Tag Archives: gardens

Plant Lovin’ – Crepe Myrtle

28 Mar

Illustration from Wikipedia

As Sydney is starting to feel a little chillier in the mornings and we start to think about donnas and blankets a little more, I’m starting to look for the first leaves to turn in Autumn.  If you design your garden well, you can probably experience something spectacular in each season of the year.  While Spring and Summer are known for their floral tributes, it’s autumn that provides some of the most spectacular colour courtesy of turning foliage.

While the Crepe Myrtle (or Crape Myrtle if you’re in the US) doesn’t have the most spectacular autumn foliage, when you package together it’s other attributes it becomes a tree that’s hard to bypass if you’re after something small and spectacular.  It’s summer flowers are the most spectacular part of the Crepe Myrtle, but it’s the smooth and sculptural bark and trunk that I love.  When most deciduous trees are looking a bit skeletal, the Crepe Myrtle feels much more artistic.  I love that this deciduous tree doesn’t have a bad season.  Spring brings new growth and vibrant budding leaves, summer has spectacular floral colour, autumn brings the turning leaves and in winter, you have a great garden sculpture.

The sculptural bark and trunks of the Crepe Myrtle are a feature in their own right

The Crepe Myrtle is the living, growing proof that good things come in small packages, as it rarely grows taller than 6-8m, and it prunes well, so you can control the growth to what you and your garden need.

So here’s the Crepe Myrtle low down…

Crepe Myrtle Tree form - photo from HowStoffWorks.com

Name: Lagerstroemia indica – There are a heap of different varieties so check out what’s available at your local nursery to find the one that’s right for you.  The main variation is the flower colour, so it’s pretty easy to co-ordinate with the rest of your planting design.

Description: A small deciduous tree that provides a spectacular floral display.  Flowers range from white through to vibrant hot pink.  The Crepe Myrtle is native to Asia, and grows exceptionally well through most of Australia.

Vibrant red / pink flowers

What you’ll love about them: There is just so much to love about the Crepe Myrtle.  If you are after a smaller tree, then this fits the bill perfectly.  It is great for small gardens and courtyards, and can be pruned and trained to fit into any situations. The flowers are spectacular and come in a range of colours from white through to mauves and vibrant pinky reds.  I love the sculptural trunks that become more twisted and gnarled as they get older.  The list of pros for the Crepe Myrtle is long and impressive, which is why it’s a tree that I always find myself recommending.

Pretty pink flowers in summer cover the whole tree.

There are some spectacular old Crepe Myrtle trees in the heritage suburbs of Sydney, and it looks equally at home in a new and more modern landscape.  Flexible, adaptable, easy and very very pretty, this is a great tree.

What they love:  Crepe Myrtles aren’t too fussy.  They like a nice drink of water and an open aspect, though can really grow anywhere as long as their toes don’t get too wet.  They like a good haircut in winter too.  Keeping the tree pruned will promote larger flower sprays, so prune back when they lose their leaves, though do be careful to maintain the tree’s shape and avoid a “hacked back” look.

The not so great bits: Yes, it is deciduous, so there is a little bit of leaf drop once a year, and yes if it worries you, you might have to clean up the leaves.  It also does better if you give it a bit of a prune every few years.  If you don’t like leaf drop or pruning, it’s not for you, but to be honest, I see this as very little pain for whole lot of gain.  Some of the older varieties are also prone to powdery mildew, but newer varieties are resistant to this.  The good definitely outweigh the bad on this gem of a deciduous tree.

If you prefer something a bit more home grown: There aren’t a lot of deciduous natives, particularly with all that the Crepe Myrtle has going for it, but you could try the White Cedar (Melia azederach).  The White Cedar is a small deciduous tree native to northern Australia and areas of Asia, and has a really nice floral display, but doesn’t really have the autumn colour or sculptural trunk that the Crepe Myrtle has.

The flowers and foliage of the White Cedar, image from Royal Botanic Gardens website.

Sam

Plant Lovin’ – Passionfruit

29 Sep

This is a plant that I have wanted in my garden for as long as I can remember.  Not only does it  provide you with a yummy harvest of fruit, it also has some of the most spectacular flowers I have ever seen.  Passionfruit grows as a vine, and has so many endearing features.  The leaves are green and glossy, it is hardy, I love the spiral tendrils it uses to cling onto things, and the fruit and flowers are unbelievable.

I have great memories of the passionfruit vine we had trailing over our fence in the terrace house I grew up in.  There was the excitement at seeing the flowers bloom and then the intolerable wait as the fruit grew and then turned from green to purple.  The fruit always tasted better when you had picked it yourself, as opposed to the store bought variety.

