Julie ThomsonMore power to real apples

Couldn’t help feeling sorry for the speaker at our last garden club meeting. He was operating 21st century technology, trying to convey his message about organics, composting, fruit and vegetable growing and all manner of soil and horticultural wisdom with a mouse and a laptop.
But he was standing in front of people with timeless curiosity who didn’t give a tweet for it.

True, he travelled light, and his website and pictures were stylish – but they were at the mercy of the meeting venue’s problematic wireless connection, which kept dropping out, leaving his screen blank and the audience of keen gardeners ditto. They were firstly a bit nonplussed and eventually bored and disengaged. The speaker had no living specimens with him to fall back on, to wow the watching members with a dazzling leaf, stunning colour, or a bloom to sniff, or plump produce to admire, so he broke the oldest rule in the teaching book; show don’t tell. Instead he told and didn’t show – and most in the room dozed off. A pity really, as he knew his stuff, but relied too heavily on the prop of the power point.  And when it failed to fire, he went off the boil.

Gardening talk needs less of this Apple

Gardening talk needs less of this Apple

... and more of this type

… and more of this type

He would have been better off closing down his Apple Mac and putting out a bowl of real apples to describe his garden, what it grows and the organic benefits. More the pity for the old-fashioned eyes and ears in attendance.

That’s the thing about gardening. It’s visceral. We want and need to touch, feel and smell it. And you can tell me til you’re blue in the face about a gorgeous lily, rose or shrub foliage, but to really know it, I need to see it in the flesh, maybe compare it to similar relatives and observe how the folds are arranged, how light falls on it, whether it’s glossy, velvet, textured,  ribbed, solid or feathery, what its perfume is, how the buds form … and a host of other attributes to file away. Like all greedy gardeners, I am always on the lookout for yet another plant for the plot and everything that takes my eye is a contender.

The most popular speakers at our garden club are those who bring a selection of their plants for display and the materials they feed them to make them thrive. It is harder and longer work than packing a USB stick, but the listeners are real, not virtual gardeners. They can look up a book or a website any day for information. It’s inspiration they are after.

So,  what is inspiring me this lovely autumn? Lots really and I don’t have to go far from my front door.

Yellow button chrysanthemums happy in hanging basket

Yellow button chrysanthemums happy in hanging basket

The chrysanthemums have been abundant and particularly sweet is the little yellow variety hanging from a basket. The bigger white ones I grow are dazzling, but I like these little buttons and the way they drape and swing in the breeze.

I have just acquired a stem of a small bright green chrysanthemum, taken from a bouquet that a friend received for Mother’s Day and hope I can strike several plants from it in due course. Its cheery lime colour is an unusual and stunning shade for a flower.

Stay tuned and cross your fingers, please,  for its progress.

Celosia spicata or cockscomb plant

Celosia spicata or cockscomb plant


The  cherry red celosia or cockscomb bloom is an interesting addition to my pot family. Also known as wool flowers (they really do look like fur) they can bloom up to 10 weeks and are great for full sun mass planting in beds or in pots.

There are stacks of colours to pick. Mine is the Celosia spicata Intenze.

It’s been easy to grow, liking good feed and watering and high light.


Sunnyside Up Begonia heimalis

Sunnyside Up Begonia heimalis

One of the newer begonia varieties, sunny side up, so named because it’s like a fried egg, is proving a long lasting bloomer with its double and semi double white flowers around yellow centres. It won the Glass Tulip award last year for the most promising new variety.

It’s a hiemalis begonia, a hybrid, a cross between a tuber and a wax begonia and the flower stalks grow to about 30-45cm, indoors or out. I have mine in the semi shade under a poinciana and where I can see it at a glance out my front windows and it seems to like showing off there.


Zygo Lady Lavender

Zygo Lady Lavender

Close by the Lady Lavender Schlumbergera spineless zygo cactus has delivered its seasonal show of unusual and vivid pink flowers at the tips of its flattened stems. Also called the Thanksgiving cactus (coinciding with November in the USA when it’s their autumn flowering season). It’s looking healthier and thicker this year because I pinched off bits to encourage branching and fed it well in summer as it lounged in the shade.

