Saturday, 10 November 2018

Mirror, Mirror in The Garden, No To Plastic and Ethylene with Cut Flowers

What’s on the show today?

Find out ways to reduce how much plastic you use in the Good Earth.; grow this calming herb in Vegetable Heroes; part 4 of ‘gardening in tight spaces in Design Elements, plus which flowers should not be placed near your fruit bowl in the Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.


Plastic Free Living
You may be aware that plastic is bad for the environment but do you know exactly how?
Perhaps you’re already using drink bottles that are BPA free, but did you know that BPA is in all soft plastics?
  • The ocean may look calming and inviting, but did you know that any plastics that make it to the ocean breakdown into plastic microbeads?
  • These microbeads are ingested by plankton and in turn are eaten by fish.
  • It's even very likely that the fish you are about to eat contains plastic microbeads.
  • Let’s find out what we can use instead? 
I'm speaking with Margaret Mossakowska of 

Check out repair cafes, recycle stuff, don’t add to landfill. 
Margaret says, rethink what you are buying
Plastic pollution
Replace you worn out plastic containers with glass ones because cheeses, meats and any food that has more than 4% fats should be stored in glass. 
Why? because those plastic containers do contain BPA
One thirds of plastics are used for packaging such as food but you can avoid buying veggies that are wrapped in plastic, they don’t need it.
Bring your own container to get meat, fish, cheese etc.
Don’t take no for an answer, it’s not illegal.

If you have any questions, either for me or for Margaret, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis
Lemon balm is scientifically Melissa officinalis, but it’s also known as balm, common balm, or balm mint.
What is Lemon Balm?
Lemon balm, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the mint family; Lamiaceae, and is native to south-central Europe, and the Mediterranean region.

Did you know that Lemon Balm has been used for over 2,000 years?
Another fact is that Lemon balm has white flowers that attract bees, and because of that, the genus name is Melissa which is Greek for 'honey bee'.

You may not know that the ancient Greeks believed that if you put a few sprigs of lemon balm in an empty hive, it would attract a swarm of bees, or if you planted some lemon balm near a beehive, the bees would never go away.
Officinalis of course means used in medicine and in the 11th century a Persian physician and philosopher named Avicenna recommended the use of lemon balm in treating depression and melancholy.
Would you believe that according to the London Dispensary (1696) lemon balm in wine could even prevent baldness?
What does it look like?
It’s a fairly low to medium growing herb not growing more than 50 cm tall and being in the mint family, it has square stems.
You only need one plant because it spreads out quite a bit once it gets going, up to 1 ½ metres or more.
Lemon Balm Flower photo Jess Beehouse

Lemon balm leaves have a sweet lemon scent, and because it’s related to mint the leaves look very much like the leaves of common mint.
Those flowers that I mentioned show up during summer, and are full of nectar.
Interestingly although over 100 chemicals have been identified in Melissa officinalis, the main flavour comes from just two essential oils: oil of citral (neral and geranial), and citronellal, with a hint of linalool, geraniol and β-caryophyllene-oxide (1,90).
Why grow lemon Balm?
One reason to grow it is that sachets made with Lemon Balm and put under your pillow or near the bed are supposed to give you a refreshing, relaxing sleep.
Lemon balm seeds are fairly easy to germinate and need light and at least 20°C 
Seeds will germinate in 10 – 14 days and are best started off in a punnet.
TIP:The seeds don’t like being overly wet so after the first watering, let them alone but not completely dry out.
Lemon balm is probably one of the easiest herbs to grow and is ideal for beginners.
Lemon balm grows well in both sun and shade, soils of a wide pH, and either dry or damp conditions.
In the past I’ve said that lemon balm grows in clumps and doesn’t spread vegetatively like mint does, that is putting down roots where the stems touch the ground or through underground rhizomes, because it does.
It’s not as hard as mint to pull out though, but you have to keep on top of it as it will cover all your low growing plants and out compete other ground covers like native violets.
Where it grows
In cool temperate zones, the stems of the plant die off at the start of the winter, but shoot up again in spring.
Lemon balm doesn’t like temperatures much below 50 C so in cool temperate climates you may lose your plant unless you put some into a pot for replanting next Spring.
You could also just put some protective mulch over the spot when it dies down as long as you remember what you have growing there.
Lemon balm can also be propagated by dividing the rootstock in Spring or Autumn and planting straight into the ground after doing this.
How to use lemon balm?
The best time to pick leaves for drying is before it flowers.
Lemon Balm in Tea
  • However, you can pick leaves for use lots of ways from flavouring vinegars, teas, especially Earl Grey or Green Tea, marinades, dressings, jams and jellies, stuffings and sauces to using it chopped with fish and mushroom dishes or mixed fresh with soft cheeses.
  • Lemon balm complements many fruits, including honeydew, rockmelon, pineapple, apples and pears.
  • What about lemon balm with ginger in scones?
  • That’s the leaves, but the flowers can also be used as a garnish in fruit salads, drinks or with rice
  • Did you know that in the commercial food industry, lemon balm oil and extract are used to flavor alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, confectionary, baked goods, gelatin, and puddings?
  • Lemon balm is also an ingredient in liqueurs like Benedictine and Chartreuse.

