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Thirty best tropical foliage plants

I promised to post what are, in my experience, the 30 best plants for creating a colorful tropical foliage garden.  If you have a reasonably large garden you can team these plants with palms and/or other suitable trees to create a tropical effect - but if all you have is a small garden or courtyard then the plants on this list will light up your life with a touch of true jungle romance.  They are:

 

Acalypha

Alocasia

Begonia

Cordyline

Croton

Ctenanthe

Dracaena

Graptophyllum

Polyscias

Schefflera

Aglaeonema

Calathea

Coleus

Iresine

Maranta

Philodendron

Poinsettia

Pseuderanthemum

Spathiphyllum

Strobilanthes

Altern anethera

Anthurium

Aspidistra

Bromeliad

Dieffenbachia

Peperomia

Caladium

Syngonium

Pilea

Rhoeo

And if you want to know how to grow them, you might like to buy (or borrow from the Amazon library) my book Tropical Foliage Garden.  Read about it on this website; just exit the blog and go back to the main site, then click on the "Books" tab.

Cold comfort for tropical foliage

 

 

Tropical foliage plants can catch cold! Truly! Though most of the plants that fall into this category originate in the true tropics where days are hot and humid and night temperatures don’t drop very low at any time of year, these plants are nowadays grown in a wider temperature range from the sub-tropics to sheltered warm-temperate gardens where there is a decided “down” season when temperatures drop.

 

In the southern hemisphere that may coincide with the “winter” dry season where special care is needed. What’s more, though plants such as bromeliads and many orchids come from the tropic latitudes, they occur naturally at high altitudes where lower temperatures occur and constant cloud cover prevents sun warmth getting through.

 

Thus they can tolerate – indeed may well require – quite low temperatures at times. So unless you lived on a tropic beach with very little climate variation all year round, read on! The two conditions which can send tropical foliage plants – or tropical flowering plants for that matter – into oblivion are cold and drought.

 

As most warm climates have a season in which little or no rain falls (for example tropical northern Australia, parts of Central and northern South America, India and Africa) and where temperatures are low at night, some tropical foliage plants have developed strategies to deal with this – they go to ground. Caladiums and tropical gingers both do this. In fact many popular tropical foliage “indoor” plants have a dormancy period when neither, new stems, leaves or flowers are produced. Spathiphyllums, anthuriums and calatheas do this – and so, among the flowering plants, do orchids. This is vital to their life-cycle. This “down” period renders the plant very vulnerable, especially where there is a marked change between summer and winter, high rainfall and low rainfall.

 

Anthuriums need lots of warmth and go dormant in the cools season

 

 

The two important considerations here are COLD and MOISTURE.

 

COLD

 

Isolated plants are lonely plants and, just as humans can survive cold by huddling together and using their combined body temperatures to create and share warmth, so can plants. This is especially true of all those plants that we categorise as “tropical foliage” – the spathiphyllums, pileas, aspidistras, calatheas, marantas and others (for a full list read the article following this or see my book Tropical Foliage Garden on this website) - which come from crowded jungles. If you are growing these plants in pots you can bring them indoors for the cool season. If you are growing them in the garden then they must be massed together so temperature and moisture levels can be maintained at a higher level than the surrounding air. This massed planting also helps keep the soil warm and moist.

 

Shade from palms and other trees will protect your tropical foliage plants from frost danger and wind exposure. However morning sun is beneficial in cooler weather so create (or recreate)your planting scheme so that it faces the sunrise. In sub-tropical and warm-temperate gardens use palms and briefly deciduous trees such as coral trees (erythrinas) and tabebuias as the overhead cover. These will allow sufficient sunlight to filter through to the plants below in the cool season. DON’T plant your tropical foliage garden where it has no shelter from chill cool-season winds and exposure.

 

Cold, wet ground is the main killer of tropical foliage plants. If these conditions are prolonged they will just curl up their leaves and die. Root-rot fungal diseases thrive when soil is wet and cold and poorly drained. An early warning sign is moss growing on top of the hard-packed ground. I have a corner of my garden that has heavy, poorly-drained soil that gets very soggy in winter when the sun only gets to it for an hour or so a day. This combination is fatal to plants like cordylines and crotons and I’ve lost a few. I now mulch, mulch, mulch to improve the soil and have dug a drain to channel excess water away from the planted area.

 

The other tropical plant assassins are, of course, frost or hail. I get both where I live. If you have sufficient overhead cover light frost shouldn’t be a problem; if on a frosty morning you notice some plants are affected hose them down quickly – though you probably won’t be able to save them. If you live where regular, severe frosts occur then you shouldn’t be growing these plants anyway! Hail shreds the leaves of fleshy foliage plants and there’s not much you can do about it except trim them back so new growth is encouraged – this being a plant’s natural response to disaster. More dangerous is hail bruising of plant stems which can cause deep cell damage and leave the plant susceptible to fungal attack. The same result will happen if the ice remains for any time piled up against the stem. So after a hail storm push back the hailstones as fast as possible and water down the leaves and stems. As with frost, an overhead canopy will protect plants below from the worst of a hailstorm. Of course, hail is usually (but not always) a spring, summer or even autumn problem but I thought I’d include it here because it comes under the “cold” category as far as tender plants are concerned

 

. If you live in a sub-tropical, warm-temperate or fairly arid area some plants can give you a tropical appearance while still being able to take greater extremes of cold and low rainfall; they include: Acalypha Coleus Cordyline Croton Ctenanthe Dracaena Philodendron (several types) Poinsettia Scheflera Strobilanthes

 

MOISTURE

 

Don’t, don’t, DON’T over-water tropical foliage plants in the cool-season because few of them make any growth at this time and they can’t use the water – worse, too much of it will cause root rot. Yes, I know these are plants from high rainfall areas that thrive on heat and moisture and our instincts tell us to keep them soaked when the rain isn’t falling. But nature gives them heavy monsoonal drenching alternating with dry periods, or in some equatorial areas a nightly drenching and a daily dry-out. But they are not programmed to be waterlogged all the time. So the only time you need to provide them with water is in prolonged dry periods, especially if it’s windy. In such cases a light, misting spray twice a week is quite enough.

 

Caladiums need lots of water in summer but none in winter when they die back and stay underground

 

 

Finally, DON’T fertilize your tropical foliage plants in winter (and that goes for those grown indoors as “house” plants, too!). They won’t be able to make use of the extra nutrients anyway. Save your efforts until late spring or just before the monsoon, depending on where you live,then give them a good dressing of blood-and-bone or chicken-poo pellets or well-made compost.

 

So that’s all there is to it. When it comes to getting your tropical foliage plants through the cool-season dormancy period, keep ‘em warm and keep ‘em dry. Bit like babies, really!

And if you want to know more about these plants you can read about them in my book, Tropical Foliage Garden, on this website.  Just return to the site and click on the "Books" tab.

HERBS – sowing seed for good results

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s cheaper to grow herbs from seed than buy them in pots, especially if you want to start a herb garden or at least grow a few different types of herbs. Here are some tips for successful seed growing.

The most important thing is to have the right seed. I nowadays buy mine in packets from the garden center. Years of experience (some of it bad!) has taught me to stick to the major brand names. Their commercially-raised seed is from selected, well-bred plants and has a high viability rate and (I find) the ability to geminate in a wider temperature range than seed from other sources. You can often buy these good brand names in supermarkets, too. There are some cheap brands out there, sold usually in discount stores, that I wouldn’t recommend. ALWAYS check the used-by date on the packet and read the instructions carefully as to climate zone and sowing method. You may of course prefer to raise your own seed, from your herb garden, or obtain from a seed-saving network or similar where parent plants are certified organically-grown. Seed from such sources is likely to have a lower rate of viability and fungal disease resistance, but will be either cheaper or perhaps more in tune with sustainable gardening practice (if that’s important to you).

 

 

The other vital aspect of successful seed-growing is TEMPERATURE. Ideally, most common culinary herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme require 70-75°F (around 20-25°C) for most of the day, every day, to germinate – the warmer the temperature the faster the germination rate (unless it gets TOO hot in which case, as with cold, seeds won’t germinate at all). If night-time temperatures drop it doesn’t matter too much, unless they go down to near-freezing; nor if daytime temperatures drop again once the seedlings appear. But to sprout, seeds need warmth. So unless you live in a climate where the temperature stays above 70°F (20°C – but see below) all year round you will be limited to sowing seed only in the warmer season. Or else providing heat so that you can enlarge your growing window. THIS WILL BE THE SUBJECT OF A FOLLOW-UP ARTICLE SO WATCH THIS BLOG!

 

 

Start your seed in flats or a pot. Yes, you CAN sow some herb seed direct into the ground but I find the success rate is much lower. It’s worth taking the extra bit of trouble to sow into a pot or flat or seedling tray first and then transplant when the seedlings are sufficiently large and strong. When you sow, resist the temptation to do it with a lavish hand. This is expensive and wasteful. With viable seed from a reliable source you should be able to sow exactly what you need either into the pot or a flat, or even into the ground. Of course, if you do feel more comfortable with oversowing, you can prick out the extra seedlings as they grow and transfer to another pot or flat. Generally, though, it’s better to just plant up a couple of extra pots in case some of your seed has lost viability.

 

 

Always use clean pots or flats. Wash/scrub away any soil or other debris from used pots and soak them briefly in an anti-bacterial agent – ordinary household detergent or disinfectant is fine. Store seed well sealed up in a cool, dry place once the packet has been opened. A clean, air-tight jar or plastic container is ideal. Otherwise you risk infection or a reduction in viability. Check occasionally to make sure there is no moisture in the container.

 

 

Any seed that is spilled during sowing should be used immediately, sown into a pot or scattered on the garden. Don’t try and store seed that has been mixed with potting media or become damp.

