Saturday, 28 March 2020

A Stunning Red Oncidium

Burrageara Pacific Panache ‘Fire Side Fever’                              A New Malaysian Garden                                                   

 ‘Fire Side Fever’ is a delightful member of the Oncidium alliance of orchids. She is fast-growing, and free-flowering. For us, she produced eight spikes of gorgeous terracotta-red blooms in her first season, and twelve spikes this summer and autumn. Some spikes will reward you with 40 or 50 blossoms, even an occasional 70.

Early Autumn flowers of a beautiful orchid. Very beautiful, but not fragrant as other members of the Oncidium Alliance

Labelled on purchase as Wilsonara Pacific Panache ‘Fire Side Fever’ and frequently found on the ‘net under this name, this delightful plant is branded as a Burrageara on the website of the International Orchid Foundation,

Knowing the proper appellation of the plant is extremely helpful: it provides important clues to the correct care. So, what is the difference between a Wilsonara and a Burrageara?

Wilsonara-type and Burrageara-type Oncidiums share a common ancestry. They are a hybrid admixture of Odontoglossum, Cochlioda and Oncidium species. The difference is that Burrageara orchids also include a Miltonia species in their breeding. So, why the name change? I don’t know… but I’ll keep reading.

So, why is it important to know the genetic breakdown of an Oncidium orchid? Some Oncidium species are cool-growing orchids, for example, from mist forests high up in the mountains of South America, whereas other species are warm-growing, from jungle lowland locations of Central and South America.

In the case of ‘Fire Side Fever’, three of her species ancestors (Miltonia, Cochlioda and Odontoglossum) are cool-growing. When I learned this, I started to grow this beautiful orchid more effectively.

Moving to our new home on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, ‘Fire Side Fever’ was placed on our north-east facing verandah, alongside all our other Oncidium orchids. She received ample direct morning sun and, like the other orchids, endured the hottest spring and summer days. However, ‘Fire Side Fever’ regularly displayed scorched leaves, a sign that it was not entirely happy.

As a consequence, we moved her to our south-facing porch for the remainder of the warm season… In the winter, she will return to the warmth of the front verandah, to be placed at the top of the orchid stand in order to avoid the piercing rays of the sun.

Comfortable in its new location

What else can we learn from its cool-growing ancestry and mist-forest inheritance? ‘Fire Side Fever’ loves humidity. We use the pot-in pot technique… her plastic pot stands inside a terracotta pot part-filled with stones. The two pots are then placed on a substantial tray and this is filled regularly with water. The terracotta pot then absorbs the excess water, thereby increasing the humidity around the plant. Furthermore, on the hottest days, she is given a quick mist-spray from the garden hose!

Furthermore, her misty origins suggest that she loves water. Therefore, never let ‘Fire Side Fever’ dry out. However, never allow her orchid mix to become soggy either. When rewatering, make sure that she is almost dry, not bone dry.

When I purchased ‘Fire Side Fever’, she came in a 125mm pot. Because of her fast-growing nature, at the end of her first flowering season, she was transferred to a 180mm pot: she will remain in this pot for two flowering seasons. Then, I will decide whether to pot-her-on to a larger pot, or divide her into two or more sizeable plants.

Is she quirky? Yes. This season, some of her spikes emanated from the top, the pointy end, of the pseudobulb. If this happens, her flower-load is reduced, but when she forms her spikes from the optimal location at the side of the pseudobulb, she is floriferous! Stunningly beautiful.

Close to full flower

And her quirkiest habit of all? Her January, mid-summer flowers tend to be of a lighter colour, an orangey-colour which fades to pink, compared to her autumn, March and April, flowering of scintillating terracotta red.

Summer colour. Orange...

...fading to pink

I can thoroughly recommend ‘Fire Side Fever’. Her four months of abundant display is clearly the most attractive of our current Oncidium Alliance plants.

Please stay safely at home during these dangerous Covid-19 times. Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

                                                A New Malaysian Garden

In these difficult times, when many of us are practising social-distancing in our homes, what better activity can we indulge than to spend time relaxing in, and admiring, our outdoor and potted gardens. It is our wish that you remain safe and healthy in this global Covid-19 crisis… Please take care.