Why is it good for you?
Lemon balm tea is good for relieving mild headaches and possibly helping with memory as well.
The crushed leaves when rubbed on the skin can be used as an insect repellant.
Lemon balm also has anti-oxidant and calming or mild sedative properties.
There is also some link to memory or attention but further research is needed on that one.
If you have any questions about Lemon Balm, JUST EMAIL ME

Gardening in Tight Spaces part 4: Mirror, Mirror
The thing with small spaces is that you can take it all in with one glance and for some gardeners, it’s just a tad boring.
What are the tricks then that you can use to make your garden look bigger and so more interesting?
Let’s find out what it’s all about.
I'm talking with Peter Nixon, garden designer and director of Paradisus garden design.
PLAY: Gardening in tight spaces part 4_24th October 2018

Mirror mirror on the wall, but wait it’s on the fence or behind some plants.
Yes, outdoor mirrors can make your small space look bigger but if you place it flat on the fence you may be just looking at a reflection of roof tiles.
Peter suggests you need to angle it somehow depending on whether or not your "step out' from the back door steps down, steps up or is completely flat.

Even though Peter says you need to use toughened glass, I’m an advocate for the found mirror.
Why not hang it up and if it wears out in 3 months, so be it, you’ll find another one.

If you have any questions about gardening in tight spaces or have a suggestion either for me or for Peter why not write in or email me at :


Ethylene and Cut Flowers

How many times have you placed some unripe fruit in a brown paper bag with say a banana or ripe apple?
Why are you doing this exactly?
Because the ethylene gas releases from the ripe fruit, speeds up the ripening process of the unripe fruit.
You don’t even have to place them in a paper bag because in the same fruit bowl, the process will happen, just a bit slower.
Guess what, flowers go off faster next to the fruit bowl.

We’ve mentioned it before in Talking Flowers, but some flowers are more sensitive than others don’t you know?

  • By the way, Ethylene molecules are small enough to migrate through plastic and cardboard, so just closing up the box of fruit in the fridge doesn’t contain the gas.
  • Did you know that Ethylene is a stress hormone and it is released in response to rough handling, dehydration, chill damage and disease ?
  • But where does it come from?
  • There's two ways: internally — in fruits, flowers and veggies as a stress response; and externally — from rotting green trash, car exhaust, air pollution, cigarette smoke, inefficient space heaters, propane forklifts and/or floor polishers.
  • Why I mention the forklifts, because maybe they’ve got them at flower markets?
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini from
Recorded live during studio broadcast of Real World Gardener show at 2RRR 88.5 fm

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Wilting, Weeds and Potted Gardening

What’s on the show today?

Why are those plants wilting even though you’ve watered them? Find out in Plant Doctor. Would you eat the weeds in your backyard we ask in Vegetable Heroes? Gardening in pots is the topic for part 3 of ‘gardening in tight spaces” in Design Element.


Bacterial Wilt 
It seems like all kinds of exotic or unusual diseases attack our produce garden and this one’s no exception.
There you are, religiously watering everyday, making sure the soil’s moist, apply the compost and mulches
Bacterial Wilt of Cucumber
Then without explanation or warning, leaves start to wither or wilt at random and sooner rather than later, your whole plant dies.
Let’s find out what can be done about this problem.
I'm talking with Steve Falcioni from