 

 

Seedlings should be kept in a clean, warm, light place until they are ready for outdoor “hardening” or planting. Protect from harsh sunlight, cold or hot winds, too much moisture. Water slightly but regularly and don’t allow the growing mix to become saturated for a long period.

 

 

Do all this and you should have great success with your herbs, whether you are growing them to sell or just for your own pleasure. Herbs are like humans; start ‘em off right and they’ll flourish.

 

If you want to learn a bit more about all this, I find the following a useful website: http://www.backyardgardener.com/tm.html

 

And remember - if you want to know all about growing herbs to make money, take a look at my new GardenEzi book, on this website. Or go to Amazon Books and type in the book title and my name, which will take you to the buying site.

Herb growing: Ten Top Tips

A mixed profusion of herbs and flowers

 

 

There is something essentially satisfying about growing herbs. Humans have an ancient association with those plants we have chosen to designate as having culinary and/or medicinal value and I think those who still get pleasure from planting and harvesting our crops of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme like to feel a continuing part of this tradition. Also, growing herbs is easy. Vegetables and fruit demand a lot from the gardener whereas herbs are cheap to buy, either from seed or in pots, and need very little attention.

 

 

Recently, I put all my knowledge into a book entitled Grow Herbs – Make Money (buying details on this website – click the “Herbs” tab). I did this because growing herbs is one of the few hobbies where you really can make a profit, without too much expenditure of time and capital investment. Writing the book, which is the latest in my GardenEzi series, was a lot of fun. It also made me think hard about what are the REAL essentials of successful herb-growing for ordinary people – by which I mean those who are not mad keen growers or New Agers dropping out of the mainstream.

 

 

So, for those who have never grown herbs before, here are ten simple but essential points:

 

 

1. Keep it simple and grow just a few herbs really well. The Top Ten culinary herbs are parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, dill, coriander (cilantro), mint and chives. Other herbs worth growing are tarragon, fennel and chervil.

 

 

2. Grow those that suit your climate. You can grow SOME herbs just about anywhere except Antarctica or the North Pole (yes, even the desert!) though unless you live in the tropics you will be limited to summer. A few traditional culinary herbs don’t do well in the tropics so grow warm climate substitutes. If you live in a cold climate don’t bother with hot climate herbs that need a long growing season.

 

 

3. If you don’t have a large garden, grow your herbs in pots and tubs. Most of our common culinary herbs do better in pots anyway because they can be moved around as needed, to take advantage of sun and shade.

 

 

4. Make sure you have the right soil. Herbs do best in sandy loams that are on the light side – they don’t like heavy clay or very acid soils. Soil acidity and alkalinity is measured on a scale (called the pH scale) of 1 – 14 with acidity at the lower end and alkalinity at the higher end of the scale. Most herbs will thrive in a neutral soil of around 5.5 – 6.5. Chives, oregano and mint like a slightly more alkaline soil whereas basil does well in a slightly acid to neutral (5 – 6.5) soil. Parsley and thyme tolerate a wider range of soil pH. It’s worth testing your soil with a kit from a garden center. One of the advantages of growing herbs in pots is that a good potting mix is balanced for a range of herbs. And it’s easy to add a bit of lime to the mix for those that need a more alkaline soil.

 

 

5. Good drainage is essential for successful herb-growing. Don’t plant your herbs in low-lying swampy areas where they will become water-logged and succumb to root-rot. Rockeries are the ideal herb environment because their soil drains freely.

 

 

6. Common culinary herbs need at least six hours sun a day for good growth. Mint, parsley and coriander will take some light shade but basil and rosemary need full sun and plenty of it. In cold climates, a bed or pot position against a sun-facing wall will give additional warmth. In very hot climates some protection may be required for young leafy herbs during the middle of the day.

 

 

7. Don’t over-water herbs. Most herbs do very well with only small amounts of water, especially dry-zone herbs such as thyme and rosemary. Mint, chives and parsley need more watering, especially in hot weather. Fine out the watering needs of each herb you grow and establish a regime so that your plants get enough water but are never water-logged. Don’t over-feed your herbs, either. I only feed my herbs in pots, and then sparingly. As a general rule, those that need the most water need the most feeding too – so basil, parsley and chives benefit from regular dosages of liquid fertilisers. Slow-release fertilisers are mostly a waste of money for herbs, especially annuals. What you want is quick action feeding to bring them on for the growing season. In-ground, I don’t fertilize any of my herbs except basil – I just make sure I have good soil which is regularly composted and mulched.

 

 

8. Don’t ever spray herbs against insects – remember, you are going to eat them! (The herbs, not the insects!). Plant-munching insects rarely attack the common culinary herbs which have their own biological defence systems. Basil can suffer from grasshopper or caterpillar attack; pick them off or use an organic spray that doesn’t harm humans.

 

 

9. Seed bought in packets from garden centers is the easiest and cheapest way of growing herbs. You can of course buy them in pots and almost ready to eat but this costs more. Harvesting your own seed is fun and cost-effective but it requires hard work to do this, and to store it safely and for the correct period so it retains viability.

 

 

10. Herbs are best picked between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on a warm, sunny day. At this time the flavoursome oils are rich and well-developed, drawn out by the warmth of the sun.

Of course, there are more things to know about growing herbs if you plan to use your hobby to earn some extra income – but for that information you’ll have to read the book! This is available from Amazon as a Kindle e-book or it can be downloaded to a computer ; http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008R9JIUE. But if, like most of us, what interests you is growing herbs for your own pleasure then please do give it a try because you’ll find this hobby just so rewarding.

 

 

I only grow culinary herbs nowadays and limit these to my top ten favorites, which are parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, dill, mint, coriander (cilantro) and chives - plus fennel, chervil and so-called Vietnamese mint as seasonal changes. Not only are these herbs essential for flavouring the meals I love to cook, they also contain lots of vitamins and minerals as well as the free-radicals and anti-oxidants that so many of today's health gurus tell us are essential for our wellbeing. I just love to go out on a sunny morning and pick a handful of basil to put into a rich Italian sauce, or some rosemary to rub into a joint of lamb . I adore the taste of dill and use it at the slightest excuse – lavishly with eggs and fish for example – while coriander (cilantro), used sparingly, makes an Indian curry or Mexican dish into a taste of heaven.

 

 

Follow my simple ten points for good herb-growing and you’ll find you’ve got an absorbing hobby which will enchant your life in all sorts of ways. And if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via this blog – I’m always happy to help fellow herb-lovers!

Sowing your seed

A GardenEzi reader who bought my just-released herb-book as a computer download has emailed me with a question about sowing seed, and because it's a good question I thought I might share the answer with others.

 

I find that when you write a book, especially a gardening book, there is always so much more you want to explain.  Trouble is, if you get too wordy the whole book becomes unwieldy and you risk losing reader interest  so you have to try and keep it short and sweet.  One of the great thing about modern communications is that if readers want further information they can easily get it by contacting the author by email or through a website or blog. 

 

My reader's question is as follows:

 

"In your book Grow Herbs - Make Money, which I have just bought, in the section on planting you recommend planting four seeds only into each pot.  I sometimes find when I grow plants from seed that not all the seeds sprout and so usually I sow several seeds and when they turn into seedlings I just weed out the weakest and keep the strongest.  Could you please tell me what brand of seed you are using that gives such a good sprouting rate?  Perhaps I have been using the wrong kind of seed; I usually buy mine in packets from the supermarket."

 

In Grow Herbs - Make Money I do indeed tell my readers to plant four herbs seeds in each pot. I find that if you use good seed, plant at the right time, use a good growing mix and follow up with the right amount of light and frequent watering, all four seeds will sprout, usually within a few days.  By GOOD seed I mean any brand-name seed purchased from garden centers, hardware stores or supermarkets.  I'm not going to give my favorite brand here because my book is sold internationally and brand names vary according to country. Also, it would constitute free advertising for the seed company!  

 

I HAVE found that some seed companies produce more reliable and better seed than others and this really comes down to trial and error...all I can say here is that you can get a pretty good idea by eyeballing the product.  When inspecting the seed stand in a retail outlet look for a product that offers a good range of herb varieties and gives good growing information on the back of the packet.  READ THAT INFORMATION CAREFULLY AND FOLLOW IT. In my book (which focuses mainly on growing herbs for money) basic seed planting information is supplied but I expect readers to be guided also by the information that comes with the seed they use - which will include climate and hardiness zone information suited to that particular herb in that particular location. 

 

If you are growing herbs just for pleasure it's fine to scatter a few seeds at random in the pot or on the ground and then thin them out at seedling stage.  After all, seeds are cheap enough.  But if you are trying to make a bit of money from your herbs, as recommended in the book, then this is a wasteful practice.  Sure, you can sow two seeds for every one, as a safeguard.  This used to be common practice and still is for things like beans and corn.  But it shouldn't really be necessary with today's high-viability seed produced for home gardeners and certainy I don't find it so. I prefer to perfect my technique until I've got it right.

 

I do sometimes get a germination failure, though rarely more than one seed in each pot.  To cover such exigency I find it better to sow a couple of extra pots.  This way, if one of my seeds fails to germinate I can replace it at seedling stage from the back-up pots.  And, if this doesn't prove necessary, I've got a couple of extra pots either to sell or to keep for later transplanting to my herb garden.

 

Usually, when commercially-produced seed fails to germinate it's because the growing mix is too coarse, the seed has been planted too deeply, watering is too much or too little, or the weather is too hot or (more likely) too cold.

 

However, if you are using seed harvested from your own herb garden, or obtained from another home-gardener or seed-saving network, you are likely to get a much lower viability rate.  As such seed is either free or cheap it is definitely advisable to sow a lot more of it - eight or more to the pot or scattered on the ground where the plants are to grow.  The seedlings can be thinned out later, if necessary.

 

Otherwise,  if you are using good quality commercial seed from a packet, I recommend perfecting your growing technique so that you don't waste it.

 

 

If using good quality commercial seed you shouldn't have to over-sow your pots.

