Saturday, 17 February 2018

Useful and Beautiful Flowers and Sweet Corn

What’s On The Show Today?

A new design series starts named appropriately “useful and beautiful” growing corn in Vegetable Heroes, is there such as thing as environment history and what has it got to do with gardens, plus reconnect with lost loves in Talking Flowers.
Kalanchoe fedchenoi or Lavender Scallops


Useful and Beautiful: Groundcovers for full sun.
A new series in Design Elements starts and it’s all about plants.
Useful and Beautiful: Plants that don't fail for every situation, but plants that are not as common to make your garden outstanding.

This series will go through the different levels of planting in your garden starting in with ground covers for sun and shade, bulbs, sub-shrubs, hedges, bigger shrubs, small trees and climbers.
There’s quite a lot there but we will only cover one of those categories at a time.
I'm talking with Peter Nixon Director of
Ruellia elegans
Peter mentioned mini mondo grass, Foxtail fern, Ruellia elegans or Kalanchoe fedchenkoi or Lavender Scallops as good ground covers for sun.
Next week the series continues with groundcovers for shade.
There’s always somewhere in the garden where you need that.
If you have any questions about groundcovers, either for me or for Peter or have some information to share, why not drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Sweet Corn :Zea mays var. saccharata
Sweet Corn or  is a grass, native to the Americas.
Yep, a grass.
Sweet Corn Fruit
But wait, is Corn actually a vegetable, a grain, or a fruit.
Would you have guessed that corn is all of these?
It’s a vegetable because it’s harvested for eating;
a grain because it’s a dry seed of a grass species;
and a fruit because that’s the botanical definition.
That’s why Corn (Zea mays) is sometimes called a vegetable grain.

Did you know that a vegetable is defined as a plant cultivated for an edible part or parts such as roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or seeds/fruit, corn is a vegetable?

If you wanted to be very picky, all cereal grains could be called vegetables, but for some reason the cereal grains are separated from the rest of the "vegetables" such as peas, lettuce, potatoes, cabbage
Corn has a long, long history.
Apparently tiny ears of corn have been discovered at ancient village sites on the Mexican plateau or the highlands of Guatemala.
Kernels dating back to 6600 BCE have also been found in caves in Mexico.
There’s even evidence that in central Mexico, about 7000 years ago, sweetcorn was domesticated from wild grass.
However, the fresh, or sweet corn, the kind we like to eat as corn on the cob, didn’t come about until the 1700s.
Along with wheat and rice, corn is one of the world’s major grain crops.
Would you have guessed that only 9 percent of all the corn grown is used to produce food for humans?
64% of all corn grown is used as feed for livestock.
Then there’s food manufacture which include corn meal and other food products such as cooking oils, margarine, and corn syrups and sweeteners (fructose) and breakfast cereals, flour.
But there’s also non-cooking uses such as dyes, paints, chemicals, Ethanol, a renewable fuel made from corn, has shown the possibility of becoming a major renewable fuel for the world’s automotive industry.
That’s just to name a few.

Much of the corn now grown around the world is genetically modified for herbicide and/or pest resistance, so a good reason to grow it yourself.

By the way, Popcorn is made from a corn variety that dries on the stalk, while the corn we eat on the cob is referred to as sweet corn.

When to Plant-

You can plant sweetcorn all year round in tropical and subtropical climates, for temperate and arid zones, from September to the end of January, and for cool temperate districts, October to the end of January.
Sweet Corn Sprouts

TIP: Before planting out your corn, soak the seeds in a shallow saucer of water overnight.
You can either sow the seeds directly into the garden, 25cm or a hand span apart in short rows 50-60 cm apart, or in seed trays.
Dig in some pelletized manure of some sort a couple of weeks before you plant the corn.
By sowing your corn seed directly into the garden you mightn’t always get a 100% germination rate; and you may have breaks in your rows, particularly if you’re growing the high sugar varieties.
Try growing your corn in seed trays or in punnets first, then transplant the seedlings out into the garden, when they are 50 to 75mm tall.
You’ll have complete rows then.

Corn being a grass has no nectar or odour to attract a physical pollinator.

In fact all grasses are wind pollinated, so sweetcorn needs to be planted closely for pollination.

Something you need to know.

If you’ve experienced partially formed cobs or a low amount of cobs it’s most likely a pollination problem.

  • Corn plants have separate male and female flowering parts.

  • The male flowers or tassel are at the top of the plant and female flowers or silks form the kernels on the cob.

  • Pollen grows on these tassels.
  • It then falls down onto the silks, or female parts of the plant.
  • Each silk is connected to a kernel of corn inside each ear.
  • If pollen reaches the silk, it causes a corn kernel to grow.
  • If a silk doesn't receive pollen, the kernel stays small.
Tip: Don’t wet the tassels as they emerge.

If you have a small garden and are in need of space, you could also plant climbing beans and cucumbers in between the rows of corn, the beans and cucumbers will climb up the corm stems, making a temporary trellis.

The seed for the beans and cucumbers need to be sown out at the same time as the corn.

Hints and Tips
  • A good tip is, once the corncob has been pollinated (the corncob tassels have gone brown and you can feel the cob forming) cut the top flower off about a 10cm up from the cob. Hopefully this will let the plant concentrate on feeding the cob, making it grow larger and sweeter.

  • Remember: Corn likes lots of compost, comfrey, old animal manures, liquid fertilisers and heaps of mulch (around the main stem of the plant) give them a good soak around the roots, every second day, depending on the weather conditions

  • Having a windy problem? Not you the corn.

  • Build a post and rail fence out of bamboo or tomato stakes by hammering them in 1.8 metres apart, around the perimeter and down the centre of the corn plot.

  • When the plants are a 1 metre high, horizontally tie (with wire) a stake or bamboo stick on to the stakes, like a top rail on a fence.

  • As the corn grows, lift the horizontal rail higher; this will more than support your corn from strong winds.

