Friday, March 31, 2006

Lenore Lindsay's Radio Talk no. 3
(reproduced with Lenore's permission)
Topic: Myths about Native Plants, favourite shrubs

Good morning listeners. Lenore Lindsay from the Society for Growing Australian Plants here again.

Don’t forget our meetings are held on the fourth Friday of every month at 7.30am in the administration block of the Frenchville State School, and our organized outings are held on the first Sunday. These can be full or half days, so listen for the community announcements or ring 49283699 or 49282862 for information.

Today I think it’s about time we debunked some of the myths that are still doing the rounds about Australian plants. If you believe or act on any of these you’ll be disappointed with your garden, and that would be a terrible shame, as native plants can be so rewarding.

Old wives’ (or old husbands’) tale number one is that Australian natives are no maintenance. Wrong! They’re plants – living organisms with needs like any other life-form. The secret to gardening successfully is careful selection of plants, so that those with similar requirements are grouped together, and you aren’t going to end up a few years down the track with inappropriate plants in unsuitable positions, such as a big gum tree close to your house.

If you aren’t prepared to put a bit of extra time into your garden, don’t choose plants that need extra care, no matter where they come from. Consider something like one of the new Lomandra cultivars such as Tanika, which only needs cutting back to near ground level every 5 years or so to maintain its lovely architectural shape. Time spent in careful selection in the beginning will save you time and money (and frustration) later on.

Fairy tale number 2 is that you shouldn’t prune natives. Rubbish! Pruning is as necessary for a good looking native garden as for any other, and virtually the same general guidelines apply. The best time to cut is after flowering, and remove up to a third of the growth. Prune to even up the plant shape, or to shape for hedges or classic topiary. Native Rosemary or Westringia has a really attractive dense growth when pruned regularly, as do some of the Lillipillies and figs, and lots of others. Pruning prevents plants becoming leggy, helps them look lush and keeps them contained so that they fit into a garden with a variety of plants that all look healthy and happy.

Fallacy number 3 is that Australian natives don’t need watering. If you want a no-water native garden, then you need to choose only indigenous plants. That is, plants that occur naturally in your area, or at least, plants from areas with similar climate. If you have a garden with a collection of plants with different water requirements, supplementary watering is essential. Remember to group like needs together, and that one deep watering is better than half a dozen superficial ones.

Myth 4 is that you shouldn’t feed Australian plants. The truth is that they don’t like chemical fertilizers that are high in phosphorous, but they do like to be fed. Spring and Autumn are best times. Use either a specially formulated Australian native plant food, or an organic based fertilizer such as blood and bone or pelletised animal manure. Follow the directions – more is not always better. Quite the opposite in fact!

And here’s a true story to restore your confidence: Australian natives, like all plants, need to be mulched. This conserves water, suppresses weeds, cools the root system, and if you use an organic mulch, it improves the soil as it breaks down. If you don’t want to keep replacing an organic mulch, are creating a particular style, or live in a bushfire area, you might prefer to use inorganic mulch such as gravel, pebbles or river stones.

So, whether you want an all-native garden or a mixed native/exotic one, forget the fairy tales from the seventies, and remember the golden rule for successful gardening – careful plant selection and pruning, and appropriate fertilizer, watering and mulching – and you’ll have a garden to be proud of.

Now, what about your plant choices. In previous segments I’ve had a quick look at ground covers, including vines and spiky or grass-leaved plants, and accent subjects for hanging baskets, so I thought maybe this week I’d finish with a bit of a discussion on a couple of my favourite shrubs.

The first is the Beach Cherry, Eugenia reinwardtiana. There are wonderful examples growing in the Kershaw Gardens. This is a lovely rounded and compact shrub with glossy green leaves, red new growth, small white flowers, and bright red shiny fruit which taste delicious. While they usually have a single seed, in some really large fruits it can be divided into 2 or more segments. These seeds are easy to germinate, though they can take a month or two to come up. You only need to see the seedlings under the shrubs at the Kershaw to realize this. While this plant is slow growing, it usually flowers within the first couple of years. It needs well drained soil, and often responds well to a dressing of lime or gypsum. It’s hardy, and will withstand salt winds, so is good for a coastal garden. In this harsher situation, the leaves may be more leathery. It can also tolerate light frosts. It is equally at home as an understory plant, but fruits best in semi-shade to full sun. It’s great next to a path or edge, or as a container plant. Definitely on the list of favourites!

