Archive for December, 2009
December 31st, 2009
I came into my garden when I bought my home, it was overgrown with weeds but the bare bone garden beds were waiting for me underneath. There are lots of things I have learned along the way! My garden diary was a real treasure and a useful tool on my garden journey. I began by drawing a plan of my garden. Then I spent a day watching how the sun affected my garden. Which were the shady spots? I noted down the ‘hot’ spots that got full sun all day long. Remember, morning sun is kinder than hours of burning afternoon sunlight. There are different plants for ‘garden climates’. Then I marked my different climates on my map & wrote the date at the top of my plan. Between midsummer and midwinter there is a big shift of direct sunlight from north to south. Direct rays from the sun may be completely blocked out in winter and you may need hardy plants that can cope with various conditions. So I did this each season and found it really helped me to understand my garden and what plants would work best in certain spots.
Another useful exercise is to check the natural drainage and dry spots. In dry weather, spend an hour or so one morning to give your whole garden a thorough soaking. After a full day’s sun, inspect the results by trowelling down a finger depth into the soil. If the soil is still moist, but not soggy, you will know that section has nice drainage. Note this in your diary also.
If you have plenty of shade like me, you can create a forest garden with bird’s-nests and other ferns. These plants do best in damp, shady conditions. They prefer a warmish, even temperature and they hate frosts.
If you are short on time, like me, forget planting seedlings. Snails and slugs usually get the lot and it can be very depressing. The same goes for bulbs such as tulips, tiger lilies etc. You wait for months and months for something to happen, and if you are lucky you get one blossom that lasts a week. Instead spend your time planting jonquils, freesias and snowdrops. These planted in tight clumps are very rewarding and easy! The only annuals that are worth all the effort are common balsam (also known fondly as busy Lizzies) and nasturtiums. But, I can sometimes not quell my natural urge to try some of those seedlings – they seem to draw me to them in the nursery. If you too seem determined you will need to use snail bait. Good luck with that then.
If you are just starting out you can’t go past good old perennials – such as pelargoniums, geraniums, roses, gazanias, any sort of daisy, red salvia, ferns, cannas or violets. These will flower season after season and need very little care. The scented pelargoniums are wonderful mixed with rose petals in potpourri. Most perennials are improved with light pruning after each flowering. Don’t let them get straggly.
The thing is to work with your garden and not against it. If a plant is where it is getting its needs met, such as shade or sun it will be a happy plant and grow well.
December 29th, 2009
Morning in my garden. I am taking a few moments to enjoy all the morning sounds over a cup of tea. Please join me. Right down the bottom of the garden I can hear the creek as it burbles along. I can enjoy this sound at the moment, but I know that as summer draws on the little creek will dry up. That is when the plants will have the hardest time. The birds find it difficult too, and it is important to put out a bowl of water for all the birds that visit my garden.
Overhead I can hear the screech of the cockatoos as they fly over. Down under the porch Hazel & Waddles, my ducks rummage about to find grubs. They add so much atmosphere to my garden. Chuckles, the kookaburra, lands on the porch rail to see if there is anything for his morning tea today. But no, that is more when there is a BBQ, when he enjoys our company more, and has a little taste of our sausage.
You know, gardening is one of our oldest and most rewarding of hobbies. People of all ages and backgrounds love their gardens and want to share all the new and exciting things they learn there. A garden is a living thing and must be treated as such; mulched and watered regularly, it will respond so rewardingly. I am just a beginning gardener. But I have found that other gardeners are the most friendly people, always on the lookout for a chat and to offer advice. I am learning new things all the time. My garden teaches me so much.
Well, this old year is drawing to a close and 2010 is just around the corner. I hope it will bring many happy times for you. Happy gardening!
December 27th, 2009
When you think about the pleasure you get from a garden, or being in a garden, one of the most important elements is undoubtedly scent. Scent is perhaps the most powerfully evocative of all sensory stimuli. The average person can distinguish around ten thousand different smells. For professional ‘noses’ the total is even higher. Our ability to taste depends about 85 per cent on our sense of smell, which is why wine experts judge a wine primarily by smelling it.
Scent offers a very pleasurable experience. That is why people throught history have paid large amounts of money for perfumes. A perfume can contain up to 100 different ingredients. A few of these ingredients come from animals, but the vast majority are plant-based. Essential oils extracted from flowers, leaves, bark, gum etc. The five main categories are: Floral: Lavender, lily of the valley, violet.
