Thursday, 9 March 2017

Nature Strip Grasslands, Diversity for the Future

This article is the first in a two part series to impart the knowhow on establishing native Australian grasslands in a garden context, specifically for nature strips in the Melbourne area.


The prairie garden style, seen here at Frogmore Gardens, Lerderderg, Victoria

Prairie and meadow styles of design have enjoyed a huge interest from gardeners in the last 20 years, and little wonder.  Who doesn’t love the delicate ballet between blocks of breeze-catching texture punctuated by drifts of subtle colour?  The most beguiling aspect of this burgeoning popularity in Australia for  me has been the almost complete absence of our native grasses, so many of which remain an untapped resource in the designer’s kit.    In Australia we have an ecotype that beautifully mimics a prairie-style sensibility - our own native grasslands - once biodiverse wonders that blanketed vast swathes of temperate regions throughout the southeast of our continent.


Our native grasslands provide a rival to the well-established prairie style, which is usually achieved with exclusively exotic species.


There are so few well-managed grasslands left that people can go and see themselves, which goes a long way to explaining their absence in our gardens.  In Victoria, where I live, less than 1% of grasslands exist compared to their previous range.  As gardeners we often ‘ooh and aah’ over rare plants we grow, the vast majority of them exotic, but there are a plethora of local, indigenous grassland plants that are just as deserving of the title.  A sound way of ensuring their existence into the future is to grow them yourself.

I set out to create a native grassland, turning my naturestrip over to native grassland plants just on 18 months ago.  The results have been incredible, I’m very pleased with the way it’s shaping up.  Aesthetically I think it a very beautiful thing, though I’m sure lots of pedestrians probably walk past it and wonder when that skinny bloke is going to mow his bloody grass.  Far more stop and linger to take a closer look, some delight further still by asking questions.  
My nature strip grassland working up to peak aesthetic

You really need to want one in order to have one, they’re not easy things to establish and their maintenance requires more ecological than gardening-thinking.  They take effort and careful planning.  I worked in bushland management for several years, managing and monitoring some wonderful little (some tiny) patches of remnant grassland around Melbourne.  The experience was a steep learning curve, requiring a horticology approach rather than an ecological or horticultural one.  It was often tough graft, but the time spent was invaluable.  Getting to know patches of grassland around your area is a great start*.  


While native grasses such as ‘poa lab’ (Poa labillardieri) have entered the collective gardening conscience in Australia for a number of years, many other grasses have missed out.  Broadly speaking, there are several genera of garden merit that make great additions to grassland-style plantings.  These include, but are by no means limited to,  the wallaby grasses, Rytidosperma spp. (formerly Austrodanthonia spp.), the spear grasses, Austrostipa spp., kangaroo grass, Themeda sp., tussock grasses, Poa spp., and plumegrass, Dichelachne spp. - as a collection of genera they represent hundreds of species to choose from.  They make up the bulk of grassland biomass, though this list isn’t comprehensive by any means.  My advice is to learn about them, what they look like and how they grow.  They’re all different and provide a myriad of textures and colours at your disposal when designing with them.


Why Should You Want a Suburban Grassland?


Apart from there not being much of them left and their aesthetic beauty, once established (the hard bit), ongoing maintenance is relatively easy.  Once you get a good coverage of grasses they are highly effective at keeping undesirables out.  What weeds do grow are easily noticed and hand pulled.  Furthermore, native grasslands don’t require any supplementary irrigation at all.  The vast majority are ephemeral - they will often brown off, almost completely, which is a an ideal time to give them a mow.   They will readily reshoot when cooler, wetter weather returns.  Establishing them well is all about getting your timing right with planting/sowing.  Get this right and you’ll only have to water your plants in - they’ll never see the nozzle end of a hose again.  


The first photo give a glimpse of before and after planting and establishment. The second is a great snapshot of colour, form and texture contrast local species can provide - all of this is without any supplementary watering. This nature strip, as all nature strips, survives on rainfall alone!