 

New herb book

 

 

 

 

At last, my new herb book is available for sale as a Kindle e-reader download from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008R9JIUE. Cost is only $4.95 and it may well be the best five bucks you've spent in a long time!

 

The book is called Grow Herbs - Make Money and shows you how to turn herb-growing from a hobby to a small backyard business, following the GardenEzi Five Step program.

 

I've based this book on my own 30 or so years of growing and selling herbs and information includes setting up, equipment, costs and profits, growing and caring for herbs, different herbs for different climates and how to find markets.  It also includes some of the best promotion tips you'll find anywhere.  As I say in the beginning of the book, anybody can grow herbs - that's the easy part.  The most important - and most difficult - part is to establish markets.

 

To make it easy, I've suggested that those buying this book grow only a small selection of herbs and the suggested Top Ten culinary herbs are listed - with some climate variations included.  You'll also find pictures of these herbs, plus one extra, on this website (go to the main page and click on "Herbs").

 

Grow Herbs - Make Money is not about making your fortune.  However if you enjoy growing herbs anyway, this book will show you how to turn that hobby to a modest profit that will enhance your income.  It's healthy, it's happy and it's fun!

You can also download the Kindle ebook to a PC or laptop computer, by installing free software from Amazon (which will also allow you to download thousands of other Amazon ebooks). To download software cut and paste the following link:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000426311

 

Short, zappy gardening and lifestyle books such as those in the GardenEzi series download well to computers and are very usable because you can read them on your screen or print out sections to take out into the garden with you.

(Pics on Herbs page on GardenEzi main website)

Top, from left, Basil, Thyme, Mint

 

Middle, from left: equipment including bucket of potting mix, tamper, scoop, recommended pots and growing benches; also Dill, Fennel and Rosemary

 

Bottom, from left, Coriander, oregano, Parsley and Sage

 

Do you HATE gardening?

 

Many people hate gardening!  This is amazing to those of us who have spent long years dabbling in the dirt – but it’s true!  They hate the very thought of planting and weeding, hoeing and mowing.  The acquisition of some new and rare plant species does not excite those who get their thrills from a new pair of designer shoes or a set of golf clubs.  And, indeed, why should it.  Gardeners are a mad breed and probably very boring to those who don’t find greenfly or the latest azalea variety an enthralling topic of dinner party conversation.

 

So, I wrote a book especially for those who find gardening a chore and a bore.  I thought it was the least I could do, being one of the mad breed who would rather have a new pair of secateurs than a pair of Jimmy Choos.  Because, you know, I have noticed one strange thing in my years of writing  and talking to people – even those who wouldn’t be caught dead at a rose show still like to possess a good-looking garden. 

 

The book is called How to Have a Great Garden for Just Two Hours a Week and you can find it on this website ( www.wix.com/jrlakemedia/ezibooks )  and it’s proving rather popular with today’s post-yuppie, cashed up, mega-consuming, time poor home-owning generation which will spend a fortune making the inside of the house look like a Home Beautiful cover and wants a garden to match – but without spending a lot of time and money on it.

 

The secret of this book’s success is that today’s young (and youngish) home owners want solutions that are quick, easy, accessible and cost-effective.  Not for them the good old stuff about making compost and improving the soil and hunting slugs by torchlight.  They want a garden they can show off to their friends and neighbours  and which can easily be kept going – and growing – in those little niches of time still found between work and leisure.  And of course it’s an e-book so it can be easily downloaded to e-reader or tablet or phone – today’s home-owner is as likely to be found in the garden with a phone in his or her hand as a spade!

 

As it says in the beginning of the book, here you won’t learn about grand design or formal versus informal gardens.

 

Nor will you learn about the challenges involved in growing rare and temperamental plants.

 

Nor will you find anything about elaborate water features or espaliering fruit trees or the finer points of plant propagation.

 

What you WILL find is lots of easy information on how to create a really good-looking garden – and how to maintain it for just TWO HOURS A WEEK!

 

What it all comes down to is planning.  Get that right, I tell my readers, and the rest falls into place.

 

Thus I take them step-by-step through the planning stage, teaching them to think of garden features (lawns, flowerbeds, furniture, trees) in terms of modules than can be added to or subtracted from a simple plan.  This type of modulised thinking makes it easy for people to envisage the type of garden they want – and just how much work each module means in terms of maintenance.  When people have very little time for gardening it is just SO important to show them how to spend that time as effectively as possible because otherwise it is just seen as an added burden to an already over- burdened life.  Whereas I want my readers to see gardening as a relaxing pastime that’s just as lifestyle-enhancing as all those more expensive ways of getting exercise and relieving stress, such as yoga or going to the gym.  Above all, I want them to see it as FUN!

 

Once I’ve shown readers the benefits of formulating and following a basic plan, it’s easy to lead them through the other steps in the process of creating the ultimate low-maintenance garden – Preparation, Planting, Practice and Protection.  These are in fact the Five Principles (I’m tempted to say “the Five SACRED Principles!) of the GardenEzi gardening program which I founded some years ago. 

 

When it comes to allocating just two hours work a week to the garden, planning also has to include selecting the right infrastructure such as fencing, paving and edging.  Preparation means buying the right tools and labor-saving devices. Planting means choosing the right plants and putting them in the right place. Practice means developing the right ways of doing things around the garden.  Protection means learning the right – and easiest – way to keep plants healthy. In fact this book is so much about being right that the Tea Party would probably endorse it!

 

Perhaps the book’s most important feature is the Time Budget, by which readers are shown how to allocate and spend gardening time in the same way as they would (or should!) budget their money.  Follow this and you’ll come to see a couple of hours a week spent around the garden as a pleasurable workout rather than a chore. 

 

I’ve had a lot of fun over the years, telling people how to garden, and mostly I’ve been preaching to the converted.  It’s been a lot more of a challenge preaching to the UNconverted – to those who hate the very thought of gardening and need guidance just to establish a lawn and a couple of shrubs.  Yet it’s been very rewarding to hear from people who have turned dull, weedy plots into stylish and much-loved outdoor rooms by following the simple steps in Great Garden for Just Two Hours a Week.

 

I truly believe that if each one of us could just find two hours in our busy lives to spend in the garden we’d all be a lot healthier and happier – and the world would be a better and more beautiful place.

 

 

Getting your soil right for azaleas

Are your azaleas a sight for sore eyes this spring?  If not, you may need to improve your soil.

 

Azaleas need a rich, loamy, acid soil to thrive and flower well.  The only way you can achieve this is with lots of compost and mulch – and patience. 

 

Step 1 – break up the surface of your existing soil and fork it over a bit, to open it up. 

 

Step 2 – add heaps and heaps of compost.  If you don’t make this yourself, buy it in.  Or you can buy in a load of good soil – but that can be expensive. 

 

Step 3 – test your soil for acidity.  This is measured on a scale of 1 – 14, with acid soils at the lower end of the scale, alkaline at the other and a neutral, balanced soil in the middle.  Azaleas like a soil acidity of 4 – 5.5 on the scale.  You can have your soil professionally tested or buy a kit from a garden centre – it’s easy to use.  If you can’t be bothered with any of this, just assume your soil needs acidifying and do this with…

 

Step 4 – mulch, using acid materials such as pine needles, shredded pine bark or leaf mould.  Mulch is NOT the same as compost – compost is the rich, soil-like product of mixing organic greenwaste and manure and heating it to a high temperature to break down these ingredients.  Added to your soil they enrich it and add essential nutrients.  Mulching with coarse, uncomposted materials improves the structure and texture of your soil and as it composts slowly, over time (much slower than pre-made compost) it also adds some nutrients.  Using compost and mulch together is the best and fastest way to improve soil, creating a growing environment for plant roots that is nutritious and able to retain moisture.

 

And that’s all there is to it.  Do this now, and keep on mulching regularly during the year and by next year you should have a soil that will grow perfect azaleas.  If you do, send me a photo!

 

For all you need to know about growing azaleas you'll find my E-book Growing Great Azaleas on Amazon - very cheap and easy-to-read.  Read more about it and how to buy it on this GardenEzi website - see above. 

In praise of old azaleas

Azalea indica Alphonse Anderson

 

 

People often ask me, what are the best azaleas to grow?

 

I always tell them – go for the oldies!  Because where azaleas are concerned, the oldies really ARE the goodies, if what you want are big, strong, floriferous and reliable plants to fill a space or make a show.

 

In this regard, the old indica species azaleas such as “Alphonse Anderson”, “Alba Magna” and “Exquisite” still out-perform every other type.  They go on blooming year after year, decade after decade, and all they require is a bit of water in very dry weather, regular mulching with acidic stuff such as leaf mould or straw, and a good cut-back after flowering.

 

Of course, there are lots of lovely azalea varieties available today in all sorts of colors.  And when it comes to selecting varieties of indica, mollis or kurume much depends on your climate – as a general rule indicas are the best for warmer climates while the deciduous mollis and compact kurumes thrive only in cold or upland climates.  Azaleas have been so hybridized and  genetically mucked about that the range available in a garden centre can be bewildering, unless you have a definite color scheme in mind.

 

The faithful old tall-growing indicas already mentioned here don’t produce autumn flowers, as do so many of the newer hybrid varieties .  But though they only flower in spring (with occasional  - but rare - spot flowering throughout the year) they do produce a good show for several weeks.  And they are much less prone to petal blight and just plain dropping down dead than the newbies, where breeding seems to be aimed more at bringing out yet another flashy-flowered brief sensation rather than a vigorous plant.

Trip to Tenterfield

Our cheerful group of seven birdos set forth on Tuesday, May 21 for a few days checking out the birdlife around Tenterfield, on the northern tablelands of New South Wales.  My little Hyundai i30 tagged along behind the three big  4WDs, packed to the roof with all my camping gear, quite a lot of food and wine, and my friend Pat.