Green: basil, lemon balm, pine, rosemary
Citrus: Orange, mandarin, lemon
Woody: Cedar, birch
Spicy: Carnations and pinks, bay, fennel seeds
While you are not setting out to be a master perfumier, it is worth bearing these groups in mind when you are choosing scented plants for your own garden.
The pleasure that scent gives also does you good! Research in the relatively new science of psychoneuroimmunology is showing that if we feel good, if our sense of well-being is enhanced, then our immune system is stronger and we are better able to fight off illness. Scent also works on a physiological, molecular level, with the scent molecules passing into the bloodstream either via the lungs or through the skin and being carried all around the body. This fact was discovered over two thousand years ago by the Greek botanist Theophrastus, when he found that a scent applied to the skin as a plaster or poultice could be detected some time later in the patient’s breath. While scent is at its most powerful in essential oils extracted from plants, the fragrance you smell from plants growing in the garden, though less concentrated works in the same way. That is why you feel so good after weeding in amongst the rosemary or in the herb garden.
Aromatherapy is an alternative therapy that is becoming increasingly recognized as having real merit. Mandy aromatherapists apply essential oils, which are distilled from plants, by means of massage – by itself a very useful therapy for relieving physical and mental stress, which is made even more beneficial by the oils. Others use the oils purely for inhalation, either by means of a burner, in bath water or applied to fabric – a pillow or handkerchief for example. While aromatherapy techniques rely mainly on the use of highly concentrated essential oils, growing scented plants in your garden offers at least some of the same benefits. Certainly, there is nothing like sitting in your garden on a warm evening breathing in all the scents and just relaxing.
December 24th, 2009
Sage is truly the ‘Christmas herb’ and today being Christmas Eve I would like to share my recipe for Sage and Lemon Stuffing. This is a moist, well-flavoured stuffing just right to stuff chicken or turkey.
You will need:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, very finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/2 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
4 slices stale bread, crumbled
Cook your onion and celery in the butter in a covered pot for 3 – 5 minutes without browning. You just want to bring out the flavour. Now, remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients – mix well. Your stuffing is ready to be used. – Enjoy!
I hope your Christmas is a very happy one!
December 22nd, 2009
Colour therapy is one of a range of complementary treatments gaining in popularity these days and, like many of them, it has in fact been around for thousands of years.
In Europe, colour was an important part of the doctrine of the Four Humours which was a cornerstone of medicine until the Renaissance. Each humour had its own colour. Phlegmatic was white, melancholy yellow, choleric black, sanguine red, and practitioners diagnosed imbalances in the humours by the colour of the complexion, the tongue and of body waste. Today colour therapy is a holistic treatment, like many complementary therapies, treating the whole person physically, mentally and emotionally.
Of course, you can use colour therapeutically in your garden, and while any colour you choose will be diluted by other colours, the one you choose as the main colour can stimulate or relax you, and generally enhance your feeling of well-being.
Red, for example, is the colour of energy, of love and passion, it is a stimulant. Orange is the colour of joy, of movement, and activity in general. Yellow, another warm colour, is optimistic and stimulating, but this time to the intellect. It helps concentration and the absorption of information. Green is the most balanced colour in the spectrum. Green is the colour of new life in the plant world and so has become a symbol of renewal and hope. It is also an optimistic colour, but peaceful and calming too, which makes it an ideal colour for relaxation and contemplation. As a balanced colour, it encourages balance in us. It counteracts stress, and is an ideal colour for gardens since it is by far the most dominant colour in the plant world. It is a calming colour which can be spiced up with the addition of red or made cool with touches of white
If you decide you want to use colour in a more controlled way in your own garden, you might find it helpful to do an analysis of the way it looks now. Are you happy with the way it looks? What about your containers? Are they a mixed collection of materials and colours? Painting them all the same colour will add unity to the overall look. Are there hot colours like red at the far end of the garden? Try moving them closer to the house and replacing them with blues and greys to make the space appear larger. Look at the garden at different times of the day. See where the sun falls at different times, and how the changing light afffects the colour. Look at the garden through the seasons too, this is where your garden diary can be a wonderful tool. But at the end of the day, use colour to please yourself and enjoy the colours of your garden.