Another on my personal list is the Scarlet Fuschia, Graptophyllum excelsum. Again, there’s some great examples down at the Kershaw Gardens, edging the path from the Highway carpark. This is another hardy compact shrub with shiny dark green leaves and vivid red tubular flowers. It makes a great screen or hedge, tub plant, specimen shrub or part of a mixed planting. In really hot dry conditions it will need semi-shade, but in humid coastal areas or temperate climate it can be planted in full sun. It needs good drainage, and responds well to lime. This is Rockhampton’s Native Shrub emblem, and is rare and endangered in the wild. So if you plant this, you’ll be doing your bit to help its survival. Fortunately it’s becoming established in cultivation, and is available at a number of local nurseries.

And lucky last for today is the Cat’s Whiskers, botanical name, Orthosiphon aristartus. This is a hardy and extremely versatile small shrub, suitable for all but very cold areas. It can be grown in sun or shade, but has a fairly high water requirement in full sun. Its big advantage is that it flowers in full shade. The flowers are spectacular long terminal spikes, with long stamens that give it its common name. There are 2 colour forms – white and mauve, but the mauve is less hardy and more cold sensitive. It grows quickly, and can easily become leggy, so prune heavily after flowering to keep it looking good. This means it will also need regular fertilizing. It grows quickly and easily from cuttings, and it’s a good idea to keep a few “on the go” and renew your plants every so often if they become tired or too woody. This is a shrub that can be integrated into all types of gardens, even a cottage-type flower garden, and makes a wonderful understory planting. It has the bonus of cut flowers as well.

So, that’s all for today. Happy gardening till next time.
Lenore Lindsay's Radio Talk No 2
(reproduced with Lenore's permission)
Topic: Groundcovers and hanging pots and baskets

Good morning listeners. Lenore Lindsay from the Society for Growing Australian Plants here again.

Just a reminder that our meetings are held on the fourth Friday of the month at 7.30pm in the administration block of the Frenchville State School, and besides the usual business, there is always plant related discussion, and usually a speaker or presentation of some sort.

Excursions are the first Sunday of the month. Listen for the community announcements, or ring 49283699 or 49282862 for details.

Now, let’s talk groundcovers and hanging pots and baskets, as the same sorts of plants are often suitable for both, and there are some lovely Australian natives that make excellent subjects.

Remember the plant I mentioned last month , Warrigal Greens? It’s a good groundcover, and grows in a pot, but it’s not particularly decorative as the flowers are insignificant, and you need quantity if you’re using it as a vegetable. While fresh green might be great for a useful ground cover, you probably want something a bit more eye-catching for a hanging basket.

Plants in hanging containers near walkways, on balconies and verandahs etc can be easily monitored and cared for. Because they have limited space in which to develop roots, they need more attention than plants in the ground – more frequent watering, slow release fertilizer, re-potting in a reasonably well drained potting mix, (and remember to mulch when you do), sometimes pruning and shaping. (But you will be repaid for your work by the visual results).

Rainforest natives make good specimens for shaded areas eg hanging under a tree or indoors, as they can usually be happy in a low light situation, though they will look best in a well-lit spot. Full or part sun areas need plants that like those conditions, and these are usually ones that tend to give the best floral displays. Plants indoors or on sheltered patios need to be taken outdoors and thoroughly watered once a week, including hosing off the foliage. This removes dust from leaves, which can sap their vigour, and ensures a thorough flushing to remove any buildup of excess salts. Time under the shower can be a reasonable substitute. Plants outdoors need to be watered more frequently, sometimes daily in really hot dry weather, especially if in full sun.

A spectacular flowering vine is the Red Hoya or Hoya macgillivrayii from Cape York. It is one of the most spectacular of the hoyas, with large waxy red, pink or maroon flowers with a beautiful perfume and thick fleshy leaves. It can be grown in the ground, but is best presented in a large hanging basket. When there’s a metre or so of vine, wrap it round the bottom of the basket and back up again so that the basket eventually becomes covered by a mass of vine. Although it’s tempting, try to avoid cutting the flowers, as they come from special stems that take a couple of years to grow. There’s a white hoya too that will take more sun, Hoya australis. Its flowers are smaller, but still very attractive and sweetly scented. It grows wild in central Qld, and is common in places on the coast and in the dry scrubs.