Native grasslands have huge biodiversity values, not just for the plants they contain.  Myriad insect species call grasslands home, many exist only to visit specific plants, which is remarkable.  One of many examples, I have a couple of species of native bee that visit mine which are known to feed exclusively on wahlenbergia flowers.  Many other similar relationships exist in my grassland and for every insect I identify there are probably a dozen more I don’t even see.  A diversity of insects means a large population of potential garden helpers that will often help keep the populations of other problem insects in check.  Toward the end of winter for last three years I had massive problems with aphids on a Veronica perfoliata in my front garden.  I haven’t seen any at all this year and I suspect the new grassland and its residents are probably responsible.  These unseen helpers make pest management in the rest of my garden easier.  Where they come from and how they find their way to a 2.5m x 8.5m patch of land in the middle of the northern suburbs of Melbourne is a great mystery to me, one I would like to solve, but I’ll also be content with the romanticism of wondering in the meantime.


Prepping Your Strip


Before you do anything check your local council’s rules around naturestrip gardening.  They vary considerably between municipalities, most require a permit and others may even slog you a fee for the privilege.  For Melbourne specifically, site prepping is best done in late summer/autumn/early winter, whilst aiming to plant in late autumn to winter (when rainfall is reliable and plentiful here) so get your permissions in order well beforehand.


It’s now autumn and you’re looking at your nature strip - what do you see?  There’s probably grass and likely a few different species of it.  Kikuyu is common in Melbourne’s nature strips, as is Ehrharta erecta (panic veldt grass), couch, and winter grass (Poa annua) waiting to pop up once the weather cools off.  There are likely broadleaf weeds too, such as dandelion species, flick weed, oxalis, chickweed and pimpernell, among many, many others.  The critical thing to understand at this stage is that all these plants have been dropping seeds into your little strip far longer than you’ve been eying it off as a potential grassland garden.  There is a sleeping army of thousands (millions?) of seeds just waiting to germinate and cause you grief.  The rise of grief bears an inverse relationship to enthusiasm - a parlous state that will put your grassland at risk in the future.  Avoid it as best you can.


  • Taking a close look at this stage may also reveal some surprises - on the other side of my street there’s a naturestrip with a remnant patch of wallaby grass (Rytidosperma sp.).  I find this astounding considering our suburb was developed in the 1920s.  The site in question has a large brush box growing in hard, impenetrable soil from which nothing much else grows, so it’s seldom mowed or weeded.  Local parks are also a good place to go looking for remnant patches of local grasses, especially if your park is a wee bit neglected (we have a large patch of weeping grass, Microlaena stipoides, holding its own against kikuyu in our local park).


To make the establishment of your grassland as least stress-filled as possible, your existing nature strip grass needs to be cleared and this weedy seed load dealt with somehow.  You’ve three main options on this front:


  1. Scalping the soil, taking at least the first 3 inches off, seed load with it, and getting rid of it (expensive and not very sustainable, but highly effective in controlling weed seeds).  A turf cutter does this job brilliantly well.
  2. Solarising the whole area by placing black plastic over it for several weeks in late summer - this will cook a large mount of the seeds, though not all, as well as kill grasses and broadleaves (effective on some weeds, but not all, and it looks atrocious).  Steaming might also work but I can’t vouch for its effectiveness.
  3. Herbicide is another option (judgment on the ethics of their use should be suspended for the purposes of this article).  It will clear grass and kill the weeds that are growing, but it won’t deal with the weed seed load at all.  This option requires intensive hand pulling as weeds come up, mainly during winter.


Deciding which you use will depend on your budget and the amount of effort you are prepared to put in.  The bushland manager in me saw me using the last - killing off my kikuyu with herbicide and hand weeding.  I spent a lot of time weeding, time that would make well-hardened gardeners shriek in horror.  But there are two reasons why I went down this path.


Firstly, I rather enjoy weeding, especially with a beer in hand.  The second is that hand weeding means you are down there on your hands and knees regularly, right at the coalface of your changing ecology, watching it and making observations of the little differences that emerge week-by-week.  You constantly learn about the plants and the way they grow together, often without realising it.  If you hand weed you will soon be able to tell the difference between goodies and baddies, like a weedy Poa annua seedling and a local wallaby grass seedling.  The phrase ‘getting your eye in’ applies here in a big way.  If you get your eye down to this level and pick up those differences you’re well on your way to a successful suburban grassland of your very own.


