Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Old-fashioned plants - Sleeping Hibiscus

Everyone has a type of plant they particularly like. It may be palms, succulents, bromelaids, - even bamboo. For me, I have a thing for old-fashioned tropical plants - and I was lucky enough to come across the sleeping hibiscus Malvaviscus arboreus for sale.

It is very common in the older parts of Sydney - presumably owing to its popularity in times long gone.In these gardens,t is often grown as an informal hedge and is said to be very easily grown from cuttings. It is no longer popular and is rarely (if ever) stocked by nurseries.

My tubestock sleeping hibiscus

The curious flowers never quite 'open' - they look like hibiscus flowers in bud. They are produced copiously so the plant looks colorful anyway.  It is a sprawling (and slightly untidy) shrub, so it benefits from regular trimming. I've seen it flower both in full sun and deep shade but I prefer it in full sun as it remains compact. 

This is an example of an old fashioned plant that should be seen more. It is hardy, drought tolerant and flowers for 12 months of the year. It is suitable for warm-temperate to tropical areas.

I recall one TV presenter receiving a call from a concerned woman that her hibiscus never open it's flowers like the one next door did - only to be told that her plant was in fact sleeping hibiscus!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Garden helpers

I have been annoyed by some recent chewing from some mystery insect tearing everything apart in the garden. Being winter, the plants don't grow and a plant can be easily decimated in no time. To make matters worse, they only seem to chew on the new foliage - ensuring the unsightly holes stay around for some time. Worst affected has been my acalyphas:

Unfortunately, the critters responsible have been very cagey and eluded discovery for some time. That was before I enlisted the help of Milton, a furry feline whose specialty is catching lizards, chasing fluttering leaves and general insect hunting.

Milton poised high in the acalypha observing for any nasty insect action

After some waiting, we identified the leaf muncher:

I'll spare you the details of the grasshopper's demise. It was, however, a small victory for me over the nasty creatures which can seriously upset gardeners. No matter what time of year, there are snails, caterpillars, strange little bugs I can't identify and now grasshoppers all competing to make a tasty treat of my plants. Despite being surrounded by birds, the local avian population prefer to scavenge in the streets to eating bugs. With Milton by my side, however, I do feel I have another weapon in the fight against these garden terrorists.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

What's flowering this time of year

I haven't been in garden for over two weeks, which for me may as well be two years. Incessant rain and below average temps (15c - brrr!) have kept me well away. Luckily today offered a respite and I managed to get some tasks done. Here are some of the flowers which are in the garden today.

The Thunbergia grandiflora is still sprouting buds, although the blooms are half their usual size

The black-eyed susan is always in bloom.

I've noticed the Clerodendrum speciosum is really going well at this time of year, blooming bigger and better than ever

The ornamental bananas are doing well. Above is velutina and below is ornata. They are blooming well but smaller than at other times of the year

It is rather cold at this time of year and days are short. Our mornings aren't too bad (no frost recorded here) but days seldom go above 16. This is fine for a few weeks, even a month or so, but for three continuous months it does take a toll on the plants.

So far, however, so good.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Trip to the Florida Keys - Key West

I thought I'd share some photos of my trip to Key West, Florida. Key West is the western and southernmost island of the Key Island Chain, extending from the tip of southern Florida. It is small with a very cosmopolitan and diverse population of approximately 25,000 people. It is also the southernmost point of continental U.S and is closer to Havana, Cuba than to Miami.

Every view is a postcard on this island. Especially beautiful is the architecture, perfectly preserved elegant dwellings from the mid to late 1800s:

The housing style is a mixture of Victorian, Caribbean and New England styles all blended and painted in pastel shades. The look has been replicated in many new dwellings on the island so well that it is literally impossible to distinguish them from older, renovated houses:

Most of all, I love the gardens. Vibrant spaces overflowing with traditional eye-catching tropical growth, such as poincianas, coconut palms, orchids, travellers's palms and frangipani dominate the cityscape here (such a nice change from Australian tropical gardens of a similar nature being replaced with tufts of native grasses and other nondescript shrubs).

