Winter Warmers

Winter can be a dreary season for some, with cold, rainy days keeping us indoors and outings being thwarted by wet & windy weather. The garden is hibernating, and I often feel like doing so too! But I love the changing seasons in southern Australia, with something happening in every month. Variety is certainly the spice of life for me!

My children and I went on a little adventure to India several years ago, living in a beautiful area in the Palani mountains in the state of Tamil Nadu. The weather was so close to perfect; balmy days with cool mornings, gentle breezes and a slight night chill. Rain fell for half the year, as exciting monsoonal downpours. It was like spring and autumn all year round. The only drawback was the lack of variety. By the time we left, I was longing for a really cold winter where I could snuggle up under my doona with a hot water bottle, and feel the chill on my face.

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Climate proofing your garden

A couple of weeks ago we were finally settling into summer in the garden – checking watering systems and hoses, moving tender potted plants into the shade, planning our activities according to the hottest part of the day, maybe even getting out our swimming togs!

Then in a flash the wild winds blew, temperatures dropped, the lightning flashed, the heavens opened and we were plunged into darkness! Now the temperatures have risen again and we’re waiting for a cool breeze. I’m thinking of renaming Climate Change….Climate confusion!

In our nursery, the spring season was so slow that only now are some plants responding to the warmth and looking their best. The vegie garden is super late, and I have only just put in my tomatoes, zucchini and basil.

So how can we adapt to the changes in our weather patterns and the continuing unpredictability of the climate in our gardens?

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Worms, worms, worms!

One day while teaching a class of pre-schoolers ages 4-5, I took in some compost worms from my garden.  I began the session by telling them that I had my ‘friends’ with me, then slowly unveiled the wriggling creatures. The children were fascinated!  Their reactions ranged from wanting to pick them up to ‘ooo yuk’.  The theme continued of how these wonderful little animals with no eyes, ears or legs could help us quietly in the garden and the children agreed that they were indeed our friends and should be looked after carefully.  Unfortunately I didn’t heed my own advice and when the session was finished, I fed the worms to the chickens kept by the children.  The chooks eagerly gobbled them up and I was pleased that the session had gone rather well until one little girl burst into tears and cried ‘but they were our friends’!  Aaah such is the difficulty of life for our young ones, coming to terms with the seeming cruelty of nature.

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ROSEMARY

As for rosemary, I let it run all over my garden walls, not only because my bees love it but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship, whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language

Sir Thomas Moore (1479 – 1535) British writer, statesman and philosopher

History

Rosemary has been prized for thousands of years for its fragrance, as well as its culinary and medicinal properties.The Latin name, Rosmarinus officinalis, means ‘dew of the sea’, but one legend says that the Virgin Mary spread her cloak over a rosemary bush while she was resting. The flowers turned blue like her cloak, and the bush was known from then on as the ‘Rose of Mary’. In old England, rosemary became an emblem of love, fidelity and remembrance in literature and folklore.

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Sage

In this post we continue our series on herbs – this time it’s Sage.

The names Salvia and “sage” are derived from the Latin salvere (to save), referring to the healing properties long attributed to the various Salvia species.  Botanically, the plant belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae, of the genus Salvia. It is the largest genus of plants in this family, with approximately 700–900 species of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and annuals.

 
 

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No Dig Vegetable garden

Last spring our GPG team had great fun setting up a vegetable patch on the property of our dear, generous friend and fellow gardener, Penny O’Hare. We started with a bare paddock with awful stony soil and now we’re been picking masses of tomatoes, squash, zucchini, beans, capsicum and cucumber! We’ve just planted our root crops for winter and they’re already up and running.

I love to let nature work for me, rather than battling the elements and working against the environment. This is why we chose the ‘no-dig’ garden method for our new vegetable bed.

My own garden mentor is my gorgeous mother, Coralie Wollaston Williams. She eagerly adopted this method in the 1970’s, after reading Esther Dean’s iconic Australian gardening book, ‘Growing without Digging’. Mum had very difficult soil to work with, hard clay and shale, and as a young girl I can remember helping her layer the garden with newspaper, straw, compost and manure gathered from the paddocks. She still gardens this way in her mid-80’s and her garden is a healthy picture, full of gorgeous friable soil and worms.

I’d like to share what we’re doing, and perhaps it may inspire you to start a small veggie or flower plot garden, or to extend an existing one. Continue reading

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme…

In the next few posts, I would like to share with you my favorite and most indispensable herbs – the ones I can’t do without, either in the garden or in the kitchen. 

The title of this post refers to the traditional British ballad ‘Scarborough Fair’, made famous in the 1960’s by Simon & Garfunkel among others. Notable modern versions include a ‘doom metal’ rendition by My Dying Bride!

The song relates the tale of a young man who instructs the listener to tell his former love to perform for him a series of impossible tasks, such as making him a shirt without a seam and then washing it in a dry well, adding that if she completes these tasks he will take her back. Often the song is sung as a duet, with the woman then giving her lover a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him his seamless shirt once he has finished. Doesn’t sound like a great offer to me!

All that aside, choosing and growing herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme should be such an easy task, but many people I meet are just plain confused, due to the number of varieties of each herb. Hopefully I can help by explaining what is available, how different varieties grow and can be used in your garden, and how to use them in your kitchen.

This first post will tackle parsley, the wonder herb! If you only grow one herb, this is the one that I would choose.

Spring has sprung!

Aah… the Spring equinox has come and gone and the days are getting longer and warmer.  My children laugh at me at this time of the year, as I eagerly wait for the sun to rise exactly 12 hours from the sunset!  My spirits start to lift as I think of the extra time I can spend outside, the veggies I can grow, and the great BBQs we can have.
However Spring here in southern Australia must be the most changeable of seasons ever. We have still had wet wintry days and cold nights, some luscious spring days, but also some very warm, windy days which remind us that summer is ahead.

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Mop Top Robinias & Weeping Mulberries – pruning standard trees

What do you do when you are faced with the daunting task of pruning a weeping mulberry or a Mop-Top Robinia or any other standard tree for that matter? Well, firstly take a deep breath because it’s not as hard as first appears. Secondly, there are some simple tricks you can use which will lead to success, and finally, you can’t do much damage that can’t be fixed by new growth, except to prune below the graft!

A gorgeous weeping Mulberry

I believe that pruning can be easier if you know what type of plant you have and how it grows, so to begin with, let’s look at what a standard plant is. Basically, it’s one plant grafted onto another at a desired height. The ‘rootstock’ is the host plant, and will usually be in the same plant family as the ‘graftee’.

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Compost – the easy way to ‘Black Gold’

Composting is a subject that has so many differing ideas and methods, but there is one simple rule –

EVERYTHING THAT IS NATURAL WILL BREAK DOWN EVENTUALLY!

So having made that statement, the real reason for all the articles, gardening videos etc is because, as keen gardeners, we all want to make compost as quickly as possible!

I’m going to try to help by making some easy suggestions, but the truth is that if you leave a large pile of organic matter, you will eventually find that it has become a little pile of earthy-smelling decomposed material that will hold water and add goodness to your soil and food for your plants. In fact, if you leave it unattended for long enough, the plants (usually weeds!) will find their own way to the compost.

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