Welcome to TheBloomingTales

Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog. Please feel free to make comments at the bottom of each post and tick the reactions boxes. If you have any gardening questions or want advice just post a comment (choose anonymous from the drop down) and I'll write about it. Regards JP.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I'm Partial to Naked Ladies

I discovered the Auckland Botanical Gardens at the beginning of the year when completing an assignment for a horticulture certificate I have been working. What an amazing place to discover new plants and get some ideas for you own garden.  It was there that I saw her.

Erect, void of a cloak, showing off her beautiful blooms stood the first naked lady I had ever seen in a public place.  I held my breath and could not break my constant stare.  It was like one of those moments when you know you have been gazing at something that you knew you shouldn’t.  I took out my camera and took some shots so I could continue my admiration in the privacy of my own home.  At the time I didn’t have a clue what the plant was, I just knew that what I saw was truly enchanting. 

At the beginning of winter this year I returned to the gardens to try and find the flower again and hopefully someone who could identify it for me.  I couldn’t believe it!  She was gone, my first true flower love had vanished without a trace, and in it’s place grew a bush of strap-like leaves.  I found a lone gardener tending to the perennial plants in the garden and poured out my heart to him, describing her distinguishing features.
“Ahhhh yes, Amaryllis Belladonna”, he began.  “She is still there, but will not be as noticeable, she covers up during winter, you will have to come back in summer once her cloak of leaves have died away and from her bulbs spring forth her impressive blooms”, said the knowledgeable gardener  (I’m taking poetic licence here).  Relieved yet left with a sense of longing I thanked him and turned to walk away. 
“Excuse me sir”, he called out.  “You may like to remember her for her common name”, he suggested.  “OK”, I replied.  “I’ll just get out a pen”.
“Oh, no… you wont forget it”, he was sure.  “Naked ladies”, he smirked.   
So, with baited breath I will await the summer, when again I will see her in all her glory, Amaryllis Belladonna.  My naked lady.

If you have any photos of Amaryllis Belladonna growing in your garden I would love to post them.  Please feel free to send them to thebloomingtales@xtra.co.nz with your tale of naked ladies.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cabbage! That's what's Growing.

Cabbage!  Boring?  Mmmm, maybe.  But it’s the only thing that has actually grown and ready for picking in my winter garden this week.  But boy is it packed full of all the good things my body needs.  Really high in vitamin K and C, great source of fibre (you may hear that coming from my bedroom later tonight), manganese, folate, vitamin B6, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, potassium, vitamin A, protein, are you still reading?  Get my drift?   

I was inspired by a tweet (on twitter this week) when someone posted a picture of this fantastic looking cabbage grown in the Wairarapa, New Zealand, circa 1890s (http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=3190).  Ok, so my little one is nothing in comparison and I am suffering from size envy, but I’m still going to make really good coleslaw from it, even though it won’t be able to feed the whole town (and when I say “I”, I mean my lovely wife).  This is how she made it:

 STEP1  Finely slice cabbage (about 3 cups)

STEP2  Finely chop small onion (raw, don’t cook)

 STEP3  Grate two medium sized carrots

STEP4   Grate 1 cup of Edam cheese

STEP5  The dressing.  Combine in a bowl: ¾ cup natural yoghurt, 1 finely chopped gherkin, squeeze of lemon juice, 1/4tsp mustard powder, season with salt and pepper, parsley and thyme (these were growing in the garden so chuck in anything you have growing). 

STEP6  Mix the dressing through the chopped up vege and cheese and you are ready for dinner. 

I put a call out there on facebook for some cabbage recipes.  This is one I got from my friend Dave Dougherty. I’m a vegetarian so can’t vouch for the taste, but it does sound good for those carnivores out there.

Slice cabbage into roasting dish, sprinkle with finely diced bacon, sprinkle with celery seeds, salt and pepper, place a couple of knobs of butter over surface, cover with tinfoil, bake in oven for 10-15 minues, remove pan, remove tinfoil, toss everything together before immediately serving ...

What do you do with cabbage?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Marvellous Meyer Lemon Tree

I chose this weeks plant of the week for no other reason than to show off.  I’m proud you see.  My little baby Meyer lemon tree is now all grown up with it’s first little tiny lemon shaped gem growing on it’s stem.  To be really honest my Meyer has brought me nothing but heart ache over the past few years, so I think it’s best to start it’s story from the very beginning.  
I decided early one spring morning, after waking with a head cold, that I needed to grow a lemon tree that would allow me to make fresh, hot, vitamin C rich lemon drinks when ever I had a hint of a runny nose and not just when I had lemons in the fruit bowl.  So off to my local garden centre I drove with the last $20 in my wallet until payday.  I was greeted by a cheerful lady who helped me choose the perfect Meyer lemon tree that I could grow in a pot in my courtyard.  The tree cost $19.95 (NZD) and I blame it on the head cold that I bought a $130 pot on the credit card to grow it in.  I became obsessed at trying to work out how many lemons I could have bought for $150!!  That was only the beginning of my lemon tree woes.  