The bacterial wilt can be the result of fungus, bacteria or a virus that is spread via the soil.
Bacterial wilts largely affect plants in the Solanaceae family.
Bacterial Wilt of Pepper
  • It starts off with the plant growing really well, but then over a few days, bit by bit, leaves start to wilt, then the whole plant dies.
  • On examining the stem, you'll find that it's brown inside.
  • That's because the bacteria has damaged the roots, making uptake of water and nutrients very difficult.
 In this case it's a soil borne bacteria.
The damage is done to the roots which then can’t absorb enough water, or carry the water through the plant tissue, so then you get that wilting effect. 
The problem could have been transmitted via your footwear, garden tools, or plants bought in from another source.
Or it could have already been in your soil but if the soil isn't treated well, the bacteria numbers have built up and now can affect your plants.
Pull the affected plant out, and don’t plant the same type of plant in that same spot. 
Leave that spot fallow for 3 years or plant a green manure crop .
If you have any questions about chives, either for me or for Ian, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Eat Those Weeds.
What weeds are popping up in your garden right now?
As agriculture land becomes a more rare commodity, should we consider harvesting and eating weeds?
apparently there’s a movement afoot that thinks just that,so I thought I’d explore what are the does and don’ts of eating weed plants.
After all, how hard is it to grow them right?
Here are some points to think about first.
  • Did you know that many common weeds are edible, and some are more nutritious than store-bought greens?
  • But you need to do your research before you go hunting for weeds in your garden, nature strip or nearest park.
  • Most importantly, never eat anything you cannot positively identify.

Got some dandelions, for example?
Dandelion flower and seedhead

The yellow petals and young leaves can be used in salads, and the roots can be used as a coffee substitute.
From an article by Teagan Osborne on the ABC website, Teagan spoke to a Sydney-based nutritionist Catherine Saxelby who said when compared with store-bought greens such as bok choy, rocket, basil, and parsley, many edible weeds were actually higher in important vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Ms Saxelby said most edible weeds were high in phytonutrients and phytochemicals such as beta-carotene that help protect the body against disease, as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, and minerals such as potassium.
"Because they haven't been bred the way commercial crops have been bred, they actually do seem to have higher concentrations of their natural vitamins, and minerals and phytonutrients," she said.
These days it’s common knowledge that fruits and vegetables are bred for less bitterness, greater yield, ease of transport and bigger leaves.
"You never got that with the wild greens like dandelion and chickweed and purslane, which have just been left to grow themselves," she said.
"So … not only are they free, and they seem to have a greater taste, a stronger more alive taste, they actually appear to be higher in certain nutrients."
But edible weeds do have some nutritional drawbacks.
Many wild leafy greens, like the sorrel varieties and purslane, have high concentrations of oxalic acid, which has been linked to kidney stones and is poisonous in very large amounts.
Oxalic acid is also present in store-bought foods including almonds, spinach, bananas and tea.
"So you can't avoid it. But what you want to avoid is eating large amounts of it in one go.
"[For example] if you ate a cup full of sorrel I would think that would be a very large quantity … half a cup of raw sorrel for your first time would be a good way to start."
A growing interest in weed foraging has seen "edible weeds tours" spring up in many major Australian cities.
How can you go about making sure you’re getting the right weeds?

  • You could try reading a book on edible weeds, taking an edible weeds tour or studying reputable online sources are good places to start.
  • There are several Australian books on the subject, including a handbook by Melbournites Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland.
  • Although most of the plants that we call weeds, especially the annuals, are edible … there are some very toxic plants.
  • It can’t be said enough that it's really important to know beyond reasonable doubt that what you're about to eat is what you think it is and … to know that it's actually considered edible.
  • The other thing to be aware of is the environment your weeds have come from.
  • You need to consider whether the area you're picking in is likely to be polluted and also whether the plants may have been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.
  • In terms of not eating things that have been sprayed, I think the safest place to eat plants from is your own backyard.
  • To give you just a small taste of how many edible weeds are out there, here are
Two of the easiest to identify
What next and Why are they good for You?
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is probably one of the most common and recognisable varieties of edible weeds and it's also very versatile.
Dandelion is a perennial plant with jagged, bright green leaves to 30cm long, a hollow flower stem to 30cm and one terminal yellow daisy.
Dandelions are good source of essential vitamins.
The leaves, flowers and roots of the dandelion are all edible.
The yellow petals from the dandelion flower and the leaves can be eaten in salad, and the leaves can also be cooked and eaten like spinach.
The roots of the plant can also be dry-baked and used as a coffee substitute.
The leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium and iron.
Another easy one.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is often popping out at this time of year.
Did you know that Chickweed can be cooked or eaten as a salad vegetable?
It's a little, delicate, herbaceous winter green, also rich in vitamins A, B and C, and a good source of Omega 6 fatty acid.
It can be cooked like spinach or used as a salad green, and since ancient times it has been used to treat itchy skin conditions as a topical ointment or a poultice.
There’s a whole lot of others like clover, Fat Hen, Crowsfoot Grass, Wild fennel, Cats Ear or Flat Weed, and Docks.
You just have to be prepared to look them up to make sure you’re getting the right thing before you tuck into them.

