Thursday, 15 July 2010

Off to visit the grandkids

John and Ros are going to visit their grandchildren in Cairns (Isaac and Joshua) and in Katherine (Phillipa) for two weeks. I'm going on a holiday too to a place called a pet motel. John spells it K-E-N-N-E-L. Apparently it's good. Lots of dogs go there. I'll let you know when I get back what I thought of it.

They say I'm their favourite dog, but I know where I stand when it comes to grandchildren. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, 11 July 2010

When your an addict you just need ONE more

There are palms that thrive in our garden and there are those that don't. It doesn't stop us trying to grow them all though. When we started to create the garden there were no trees at all in the back yard. It meant we could design from scratch. It also meant we needed to create some shade and shelter for the tropical plants we wanted to grow. Palms were therefore initially chosen, quite practically, for their hardiness and ability to grow quickly.
Golden canes - Chrysalidocarpus lutescens - are a mainstay of our garden - along the back fence, around the pool and scattered throughout the garden,

plus a row to create a windbreak or screen near the back of the house. They get frostburn in winter but we just cut those fronds off and they power ahead as soon as the weather warms up.

Alexanders -- Archontophoenix alexandrae and Bangalows -- Archontophoenix cunninghamiana  were the next choice. Some together in small groves, others intermixed with other trees. Once established both grow quickly – These Alex's are only 4 years old.

We planted a stand of 6 Majestics on the opposite side of the garden so we could grow shade-loving gingers beneath them. They eventually grow huge so need to be given plenty of space. These are about 3 ½ years old.
That gave a framework for the garden, so we began to plant other species to give variety and (to be honest) because we'd fall in love with them at the nursery and have to take them home with us.

Carpentaria palms -- Carpentaria acuminata. They’ve done OK but are very thin – probably not in the best of conditions. They are growing in a mound of dirt (not soil) that was formed when the pool was dug. They are native to northern Australia.

Foxtails - Wodyetia bifurcata. They are one of the most beautiful palms. As easy as pie to grow – also they don’t seem to mind being moved. We’d planted two near the side fence and had to move them as our bamboo addiction filled that area. One died but the other has forgiven us and is florishing. Again, they are native to northern Australia. 

Triangle palms - Neodypsis decaryi - grow quite large and deserve to be a feature palm.

Bismark palm -- Bismarkia nobilis. This is definitely a feature palm.

Redneck -- Neodypsis lastelliana - known for its red crownshaft

Lady palms -- Rhapis excelsa. They like a bit of shade or shelter to be watered regularly. In our garden they grow fairly slowly and are an understorey palm but can grow huge in the tropics.

Red Latin -- Latania lontaroides
I planted it to be a feature palm because of the wonderful red-tinged fronds but it’s been a bit slow getting established.

Macarthur Palm -- Ptychosperma macarthurii.
A great clumping palm particularly in a sheltered spot with shade or semi-shade.  I’d like more of them. The books say they need shade when young but will take full sun as they mature. I'm yet to try that out.

Clumping fishtail - Caryota mitis
This guy is just on three years old. We have others that haven’t grown so quickly. It obviously loves this spot near the pool.

Australian Fan Palm - Licuala ramsayi. This palm is definitely a shade lover in our region. In tropical Australia there are whole forests of them just growing naturally, but the humidity and annual rainfall there is much higher of course.

Hawaiian Fan palm - Pritchardia pacifica
When it was young (first two years) the frost knocked it about and burnt the leaves Last year I experimented with “DroughtGuard” which can also be used to protest plants from frost. Not sure if it just toughen up with age or it was the protection from the Droughtguard but last year the frost didn’t hurt it. I'm hoping it survive winter this year as well. I've added a couple more in more sheltered spots to see how they'll go.
Bottle palm -- Hyophorbe lagenicaulis
Not really a happy camper at all. It suffers with the cold every year. The "books" say they are tolerant to light frost and I've seen photos of them growing happily in Sydney gardens but mine seem to hate winter. Each summer it grows beautiful new fronds and has them burnt ever winter when there’s frost. I sprayed this guy with the Droughtguard and it burnt just the same as previous years.
Each year I try to limit myself to added two or three new palms. I have a list a mile long of ones I'd like but the sensible me knows they have to suit our climate and conditions.  There are so many beautiful palms and only limited space in the garden.
Lipstick palm  - Cyrtostachys renda
This is not one of ours. It's in a garden in Cairns. They will only grow in the tropics, but it is the most  spectacular palm I've seen. When I lived in Cairns I has one and it was my pride and joy. I know it would never survive it's first winter here, but I would love to try to grow one. Does that make me an addict?