Sweetcorn forming on the stalk

There are a number of heirloom varieties of sweet corn and maizes with different shapes and sizes.
There are golf ball shapes, bantam and lady-finger shapes.
There are a large variety of colours; multi coloured, blue, red, white, purple and the typical golden yellows and not forgetting 'pop corn'.

What about trying Sweet Corn Honey and Cream F1?
Yes, it’s a hybrid but it’s so sweet it doesn't need cooking, with plump yellow and white kernels.
Harvest in 12 weeks.

Important tip: Sow the seeds when soil temperature is more than 20 C.

What’s the most asked question about growing sweet corn?

Q Poor germination and too few corncobs.
Poor Sweet Corn Pollination results in missing kernels

  • Can be caused by a number of problems. For example:
  • poor seed quality - if the seed is old or hasn't been dried or handled properly after harvest;
  • seed rots (Pythium and Rhizoctonia fungi);
  • planting into cool, wet soil, planting too deep and soil crusting.
  • Supersweet corn has lower vigour than normal sweet corn and needs warmer soil to germinate, but generally has poorer germination ability than normal sweet corn.
  • Uneven plant stands can also be caused by soil crusting and insects, mainly cutworms and wireworms;
  • Nematodes, particularly root lesion nematodes, are often associated with poor crop establishment and growth.

Why is it good for you?
As corn cobs mature they develop more starches and sweet corn is one of the few vegetables that is a good source of the kind of slowly digested carbohydrate that gives you long-lasting energy.
Corn is an excellent source of dietary fibre vitamin C and niacin (one of the B group vitamins) and folate (one of the B group vitamins)
Corn is also good source of potassium to help balance the body’s fluids if you eat salty foods.


Dahlias are perennials  related to sunflowers and Asters in the Asteraceae family.

Dahlias can be grown from seed, eg Pom Pom Dahlias, but mostly the large flowered varieties are grown from tubers that are sown in Autumn for Summer flowering.

Like all members of the Asteraceae family, the flower head is actually a composite with both central disc florets and surrounding ray florets. Each floret is a flower in its own right, but is often incorrectly described as a petal.

Where they came from:
The wild Dahlias originally grew in Mexico and other South American countries, primarily in mountainous valleys that were protected from harsh conditions in the spring and summer.
One species Dahlia pinnata is the national flower of Mexico.
Some floral meanings
  • ·         Staying graceful under pressure, especially in challenging situations
  • ·         Drawing upon inner strength to succeed
  • ·         Traveling and making a major life change in a positive way
  • ·         Standing out from the crowd and following your own unique path
  • ·         Commitment to another person or a certain ideal
  • ·         Warning someone about a potential betrayal.

I’m talking with Mercedes Sarmini
Video recorded live during broadcast of Real World Gardener on 2rrr 88.5 fm in Sydney

Sunday, 11 February 2018

How to Get More Out of Your Flowers and Veg Plus a Brown Booby.

What’s On The Show Today?

Find out the components of fertilisers, grow a love apple in Vegetable Heroes, all about no –dig gardening in part 2 of starting from scratch in this new series in Design Elements, plus a ray of sunshine in Talking Flowers.


Sula leucogaster Brown Booby
It’s not just seagulls that frequent our shores but Australia is home to one of the world’s most spectacular divers.
Brown Booby
This bird is seen around harbours, river mouths and the like where they are partial to roosting on moored boats, channel markers and other structures.
I'm talking with Dr Holly Parsons, Manager of
Let’s find out about it .

Their flight is fairly distinctive - alternating between a few flaps and a glide, often low over the water.
Did you know that the Brown Booby can accelerate up to 90 kph?
The booby’s sleek and velvety profile serves a double purpose, for not only is it aerodynamically adapted for speed in the air, but it is also aquadynamically adapted for swiftly penetrating the surface waters of the ocean.
Brown Boobies on top of piers
"In Australia, the Brown Booby is found from Bedout Island in Western Australia, around the coast of the Northern Territory to the Bunker Group of islands in Queensland with occasional reports further south in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The species is reported further south to Tweed Heads, NSW, and to near Onslow, Western Australia and may be becoming more common in these areas." (ref Birds in Backyards.)
If you have any questions about the Brown Booby, either for me or for Holly or have some information to share, why not drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


All About Pollination

The reason this topic is being mentioned is because although gardeners realise that pollination is vital in a plants reproductive cycle so that seeds, fruit or veg is formed.

The problem is though, gardeners often struggle with the question,
“ why haven’t I got fruit on my zucchini plant, when there’s plenty of flowers, and plenty of bees buzzing around.?
Substitute what fruit or vegetable that you’ve had trouble with getting it to fruit in place of that zucchini.
Bee on flower
Sometimes it seems so random, for example, last year, I had plenty of flowers on my passionfruit vine, but not a single passionfruit.
This year, though, there’s plenty of passionfruit.
So what happened?

First , let’s start with what is pollination

To simplify things, during plant reproduction, pollination is when pollen grains move from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another flower.

Regular flower part
Silk of Sweet Corn
  • Insects can pollinate flowers, and so can the wind. 
  • Insect-pollinated flowers are different in structure from wind-pollinated flowers. 
  • Insect pollinated flowers are large and brightly coloured, mostly scented and with nectar. 
  • All of this is needed to attract the insects. 
  • The pollen grains are sticky or spiky so that they stick to the insect good and proper. 
  • Inside the flower, the anthers are stiff and firmly attached so that they remain in place when an insect brushes past. 
  • The stigma, usually higher than the anther, has a stick surface to which pollen grains attach themselves when an insect brushes past. 
  • Wind pollinated flowers are often small, dull green or brown with no scent or nectar. 
  • The flower usually has hundreds of thousands of pollen grains that are smooth and light so that they can easily be carried by wind without clumping together. 
  • Anthers are outside the flower, and usually loos and long. All the better to easily release pollen grains.

