Sunday, 27 June 2010

Gardens that inspired us

When John and Ros were first planning the garden, even before the house was built, they went to a number of Open Gardens. These are the three gardens that inspired us the most.
It was the lush tropical feel we loved. Our garden is not there yet, but it's heading in that direction.
Brisbane has some wonderful gardens. 

Monday, 21 June 2010

Sunset in the garden

John loves taking photos of the sunset. He'll look at the sky and say "This is going to be a good one".

Then he disappears and returns with the camera.

Generally at that time of day all want to know is when my dinner will be served.
How can a small dog compete with such a spectacular sight.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

It's Winter in my Garden

Although our garden is sub-tropical we can get quite a few days of frost during winter. With many of the plants being tropical or even sub-tropical, winter can be a bit harsh on parts of the garden. Most plants slow down. Some go totally dormant, some sulk and look sickly and others get frost burn.

Of course the temperature range is nowhere near as extreme as in lots of places and there are many plants that don’t seem to care what season it is and keep the garden looking attractive through the winter months.

Me in my coat

With the heat gone it’s the best time to do all the maintenance and tidying.
The piece-maker gets a work-out. Everything needs a good trim and tidy.  It’s all hands on deck when there’s shredding to be done. My job is to bark ferociously at the shredder to protect Ros from the loud munching monster – just like I do with the lawn mower.
We get a lot less rain during winter so (Ros thinks) its the best time to attack the weeds. She doesn’t like using poisons so has the theory that if you can get them before they flower and set seed one day you'll win.
The vege patch really comes into it’s own in winter and so do the citrus trees. They are heavily laden with fruit at the moment. We juice and freeze some but most we'll give away.

Growing herbs in the sub-tropics

It took me a few years to learn that most of the gardening books about herb growing were written in the Southern States of Australia or England or America and did not apply to Queensland. So I learnt through trial and error.

Herbs are very easy plants to grow as long as you give them what they need. Most prefer a sunny spot. They’ll grow in pots or in the ground. I have a mixture of herbs in pots and in the garden. I even grow some in styrofoam boxes from time to time. I love the look of the terracotta pots best (especially as they age) but they need to be sealed or too much water is lost and the plants die of thirst.
By keeping most of my herbs in pots I can move them around with the seasons to give them ideal growing conditions. Some that will not survive even half a day in full sun in summer crave the sunshine in winter. Maintenance requires a well drained potting mixture, regular watering and the occasional application of liquid fertiliser such as an organic seaweed or fish emulsion. Also most herbs appreciate a regular trim to stay compact and healthy. If they need to be cut back but I don’t need any for cooking, I give the cuttings to the chooks, the worms or put them in the compost bin.
Chives amongst the lettuce
Mine is not a dedicated herb garden separate to the vegetables. They blend together into a kitchen garden. Plants should be planted where they will grow the healthiest. It probably looks a bit messy sometimes but it works.
The herbs I grow change with the seasons (and what will grow at that time of year) but has 3 distinct themes –European herbs, Asian herbs, Mediterranean herbs. This determines both the growing conditions the plant needs and, to some extent, what I use it for.
In general, if you think of where the herb originates and replicate the conditions, you can’t go far wrong.
Oregano, marjoram, dill, thyme, basil, flat leafed parsley, sage, tarragon and rosemary from the Mediterranean and so will like sunny dry conditions but need shelter from the extreme heat and heavy rain of our Queensland summer.

Vietnamese mint, coriander, Thai basil, curry plant and lemongrass like humid moist warm conditions. In our climate, a hot dry spell in summer will kill them if they are in full sun but they can be grown all year round. In winter they need full sun or they sulk.

Then there’s European herbs like chives, chamomile, fennel, sorrel that really can only be grown here in winter. They like full sun but fry on a hot day and stew on a humid day. I plant them after Easter each year.
Sweet Basil
Many of the herbs seem to last forever. Some are perennial and will grow from a cutting or division. Quite a few spread horizontally and can be divided. Most annuals self seed (if you let them). There are a number of herbs you need to watch that they don’t overtake the garden – particularly the basils and coriander (which self-seeds) and the mints (that spread horizontally) and comfrey. I take advantage of this to make new plants to replenish the garden or give away to friends.

Using the herbs we grow

So how do I decide what herbs to grow? I look at recipe books, decide what I like to eat, then I go look for seeds or seedlings.

We love Asian food. We love Mediterranean food. We love Indian food and French food. To be honest we just love food! It is a real thrill to be able to duck outside and pick the ingredients while you are cooking. The best part is that you know you are using fresh, chemical-free ingredients.