Friday, 9 July 2010

I hate baths and haircuts

When I hear water filling the laundry tub I know what's coming. It's time to hide.
I have found the best hiding spot in the whole yard - right at the back of the greenhouse - but they still find me every time.       I can't see how.       It's a good hiding spot.
They wet me all over and I look like a drowned rat.
Just look at this face. Do I look happy?
After a bath they dry me then I get treats - that's not bad. Then I run around and around as fast as I can until I'm panting. I don't know why. It just feels good.
To add to my misery they usually trim my coat as well. Silkie Terriers have hair that grows like a human's hair and need trimming often. If my hair grew long it would need brushing everyday and I would get very hot so I let them cut it.
They put me up on the table or on a chair and chop at me with scissors.
I'm a patient dog and I stay still for them. So would you if someone had scissors near your bottom.
But I am definitely not happy.
I do feel much more comfortable and I get a treat after haircuts as well so I forgive them. But not sure if I would if I had a mirror.
Sometimes I look pretty silly. 

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The rocket went feral

This morning's harvest from the vege patch. Zucchini, baby squash, carrots, snow peas and snap peas, and tomatoes. I'm thrilled with the carrots. They're growing straight. I must finally have their soil right. Usually my carrots look deformed.

The tomatoes are doing better this year than ever before. Quite a few are ready to pick.
The romas won't be ripe for a while yet, but they're laden as well. I predict there may be a fair amount of spagetti sauce being made soon.

I had to chop back and remove some of the rocket. It was threatening to take over the entire garden bed. Underneath I found some very sad strawberry runners. The strawberries even had fruit on them - poor neglected things. That will be the next job - planting out the runners.

The passionfruit vine is producing well. It must have heard me say I was going to chop it out too,  because it's even flowering - in the middle of winter. It's a vine that self-seeded in the compost and is growing up over a palm tree. I will have to remove it but while it's producing such great fruit it can stay a while longer.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Creating our rainforest area

Our rainforest area is a work-in-progress. I don’t expect it to be finished in our lifetime but after only four years it already gives us a cool shady retreat on a hot day and gives shelter and food for local birds, lizards, frogs and probably even snakes.

Thought I’d share what I’ve learnt so far from research and from experience. Creating a rainforest garden is easy! It just takes time (and a bit of hard work at the beginning).

The secret to creating a rainforest garden is not water. It’s mulch, mulch, and more mulch! In fact, water is no more a necessity for a rainforest garden than it is for any other type of garden but a thick layer of organic mulch is vital.

Ready to be spread.

Soil Preparation
Before you can even think about planting anything, the soil has to be made ready. Rainforest plants, as a general rule, have very timid shy root that tend to stop dead at the first sign of an obstacle. So the plants simply will not grow in hard ground . They grow best in thoroughly loosened soil. The ideal depth is about 30cm.

The corner we chose for our rainforest had provided access for the trucks and bulldozers while the estate was being developed. There was very little topsoil left and in places the ground was badly compacted. We hired a man with a bobcat and ripper to dig up the area over which we’d spread 20 bags of horse manure, then we covered the entire area with a thick blanket of mulch - about 50 bales of sugarcane trash, plus newspaper, grass clippings and anything we could get hold of.

After a few months we dug the broken down organic matter into the soil, adding lots of blood and bone, and topped it up with another 50 bales sugarcane trash. Each year in spring we repeat this process. Gradually a layer of organically rich soil has begun to develop.

Thick organic mulch is essential for several reasons:
· It keeps the soil moist by reducing evaporation
· It controls weed growth
· It keeps the soil cool
· It provides a source of recycled nutrients
· It keeps the soil healthy by maintaining a balanced population of micro-organisms
This is true, of course in all gardens, but especially so with a rainforest. Because rainforest plants are very surface rooted, it is essential to keep the surface of the soil cool and moist, otherwise the roots will bake and dry out.
If weeds or grass are allowed to grow around the base of rainforest plants, they cannot compete so a thick application of mulch will keep weeds at bay.
It is essential that the mulch be organic, since the recycling of nutrients is very important for their growth. It’s best to use materials that will easily break down. If you use woodchip or pinebark, it will rob nitrogen from the soil and you need to add nitrogen rich fertilizer regularly to replace the nitrogen drawdown. In my opinion it’s easier to avoid using it. There are many other things to choose from.
It is also quite important to keep the mulch away from the base of the trunk, particularly in summer when there’s a lot of rain and humidity. The trees can develop collar rot.

Our trees have got to the stage now where they are creating their own leaf litter so soon they won’t need us as much. I hope.

Provided there is a thick layer of organic mulch, a rainforest garden doesn’t need any more water than a normal garden, although it loves any extra water it gets.
The plants must be watered for the first few months until they are established. I read somewhere that you should water them daily for the two weeks, then weekly for the next 2 months, so that’s what I did. After that they got whatever water fell from the sky.