If you’ve gotten this far, well done!  Questions and discussion below - I’m happy to field any inquiries on the topic of site prep.


The next installment will cover selecting species, planting and a controversial question: to mulch or not to mulch?


Until next time, happy gardening.

A bit of spring bling in my nature strip grassland is native flax, Linum marginale, it's a stout, wirey short lived perennial. Don't be fooled by the 'short lived'. It seeds prolifically and recruits just as readily. It will form drifts in abundance if planted in the right conditions.













*Local grasslands around Melbourne.  The following list are those good for exploring and observing throughout the year, hitting their aesthetic peaks in late spring through to mid-summer, they include:


  • The northeast corner of Proclamation Park, Sylvia Grove, Ringwood, Victoria.
  • Craigieburn Grassland Nature Reserve
  • Melton Botanic Gardens, extensive areas of revegetated grasslands.
  • Geelong Botanic Gardens also has an extensive planting of native grasslands along its main driveway entrance, a really beautiful sight in mid-late spring.

Monday, 6 March 2017

TARDIS

When you start growing your own plants at home you soon run into a small dilemma.  To pull it off with any degree of success and consistency you need a hothouse, or at least something that emulates hothouse-like conditions.  For years I’ve made-do with plastic storage boxes, the ones you can pick up for cheap at the local two dollar shop (our local is called ‘Hot Bargains’, and their range of plastic boxes has to be seen to be believed).  Those wee plastic boxes make highly effective hothouses.  Whack a layer of sand in the bottom and an upside down soft drink bottle filled with H20 and it will even water itself.  I wrote up a story on them when working for Gardening Australia a couple of years back and the internet hits went through the roof.  They’re genius and just enough space to grow seasonal seedlings and few cuttings for your average suburban backyard throughout the year.  They do well but they’re really only a stopgap solution.  Try as I might I couldn’t find one made of UV-stabilised plastic.  Within 12-15 months the plastic becomes brittle and shatters and you have throw the whole lot out and start again.  It’s wasteful and plastic boxes don’t look particularly visually appealing, both of which led me to look for a more permanent alternative.

Crappy plastic storage boxes make a functional, handy mini hothouse!


My backyard isn’t large by Reservoir’s standards.  Reservoir is the name of our suburb (beguilingly pronounced ‘Rezza-vore’ by those raised here).  We have a mere couple of hundred square meters to play in, but the amount I’ve squeezed in over the years has lent it a TARDIS-like quality.  Like a bolt of solar wind-generated lightening, the solution hit me - what about an old phone box?  The footprint is slightly larger than the plastic boxes I’d been using all these years, but with the added bonus of installing layered shelving I would more than triple my propagation space without taking up more horizontal room than I’d ever used before.  


Great idea, but a quick bit of internet research soon saw me crestfallen.  The crappiest, worst condition old phone box I could find would set me back three grand.  From plastic box to pricey box?  No fucking way was I forking out that much.  I can’t remember where the idea to use old doors as a replacement come from.  I claim it as my own but we had two others living with us at the time so the idea might have equally been either of theirs’.  It was settled that we’d use old doors, preferably French doors with glass panes from floor to ceiling in keeping with the original idea of a phone box as closely as possible.  No sooner had I settled on the idea than despondency set in yet again.  French doors are not only expensive but finding matching doors at the local tip shop, it soon became apparent, was going to take a while.


A while quickly turned into three years.  Some months I’d look every week, sometimes a month would go by when I hadn’t looked at all.  But I kept hearing my Scottish mother, whose love of the value of a dollar knew no temper, and faith in thrift led to the rise of a now rusted-on family saying, “Everything comes into Vinnies eventually.”  The new hothouse was going to be an exercise in patience as much as anything.  Then, like a bolt from the TARDIS-blue, there were five matching French doors at the tip shop in late January this year, twenty five bucks-a-pop.  And I only needed three.  ‘Bewdy.  

The bargain French doors, after searching for them for years they were finally, greedily snaffled and awaiting their metamorphosis into the hothouse of my dreams.


