Monday, December 24, 2012

Reflections on my Macedon garden for 2012

Last post from my Macedon garden for 2012. Well I would say that this year was semi successful in Macedon in terms of my garden. As usual I only got 70% of things done that were planned but I have still made some positive progress.

I've managed to establish several perennials such as 2 Salvias, a Euphorbia, a Kniphofia and 3 Aeoniums, an unknown Japanese grass plant that was passed on to me. I planted out over 50 tulip bulbs that will hopefully flower and multiply thereby establishing a continuous supply. I also established a bed of annuals and improved the soil of 2 garden beds by incorporating some gypsum to break up some clay then digging through some mushroom compost. 

I've also learnt lots about pruning throughout the year and have been improving several plants. Next year I will spur prune my apple tree out the front and feed it so that I get some better quality apples and also spray the nectarine tree to prevent leaf curl which will ensure bigger and better fruit.

The big mission for next year that I didn't get around to this year is removing the blackberry from several parts of the garden. It has completely taken over the whole corner behind my tool shed. With luck I should be getting some bees from my brother and the area behind the tool shed is where the hives will be so I need to get it in order.

Also finally next year I am going to start planting out my ornamental trees. I already have one and have another on order for early next year. I'm not sure how much money I will have for others but I'm guessing I will have at least 4 in the ground by the end of next December.

Yay the blueberries are ripening. The one bush I have looks to have about 2 to 3 punnets worth on it. It took 3 years to bare that amount of fruit, not sure if that is due to maturity or the PH level of the soil. I will have to look into it because now I want to establish another 4 plants.

An Oriental lily that literally flowered today.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Parkville garden last post for 2012

Last entry for the Parkville garden 2012. It's now the height of summer and we have often been watering different areas in an attempt to keep them green. I planted new annuals in the front bed then 2 days later we had a day where the temperature reached 36C. The seedlings suffered but survived and with luck they should be looking good in a months time. At the moment they are a bit shrivelled. The garden is dotted with Jacaranda trees. I didn't know what these looked like in flower and was surprised to see their masses of purple flowers. Driving home after work I can see patches of Jacaranda tree purple in the Strathmore hills and it makes me wish I could grow them at home but I suspect it may be too cold for them to thrive.

One of our Jacarandas (the largest one)

The sorry looking annuals. There are 4 rows of Marigolds and 2 rows of Celosias at the back. About 1 fifth of the Celosias died in the heat. We also finally put in some climbers which will be trained up the wall on the cables.

The Sunflower bed is looking fantastic. I've been putting lots of love into this particular section. I've mulched them with mushroom compost and have watered them regularly. It seems to be paying off with nearly all surviving and thriving. The only casualties were due to slug damage (but I took care of them with some snail bait). I also transplanted 4 tomato plants amongst the sunflowers (2 in the wooden cages and 2 against the wall). 

Last of all for 2012 is this Begonia flower. When I first started working at Parkville I didn't care for them but I have taken a real shining to these plants. I progagated several from the plants in Parkville and have them at home in Macedon now. They have such a wonderfully varied range of foliage between the different species.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Visit to see the Corpse flower aka Titan Arum or Amorphophallus titanum

Went to the Royal Botanic Gardens in the city today to see the plant known as Amorphophallus titanum. It goes by the common names of Corpse flower and Titan Arum. It got the name Corpse flower due to its scent which resembles a rotting carcass and it got the name Titan arum due to the fact that it can reach 6 metres in height.

This plant is native to Sumatra, Indonesia and is now considered vulnerable in the wild. Before 1987 this plant had only 21 flowering events recorded world wide. Since the 1990s this number has increased to 80. These low numbers are due to the scarcity of the plant and also the difficulty involved with nursing it to flowering maturity.

The plant itself can reach either 6 metres high or 3 metres high. This depends on luck, as the tuber it grows from will either produce a giant leaf (6 metres) or an inflorescence (cluster of flowers (3 metres if incredibly lucky)). The plant when mature produces orange / red berries. The rotting meat smell produced from the inflorescence helps with pollination. The smell attracts things such as flies, beetles and insects which pollinate the plants as opposed to pollination by bees.

As you can see from my pictures below the Titan arum that it isn't flowering yet. Once the flowers have bloomed they last only 2-3 days (which is also the only time you can smell its famous odour). According to staff it is due to flower on Christmas day or boxing day. Unfortunately I cannot visit it on either of those days but I plan to see it on Christmas eve so hopefully it will be open then. If not there are 5 other Titan arums being grown at the Botanic Gardens so I may be able to see one of those plants flowering some time in the future. The Ammorphophallus titanum can be found in the tropical greenhouse at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne at the time of writing this blog entry.

Website below;

I would approximate that this Titan arum was about 1.8 metres tall.