(If anyone knows what the beautiful shrub on the right is, please let me know)

Bougainvilleas spill out onto the street

Poincianas abound and really add to the beauty of the place:

I love how every space is utilized for gardening - such as the sidewalk. In fact, many places with great gardens are those which do not have a lot of space - people are forced to be creative and the lack of space forces you 'into' the plants, to walk past them, brush against them, and have their perfume 'forced' upon you - rather than admiring them from afar behind large sections of clipped lawns. It allows for a far more active interaction with plants. The small setbacks of the houses results in a vibrancy sadly missing from the spacious lawns in the suburbs:

The above picture was taken while flying past the highway to Key West on a bus (hence the power lines). Nonetheless, the scene is stunning. I can't think of a more pretty site. There are lots of traditional plants to see and great gardening design ideas to be taken away from the Keys.


Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award!

Many thanks to Steph of Steph's Green Space for nominating me for "The Versatile Blogger" award. I have only been blogging since January of this year and I consider it a real compliment to get this award. Here are the rules for accepting the award:

  1. Thank the person who gave you the award.
  2. Include a link to their blog.
  3. Select 15 bloggers that you follow or have just discovered who you would consider fit the bill of a 'versatile' blogger.
  4. Tell 7 random facts about yourself.
  5. Include this set of rules in your post.
  6. Inform each of your nominated bloggers of their nomination.
Here are some of the blogs that I read on a regular basis and would like to nominate for the award In no particular order):

1. My Rustic Bajan Garden - this blog features stunning photography of the author's Barbados garden and is a real eye-opener for me to see how my plants would grow if in an optimal climate. The photos are dreamy and will send you to islands!

2. Lotus Leaf - a lovely blog from southern India with some weird and wonderful plants.

3. Fun and Vjs - this blog is all about renovating a traditional Queenslander home in Brisbane, Australia. The author has a lot of quirky furniture and while it is not strictly on gardening, the blog is interesting and unique in its own right. I keep fantasizing about designing a heritage Brisbane garden for the house!

4. bernies garden - this is a well-known blog about a lovely garden in the dry tropics of north Queensland. Some lovely photos and lots of wildlife pictures too. This was one of the first gardening blogs I started following.

5. African Aussie - a lovely blog from Townsville about a dry tropical garden. Some beautiful photography and interesting garden tales too!

6. http://gwen4gardens.blogspot.com.au/  - a blog from the far north of Queensland. What always surprises me is despite our vastly different climates, what grows in this garden generally can be found growing down here, too!

7. Plant Fanatic  - the name says it all. A beautiful Hawaiian blog on local gardens in the islands.

8. Missy's garden - another great blog from Brisbane, with lots of interesting photos of subtropical plants.

9. flowerladysmusings -   a lovely blog not just of plants but with recipes and other artistic creations too! Very interesting!

10. Grower Jim - a gardener from Miami with some wonderful pictures of tropical plants and great advice on growing them.

11. Tropical Life - my photo blog of life in the tropics

12. A warm slice of Brisbane - photo blog of Brisbane

13. Past & Present - historic blog of Brisbane

14. Nice garden - a beautifully-done blog about gardening in Malaysia. The author is a lot like me in   that she finds it hard to not plant what others don't want!

15. Year Round Garden - lovely blog from Florida with some gorgeous plant pictures

Some facts about myself:

1. I speak and read fluent Cantonese.
2. I never notice when it is hot but I am very sensitive to the cold.
3. Nature is what brings me true happiness
4. I speak (Cuban) Spanish
5. Since I was very young I always wanted to live in the tropics
6. I enjoy cooking for my partner and family
7. I love cats! I have a furry black feline named 'Milton' (He was named after a suburb in Brisbane).

I want to thank Steph for nominating me and for those who visit my blog. Although I have gardened all my life (literally since I was a toddler!), I haven't shared it with too many people until now - so thanks to all!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Winter colour

The weather is dismal. Grey, wet, cold (about 13 degrees celcius) and bitterly windy, the house is my retreat at the moment. Although I love the garden, sometimes I appreciate this weather for actually forcing me out of the garden - I spend so much time there I forget I have other interests, too!