 

Our first stop was at Boonah where the loos are reasonably clean and there is usually some good birding around the little lake there.  We were shocked to see the size of the fruitbat colony which has taken over the revegetated area at the back of the park – thousands of them!  After Boonah we made a brief stop at Aratula, at the  foot of the Great Dividing Range, where Jim wanted to top up with diesel.  Aratula is tiny but boasts a good cake shop so Pat and I decided we needed our own top-up of apple and fresh cream turnovers.  The great curtain wall north of Cunningham’s Gap looked spectacular in the bright autumn morning light, and the usual roadworks slow-down gave us a good look at Mounts Mathieson and Cordeaux as we climbed up the range.

 

Once on the Darling Downs we soon left the highway for the backroads; the old cedar route that winds through Killarney to the range beyond.  We stopped at pretty little Tannymorel for smoko and while others admired the autumn colours everywhere, Pat and I devoured our HUGE turnovers!  The little park was hedged by cotoneasters and the bright berries added an even brighter splash of colour to the scene.  On then through Killarney and up the very dusty (in the non-bitumen parts) Mt Lindsay Road to Tenterfield, with a brief stop on the way so Pat could look at Bald Rock.  Which proved something of a disappointment, as those who have been there know, because this second largest monolith to Ayres Rock (Uluru) can’t be seen for the surrounding forest – you have to climb it to get any sense of its splendour.

 

We arrived in Tenterfield for a late lunch and I set up my tent on a nice, flat, grassy site under a deciduous tree. I was the only camper – the others had decided to opt for the relative comfort of cabins. We then headed for the Tenterfield Park conservation area and the nearby lake where we saw quite a few birds, though nothing very exciting.  Once the sun went down it became very chilly and we were glad to retreat to our campers’ kitchen which had a cosy fire.  Next morning I woke to find frost on the ground though my nice, flat, grassy site was mostly frost-free.  We set off to meet Ann, our guide for the day, who lives on a farm just west of Tenterfield on the Bonshaw and Sundown road.  Lovely country out there, with ranges of blue hills and pretty rivers.  In one of those rivers, The Mole, we saw a platypus right out there in the middle of the day, swimming around.  We also saw turquoise parrots, hooded robins and – during our lunch stop by the river – a spotted harrier.  In the late afternoon Pat, Dawn, Susan and I (Jim had car trouble) went up Mt Mackenzie which is surprisingly high.  The lower slopes are covered with thick fern forest full of superb lyrebirds; this gives way to a type of montane heath nearer the top and then more forest.  The view from the top, east over Tenterfield to the ranges, is quite spectacular though it was a bit late in the day for good photos. Tenterfield is an attractive town with a real “cool-climate” feel to it, especially in autumn when all the exotic trees – liquidambars, plane trees, elms, birches and others – are a glory of red and gold.  It is, of course, the birthplace of Peter Allen, hence his hit song “Tenterfield Saddler” dedicated to his grandfather.  It hasn’t changed much since those days.

 

Thursday was overcast and bleak, with rain threatening.  Our guide Peter took us to a private property where we saw red-capped robins (the indefatigable Pat had already seen one, having got up early and birded around Tenterfield) and some white-winged choughs, as well as other more  familiar (to Tamborine dwellers) birds.  The dull weather didn’t bring out the birds so we had to hunt for them hard around the  swamp and in the nearby forest.  We then moved on to Cypress Pine camping area (empty) where we sought in vain for brown treecreepers but all fell in love with the beautiful Boonoo Boonoo River.  From there we went up to the falls, where Banjo Patterson and his fiancée went before us (on horseback, a tough and long ride), a century or so ago.  In all our driving around the narrow, sandy tracks of that back-county we hardly saw another person all that day and these beautiful falls were as deserted as all the rest – just a bit far afield for most tourists to visit.  We had lunch there and as David wanted to go on home that day he and I went ahead of the rest to the lookout, which overhangs the narrow gorge far below.  We looked in vain for rock wallabies which on sunny days lie out on the cliffs across the gorge.  Any disappointment was soon more than compensated by a close encounter with a spotted-tailed quoll which crouched on a rock close by, seemingly unafraid and checking us out for about two minutes.  Long enough for some of us to take photos.  By this time, luckily, David and I had been joined by Jim, Dawn and Susan…whose burst of expletives (“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”) rang through the gorge and drowned out the noise of the waterfall, this being the way she expressed her excitement at seeing a quoll for the first time in the wild.  We never WILL make a lady out of Susan!   Indeed, it IS lucky to see this usually elusive, increasingly rare and mainly nocturnal animal nowadays so small wonder she was excited.  In fact only Dawn and I had ever seen them in the wild before so it was a big thrill for all the group.  Just as Ros, followed by Pat, came down the path the quoll decided to run off back into the bush with a great flourish of its long tail – but not before they’d had a reasonable look at it. 

 

A stop at Basket Swamp on the way back proved barren of birds despite our determined effort to find a southern emu wren.  The miserable weather was just too much for the birds – and for some of us.  When our guide Peter eventually left us it was 4pm and we did a hurried walk along a pretty, fern-lined creek to a rocky overhang reputed to have once been a hideout of the bushranger Fred Ward, nicknamed Thunderbolt, who was once active in those parts.  A superb lyrebird taunted us with its song but didn’t vouchsafe us so much as a glimpse of his tailfeathers.  We did, however, see a pair of glossy black cockatoos which was a thrill for me who is presently doing a survey on this now-threatened species.

 

We all went to bed exhausted after our second day birding from dawn to dusk – then I awoke around midnight to hear it softly raining.  Next morning I packed up as fast as I could in a light but relentless drizzle and we all headed home by different routes.  Jim and Ros left early, David had already gone the previous day, Susan and Dawn elected to make a fast run via the New England and Cunningham Highways, while Pat and I decided to take the quiet and windy Bruxner Highway east and then cut through the backroads to the border, then up the Mt Linday highway to home.  Despite the frequent rain we had a lovely 6 ½ hour drive, following the upper Clarence River for a long way, stopping at pretty little Bonalbo for smoko, taking a brief look at the beautiful Yabbra National Park and then diverting via Urbenville to the Tooloom Falls – a little-known spot which also happens to be probably the best place in all Australia to see platypus because at dawn and in the late afternoon at least half a dozen of them can be seen in the big, deep pool below the falls.  I’ve camped here in the past, on the small and quiet stream which is the headwaters of the big Clarence River that joins the sea at Yamba, many, many miles away.

It was a lovely few days with good friends having a great time and seeing about 90 birds.

 

 

Our happy birding group at lunch - from left, Pat, me, Susan, Dawn, Jim, Ros and David.

 

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The Good Earth

In this post I really want to get down and dirty! 

 

Some time back I was givingt a talk at a garden show in which the word "soil" was, not surprisingly, mentioned several times.  A young man in the audience interrupted me to ask what I meant by this word.  What exactly WAS soil, he asked.  For once in my life I was briefly speechless!  However, I answered his question and he responded by looking faintly disgusted.  "Oh", he said, "You mean DIRT!".  It turned out that he confused soil with potting mix, the only medium in which he had ever seen plants growing!

 

I realised then that the nursery and garden industry was in danger of losing touch with today's younger gardeners.  So with this in mind, a few months later when addressing a gathering of horticultural writers and broadcasters from around the world, I stood at the podium and steadily trickled a jar full of soil on to the platform.  A dramatic gesture and one guaranteed to get attention.  My point was that the horticulture media in general, and by extension the gardening public, had become much too product-driven.  Under pressure from the manufacturers and distributors of chemicals and gardening products, we were all looking for a quick fix for every garden situation.  What’s more, the media was hard-pressed to keep up with the sheer number of new products (and plants for that matter, but that’s another topic!) being launched every month, as a result not giving these products the critical analysis vital to evaluating them on behalf of consumers . And the loser in all this was good, old-fashioned gardening practice.

 

The basis of such practice is, of course, the understanding and nurturing of our garden soil.

 

If your soil ain’t right, you just can’t have a good garden.  It’s as simple as that!

 

I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot, lately, because I’ve just completed a book on soil (Improving Your Soil – The Natural Way; you can read about it and other gardening matters on www.wix.com/jrlakemedia/ezibooks).  

 

Most people find soil a boring subject but I’ve been fascinated by it every since studying soil science many years ago.  After all, this wonderful mix of decayed animal, vegetable and mineral matter, broken down from its component parts, is the growing medium that sustains all life.  One of the great wonders of Nature is the way in which plantlife has adapted to survive in every type of ground, from thin and apparently un-nutritious sand to hard shale to heavy clay.  I’ve often observed with fascination those plants that cling so tenaciously with their roots to an apparently impervious piece of rock, able to find sustenance where other plants just wouldn’t last five minutes!

 

However, in the home garden, we want to grow a whole range of things that are not especially adapted to difficult soil environments but instead need rich, deep loam in which to thrive.  These include trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, edible and medicinal herbs, and fruit.  It’s possible to grow all these things in shallow, poor soil or thick, sticky clay – at least for a while.  But they won’t last long!

 

Over years of advising gardeners, either in print or face-to-face at garden shows, I’ve been amazed at how little they understand the need for good soil.  When plants are sick or don’t thrive the tendency is to blame insect attack or disease or lack of gardening skills.  Sometimes it is one or all of those things in combination.  But more often it is a problem with the soil – indeed, plants are better able to survive insect attack, and rarely become diseased, in gardens where the soil is just right. 

 

Sandy soils cause all but the few plants evolved to tolerate them to grow slowly and poorly through lack of nutrition, moisture and a secure root environment.  Clay soils encourage root rot through clagging when wet and baking hard when dry, and the roots of small plants can’t penetrate them.  Rocky soils just don’t offer garden plants anything at all in the way of nutrition or safe anchorage.   So all these soil types need to be improved and adjusted to meet the needs of gardeners.  Even if your idea of a garden is just a lawn with a tree in the middle, it still won’t look good if your soil is poor.

