Saturday, December 14, 2013

Visit to the historical gardens of Duneira in Mt Macedon

During the last month of spring the gardens of Duneira in Mt Macedon were open for viewing. Even though it was the end of spring the weather on that day was particularly poor. So poor that I contemplated not going at all. In the end I motivated myself enough to make the trip and I'm glad I did. When I arrived the rain stopped and although the temperature was still a little mild the garden was empty of all other visitors. It almost felt as though I was intruding.

Duneira is one of Mt Macedon's most well known gardens. It's size is impressive with 25 acres of parkland surrounding the main central garden. Its original designer is unknown and the property itself has had 7 owners throughout its history. The last owner was Stuart Stoneman who, after his passing, bequeathed the care of Duneira to the Stoneman Foundation so the property is not personally owned as such.

The things I loved most about Duneira were the impressive driveway lined with elm trees and bluebells, the open parkland areas with established exotic trees and most of all the garden rooms lined by hedges. Judging from the size of most of the trees I'm guessing Duneira was left mostly unscathed by the 'Ash Wednesday' fires that swept through the mountain. I'm looking forward in visiting again in autumn to see what this amazing garden looks like in a different season.

View of the massive driveway which is lined with Dutch elms.  Due to the demise of so many elms overseas because of the elm beetle this sort of view is becoming quite rare.

Rhododendrons thrive in the naturally acidic soil and cooler climate of Mt Macedon. Duneira has some absolutely amazing specimens.

There were a few pieces of sculpture throughout the garden such as this lions head.

Unfortunately when I visited the bluebells were all finished for the year. They must look absolutely increadible when in flower because there were so many of them

More huge Rhododendrons.

A view from inside the Rhododendron cluster pictured above.

Hostas are in all the big gardens on the mountain that I have visited. They love the cooler climate.

These next 6 pictures are of the garden rooms lined with hedges. I think they refer to this part of Duneira as the 'secret garden'. It was my favorite part of the property.

I small view of the house itself which is not a huge house compared to the overall size of the property.

Along with the hostas, box hedge is also a common plant on the mountain.

A view of the main lawn outside the front of the house. I went to Christmas carols here last year. 


These red berries belong to a tree called Himalayan holly.

The next 2 pictures are of a variegated sycamore tree.

Aquilegias were throughout the garden

A weeping elm tree.

Japanese maples

A manicured variegated holly bush.

A view of the orchard towards the back of the property.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lots of Dandelions? Learn how to make Dandelion coffee.

I've made this several times now and the taste is really growing on me (yes the pun is intended). I would describe the taste as very earthy. Once brewed it looks identical to coffee. It has no caffeine which could be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view.


1.      Learn how to correctly identify a Dandelion. Although at first glance it may seem simple there are several other plants that look like a dandelion and you don’t want to be picking the wrong ones. Dandelion can be identified by its flower stalk and by its leaves, which are in a basal rosette. The flower stalks rise straight up out of the centre of the radial leaves with each stalk holding one flower head. Both stalks and leaves release latex, a milky sap when cut, and may cause dermatitis for people who are latex-sensitive. Flowers begin as roundish, green buds huddled in the eye of the leaf rosette and open into 5 cm flower heads made up of bright yellow flowers. The seed heads are well known to most people and especially children who blow them into to the air to make wishes (and thereby propagate the plant!). The bright green leaves deeply and irregularly toothed, and can grow to 25cm in length. Make sure that you only pick Dandelion from your own garden where you know that they haven’t been sprayed with herbicide. Remember that if you can't identify them then don't use them.

2.      Remove the Dandelion from the earth. This is best done when the soil is moist so you can get all the tap root out. Ideally you want to pick really large Dandelion so you get plenty of tap root as the tap root is what goes into the coffee. Remove the leaves and eat them if you wish.

3.      After gather lots of Dandelion tap roots wash them several times in clean water to get all the dirt off them. After you have washed them cut the small lateral roots from the main tap roots.

4.      Place the roots in between some paper and let them dry for a few days. Alternatively you could use a food dehydrator if you are lucky enough to possess one.

5.      Cut the Dandelion roots into small sections under 1cm in length and then place them into an oven at around 180 degrees Celsius with the door open for about 30 minutes. I then cut them into even smaller pieces and put them back in the oven with the door closed. Keep an eye on them throughout all this, the longer you roast them the sweeter the coffee will taste but you don’t want them to burn. I’m not exactly sure as to how long I roast them with the door closed, basically I just keep checking them and when they are nice and dry and brown I know they are done.

6.      Remove the roots and give them a good mortar and pestling. You should now have a nice and dry substance which looks like instant coffee. 

 7.      I like to brew the Dandelion coffee in a plunger adding 2 teaspoons per cup. Add milk and sugar if you wish. Enjoy.

The common sight of the seed head. Who would have though that as kids we were propagating them when we blew the seed head into the air to to make a wish.

Big 'bucket o lions'

The tap roots are where the action is at.


Chopped, washed and ready to oven.

Chopped again ready to put back in the oven with the door closed.

Ready to brew.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The hunt for Caleana major aka the Flying Duck Orchid

Searching for the Flying Duck Orchid

A couple of years ago I started becoming interested in orchids and whilst flicking through google images of orchids I came across several orchid flowers that looked like creatures. Amongst the most impressive of these was what is commonly called the Flying Duck Orchid (botanically known as Caleana major). I was blown away by how closely this orchid did actually resemble a flying duck but never looked into its origins. Then a few weeks ago I noticed the somebody had posted some pictures showing he had located some in Vaughan Springs which is about 50 minutes from my place. I contacted the photographer and he gave me some directions.