December 20th, 2009
A gift from your garden! With all those beautiful roses in full bloom, it would be a pity to let the lovely scented petals go to waste on the ground, or on the table if you have been enjoying a few blooms inside! Save those petals. They can make a beautiful, and unusual present. Making dried potpourri is something our grandma’s did. It is quite simple but, like most things, the more you experiment the better the results, and once you are past the basic stage potpourri could become another gardening obsession.
Of course all potpourri recipes begin with rose petals, because roses are among the best flowers for keeping their scent when dried, but you can add any flowers or leaves that are scented. Try adding bulk by using the scented leaves of herbs, or gum leaves.
All the ingredients must be well-dried beforehand. Petals should be laid to dry on absorbent paper in a well ventilated dark cupboard. Petals that are dried in the dark retain their scent better. I lay a fresh lot of petals out on some newspaper and let them dry over a few days. To make potpourri, the dry petals, herbs and leaves have to be mixed with a fixative to prevent the evaporation of the oils, which give the potpourri its distinctive scent. Orrisroot is the most popular fixative and can be bought in powdered form at craft shops. Here is a basic recipe:
To every 8 cups of petals, herbs, leaves, etc, add:
1/2 cup orrisroot
2-4 tablespoons crushed spices
2 tablespoons dried citrus peel, crushed
3-6 drops of scented oil
Spices can be used in two ways, whole or powdered. To get the full fragrance it is important to grind or crush them yourself and not rely on packets from supermarket shelves. The most commonly used are cinnamon, mace and nutmeg.
To make the potpourri, put the dried flowers and leaves into a large mixing bowl. Crush the spices and citrus peel and add the orrisroot. Pour the mixture into a large plastic bag and seal it tightly. Store it for six weeks, shaking every other day.
December 17th, 2009
Since the very earliest times, we have used herbs not just for food but for healing. Every great civilization of the past – Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, they all used plants to heal wounds, deaden pain, lift the spirits and balance the mind. Plants have been used for healing for thousands of years. Our grandmothers used them every day.
We can grow many herbs in our gardens or pots, not only for their usefulness but also for their beauty. Sage for example is perfect underplanting for roses. Don’t feel you need a special ‘herb garden’ to enjoy them; put them in the beds you already have for they are beautiful in their own right, and can add to any garden bed. But if you have the space and the sunshine then indulge yourself by creating a special herb garden.
I myself have only a small garden with space very limited so I decided to grow my healing plants in mixed beds. As my garden is also very shady this means I can use any spots that get enough sunshine to grow the herbs I really can’t get by without having. But whether you have a large garden, a small garden, a balcony or even only a window-sill, you have room to grow some herbs.
I use any space I can find. While many herbs like full sun, many others, such as chives, fennel, lemon balm, and parsley, are happy in part or dappled shade, while mint, comfrey and lungwort (Pulmonaria) will grow well in full shade.
Since I am trying to grow all my plants organically I can use them in my cooking without having any reservations about what sprays have been used on them. This means that I don’t use any weed killers and no insecticides. But with most herbs this is easy because most herbs are tough cookies. For most people who are concerned about the environment, as well as what they eat, it is the only way to garden anyway.
The essence of organic gardening is that you feed the soil with compost or well-rotted manure and allow the plants to draw their nutrients from these, instead of taking them directly from artificial fertilizers.
One of the best ways to keep herbs vigorous and growing well is by regular picking. So use your herbs in your cooking regularly, it is good for your plant keeping it bushy and producing lots of new growth and it is good for you as herbs not only add taste to your food but essential oils and minerals to your diet. Parsley for example is a tonic for the nervous system and good for digestion, stimulating the appetite and combating wind. It is also a diuretic, very useful for urinary infections as well as helping with such conditions as arthritis. So think of that as you sprinkle some over your next meal.
Rosemary has been a popular rememdy for centuries for improving concentration and memory – rosemary for remembrance – and since it works by stimulating the flow of blood to the head, that may well be true. It is certainly good for headaches. It can even be used as a mouthwash!
I just love the plants themselves. The fragrance in the early evenings, or while I work in amongst them. I often make myself a cup of lemon balm tea or sage tea just by snipping off a good handful and pouring the hot water over in my little tea pot. I let it infuse for about 5 minutes and then enjoy.
December 16th, 2009
Long ago the Fuchsia was the first garden plant I fell in love with. I remember dancing the little flowers on my hand pretending they were beautiful dancing fairies. A Fuchsia was the first plant that I struck and I watched it growing roots right before my eyes within the glass of water I had put on the window ledge. It seemed like magic to watch those roots form. There are over 500 named varieties and they are all just as pretty as the ones above.