    Grass flower parts.
  • The stigma is also outside the flower and looks more like a feather duster so it can more easily catch those drifting light pollen grains.
  • That’s important to remember if you think about sweet corn which is from the grass family and therefore wind pollinated. 
  • When it comes to insect pollinated flowers, the different heights of the anther and the stigma is designed by nature so that the plant avoids self-pollination or inbreeding. 

Did you know that most plants are hermaphrodites because they have both male and female parts in the same flower?

Even corn is a hermaphrodite but because it’s in the grass family, it has separate male and female flowers on the same plant rather than on different plants like Spinach.

In Corn the male flowers are position above the female flowers, ie, silks, below containing the ears.
The flowers are self-compatible with pollen being spread by wind and not insects.
This means it’s subject to inbreeding depression, so seed saves need to replant at least a hundred plants for true to type maintenance.
Pumpkin and zucchini is another variation in that the separate male and female flowers are on the same plant and are self –compatible just like corn, but relying on insects.
Without insects to transfer the pollen there would be no fruit.

Did you know that our favourite vegetable, the tomato, is a hermaphrodite too?
Botanists call the flowers of tomatoes, perfect flowers because they have male and female flowers within the same flower.
That means they are self-pollinating and don’t need cross-pollination by wind, birds or insects.

Now to that sticky question, “why isn’t my plant fruiting?”

  • There’s plenty of flowers and insects but still no fruit. 
  • Weather conditions are key factors in successful pollination. 
  • High humidity creates sticky pollen which does not transfer well. 
  • Plants in the cucurbit family rely on honeybees for pollination, and honeybees do not fly in cool, cloudy weather. 
If you need to you can hand pollinate the cucurbit’s flowers.
  • As temperatures reach the high 20's and the humidity level is also high. the success rate for pollination declines. 
  • A heat wave in the thirties, will result in poor if any, pollination. 
  • When the weather is very hot and dry with temperatures over 29 C, the pollen becomes very dry and isn't easily transferred. 
To help with fruit set, try misting the flowers with water occasionally and keep up the mulch around the base so the plants don't dry out too much. 
This is common with many plants, especially with more northerly climates. 
The cure, shade covers .
Passionfruit flower with fruit in background.
  • Another factor is plant stress: 
  • In nature when a plant is under stress, it will not produce fruit. 
  • Or, it will abort existing fruit. 
  • It’s a survival mechanism, allowing a plant to focus upon survival first. 
  • That stress is caused by: 
  • Water Too little or too much water. 
  • The Cure: Keep soil consistently moist, not wet and not dry. 
  • Soil pH imbalance pH levels are too high, or too low. 
The Cure:: Get your soil tested. Alter pH levels as indicated by the test.
And if you don’t have enough insects like bees visiting your garden, you know what to do, plant more bee and other insect attracting plants like Borage and Alyssum around your garden.


China Aster or Michaelmas Daisy.
Belongs in the Asteraceae family. Aster means Star in Latin.
Aster novae angliae Barrs Pink
China Aster is the September birth flower and the 20th wedding anniversary flower.
Common flower meanings are:
  • ·         Patience
  • ·         Love of Variety
  • ·         Elegance
  • ·         Daintiness
  • ·         Afterthought  (or the wish things happened differently).
  • ·         Purple asters symbolize wisdom and royalty, and are the most popular colour.
  • ·         White asters symbolize purity and innocence.
  • ·         Red asters symbolize undying devotion.
  • ·         Pink asters symbolize sensitivity and love.

 A Greek Legend
The ancient Greeks have got it all when it comes to romance and mysticism with their stories about various Gods.

It all started with the ancient Greeks burning aster leaves to ward off both snakes and evil spirits.
According to Greek mythology, when the god Jupiter decided to flood the earth to destroy the warring men, the goddess Astraea was so upset she asked to be turned into a star.
Her wish was granted, but when the flood waters receded she wept for the loss of lives.
As her tears turned to stardust and fell to earth, the beautiful aster flower sprung forth.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini of

Video recorded live during broadcast of Real World Gardener on 2RRR, 88.5fm

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Everything from Lily of the Nile to Dry Soil

What’s On The Show Today?

How to improve your watering in Plant Doctor, crunchy like an apple but sweet like a watermelon in Vegetable Heroes, a mainstay of many gardens in plant of the week and festive flowers in Talking Flowers?


Watering The Garden and Hydrophobic Soils
Water is a scarce enough commodity in Australia, so gardeners would like to think that they are watering efficiently.
We all know the best times to water but what you may not know is that if you scratch the surface of your soil, you may find that the water hasn’t even penetrated.

There are many causes of soil that is water repellent or hydrophobic.
Why’s that you may ask?
Let’s find out. 'm talking with General Manager of

Water repellence can be due to the waxy substances that come from plant material being not properly decomposed. These in turn coat the soil particles. The smaller the soil particle, as in sandy soils,the great chance of the waxy substances clinging to them.

Through no fault of your own, the soil in your garden may be prone to being water repellent.
This means you may need to have routine distribution of a wetting agent, either wetting granules or the spray on kind.
The liquid form of wetting agent also comes in a hose on so it does seem an easy way to do a large area.

Wetting granules though are no more difficult to apply than spreading organic fertiliser around your garden.
When choosing a soil wetter one thing to note is that some are based on petroleum derivatives and alcohol, making them unsuited to organic gardens. 
Others contain only naturally occurring substances that readily biodegrade and cause no ill effects to the soil or plants. 
To help choose a suitable wetting agent check the ingredients. 
For organic gardeners, eco-Hydrate contains polysaccharides (natural humectants that can suck moisture from the air), soil surfactants (which aid in moisture penetration) and soil conditioners (including fulvic acid and seaweed extract).  

If you have any questions about hydrophobic soils either for me or Steve, why not email us or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


Yacon : Smallanthus sonchifolius (syn Polymnia sonchifolia)

Yacon is in the Daisy or Asteraceae family.

Yacon is sometimes called, Peruvian ground apple, ground-pear, and pear of the earth.