 

A “good” garden soil should be a rich brown or reddish brown or black in color.  It should be crumbly in the hand, slightly damp but not soggy.  This is a sign of a soil which has good tilth”.  My dictionary rather uninspiringly defines “tilth” as “the physical condition of soil in relation to plant growth” but we gardeners know it is the best word to describe soil which has the perfect structure and texture so that the very feel of it in your hand gives you a thrill!  A soil with good tilth contains plenty of “humus” – decayed organic matter which builds up structure and nutritional value.  If you are very lucky, you live in an area where the soils are naturally lovely and loamy. But if you live where the natural soil is clay or sand or rock then you are going to have to do something about it.

 

And that's what my new book is all about.  In easy steps it shows you how to gradually but thoroughly turn your clay, sandy or rocky soil into a growing medium of which to be proud, through the regular application of much, compost and other products applied in the right way and at the right time.

 

The good earth is only as good as you make it!  And it doesn't cost the earth to do that, either!

  Improving Your Soil is available for 44.95 at  www.amazon.com/kindle. (Search title and download to PC or eReader)  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who dunnit?

I belong to a Facebook group called Kenya Friends Reunited and it's a lot of fun.  Especially as we are able to share old memories as well as information about colourful characters from "the old days" - and Kenya had these in abundance.

 

There has been a long discussion recently about the murder of Joss Hay, Lord Errol, in 1941.  More than 120 postings have mulled over this old scandal and at least one KFR contributor has offered some interesting new information.

 

I, too, dealt with this matter briefly in my book A Garden in Africa (to see more about this book click on "Sites" above).  I wasn't able to shed any new light on the mystery but such information as I've included in the book does at least come directly from a source who knew those involved.  One of the interesting things about the Errol murder, or so it seems to me today, is just how discreet those who claimed to have known "the real truth" were about the whole thing.  And, in most cases, continued to be for the rest of their lives - even though these were generally not people who were known for their discretion.

Here are two excerpts, for those who are interested, taken from two different chapters in the book:

    

 

                                     ................

 

Excerpt 1

 

 

In 1982 James Fox’s book White Mischief was published.  When I visited her in England some time after that, my grandmother asked if I had read it.  I hadn’t, I think because at that time I was consciously trying to avoid anything that reminded me of Africa.  Was it a good book? I asked.  “Well enough written,” she conceded grudgingly.  “Considering that fool Connolly had a hand in it.  He got the atmosphere quite well but of course he didn’t know the half of it.  Just as well.”  By “he” she meant the author, Fox, who had once worked in Kenya for a newspaper.  “That fool Connolly” was the writer, columnist and socialite Cyril Connolly whom my grandmother had met several times and described as “too precious by half”; one minute despising the aristocracy, the next minute sucking up to them.  Nor had she cared for the only book of his she’d ever read (“Too artsy!” – her term for any work she considered overly highbrow and lacking in substance).  But Fox’s book seemed to worry her and when I asked, teasing her, if Fox had got it right - had Jock Broughton murdered Lord Errol - she replied, strangely, “Perhaps, but there was much more to it than that.”  She also claimed to be one of the few people then living to know the real truth.  Others have made such a claim and I disregarded it at the time, as the young tend to do with the reminiscences of the old.  As with much else, I now very much wish I had taken more notice, asked a few questions.

 

I do remember saying it was funny Fox hadn’t thought to add her to his list of contacts.  “I wouldn’t have spoken to him,” Flora replied.  And added something else to which I wish now I’d listened more carefully.  “I hate all this digging up the past! It’s all about people’s hearts and what goes on inside them…how can you hope to get it right in a book when you weren’t there, didn’t even know them…and even if you know them you can only see the outside…there’s so much of themselves people keep locked up!”

 

It was the unusual vehemence with which she spoke that made me recall these words years later.  I thought her manner a bit strange at the time, but not enough to pursue the matter further.  Fortunately she never saw the film; she would have hated its blatant inaccuracies as I did, as Fox must have done.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                xxx

 

 Excerpt II

 

At the beginning of the year the colony was shocked by the killing of Lord Errol.  Late in January his body was found in his car, shot in the head.  After several weeks of scandalous speculation another aristocrat, Sir Jock Delves Broughton, husband of Errol’s mistress, Diana, was charged with the murder.  The subsequent trial put the whole Happy Valley lifestyle under the microscope and all those who knew the protagonists, or were members of the Muthaiga Club where so much of the action leading up to the murder had taken place, found themselves the objects of much unwelcome curiosity – and censure.

 

“It is absolutely the last thing we need right now,”wrote Flora in her diary, no doubt echoing the opinion of many.  “The scandal makes us look so bad in front of the natives, and the Indians who are always so ready to criticise our behaviour, often rightly!  We expect them to look up to us and obey us and follow us to war, which most of them don’t understand, and then we show them in this horrible public way just how rotten some of us can be!”

 

Flora’s knew all those involved, though not well because she was not of their set.  Her diary shows that she thought Errol a rotter, Broughton a fool and Diana Broughton a femme fatale of the worst kind.  “People say she is little better than a high class tart,” Flora wrote with an unusual touch of vulgarity, “And she and June Carberry (Diana Broughton’s friend and confidante, staying at her house on the night of the murder) are two of a kind and nothing they say can be trusted.”  “People” probably refers to Gwladys Delamere from whom Flora seems to have got most of her inside information.  I think this likely because after a meeting ostensibly to discuss war work, Flora wrote:  â€œGwladys says JB is undoubtedly guilty and should hang for it, but there is more to it than people realise.  I pressed her a little but she wouldn’t say more, just put her finger on her lips and rolled her eyes, the way she does sometimes.”  Gwladys Delamere was thought by some to be quite mad; others even considered her to be Erroll’s killer.  It was generally agreed that she had been in love with him, but that his interest ran to younger women.  She was intimate in one way or another with all those closely involved in the Erroll scandal but just how much she actually knew of the murder has never been revealed; she certainly didn’t say much at the trial though her hostility to Jock Broughton was apparent.

 

I have already said that when I discussed the book “White Mischief” with my grandmother back in the 1980s she intimated that it had not told the whole story.  I didn’t pay much attention at the time but since then, of course, I have the diary.  The entry for July 1, the day Broughton was acquitted reads:  “JB has been found not guilty, even though most of us think he is.  One has to say that he has been amazingly discreet and gentlemanly about it all, and was prepared to take the full brunt.  Nobody else has been mentioned for it at all, during the whole trial.  Even the police seem to think he did it on his own – or at least have not publicly claimed otherwise.  Some think they know better, but I suppose it’s a case of least said, soonest mended.” 

 

So Flora thought that there were two people involved in Lord Erroll’s murder and seems to suggest that he had been prepared to take the blame for it. What discretion, I wonder, made her write so much but not more?  Perhaps she might have done so, but she soon had her own problems to consider though there is no mention of them in the diary, just as there is no further mention of the Erroll scandal. In any case, she didn’t like malicious gossip and may have felt she had gone far enough in repeating, even in her diary, what she cannot possibly known for certain to be true. The case has been so thoroughly probed and written about that I find it hard to believe there is anything else to know – yet his death still arouses argument and some think Gwladys Delamere killed him, some think another jealous husband killed him, some think Diana killed him and some even think that MI5 killed him!  Thus I can’t help wishing that I’d listened more carefully to my grandmother when I had the chance – as she herself often said about so many things, “You might know the half of it but you’ll never know the whole.”

 

They are all dead now: Broughton by suicide, the temptress Diana living to a good age and becoming, somewhat ironically, yet another Lady Delamere. She would have been Gwladys’s step daughter-in-law had Gwladys lived, but she herself died within three years of the murder, though still only in her mid-forties.  All that passion spent!  Flora, too, is long dead and has taken her secrets with her.

 

 

 

 

 

An Aussie Flavor - feed yourself with rainforest fruits

 

Australian rainforest food plants are useful additions to home gardens anywhere in the world where the winters aren't cold enough for snow or too low in rainfall.  They do best in tropical and sub-tropical climates but most will do surprisingly well in warm-temperate climates if given shelter from cold winds and hard frosts, and plenty of water during dry periods. Other than that, they are pretty tough plants that don't need a lot of fussing.  And they do add some interesting flavors to your home-grown diet.

 

 

Their benefits include:

 

1.     Human health – though the nutritional values of most of Australia's edible plants are still little appreciated or understood, they undoubtedly possess not only recognised vitamins but also unique values that benefit health in this climate.

 

2.     Garden health – by attracting a range of  birds and various pollinators to the garden, they enrich the biodiversity values that are essential to a TRULY sustainable garden

 

3.     Habitat restoration – if you live in Australia native food plants extend the natural vegetation linkages that are so vital to the sustainability of both plantlife and wildlife â€“ how wonderful it would be to create a network of gardens and parks across the country enriched by plants that can feed both wildlife and humans!

 

4.     Good looks – the rainforest species mentioned in this article are all attractive, garden-friendly plants that can be put to a variety of landscape uses – as single ornamentals, in shrubberies and buffer zones, as hedges, pot plants, street trees and feature plants in courtyards.

 

 

Here is my selection of the Top Six rainforest plants for food and good garden behavior:

 

Davidson’s Plum (Davidsonia pruriens)

 

Riberry (Syzygium luehmanni)

 

Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)

 

Illawarra Plum (Podocarpus elatus)

 

Finger lime (Citrus australasica)

 

Red Bopple Nut (Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia)

 

 

You don’t actually need to give these plants any care after establishment; they’ll survive and even thrive.  But if  you’re growing them for food, a bit of extra TLC will give you more and better fruit.

