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A chocolate flower

I bought Cosmos atrosanguineus (chocolate cosmos) about two years ago. It was covered in lovely deep brown burgandy coloured flowers which smelt of chocolates.

I left it in the pot, forgetting about it while I thought what to do with it. After the initial rush of flowers that it came from the nursery with, there was nothing.

Last month, I put it in the garden bed where I have grown sweet peas for two years.

It looked OK, not too happy but didn’t die. It produced a few little deformed undersized flowers.

I didn’t do much. It didn’t look like much.

Until Sunday morning. When I walked past it on the way to the shop for fresh bread.

A flower!

And the plant has spread.

I love the joys that come with unexpected success in the garden.

First time tomato grower

This summer, I had my first attempt at growing cherry tomatoes.

I bought a raised garden bed, some soil and three cherry tomato plants – two Tiny Toms, a miniature plant suitable for growing in pots, and one Tomato Sweet Bite (Solanum Lycopersicum).

The tiny tims were a dud. Bland flavour. Not many tomatoes. Won’t bother with them again. My advice is, even if you want to grow some in pots on a verandah, don’t waste your time with this variety.

The Sweet Bite was a success. Cherry toms after cherry toms. Seemingly unending. No bought cherry toms have as sweet and fullness of flavour.

Early on I had a problem with caterpillars eating the leaves. Turns out they are a common problem. Bud worms. Luckily I got onto them quick smart with an organic treatment that only kills the caterpillars. The caterpillars only got into a few tommies. The advice is to spray every week. I only sprayed twice and that stopped them.

Did you know tomato plants grow from cuttings too? Mr S knocked off two stems which I popped into some soil. They grew roots and are now producing fruit.

As it’s been a very wet summer, sadly the late tommies split. and as it was also very hot – summer here desiccates plants in a matter of days – the leaves all fell off.

I didn’t fertilise as often as suggested by the bottle of fertiliser. Not sure I needed to do more though the later tommies were small. But that may have been due to lack of consistent water as I was away for a couple of weeks.

The raised bed could only cope with one plant. The plant was really too tall and too heavy for the pot. Next year I will plant cherry tomatoes in the ground but I think that I will lose them to possums. (The possums couldn’t get up the raised bed.)

Anyway, that will be next year’s challenge. Grow more cherry tom plants somewhere in my garden.

The tommies are all finished. No earlier photo due to camera issues.

COVID gardening

I’ve been pottering in my garden. A combination of having time as I am not able to fill my days with other things (like the gym and theatre and hairdresser visits and massages and visiting friends) and much better weather have wooed me out to the garden.

Autumn is so much more conducive to garden in Sydney. Spring seems to brief. It’s cold and then, wait a minute, it’s HOT! And when you plant something in spring, you’re likely to lose it in summer. The heat just desiccates plants. And with water restrictions and work commitments, it’s hard to keep new plants alive. With autumn planting, plants have time to establish themselves before they face the intensity of summer sun.

Gardening is a form of mindfulness in these crazy times. With our political leaders changing their approach to schools every two weeks, I’ve been on a continuous loop of planning, admin and emails. My mind just hasn’t felt like reading or watching movies; can’t sustain the concentration. But gardening let’s my mind switch off.

And gardening is addictive. Once you do a bit of a garden, you have to do the next bit.

Firstly I planted some sweet peas. Oh, and while in the hardware store where I picked up the seedlings, I also bought a rosemary plant. It can go in where one of the poor lavenders that got fried last summer needs to be pulled out. A bit lot of weeding. Oh may as well move a couple of agapanthus that having been madly reproducing into the other spot where a lavender fried.

Then I thought I’d try and propagate some cutting from a jade money plant I have. And while on a walk, I snaffled a few cuttings from a cute succulent growing outside Mr S’s school.

“Well,” said friend, “if you’re propagating, do you want some pups from my bromeliads and a couple of aloe vera plants?” Yes please! I potted up a couple.

But then I needed new potting mix so I went to the garden centre. I needed some pots to do all the repotting. Who can go into a garden centre and not buy other things? Not I. I picked up a camellia to fill a spot that is missing one. And a very pretty plant to cover the fence.

On the way home, I dropped in bromeliad friend’s home and collected some more plants.

All up, I potted eleven bromeliads and quite a few aloe veras and a few other things. Do you know how much they’d cost if I bought all these plants!!! Thanks, Bromeliad Friend.

Oh while I’m on a roll, may as well move another agapanthus from where it grew (with no human planting it there) that is blocking my access to the tap.