Passionfruit not only provides you with a great climbing vine that will cover an ugly wall or fence, but it will provide you with a key ingredient for my summertime desert of choice, the ever Australian Pavlova.

So here’s the Passionfruit low down…

Name: Passiflora edulis – There are a heap of different varieties so check out what’s available at your local nursery to find the one that’s right for you.

Description: A vigorous and fast growing vine that loves to climb on any sturdy structure.  You’ll need to provide it with a fence, wall or lattice to let it develop to it’s full potential.  The vine has large glossy green leaves and delicate spiral tendrils that help it climb.  The flowers produced by the passionfruit vine are spectacular and would probably be the best thing about this plant if it weren’t for the fact they are followed by a yummy harvest of delicious passionfruit.

Passionfruit leaves and fruit. Photo from http://www.infonet-biovision.org

What you’ll love about them: The fruit, the flowers, the fact that the vine can and will cover whatever you want it to.  There is so much to love about the passionfruit.  Passionfruit vines are really easy to take care of and will continually give back more than you give them.

If you’re in the right location and you give them plenty of water and food, you should see a harvest of fruit within the first 18 months, and then regularly after that.  This is one of those “memory” kind of plants.  Everyone that I know who had a Passionfruit vine when they were growing up remembers it fondly.  Great for kids, great for cooks, and great for the lazy gardener – maximum impact with minimum effort!

What they love:  Passionfruit loves the sun.  Plant it in a sunny position, give it’s roots free-draining soil, some food and plenty of water and it will reward you with loads of it’s yummy fruit.  You will need to provide a structure like a fence, wall or trellis for it to climb on, and good well drained soil with plenty of organic matter.  They love plenty to drink, so keep the water up, and in terms of food, don’t feed them with too much nitrogen, compost and chook manure are perfect.

Ongoing maintenance is easy, they like a trim every spring, so as winter turns into spring, trim off around 30cm.  When they are young prune off the top of the vine (the leader) and this will help make the vine spread laterally and cover whatever ugly garden feature you want hidden.

The not so great bits:  The vine is vigorous and can get away from you, though this could also be a good thing if you want something screened well.  Passionfruit is only relatively short lived – 5-7 years, so you will need to replace it fairly regularly, though it is fast growing so it won’t take long to replace itself.

If you prefer something a bit more home grown: There are no native Passionfruits, so there isn’t anything that you can directly substitute, but if it’s the vine you are looking for you could try a Pandorea sp. it is fairly hardy and vigorous and has lovely flowers.

Yum! Passionfruit and Pavlova! Photo from http://paulineadamek.com/pages/CookbookPage.html

Anyone feel like a slice of Pav???

Sam

Plant Lovin’ – Native Violet

29 Aug

What plant do you use when you have a lot of shade, an area that always seems damp, and you don’t want, or can’t grow a lawn?? It has to be low maintenance and flowers would be lovely.  I give you one of my all time favourites, the lovely, delicate looking, but super tough Native Violet – Viola hederacea or Viola banksii. This is almost a plant and forget one.  You can feel like you have a fantastic green thumb without the effort!

Lawn and turf, in my opinion, can be very over rated.  If you have a situation where you just can’t grow a lawn, why persist and end up with something less than fantastic when you can substitute with an equally as functional, yet probably even more attractive substitute.  I know I’m not even going to consider grass in our courtyard, there’s not enough space, and I honestly don’t want the maintenance hassle for very little functional return, anywhere needing ground cover vegetation will probably be treated to this little gem of a plant.

The delicate flower of the Native Violet is a gorgeous feature. Photo from http://www.eol.org

So here’s the Native Violet low down…

Name: Viola hederacea or Viola banksii – Native Violet – generally you will find the botanical names are swapped around a bit, but if you ask at your local Nursery for a Native Violet you will definitely get what you are after.

Description: A vigorous, creeping evergreen ground cover that features bright green kidney shaped leaves and delicate purple and white flowers. The flowers appear mostly in the warmer months, but it is rare that you will see the Native Violet without at least a flower or two all year round.  Generally very ground hugging, the Native Violet rarely gets any taller than about 10cm.  The plant spreads through trailing runners or vine like tendrils.

What you’ll love about them:  These plants are relatively maintenance free.  Once they are established, they form such a dense mat of leaves that they act like a living layer of mulch and suppress the growth of other weeds.  The bright green leaves always look lush and healthy, and the purple flowers are gorgeous as a delicate garden highlight.