Once they were offloaded on the front verandah my enthusiasm waned yet again.  I realised I now had to build it.  I hadn’t tinkered with wood in any meaningful way since I was in year 10, going on 20 years ago now.  I kept telling myself I had experience with woodwork throughout the whole planning process, but now I had to prove it.  Confronting as it was, the simple solutions are often the best.  I decided to use 100mm pine posts, into which I’d cut sashes for the doors to slot into, just like a window sash.  That way, it would all just click into place after a few carefully measured cuts and a bit of chiseling.  


Cut sashes into simple wooden frames.  The doors just slot in, easy peasy.  Recess your sashes to the depth of the door frames you buy and you can't go wrong.  I did all this with a circular saw set to the depth of the doors and a chisel to clean up the frayed bits.  Did I mention I have limited woodworking experience?  You can do it too!


It makes the build sound relatively easy, and in retrospect it really was.  I was surprised at how well it all came together, miraculously, without incident.  I did the whole thing with no more that a circular saw, drill and chisel.  No glass cracked, all measurements lining up.  You know that saying, when it sounds too good to be true it probably is?  That should apply to this story, but I’m glad, even surprised to say it doesn’t.  It all unfolded like well-measured clockwork.  Cut sashes into your posts and just screw it all together - what could be simpler?

I built the basic construction in the driveway before assembling the lot in its new home out back

Nearing completion, the pine posts I cut the sashes into were concreted in using metal 100mm post footings at 450mm deep. Once the roof was on the whole thing was sturdy as sturdy can be.


The roof took me a good week of  thinking and a great deal of YouTubing to even attempt it. Cutting a bird's mouth at first seemed beyond my skill level.  But it, too, was remarkably easy.  Watch a few videos on building rafters and all of a sudden you’re a dab hand at it.  All I did was use hardwood two-by-fours to make a box for the top of the frame, which I then screwed into place to make the whole structure ridgid.  I then screwed the two rafters onto the box and topped it all off with a couple of bits of polycarbonate roofing and aluminum flashing to make it water tight.

Rafters were by far the most challenging part of the build. But YouTube (and a well-remembered high school trigonometry class) is your friend. Take your time and you'll get there.


The shelving is going in as we speak, after which it will be the fully functioning, propagation powerhouse of my dreams.  In the end I even had to paint it TARDIS blue.  The colour was an apt metaphor, not only because the seedlings I will grow in it will be the start of much larger, flourishing productive plants once their roots get into the ground, but despite my creeping crestfallen moments, small ideas often grow into the most grand of projects, ending up in something beautiful, often without you even realising it.  And, in the end, isn't that what gardening is all about?

 The hothouse of my dreams.  The original idea was a phone box, but this mash of matching French doors looks just as good, to my eyes, at least....
She's all done and looking grand.


Until next time, dream big and tinker!

Jimmy
xox

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Backyard Renovation

My backyard renovation is coming along well.  It's been a very kind Melbourne summer, suspiciously kind for a world with a warming climate.  While there have been a few days above 30 degrees Celsius there has been nothing like the run of high-thirties days that are typical of previous Melbourne summers.  We're now into February, generally agreed to be the hottest month in Melbourne, but right now I'm sitting outside, shivering slightly at the chilly 15 degree morning.  I'm counting my blessings in this regard, landscaping a new garden in Melbourne's summer is really quite a stupid idea.  Whenever I lament the lack of progress I've made I think how worse it could have been.  If we'd had a summer like previous years I'd not have made half the progress I have so far.

It all began back in early December 2016.  I had finalised the design for the new back garden.  I'd settled on a series of raised beds constructed out of cor-ten steel with a few trellises made from concrete reinforcing mesh.  There were a few steel rounds in the design as well.  Perhaps the preponderance of rust was my Neil Young fandom coming through?  My my, hey hey, cor-ten steel is here to stay.  The steel just seemed like a good material to use.   I spent a couple of weeks pricing materials and where to source them.  My original idea was to use Formboss garden edging for the beds - it looks great and is straightforward to install, and the plans I sent to the manufacturer came back a bit cheaper than I was expecting.  I visited a couple of local steel fabrication workshops around the inner north of Melbourne and talked to them about my ideas for the garden and found one that just 'got it' with no more than a glance at my drawings and a brief conversation.  They came back to me with a quote that was $500 cheaper than the prefab Formboss material, and what's more, they were going to build the beds out of 3mm steel where the Formboss product was 0.8mm.  I went with the local metal blokes.