A small to medium easily managed vine that needs full sun to flower successfully is the Native Red Flowered Passionfruit, Passiflora aurantia. The unusual flowers are cream at first, changing to red after a day or so, and while the fruits are not edible, it will attract butterflies when used as a groundcover in an exposed situation, in a large hanging basket coiled around the container, or more conventionally on a trellis or climbing up the outside of a tree where birds can reach it too. It’s a food plant for the Glasswing and Cruiser butterflies. This is a good hardy plant for suburban gardens as it’s not rampant, and is ideal for beach gardens and drier inland areas too.

A small hardy ground cover for a dry shady corner is the native Rock Peperomia, Peperomia leptostachya. This is a succulent with small spikes of tiny flowers and minute fruits, grown for its foliage, similar to the exotic introduced Peperomias. It will rot if over-watered, so on a poorly drained or clayey site, it may be best grown in leaf litter or well composted mulch. It also makes an excellent pot plant. You often find it growing wild in the rocky
vine scrubs round Rockhampton.

For a floral display, I can recommend the various species and cultivars of the Scaevola or Blue Fan Flower. It gets its name from the flower’s resemblance to an open fan. The local variety is hardier, but some of the named cultivars are probably easier to obtain, and make a beautiful purple-blue display in a hanging basket. They do need a bit more TLC than the local though. Once you have a big healthy plant, you can propagate more from cuttings.

Another lovely purple flower is the False Sarsaparilla or Purple Coral Pea. The small pea shaped flowers of the twining evergreen Hardenbergia violacea make a lovely show. It needs a well-drained frost free site, in a sunny or semi-shaded position, and responds well to pruning. The most widely grown variety in Australia is Happy Wanderer, and there is a pink cultivar, Rosea, and a white one, Alba, but these are not as hardy.

A lovely groundcover is Yellow Buttons, Chrysocephalum apiculatum, a low hardy herb with grayish woolly leaves and little round bright yellow button flowers. Its had a name change recently, so might still be labelled Helichrysum apiculatum. It’s hardy, spreads quite well, and can be transplanted. For sun or part shade.

If you want a more architectural or geometric look, you might consider some of the plants with strappy or spiky grass-like leaves. These can look particularly effective with a mulch of gravel or river stones, and look good in both an informal bush garden and in a more formal situation as well.

The Lomandras or Mat Rushes make a strong, virtually indestructible statement once established, and there’s a new fine-leaved cultivar just out called Tanika, which is smaller, more compact, and just as tough.

Another favourite are the Blue Flax Lilies or Dianellas, with grey-green leaves and blue to purple flowers on spikes, followed by shiny blue edible berries containing a single seed. There are a number of varieties around. There’s even a local variant with whitish fruits. Dianella attraxis or the Rainforest Flax Lily has crowded flowers on a fairly short stem, and is best in well-watered semi-shade. Check it out at the Kershaw Gardens. While others such as caerulea or the taller revoluta are best in full sun. Cultivars such as Cassa Blue and Little Rev are small and tough, but need good drainage. Try Little Jess or Breeze for less well-drained areas. These are popular plants for median strips, factory sites, and similar areas where really hardy plants are required.

There’s even a tough, drought tolerant tufted native grass, a Poa, with blueish foliage that can stand some humidity as well, that’s been introduced into cultivation. It’s called Eskdale.

And don’t forget the possibilities presented by the annual everlasting or paper daisies sown en masse.

Till next time, happy gardening!
Lenore Lindsay Radio Talk No 1
reproduced with Lenore's permission)
Topics: Mulch, Warrigal Greens - New Zealand Spinach

Good morning listeners. I’m Lenore Lindsay from the Society for Growing Australian Plants. There are similar groups under various names all over Australia eg the Australian Plants Society in Victoria, the Australian Native Plants Society in the ACT and the Wildflower Society in Western Australia, and we are all part of the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants or ASGAP.

We are interested in all aspects of growing Australian native plants, whether in private gardens, public parks, occuring naturally in the bush, or being raised and used for revegetation or commerce.

Our local branch meets at 7.30pm on the fourth Friday of every month except December in the administration block of the Frenchville State School. At most meetings we have a guest speaker or a presentation of some sort, as well as conducting the usual business and discussing plant specimens brought by members.