We’ll stick to Yacon-which is the name this vegetable mostly goes by

Yacon is native to the Andes- Colombia and Ecuador but did you know that until as recently as the early 2000s, yacón was hardly known outside of South America?
You probably won’t see it any time soon in your veggie shop but you can buy Yacon tea or Yacon syrup.

So what does this plant look like and which part do you eat?

Yacon is a hardy, attractive herbaceous perennial from which you get quite a few tubers.

The plant grows to 1.5 to 2 m tall with light green angular leaves that look a bit like a milk thistle’s leaves or even a Jerusalem artichoke.

When it flowers, you’ll have male and female daisy-like yellow to orange flowers that are pollinated by insects.

Each plant forms a underground clump of 4 to 20 fleshy large tuberous roots.
The plant itself is extremely hardy tolerating hot summers, drought and poor soils.

The part that you eat is underground.

Yacon tubers look a bit like sweet potatoes, but they have a much sweeter taste and crunchy flesh.
The tubers are very sweet, juicy and almost calorie free but more on that later.
I would say that the tubers taste like a cross between apple and watermelon, but with more sweetness.

Generally it’s a bit tricky describing the taste of a new food, but everyone agrees on the crunchiness.
If you can grow Jerusalem artichokes or Parsnips, you can grow Yacon.


Yacon has a long growing season-up to 7 months so generally suits temperate to tropical areas.

But you can grow it in cooler districts.
  • Yacon can be planted all year round in frost-free areas as it is day-length neutral. 
  • In tropical areas grow Yacon during the dry season before the wet sets in.
  • It appears to be drought tolerant compared to other vegetable crops and so far, pest-free. 
  • For cold areas of Australia the rhizomes can be started in styrofoam boxes in a greenhouse or on a warm verandah, usually in spring, and planted out when frost is past.
Split the tubers into individual shoots with their tubers attached and plant into smaller pots.

Yacon plants are quite sensitive to temperature, so plant them out when you would tomatoes.

Normally you plant the large tubers into large pots and wait for shoots to start growing from each smaller tuber.

Yacon actually produces two types of underground tubers, reddish rhizomes directly at the base of the stem that can be eaten but are a bit stringy and tough so they’re mainly used for propagation.

Then there’s the larger brown or purple tubers-these are the ones you eat.

Prepare the soil by loosening well with a fork and working in compost.

To plant, cover a large rhizome/tuber which has several sprouts, with soil to a depth of 3 cm. Space them 0.5m apart.

But you might just want to start with one plant which you can buy online or some garden centres.

Mulch well because yacon will grow up through the mulch, just like potatoes.

The stems of this plant are brittle so if you haven’t got a wind break tip prune the stems to make the plant lower and more bush.

Because this plant creates dense shade when it grows you probably won’t have to do any weeding. Bonus!

Yacon grows fast even in poor soils but gives you much bigger tubers in rich, friable, well-drained soil.

So when do you pick this strange vegetable?
The plant takes 6 - 7 months to reach maturity.
You know when it’s ready when the top growth withers and dies back.
This is when you dig up the tuber.
The tubers look a bit like dahlia or sweet potato tubers, and on average should weigh about 300 g but can weigh up to 2 kg.
Once the soil starts to heave at the base of the plant, dig around to 'bandicoot' a few early tubers to extend the harvest season.
The tubers continue to sweeten as the plant dies back so the main harvest should only take place once all the top growth is dead.

If you planted your tubers in November they’ll be usually be ready by the end of May.

Don't leave it too long though, especially in areas that have mild winters, as the plant will start to shoot again as the weather warms up and the days get longer.
When digging them up, separate the reddish rhizomes from the tubers and wash off any soil, taking care not to break the skin.
The reddish rhizomes are kept out of the sun and covered with slightly damp sand, sawdust or cocopeat to stop them drying out and put aside for replanting in a dark, dry place.
These offsets are then replanted for the next season.
The plant needs to be dug carefully to avoid damage to the crisp tubers. After separation from the central stem undamaged tubers can be stored in a cool, dark and dry place with good air circulation for some months.
If your plant flowers don’t bother with any seeds you might bet because they’re mostly un-viable.

Yacon is almost always propagated from cuttings or tubers.
Why the tubers keep sweetening during storage is because of starch conversion.
You can put them in the sun for a couple of weeks to speed up the sweetening process.
The tubers can be eaten raw as a refreshing treat on their own, finely sliced and mixed into salads, boiled or baked, fried as chips or prepared as a pickle.

There’s plenty of eating tips, too many to mention, but I’ll post them on the website. For those without a computer, write in to me and I’ll send you a fact sheet.


First remove the outer brown skin and inner white skin by peeling with a knife as the skin has a resinous taste.
Inside is amber coloured sweet crunchy flesh.
Like all tubers there are no seeds to remove, so it is quick and easy to prepare.

Chop the tuber into chunks and add it to green salads where they impart a great flavour and texture. I
When cut into long strips, they make an interesting addition to a plate of raw vegetable crudites for dipping into your favourite guacamole or cream cheese dip.

It can also be boiled, steamed or baked with other vegies. In cooking they stay sweet and slightly crisp.

If boiled 'in the jacket' the skin separates from the flesh and can be peeled off like a boiled egg.
Yacon can also be used in a dessert crumble or pie with apples, pears or choko.

In the Andes, they are grated and squeezed through a cloth to yield a sweet refreshing drink. The juice can also be boiled down to produce a syrup. In South America the juice is concentrated to form dark brown blocks of sugar called chancaca. The young stem can be used as a cooked vegetable.

Why is it good for you?
Nutritionally Yacon is low in calories but it is said to be high in potassium. Yacon tubers store carbohydrate in the form of inulin, a type of fructose, which is a suitable food for type II diabetics. 



The old varieties of this tough as old boots flowers, are often seen in neglected gardens but did you know its Greek name means love flower?
Love flower sounds much more romantic than the German Schmucklilie which translated means jewel lily.