Then I engaged in some mattock swinging to grub out two unidentified plants – I think they may be small leaf privat. Who needs a gym!

Planted another plant. Cut back and sprayed some bamboo and plumbago. If they were not so rampant and were more desirable, one could have a very green and leafy garden in Sydney with these two.

Now, I have to return to the garden centre. Need another plant to fill the spot of one of the grubbed out plants.

As well as being soothing and having an end result to be pleased with, gardening in the front yard is a great way to interact with the neighbours. So many stop for a chat or make a comment by way of greeting as they pass. See you garden invites interaction that doesn’t happen if I were, say, reading.

I have spent time nearly every weekend pottering in my smallish front garden, slowly extending the bits under control and looking more like a garden than a yard.

Then I bought a vegepod. I am loving it, and will write about it more.

I wish I could give you more photos, but my iPhone lens is damaged. So I can’t. Until I buy a new phone or get my act together and use one of my cameras.

Striking cuttings and bromeliad pups

$32 for a large aloe vera! I’ve saved heaps.

A Very COVID Easter

Just when lots of people who had been isolating for weeks were over it, I started my isolation.

And I loved it. It has truely been a time of restoring my mind and body.

Before term ended, before the lockdown laws had come in, I popped into a major shopping centre to pick up some hair colour solution. (The restrictions would mean I wouldn’t be able to make my hair appointment so I had to risk doing my own colour. “What! You’re not a natural blonde?”)

Once at the shopping centre, I felt sorry for the businesses; even though the restrictions hadn’t come into effect yet, the centre was so empty. So I bought some stuff besides the hair colour stuff – clothing and Easter decorations.

I’d love to share the table setting and front door decorations with you, but I forgot to take any photos. And now they’re all packed away.

Easter autumn weather is among my favourite in Sydney. It’s finally cool. But still sunny. The light is soft. The sky a brilliant blue.

And now we could enjoy it with forced rest.

Long slow breakfasts on the front porch, in the morning sun. The new Easter plate held a hot cross bun. Hot cross buns – another reason to love Easter.

I am lucky to live in the suburbs but surrounded by national park and bushland. Nearly every day, Mr S and I have gone on a bushwalk, exploring tracks that we didn’t know about or rediscovering ones we hadn’t ventured on for years. I can feel myself getting fitter. Although the walks are only around 10,000 to 15,000 steps, they’re up hill and down steep paths, scampering over fallen trees and boulders, constantly paying attention to loose rocks and sticks and uneven surfaces. All while enjoying bird song, fresh air and golden light.

There have been moments on the shorter walks were it has felt like Pitt Street. Who are all these people? We don’t normally see so many on the bush tracks. (A neighbour who walks her dogs daily around our suburb, says she didn’t know there were so many dogs here – she’s never seen them out before.)

In other places it has been oh so quiet, hard to believe we are so close to suburbia.

Flannel flowers – they are soft, like flannelette, to touch. They don’t like domestication, always a joy to see them in the bush.

Scampering down the path

Contemplating jumping over the roaring creek. OK, it was more like a big step, but I psyched myself out. You had to walk down the rocks to the creek which was narrow at this point so made a lot of noise. I was sure I’d fall into the deep washpools and break a leg.

Here’s how loud it was:

On other walks, other creeks are quiet and prompt more calming contemplation.

One day, Mr S was heading off to work (his work is a 20 minute walk from home), and I accompanied him as a friend lived near his workplace and I wanted to drop off a birthday gift to said friend. On the way, we made a spur of the moment decision to turn right and take a longer bush track rather than take the direct route by road. I felt like Little Red Riding Hood – but without the cloak or the basket.

Our area has steep hills. The main thoroughfares stick to the ridge, so the area looks flat. Deep gullies are full of lush plants – not all natives.

Along with daily walks I’ve been pottering in the garden. I’ve put in sweet peas again. This year I won’t be going overseas, so I should hopefully enjoy the cut blossoms.

I’ve joined the world in tidying and organising my house. Our local council had the kerbside cleanup the Tuesday after Easter. I emptied out the junk from under the house. Mr S hates throwing things away. Or maybe he just hates making a decision? So he puts things under the house. Where they get dusty and dirty and damp – our house is on piers and underneath is open to the elements. My neighbours have never seen us dispose of so many things. A 27 year old heater – bought when Older Boy was born. Director chairs from before that. A fussball table bought by Opa years ago for the boys. Old rusty exercise equipment. Not nice to think of the landfill we created but so soothing to know there is clear space under the house. (And I got Mr S to agree to get rid of the beer home brewing bottles he has stored under the house for over 12 years without brewing. He used to be a home brewer. As soon as this social isolation is over I will freecycle the bottles – they are the old, pre-twist top type, perfect for home brew sealing.)