Luckily at this time of year there is plenty going on to keep me entertained. First is my zygocactus (schlumbergera). This one is the old-fashioned deep cerise-colored one. I give it no attention all year and despite this, it gives me two flushes of blooms - one in late Autumn and the other in mid-winter.

The blooms are followed by these pink fruits which last a very long time (these are from last year!). I plan to propagate them when they eventually become ripe:

Another very happy plant at this time of year is the one below. I did know its name once, but it escapes me today (something to do with monkeys?). I do remember it is a warm-climate ground cover which likes sheltered spots. It thrives on neglect and blooms throughout winter for me:

The foliage is velvety and fury and has an interesting sliver stripe pattern to it.

It roots easily in water or soil and grows rapidly. I left this one in an out-of-the-way spot where it did OK until I stored some stacks of pots next to it - it then went crazy and doubled in size (it must really like its privacy).

The blooms are pretty in dark corners where nothing else will grow.

Thanks for visiting! Hope you have a great day :)

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Mexican Flame Vine (Pyrostegia venusta)

I learnt it's name as Mexican Flame Vine, but this beautiful climber is also known by a plethora of others - Orange Trumpet Vine, Flame Vine, Firecracker vine and Venusta vine. The beautiful, vivid orange blooms usually appear mid-winter but seem to have bloomed earlier this year. I found this lovely specimen beautifying an otherwise boring Sydney laneway:

The flowers are tubular and arranged in clusters. No perfume but with flowers this eye-catching, a scent would be superfluous:
The plant is reputed to be very cold sensitive which is unusual as it is flourishes in Sydney (or maybe our climate isn't that cold)
I like the combination of the burgundy wandering jew transcendia creeper with the shiny green leaves and orange blossoms.

I've successfully propagated this plant from cuttings, although they take long to root and are very slow to establish this way. Flame vine isn't rampant but climbs via tendrils and always seeks the highest point of the nearest structure. It generally grows well in warm-temperate climates and north.

I've always thought the plant would look great on a front fence with a background of vivid red poinsettia. The beauty of such a combination is demonstrated on the illustrated travel poster below:

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

The poinsettia is commonly seen around Christmas when it is used to decorate homes and business. Their popularity means that the plants often sell for quite a high price, and although it comes in cream and pink, the red variety remains the most sought after around the festive season. I spotted this beautiful specimen (one of the most vivid reds I've ever seen) on a large shrub near work. It is a delight to walkk past and admire:

What we commonly refer to as 'flowers' are in fact 'bracts' (colored leaves if you will) which actually surround the rather insignificant yellow flowers within:

It is interesting to note that reduced day light induces the poinsettia into bloom. So of course in the northern hemisphere, as Christmas approaches, days get shorter and the poinsettia blooms (I have heard that to induce flowering out of season that you put it in a cupboard after 4-5 hours of light a day for 2 months. Remember, things such as street or car lights will affect its ability to bloom). Yet here in the southern hemisphere, days shorten about now, and the plant is in bloom during June and July.

The poinsettia is reputed to be very easily propagated, and the process is similar to that of propagating frangipanis (dry the cutting for a few days before planting in well-drained soil in the warmer months). The plant exudes a sticky yellow sap when broken (as with most euphorbias) so care is needed when handling it.

It is believed that the plant's association with Christmas started in the 16th century when a young peasant girl in it's native Mexico, too poor to afford any gifts, picked some blooms and placed them at an altar to commemorate the birth of Christ. Taken by the plant's beauty the nuns then started to do the same - and a custom was created.

 More locally, the poinsettia was chosen as the floral emblem of Brisbane when the city was formally formed in 1925. A subtropical climate, the plant thrives there. Here in Sydney the plant also does exceptionally well, but again is usually only seen in older inner city areas - it can't handle the more extreme temperatures of the Western suburbs.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Crucifix Orchids (Epidendrum ibaguense)

These beautiful orchids are known by a couple of descriptive and imaginative common names. One is the 'Crucifix  Orchid', named as such by the Catholic missionaries when they discovered in in South America. Another is the ""Ballerina Orchid" because the individual flowers resemble dancers in tutus (if only in shape, at least):

Personally I've always thought the flowers more closely resembled goldfish with their gaping mouths and protruding fins. The shape of the flowers really is amazing.