I like herb teas (some) and I like potpourri and, where possible, I like to use natural insect repellents. So we grow a wide variety of plants to cater for all of these wants.

Cooking with freshly grown herbs is a wonderful experience.

Since we acquired a mortar and pestle we use herbs even more in cooking. I’d heard TV chefs rave about the smell from freshly crushed herbs – well I can confirm the smell is amazing. My advice is to buy one - for the wonderful smell of crushed herbs even if you don’t cook. But once you start using a mortar and pestle you’ll get hooked. The flavour is enhanced as well as the aroma.

A couple of recipes using Asian herbs

Red curry with chicken, ginger and Thai basil
From the garden:
· 3 cloves garlic
· 4cm piece ginger, peeled, sliced
· 6 (about 350g) Lebanese eggplants, sliced diagonally
· 10 snake beans, cut into 4cm lengths
· 6 kaffir lime leaves, torn
· 200g grape or cherry tomatoes
· 3/4 cup Thai basil leaves,
· garlic chives
· lime wedges,
From the shop
· 250g pineapple, cut into 2cm pieces
· 3 x 270ml cans coconut cream
· 1/3 cup Thai red curry paste
· 2 tablespoons fish sauce
· 1 tablespoon soy sauce
· 2 tablespoons grated palm sugar
· 2 (600g) chicken breast fillets, thinly sliced
· Jasmine rice.
1. Using a pestle and mortar, pound garlic and ginger to a paste. Set aside.
2. Heat 250ml (1 cup) coconut cream in a large saucepan over medium high heat and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and oil starts to separate. Add curry paste and stir for 3 minutes, then add ginger paste and stir for 1 minute. Add eggplants and stir for 2 minutes. Add remaining coconut cream, snake beans, lime leaves, pineapple, sauces, sugar and 150ml water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes or until eggplants are tender. Add chicken and tomatoes, and cook for 2 to3 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Stir in basil leaves and serve with extra basil, rice, chives and lime wedges.
Thai Basil

Lettuce Cups with chicken, kaffir lime and lemongrass salad
From the garden
· 2 long fresh red chillies, deseeded, finely chopped
· 1 stem lemon grass, pale section only, finely chopped
· 1 small red onion, finely sliced
· 3 kaffir lime leaves, centre vein removed, finely shredded
· 60ml (1/4 cup) fresh lime juice
· 1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves
· 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
· 1 iceberg lettuce, leaves separated, washed, dried
From the shop
· 2 tsp vegetable oil
· 500g lean chicken mince
· 2 tsp fish sauce
· 2 tsp brown sugar
· Steamed basmati rice, to serve
 Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the chilli and lemon grass and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the mince and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up any lumps, for 3-4 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer the chicken mixture to a large heatproof bowl. Add the onion and kaffir lime and stir until well combined.
Whisk lime juice, fish sauce and sugar in a jug until the sugar dissolves. Add to the chicken mixture with the coriander and mint and combine. Arrange the lettuce leaves on serving plates. Spoon the chicken mixture into lettuce leaves. Serve with rice

A couple of recipes using Mediterranean herbs

Basil Pesto

From the garden
· 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves
· 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
From the shop
· 60g (3/4 cup) shredded parmesan
· 45g (1/4 cup) pine nuts
· 5 tbs olive oil
Heat oven to 180°C. Spread the pine nuts on a tray and bake in oven for 5 minutes or until toasted. Remove from oven and set aside for approximately 10 minutes to cool.
Place the pine nuts, basil, garlic and parmesan in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. With the motor running, gradually add the oil in a thin steady stream until well combined.
· To freeze (for up to 4 months): Transfer pesto to a small airtight container and smooth the surface. Drizzle with olive oil to cover. Label, date and freeze. To thaw: Place in the fridge for 3-4 hours or until thawed. Stir to combine.

Basil aioli
From the garden
· 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
· 2 garlic cloves, crushed
· 2 tbs chopped fresh basil
From the shop
· 170g (2/3 cup) fat-free mayonnaise
Combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic and basil in a bowl. Season with pepper. For a thinner consistency, if desired, gradually add 1-2 tablespoons cold water, whisking until smooth and well combined.