Gardening in Tight Spaces part 3: pots
Have you run out of room in your garden or is your garden just too small to do much with?
Never fear, gardening in pots as a great alternative and it doesn’t have to be that hard or look ugly if you choose the right combinations.
There is that initial outlay, but if you choose carefully, your pots will last for years, and not end up cracked and broken.

Let’s find out what it’s all about.
I'm talking with Peter Nixon, garden designer and director of Paradisus garden design.

Peter suggests if you want decorative or ornamental plants, why not go for something in the Bromeliad family, especially the large Alcantareas.

Alcantarea heloisae

  •   Alcantareas are sun hardy, such as A. heloisae, A. patriae, A exentensa, A. Glaziouana. 
  • All of these have plasticky hard leaves that put up with harsh exposure. 
  • Then there’s Kalanchoe orgyalis, known as Copper Spoons, or K. hildebrandii, known as silver spoons. 
  • Also, Kalanchoe millottii, and K. blossfeldiana. 
  • You could also choose Aloes but be mindful of the summer heat for these guys. 
  • Finally, the cardboard plant, or Zamia furfuracea. 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Chillin with Chives, Perilla and Flowers Protea and Waratah

What’s on the show today?

Expert tips about Chives in Spice it Up with Ian Hemphill from herbies spices. Something a bit lemony and a bit minty that you can grow in Vegetable Heroes. What is the soil food web with editor of PIP magazine, Robyn Rosenfeldt from Pambula.
And, is there a difference to look after native Australian flower and South African flowers in the Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.?


There’s no end of uses to his herb which is will loved by chefs.
What would a baked potato with sour cream be without it?
What would instant noodles and packet soups be without the freeze-dried version?
Something less than ordinary. 
But did you know there were two types?
Onion chives and garlic chives, but what's the difference?
Let’s find out what it is.
I'm talking with Ian Hemphill from

The leaves of onion chives are hollow and round, think "O" for onions. 
The leaves of garlic chives are flat.
Onion chives
You may not find them identified as such in your garden centre, but now you know what to look for.
Also, chives are one of the few herbs that dry quite effectively, but they are commercially freeze dried.
Freeze drying means the moisture is removed very rapidly by placing the chives in a special pressurised chamber. The water is taken from the chive leaves; the liquid goes straight to the gaseous state.
Ian says if you get good quality freeze dried chives, it’s very hard to tell the difference between that and the fresh ones!
Remember, when the chive clump gets to about 20cm, that’s the time to divide them up.
If you have any questions about chives, either for me or for Ian, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Perilla (Perilla frutescens) is also called Beefsteak plant, Chinese Basil and Purple Mint
Perilla is an annual herb that belongs in the Mint or Lamiaceae family and originates in China and Central Asia.
But did you know that Perilla has some amazing properties that will surprise you?
You’ll be amazed to hear that one of the components of the volatile oil extracted from perilla, Perilla-aldehyde, can be made into a sweetener, said to be 2000 times sweeter than sugar, with very low kilojoules.

This sweetener has been used as a substitute for maple sugar or licorice in processed foods.
Not only that amazing fact but analysis of perilla’s anti-microbial properties, has shown it to have over one thousand times the strength of synthetic food preservatives.
Did you know that Perilla is grown as an oil seed crop from Japan to northern India?
The oil makes up to 51% of the seed’s weight.
The oil is used not just used in cooking as you might use linseed oil, but it’s also got industrial applications such as in paint, printing, and paper manufacture.
Perilla contains a natural red pigment called shisonin which is used in food processing as a colourant.
So what is Perilla then?
Perilla is a fast growing annual plant that grows to around  50cm to 1m tall.
Perilla comes in several varieties and the leaf size and shape look a lot like unpatterned coleus or large a leafed Basil plant.
There is also a frilly, purple-leafed variety that’s quite ornamental as well as being used in cooking.