Lush green leaves, beautiful flowers, the Native Violet is a winner as a ground cover plant. Photo from http://mangrovestomountains.com

I love using Native Violet around stepping stones or as a living garden edge, it can provide a bit of a cottage garden kind of feel, and soften harder lines and edges.  It’s great for softening the edge of retaining walls as a spill over plant or even in pots, particularly under a larger plant.

If you’re a natives at all costs kind of gardener, then you will love that it is a native to eastern and southern Australia.  It fits well with native gardens as well as exotic themed gardens.  It’s a pretty flexible and adaptable kind of plant that will fit with most garden themes.

What they love: These plants thrive in the damp and shady areas of your garden.  If you have full sun, this is probably not the plant to try, there are other lawn alternative s out there.  But if you have full shade or partial sun and if you keep it’s toes wet, you will have a very happy little Native Violet on your hands.

Frost tolerant, this plant will handle most climatic conditions and still be happy, though I’m not sure how happy it would be in far north Queensland or around Alice Springs, it might just be a little too warm there, but if you have a shady moist spot it’s still worth a try.

The not so great bits: Because this plant is so vigorous it can get away from you given the opportunity, though easy to pull back, you will need to keep an eye on it.  If you are using it as a lawn substitute you will need to be careful that it doesn’t invade surrounding gardens leaving you with one big lawn and a few other plants sticking out.

If you have a bit of a brown thumb, give this one a go and be amazed at how much greener your thumb starts to feel!

Sam

One, two, miss a few…

30 May

I was doing so well with my Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule, but slipped up on Friday.  I have a really good reason, and I can get a note from my Mum if you’d like.  I had my post planned, had taken the photos and was generally ready to go, had even started a little bit of it, but other things were more of a priority.  Friday was Pop’s funeral.  I thought I might have caught a few spare quiet moments to get a quick reflective post up, but with my extended family around, there is never a spare quiet moment.  Who was I kidding?

Pop had 3 daughters, 8 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and too many friends that felt like family to count.  The funeral was standing room only, and the party continued at his place until very early in the morning.  Unfortunately we had to get the Drama Queen and the Daredevil to bed, so we missed the Tequila shots, Zumba and planking (or plonking as Mr Perfect calls it) that will be the things of legend.

So today you get to see, what I though might be a fitting final tribute to Pop, a tour of his garden.  It’s a perfect example of embracing what was left behind by the previous owner and adding things you love.  As Pop’s dementia was taking hold, Barb, his wife would catch moments while Pop was in the garden, raking and weeding, to do her day to day things like having a shower.  She knew Pop would be OK in his garden, providing nothing caught his eye that needed a ladder!

The wombat at home in Pop's garden

The front pathway

The front garden is more formal than the back

water feature statue and constructed formal garden beds adopted from the previous owners

The swaggie keeping watch by the stairs

The possum proof vegetable garden

Pop planted the beetroot with my Mum just weeks before he died

herbs in pots

the view looking up is just as impressive

Pop was such an avid vege gardener, that the floral tribute on his casket was a mountain of vegetables.  I bet the florist loved that job!

The vegetable tribute - looking a little wilted at the end of a very long day!

I think Pop may have left his green thumb behind for someone, the Drama Queen’s seeds have sprouted – she is so proud of her baby broccoli and snow pea plants.

Sam

Good plant, bad plant.

25 May

When the Drama Queen and I took our little stroll through the bush on Sunday I made a decision to ensure that we only use bush friendly plants in my design for our garden.  We live so close to one of the last remnants of Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest, we have an impact on the environment we live in, and I don’t want our impact to be a negative one.

The drama queen communig with nature

It is always heartbreaking for me to see weeds choking out our native bushland.  There is so little remnant bushland left in Sydney we need to be doing our best to maintain it.  For me, this is a purely selfish thing.  I love to escape from civilization, listen to the birds and watch the wildflowers.  It re-energizes me and clears the mind clutter.  Going for a bushwalk is the most enjoyable form of exercise I can think of.  Even with a 3 year old in tow there is something very calming about being surrounded by nature.

Globally, I feel we need to maintain our biodiversity.  We need to ensure we are responsible global citizens and respect and protect our environment, not only for us and our future, but also for those who can’t protect themselves.  Hmmm… might be getting a little bit preachy there, sorry but passion can sometimes get the better of me!

When I was growing up it was really impportant for my Dad to teach us to respect and enjoy the environment, and this is a lesson I’m trying to teach the Drama Queen, and will also try and instill in the Daredevil.  The Drama Queen and I started playing a game of “Good plant, bad plant” on our bushwalk.