Seeing lots of other there to see this rare plant made me feel less tragic for having travelled 50 minutes to see it (well slightly less tragic).

This information plaque was full of, you guessed it, information!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What's in the Macedon garden December 2012?

Summer update on my garden in Macedon. The lawn has lost its green lustre and is now a shade of straw which although unsightly means I don't have to mow as often, thank god! I planted lots of annuals and had mixed success with them. Lots were taken out by my own chickens when they were seedlings. I really did the annuals on the cheap and they were all the bargain basement seedlings from the local nursery (not that the nursery has a basement). The pansies however, were all from seed. I refer to them as my Grandma annuals because they are the old fashion favorite annuals and quite common. I bought half a metre of mushroom compost and dug it through some really poor soil to rejuvenate it and spread the rest as a mulch. The plants have really responded to it so I will definitely do it again next year.

The Marigolds took quite a hammering from the chickens and only a few survived.

The Snapdragons were untouched by both chicken and snail and all survived and thrived as the one below.

Below is the giant Ullswater blue pansy

Blackjack pansies.

My pride and joy this year giant Hollyhocks. I've been on a mission to grow these for a couple of years and have failed until this year. Even this lot has come close to being lost. First they contracted celery mosaic virus and had to be nursed back to health so they adapted and managed to overcome the symptoms of the virus. Secondly they came under attack from cabbage butterfly caterpillars (which I had to spray to clear). Thirdly they were smashed by really strong winds one night and a couple were on the ground the next day. I had to stake the wind damaged ones but they are looking good now. They haven't flowered yet but look ready to pop. I'll get some more photos when they bloom.

Awww a small Hollyhock bud.

This perennial is a Kniphofia (unsure of the species though). Its now much to look at now but it has a wonderful flower head in winter. It goes by the common name of 'red hot poker'. I propagated this by division last autumn and it looks ready to flower next winter.

Hydrangea macrophylla is an old fashioned favorite. These existed on the property when we bought it. They are an extremely common plant here in Victoria but i can't bring myself to get rid of them. I must have the acidic (low PH) soil here as the flowers are always blue.

My daughter planted these Impatiens and as with all the things she plants they have somehow thrived even with minimal intervention.

Below are some blueberries from my only blueberry bush. There seem to be lots on the bush this year so if the birds don't get to them I should harvest enough for a couple of punnets.

The ever reliable chives

The broadbeans have been really successful. They are nearing the end now but I've harvest heaps. Almost every day I pick some and eat them raw.

One of six sunflower seedlings. Fingers crossed some will grow to maturity. The bloody snails love these things.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Grow your own garlic guide


The scientific name for garlic is Allium sativum. It is a species in the onion genus (Allium). I've been growing garlic in the Macedon Ranges now for 3 years. I've found garlic to be an easy crop to grow and definitely worth the little effort required to cultivate it. I've constructed this guide for anyone interested in starting a garlic patch of their own. It is comprised of knowledge I've sourced from my own experiences in growing garlic, advice from others and info from the good old Internet.  I hope you find this guide useful.

Sourcing garlic to plant

So you want to grow your own garlic. The easiest way to grow garlic is not from seed but from planting the separated cloves of a whole bulb. Each one will hopefully produce a new whole bulb if planted and cared for correctly. You can't just use any garlic, the stuff from the supermarket will almost never work properly as it is treated with a substance to retard its sprouting (thereby increasing its shelf life). You will need to source bulbs from online suppliers or perhaps from your local farmers market. The farmers market garlic may be a better option as you know that variety will work well in your locality. A good online supplier in Australia is the 'Diggers Club' (

Separating the bulb

Once you have your bulbs separate the individual cloves as show below. You need to be careful to completely separate them as two cloves still joined will not produce an ideal new bulb.

Where to plant

Not all advice I received from people who told me they 'know what they are doing' in regards to garlic was correct. One fallacy was that garlic can be planted in poor soil. This is definitely not the case. Garlic needs free draining soil with a PH of between 5.5 and 7. It also needs full sun as garlic is a poor solar collector. It also needs to be free of competition from weeds or other plants. Garlic is a good companion plant as it repels certain pests so it is good to plant it around other plants you want to protect. When thinking of where to plant it the main point are that garlic is a poor solar collector, poor competitor and a heavy feeder.

How to plant the cloves

You need to plant the cloves with the pointy side up (as shown in the picture above). The small piece of basal plate from the bulb is where the roots will form. I plant mine with the pointy tip of the clove covered with about 6cm of soil. Plant the cloves about 15cm  apart.

When to plant

The best time to plant depends on the variety of garlic and your location. For me here in Macedon the best time to plant is in mid to late Autumn. I used to plant on the Winter solstice (late June) and harvest on the Summer solstice (late December) as this was the way an old Italian gentleman who grew garlic insisted that it works. However I found that by planting in Autumn I would be harvesting earlier and with better results (less rotten bulbs and bigger bulbs). 