More than 500 different ones and they flower continuously from late spring well into winter. Perfect for cool, semi-shaded positions. They absolutely adore compost, can’t seem to get enough of the stuff, and they repay you for your care and attention (of which they do not require much) with heaps of beautiful flowers. The sort of flowers that add magic to any garden.
Perfect for bush houses and hanging baskets. In a hanging basket the flowers cascade down to dance in the breeze and lighten your heart.
In the winter they need to be pruned and the prunings can be struck to supply you with more plants. If you do this you will have lovely Christmas Presents you can give to friends and relations. I hope you can find some spot in your garden to enjoy a dancing queen, the Fuchsia.
December 16th, 2009
There is not many problems that an hour or two pottering in the garden won’t at least put into perspective. Often I will nip out into the garden for just ten minutes and find suddenly that several hours have passed, the kids have not been fed and the day has disapeared. Whoops! I find that gardening is one of the best antidotes to stress there is. Gardens and gardening counter stress in a number of ways. Just being in a garden or green space reduces stress levels.
The act of gardening itself is very beneficial too. First, it is physical activity, something that many of us who spend our lives at desks or slumped in front of the television badly need. Most of us live our lives at breakneck pace. The Internet means that much of our working lives happens in a heartbeat, we can do the shopping a 3 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon (just as well for me) but there is practically no down time any more. -But there is in gardening. Gardening slows us down to the pace of life as we were meant to live it. Gardening works in its own time frame, it will teach you patience.
Gardening brings you directly back into contact with the yearly cycle – it really is one of the only activities in this modern world that still does. When you garden you will notice the subtle seasonal changes – the buds beginning to swell, the first leaves turning colour – you cannot but be aware of the cycle of life.
Gardening is essentially an optimistic activity. When you plant a seed you are investing in the future. Gardening also gives you endless second chances. Ok, so something didn’t work quite as well as you had hoped, learn from it and move on. I find gardening to be very creative. I can’t paint or draw but in the garden I can create something visually beautiful. Or at least beautiful to me.
Growing plants also offers a relationship with something living, an opportunity to be nurturing, to feel needed. There is also an immense satisfaction to be had from seeing seeds that you have sown germinate and grow into plants. It is a sort of validation, it gives you a real lift.
So if you are feeling stressed out try a little garden therapy.
December 15th, 2009
I have been very busy in the garden over the past few days. The weather has been lovely and it has been good to be outside. Getting busy with the secateurs, then the choppers. Scrapping those determined weeds, digging, mulching etc. But then I stood back and looked at all my hard work to find….gaps! Yes, the weeds have secretly been having their own way. Sneaking into the garden when I wasn’t looking. Must have been while I was busy dead-heading the roses!
Anyway, whatever, there were gaps and they must be filled! So away to the local nursery. Such a tough job, but someone has to do it and it was up to me!
Bare patches must not be wasted! One cheap, trusted and fun option is to break open a packet of nasturtium seed. Just sprinkle these about with abandon, something usually comes from this. The packet doesn’t say ‘easy to grow’ for nothing. Really what is summer without nasturiums? You can eat them! Unfortunately, my ducks enjoy doing just this. So, I need to plant these where the ducks don’t get a look in!
Petunias used to be a favourite of mine, back before the drought. But I really cannot afford to water them and it is too sad to put them in. I do miss them and their happy colour so at Christmas I treat myself to putting a few into a hanging basket which I hang right in front of my kitchen window. This cheers me up while I wash the dishes!
Some things to remember when going on a mission such as this is, well, don’t get carried away! Remember, when you get home you have to have enough gaps to fit all the plants you buy into! Also, you have to plant them and you don’t want so many that it becomes a chore and not a hobby. The hot weather is coming and you will have to nurse them along with extra water for a few weeks while they settle in. So, just calm down, maybe set yourself some limits or write a shopping list. My sensible self always gives advice like this. Follow it if you like I seldom do and come home with heaps! Then find I can’t fit them all in! Quick to the pots!
Talking of which after the expedition you may have some of these left over. Before you turf them into the bin try sinking them down into the soil near young trees that do not receive water from sprinklers. Fill them twice a week over the summer months. This little trick gives you a low cost way of drip watering. I find also that the pot in the ground reminds me that I need to water. It saves wasting water just surface watering, where the water just runs off and dosen’t get down to the roots where it is needed.
Well, I am off to sink some pots!