses, the warm weather buffalo (Stenotaphrum secundatum), a running perennial grass, is a good choice for a coastal garden. Hard working and hard wearing, buffalo will cope with some shade but by this time of the year is crying out for some tender loving care. Pierce the lawn with a fork, taking care not to pierce plastic irrigation pipes that may be just beneath the surface.
You can walk over the lawn with shoe spikes, or, if you have a large expanse to cover, hire an aerating machine from a large hardware store. Then, replant any bare patches with any spare runners that have appeared: broadcast a slow release, organic fertiliser onto a damp lawn, and water in well.
If your lawn has become uneven you can apply a thin layer of top dressing soil, or sand, in early spring when new growth starts, or in early summer. Ensure that the surface is level and that the tips of the grass are visible. When mowing, ensure that you don't cut the lawn too low: this would expose soil and encourage weeds. But do mow before any weeds have had a chance to turn to seed: you can then add lawn clippings to the garden as a mulch, or, along with some nitrogen, to the compost bin.
THE EDIBLE GARDEN
Just about the only way to be sure you are eating organic 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 dug 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.
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.
PESTS AND DISEASES
At Redlands, a large garden in central Tasmania, I saw clever plastic holders for 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.
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 Natrasoap.
Commence spraying against the bronze orange bug. Use organic methods such as hot water. Hang fruit fly traps.
A SUMMER RECIPE
This very moist and absolutely delicious cake is a variation of a 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 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 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.
Topping Mix together half cup pure icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 400gms cream cheese (or a mixture of cream cheese and ricotta), 50gms unsalted butter Decorate with shredded coconut Spread over cooled cake. (this cake, un-iced, freezes well.)
Serve with whipped cream
My travel this season will be to promote my new book. I am delighted to report that, after eleven published non-fiction books, my first work of fiction is now available. Titled 'The Reluctant Spy,' it does contain plenty of discussion about gardens.
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 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 buy on-line HERE on my website and it's available in 'all good bookshops'.