What else have I been doing?

I am trying to reclaim the junk room. I did this back in 2013, when it was called The Room You Cannot Enter, but shit has taken over in it again. First step was to bring together all the Christmas wrapping and cards. Packed away now with the Christmas decorations. Next step putting books on the bookshelf and making a hard decision about my French lesson papers.

I have been doing some German language study, via Deutsche Welle.

I haven’t read much – only finishing one book. My COVID mind just isn’t up to sustained concentration. But this book, Bruny by Heather Rose, is a book for this time. In parts too scary as politicians make decisions for their own power or financial gain. Stuff the environment, the people, quiet, peace, spirituality, culture. It’s all about “the economy”.

I know I say this every break, but I really don’t want to go back to work. I just don’t have time. Too much pottering to do. All this without yoga or personal training sessions as gyms are closed.

I have spent a day at work and hours on other days dealing with work stuff. Blurgh. I’d rather be pottering.

Of course, I’m grateful that I have employment, and that it is secure. I’m also very aware of how fortunate I am that I live in a place I can get out and walk straight into the bush.

Hope everyone is finding things to fill their day!

Sweet pea update

I know. I know. I’m in Germany so how could I possibly know how my sweet peas are doing.

Well, I meant to write this before I left but had no time.

As you may remember back in April I started my sweet pea challenge and updated it in May.

So how did I go?

I was worried I wouldn’t see the blooms before I left for Germany (and I knew they wouldn’t be there on my return. In fact I’d be lucky to see any plants survive my sons’ lack of care.)

I was exuberant on the first buds, overjoyed when they opened and proud as punch with my first bunch. I ended up with several bunches. And many plants hadn’t flowered yet.

Passers by have paid compliments on my garden! Even stopped to take photos. I have freesias growing wild. And jonquils, lavender, magnolia, geraniums and azaleas. And others whose names I forget.

It’s lovely to give joy to others. (Even if it means using water in the drought.)

I’ve told neighbours to feel free to pick the sweet peas.

Upshot:

  • I know I can grown them in a big pot – the little hanging pots didn’t do so well.
  • I know I can grow them in front of my fence.
  • I know I love them.
  • I know I can grow from seed.
  • The scent is not as I remembered.
  • Seedlings and growing from seed both worked. I got more flowers from the seeds as I grew the standard ones from seed.
  • I will plants sweet pea from seeds next year!

Coming along nicely

Even better

Yes! It’s blooming marvellous

And that’s your bloomin’ lot

My new worm garden

Look what turned up!

My second worm garden.

First step: put it together.

Put some gravel around the drainage hole to stop soil washing out.

Next: add soil in the bowl, around the worm tower home. It doesn’t have to be good soil because the worm wee will add nutrients. I didn’t have enough potting mix so dug a little bit from my garden and used the soil from four pots of plants that died of thirst.

I threw in the paper bag the gravel came in with the worm garden kit into the tower. The worms will eat it.

Here come the worms! I don’t need to buy any. First I grabbed some of the vegetable matter that was in top of the worms in the old tower. Then I just grabbed some out of my existing worm colony. (Done the bottom of the first tower there was some amazing compost – AKA worm castings. I will have to investigate getting it out and using it some time.)

Water the soil and pop the lid on.

Now what shall I plant in here? Any suggestions?

My worm garden

When we first moved into this house, I bought a worm farm.

After a while, well let’s just say, the worms got hungry. “Have you fed the worms?” Oh bugger. No.

After a couple of years, they moved out of their home. Well, that’s what I like to think.

Just over a year ago, I bought a new worm farm. This one incorporates a garden. Both the garden and the worms are doing well.

Why is this worm farm doing well when I neglected to dispose of my kitchen matter in the previous farm?

Convenience: The worm garden is in a convenient place – easy to access.

Look: The worm garden is more attractive so I can leave it in a convenient place in the front yard where I walk past it every day. The old farm was an ugly black box that needed to be raised off the ground so we used milk crates. Ugly. Not something you want front and centre. So I hid it behind a shrub in the back yard where it was out of sight and mind. The new worm farm looks more of a pot with plants growing in it.