Good Plant - a tribe of big bad banksia men

Bad plant - Lantana, so pretty, but so very very bad!


Good plant - Pimelea

And there's so much bad going on in this photo!

The Drama Queen loved spotting new wildflowers, I can’t wait for spring to hit, and see what the bushland has to show us.  I’m sure we’ll be spinning stories about fairies and bushland creatures.  Note to self, I’ll have to remember to read her Snugglepot and Cuddlepie this winter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a natives at all cost kind of girl.  There are so many different options out there in the plant world, and I have the philosophy of the right plant in the right place, this could mean Azaleas and Agapanthus or Banksias and Boronias. All I’m saying is, just keep in mind that what you plant today could cause a problem somewhere else tomorrow.

But at the end of the day, green is better than grey!

Sam

Plant Lovin’ – Hibiscus

16 May
Hibiscus petals - National Georgraphic

Close up of hibiscus petals - photograph by Amy White and Al Petteway from the photography.nationalgeographic.com website

OK, so this isn’t a plant that I’d normally be giving much air time to – I guess it’s nice in a Hawaiian shirt kinda way, but seeing a couple of Hibiscus bushes in full bloom was the single plant loving highlight of my week last week.  You see, Sydney was extremely cold last week – and yes I know, for those of you in more arctic climates, 15 degrees isn’t considered cold, but for us more temperate dwellers, we were freezing our @$$es off, particularly since it hit without much warning.

So why did the Hibiscus feature in my rugged up and heater buying week? On my drive to drop the Drama Queen to child care there are a number of hibiscus plants in full bloom, looking their most tropical, and exuding a definite Cairns feel to an otherwise Kosciuszko kinda week.  I’m sure the area around them would have to have felt a few degrees warmer, just because they were so sunny looking.

Typical Hibiscus flower

So here’s the Hibiscus low down…

Name: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis – There are a heap of different varieties so check out what’s available at your local nursery to find the one that’s right for you.

Description: Generally a large dense shrub with spectacular flowers and large glossy green leaves, though as there are so many varieties, colour and flower type as well as shrub size can vary greatly.  If you’re keen on including a Hibiscus in your garden, make sure you read the nursery tag well, to ensure you get the right plant for your space.

A little taste of tropical bliss....

What you’ll love about them: You’ll always feel like you’re on a tropical island when they’re in flower.  I don’t know about you, but Hibiscus flowers always make me smile.  How can you not love the plant that has featured on a thousand bad hawaiian shirts and is the iconic print of the must have ’80’s Okanui board shorts?

The shrub  itself is dense and glossy and the larger shrubs can be great for screening off areas of the garden (providing you have a garden large enough to need screening!)

The other bonus of the Hibiscus is the play and imagination value.  Turn a Hibiscus flower upside down and you immediately have a gorgeous “princess” dress that any little girl will be over the moon with.

What they love: Sun! that one probably goes without saying.  These plants are tropical, they love to pretend they’re sunning themselves by a gorgeous tropical beach – which is probably what you really want to be doing if you’re planting yourself a Hibiscus bush. They like a good humus rich soil with lots of food.  Basically this plant wants to pretend it’s on a perfect summer holiday – warm weather, good food, plenty to drink.  If you want to get serious about planting and growing hibiscus – check out australianhibiscus.com – the website for the Australian Hibiscus Society

The not so great bits: Look, to be honest, the best part of this plant are its flowers – Yes, it’s a really nice big dense shrub, but if you only have a small space I can think of a heap of other plants I’d be using before I’d plant a Hibiscus.  The shrub can also get a bit scrappy looking if you don’t keep it pruned, particularly if they are under stress – e.g. not enough water, a bit too cold etc.   They also don’t like getting their toes cold. So, if you’re somewhere that gets super frosty they’re probably not the right plant for you.

If you prefer something a bit more home grown: Look out for the Native Hibiscus, Hibiscus heterophyllus.  It has equally showy and impressive flowers, though not with the text book Hibiscus look.  It’s native to the east coast of Australia from Queensland through to South Coast New South Wales, and is great at attracting butterflies and honeyeaters, which is particularly cool if you’ve got kids or just get a kick out of watching nature at play.

Native hibiscus photo

Native Hibiscus flower - photo from about.nsw.gov.au/encyclopedia/article/native-hibiscus/

Anyone feel like a spot of Hula dancing? Pass me that Pina Colada!

Sam

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