But what to do when unable to spend time in a garden? Or, when you are waiting for your fruit trees and other plantings to mature?

Clockwise from top... Phalaenopsis hybrid, Degarmoara Jacqui Louise 'Olympia', Oncidopsis Nelly Isler and Miltassia Charles M. Fitch 'Izumi'

Residing for more than a year in a rental property severely limited my ability to spend time in a garden. However, with three orchid societies in the local region, each holding two or three orchid shows during past years, it was clear that this was an excellent area in which to grow orchids. So, with time on my hands, I decided to add to my small collection of cymbidium orchids which had travelled from Sydney with us.

Part of my father's former collection of cymbidiums

Having travelled extensively over the years throughout warmer climes, I had taken a fancy to the colour and charm of Dancing Lady orchids… members of the Oncidium Alliance. These were regularly offered for sale at those orchid society shows and were also readily available at a local garden centre. 

The glorious display of Burrageara Pacific Panache 'Fire Side Fever'. I will discuss the care of this orchid in my next blog post

Exhibiting a broomstick of more than 200 flowers, Odontocidium Everglades Elegance 'Nancy Lee'... I wait impatiently for its next massed display as a more mature plant

Besides these, I found that high-quality Moth Orchid plants, Phalaenopsis, were easily obtainable from a local department store. 

A secondary stem shoot of five flowers from this unnamed Phalaenopsis hybrid. I suspect that this variety is I-Hsin 'Yellow Leopard'

And, finally, and most gratefully, I was gifted an additional number of beautiful Cymbidium orchids… So, these have become the core of my new gardening passion.

For the past two years, firstly at our rental residence and later at our new semi-rural home, we have enjoyed continuous, year-round orchid colour… and a little accompanying fragrance. Below, we present some of our recent flowerings…

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Trials and Tribulations
 A New Malaysian Garden

The initial establishment of a garden rarely runs entirely smoothly. Regardless of one’s planning and research, there are always plant pests, sometimes hungry animals and occasionally adverse weather events with which to contend.

It was March last year (2019). With the construction of the house started and water available, we enthusiastically began planting out our orchard. Our true first plantings included our prized seedling mangoes, including Chokanan and Nam Dok Mai, and a grafted King Thai (Maha Chanok), as well as seedlings (not true-to-type) grown from our beautiful, dwarf Sydney mango. In addition, we popped in two varieties of Macadamia, a lychee, three different varieties of jackfruit and an avocado, about 20 trees in all.

With the warm autumn weather and a regular supply of water, the trees thrived… but this is where a happy story turns sour…

Our prior research had indicated to us that our Mid North Coast location was subject to mild frosts. These, we thought, would present few problems for our young trees. After all, we had faced a similar issue with the establishing of our sub-tropical trees in our former southern garden. So, one day at the end of May, with daytime temperatures still very warm, we purchased rolls of frost cloth to protect the trees from any possible future frost event which might eventuate during the fast-approaching winter.

In the dead of morning, before the dawn following our purchases, it happened: the heaviest frost in local history took place. Minus 3.5C. We drove to our property to inspect our trees: immense damage had been done, but we covered the trees with frost cloth, hoping that they might recover, given time and attention. The next morning another equally devastating frost event occurred.

A valued soft-fleshed jackfruit tree displaying the damage of the frost event. If you look closely to the left of the main trunk, you can make out its regrowth from its roots

These frost events were attributable to the ongoing drought affecting almost all East Coast Australia. With little rain and a lack of evening cloud cover, the risk had become very high, leading to these historic frosts.

For months, we inspected our trees for signs of life, providing some additional water, in the hope that they might revive. In October, with the drought continuing and with pressure on water supplies, we gave up hope: not one of the trees had shown any sign of revival.

Not only had we given up hope with our sub-tropical orchard, but we also decided to stop planting any further trees. With increasingly heavy water restrictions, and insufficient rain falling, we simply could not recycle enough water from showers, sinks and laundry to establish any new plants.