  • If you saw the purple variety you might think that the leaves are a bit similar to Beefsteak plant or Iresine herbstii.

  • Perilla the plant itself has two lipped flowers in either white, pink or lavender-purple, that grow in the leaf axils and terminal spikes.
  • The plant has a very bushy canopy of opposite leaves on square stems, like all Mint family plants.
  • Leaves are oval shaped to 15cm long, and are aromatic with a fresh flavour similar to lemon and mint.

Perilla flowers
Perilla will grow from seed but needs cool conditions and light to germinate.
Before sowing, garden suppliers recommend that you place the perilla seeds into a bowl or glass that contains a couple of cm’s of water.
Soak the seeds overnight or for 12 hours.
Sprinkle the seed where it is to grow in autumn or in early to late spring’
Because Perilla is a herb, you could grow this in a tub or pot if you live in colder districts.
For growing Perilla pick a sunny and well-drained spot with some afternoon shade if the summers are hot.
Add plenty of organic material to the soil and keep it moist.
In temperate climates, the plant is self-sowing, but the seeds aren’t viable after long storage, and germination rates are low after a year.
However if you don’t want it to self-seed, cut off the flower spikes as they appear.
This will also increase the life of the plant.
There are a couple of companies that sell the seeds either listed under Salad Greens or Asian Vegetables.
I have found two varieties that you can buy, under Salad Greens, there is Perilla Green  Leaves and flower stalks eaten raw, or with tempura, leaves have a deep green colour and Perilla Red (Crispa) Leaves and flower stalks eaten raw, or with tempura, with a deep red colour and pleasing aroma.
Sow both of these in late spring.
  • If you can’t get the seed but have some at your local fruit and veg store, here’s a way to get some plants.
  • I found this on a blog. Maki says she grew her Chinese variety from cuttings from ones bought at an Asian grocers.
  • Just pop some in a glass of water and they should strike. Easy peasy.
How Do You Use It In Cooking?
Apparently Perilla plants are usually divided into 'red' or 'green' categories because they have somewhat different uses.
Purple Perilla
Red/purple perilla is used as a red or pink food colouring, for pickling fruit and vegetables, especially preserved ginger and pickled sour plums, and as a dried powder to be used as a side dish with rice, as an ingredient in cake mixes and as a flavouring in beverages.
Green Perilla
Green Perilla is used as a sweet-spicy flavouring for oriental dishes such as stir-fries, with raw fish and sliced cucumber, in vegetable dishes, rice and soups and goes well with sweet potato.
The Japanese often eat the fresh leaves with sashimi (sliced raw fish) or cut them into thin strips in salads, spaghetti, and meat and fish dishes.
It is also used as a savoury herb in a variety of dishes, even as a pizza topping (initially it was used in place of basil)
The seeds of perilla are used to make oil, and to flavour foods, especially pickles.
 Seeds (called egoma) can be used on baked goods, like sesame seeds. The flowerheads are also used as a condiment.
You may even be able to order in some Perilla herb from your garden centre, as they certainly sell small plants online.
A little hard to get I know, but sometimes, you can be lucky and you’ll be rewarded with this amazing plant.
Why is it good for you?
Perilla leaves are high in the minerals calcium, iron, and potassium, rich in fibre and riboflavin, and very high in vitamins A and C.
Perilla has anti-inflammatory properties, and is thought to help preserve other foods.
That was your vegetable hero for today.


Australian Native Cut Flowers vs South African Native Cut Flowers
A lot of customers to florists shops ask for a bunch of Australian native flowers, then point to some King Proteas in the shop, saying, " yeah, some of those."
Of course they're surprised to learn that the King Protea is from South Africa.
Sure, Australia was once connected to Africa millions of years ago when it was still Gondwana, but there's no reason to be confused.
King Protea
The reason some people think that the King Protea is an Australian flowers is possibly because both the Proteas, Waratahs, Banksias, Grevilleas, Leucondendrons reside in the same family, namely Proteaceae, and
that causes confusion?
In any case, time to learn how to look after some of these hard stemmed flowers.
  • Never leave fresh flowers in a hot car.
  • Recut the stem ends neatly with sharp secateurs, removing the bottom 3 cm.
  • Prepare your vase or container: make sure it is clean.
  • Add fresh clean filtered water but NOT flower food to these flowers
  • Check every day, as your flowers can use a lot of water.
  • If cut-flower food is not used, change the water at least every second day.
  •  Do not display your flowers in areas that are exposed to full sun, draughts or high temperatures.
  • Keep as cool as possible without freezing.
I'm speaking with floral Therapist, Mercedes Sarmini.from

Video recorded during live broadcast of Real World Gardener show at 2RRR 88.5 fm in Sydney

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Expert Hedging, Rosella Tea and Tropical Flowers

What’s on the show today?