The tree grew OK to start with and it wasn’t too long before it started to bloom.  I heard on a radio gardening show that it was a good idea to pull all the flowers and fruit off lemon trees in it’s first year of life (something to do with promoting growth first).  So with a sigh I decided it would be worth it in the long run and picked the tree bare of it’s baby making properties.  It was only two weeks after this that everything went wrong.  The tree looked terrible.  Yellow leaves, limp looking limbs and strange holes and marks on the bark appearing up the trunk and stems.  Was it punishing me for being so mean?  I googled, searched through plant books, asked relatives, what could be wrong with my $150 miracle tree?  I tracked the culprit down!!  My first encounter with Oemona hirta (lemon tree borer).  I managed to insert a fine wire into the holes and pull out the tiny enemies.  I got three of the little suckers!  My next plan was to nurse my Meyer back to health.

I remembered my grandfather telling me as a 10 year old that urinating under the lemon tree is really good for promoting growth.  He sure did have the best lemon tree I had ever seen.  So would this be the medicine?!  I began a weekly schedule of visiting the tree late in the evening to offer a warm golden tonic for it’s drinking.  It’s hard to have perfect aim when you are trying to make sure the neighbours aren’t looking!!

A month into the regime all (and I mean every last one) of its leaves fell off.  Death by urination? What a way to go.  I gave up.  I have no idea if my urine just didn’t have the goods or wether I was neglecting the tree of other vital necessities of life.  Growing lemons just wasn’t for me.  So, I left the tree, devoid of all life and focused on growing beans instead.

I feed it fertiliser every few months and watered whenever I remembered and low and behold, it began to grow.  I tried not to look at it in fear of putting it off it’s growing.  It began to blossom profusely.  Until one cold spring afternoon it began to hail hard.  The 10 minutes of hail shredded the tree of all of its flowers and many of its leaves. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.   
Just under a year later, today in fact, it’s looking amazing.  I stopped counting at 600 blossoms and there is one solitary, beautiful, dark green lemon growing.  Is this the year that I will be able to start getting some of my $150 back?  I feel a cold coming on.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How to grow plants from seed: Part III Home made seed raising pots

In part I we looked at seeds, part II seed raising mix and now part III a short video on how to make your own jiffy pots for growing the seeds in.  These are great for raising all varieties of plants especially beans, broccoli, eggplant and the list goes on.  The great things about them is they are made from recycled material, they can be put straight into the earth once you transplant out into the garden as they break down (just loosen the bottom of the pot so the roots can continue to grow down easily), they are made by you, and they are freeeeeeee.  Give it a go this weekend.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Plant of the Week: Heliotropium "Cherry Pie"

When my wife’s Aunt Lorena told me about a plant growing in her garden that smelt like cherry pie I was intrigued.  I was just starting out in flower gardening and she was encouraging me to take cuttings of plants from her garden to try and grow them in mine (for free).  As soon as I walked into the area of her garden with this “plant that smelt like Cherry Pie” the beautifully sweet, fruity smell of fresh from the oven home baking made home in my nostrils.  I took a cutting there and then and it has since become one of my favourite flowering shrubs in my garden.  This week’s plant of the week is Heliotropium ‘Cherry Pie’ from the Borage family, Boraginaceae.  
The plant has really attractive clusters of delicate violet-lavender coloured flowers that attract both bees and butterflies.  I have grown it in a pot near my front door fooling visitors that there is baking going on inside.  Heliotropium makes a great garden border and flowers mainly in summer however it is well into winter in my garden now and it is still flowering.  It does prefer a spot in your garden that has good sunlight for at least a few hours of the day and you need to keep watering it during the summer to encourage it to flower.  The dark green leaves are lanceolate in shape (shaped like a lance) and have a rough almost furry texture.  Being the great Greek scholar that I am (if you count 6th form classical studies) I can tell you that ‘Helio’ means The Sun and ‘trope’ means to turn.  The leaves (and some say the flowers) turn towards the sun throughout the day. 

You can propagate this perennial from seed, taking tip cuttings or small plants can be bought from garden centres.  
Have I mentioned that they smell amazing? Actually I’m off to the garden for another hit now.  Mmmmmm Cherry Pie!!!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fruits of my labour: Rhubarb Jam

It was raining today, so what better thing to do than make jam.  I took a rhizome from a rhubarb plant growing at my parents place two years ago and did nothing but put it in the soil in my garden.  Within 6 months I had enough rhubarb to stew to have on my muesli for breakfast.  Now the plant provides continues crop.  Today I made some sweet rhubarb jam.  This is how I made it:

1.  Chopped up 1 kg of rhubarb cut straight out of the garden.

FREE from my garden

2.  Sliced up two Fuji apples.

27cents (NZD)

3.  Heated up a cup of water with 2 cups of sugar and added the rhubarb and apple.  Once the syrup and fruit start boiling turn down the heat.