I set out towards Vaughan Springs and as the travel time started adding up I starting thinking that searching for such a small and elusive little orchid may be more difficult than I first thought. I turned off the freeway onto country roads that went through  Malmsbury. Then the sealed roads turned into dirt roads as I entered the bushland in Vaughan Springs. The directions I had been given were good but when I arrived at the intersection where I was told to stop I couldn't locate a walking track that was the next marker I had to locate. I knew I was roughly in the right area and there were about 3 hills around me. According to my information the orchid was on the peak of one of those hills. I started walking up one of them and shortly after I got to the peak I saw little patches of maroon plants. I had found them.

The Flying Duck Orchids were much smaller than I expected. The flower itself was only about 3 cm tall. The plant in its entirety was only roughly 20cm high. If I wasn't looking for it I may well have just walked right past it. The flower head didn't fail to impress. It was exactly as it appeared in the pictures. I took some snaps and set off to Daylesford to see the rest of the day out in the Wombat Hill Botanical gardens. Locating this plant was a hugely rewarding experience as I was half expecting to not even find it because of its elusive size. Even if I didn't locate it the sight of the other spring wildflowers would have made up for the disappointment of not finding this beautiful little plant.

Caleana major

Caleana major

Caleana major

Caleana major

Caleana major

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Spring has sprung in my Macedon garden 2013

Things have been really busy on the garden front this spring (hence the lack of October blog entries). My private weekend gardening jobs have really picked up due to the change of seasons and I've been cutting down jungle thick front / backyards almost every weekend. My first weekend with no jobs was one which I planned to do my own lawns and other garden jobs but I was feeling burnt out garden wise and the garden has suffered as a result. The lawn is getting quite long with plantain weeds sending up their flower spikes everywhere. The weeds in the garden beds have started to grow steadily but luckily they are not as bad as they could be due to some really early spring weeding that I completed.

That said, I have kept on top of a few other garden goals at home other than the mowing and weeding. So far I have made sure that I plant some seeds every weekend and it is starting to pay off with lots of veggies and flowers shooting up. The veggies done from seed have been bush beans, climbing beans (blue lake), loose leaf lettuce and Galangal (well technically not a seed but a planting nonetheless). All have sprouted bar the Galangal and I am really hoping that it does grow because I have never grown or tasted it. On the flower side of things I have lots of sunflowers popping up from seed I collected from last years flowers that I planted in Parkville (click on this link to see them when in flower I've also been nurturing the herb garden at home and finally have a good selection of herbs at hand for cooking. Another really pleasing sight in my garden are flowers that have self seeded from last years annuals including black Pansies and Hollyhocks! I really hope the Hollyhocks take off and tower above the rest of the flowers come summer. My Garlic crop looks almost ready so I should be harvesting in a few weeks or so. Unfortunately some animal nipped the tops off a  quarter of my Garlic crop (looking at the animal tracks I think it may have been a Wombat). Whatever it was it came back 3 times at night but since then has not returned.

All in all this spring has seen many successes in terms of growing new plants and a few inevitable failures along the way but I guess that is part of the learning experience. I think this weekend maintenance on my home garden is a must or things will really start getting crazy. Time to start pushing the old mower :)

A mass of cottage flower goodness

This picture of the Kniphofia flowers was taken early spring (maybe the first week). I'm really glad this plant flowered as it was a bit of a gamble as I've never seen any growing in the colder Macedon climate. The good thing is that I had these flowers showing for much longer than the Kniphofias in Melbourne. The down side is that the foliage of the plant looked a little stressed due to winter frost. 

Another early spring picture of my Tulips with Aquilegias in the background. These Tulips were planted last year and came back with a vengeance. 

The Garlic is looking really strong this year. I have been eating the small bulbs and planting the bigger ones for the last 3 years in the hope of producing a better crop.

Polyanthus flowers are still going strong.

I planted lots of Violas this year and this one is my favorite. I love the colouring it reminds me of fire.

Heaps of yellow and also orange Calendula flowers are starting to burst.

One of the big success stories are my Snow Peas. They are really heavy croppers. One of my daughters rushes out to pick them every morning and there are still lots left over when I get home from work. Here is a link to when they started out There is also Broccoli, Broad Beans and Bush Beans in there.

This unassuming little fellow is one of many pansies that self seeded from last years flowers. 

Not sure what this beautiful plant with the pink flowers is called. It must be something incredibly common as it grew from a 'cottage garden mix' of seeds. Unfortunately I lost the packet so I can't identify it. I'm sure one of my fellow gardeners will know its name....... Several months later I was told this goes by the common name of 'Corncockle'.

Below are Aquilegias that have been going strong for 2 years now. I got them when I was working at Stephen Ryan's nursery 'Dicksonia Rare Plants' on Mount Macedon. They were growing in the path like a weed and a fellow employee suggested I take them home and plant them.

Icelandic Poppies that I grew from seed are still popping open. They really are an awesome flower and keep opening up one after the other for a long time.

My better half loves planting Australian natives in the front yard and the Grevilleas are on show right now. 

This is the very first rose from the David Austin rose bush that I won in a competition earlier in the year. It is not much to look at now as it is just unfurling but in a few days it should be in all its glory. I never used to like roses but since after winning this and another in a competition I have become quite obsessed by them.

My 'herb boat' the SS Herbsman is fully loaded with Lettuce, Coriander, Continental Parsley, Curly Parsley, Oregano, Chives, Rocket and for some strange reason Brocolli. The frame in the background is for my climbing beans. My god look at the length of the lawn. Its as though the boat is sailing on a sea of grass.

There it is, my favorite pocket of the garden in its entirety. Rambling, out of control and absolutely packed with plants both edible and ornamental. Just the way I like it.