Expert hedging tips in Tool Time, sharp and tart, sweetness you can grow in Vegetable Heroes. Part 2 of gardening in tight spaces in Design Elements, and flowers that hate the cool-room in the Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.


Expert Hedging
Chances are you have a hedge in your garden, maybe to hide the back fence or just for show.
Hedges come in sizes and shapes and even vary in the colour of their leaves.

Chosen carefully hedges don’t need that much maintenance in the form of pruning or clipping or even disease control.
Perhaps you’ve let it go over the years, and now it’s that bit too high to manage easily making you dread having to tackle it.
Let’s find out how to get the hedge back into shape.
I'm talking with Tony Mattson General Manager of

Today’s episode was all about bringing that 3-4 metre high hedge back to a more manageable height, starting with the top first and only lightly pruning the front.
Tony's expert hedger, Simon was tackling a lilly pilly, Acmena smithii minor "Goodbye Neighbour," and Murraya.
Plumbago and Muehlenbeckia hedge
Recommendation:Simon's recommendation was to hard prune hedges only in March-April, and August-September.
Each time you
You will need to use long handled (1.2m shears) as well as normal sized hedge shears.
Also, a pair of secateurs to cuts some of the thicker stems that are too hard for the hedge shears.
BIG TIP: cut or trim the hedge back, do it in stages, that is , a bit deeper each prune, otherwise you risk losing the hedge or getting a lot of dieback. 
You might start off with cutting the top back 1/2 metre in the first stage, wait a month, then come back and cut a bit deeper .
At this point, only lightly prune the front of the hedge 5-8 cm leaving lots of new growth.

If you have any questions about hedge pruning either for me or for Tony why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Rosella (or sometimes known as Roselle plant.)
Botanically-Hibiscus sabdariffa.
Being a hibiscus it belongs to the Malvaceae family of plants that mostly come from tropical Africa.
Did you know that in 1892, there were 2 factories producing rosella jam in Queensland, Australia, and they were even exporting big quantities to Europe? Didn’t last though finishing up around the early 1900’s
Where does it grow in Australia?
Rosella grows in a wide variety of climates because it’s very adaptable, possibly weedy even.
It grows especially well in dry climates right through to tropical climates.
The only drawback is that the growing season is 5 months, so you need to start this weekend.
Why grow Rosella plants?
Well the Rosella plant looks nice with its green leaves that have red stems and red veins and the flowers are deep pink hibiscus like; but the fleshy red calyx-about the size of a shot glass is the part underneath the flower.
Rosella calyx
This calyx is excellent in making jams, sauces, cordials, in fact it’s the main ingredient in a herbal tea called Red Zinger.
Botanical Bite:If you were wondering what a calyx is (calyces-plural),  its just the collection of sepals behind the petals of a flower.
Sepals in most flowering plants are leafy and green, that make up the outer protective covering of a flower bud. Think of a rosebud as an example.
Germinating Rosella Seeds
Rosella seed is a little hard to find unless you look in seed saver networks, or organic growers, certainly you’ll find them at organic markets where there is a seed stand.
Nurseries will have seedlings in late spring early summer if they carry unusual plants.
Seeds remain viable for a good long time but soak the small hard triangular seeds in warm water to help speed up germination.

Don’t drown them, just a saucer of water overnight will do.
Rosellas need a very warm soil to germinate, preferably over 25°C.
In tropical areas, they sow the Rosella seed in early spring.
In the Northern Territory the seed is sown during the early wet season as Rosella is a long day-length plant and needs 12–12 ½ hours of daylight to flower.
In NSW areas and more southern areas of Australia this would be as late as October early November outside.
Some years the soil might take even longer to warm up.
So gardeners in cooler areas need to start seed indoors using a small bottom-heat unit, or the top of the water heater.
Cover the seed with 12mm of fine soil or seed raising mix.
Rosella plants begin to crop when they’re 3 months old.
I’ve read that 3-4 plants will give you enough fruit to make jam or tea, but I’m not sure how much jam and tea that might be, so you could trial it with just a couple of plants because they take a bit of room.
Where to Put It?
Too much for the veggie garden so go for the flower bed or flower pot.
Now it grows to 1 ½  metres so a big pot will be good.
There is more than one flush of seed pods, but the trick is to remove the first flush because the second is much bigger and better..

