Helen McKerral

About Helen McKerral

Horticultural journalist, photographer, contributor to many garden magazines, and author of 'Gardening on a Shoestring'. Adelaide Hills, South Australia

Lessons from Italy’s summer windowboxes

Here in South Australia with its baking summers, container gardening can be challenging. Pots usually require daily watering, especially in exposed positions such as northern windowsills or balconies. Often, they look a bit exhausted, as if they are only just hanging in there… but not so the amazing window boxes and container gardens I saw in Northern Italy’s Dolomites (see my Wildflowers of the Dolomites Part 1 and Part 2) last year. They all looked well-fed, well-watered and bursting with vitality. Continue reading

How to grow plants in large pots long term

You don’t need to own an acreage to grow large shrubs and fruit trees –a balcony, veranda, patio or along a driveway are all good places for growing plants in pots. Perhaps you have large trees in the garden, and root competition precludes growing in the ground. Perhaps you want to green a paved area, or perhaps – as in my old garden – the only sunny places are alongside the northern wall of the house on the concrete, and everywhere else is just too shady. Continue reading

Spreading seeds

Seeds are expensive to buy, and some vegetable and flower varieties contain only twenty or fewer seeds per pack. You sow them and, even if most germinate, by the time the snails, caterpillars, rats, mice, possums and birds have taken a nibble, there might not be much left for you! Yes, there’s a reason nature produce seeds numbered in the hundreds or even thousands per plant! Continue reading

Growing eggplant in cooler climates

While in Italy last year, I loved the amazing range of tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants for sale in markets. Every variety was delicious – the tomatoes so ripe and juicy they’d only last a day after purchase, but it didn’t matter because they were infinitely tastier than the watery, bland ones in Australian shops. Zucchinis half the size of ours, twice as sweet and ranging in colour from almost black, to yellow, pale green, speckled and almost white… yum! Continue reading

How to preserve your summer berry harvest

Fresh berries from the garden are one of my favourite harvests, and they garnished our Christmas ice-cream pudding (same yummy flavour as plum pudding but even nicer in our climate). In the last two years my fifteen-year-old, borer-infested red, white and blackcurrant bushes were replaced with fresh cuttings, so only a little fruit from them this season, but there have been plenty of tayberries, boysenberries, and even blackberries from a boundary thicket. I confess that my first harvests of raspberries never made it inside the house! Continue reading

Beautiful vegie gardens

We all have our pet hates, and recently Catherine Stewart wrote eloquently about the current craze for edible gardens. I laughed out loud at it, and at some of the replies. A $25 cucumber? Meh –a bargain! I daren’t do sums on my efforts! The irrigation system alone accounts for at least two year’s supply of vegies (think not spuds, but black truffles!) even before adding fertiliser and water! Continue reading

Attract bees and good insects to a garden

Last month I met a neighbour who wanted to start beekeeping. I’d love to have a hive or two in my garden but wasn’t sure where to site them, as I work the entire property. But the very next week in perfect serendipity, a swarm arrived, just one metre from the ground and one metre north of my espalier boundary fence! Hooray! With a little friendly negotiation and neighbourly cooperation, some residents down the street became involved, and a day or two later the bees were happily ensconced in a hive less than a metre from my fence! Continue reading

How to install inline drip irrigation – tips and tricks

The early plantings in my new productive garden comprised mainly trees (citrus, macadamias, pome), shrubs (currants, blueberries) and larger shrub-like vegies such as tomatoes, capsicums and bushy herbs like parsley and basil. For these plants, off-line adjustable flow drippers have been ideal, allowing maximum versatility so that I can shut down individual drippers as annual plants finish, and turn them on again when I replant. For larger shrubs and trees, I use two or three drippers, and these drippers are also excellent for my large container-grown camellias, citrus, mulberry and maples. Continue reading

Wildflowers of the Dolomites Part 2

Like any good narrative, the best walks also have a certain rhythm and structure. There’s a gradual introduction, rising to a climax, followed by a resolution. This is obvious when hiking in mountains or high country, where you ascend to a breathtaking lookout at the summit, before descending back to more gentle landscapes. For this reason, hiking purists may shun chairlifts or roads but, for me and Geoff, Continue reading

Wildflowers of the Dolomites

Geoff and I recently returned from a month in Italy, including two weeks hiking in the Dolomites, the uniquely spectacular mountains along the Austrian border. It was our first time in the Northern Hemisphere and we were both captivated by Italy’s people, food, history and, especially, natural landscapes (albeit re ‘landscape’, our knees were not quite as captivated as our minds!). Continue reading