Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Winter in the Garden

It’s winter here in Perth, the leaves have dropped, the last of the roses are blooming…

Floribunda, Seduction
 rose hips are the reward for laziness not dead heading, here on ‘Heritage’

and some of the native shrubs are flowering

This is Grevillea Olivacea, so called because its leaves are strikingly similar to an olive tree’s. There are various colours, this is the red form. This is actually a really good shrub – large and fast growing (I prune it).

Grevillea flowers also come in different forms and these ones are ‘spider flowers’.

This is a dwarf tea tree which grows to under a metre (3 feet) high. These flowers dry off to form hard black seed pods which I’ve seen parrots come into the garden for. Don't they have lovely faces...

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Oranges and Lemons

Winter is here in Perth. Over this week we’ve been lashed by a wild storm with rain, hail and high winds. When I went for my half hour lunchtime stroll on Monday I found myself completely drenched from knee-level down in a 30 second downpour, doing my very best Marcel Marceau impersonation and then putting on sunglasses for the last 10 minutes. A meteorologist I heard on the radio described the weather as ‘vigorous’.

In this post I want to talk about my Washington Navel orange tree, which has fruited for the first time this year.  Citrus trees seem to be very slow growing and I like to get some height before I let my trees fruit. Even so it is only about 4 ½ feet high after 5 years. They are delicious and heavy for their size and, therefore, juicy. Which is a relief. I was never sure if I was giving it enough water for good fruit over summer. Too little and they will be small and dry, too uneven and the fruit will split – or so I’m told.

This is a dwarf Meyer lemon. My original plan was to keep this in a pot and so I let it fruit even though it was in its first season. I far prefer plants to be in the ground where they take care of themselves and, with bit of shuffling, I have found a spot for it. I’m very impressed with it. Snails ate a lot of the early fruit, which is probably a good thing.

Apart from the Washington Navel I have an early fruiting orange variety, a Navelina orange which is now 3 years old, and another tree that I bought last year, a semi-dwarf Cara Cara orange, which is sold as Rosey red oranges in stores here. The Cara Cara is not a blood orange but a pink toned navel orange.

I follow a fairly hefty fertilising regime for them, adding granular fertiliser in spring, summer and autumn as well as mulching with compost in spring. Even so, the leaves show signs of mineral deficiency in the sandy soil. This is where Charlie Carp liquid fertiliser comes to the rescue. Charlie Carp fertiliser is made from the pesky and destructive European carp which infests rivers in the eastern states. It also has added minerals which increase its usefulness in the case of citrus trees and the depleted sandy soils which plague Perth.

I first discovered C. Carp when I decided to recycle some hand washing water. I decided I could wash my hands in a plastic bowl in the laundry, and by using grey water friendly soap I would be able to recycle it onto the garden. I tested its pH level by watering my hydrangea with it. With an application of compost the flowers hover somewhere in between pink and blue. Adding the recycled water turned the flowers bright pink so the solution seemed to be adding a liquid fertiliser to it. After investigation (well… googling really) I found Seasol and PowerFeed were alkaline, Charlie is acidic.

In summer I need to give my citrus trees (larger ones anyway) 4 capfuls of Charlie Carp in 2 buckets of recycled water every two to three weeks. This is mostly worked out by eyeballing the plant and if it looks a little peaky I will feed it. Over the cooler months it needs less and reduces down to around once every four or five weeks.

Apart from fertilising I give all my fruit trees an extra 10mm of water per week than the rest of the garden. Give it a try!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The (Surprising) Survivors

Let off the fireworks! Today marks 7 years since I moved into this house and inherited a garden that was an almost blank canvas. And what better way to celebrate than a post about the plants that were here all those years ago. Hmmm, come to think of it there must be better ways, but for now…

Some of the plants that had survived 5 years of neglect, 3 because the house was empty and then 2 as a rental, surprised me.  And with rising water prices and the ever present threat of drought and severe watering restrictions, having a garden that will survive and hopefully sail through a dry summer is on my mind at least, and probably yours as well.

Here is the list:


Australian native plants have a reputation for being drought tolerant. This big eucalypt is home to a small flock of pink and grey galahs that come in at dusk every evening to roost.

There are also several varieties of bottle brush and there was a Robin Gordon grevillea which I had to take out because the garden area it was in had been raised above the level of the rest of the garden and I wanted to bring it down to one level. I planted a new one in the back yard but it was a cat-feeder. The neighbouring cats hid beneath it and waited for birds to come in to feed and then sprang out at them. It would be the stuff of bird-nightmares I’m sure. I tried surrounding the plant with mesh but they dug under it, pushed it up and crawled inside. Eventually I decided the death toll was too high and shovel pruned it.


There were a lot of these and they were thriving.

Agapanthus and the unknown iris

A big clump of these beauties sits alongside the driveway. I love agapanthus with their beautiful strappy leaves and pale purple flowers in early summer, they always look good.

Along with them is some sort of short clumping grassy evergreen iris. I have had a shot at identifying it with the aid of my Botanica’s Pocket Gardening Encyclopedia (it’s a little large for any pocket I have), and I think it could be Iris unguicularis, the Algerian Iris, which is from northern Africa. Its blue iris flowers often sit well inside the foliage so it’s a little unfortunate for display.

These all sit in a position where they get a full day’s sun in winter and morning sun in summer with afternoon shade provided by the plane trees planted by my Gardening Neighbour (thankyou, thankyou, thankyou).  A bit of shade helps everything.  The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, they say, the second best is now.

Mandarin and Lemon tree

It was a surprise to find that citrus trees were drought tolerant but there they were - a fruiting mandarin and lemon tree. The lemon tree was from the rootstock and had big thorns and pithy fruit. I have replaced it with a Washington navel now. The mandarin stays although I have trouble keeping its foliage green. I suspect because it is too shaded –I planted a fig tree close by which has grown to create too much shade in the cooler months. It seems to also be growing on its own rootstock and has stayed a small tree to around 5 foot. I reckon it’s an Emperor variety – it ripens a little later in the season and has puffy skin. The fruit are a good size and flavour.


Probably bought as a Christmas decoration and then planted in the garden, it’s an attractive small tree with the flowering bracts in autumn and early winter. Birds and bees love it as well.

Bird of Paradise

Planted under one of the plane trees and no doubt with heavy competition for all things soil related is a huge clump of the bird of paradise plant (strelitzia). I really like the bright and colourful flowers on this plant and its tropical feel.


Roses have only recently been promoted as being drought tolerant, probably since the severe water restrictions in the eastern states a few summers ago when roses were the survivors. There were some in this garden as well and I continue to see roses in neglected gardens that thrive even in the heat. Are they drought tolerant? Darn right!


There’s a clumping bamboo in the back corner that was an original plant. I continued to neglect it for the first summer I was here and I’ve got to say it didn’t look good, but come the cooler temperatures in autumn and some rain it sprang back like you wouldn’t believe.


The nandina, the sacred bamboo, with its lovely fern-like foliage doesn’t look like the sort of plant that would be drought tolerant, but it sits in a very harsh spot against the eastern fence and suffers only minor scorching. It appears in the background of some of the rose shots. Here it is showing a bit of autumn colour and its red berries.