 

 

General cultivation tips: Improve soil at the planting site with compost; provide water in summer dry periods, fertilise young trees for improved yield (but never too much because  too much nitrogen can promote foliage growth over fruit production); prune to maintain manageable shape and size; control fruit fly (in the two plums), protect from weather extremes.  As many soils are deficient in calcium, it may help to add gypsum.  Spring is the best time to fertilise and a high potassium fertiliser will improve fruit development in nut and fruit trees.

 

 

Davidson’s Plum

 

The best of the two subspecies being cultivated, because it produces the largest and nicest fruit, is Davidsonia puriens var. puriens (the other is Davidsonia puriens var. jerseyana). This tree occurs naturally in northern New South Wales and tropical/sub-tropical Queensland.  It’s quite small – to about 8m – with attractive toothed foliage and colourful new growth.  Fruits can be as large as 6cm in diameter and are purplish black with reddish flesh. Very juicy but not very palatable because rather sour, so best if stewed with lots of sugar or honey. A dash of port or brandy does wonders to the flavour!  The plum makes excellent jam and wine, and is a useful extender in other fruit jams.  Fruit is produced mostly in summer (though sometimes both earlier and later) and in mature trees is very prolific.  Improved yield cultivars are now available.

 

 

Cultivation: To improve fruit yield, cultivate the planting area by digging it over.  Add plenty of compost.  Plant in a position protected from wind and frost.   Light shade is best, though a position with direct morning sun will help boost fruit production and flavour. It doesn’t like too much competition from other trees nearby – this slows growth.  Davidsonia has a high moisture requirement; like most south-east Queensland rainforest plants it can withstand long dry periods but will grow faster if water can be provided during drought. Beetles may defoliate the tree from time to time but it soon recovers – a much worse problem is fruit fly, so take whatever measures you prefer for this pest and pick fruit when still fairly green, so it can ripen indoors. Ripe fruit stores in the frig and the pulp can be frozen

 

 

Propagation: Fresh seed germinates easily.  Early growth is slow.

 

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Riberry  (Syzygium leuhmannii)

 

This ornamental lilly pilly bears lots of small, pear-shaped, pinkish-red fruits in summer.  It’s a big tree to 30 m and can be widespreading too, so needs lots of room.  It’s also fast-growing – the more water it has the faster it grows! It bears at an early age compared with most rainforest trees – about five years depending on conditions.  When mature it’s very prolific.  The crisp, tart fruit is edible though not exciting. It makes a very good juice when boiled with a sugar syrup and also jam, sauce (like cranberry sauce) and chutney, either alone or with other fruit (choco and riberry chutney is good!).  I add it to fruit salads, or any type of salad, and use in a variety of dishes – curries, stir-fries, as a garnish. Also with apple and other fruit in pies. 

 

 

Cultivation:  Using cutting-grown stock and pruning regularly means you can keep this to a manageable shrub size – it makes an excellent hedge but DOES need frequent trimming. It’s not fussy about soil and will take temperatures down to zero – and can even recover from frost, though protection when young is advisable. Plant in sun or shade, though full sun means more and better fruit.  Improved (composted) soil will mean better fruit production and water retention, and maintaining an acidity level of around 5.6pH will assist nutrient take-up if you are fertilising your plants. Mulch well. I’ve found that good drainage is essential for healthy riberries and at the same time they like a lot of water (but not waterlogging).  They’re geared naturally to withstand dry periods in winter/spring but growth will slow or stop if this happens during summer – so water may need to be applied. Fertilise with a low-phosphorus formula in spring, when the temperature begins to rise and rainfall begins.  This is only necessary in the first couple of years to encourage growth. I just use compost and it seems to work well. Some commercial producers fertilise again in autumn.

 

 

 

 

Prune young plants to encourage a multi-stemmed growth (up to 4); then again lightly each year after fruiting (more if it’s a hedge but remember heavy pruning will prevent a good fruit crop next time because fruit develops on each year’s mature growth).  If the tree grows too large, it will need a good cut back every few years, and this will be followed by reduced fruit production for the next few seasons.

 

 

 

 

If you’re planting a hedge, seedlings should be about 2m apart – if planting an avenue of individual trees/shrubs space about 5m apart – depending on desired size at maturity.  Don’t plant too near drains, swimming pools or any buildings.

 

 

 

The worst problem is a borer that gets into the ripening fruit. I don’t know a sustainable remedy for this – I’d try standard non-chemical remedies as for other fruit. Monitoring is crucial, and fruit should be picked immediately it ripens. Scale and sooty mould can also be a problem – natural oil remedies are the best remedy. 

 

 

 

Improved varieties – for size, flavor and seed reduction – are available.  Fruit stores quite well and can be frozen.  Fresh seed propagates quite easily but cutting-grown improved varieties are best.

 

 

 

Lemon myrtle 

 

 

 

A wonderful plant; every garden should have one because it’s beautiful, easy to grow, useful and versatile. The leaves are the richest source of cineole in the world and useful as a biocide, should you want to go to the trouble of extracting the oil.  It has a real “lemonade” flavour that’s not as harsh as other lemon-flavoured plants and is particularly suited to Asian dishes. It’s also easier to grow, better-suited to predominantly warm and wet climates and not so prone to insect attack as lemon verbena or lemon balm. (But try growing your lemon myrtles with a lemon balm groundcover for a REAL lemony experience!)  Some claim that planting this small tree in and especially around a food/herb garden keeps certain pests at bay – even if this is not valid, lemon myrtle makes an excellent ornamental herbal hedge plant if kept trimmed low and bushy. Use for anything in which you need a lemon flavor – it makes good lemonade if leaves are boiled with sugar and water; can be used for lemon-flavoured oil or vinegar; makes a delightfully fragrant tea and is perfect with fish – or in a gin and tonic! The leaf dries well.

 

 

 

Cultivation: No need to do much except perhaps provide water during very long dry periods in summer. Tip prune regularly and trim lightly once a year in autumn to maintain a manageable shape and height – keep it as a shrub rather than a tree. Protect young plants from wind. Grow in shade or full sun; sunlight develops the leaf flavour. This is a decorative landscaping plant for feature shrub/tree, border planting, hedge, tub or courtyard.

 

 

 

Illawarra Plum (Podocarpus elatus)

 

This striking tree is a member of an ancient family of conifers that take us back to Gondwana. Though slender when young, it can grow pretty tall and wide.  In autumn and winter female trees produce a blue-black fruit to about 30mm diameter with the seed carried on the outside of the flesh at the opposite end to the stem. The fruit can be stewed like Davidson’s Plum, or used with other fruits to make jam, chutney and sauces. It tolerates most local soil conditions including alkaline (though it occurs naturally on acid soils), and is also tolerant of light frosts.

 

 

Cultivation: As for Davidsonia but again don’t overdose with high nitrogen fertiliser after the first year or two (when you need to encourage growth).  Apply in early summer, rather than spring. This tree is a bit slow to start but gets away after the first 2 – 3 years.  It needs plenty of water during establishment and again during long, dry periods in summer.  As always, prune lightly after fruiting and tip prune after that to promote bushiness and keep size small. 

 

 

This is a tough plant that can be used for buffer plantings and is also a good timber tree.  You need to have at least one male plus a couple of female trees for pollination and fruit production.  Best to look for plants from good nurseries that clone their superior selections.

 

 

 

Finger Lime (Citrus australasica) and Wild (or Round) Lime (Citrus australis)

 

Finger limes grow as small, shrubby trees in Queensland coastal ranges and lowand forests. In summer and autumn (usually) they bear finger-shaped fruit up to 10cm long, with thin green or yellow skin and green-yellow pulp. A subspecies with pink to red-flesh and red to purple or even black skin (Citrus australasica var. sanguinea) also exists but is becoming very rare.  The grafted cultivar “Rainforest Pink Pearl”, now popular in cultivation, is bred from this – and is probably the best bet for home gardens because those from the wild take too long to bear – anything from 5 to 17 years!

 

 

The fruits make excellent marmalade, drinks and tangy sauces, and can be used alone or with other fruits including as an extender with exotic citrus. They are delicious if pickled whole in brandy or any other liquor, like cumquats.

 

 

The Round Lime occurs on the margins of rainforests and tolerates drier conditions.  Its fruit is round and looks rather like a small exotic lime, with a thick green-to-yellow skin and pale green pulp.

 

 

 

Australian native limes are hardy trees and rather slow growing, especially at first – but well worth the effort because they are both tasty and ornamental. 

 

 

 

Cultivation: Like all citrus they bear best if given water, especially in dry periods.  A formulated citrus fertiliser seems to work well, applied in spring.  Or just use a rich compost with plenty of potash added, for fruit development.  Prune lightly in winter to open up trees and maintain height to no more than 4m.

 

 

 

Red Bopple Nut ( Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia)

 

This tree bears a really tasty nut rather like a macadamia.  It’s oval and bright red on the outside, containing an almond-sized kernel.  Tree height is about 8m and can be kept smaller by light pruning; or made to develop several trunks if pruned when young (as with riberry).  Seed germinates easily but seedlings need quite a bit of care so buying plants from a rainforest nursery is the easier option. Plant in spring/summer only and give protection from wind.

 

 

 Cultivation: As for Davidsonia and macadamias.

 

 

 

The right plants for the right birds

This article is for Australian readers only, though the principles apply in every country.

 

Two of my main interests are gardens and birds.  They integrate so well that I have for many years made sure that any garden of mine is a haven where birds can find rest, food and a safe nesting environment.  The size of the garden doesn't matter - I only have a very small garden now but it is still bird-friendly.

Although exotic plants provide most of what's needed to welcome birds to a garden, native plants - especially those indigenous to the area - give the best possible food and shelter.  After all, birds have adapted to these plants over thousands of years, and vice versa.  So a few native plants should be planted if you want your garden to be an attractive environment for birds. 

You don't have to plant a garden that consists only of native species. But a few of them, particularly indigenous species, will help extend the urban vegetation corridor which enables native birds to exist in the burgeoning urbanisation that has replaced natural habitat all around the Australian coast. And any other coast, for that matter!