When to harvest?
You’ll know the Rosella bud is ready when it easily come away from the bush, usually 3 weeks after the flowers have finished when the pod is 2-3 cms across.
Keep them well watered but it must drain away reasonably quickly because
Tip: Rosella plants are prone to root rot
Roselle plants are weedy in the Northern Territory and Western Australia-but aren’t a problem anywhere else.
If you are going to go for growing this plant, here’s a tip:
When the fruits are about the size of a walnut, about 20 days after flowering, you need to separate the seeds from the inflated and ripened outer fleshy casings or the calyces- or fleshy part.
The best way to prepare Rosella fruit is firstly by washing it, then making an incision around the tough base of the calyx below the bracts to free and remove it with the seed capsule attached.
The calyces are then ready to be used in jams or teas or whatever.
 They may even be chopped and added to fruit salads.
Use an apple corer-from kitchen shops.
By the way the young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable.
To make Rosella tea-

The dried red calyx is used for tea and it is an important ingredient in the commercial Red Zinger, Hibiscus and Fruit teas.
The tea is very similar in flavour to rose hips and high in vitamin C.
To make it, strip off the red calyx (the fleshy cover surrounding the seed pod) and dry it in a solar drier or a slow oven until crisp.
Only two small pieces are needed per cup.
Try mixing it with dried lemongrass or lemon verbena and dried organic orange peel  for a wonderful herb tea that is also good chilled.
If you want to make Roselle jam or cordial, go to my website for the link to the recipes.
Why is it good for you?
Rosella hips contain a very good source of Vitamin C, and is rich in Calcium and Magnesium. vitamin A, and amino acids.
Also Rosella is rich in anthocyanins , essential minerals and vitamins.
Roselle is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium, and is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamins B1 and B2, Niacin, Iron and Potassium.
Anthocyanins are water-soluble flavonoid pigments, which are responsible for the red, blue and purple colours in many fruits and vegetables.
If you have any questions about Roselle, JUST EMAIL ME

Gardening in Tight Spaces part 2:
Eco Pillows, grow baskets, and vertical gardens turned on their side.

Tired of hearing about green walls because
a) you think they’re too expensive,

b) sounds too hard to maintain or

c) you’re just not into green walls.

So what else can you have that’s much cheaper, easier to put up and more of what you want?

I'm talking with Peter Nixon, garden designer and director of Paradisus garden design.

Let’s find out more. If you want a more relaxed style of vertical planting then go for these vertical grow baskets.
In them you can put in plants with pendulous foliage such as:
  • rhipsalis, 
  • aeschynanthus, anything from the 
  • gesneriad family, such as
  • nematanthus, 
  • columnias, and gloxinia sylvatica or whatever you like really.
Nematanthus: Goldfish plant
Of course we did mention that green wall again but this time put it on its side then there’s those eco-pillows.If you have any questions about gardening in tight spaces or have a suggestion either for me or for Peter why not write in or email me at  


How to care for Tropical and Exotic flowers.
So, what does your florist do to keep their flowers in such fantastic shape?
For every florist, no matter where they are in the world, keeping flowers at just the right temperature is essential. 
Frangipani flowers photo M Cannon
That’s what makes their refrigerator(s) the most important piece of equipment. 
A small flower shop might have just one fridge in the back of the shop whereas larger florists will have larger, walk in fridges and their premises might resemble more of a warehouse design. 
Small flower shops usually place just a few bouquets on display in the front on the shop while the rest of their flowers are safely stored in temperatures ranging from 50 to 120 C.
This is what a commercial cut flower grower in FNQ recommends. 
Cut Flower Care
Chandelier Orchid photo: M Cannon
  • Never refrigerate tropical’ s they should NOT be stored below 13 degrees.
  • Tropical’ s like tempered conditions.
  • Keep Tropical’ s away from direct heating and air-conditioners units.
  • Drastic changes in temperature burns fresh cut flowers.
  • When handling exotic tropical flowers keep in mind that cold weather can affect them, keep your exotic tropical flowers in a relative warm area.
  • To get the best out of your Tropical flowers after you unpack them you can submerse them in a bath tub or a large bucket/bin for 20 mins with tempered water NOT ice cold tap water to re hydrate them from travelling.
  • Re-cut stems at least 2 to 4 cm with sharp secateurs.
  • Preservative is optional.
  • Replace water every day – these large flowers are thirsty.
  • Misting is recommended once or twice a day as they like high humidity.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini from
Recorded live during the studio broadcast of Real World Gardener Show on 2rrr, 88.5 fm Sydney.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Sweet Leaves, Nectar and Flowers

What’s on the show today?