85cents (NZD)

4.  Add finely grated lemon rind and juice.

FREE (off my friend lemon tree)

5.  Boil on low until it reduces and is nice and thick (keep stirring so it doesn't stick to the bottom and burn).

6.  Chop up 5 pieces of preserved ginger and stir into the jam about 2 minutes before the end off cooking.

75cents (NZD)

7.  Pour into sterilised jam jars.  Filled five of my small jars.


Total = $1.87 for five jars of yummy jam.

I had it on hot buttered toast with a cup of tea.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How to grow plants from seed: Part II Seedraising Mix

So, in part I we looked at buying seeds and now you need something to grow them in.  Some vegetable and flower varieties do not do well when transplanted from a punnet (like carrots) and need to be sown straight into your garden bed.  But if you choose to start the seedling off in a greenhouse or on your kitchen table then this is where, in my opinion, you need to invest either your energy in making your own or your money in buying a really good quality seed raising medium.  It’s not a good idea to use potting mix as these contain fertilises that will kill your seedlings (burn) and are too coarse for the seeds to break through. Soil from your garden mixed with a little river sand and peat moss can be OK but may contain micro-organisms or diseases that are harmful to the seed/seedling.

To give your seeds the best start in life choose a good seed raising mix that has good drainage yet is able to retain moisture, has good aeration, has some kind of food (fertiliser), a nice light, fine texture, and be free of any pests, disease causing pathogens and of course weeds.

I have recently changed the mix I use and recommend Tui Seed Raising Mix.  I really do think it is well worth the money.  It contains a fungicide, gypsum (for healthy root development) a saturaid wetting agent (retains moisture) and they claim on the bag it is 100% free of weeds (enough of them in my garden as it is).  It is such a good looking mix that it looks like you could add an egg and a cup of milk and you’ll have yourself a chocolate cake (not suggesting you do!!).

Just a note here:  Always wear gloves and a face mask when handling any seed raising mix (or potting mix) and follow the safety instructions on the bag.

My gardening goal for this year is to start making my own seed raising mix.  I’ve found a recipe that sounds good and wont break the bank. 

*  1/3 Coarse river sand (fine sand skins over making it very difficult for seeds to germinate through). For aeration, drainage and texture.
*  1/3 rich well composted compost. Body of mix.
*  1/3 worm castings from my worm farm. Food.

Part III of this series will examine containers for holding the seed raising mix.  Including a video of how to make your own seed raising pottles.

Friday, July 2, 2010

How to grow plants from seed: Part I

Over the next week I’m going to bring to you a series of tips and tricks I have learned over the years for successfully growing plants from seed.  My own experience of growing from seed has certainly had its ups and downs, but I would really encourage you to give it a go!!  Today and tomorrow I’m going to focus on the things you need to buy, borrow or steal before you actually put seed to soil.

Why grow seed when it’s so much easier to buy the plants from a shop? 
The reasons can vary.  Satisfaction, saving money, experimenting, supplying demand etc.  For me, growing plants from seed has really given me an appreciation of the life cycle of each plant I have chosen to grow. You get to see the special requirements for each seed/plant variety right from the beginning of it’s little life.  You certainly do save money in the long run, even if the original start up cost may be a little more.  When I first started I would always go for the cheapest of everything: seed, raising mix, trays etc and the results were not always the hundreds of A grade, luscious, healthy looking seedlings to fill my garden.  My number one tip would be to invest a little money in the beginning to save in the long run.  With a little planning, you can grow just the number of plants that will meet your needs.

What do I need to get started?

Let’s start with the seed:
-       Buy a good quality seed bought from a reputable company. This will mean that the seed is labelled correctly, packaged well for freshness and will come with growing information applicable to that particular variety. I really recommend Kings Seeds which are available online at kingsseeds.co.nz.  They have an amazing selection of vegetables, herbs and flowers with bonus offers when you spend over $40.  Their latest catalogue is out now and can be ordered through the website. 
-       If you buy from a shop make sure that the packets are not stored in the sun.  And look on the packet for when the expiry date is (seeds generally only have a short life span) and only buy the packets that are newer.  This will ensure you have enough time to actually use up the seed.  Older seed becomes less viable.  Don’t be shy; take the seeds from the back of the row.
-       Do some research about what plants you can grow at various times of the year. 
Barbara from Kings Seeds gives this advice to readers of TheBloomingTales:

“We find the greatest cause for germination failure comes down to planting at
the wrong time of the year. With our changing seasons this becomes very difficult but you have to read this year by year. For example, last year we had the coldest October in NZ since WWII, causing many germination failures but gardeners are quick to suggest that they
"always plant ...... at this time of the year".  In most seasons they would be absolutely right but they have to treat each season as they find it”.

So, let’s start from the beginning and decide what you want to grow.  Have a look at kingsseeds.co.nz for some inspiration, write a wish list and buy your seed.  Tomorrow we will look at storing your seed and buying or making your own seed raising mix.