This plant with its lily like flower grows almost everywhere except where it’s extremely hot or extremely cold.
Let’ s find out what it is. 'm talking with the plant panel: Jeremy Critchley of and Karen Smith, editor of

photo courtesy plants
In some areas they are used as a fire retardant plant because of their fleshy green leaves and also for holding banks and stopping erosion with their large and tangled root system.
In the norther hemisphere, Agapanthus, other than in their native South Africa need to be moved into unheated greenhouses in winter.
So don’t underestimate the humble Aggie, plus breeders are always looking for new colourways, so that you won’t be disappointed if you seek them out.

Some newer varieties to watch out for Australia
Agapanthus Black Pantha
Agapanthus Cascade Diamond
Agapanthus Snowball
Agapanthus Golden Drop with variegated foliage.

Christmas Bush: Ceratopetalum gummiferum

Ceratopetalum....from Greek ceras, a horn and petalon, a petal, referring to the petal shape of one species.
gummiferum....producing a gum.
In the home garden, I would regard this plant as a large shrub in people’s gardens rather than a small tree because it rarely grows to more the 4-5 metres.
That’s equivalent to Coastal Tee-tree.

The leaves are up to 3-7cm long and are divided into three leaflets or trifoliate, which are finely serrated and the new growth is often pink or bronze coloured. 
Leaves are opposite each other.
I grew these plants as part of a trial when I was studying for my Hort Diploma at Tafe some years ago.
Testing a variety of fertilisers for growth factors. 
Definitely one plant that doesn’t tolerate Phosphorus in the fertilizer. 
Native fertilisers only.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini of
Recorded live in 2rrr studios and published on Facebook.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Delphiniums,Gerberas, Basil and Mini Vegetables

What’s On The Show Today?

What herb goes with tomatoes or cloves in Design Elements, not sprouts but still mini, in Vegetable Heroes, a new take on an old variety of flowers in plant of the week and once used to scare away scorpions in Talking Flowers?


Herb: Basil
At one stage the Greeks and Romans believed the most potent basil could only be grown if you sowed the seed while ranting and swearing. 
This custom is mirrored in the French language where semer le baslic (sowing basil) means to rant.
Well I hope you don’t have to swear and rant to get your Basil seeds to germinate, just have your pencils at the ready if you want to know how to grow, use and store. 

Try crushing a Basil leaf and think of cloves.
It should surprise you that they have similar aromatic notes because they both contain the volatile oil, Eugenol.
This means that they complement each other.
Ian suggests sprinkling a pinch of cloves into your pasta dish along with the herb Basil for a different take.
Basil can be used fresh or dried in cooking.
Dried Basil is sold as "rubbed leaves,' and has a slightly different flavour profile to fresh Basil.
The top notes are missing but that doesn't mean you shouldn't use it in coooking.
Dried Basil is used at the beginning of cooking so that the flavour can infuse, generally only taking around 10 minutes.
Growing Basil
If you live in arid or sub-tropical regions you can sow Basil in late august in a mini greenhouse or indoors, but otherwise you can sow right through to December which is the best time to sow Basil seeds.
The seeds are best planted at soil temperatures between 18°C and 35°C
If your Basil starts to flower, pick the flowers off to prolong the life of your Basil plant.
For something different when not try sowing cinnamon Basil or Lemon Basil or even Holy Basil, that is the true sacred basil that is grown in houses, home gardens and near temples all over India.…

If you have any questions about Basil either for me or Ian, why not email us or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675



Microgreens are very young edible greens from vegetables, herbs or other plants.

It has to be said, growing microgreens is the speediest way to growing leafy greens because you’ll be cutting them in 1-2 weeks.
Plus, they add packets of flavour to salads of larger leaves and the best part, it couldn’t be any easier.
You can grow them indoors all year round, you don’t even need a sunny windowsill.

Microgreens even though they’re really small have intense flavours but not as strong it would’ve been if the plant was left to grow to full size.

Usually I start talking about the history of the vegetable or fruit at this point.
There’s not much history at all about micro greens.
Maybe they started off as a fad in the 1990’s who knows?

They seem to be catching on more and more, because you can get seeds marketed as micro greens from major chain stores that have a gardening section.
How about greens, like all types of lettuce, Basil, Beets, Coriander and Kale that are harvested with scissors when they’re really, really, small?

So what’s the difference between microgreens and sprouts?

Microgreens are not at all like sprouts, but grown in a similar way and picked or more correctly, cut at a later stage of growth.
Sprouts are only the germinated seed, root stem and underdeveloped leaves.
So what is a microgreen? 
  • Microgreens are the mini-versions of the much larger green vegetable. 
  • Sprouts are also grown entirely in water and not actually planted. 
  • Microgreens are mostly planted in soil or a soil alternative like sphagnum moss, or coco peat. 
  • Although you can grow your microgreens on a special tray with water underneath. 
  • Plus you grow microgreens in light conditions with plenty of air circulation and not in a jar. 

You might be wondering why you’d want that?
What’s wrong with growing salad vegetables in the garden?
This might be more for the busy gardener who’s run out of space or time available to grow a full garden of vegetables.

So how do you grow Micro greens?
There are a couple of ways to grow Microgreens.
The first method is to grow your greens in soil like organic, potting mix, cocopeat, vermiculite, sieved compost or worm castings.
Use seedling trays or boxes and fill the tray with your selected soil mix 2 - 3 cm deep and moisten the mix.
Soak the seed overnight then sprinkle the seeds evenly on top of the mix and gently pat them down; then cover with 0.5 cm of mix.
Cover the tray with a lid or another inverted tray to help keep the seeds moist until they sprout.
Then water often using a sprayer.
Adding diluted organic nutrients e.g. kelp or compost tea to the sprayer will improve the nutrient levels in the microgreens.
Microgreens are usually harvested when there are four or more leaves. Cut the shoots just above ground level with scissors.

TIP:Many types of vegetable seeds as micro greens and will regrow and can be cut several times.
Afterwards the tray contents can be added to the compost heap.

