James Beattie

About James Beattie

James is a horticulturist working in the Melbourne area. His work in the industry has included landscape planting design, hard landscaping, bushland management, garden consulting as well as extensive experience in the horticultural media. He worked for four years as one of the horticultural guns for hire behind the scenes at ABC TV's Gardening Australia program and has been a semi-regular guest on Melbourne's 3CR Gardening Show (855 AM). You can follow his whimsical garden musings at Horticologist

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

Climate change and seed collecting – is local still best?

How plants will cope in a changing climate makes for disturbing reading.  The answer, in short, is not very well at all.  While plant breeders and government scientists have been selecting plants with traits that favour a shifting climate for years (eg. new succulent hybrids and drought-resilient wheat varieties), our local, indigenous flora and revegetated areas don’t have the same luxury.  The idea that local plants suit the local environment has been central to bushland management and indigenous gardening for decades, but in the face of a changing climate, holding onto this idea could do far more harm than good to our beloved local plants. Continue reading

Stopping to smell the stink

Flower scent is an evocative modality in gardens, often just as important as colour and texture. The smell of roses gave rise to a popular saying that reminds us to look closer and appreciate the beauty around us every minute of every day. There are so many plants loved for their scent that it’s impossible to list them all in a blog. Violets are perhaps one of my all-time favourites, followed closely by asiatic lilies. I don’t care much for roses but their scent can waft far from where their roots are in the ground. Continue reading

Walking in Victoria’s High Country

Garden lovers are nature lovers and one of my favourite pastimes is packing my rucksack and saying goodbye to reality before taking off into the Australian bush on my own for a few days of walking. Midsummer is not a typically popular time for bushwalking in Australia. Summers regularly reach a windy 40 degrees celsius, and avoiding remote bushland on such days is as much about avoiding chafing thighs as it is an act of self preservation. Continue reading

The difference a year or two makes in the garden

It’s often said that when planting perennials, the first year they sleep and the second year they creep. How true this is, and a great account of the establishment of my front garden. I’ve written about it previously here on GardenDrum. After one or two false starts a couple of summers ago I decided to throw caution to the wind, renovating and planting out in early summer. After nursing the plants through their first traumatic summer, their second was thankfully mild, which has put them in good stead for this summer’s traumatic but typically Melbourne roller-coaster-like temperature fluctuations. Continue reading

Cultivating an interest

“So, what did you enjoy most?” I asked my 12-year-old nephew as I drove him to the airport for his flight home. He’d been with us for 10 days on his own (which, I guess, is a long time for a little person), and hanging out with his horticultural uncle meant pretty much everything we did had at least something to do with plants. We camped at Wilson’s Promontory for a week of hiking, looking at plants, swimming, Frisbee and general relaxation. We had a trip to Ballarat to have a look about. We planted some things in the veggie patch at home and sowed seed, all of which he did with a thinly veiled boredom typical of a child on the cusp of adolescence. Throughout the trip I wanted to try and cultivate an interest in plants in him – to plant a seed, as it were – and here is a list of stuff that worked as well as stuff that didn’t. Continue reading

How to lay a recycled concrete path

When it comes to landscaping, costs can often quickly spiral out of control. By the time hard landscape elements like paving, retaining walls and fencing are built, figures can run into the thousands well before the first plant goes in the ground. I’ve had a lacklustre front yard for almost three years now, and despite previous attempt to spruce it up a bit, one thing continued to stymie my efforts – a distinct lack of time. Continue reading

Growing seedlings in a self-watering pot

We’re on the verge of spring in here in Melbourne, and us gardeners are always looking for ways to increase our chances of success, be it in growing fussy plants, having the tallest sunflowers or the biggest tomatoes. Each of these things start with a single seed. Sowing seed and getting it to germinate are easy enough, but from there on the battle to keep them growing at full pace, with the right amounts of water, nutrients and light begins. When I first started growing from seed my early attempts were dismal and overcome only with a certain level of mollycoddling that I found trying. Continue reading

Plants for a south-facing garden

Like small, burrowing native animals, my urge to dig in the winter is one I just can’t ignore. There’s an enthusiasm I have for undertaking the more heavy garden work in the cold that just isn’t there in the summer. In the height of summer I rarely do anything other than maintain, but in the cold weather I’m very much open to suggestion. Continue reading

Making muck

I recently finished an excellent book entitled, Resurrection in a Bucket: the Rich and Fertile Story of Compost, by Margaret Simons. It’s a light-hearted journey through the biological processes and social history of compost. I highly recommend it! Its arrival on my study desk was timely because I’ve been busy building large compost piles in preparation for reclaiming large areas of driveway for growing plants. By winter’s end I should have half a dozen large piles of compost ready for building up my existing soil. Continue reading