Then, in late October, a new and more worrying threat emerged. Huge tracts of our region caught fire. I won’t go into this in any detail, because this has been discussed at great length in the national and world press. Fortunately, however, we avoided the fate of so many poor souls, who have lost their homes and livelihoods during this horrific climatic ordeal. Our picturesque valley and its beautiful native animals had been spared devastation.

Relief from the overbearing heat and the impending danger of fire came for us on Christmas Day. Heavy rain fell for most of the day, filling our depleted water tank, thereby providing a valuable source of supplementary water while our drought-inspired water restrictions persisted. But this was not the only Christmas surprise…

A few days later, while bucketing water to thirsty citrus trees, I walked past our dead longan tree, noticing a small green shoot emanating from the roots. It was alive. Barely. I checked our other trees. Two jackfruit trees, two mangoes and a macadamia were each pushing out new, tender shoots from the roots. What a relief! The next cargo of bucketed water would be poured around the bases of our six Lazarus sub-tropical fruit trees.
Since Christmas Day, we have had good falls of rain, about 200mm. Our property has quickly greened and our plantings, fruit and ornamentals alike, have kicked along vigorously.

Our seedling of a Malaysian mango pushes out a new shoot. For us, this tree was totally irreplaceable... This is a welcome sight. In the coming months, we might have to build a tent over this special tree 😁

Despite the life-giving rains, our water restrictions persist, and have just been declared at an emergency level, allowing only the use of captured or recycled water in the gardens and orchard. So, further plantings are out of the question until cooler weather returns.

Our pineapples were razed to the ground by frost: some have recovered nicely.

Our story is not an isolated one: large tracts of east-coast Australia are suffering, with local residents and native wildlife wondering when our thirsty rivers, streams and watercourses might be replenished after such a long dry spell. One hopes that a break in the extraordinary conjunction of meteorological events arrives soon!

A happy section of the new orchard, containing lemon grass, young citrus trees and pea eggplant. Note the watering and feeding stations for the local wallabies.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Saturday, 4 January 2020

A Garden in Waiting… No Longer                                        A New Malaysian Garden 

The new Colinas Garden is, at last, taking shape.

It is with some regret that I have not posted earlier and more often about progress in establishing the new home and its sustainable garden on our small acreage. The past months, however, have been a busy time. From this point, however, I hope to be more reliable in documenting the transformation of our ‘blank canvas’, the New Colinas, into a sustainable and productive gardening space, which allows for the welfare of our local native wildlife.

A female Bower Bird is a regular visitor to our bird bath... and also a thief of our cherry tomatoes and strawberries.

As I indicated in the post ‘A Garden in Waiting’, we left Sydney behind in March 2018. For a period of about 15 months, we resided in a rental home in a major city on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales, carefully tending our potted garden of cuttings and seedlings, most of which had been transported from Sydney.

The construction of the New Colinas home was completed in July 2019. So, we have just begun to settle after six months of unpacking… and planting, of course. Now, I don’t want to bore you with the details of the unpacking, so let’s talk about the gardens…

From July onwards, our first area to be planted effectively was the Citrus Orchard. This included young grafted plants of various orange, mandarin, lime and pomelo varieties, among which was a Marcott of the pomelo tree which we had successfully grown in the Western Sydney garden. Between these young trees, we have planted our first Ginger and Lemon Grass and Pea Eggplants. There might not be enough of these for a harvest this season. However, we planned for a long delay from removal to first harvest by freezing a large quantity of ginger and lemon grass, collected from the Sydney property.

Above and below... Two trees waiting impatiently to be planted: a Wax Jambu, purchased at a local market; and a Nam Dok Mai mango

The Nam Dok Mai was purchased online from Daley's at Kyogle, NSW

Our first successful mango planting took place in September. This beautiful tree had spent six years in a large terracotta pot, and just this week flushed its first new growth of the season. It is a seedling tree of the delicious Kent variety. Unfortunately, it will not produce fruit true-to-type, Kent being a mono-embryonic mango variety. Nevertheless, it will produce acceptable and interesting fruit… I am never afraid of attempting to grow seedling fruit trees.