The second way of growing your microgreens is using something called a Growing Tray.
This tray holds a reservoir of water and has holes in it so the plants can grow their roots down into the water.
You don’t even need soil, just a spray bottle of water and the seeds.
But you do need to remember to spray the seed, 2-3 times a day until the roots develop, then keep water reservoir topped up with fresh water until harvest a couple weeks later!
You can buy them in stores or via mail order and online.

  • Microgreens seed packet range includes 5 mixed packets, each containing 3 varieties typical to a regional cuisine: 
  • Flavours of the Mediterranean - Basil Italian Mix, Rocket and Sunflower 
  • Flavours of France - Sorrel, Chervil and Sunflower 
  • Flavours of Western Europe - Cress, Amaranth Red Garnet and Pea Morgan 
  • Favours of Eastern Europe - Kale Pink, Cabbage Red and Pea Morgan 
  • Flavours of the Orient - Mustard Ruby Streaks, Garland Chrysanthemum and Coriander 

TIP: One thing to keep in mind, the seeds used to grow microgreens are the same seeds that are used for full sized herbs, vegetables and greens.

So, If you want to use up that packet of Cabbage, Celery, Chard, Chervil, Coriander, Cress, Fennel, Kale, Mustard, Parsley, Radish and Sorrel, rather than throwing it out. Grow the seeds as microgreens.

TIP:Never use parsnips for micro greens as seedlings they’re apparently poisonous!

Coriander seed takes longer to germinate than other micro greens – up to three weeks.
Coriander takes longer because partly due to the tough outer coating of the seeds, preventing water from penetrating.
You need to break the seed coat to give it a hurry up by crush the seeds lightly then soak overnight to speed up germination and improve success.

Why are they good for You?

Just because they’re mini greens doesn’t mean they have a high concentration of nutrients or even a miracle food. No such luck.
So they have proportionally smaller amounts of the same nutrients that the full sized vegetable that they would’ve been has.
They are eaten as thin, delicate plants - as miniature variations on salad greens and herbs. They provide texture and colour when used as garnish, or exciting flavours when used as part of salad mixes.


Gerbera Garvinea
When I worked for a large seed and gardening supply company, I was often asked why Gerbera seed was so expensive, or Rudbeckia seed?
The reason was that some seed has to be hand collected and hand packed because it’s too large and irregular for seed packing machines.

Another reason is that seed is hard to come by of a particular species, or perhaps that year, it was contaminated by weevils, or the seed grower’s crop experienced fungal problems and failed.
Whatever the reason, the plant that’s featured today isn’t sold by seed anyway, because it’s a relatively new release and a fantastic variety of flower (Gerbera.)
I'm talking with the plant panel, Jeremy Critchley of and Karen Smith, editor of
Listen to this.

Florist Holland, a Gerbera breeding company started the breeding program over ten years ago.
Their aim was to improve the plant and it seems that they’ve done a marvellous job because Garvineas are winning awards around the world.

This new variety of Gerbera is nothing like the old school Gerbera, with it's multiple stems and long flowering period.
It’s always fun to try something new and buy a plant that you don’t know much about.
Can’t wait to get my hands on some Garvinea Gerberas as I’m sure some of you are too.
If you have any questions about Garvinea, or Jeremy or Karen why not write in to


In the Buttercup or Ranunculaceae, Delphiniums are also called Larkspur.
The delphinium name is derived from the Greek word for dolphin.
If you pick a single bloom from the tall spike on the plant, you’ll notice it looks like a leaping dolphin from the side.
The Delphinium flower’s message is protect yourself from the dangers of life so nothing stands in the way of your success.
If you want to grow your own Delphiniums, here are some tips.
Propagation Seeds – like to be chilled in-ground before germinating.
Root division (cutting root ball)
Mercedes has some zany tips for keeping the Delphinium stalks hydrated from when you buy them to when you pop them into the vase.
Tip 1: Fill the hollow stalks with water, then plug them up with cotton wool.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini of

Recorded live during the broadcast of Real World Gardener 13th December

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Roses and Sneaking A Peak Into A Winning Garden

What’s On The Show Today?

Which scented rose for your garden in Design Elements, a rundown of what produce to plant in summer in Vegetable Heroes, and a walk through a prize winning garden in this feature interview special plus, the king of hiding and sleeping in Talking Flowers?


Scented Roses That Don't Fail
Have you hankered after roses for your garden but think they’re too much work?
All that spraying, pruning and fertilising.

But gee, whizz, it still would be nice to have one or two?
You may have even discounted have a rose because of the climate you live in.
The modern hyrbid teas are martyrs to high humidity which brings with it all manner of diseases such as the dreaded powdery mildew.
we're moving away from the long stemmed roses that you might see on Valentine's Day.

Instead, we're suggesting some more old fashioned types that have parentage from China and Vietnam.
Here’s a selection to suit different climates.
Let’s find out.
I'm talking with Peter Nixon of Paradisus Design

Peter mentioned R. (sanguinea) chinensis ‘Miss Lowe’s Variety’ or Bengal Crimson
R. chinensis mutabilis
R. chinensis ‘One Thousand Lights’

Rosa General Schablikine
Lady Hillingdon, Monsieur Tillier, General Schablikine, General Gallieni, Mrs Dudley Cross, Duchesse de Brabant, Mrs. BR Cant, Niphetos, Jean Ducher, Lady Roberts, Papa Gontier, Safrano Alister Clark Rosa ‘Lorraine Lee’, Squatters Dream

If you have any questions about which rose to plant either for me or Peter, why not email us or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


What will you grow in your garden this summer?
Same as last year or do you have no idea?

Well here’s a rundown of what can be planted in the produce garden around Australia.

Just a little note; this is not a definitive guide and if you grow something year after year in summer that I don’t mention, why not write in or email me?

Subtropical districts which includes: South-east Qld & Northern NSW, can plant the following.

HERBS – plant basil, chives, coriander, fennel, gotu kola, heliotrope, lemongrass, mint, parsley, tarragon and winter savoury.

FRUIT & VEGETABLES – plant artichoke, beans, capsicum, celery, Chinese cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, melons, okra, onion, potato (tubers), rosella, silver beet, spring onion, squash, sweet corn, sweet potato and tomato.