I've always marveled at these plants. They bloom year round, are very pretty and thrive on neglect. They seem to do well when pot bound, or growing on an exposed rocky cliff, with multiple flowers on the one stalk all year round.

Native to South America, they like a warm frost-free climate and plenty of sun. They thrive in a loose, open soil (like most orchids) and can be propagated by simply planting the little plantlets which develop on the stalks of the parent plant. They tend to be common in older suburbs, especially close to the coast. In fact the only place you can't find them is in the nurseries - a shame really as they are so hardy and easy to grow. Actually it is for this reason that many orchid societies tend to recommend them to those with brown thumbs or newbie orchid fanciers.

The below photo shows them growing in a garden in Brisbane featured on the cover of Gardening in Warm Climates by Desmond Herbert (1898 - 1976) and photographed by Frank Hurley (1885- 1962 and published in 1952 - a demonstration of their popularity in times gone by.

And here are some growing in a local garden:

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Good roots & scavengers

Lately, I have been paralyzed by indecision in the garden. I get in there with a series of intended tasks but before long I stall. The problem is really quite simple - I have too many plants.

 I have no room for this running bamboo. Having had it since I was a child, however, I can't part with it

The problem has various causes. Firstly, I inherited someone else's plants when we moved in here - many of which where nice but had outgrown their allotted space or didn't fit in with my intended landscaping. As I've always believed throwing away plants was something sacrilegious, I held on to them until I could rehouse them. In addition, the climate in this part of Sydney is milder than that of where I used to garden, so plants grow much faster and bigger here. Add to this sick plants given to me by friends and family and combine it with a garden 4 . 2m wide and you get the picture - chaos!

Consequentially, too many plants mean too much time wasted shifting them around. I spend more and more time thinking about how to get rid of plants rather than enjoying the garden. So  a few months ago I had a 'lightbulb moment'  -  I collected a few, placed them on the curb and stuck a sign that said "Free Plants". The idea worked well - by nightfall most had disappeared.

Now to give a bit of context, whatever I've put on the curb - old boxes, broken crates, cracked pots, half-decayed planks of wood unearthed while digging - generally disappear in hours. To prove the point, when my partner showed me one of our ceramic baking trays was cracked and useless, I put it on the curb - you guessed it -like clockwork it had gone by the next morning. In fact, the only time I can't get rid of rubbish is when I call the Council to collect it  (they never do). Luckily the Garbage Fairy never fails to take whatever is out there.

                                       Broken and useless, someone took it home

Having felt content with my 'good deed' of recycling plants, you can imagine my disappointment when, a few days ago, someone returned the plants all dying and sad !:

A lime tree, toparised fig and some other unidentifiable plant, taken green and healthy, have been returned dead and broken.

Oh well. I did try :) 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

What to do with too many plants? - Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)

When we bought this house, there were four bird's nest ferns planted out in a few urns in the backyard. The urns were past their best and they went - but the plants growing in them stayed. I wanted to keep them - the problem was they were so big I had no idea where to put them. This is how some of them sat for a while until I worked out where to accommodate them:

                              The width of the plants is impressive - almost two metres!

The bird's nests went on a merry-go-round of plantings around a yard which really didn't have a spot for them. Of course, parting with them wasn't an option (I could hardly throw them out!) but they continued to spread making my small garden seem even smaller.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize (until I did some research) that these ferns are both lithophytic and epiphytic (meaning they can grow either on rocks or on tree branches).  They derive nourishment from the fallen leaf litter that decomposes in their centre, so aren't as dependent on good soil or the like for food (they are shaped like a giant funnel which helps channel the leaves into it's centre). With that in mind, I then proceeded to mount the four birds nests in various places in my trees: 

I'm quite happy with the result; I think they look a lot like they do in their native area (which is North-Eastern NSW & South East Queensland).

This last one was the greatest challenge - it was quite a feat grasping to the trunk with one hand and a heavy plant in the other while on top of a tall ladder (and a windy day too!). So not only was I afraid of losing my balance, but I had soil and other organic debris fall from the fern and sting my eyes!

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