Our trees are mainly indigenous to South East Queensland so I believe they should be adapted to the range of weather conditions they encounter here. No one goes into the bush to water the trees and they survive.
So far we haven't lost any trees through lack of water. Some of them struggled for the first couple of years because they weren’t getting as much water as they would have liked, but we were on very strict water restrictions so it was survival of the fittest.
Once the weather changed and they received regular rainfall, they powered ahead.


Rainforest plants love to be fed. Fertiliser brings out the lovely foliage colours on new growth.
The rules are the same as for all Australian natives - check the N:P:K ratio to make sure the phosphorus is low - less than 3% is best. Water in well, and don’t overdo it. Like medicine, a little is good for you, an overdose can easily kill.

When planted, our trees got a mix of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion. Each spring they get a liberal spread of blood and bone and pelletised chook manure when their mulch is topped up. Maybe they would like more fertiliser than we currently give them but while we're not watering them, I'm a bit careful & only feed them when there's a fair chance of rain.

Choosing Plants
I did quite a bit of research before we started this project. The best book I’ve read on rainforest gardening is "Gardening with Australian Rainforest Plants" by Bailey & Lake. Another great series of books - Australian Rainforest Plants (Books 1- 5) by Nan & Hugh Nicholson. Sites such as helped us decide the best plants for our region.

We wanted structure to the garden but also a natural feel (so some pattern and repetition of plants along with diversity).
John had propagated about 30 small leafed lilly pilly (Syzygium leuhmannii), 10 Golden Penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) about 10 powder puff lilly pillys (S.Wilsonii) from seed. They were tucked away in the greenhouse.
As a ratepayer were allowed 16 plants per year from our local Council. Their plants are beautifully healthy and most are indigenous to our region so this was our favourite source of plants.

We chose a variety of lilly pillys - Bush Cherry (Syzygium paniculatum), Syzygium Aussie Southern and Syzygium paniculate. Also four Pink Euodia (Euodia elleryana), a couple of Illawarra Flame Trees (Brachychriton acerifolius), Tuckeroos (Cupaniopis anacardiodes), Ivory Curls (Buckinghamia celsissima) and a Blue Quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis).

We also bought a few trees that we particularly wanted from a local native plant nursery including a Davidson’s Plum (Davidsonia jerseyana,) Native Frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum), Rose Apple Lilly Pilly (S. Moorei) and Wheel of Fire (Stenocarpus sinuatus). Not all of these are from S.E. Qld but are native.

Planning and planting the rainforest garden
The rainforest area is in the front corner of the yard and is the first thing you see when you drive up to our house. It needed to be attractive from the street, enclosed from the front and side but open and inviting from the centre of the yard.

We used the small leafed lilly pillys as a screening hedge along the side fence – They protect the inner garden from drying winds and provide an enclosed rainforest feeling. We spaced them 1.5m apart and for the first couple of years, trimmed them regularly to encourage thicker growth. For the streetscape we tried to create a layered effect with low growing shrubs and clumping plants in front of taller bushy trees. Trees with different seasonal flowering were chosen where possible to provide interest for most of the year. Dianella species were planted to create a front border.

In the centre the trees are taller and further apart. The plan is to fill the area with shade-loving understorey plants.

The entire area is on a slope and we discovered during our first heavy downpour of rain (some two years after we’d planted) that mulch does not prevent erosion. Although we had created a lovely top layer of cultivated organically improved soil, it was sitting on shale and while the mulch stayed put, the soil turned to mud and flowed down the slope with run-off from the heavy rain. We lost a couple of trees before we realized what was happening. They survived the drought, then had the soil washed out from under them when it rained. We added rock and log features which serve to slow or divert the flow of water.

As the trees have grown, features such as pathways, more rocks and logs and understorey planting are being added. As I said – It’s a work in progress.

The finishing touch

Ros painted a sign for the door of the purple palace.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Moving into the Purple Palace

The girls needed a new house. They liked their chicken tractor but it was time to upgrade. A plan of the new house was drawn up and John the Builder got to work.
The frame was erected. Plywood and corregated iron was measured and cut.
Of course, I supervised every step.

The man at the hardware shop had a can of solarguard paint that he'd mixed for a customer who changed their mind. It was an unusual colour but he was selling it for half price.
"That'll be perfect" said the Builder.
The girls watched and waited to be let back in.
Finally their house was finished and they could inspect their new house.

They weren't sure to start with, but then noticed the food. 
Flo was the first to check out the three new nesting boxes. She seemed to approve.
With new comfy boxes maybe they'll lay more eggs. Sure they will! Maybe John and Ros are planning to get more chooks. There's definitely room for more than four girls now.

At bedtime they all filed in. Mission accomplished. The girls had a beautiful new house.


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