The long-suffering Kent seedling mango finally makes it into the ground

Aside from the new orchard, we have begun to establish Vegetable and Herb Gardens. These are already providing us with plenty of green vegetables, such as lettuces, chicory, beans and Kangkung, Sweet Potato leaves as well as chillies and capsicums, okra, eggplants and tomatoes, along with a plentiful variety of herbs. 

Our first Herb and Veggie Garden of lettuces, basils, beans, chicory, kangkung, shallots and Mints

Other areas of the garden which are in their infancy, are an attractive Front Garden of low-growing flowering plants and an Asian Senses Garden.

The front garden lines our north-facing veranda

It has been a long wait to rebuild the Colinas Garden in its new location, but this has not been without its trials and tribulations… But, we will discuss those in the next post!

Many plants, fruiting and ornamental, await their turn for planting 
Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Friday, 25 October 2019

Lucky Newcomers

“You know there are koalas in this area!” explained the owner of the rental property…

In April 2018, the Better-Half and I relocated from Western Sydney. As animal lovers, we have spent years travelling through Southeast Asia, visiting rainforest sanctuaries and botanic gardens, so fortunately seeing wild orangutan mothers and babies, vociferous gibbons, inquisitive proboscis monkeys and a wonderful array of plant species including the famed rafflesia. Koalas in their natural state, and in our homeland, however, had eluded our discovery.

Our interest was piqued soon after moving in to our temporary rental home on the discovery of torpedo-shaped poop under the statuesque eucalyptus tree in our front yard. We spent days looking up into the tree wondering whether we had koalas; evenings studying native animal scat online, and nights shining torches into the heights of the tree. No luck…

Of course, we had not learned at this point how much koalas move around in their local territory.

My first Port Macquarie sighting of a koala came in September 2018. Out for a morning walk, a feisty koala ran across my path on our local thoroughfare. So excited, I ran home the few hundred metres to our home to collect the camera and the Better Half.

Other sightings came thick and fast… at a local sporting ground, Pacific Drive at Flynn’s Beach and then on the edge of Lake Innes Nature Reserve.

A male koala 'seeking out a mate' at the Innes Lake Nature Reserve

In mid-November, we finally had action on the home front. One Wednesday night after we had long retired, there was, what seemed to be, an animal eating on our roof! Scratching noises! My tired, three a.m. investigations turned up nothing, but the next morning we discovered koala scat on our front verandah and in our garden pots and along our pathways.

Then, in the dark of the following Sunday night, the Better-Half heard the bellowing of a male koala emanating from our adjoining reserve.

Just one month later, the little torpedoes were scattered all over our driveway again. Following the usual routine, I looked up into the tree… And there she was, our first ‘home’ koala. A beautiful animal, she had found shelter from the impending thunderstorm in our front yard. Later, on examination, our camera revealed that she was nursing a healthy little joey. You cannot imagine our excitement.

Legs akimbo, acting as a cradle for her joey. Can you see the little one?

A little nose appears above the mother's arms...

Our mother and joey visited us on four more occasions, twice coming to a tagged tree in our neighbouring reserve, the most recent visit to our front yard once again.

Mother and Joey. They are beginning to separate, a signal that the joey is becoming more independent.

A motherly portrait

We are so grateful to have experienced these wonderful moments of indigenous nature.
Importantly, these are moments and opportunities which should be preserved for all, especially for generations to follow us. We do not want our precious native animals, as in other nations, to be extracted from their natural environment, to be confined in ‘reserves’.

A big yawn from a secure and beautiful little animal

Should our leaders, therefore, be considering the type of future development that we want as a nation, a development that does not require the further removal of our forests, or even single native trees – habitat for our precious native animals? And on a personal level, should we not be obeying road safety signs and speed signs in designated koala territory.

So, when you drive in Koala Territory, please slow down…

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 24 February 2019

A New 'Malaysian' Garden

Kaffir Lime… What to do with the fruit?