Wet & Dry Tropical districts which includes: North Queensland, NT & WA

HERBS – plant basil, coriander, lemongrass, mint and tarragon.

FRUIT & VEGETABLES – plant artichoke, beetroot, capsicum, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, pumpkin, radish, shallots, spring onion and tomato.

Dry Inland zones which includes: Arid or Outback areas.

Take a load off because technically there’s no sowing or planting throughout summer due to hot and dry conditions.

But hey, maybe your growing something anyway.

Temperate Areas which includes: Sydney, coastal NSW & Victoria.

HERBS – plant basil, chives, coriander, fennel, gotu kola, heliotrope, lovage, mint, parsley and tarragon.

FRUIT & VEGETABLES – plant beans (dwarf and climbing), beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, capsicum, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chicory, chilli, Chinese cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, endive, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, okra, parsnip, potato (tubers), radish, rhubarb (crowns), shallots, silver beet, spring onion, sweet corn, sweet potato and zucchini.

Cool & Southern Tablelands which includes: Melbourne, Tasmania & cool highlands

HERBS – plant basil, chives, coriander, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon and thyme.

FRUIT & VEGETABLES – plant beans, beetroot, cabbage, capsicum, carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, English spinach, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, onion, parsnip, pumpkin, radish, silver beet, spring squash, swede, sweet corn, tomato, turnip and zucchini.

Mediterranean zones including: Adelaide & Perth.

HERBS – Keep picking the flowers of parsley and basil to prevent them bolting.

FRUIT & VEGETABLES – Plant tomatoes, zucchini and capsicum by the end of January. Spray apples and pears against codling moth.


Feature Interview

Prize Winning Garden in the Large Garden category of Ryde Spring Garden Competition.
Have you ever wonder what makes a prize winning garden?

Recently I was master of ceremonies for the gala awards night for a spring garden competition and boy, there were plenty of prize winning gardens.
However, I was invited to one to take a stroll.
Let’s listen in to the conversation.
I'm talking with Anne Johnsons’ garden which won best large garden in the Ryde Spring Garden competition. Anne is of course an avid gardener

As you can see from the photos, the garden is really stuffed with plants that are lovingly tended.
Begonia metallica is a standout feature in Anne's garden.
 Begonias are easy care and Anne religiously gives them a hard prune every Autumn to achieve such a magnificent shape of Begonia metallica.
Anne has added personal touches everywhere with whimsical pot features and ornaments.

If you have any questions about Anne’s garden either for me or Anne why not write in to


King Protea  Protea cynaroides
Protea flowers are native to the southern hemisphere, primarily Australia and South Africa, but can also be found in Central Africa, Central and South America, and southeast Asia.
Protea is a genus of flowers from the Proteaceae family. One of the oldest families on earth dating back 300 million years.

Why the cynaroides? Because the centre of the flower looks like an artichoke. Artichokes belong to the genus Cynara.
Protea whas named after Proteus, son of the Greek God Poseidon, was known for his wisdom, but he was not always eager to share his thoughts and knowledge. It seems Proteus preferred to while away the day sleeping in the summer sun. To avoid detection, he changed his appearance and shape frequently. The Protea flower was named after Proteus due its many shapes and colours.
Some Growing Tips
Tip: Prune only the flowered stems of proteas – un-flowered stems are next season’s blooms.

Mulch: Proteas dislike root disturbance, so don’t dig around them. Apply a leaf or bark mulch around the drip line (away from the trunk) and pull out any weeds by hand.
I'm talking with floral therapist Mercedes Sarmini of
Recorded on Facebook live during broadcast of Real World Gardener.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Raingardens, Chives and Peonies to Delight You.

What’s On The Show Today?

Creating raingardens in Design Elements, a veggie that was once used to tell fortunes in Vegetable Heroes, finding out about Biodyanamics for the soil in Backyard Biodynamics segment, and which flower is an omen of good fortune in Talking Flowers?


Creating Rain Gardens
Getting a lot of rain lately or not?
Maybe you need a rain garden but it’s not what you think.
We’re not creating rain, but using the rain to help us grow plants without that bit of the garden turning into a quagmire or just being washed away.
So how do we do that?

Let’s find out how
I'm talking with Peter Nixon of Paradisus Design

So you know now that raingardens are designed to temporarily hold and soak in rain water runoff that flows from roofs, driveways, patios or lawns.
If you have a water pooling problem you have got to create a course for the water to go.
Of course you cannot divert the water onto neighbouring properties so the best solution is to create that rain garden.
When the garden fills up with water, gravity the pulls the water into a dispersion pit at the terminal end of the garden.
What you need to do, ( Peter explains in the podcast) but briefly, is to excavate a trench to 850cm - 1.2 metres at the low point.
The trench needs to have sloping sides.
Put in your slotted PVC ag pipe then cover with two layers of GEO fabric.
On top of that add riverstones.
What ever you do, DON'T cut the geo fabric.
You can plant up with plants that can cope with dryness and temporary inundation such as Eleiga, Restios, Alocasias and Dwarf Papyrus.
Did you know though that rain gardens are efficient in removing up to 90% of nutrients and chemicals and up to 80% of sediments from the rainwater runoff.?

If you have any questions about raingardens either for me or Peter, why not email us or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


Allium schoenoprasum-Chives
Chives are botanically Allium schoenoprasum in the Lilliaceae family, that includes, Garlic, Leeks and Shallots.
The Botanical name means rush leeks, and chives are sometimes called them, but I bet you’ve only heard them called chives.
Chinese are the first to have used chives from around 3000 years B.C.
Romanian Gypsies have used chives in fortune telling.
Folklore would have you believe that you should hang bunches of dried chives around your house to ward off disease and evil.
Also the Romans thought that chives could relieve the pain from sunburn or a sore throat.
The Romans also wrongly believed that eating chives would increase blood pressure and acted as a diuretic. Totally untrue.

