Saturday, 31 October 2015

An Interesting Garden Artist
Spring 2014

For only the second occasion we have made a sighting within our garden of the St Andrew's Cross Spider. Normally, spiders would not hold my attention. However, this spider is hard to miss with its distinctive white silk zig-zag cross within its doily-shaped web.
Spring 2015

Our first sighting was last spring. The female St Andrew's Cross Spider had constructed a web within our macadamia tree at just about head height. Luckily, the web was not in a high traffic area of our garden and could be avoided.

This spring morning, I have stumbled across another beautiful web and spider within a small grove of Alstroemeria plants, a remnant plant from the old home garden, prior to our demolition and rebuild. This web could easily have been overlooked if not for the flowering of the alstroemeria lilies.
Mae Wang, Thailand, July 2014

The females have a banded upper abdomen with two yellow stripes underneath. When inactive, they sit astride their cross with their legs paired. In the second sighting this morning the spider appeared to have made a capture and was holding its 'victim' with one pair of its hind legs.

I am by no means an expert on spiders. However, there is excellent information on the website of the Australian Museum regarding the St Andrew's Cross Spider.

As an aside we have seen a similar species of cross-building spider at Mae Wang Waterfall in Thailand.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

A Delightful Resident

Yesterday we were blessed when one of our garden friends 'popped by'. 'Tonguey', the Blue Tongue Lizard, was lounging beneath our recycling bin when I removed it for emptying. Despite the overhead clamour, he was unworried and allowed me time to collect the camera from within the house before he meandered off into the cover of some flowers beside our driveway.

It has emerged from discussions with our neighbours that we have a colony of blue tongue lizards: the animals have plenty of cover, provided by our gardens, from 'feral' cats in our area, and they have ample places to sun themselves in the warmer weather.  

I love the blue-tongues: they help clear my garden of pests such as snails and slugs, causing little damage to the vegetation. However, there are two members of this household who are less enamoured of 'Tonguey'... especially when he is sunning himself on the front doorstep! Gentle 'Tonguey' must wonder what all the commotion is about!

We have been fortunate to have had resident blue-tongue lizards in our past two Sydney homes: there are many, many suburban Sydney-ites who will never have seen these lovely members of the skink family. Blue-tongues can grow to a size of 60 centimetres, although 'Tonguey' measured just 25 centimetres... a strapping young lizard, indeed.

Blue-tongues will bite if handled, but they are not venomous. In fact, if they sense any danger they are content to wend their way slowly to a safe haven. 

If only my photos could have shown you the beautiful, flashing, blue tongue...

Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Kaleidoscope of Colour: Chillies

Chillies are a must-have inclusion in an Asian-style garden. Not only will they reward you with their warming culinary delights but also provide rich layers of colour to vegetable or even flower gardens.

From miniature rosettes which hold their colourful fruit high above the foliage, through plants forming 30 centimetre tufts to much taller varieties, some attaining 120 centimetres or more, chillies are a reliable and easy-care plant.

The instant attraction of chillies is the eye-catching glossy colour of their pods. There are varieties of chilli, however, which can best be described as curiosities for the unusual colours of their leaves... Some are almost black in hue... others exhibit varying patterns of variegation. 

For those people like me who have an addiction to the consumption and planting of chillies, they are a rewarding garden subject. Close-planted, many chilli plants will readily cross-pollinate producing, in the next generation of plants, a wonderfully unexpected bounty: plants with varying leaf and pod colours, and even growing characteristics (upright or pendant fruit) differing from the mother-plant. In time one can build up one's own catalogue of chilli varieties!

In September and October every year we plant out seeds of our most valued chillies. Some are selected for their usefulness in the kitchen, whereas others are selected for their beauty in the garden setting. Nevertheless, after three years of dropping fruit we are blessed with hundreds of adventitious plants each spring. Some of these pioneers are allowed to grow in the prospect of gaining more unusual hybrid plants.

Evidence of cross-pollination in planted seed.
Note the black-leafed juvenile plant.
In Sydney's climate, well-cared for chilli plants with suitable protection from frost will survive into a second season. Cut the plants back hard when the danger of frost has passed. Feed your plant well and your chilli will 'resuscitate' as the weather warms. Let's note, however, that some varieties of chilli, for example, the famous orange habanero chilli, must be re-planted every spring: no level of care in our cooler temperate climate will save it.

Our chillies provide fresh fruit from the end of October until June or July. In addition we collect chillies for drying and grinding. In this way we always have an overflowing supply of chilli for the kitchen. 

Friday, 16 October 2015

A Welcome Addition to the Kitchen Menu

A small, late summer gift from a close friend, our pea eggplants (Solanum torvum) have grown remarkably throughout autumn and winter,suffering little damage from frost and cold weather... so unlike the larger fruiting cousins.  At the moment our largest plant stands at 180cm, resplendent in its first star-shaped white flowers, no doubt stimulated by its location right beside a nourishing compost bin.

We will need to be a little careful to collect the berries of the pea eggplant. We have been warned that the seeds within the berries might sprout upon dropping, spreading weed-like... Our first impressions of this plant are that it is very easy to grow, since it has received no special treatment from us.

Apparently native to Central America, Pea Eggplants are common throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand and Malaysia. In Thailand, it is commonly used in curries. Pea eggplant (terung pipit) is sometimes used as the basis of hot sambal dishes in Malaysia. This is a vegetable we have never cooked with, so culinary 'experiments' appear to be necessary.

Incidentally, the terung pipit appears to be a favoured home of spiders. One of our plants is clothed in large beautiful webs, the other has a little translucent, brown eight-legged resident. My theory is that the spiders like the protection afforded by the hairy and slightly spiny stems and twigs.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden...