Wellness food Ceylon spinach

Wellness food Ceylon spinach

Down in the vegie patch, the peas are reaching up towards the support wire, the rocket is powering on, the cauliflower plants are thickening and growing taller, four shades of lettuce and kale and mustard greens are filling out the raised tank beds and the “super food” ceylon spinach is abundant in its pot.

I pick leaves from this for nearly everything I eat, from salads to stir fries and stuffing canneloni, and the more I take, the more it produces.

Rich, green and glossy, it’s eye catching and a “wellness” source.

Generous friend Jenny delivering mushroom compost

Generous friend Jenny delivering mushroom compost


Everything is thriving due to my kind friend and neighbour namesake, Jenny Thomson, who trucked me bags of mushroom compost from an organic mushroom grower this month. It’s beautiful rich organic matter which is the spent waste generated by the mushroom growing and consists of wheat  straw, dried blood, horse manure and chalk. It’s a great source of humus.

I have dug some in and the rest scattered on top of beds for mulch. For soils that are slightly acidic like mine, it’s a great boost. The plants seem grateful and as some of it was not truly spent, there are some creamy round surprises popping up about the place.

And there’s no denying Jenny is a show don’t tell gardener. That’s her in the picture dropping it off (note always wear a mask when handling compost to protect from inhaling spores).

And to finish, here’s a mystery. I have a lily-type of plant in a pot with a highly developed sense of theatre. In a former life, it was probably a stripper, it has such a teasing way of revealing itself. This spike has emerged from the base over the past several weeks and the bud’s unfurling is agonisingly slow. I don’t recall it ever flowering before.

mystery-budI am loving the suspense, but I would like to give it a name.
Can you help?

And in the meanwhile, enjoy your garden time.

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Julie Thomson

About Julie Thomson

Journalist, writer, editor, television and book publicist, formerly with ABC Gardening Australia, passionate gardener, soil improver, digger, mulcher, living in acreage splendour near Sunshine Coast, Queensland. Subscribes to the Cicero edict: "I have a garden and a library, so have everything I need." Read my full blog at Julie's Garden Grapevine

5 thoughts on “More power to real apples

  1. Hi Julie
    I am going to remember your advice, I am going to give two powerpoint presentations one on Charles Bogue Luffman who designed Burnley Gardens and one on Footscray Park. I am going to make up small displays to help engage people and if technology fails I can use them. Thanks

  2. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for a thought provoking article re the power point presentation. I often take plants along to talks I give whenever it is practical. Unfortunately it is not always practical if you are flying to places…. Your mystery plant looks like it might be a tuberose to me.

    • Thanks Angus. Yes, carrying flora to far flung speaking engagements a challenge … but perhaps there’s access at the destination?

      You are the fourth person to suggest the plant is tuberose …. so thank you , that may well be the one. I will photograph it again tomorrow. I am STILL waiting for it to unfurl. How long can it be???

  3. Hello Julie,
    Good luck with your Chrysanthemum stem plucked from a friend’s bouquet, if it is an imported stem it is highly likely that it has been dipped in Glyphosate to de-vitalise it, to prevent it from being propagated, for good reason, it may carry disease, if it is from a locally grown nursery it should be very easy to strike. Yes, Chrysanthemums are one of the many flowers now imported from China and elsewhere, if the flowers were spidery white with green tips they were possibly dyed…!..Yes we have many growers who are competent and able to grow wonderful fresh flowers but like many other industries it is cheaper to import from Asia.
    I believe your new found garden friend is a Tuberose, Polyanthes tuberosa. It is a beautiful flowering spike with very fragrant flowers, I have no doubt you will enjoy.


    • Thanks Del. I suspect your thoughts on the green chrysanthemum are correct as there is no sign of life or leaf sprout on the stalks … did not realise they dipped stems in glysophate. Usually there would be some indication things were happening by now.

      You are one of several people who have given my mystery plant the name of tuberose. I am still waiting to see what it will look like in full glory.

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