Cor-ten chequer plate, the rounds

The new beds arrived the day before a two week trip.  It's always the way.  What I had imagined to be a few weeks of building before Christmas turned into no building at all before early January.  With a bit of extra help from a visiting sibling we took a deep breath, cleared the yard and got stuck right in.

The backyard almost cleared, construction was about ready to begin

As I said before, progress started out slowly and has remained so.  Getting the levels right for the raised beds was much trickier than I expected.  You can see in the above photo, most of the beds were only three sides - I'd planned to build the backings with cypress pine, which is resistant to decay and a lovely timber to work with.  The process I followed was to measure up the pine backing to fit the steel, concrete the backing into place then get the beds level before coach screwing it all together.  It sounds easy and in most senses I guess it was, but much more fiddly and time consuming than I had anticipated.

 The first bed in, what a relief

The hardwood upright supports for the beds were an essential solution to a problem that became apparent almost immediately.  There was a slight flex in the steel and getting it to sit straight was impossible without extra support.  They would surely bulge once filled with soil.  I borrowed this idea from a garden in the Yarra Valley that had steel beds with old railway sleepers bolted onto them for stability.  I'll likely reduce the height of the uprights when the garden is nearing completion but they will sit proud of the beds for two main reasons.  The first is aesthetics, I quite like the look of them.  Secondly, I have a huge problem with blackbirds in my garden that sees me having to net beds of young seedlings lest the little flying fuckers destroy young them.  The supports will be a handy thing to drape netting over.

Supports will be handy for netting down the track

After the first bed went in I had a system for getting the others in and it unfolded quite quickly up to a point.  The very last bed, some 5 meters long, was going in along the fence line.  This will be a hedge of fanned citrus eventually.  One thing about citrus is that they resent root competition.  They will never thrive near existing trees.  There is a mature maple in the neighbouring yard and its roots extended significantly into our soil - they would have to go and a root barrier installed to keep them out for good.  There was nought to be done but dig a whacking great trench along the bed.

The root barrier - essential for keep competing roots away from citrus.  This one extends to 700mm below the ground.

The trellises were next to go up, constructed out of hardwood uprights and reo mesh.  Having worked with reo mesh a lot in the past, the trellises went up in a couple of days.  The garden was finally starting to reveal how it would look upon completion.

 First trellis up

Trellising done, the garden begins to show its structure 

Despite the garden showing hints of its finished self, the place still looks like a tip.  But its nothing a bloody big skip can't fix in the coming week!  My progress is set to be hampered a wee bit further by a couple of music festivals coming up, back-to-back over the next two weekends.  Mind you, I have the weeks free so it isn't all bad news.  Come to think of it, all that news is pretty good news.

My next post will be a detailed account of how I built a small greenhouse out of old French doors.  I'm working on it today and aiming to have it done mid-next week.  Then its skip time.  The end is so close I can taste it.

Until then, keep digging.




Saturday, 28 January 2017

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.  Their ability to waft far and wide impresses me more than their blooms.  The same goes for gardenias.  Where I went to hort school there was a large Gardenia thunbergia that pumped out its scent so profusely that on late summer evenings its heady smell could be detected wafting some hundred meters or more from where the plant was to be found in the gardens.  Quite amazing.

Gardenia thunbergia

Yes, smell can seduce as much as any other sense.  Perhaps more than any other sense.  While we love flowers for their smells, plants don't do it for us, far from it.  It's all to attract pollinators and while bees are the first that springs to mind there are thousand of other insects that pollinate flowers.  Some have such specific relationships that only one species of insect will pollinate a single species of plant.  The gardenia in I mentioned before only releases its scent in the evening because it's pollinated by moths.  Ditto for most nicotine species.  Flies, too, pollinate flowers, but these fly-attracting plants are more likely to smell like a fresh cowpat or decomposing corpse than a gardenia.

The titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum

A couple of years ago a titan arum flowered at the Melbourne Botanic Gardens and I managed to get along to see it.  An interesting aside, the titan arum's latin name, Amorphophallus titanum, translates to English literally as 'giant deformed penis' (it would give Lorena Bobbitt ideas, make no mistake).  We arrived first thing in the morning and being one of the first into the greenhouse after it had begun flowering the night before, we copped its stink head-on.  It also goes by the common name corpse flower, however I would liken its scent more to a sailor's old jockstrap before making the comparison with rotting flesh.  It was certainly more BO than dead body.

I was pruning some unruly hops the other day in the back garden and a small species of carrion flower (Orbea lepida) I've been growing for a few years came into view as I was pruning and, low and behold, it had a flower on it.  It threatened to flower last year but the buds came to nothing, much to my frustration.  I was over the moon to see it in flower.  The flower is gorgeous but as I inched closer to the pot it's in, I did so with a slight trepidation.  It can't be that bad, I thought.  So I went in for the kill and took a big whiff.


The flower of Orbea lepida

It absolutely stank.  I can honestly say it made me wretch, and no sooner had I almost thrown up, a fly came buzzing in to take a closer look at the flower.  I guess attraction, like everything, is a matter of perspective.

This succulent species is a doddle to grow.  In Melbourne, at least, Orbea lepida is easy.  It's happy in a pot - any succulent mix will do it just fine.  In my garden it gets morning sun and it's going gangbusters.  I'm going to have to repot it this year, a process that will see bits of it, no doubt, break off.  But it grows easily from cuttings as well, so you can fill your garden full of stink in no time for the price of a single plant.

It's a great practical joke plant to this end, I freely admit to encouraging others to smell the flower when it catches their eye, which it invariably does.  "Make sure you take a big whiff," I gently suggest, trying to stifle a naughty laugh as others go in for a whiff they'll regret.

Have a go at it if you see it in a nursery.  It's wonderfully straight forward to grow and an oddity that really 'wows' visitors.

Until next time, stay smelly!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

When The Only Way Is Up

Like all gardeners, my yard never seems to be big enough.  I'm in the middle of a hefty backyard redesign at the moment and while construction is ongoing my productive space is reduced by two thirds.  I'm building the new garden myself to keep costs down, however using mainly hand tools and a strong back tends to push the build timeline out significantly.  There's still rebar trellising to go up, paving to be done, not to mention the several cubes of dirt to be dug for gravel paths, and all that's before a single plant goes into the ground.  Lots to do still, but today is nudging 35 degrees so I'm writing in the shade instead.

It's my first season without beans for several years and I'm trying, unsuccessfully, not to let it bother me.  I'd usually have a few varieties in and be picking bucket loads at this time of year.  Considering there are still several jars of dilly beans in the larder it's probably a good thing I decided to skip this year's crop.  At least that's what I tell myself.  Buying them at $7 a kilo from the market upsets me when they're are the easiest thing to grow.  But enough about beans.



Bean crops of years past

Right outside our backdoor are two large reo mesh archways that we use to grow shit up.  We've grown the aforementioned beans up them before, as well as tomatoes and zucchinis.  They're a great bit of kit to have in the garden.  They make the expanse of deck they cover a productive spot where it otherwise wouldn't be and leave the rest of the vegetable beds they're anchored into for other goodies.  After previous years' success with zucchinis in particular, I wanted to try pumpkins up them again this year.  I say 'again' because I grew them up one of the arches a couple of years ago.  After they'd been growing happily for a about a month I decided to tidy up the plant, cutting out the branches of the vine that were working their way into the vegetable bed, fast becoming a threat to the survival of other plants around it.  It was one of those 'oh, fuck' moments, realising a split second too late that I managed to cut the main leader off about three inches above ground level.  It was in the afternoon on a weekend so I was probably a few beers in (#consummateprofessional).  No pumpkins that year!



Zucchini 'Tromboncino' went ape a couple of years back

With a severe limitation on space this year I decided it was time to give the pumpkins another go and the only way was up.  I'd stay sober throughout all attempts at training it and so far so good!  Thankfully the cultivar I planted, pumpkin 'Buttercup', grew along a single leader for the first 8 weeks of its life, perhaps knowing I'd killed one of its brethren for being too unruly a couple of years previously.  It started branching about 4 weeks ago and is now of a significant size with one pumpkin already set and growing like the clappers.  Others have threatened to set, but after teasingly plumping up for a week they get all sickly-looking and drop off like the Second Earl of Rochester's infected extremities.