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Kaffir Lime flower and fruit
Spring is a splendid time in the Sydney garden and one of the great pleasures is the flowering of citrus trees. Their rich green leaves contrast beautifully with the clean, white flowering buds... and then there is that fragrance!

Kaffir Lime flowers ready to burst
The flowers of the Kaffir Lime (limau purut) last but a few days. Each small group of flowers appears quickly, swells then opens within just two or three days. Unless you are inspecting your Limau Purut daily, you might miss its lovely little blossoms! 

A lovely single Limau Kasturi flower
Our small tree is quite old. For many years it lived in a pot in a warm location in southern New South Wales... not an ideal climate. Then it moved to Sydney living in its pot in a shaded location... Is this lime-abuse? For the past three years it has been in its current garden location, near our kitchen in a raised garden bed. For the first time the plant, now eight years old, is beginning to thrive. It has been "killed with kindness" receiving heavy doses of organic manures, seaweed emulsion, lime and pounded egg-shells, and our own rich kitchen waste compost, along with regular sprays of eco-oil to deter the leaf-munchers. Of course, because of its raised location, it must be watered well on a very regular basis.

A group of developing Kasturi fruit
The Limau Kasturi differs from the Limau Purut. Where the Limau Purut bears groups of flowers, the Kasturi tree bears many single flowers in its dense foliage over a long period of time. For this reason the Kasturi bears throughout the growing season, resting only through the winter months.

It is also a quick-growing tree. Three years in its location, this purchased plant is over two metres high already.

On the other hand, the pink pomelo tree bears great bunches of large pendant flowers. With such an abundance of flower, the plant emits the most remarkable perfume, especially noticeable at night. 

First Kasturi fruits of the season
The individual flowers resemble white bells. They are a particularly beautiful sight being in such profusion. One wonders whether a mature tree will provide such a spectacular floral display.

The pomelo is famously grown in Ipoh where limestone soils are the norm. For this reason, the plant will appreciate regular dressings of lime. Of late we have been pounding our discarded eggshells, which are high in calcium, and side-dressing the citrus trees with this. The pomelo is also a heavy feeder. Feed it well and regularly, and give it plenty of water in dry conditions.
A single bell-like pomelo flower

Our tree, a purchased plant, has been in location for the past three years... This is its third flowering, and we are hoping that it is strong enough to bear its first delicious fruit next year. 

Flowers, fragrance and fruit... Fantastic citrus!

A typical bunch of pomelo flowers

Is there a luscious pomelo in this mass of flowers and juvenile fruit?

Friday, 9 October 2015

Creating a Butterfly Garden
Grevillea sericea

The creation of a butterfly garden has the potential to provide two layers of colour, one still, the other moving. Without a doubt, the selected plants will provide rich colour to the garden landscape. This, however, will be enhanced by the arrival of some of the world's most beautiful creatures.

Scaevola aemula
Butterflies enjoy areas of strong sunlight. For this reason, our prime focus has been on planting our front yard with beautiful plants which will attract them. These plants include both native and exotic species. Among our native selections are various grevillea species and scaevola aemula (fan flowers). Our next planned native addition will be strawflower (xerochrysum bracteatum) cultivars which, in our experience, are wonderful draw-cards for winged colour.  These will be supplemented by a number of non-native annuals: poached egg plant (limanthes douglassi), marigolds, globe amaranths (gomphrena) and miniature dahlias.

Fan flowers come in shades of blue, white and pink.
Vital to the attraction of a particular species of butterfly are our four citrus trees, a kasturi lime, two pomelo trees and a kaffir lime tree.  Already a regular visitor to our home, the citrus swallowtail utilises citrus trees as a host plant for its caterpillars. 

However, we have planted a scattering of native plants around our backyard pond to draw these lovely creatures into our back yard. These include dianella caerulea, pultenaea capitellata, brachyscome multifida and philotheca myoporoides. The white flowers of the philotheca, formerly known as an eriostemon, is often smothered with hover flies and some bees, assisting the pollination of our flowering fruit trees. 

Philotheca myoporoides
This is our first attempt to create a butterfly garden in a city suburban location. Chewed leaves?... we are prepared to suffer some damage to these plants in order to witness the passing colour. Here's hoping that our endeavours are rewarded with regular 'flutter-by's of spectacular visitors.

Pultenaea capitellata

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Large Brunfelsia shrub in Botanic Gardens, Georgetown, Penang
Seen in many Malaysian gardens and going by the name of Semalam, Hari Ini dan Esok, Brunfelsia species are beautiful shrubs for two reasons.

Its chief appeal is the fact that during the spring flowering season the shrub will hold blossoms of three colours... violet, lilac and white... fading as the blossoms age. 

Its other appeal is its sweet perfume.
Our dwarf form

Our shrub is a dwarf variety of Brunfelsia Bonodora, at the moment standing a little more than a metre high. It might look a little tatty after a frosty winter, but it will roar back to life as the spring weather warms, presenting its packed array of three-coloured flowers against its fresh green finery. Its flowering should continue from September until November.

Beautiful three-coloured flowers

Back Garden Improvements
From the back door... Note the vegie nursery on the right

Our original backyard paths were quite simple: we utilised crushed concrete for walkways and as fill for a retaining wall. Importantly, by utilising a 'non-permanent' material we were able to shape, and reshape, the walkways around our feature plants and trees. These crushed concrete pathways have served their purpose well...

From the rear of the yard... Incomplete
Over the past few weeks we have begun to re-set the pathways with flat bush rock. This will give the walkways a greater permanency and a better definition. Furthermore, weeding of the avenues will be less of a trial!

To this point about half of the walkways have been completed.