The Kaffir Lime (Limau Purut) is an excellent plant for a kitchen garden, with its wonderfully fragrant leaves an important ingredient in many dishes of Southeast Asian origin. For the past few years, we have wondered how to use the green, knobbly fruit. At times, we have used the zest, and at other times, we have tried slices of the aromatic fruit in black tea. Because of the astringency of the limes, the latter is a real challenge, unless sweetened.

Our limau tree has produced just a handful of fruit over the past two years, so finding a use for the fruit has not been pressing. This year, however, we have more than twenty fruit to deal with. Best not to waste them.

So, what to do with an excess of the fruit?

Reading the ‘net was productive. We found that the fruit could be a useful shampoo, as well as distilled into an essential oil, among other applications. In the end, though, we stumbled upon recipes for cordials for other species of lime. Finding a likely recipe, we modified it for our bitter kaffir limes.

As a first attempt at making kaffir lime cordial, with a touch of ginger, we could not be happier: a refreshing cool and fragrant drink was created. The cordial is very strong, so should be used sparingly (to taste) …

Below is the recipe which we used…

Kaffir Lime Cordial

  • 12 kaffir limes, juiced and retained
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 or 3 slices ginger
  • 1 ½ tsp citric acid
  • 1 Ltr water

1.                   Squeeze and strain the lime juice… This will make about one cup or a little more of strained juice. Set aside.
2.                   Boil one litre of water.
3.                   Dissolve the sugar in the boiled water.
4.                   Add ginger slices and kaffir lime skins to the boiled water
5.                   Add citric acid.
6.                   Allow the mixture to cool, then add the lime juice.
7.                   Refrigerate overnight, before bottling in sterilised bottles.
8.                   Keep your cordial refrigerated.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Saturday, 23 February 2019

A New 'Malaysian' Garden

A Garden in Waiting

The big move north has been complete, temporarily, for some months. Now, we wait.

Realising our dream comes at a small cost: for the moment, we rent until such time that our new home, on a small acreage, is finished. If the construction continues to plan, we move again at the end of autumn: a grand time to begin planting an orchard and gardens.

There are no regrets. Even at our rental home in a small Mid North Coast city, life is splendid. Regular visits from koalas, kangaroos, ringtail possums and deer are preferable to the congestion and continuing over-development of Sydney. How people’s lives have been altered by the mushrooming high-rise and endless traffic of a once beautiful city!

Overall, our wait will be for about one year. Our new garden will also have waited for one year…

Preparation has been the key to the move. Some of our most precious plants were disinterred from the Sydney home. Then potted. Our two most special fruit trees, a seedling mango with Maha Chanok parentage, and a pomelo, were grown as grafts. Other fruit trees, such as Starfruit, Jackfruit, Longan, Chiku (Sapodilla) and Lychee were grown from seed. And, an array of citrus trees was purchased as available.

A selection of 16 mangoes, jackfruit, starfruit, chiku, papaya and macadamia trees...

 Furthermore, we have prepared for the planting of an Asian floral and senses garden in similar ways, some plants cutting-grown, others purchased, others removed. White and yellow Chempaka trees, Heliconias and Azaleas were purchased, Frangipanis were grown from cuttings. Our collection of Gingers, both ornamental and culinary, were uplifted and potted… Native plants, Staghorns, Orchids, Herbs and pond plants, all came north to grace an abundant, new garden.

Some of our ornamentals awaiting transportation

Gingers, edible and ornamental, kaffir lime and lemongrass

Moving so many potted plants from Sydney in the beginning necessitated the hiring of a van to complete the massive job. Luckily, the second move will be much simpler, being just a hop-skip-and-a-jump in comparison, requiring a few short hauls in a family car.

As you can imagine, the yard of the rental home is overflowing with young plants, perhaps 200 in total, all requiring daily attention during the current, warm days of summer. Watering, potting, repotting. And, of course, preventing our hungry, pet rabbit from eating them!

A collection of citrus trees

When we walk amongst our green babies, they seem to suggest that they would enjoy immediate planting at their new home so that they may spread their expansive roots. So, which of our precocious plants will be first to be planted?

"Will I be first?" A 'Carter's Red' pomelo in fruit appears to suggest that it should be the first planting

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…