This does not mean you should plant trees and shrubs that are a nuisance in the garden.  Unless you have a very large garden - 1 hectare or more - you should avoid most eucalypts, very large rainforest trees and those subject to borers such as black bean.  Callistemons and the smaller lilly pillies (Syzygium species) are always suitable; as are pretty flowering trees such as Golden Penda and Ivory Curl (Buckinghamia).

Don't, however, plant the tropical grevilleas such as the popular "Honey Gem".  We see them everywhere now and they are very pretty (albeit not long-lived) but they will attract the ubiquitous Noisy Mines to your garden.  Certainly these are native trees - and native birds.  But noisy miners are highly aggressive and will frighten away most other birds - not just small birds but even large birds such as the graceful White Necked Heron, which (if you are lucky) might visit your garden if you have a large pond.  The over-population of Noisy Miners is a direct result of suburban gardens full of exotic plants and the hybridised tropical grevilleas.

Another bird which is proliferating due to human interference with the environment is the lovely Rainbow Lorikeet, possibly to the detriment of other species because these birds, too, can be very aggressive.  They are drawn to gardens mainly because people feed them, so the vegetation you plant doesn't make a lot of difference if you are also putting up feeding stations for wild parrots.  The other difference between  these colourful lorikeets and Noisy Miners is that the former are birds which range far and wide for their food and so they only visit gardens for a short time; whereas Noisy Miners are sedentary and are never very far away from patrolling the gardens they have come to call their own.  And in which only other super-aggressive birds, such as magpies, are tolerated.

A garden full of birds is a delight, but it's rather boring if your plant mix attracts only those birds that have learned to exploit susceptible humans - such as Noisy Miners, Magpies, Rainbow Lorikeets and Pee-Wees -  when there are so many other beautiful bird species that might seek a haven in your backyard.

 

 

Azalea lace bug - best control method

Azaleas rank high among the world's most loved plants and few shrubs can beat them when it comes to putting on a spring show.

 

 

However, there's a tiny critter that is the bane of gardeners everywhere – the dreaded azalea lace bug! As far as the USA is concerned, this is the worst thing to come out of Japan since Pearl Harbor! So small is this pest that the human eye can hardly see it without a strong lens. But the damage it does is all too visible.

 

 

The first thing most gardeners notice is that the leaves on their azaleas have turned a strange, mottled, pale, silvery or bronzy color (though the more observant will have already observed yellow speckles on the leaves) . The surface of each affected leaf looks as if it's been roughed up with sandpaper, while the underleaf becomes speckled with small, dark brown or blackish blobs and develops a rusty look. The whole effect is very ugly and strong infestations affect the health of the plant, leaving it susceptible to fungal diseases resulting in root rot. So azalea lace bug is not something any gardener can afford to ignore. Yet when it comes to controlling this considerable pest, most advice turns out to be a lot of hooey! So make sure you read on!

 

 

So-called "organic" and mechanical control methods just don't work with azalea lace bug. I only wish they did, but I've tried them all and without success. Whatever anyone tells you, this is not a problem you can rinse off with a high pressure garden hose, or by using an insecticidal soap. Nor will having healthy, well-fertilized plants prevent a lace bug infestation (though they will of course have a better chance of recovery once treated).

 

 

To understand why control is so difficult you need to understand a little about just how azalea lace bug operates. Injury to the host plant is caused by the adults and nymphs (baby lace bugs) feeding on the foliage by first piercing and then sucking to extract the liquid contents of the leaf tissue through the under surface. Damage usually begins on the lower leaves and moves upward. So it takes a pretty powerful systemic chemical to prevent early infestation or quickly get rid of any existing infestation; one that is able to remain in the plant's "system" for some time to deter reinfestation.

 

 

By far the most effective method to date is Bayer Advanced Garden, Tree and Shrub Insect Control, marketed in some countries under the name of Confidor. This "new generation" systemic insecticide has proved reasonably benign in the environment so far, especially compared with the poisons of yesteryear. And no, this is NOT an advertisement because in general I advise against the use of pesticides in the home garden. It's just that I grow a lot of azaleas, and advise many other people who grow azaleas, and we need a control method that really works. Still, it IS a chemical solution so those who won't have any chemicals in their gardens will have to seek other remedies. Insecticidal soap and Neem Oil offer some control but are not nearly so effective as the Bayer product. In any case, though they are considered more environmentally friendly, these products ARE still chemical in nature. As are most "organic" garden solutions. So, really, those who are not prepared to spray, shouldn't grow azaleas!

 

 

The secret of keeping your azaleas lace bug-free is to be prepared and commence a regular annual spraying regime. Where azalea lace bug is known to be a problem, the best control program is to spray azaleas in mid spring, when the first sign is likely to appear. Spraying needs to be very thorough, using a fine nozzle and being sure to spray the under leaves. I find that Advanced Garden, Tree and Shrub Insect Control will keep the bugs at bay until the following spring, if used promptly and thoroughly. Though in some years, where weather conditions favour severe lace bug infestations, a second spraying in autumn might be necessary.

 

 

For those, like myself, who hate using chemicals in the home garden, there is some hope on the horizon when it comes to controlling azalea lace bug. Bug resistance can be bred into the host plants and some breeders have been doing this, with several of the Encore range of autumn-flowering azaleas showing encouraging signs of lace bug resistance. Also, beneficial predators may be found which will gobble up the lace bugs in your garden while leaving other, non-harmful insects alone. Research into this is already well underway.

 

 

So maybe in the future we won't have to spray our azaleas at all – a good thing because the history of horticulture shows that insects are cunning critters and soon develop a resistance to most chemicals. In the meantime, I recommend a strict control regime, a shady position for your plants (because lace bugs appear to thrive in sunlight) and good growing practices so that your azaleas have a better chance of recovery once an infestation has been identified and treated.

A world without medicine

"Kill or cure – we use that expression lightly but what if we were really faced with such a choice?  At a time when so-called “natural” remedies are coming under increasing scrutiny by the medical profession, it’s worth looking back to times and places where the prescription drugs we take for granted today – antibiotics, blood thinners, tranquillisers, anaesthetics, sterilising agents, pain killers – just weren’t available.  To when treatments derived from plants and basic household chemicals were all there were.

 

 

In my book A Garden in Africa (available as an e-book at  www.amazon.com/kindle)

 I studied the diaries of my grandmother and other pioneer farming women in Kenya to see just how they coped when medically-approved drugs suddenly became unavailable in a country cut off from the rest of the world by war.  Many of these women were good herbalists, though they probably wouldn't have described themselves that way.  They were responsible for the health of their many African labourers, and their wives and children, and were accustomed to isolation and "making do". They were also good gardeners.  

 

 

The main wound disinfectant used on Kenya farms in those days was potassium permanganate and once my grandmother’s store of this ran out, and she couldn’t buy any more, she experimented with herbs – making poultices or infusions with lavender, mint and various lemon-scented plants.  These, she had come to realise, contained biocidal properties and could be used for sterilising instruments and washing skin.  Wounds she dressed with the juice of the Sodom apple (Solanum incanum) and honey, either from her own hives or from the fierce native bees.  It was difficult, she records, persuading the local tribespeople that this precious delicacy should be wasted on sterilising wounds! “The children lick the honey on their wounds,” she noted, “And I don’t discourage it.  After all, animals do it, so saliva must have some cleansing properties.”  Today, of course, we know for a fact what the Greeks knew three thousand years ago and what my grandmother came to realise too – honey is a great wound disinfectant. 

 

 

Burns were treated with Aloe vera and other native aloes, as well as the exotic agave that grew in thick clumps around many farm buildings. Aloe juice, extracted by crushing the fleshy leaves,was used to treat ringworm, and to bathe infected eyes, common problems with the squatter children, while agave was used as a disinfectant, diuretic and laxative. Some believed agave juice was able to alleviate the symptoms of gonorrhoea and syphilis which, like eye infections, were all too common among the squatters and the labour force.  My grandmother, however, had been a trained nurse in her youth and was sceptical about this. 

 

 

Children were dosed with treacle and sulphur to prevent boils; when this didn’t work the boils themselves were drawn with poultices of mashed carbolic soap and sugar, or mashed papaya.  These poultices were also used for drawing thorns and mashed papaya flesh was mixed with eucalyptus oil (also distilled on the farm, from Australian eucalyptus trees) to alleviate sprains and bruises. Eucalyptus, either the distilled oil or dried leaves, equally popular for treating coughs and colds and burning the leaves was considered a good protection against chest infections.  Other cough and cold cures were made from horehound, horseradish, hyssop, thyme and rosemary.  Fevers were reduced with effusions of borage, basil, catnip and the roots of the Colombo vine (Cocculus palmatus).  This useful vine was also used to treat vomiting and diarrhoea, as were amaranth, thyme, peppermint, sage, ginger and cardamom.  For worms, my grandmother used oil from the African lilac or chinaberry tree (Melia azederach) or else a potent mix of her own devising made from aloe, garlic and papaya.  It was disgusting, I know, because she was still dishing it out long after the war; the whole household had to be wormed with it regularly. Constipation was treated by the all-efficacious Aloe vera, chicory, feverfew, rhubarb, mulberry and the pods of The Golden Shower (Cassia fistula), which was one of the few medicinal plants to have aesthetic value as well.

 

 

Balm (Melissa officinalis) was a great favourite and used for just about everything; externally in poultices, internally to relieve headaches, soothe women in childbirth and get children to sleep.  My grandmother even gave it to the dogs, and considered putting it in the feed of a particularly nervous and temperamental mare.  Parsley, too, was used for most internal problems; these farmwife herbalists believed it acted as a tonic for the whole system, brightening the eyes and clearing the skin, preventing minor illnesses from taking hold.  My grandmother and other women also used it as a breath-sweetener.  I find myself, today, still picking sprigs of parsley to chew as I potter about in my own herb garden. My grandmother was a great believer in the benefits of basil while not claiming for it any particular medicinal advantages beyond a belief that it aided the digestive system.  She drank a tea of basil leaves picked fresh every day, and attributed her own good health and digestion to it. 