Watering and feeding

Garlic should be watered regularly during the growing season and kept well fed with fertilizer. When the leaves begin to brown then cut back on the water and feed. I've been lucky so far in that I have had wet enough weather so I haven't had to water much. Over watering the bulbs after the leaves have browned will cause the bulbs to rot.

When to harvest

Knowing when to harvest garlic is the hardest part. There are a few different theories on this such as
  • Harvest when there are 4 - 5 green leaves left
  • Harvest when all the leaves are brown
  • Harvest at a certain time (for example the start of Summer)
Basically the longer you leave it in the ground the better but if you leave it too long the bulbs can rot. I've found the best way to decide when to harvest is to brush away some of the dirt from around the bulb and visually inspect them. I usually end up harvesting mine in early December but you shouldn't take too much from that because the harvest time can be effected by the variety of the garlic, growing conditions and planting time. When harvesting  lift the bulbs with a shovel or fork to avoid stressing the bulbs which can reduce shelf life.

Storing garlic

Once you have lifted all the bulbs brush the loose dirt from them and lay them on some newspaper and leave them somewhere so that the skins dry. After that I gather them all and hang them in a dark, dry and cool place. Braiding the stems is only done for cosmetic reasons and is not necessary. If cured and stored in the proper way garlic should last six months which is definitely long enough to last to the next planting.



Garlic is a satisfying plant to grow as it tastes much better than the supermarket garlic and keeps for such a long time. It's easy to be self sufficient in garlic once you get to the stage where you are harvesting over 30 bulbs. The other great thing about growing your own is that you can grow varieties that you never see in the shops such as Italian red and Monaro purple which has a solid bright coloured purple skin. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Plants in the Parkville garden December 2012

I shot some quick pictures in the Parkville garden today after work. It's now Summer but my days are still mostly involved with cutting things back on top of the regular maintenance work such as the lawns and weeding. I planted out over 100 Sunflower seedlings which comprise of 10 different varieties. The ones I've planted at home over the years always ended up eaten by slugs but with over 100 now in the ground and snail bait sprinkled amongst them, I'm guessing more than a few will survive to bloom.

We have lots of different coloured Streptocarpus plants in pots. I'm not a huge fan of Streptocarpus when they are not in flower but when they are in flower they sure are pretty.

Below is one of our Oriental Lilies. We have Two other types but their flowers are spent for the year. Our Asiatic Lilies still haven't bloomed but they look close.

Next are Two types of Daylilies. The term Daylily is the common name for plants of the genus Hemerocallis. As the name suggest the flowers typically only last a day but new flowers appear the day after. They are perennial plants and different species provide different colours and sizes of flowers. You can see the orange Daylily below is already starting to wither (I took that photograph at 3pm). The yellow Daylily is of the cultivar 'corky' and is only half the size of the orange one.

Lastly is Hydrangea quercifolia which is known by the common name of Oakleaf Hydranfea. When was informed that this plant was infact a Hydrangea I was surprised as I was only familiar with Hydrangea macrophylla. It is a perennial plant that sprouts from stolons. It is native to South Eastern USA. I think it is a much more interesting specimin than macrophylla which is very common here in Melbourne.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Visit to the Bolobek gardens in Mt Macedon

Finally another post after a long absence from blogging. Last Sunday I visited Bolobek in Mt Macedon. The garden was open as part of the open garden scheme which is operating in Victoria. Open gardens Australia is a non profit organization dedicated to promoting the gardens.

I was interested in seeing Bolobek as it is where the head gardener at the Parkville gardens in which i also work did his apprenticeship. That and it is always recommended to me by fellow horticulturalists in the Macedon ranges area where I live. The gardens certainly didn't fail to impress me. I wasn't expecting such a large and well designed garden.

The Bolobek garden was planted out in 1914. The property was previously owned by Oswald Syme who is the son of the founder of The Age newspaper in Melbourne. Oswald's wife was an avid gardener and it is assumed that she was the one who did the original layout and planting. The Symes installed a backup water supply for Bolobek which ensured that the garden never went dry in times of drought. Sir Robert and Lady Law Smith purchased Bolobek from the Symes in the late 60s. Lady Law Smith implemented major changes to the garden, many of which remain today. In total the Bolobek gardens now cover an area of approximately 11 acres.

Highlights of the garden are its magnificent oak trees, rhododendrons, manicured lawns, walled rose garden, birch grove, the massive climbing roses nearby the old swimming pool and a small man made creek snaking underneath oak trees. There is also an abundance of flower beds in the gardens.

I would definitely recommend you visit Bolobek. I could have spent all day there taking photos and enjoying the gardens. I will visit again next year and get more pictures.