Potato Bake with Garlic, Rosemary and Thyme
From the garden
· 1.5kg potatoes
· 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
· 1 tbs rosemary leaves, finely chopped
· 2 tsp whole rosemary leaves
From the shop
· 1/2 cup (125ml) cream
· 1/2 cup (125ml) chicken or vegetable stock
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly grease a rectangular ovenproof dish. Peel the potatoes and cut into slices about 3-5mm thick. Arrange one-third of the potato into a layer in the base of the dish. Sprinkle half the garlic and rosemary over the potato. Repeat another layer of potato, the remaining garlic and chopped rosemary, then a final layer of potato slices.
2. Combine the cream and stock in a jug, and whisk with a fork to combine. Drizzle over the top of the potatoes. Season with freshly ground black pepper, and scatter the whole rosemary leaves on top.
3. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. Remove the foil and cook for another 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Stand for 5 minutes, then cut into rectangles to serve.

Growing tea herbs

I enjoy a hot cup of tea on a cold day, or a frosty glass of iced tea when it’s hot? . When you use herbs, in addition to wonderful fresh flavours, there is the bonus that most herbs are thought to provide some medicinal value.
The standard way to make an infusion, unless otherwise specified, is to pour a cup of boiling water over the material to be infused, let it stand for 5 minutes, strain the tea to remove any plant particles, and drink it.

When the recipe refers to fresh plant material to be used, about a 1/4 cup is used. When the recipe refers to using dried material, use 2 teaspoons of material when making it.

Here are a few great herbs for brewing that perfect cup:

Apple Mint

Apple Mint is a very fragrant garden plant growing to about half a meter. In our garden I find it is happier in part-shade. It prefers moist soil and hates to dry out in warm weather. Chop fresh leaves to flavour cold drinks. It’s milder than normal mint. The fruity aroma and flavour make it a delightful choice for tea.


Chamomile’s daisy-like, white and yellow chamomile flowers brew a soothing and fragrant herbal tea with overtones of pineapple. You use the flowers, not the leaves. Harvest flowers on the stem and gently wash and dry. Hang to dry in a dark, airy location. Discard stems. Chamomile will grow in full to part sun. It is an annual and needs to be replanted (from seed) each spring. It will grow in a pot or the ground and grows to about 30-40 cm tall.

Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm features potent, refreshing lemony scented leaves. Dried leaves make a clean lemon flavoured tea. You can also use leaves to flavour soups, salads, sauces, etc. Tender young leaves have the best flavour. It needs frequent watering and does best in part-shade.

Lemon Grass

Lemon Grass is a great plant. The leaves can be brewed as a tea and the leaf bases are used in Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Leaves can also be used to flavour fish, soups, curries, and sauces. Plant Lemon Grass in a sunny spot and keep it moist. I have mine is a large black plastic pot. It occasionally needs cutting back and dividing but otherwise is an undemanding plant.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena is one of the finest lemon scented herbs. It’s excellent for making tea and for potpourri. Use leaves fresh or dried in teas, or add them to dressings, fruit salads, and drinks. Lemon Verbena prefers full sun. I grow it in a pot and move it to a cooler spot in the heat of summer and a sheltered warm spot in winter. It will grow from cuttings.


Spearmint is a creeping, sweetly scented mint that can be steeped in hot water to make an aromatic tea or and use freshly harvested to flavour cold drinks. Leaves can also be frozen to preserve flavour for an extended period of time. For tea, simply steep a small handful of fresh (or a teaspoon of dried) leaves in boiling water. Keep Spearmint in fairly moist soil. It is fast-spreading so pick an area where it won’t invade other plants. I grow it in the back corner of the garden where it is in shade for most of the day and it grows well.

Pineapple sage

Pineapple sage grows to about 1.5m. It will self-seed and will grow easily from a cutting in spring or summer. It generally needs a good cut back each year. The books say it prefers full sun but I grow it where it gets sun only in the late afternoon and it does well. I don’t want it going wild. The flowers can be used in salads and the leaves are used for tea.

Potpourri from your herb garden

Almost anything can go into a potpourri, so long as it is very dry (so it won't go mouldy).

Some examples:

2 cups rosemary leaves
1 cup marjoram leaves
1/2 cup each thyme, sage, savory leaves
1 cup each dried orange peel and coarse salt

1 cup rose petals
1 cup lavender flowers
½ cup geranium petals
1 broken cinnamon stick
½ cup rosemary

3 tbs rose petals
2 tbs chamomile
1 tbs coriander
1 tbs lavender
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean

Potpourri needs a fixative to absorb any scent that is added to make it last longer. Orris root is the one most often used in potpourri. You but it from healthfood shops or shops selling scented oils and candles. Dry lavender, sage leaves, patchouli, sandalwood bark and rock salt are also fixatives

SCENT with essential oil such as lavender, geranium, rose oil.