 

 

Some settler women turned to plants native to Kenya for their medicinal properties; these were used carefully at first, and then with more confidence when their effectiveness was proved to someone’s satisfaction. Two I particularly remember were a thorny species of Zanthoxylum and Miraa (Catha edulis) , both of which produced bark containing a powerful stimulant.  Miraa became quite popular with young people of my own generation who lived in Kenya; we emulated the Africans and took to chewing the bitter bark to keep us awake, on long drives or simply to keep on partying for days at a time, without sleep.

 

 

Many of the farm women wrote down their wartime remedies in special notebooks which make fascinating reading today.  From my grandmother’s notebook I have extracted, for this article, a recipe for her all-purpose liniment, of three parts eucalyptus oil, three parts oregano oil and two parts oil of cloves mixed with five parts of camphor oil and added to “a quantity” (unspecified) of lard. For the relief of dysentery she made up a mixture of one part of black pepper, two of coriander and 40 parts of powdered arrowroot, boiled in water and strained, and taken one teaspoon at a time, three times a day.  During the war, as in the early days on the farm, substitutes were found for common household necessities.  My grandmother notes here that pawpaw leaves contain saponins and can be used as a soap or shampoo.  The bark of the baobab tree is used for tanning; its flesh as a souring agent or in place of cream of tartar for cooking.  Coconut oil, readily available even in wartime, and cheap, could be used not only in cooking but also for polishing furniture and even for burning in lamps, should the power generator fail or the oil to run it be unavailable.   Feverfew, the pyrethrum daisy and wormwood were used as insecticides.

 

 

Did these remedies work?  Those who used them were emphatic that they did – at least to a degree that helped alleviate the more common complaints. My grandmother recorded that she sometimes had her heart in her mouth, wondering whether one of her remedies might not prove more fatal than the condition she was attempting to treat! Yet despite some horrendous injuries suffered by farm labourers in the course of their work, none of those on my grandmother’s farm died of gangrene or blood poisoning, or had to have limbs amputated, thanks to her herbal treatments.  And I know for a fact that her diuretics and constipation/diarrhoea remedies worked very well indeed, despite their generally disgusting taste.  I myself continue to use papaya flesh as a drawing agent for boils, or to remove thorns and splinters.  The enzymes it contains are beneficial to stomach and duodenal ulcers.

 

 

I think we are fortunate to live in an age where so many marvellous drugs are available to treat our ailments that some diseases and conditions have become pretty well extinct – at least in the First World.  Who wants to chew willow bark when you can buy aspirin in a packet, or an even better and more up-to-date painkiller, and have it work faster and more effectively than any “natural” remedy can do?  Nonetheless, it’s worth keeping these old herbal remedies alive, and recorded somewhere, for some future time and place when and where the marvels of modern medicine might just not be there when we need them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tropical foliage color for outdoor decoration

Tropical foliage plants – that is, plants grown mainly for their foliage rather than their flowers -give a warm climate garden color all year round, but if you want to create really stylish effects you need to think about using color as carefully as you would with interior decoration.

 

When a lot of plants with very vivid leaves, such as crotons and coleus, are massed carelessly together they can “steal” from those with more subtle hues such as cordylines. So it’s important to use plenty of green plants not only as a backdrop but also to separate blocks of colored foliage, so that the colors are seen to greater advantage and don’t dominate each other. A garden – particularly a hot-climate garden – should be a restful place and not hectic to the eye.

 

It’s important when starting a garden, or a new bed, to put taller growing varieties at the back of the bed or in the center of a featured clump…it seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people overlook this basic principle! It’s equally important to consider the effects of placing the brighter-colored plants at the back or the front of the bed. Putting strong colors like red or purple at the back of the bed will leady the eye inwards and give the garden an enclosed feel. Cosy – if that’s the ambience you wish to create. Putting lighter colored plants such as pale greens and pale yellows at the back, with stronger colors to the front, will give a greater feeling of space and distance.

 

Tropical foliage plants are much better than flowers for creating long-term special effects. This can be achieved basically in two ways: by grouping plants with similarly colored foliage or teaming different colors for a dramatic contrast. Here are a few examples:

 

Red and orange– these are the colors of fire and passion but they need to be used with care, particularly if you have lots of red and orange flowering plants in the garden that flaunt themselves with wild abandon. Too much of these same colors in foliage plants will tend to “steal” the effects from the flowers - and vice versa! So you may prefer to keep them well separated by greenery or paler colors so that they not only stand out but also “talk” to each other across the garden. Reds and oranges make gardens come vibrantly alive but too much can make the garden look a bit hot and bothered. Iresine, for example almost seems to glow like rubies but it should be used sparingly and its “fire” can be tamped down a bit by teaming with the cooler green-leaved form. Suggested plants (besides iresine) include crotons, acalypha, alternanthera, coleus, some caladiums, poinsettias and anthuriums (the latter depending on their red flower spathes for color).

 

Green and gold – The rippling effects of sun and shade throughout the garden are enhanced by the play of light across green and gold leaves. From a distance, it is the paler gold that dominates over the green; giving a very soft, gentle, lighthearted effect that seems to blend seamlessly with every other color in the garden. To make the most of this effect, place variegated plants against a backdrop of palms and dark green foliage. Green and gold plants such as cordylines also create a fresh, soothing effect when grouped in pots. One of the best ways to use the green-and-gold variation is to break up areas of more vivid color – for example the reds and oranges and mauves and pinks and purples so typical of a tropical garden show to much better advantage if separated by massed displays of green and gold. Suggested plants (besides cordylines) include schefflera (dwarf umbrella), acalypha, dracaena, polyscias, cordylines, golden pothos. Pleomeles and dieffenbachias are cream rather than gold but their effect is in keeping with the green and gold theme.

 

Mauve/purple and burgundy - when blended with the many greens of the garden, these are the colors of dusk and shadow, lit with gleams of gold and silver when you use plants such as ctenanthe and some of the marantas and calatheas. Alternanthera and rhoeo are good plants for the foreground with this scheme, as well as those coleus which have mauve or burgundy and green leaf combinations. Dark-leaved philodendrons such as “Congo” and “Congo Rojo” also work well here. And the gorgeous Persian Shield (Strobilanthes) fits the bill for moody mauve hues enlivened by a touch of silver.

 

Metallics– quite a few foliage plants have metallic-colored foliage; silver, bronze, copper and pewter. They include strobilanthes, some caladiums, peperomias, fittonias and syngoniums. Like metallic-colored cars, metallic- colored plants have a classy look – the words “precious metals” spring to mind! In the garden they reflect light in interesting ways and “set off” other plants quite beautifully, besides looking so handsome in their own right. Again, they enrich the effect of light and shade and look particularly fine when reflected in water.

 

Outside the tropics, foliage plants can look pretty drab in winter. Some, like caladiums, disappear underground altogether until warmer temperatures tempt them upwards once more. Others die down and their colors fade. As this habit is shared also by the tropical gingers and other flowering plants, the overall effect will be one of winter gloom unless you plan carefully. The answer, for those in sub-tropical and temperate ClimateTypes, is to make sure the foundation plantings feature plenty of plants that hold their good looks year round. For example: Cordyline Croton Dracaena Philodendron Acalyphya Colocasia Aglaonema Alternanthera Coleus Monstera Rhoeo Schefflera Strobilanthes I’ll be publishing more articles on gardening with tropical foliage plants on this Blog. And if you’d like to learn more about growing these lovely plants well and easily under the GardenEzi Five Step program you’ll find all you need to know in the recently-published book Tropical Foliage Plants available for $9.95 at www.amazon.com/kindle.  And there's more info on this book if you click back to "About" in the GardenEzi website.

 

Buying the books!

All the GardenEzi series books are published as e-books and can be downloaded to Amazon Kindle readers or to your PC/laptop, where they can be read on-line or printed out, either whole or a chapter/section at at time. 

This way, the books are much cheaper to publish and can be regularly up-dated when necessary.

If you want to buy one of the following titles:

Growing Great Azaleas

How to Have a Great Garden for Just Two Hours a Week

Tropical Foliage Garden

Go to: www.amazon.com/kindle ... Type the book title into the search panel. Click on book title – then click to look inside. This gives the introductory chapters. You can buy the ebook for $US 9.95 and download it to your PC, laptop or e-reader. To download this Kindle ebook to a PC or laptop computer, you can install free software from Amazon (which will also allow you to download thousands of other Amazon ebooks). To download this software, CONTROL/CLICK (or cut and paste):

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000426311

 

For further information and support go to:

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_pcland_stinst?nodeId=200450200&#installing

And that's all there is to it!  You can also purchase my books A Garden in Africa and Camping Guide Australia from Amazon in the same way.

Welcome to GardenEzi

Hello fellow gardeners, my name is Julie Lake: I'm a horticulturist and gardening writer and I want to welcome you to the GardenEziI site.  Here you will find advice and up-to-date information on all aspects of gardening.  I'd also like to introduce you to the first three in my series of GardenEzi books which are all based on the unique GardenEzi Five Step program which reduces gardening to its five basic principles - Planning, Preparation, Planting, Practice and Protection.

I've been growing and writing about plants for many years and love to share my hard-won knowledge and experience with other gardeners around the world. So let's make this a truly interactive site and I'll do my best to answer any gardening questions or comments.

There is so much advice out there today but how good is it?  How much of it is truly independent of any commercial interest - for example plant producers and drug companies?  Articles published here will be free of any commercial interest though I MIGHT mention products if I think they are the best or only solution for a particular problem. 

Happy gardening! And here's a link to the GarenEzi website:

 

http://www.wix.com/jrlakemedia/ezibooks

 

 

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