It’s a garden! Having plants around it, makes it an interesting object. I point it out to visitors. They’re always interested. The worm farm helps the plants grow. Some plants have done well. The chives are very happy. I haven’t done well with coriander. The chilli plant have given us some chillies.

Moveable: The work farm is light enough to move around, which Mr S does when he mows the lawn. And we move it depending on the plants’ need for sunlight.

We will plan to buy a couple more.

It means less green kitchen waste going into the bin. Given that the tower is small, the worm garden can only take a small handful of waste a day, so two farms should handle our output.

Here’s the supplier: Composta

Currently my basil is dying down. The chives continue to flourish. They have the advantage that the possums don’t like them. There is also a chilli plant and if you look, you can see a chilli resting on the chives.

I will pull out the basil soon and try to grow some mini-rocket.

More on my sweet peas adventure

Not all my seeds sprouted. 🙁

But then, guess what?

I went to Bunnings, the mega hardware store, to buy some netting to protect my seedlings from marauding possums and birds, and low and behold there were seedlings.

With wonderful scent. See, it says it here:

So I bought three punnets. To fill out the pot in which the seeds didn’t germinate.

And to fill out the garden in front of the fence. Twenty-two seedlings went in along the fence.

And to put in three hanging baskets. Recycled from some plants I had bought which died. Which I then hung from the broken stool frame. (The broken frame was originally going to be my support for the potted sweet pea until I remembered that I had rescued some frames someone in my neighbourhood had put out for the Council kerbside cleanup. I was planning on growing tomatoes some time but that never eventuated and the frames were stored under the house.) I topped the stool frame with the pot of mint that some creature keeps discovering whenever the mint gets too happy. (It’s currently in its eaten down state. Maybe on the stand it will grow without being attacked! And maybe I should rescue more broken stool frames before they get thrown in the skip?)

If I don’t get two vases full of flowers, the world is conspiring against me.

Stay tuned for more sweet pea updates.

Fun fact about sweet peas: as part of the legume family, they take nitrogen from the air. When the flowering is finished, dig them into the soil and they will improve the soil quality for years to come. Nitrogen is good for plant growth.

Be micro-ambitious

Have passionate dedication to the pursuit of short term goals.

Taken from Tim Minchin.

Ha, that’s what I do.

Time for an update on my three mini-challenges:

Mini-challenge 1, the garage clean out. The outdated paint is gone. A cupboard has been emptied and now fits painting equipment and the few tins we’ve bought for paint jobs in the last couple of years. No paint sitting on the ground. Still much to go.

Mini-challenge 2, wearing a different dress to work each day. Completed, as documented here and here. I basically only wore dresses to work this year. I might cycle through my dresses again this term. But teamed with jackets and coats.

Mini-challenge 3, plant garden in front of fence and tame jungle around the pool. Front of fence garden completed.

The petals are from our massive camellia shrubs growing over the fence from inside our front yard.

Mini-challenge 1 and 3 will continue and now I’m adding three new mini-challenges:

4. Going to the gym

5. Raising sweet peas

6. Minimising and tracking food waste.

My sweet pea experiment

Sweat peas are on my top 5 favourite flowers.

No, top three.

But only if they have a scent.

I’ve never grown sweet peas because:

  • The thought of growing any flowers from seeds scares me
  • The thought of having to prepare the flower bed is too much like work
  • I’ve never had a suitable bed for annuals in the sun
  • I have too many perennials, Australian native shrubs and trees and camellias, and there is no room
  • My life is too busy and I miss St Patrick’s Day, the traditional sowing day in Australia. Well, before global warming. Now they’ve pushed it back to Anzac Day.
  • I know the snails, possums and birds will cause me heartbreak

This year, I’ve bitten the bullet. Fingers crossed it doesn’t come to naught or I will kill the f’n possums.

First step was reading up on growing these divine things. Thank heavens for the Internet and people who are sweet pea experts.

Next was sourcing seeds of varieties with scent. Sneaky seed suppliers. They don’t say if the flower doesn’t have scent. They also say subtle scent. Is that code for hardly any?

No one stocked the recommended seeds. So I made do with two types: a tall and a short variety.

I rubbed the seeds on sand paper and soaked them overnight.

Then I planted them in pots. Not ideal for the tall ones but this is an experiment. If they take, I might stake out an annual garden bed.

Some people say the seeds are fussy. Don’t water them after planting, they say. So I didn’t.

And look what has come up after a week:

Fourteen weeks till flower time. Stay tuned for updates.