FILLERS can be anything from extra leaves and pine cones to coloured glass marbles, glitter and sea shells! Small gold cardboard cut outs of hearts and stars, or paper wedding confetti can be used, except in mixes using scented oils, where they would become stained. If you look at some commercial potpourri you will notice that they are made up of coloured wood shavings. The shavings hold scented oil like a fixative and are colourful and bulky.

To make a simple dried potpourri
Collect flowers and/or herbs from the garden at a time when they are open and dry. Collect 3 times as many flowers as you think you will need. (Flowers lose 2/3 of their weight after they have dried.) Blot to remove excess moisture.
Pull off the petals, discard the green parts (stem, leaves, flower head), and any brown parts on the petals. Be sure to unfurl them all to separate the individual petals. If they stick together moisture hides between them and they can go mouldy. If you are drying roses, tear of the white heal parts on each petal.
Also collect a few leaves, nice sized ones, the drier the better and maybe a piece of tree bark.
Place in a wide flat container. Spread petals thinly allowing plenty of airflow. I put mine in a big plastic sandwich “Tupperware” box with paper towel on the bottom.
Leave in a dry, well-ventilated area away from strong light. Turn and stir every few days, or each time you pass it by. If the flowers were wet, look for signs of mould and remove those bits immediately. Remove the paper after the first day or so.
Petals are ready when they are crisp and dry. If the weather is humid and they aren’t drying, I place them in the oven (fan only) for a few hours. In our climate drying can be a challenge so I try to only use plants that dry easily.
Combine the dry ingredients with a fixative (eg. orrisroot powder). Add spices, dried bits of citrus fruit or bits of wood impregnated with scented oils i.e. aroma therapy oils. Mix gently with your hands.
You can now place potpourri to cure in tightly sealed jars for six weeks, or just use it as is.
Potpourri is often placed in open containers, like small bowls, cups or baskets, to allow their aroma to delicately scent the room. Sachets can be made from old handkerchiefs, or squares of silk, muslin or lawn –folded into a triangle and tied with ribbon and lace – or sewn into a little pillow.


Getting rid of bugs. In our climate they can be a problem. Moths will lay their eggs in my nice open potpourri bowls. If this happens, bag up your potpourri in plastic zip-lock bags and place them in the freezer for a minimum of two weeks. Remove then put over a sieve to get out the dead grubs/weevils etc. Ta-Da, bug free potpourri.
Alternatively place dried red chillies in the potpourri. It seems to drive the nasties away, and looks hot.
Remember, essential oils etc may bleed through material or baskets, so put a liner of some kind between the potpourri and its holder.

To use these mixtures as a room freshener, fill a pot with at least 2 cups water. Add the mixture. Simmer over low heat for 1/2 hour or longer. If you'll be simmering for longer than a half-hour, add more water. If you wish, use a potholder to carry the simmering pan around your house to further spread the smell.
(use fresh leaves or dried)

4 tbs rosemary leaves
3 bay leaves
1 tbs basil
1 tbs sage
1 tbs fennel
1 tsp dill seed

6 tbs of mint &/or peppermint, spearmint
1 tbs rosemary
1tbs dried lemon peel
1 tbs dried lime peel

Thursday, 10 June 2010

What to do with bones

They’ve given me a bone. I love bones but I get anxious. Really anxious. I have to find a really secure spot to bury it. Usually I try about three or four spots before I’m happy.

Maybe here.... ???
 But then I still worry…. and move it again.

Maybe under the bamboo?
I don't know - They may find it here....???
Maybe here...???

At night it gets even worse.
I sleep inside and my precious bone is outside.
I can’t rest until I’ve brought it in and tucked it safely away under a cushion
or in Ros’ dressing gown if she’s left it on the floor .

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A selection of Flowers

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The brom area

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The Girls

Flo, Doris, Marj and Gladys are the most spoilt chooks in Australia. John just built them a new yard because a neighbour's chooks were attacked and killed by dogs so they needed more day-time protection than just the fence.
At the moment they sleep in the chook tractor - until John builds new sleeping quarters for them.

They get laying mash, plus scaps from the vege patch plus John brings home scraps from the grocery store near work and tips them in the compost bin, then the girls dig through and eat what they want.
They spend most of the day wandering around, scratching or having dustbaths in a fenced off area of the yard we call "Chookie World"
Currently they lay one egg a week between them. They say that they're still recovering from molting.

This was the girls when they were younger - in their chicken tractor.

This is me sharing a meal with the girls

The Vege Patch

The vege garden's looking good at the moment.  We have tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, beetroot, carrots, brocchili, snow peas, snap peas, bok choy, spinach plus lots of different herbs.

It's great to be able to go out to the vege patch and get fresh veges when we're cooking dinner.


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