Growing on vertical supports like this is a great way to increase productive space.  Had I allowed this pumpkin to trail along the ground it wouldn't enjoy as much sun as it does now, especially since it made it onto the roof a week ago.  This side of the deck faces east so the ground level gets direct sun for only about 5 hours a day, but the archways get sun for 7-10 hours a day depending on the time of year.  The difference in sunlight takes a barely adequately productive spot to a photosynthetic powerhouse, perfect for pumpkins.

So while my garden isn't big enough at the moment I'm raising my sights and looking up.  It won't be long until I have ample space to fill with plants and, no doubt, be soon lamenting I've run out of space again.

Until next time, stay dirty.

Jimmy

A New Year, a New Blog


In the first year of a Trump presidency I thought it time to kickstart a new blog with lots of pretty flowers and vegetables to distract from the downwardly spiraling cesspool of geopolitics.



Plants nourish, heal, inspire and deepen knowledge of the world around us

I'm not a hippy, far from it, but I believe plants and gardening have the ability to nourish the soul, feed creativity and sustain a long and fulfilling life.  The cherry on the cream is a plant, after all.  I chose horticulture as a career after working in an office for years while studying.  I grew to loath the idea of working in an indoor career.  Gardening was and still is a discipline that satisfies me both physically and intellectually.  The physical side of it is obvious, there's nothing more satisfying than digging a big hole and putting a plant in it.  The intellectual side is lurking just below the surface, waiting to be discovered like the chink of a spade hitting a water main.  Hit it hard enough and you'll be engulfed in a wondrous fountain of knowledge not even the most reliable plumber will ever quell.  Every plant has a story to tell.  Whether they're the clothes on your back, the beer you drink or the infuriating weeds in your paving, all plants have come from somewhere in the world and the stories of how they've found their way into your garden are often no less thrilling than the plants themselves.  Wars have been fought over plants.  Pivotal events in history have happened because of them.  We mark births, deaths and marriages with plants.  They nourish, heal, inspire and even intoxicate, both literally and figuratively, and in the process help to deepen our knowledge of the world around us.

My road to this besotting with botanics has been a long and meandering one.  I have worked in numerous gardening roles in my 15 years in horticulture.  After graduating from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Horticulture in 2007, I took a road not often travelled by hortos or other gardening-inclined folk.  I took up a job in bushland management, initially as a year's stopgap to figure out where it exactly was I wanted horticulture to take me.  I enjoyed it so much I stayed for three years, and as years do when one is enjoying ones self, they flew by at an alarming rate.  Over those years I worked in some pristine bushland around Melbourne and the Yarra Valley, as well as many degraded sites that needed nurturing.  I fell in love with our indigenous flora, particularly our grasslands, whose story is an interesting but tragic one for another time.

After three years I worked briefly as a jobbing gardener before scoring a job working for Gardening Australia, the national telly program on the ABC.  It's been a mainstay for the green and black thumbed alike in Australia for over 25 years and it was privilege working with a show that I grew up watching and loving (it was a secret pleasure as a teenager watching Peter Cundall on Saturday nights before going out to party).  It sounds like a dream job and in many respects it was, but that early-learnt loathing of office work was an ever present Blundstone boot, gently kicking me in the back of the head.  Very rarely did us behind-the-scenes-hortos get out into the gardens we wrote about.  While producers had the privilege of flitting about the country filming some of our most spectacular gardens and natural landscapes, we were daisy-chained to the desk 99% of the time.  It was an indoors job, stressful most of the time, and it was only a matter of time before I packed it in.  Which I did late last year.  So to keep my writing brain from atrophying I decided to write - and here I am, and you are, hopefully enjoying ourselves together in this wondrous Garden of Eden we call Earth.

So follow me as I delve headlong into the compost heap of life, bringing humour and humus together in a way that engages and stimulates, titivates and intoxicates, elucidates and educates in a way garden writing never has before.

Until next time, get out there and get dirty.

Jimmy