The Chive plant is a hardy perennial. Chives have round, grass-like leaves with a hollow stem, and pretty mauve pompom flowers in summer and autumn.

The bulbs grow very close together in dense tufts or clusters, and are elongated looking, with white, rather firm sheaths.

There are two chive look-alikes that are also grown:

Garlic chives, sometimes known as Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum), and society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea). The leaves of both species are flat rather than tubular, but they’re grown in the same way as chives and can be substituted for them in any recipe that calls for chives.

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) apart from having larger, flatter leaves have a milder garlic flavour. Garlic chive flowers are white but, look like common chives,

When to Sow
All chives can be grown from seeds just as easily and are great for growing in pots.

It's a good idea to remove the flowers before they go to seed because the leaves will have a better flavour if the flowers are picked before they’re fully developed. but and I’ll tell you about using the flowers a little later on,

In tropical areas sow chives between April and July, in temperate zones, you have September through to May, in arid zones, July through to March, cold districts have September through to April and sub-tropical areas win the jackpot by being able to grow Chives all year round.

In cold climates, chives will die right back in winter but, but because the plants are perennial they will live for a number of years.

New leaves will shoot up in spring.

Graham, cool climate gardener has written in to say that his chives are hardly affected by frost and after drying to straw in winter, come back fresh and green.

Germinating Chive seeds have been problematic to some, and when I worked at Yates, they weren’t on the most troublesome list.

But if you do have trouble germinating chive seeds, here's what you can do.

After you lightly sown the seeds onto a punnet, wrap the seedling punnet with a clear plastic bag, ( a recycled one would be good), blow it up like a balloon and tie off with a rubber band. That’s my cheap method of a mini-green house.

Usually works for most seeds that I’m having trouble with. Chive seeds germinate best when the soil temperature is in the low 20’s.

What Chives Need to Grow.
  • Chives will grow in any well drained ordinary garden soil or in a pot filled with a good quality premium potting mix. 
  • The plants need at least half a day's sun light. Feed the plants with a liquid fertiliser, every couple of weeks to keep them growing strongly. 
  • Once or twice a year spread some slow release or organic fertiliser around the base of the plants. 
  • You might think that Chives, are drought tolerant and are have a bit hardy in the garden but that’s not the case. 
  • Water your chives regularly because they have a shallow root system and some generous mulching won’t go astray either. 
  • The recent hot spell in my district saw the chives I had growing in full sun getting somewhat brown and crispy. 
  • Make sure you protect the young leaves from snails and slugs and watch. for pests such as aphids. 
  • Although I’ve never known my chives plants to be bothered by anything at all. 
  • Keep in mind, never spray your edible herbs with chemicals. 
  • If you do get aphid attack or something similar just wipe the leaves with soapy water. 
How Best to Harvest Your Chives.

The best and really only way to pick chives is to just cut leaves from outside of the clump with a pair of sharp scissors.

Like most plants the flavour of chives will always taste better if they are picked just before you are going to use them.
Snip the leaves into smaller sections then sprinkle onto soups, eggdishes or salads.
Even though you can easily grow chives from seed, they’re usually propagated by dividing the clumps in spring or autumn for most districts.

In places like Adelaide for example, you can divide the clumps in late winter.

In all areas, replant them straight away into the garden or pots.
When you divide the clumps, leave about six little bulbs together in a tiny clump, which will spread to a fine clump by the end of the year.
Set the clumps about 20 – 30 cm apart..

Dividing your chives this way is the best option for a quick return.

The unopened flower buds of both types of chives can be used in stir fries, or break up the flower heads and use them in salads or as a garnish for potato, pasta or rice salad.

The Chive contains a pungent volatile oil, rich in sulphur, which is in all of the Onion tribe giving them that distinctive smell and taste.

Why is it good for you?
Chives are an excellent salt substitute and a perfect aid for those on a low fat, salt restricted diet. Chives contains vitamins A, B6, C and K. Several minerals are also found including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium and zinc.
Chives are also a good source of folic acid and dietary fibre.

Backyard Biodyanamics

Biodynamic Composting
Have you ever asked the question, “why don’t my plants grow?” or why is my neighbour/friend/relative’s garden so much more healthy than mine?
Usually the answer lies in the health of the soil.
How do we know if soil is healthy?

It’s back to that question of why won’t my plants grow.
Healthy soil will have healthy growing plants and we need compost to make healthy soil.
Most gardeners will either have a compost heap or at least know the basics of making a compost heap.
Building a compost heap the Biodynamic way is something else.

Let’s find out how it's different to making regular compost.
PLAY: Biodynamic Composting 29th November 2017

I'm talking with  Dianne Watkin, Principal of Biodynamics Sydney and an avid gardener.
If you want to know more or if you have any questions about Biodynamic preparations either for me or Dianne, why not write in to


There are a couple of types of Peony.

There are many species and cultivated varieties of peonies but they are broadly divided into two groups in the garden:
  • tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa Hybrids), which are shrubby plants not trees that do not die down below ground in winter
  • herbaceous peonies (Paeonia lactiflora), smaller growing plants that do die down to below ground in winter and reshoot in spring.
Mercedes is talking about the herbaceous peonies in this segment.
All peonies need cool climates and are best grown only in the colder parts of Australia including mountain districts, parts of Victoria and Tasmania.

  • Peony roses are strong growing perennials that flower late spring to early summer. They make beautiful cut flowers and last well in a vase. Prefers a well drained position in full sunlight. Plants will die down over Winter and re-grow each year forming a leafy clump. Spread lime towards the end of flowering to improve root development and improve flowers for the following year.

The best time to buy Peonies is when they're supplied as bare rooted plants.
Meaning of Peony.
One legend has it that the peony is named after Paeon, a physician to the gods, who received the flower on Mount Olympus from the mother of Apollo. And another tells the story of that same physician who was "saved" from the fate of dying as other mortals by being turned into the flower we know today as the peony.

I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini of

Recording live during Real World Gardener radio broadcast. (recording not complete.)