On the first Sunday of each month except January we hold an outing or excursion. This can be either a full or half day, or occasionally a weekend campout. These are usually not very taxing physically, and are suitable for the whole family.

So far this year we have looked at a small but very diverse patch of remnant bush at Lammermoor Beach followed by a visit to a large garden of mixed natives and exotics at Emu Park, visits to 3 very interesting predominantly native gardens in Rockhampton, and inspected the unique flora of a serpentinite area on a property near the Fitzroy River upstream from The Gap. We usually assemble at the Northside Plaza if our destination is on the north side of the river, and O’Shanesy Park if it’s south. Visitors are welcome, and there are usually opportunities to carpool. On our bush trips we not only enjoy “God’s garden”, but are sometimes lucky enough to find a plant with potential for cultivation, and seeds to begin experimenting. If you miss the community announcements about excursions in the local media, you can ring 49283699 or 282862 for information.

Isn’t it nice to see Rocky green again? Let’s keep hoping for more rain, as it can be quite disheartening to see plants stressed and struggling, and drought turns gardening into hard work, if it doesn’t turn you off it all together. Unfortunately, in spite of popular mythology, no garden is entirely maintenance free, though you can minimize the amount required. You can sum it up with mulch, mulch, mulch and then more mulch. But…….

Don’t put green mulch such as lawn clippings or freshly chipped tree waste around plants. Let it compost and age for a couple of months first, then spread 7-10cm thick, but don’t apply too thickly around stems as excess moisture could encourage collar rot, a fungal disease that could kill your plants. Newspaper and cardboard can make a great bio-degradable weed mat under the mulch. Organic mulches need to be topped up periodically as they eventually break down to enrich the soil and feed your plants. And don’t forget to mulch your large pot plants. Sometimes mulch, like soil, can become water repellant, and then you can use a wetting agent to help it reabsorb moisture.

Remember to water deeply when you do water. Frequent shallow watering will produce shallow-rooted weak plants without any resilience. Late afternoon is probably the optimum time to water (don’t forget your mosquito repellant!). And remember to group plants with similar water requirements together, so their needs can be met.

With the current high price of leafy green veges, how about trying to grow an unusual native one in your home garden? Warrigal Greens, also known as New Zealand Spinach or Botany Bay Greens was the first domesticated indigenous vegetable to be widely grown overseas, and was a popular mainstay in 19th Century Europe because of its hardiness and high yield. It fell out of favour in Australia as European veg became more easily available, but, like pigweed, remained in use in the bush where fresh greens were a luxury.

It has a jaw-breaking scientific name – Tetragonia tetragonioides, but fortunately its common names are easy to remember. It will grow from seed or cuttings, and in good conditions will spread into a lush groundcover quite quickly. Excess makes good chookfood or compost, and as a living mulch it also helps conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

Its leaves are thick and triangular, 2-12cm long, bright green and glistening as if covered by dew or fine sugar or salt crystals, especially underneath. Small yellow flowers are followed by hard horned seed pods. Warrigal Greens grow wild in places along the banks of rivers like the Fitzroy and along the coast, and plants can often be obtained at markets or more specialized nurseries. While it may be a little hard to find right now, look again as the weather gets cooler, towards winter.

To prepare New Zealand Spinach, choose young green leaves and tips. Wash and then blanch in boiling water, discarding this water. The leaves are then ready to use in salads or any other dishes instead of spinach, and boiled or steamed make an excellent vegetable. It is important to always blanch the leaves before eating to remove any soluble oxalates and salt.

Here’s a recipe for a cheese and greens pie you might like to try when you’ve harvested your crop.

You’ll need: 500g cottage cheese
1 cup grated tasty cheese
1 onion diced
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
ground black pepper
3-4 handfuls warrigal greens blanched
10 sheets fillo pastry
2 tablespoons melted butter or oil

Squeeze leaves to remove excess water and chop finely.
Mix cheeses, onion, eggs and seasoning in a large bowl
Add greens and stir till well combined
Brush half of each pastry sheet with melted butter or oil and fold in half.
Arrange 5 folded sheets to cover the bottom of a 23x30 or 25cm square roasting pan or similar.
Spread the filling over the base then top with the remaining sheets.
Brush the top with any remaining oil and bake at 180 degrees C for 35-40 minutes, until the top is browned and the filling set.
Cut into squares and serve with cooked vegetables or a tomato salad.

Happy eating, and happy gardening till next time!