Wisdom from a plant whisperer

As a proud garden-variety (but trained!) horticulturist, who has tended gardens on Sydney’s leafy North Shore for almost thirty years, I have learnt a few things about my craft. Some of it has come to me by application on site, other gems have come from friends (often fellow horticulturists), and some were either learnt while I studied horticulture in the early 1990s or ongoing inservice, or have been gleaned from Google; or the many fine garden books I still possess. Continue reading

Review: Robert Fortune – A Plant Hunter in the Orient

China’s burgeoning economic and political might in this century are quite a turn-around (one might say a return to form) from its cowed condition under the ‘Opium Wars’ (and Taiping Revolution – civil war) of the mid-late 19th century. Gun-ship ‘diplomacy’ was used to force foreign trade access to this vast country’s ports, to export the west’s craze product: fine tea. Continue reading

Bay tree – a winter essential

Each year one of our neighbours, James, arrives on our doorstep with a big leafy branch. Not an olive branch – we are all on good terms so need peace offerings need! No, James is bringing prunings from his bay tree, which he cuts back each year to keep it under control. I lug the branch inside, strip the leaves and dry them to use in the kitchen. Every time I use a handful I am grateful for his generosity. Continue reading

How leaf and stem cuticles work

Sometimes life is so busy that it is hard to see, well, ‘the wood for the trees’. A good case in point is that microscopic waxy outer layer of the herbaceous parts of plants called the cuticle – so easily missed and, for so long, suffering all the assumptions that have been made about it. Continue reading

Grow native bush tucker in your backyard

‘Bushfood’ refers to native Australian flora and fauna, traditionally used in Aboriginal food and medicine. Long before early settlers arrived, bringing with them a slew of new plants and animals, Aboriginal Australians would hunt, forage and farm a variety of species that had already existed here for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Continue reading

Commonly grown garden plants to HATE

In any country you will find natural vegetation invaded by weeds, from rampaging vines to promiscuous and prolifically self-seeding annuals, and even trees that envelop all below them. But as a recent arrival in a new/old garden, I am astonished at how many plants are still grown and sold as acceptable ornamental garden plants that are a nightmare for anyone living over the other side of the fence. Continue reading

Terrariums – how to have a garden when you can’t have a garden

I love terrariums. In creating these tiny worlds, the possibilities are endless. Well, except for the possibility of creating a giant world. That’s part of the allure of these little beauties, I think — the ability to maintain a ‘whole’ garden at a darling scale. If managing a house full of indoor plants still proves too much, there’s always the magic and charm of the terrarium garden. Continue reading

How to build a backyard hothouse

Necessity is the mother of invention, so it’s said, and the necessity for a hothouse when you’re a mad-keen gardener is fundamental. The flexibility they give you with sprouting your own seedlings, extending your growing seasons, striking cuttings and protecting frost tender plants is invaluable. For years I’d made do with plastic document storage boxes, the kind you can pick up for a few dollars at your local el-cheapo store. Continue reading