A tiny honeyeater in Wildlife in Focus, sweetness you can grow in Vegetable Heroes. A new series starts in Design Elements, that’s gardening in tight spaces and less value for money cut flowers in the Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.


Eastern Spinebill
Did you think all honeyeaters were on the large side in Australia?
Well if you did, you’ll be surprised to learn that there’s a tiny honey eater weighing only 11 grams.
Not only that, the Eastern Spinebill is the only Australian honeyeater that will feed will flying.
So how can you spot them because they’re bound to be terribly shy?
Firstly get up at the crack of dawn, when most birds are out and about then listen to what Holly has to say about them.
Let’s find out more.
 I'm talking with Dr Holly Parsons from

America has the humming bird but Australia has the Eastern Spinebill which can hover will extracting nectar from flowers.
Not as spectacular as the hummingbirds, but pretty amazing all the same.

You can spot the eastern spinebill male has a grey black crown, white chest and throat with a rusty patch right in the middle, plus a beautifully curved beak to get the nectar from flowers, particularly tubular flowers.
Listen out for their call which as a few variations. Often though it includes a staccato like twittering.

If your garden is near bushland and you want to attract the eastern spinebill, then think about planting more of those tubular flowers like epacrids ( pictured below) and correas.
Epacris impressa var, grandiflora
Also smaller flowering grevilleas like Grevillea sericea and Grevillea speciosa.
If you have any questions about beds either for me or for Holly why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Stevia rebaudiana
Native to Paraguay and other tropical areas of the Americas, the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana) has leaves packed with super-sweet compounds that keeps its sweetness even after the leaves have been dried.
Stevia is a member of the chrysanthemum family but did you know that Stevia leaves have been used to sweeten teas and other drinks throughout South America for centuries?
So why are Stevia leaves’ so sweet?
Because the leaves contain something called steviol glycosides.
Steviol glycosoides are high intensity natural sweeteners, 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.
In fact the leaves of the stevia plant contain not just one, but many different steviol glycosides and each one varies in sweetness and aftertaste.
So what does Stevia plant look like?

Stevia is a small perennial shrub with small pointed lime green leaves that do best in a rich, loamy soil — the same kind that most of your plants in the garden like.
It has little white flowers at the end of long stems.
Stevia is native to semi-humid, sub-tropical climates where temperatures typically range from -6°C to 43°C.
  • Although Stevia tolerates mild frost, heavy frosts will kill the roots of the plant.
  • Since the feeder roots tend to be quite near the surface add compost for extra nutrients if the soil in your area is sandy.
  • From all that, you could guess that Stevia is evergreen in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical climates, but in cold and arid districts, it’ll lose its leaves in Autumn.
  • By the way, I’ve grown my stevia plant in a pot for several years now without any problems and it’s survived several bouts of dry hot summers and lack of watering during spells with a house sitter.
  • But, it really isn’t drought tolerant like a succulent or a cactus and won’t tolerate long term neglect.
    Stevia flowers
  • During warm weather don’t forget to water it and if you’re going away for a few weeks put in a dripper system, otherwise you’ll lose your Stevia plant.

TIP:But don’t plant your Stevia in waterlogged soil and don’t overwater it.
 Adding a layer of compost or your favourite mulch around your stevia plant so that the shallow feeder roots won’t dry out.
 Stevia plants do best with fertilizers with a lower nitrogen content than the phosphorus or potassium content.
Which means the artificial fertiliser aren’t your best bet, but most organic fertilizers are because they release nitrogen slowly.
HINT: Stevia leaves have the most sweetness in autumn when temperatures are cooler and the days shorter.

Definitely the best time to pick those stevia leaves.
If your district is prone to frosts in Autumn, make sure you cover the Stevia plant for another few weeks’ growth and more sweetness.
How do you store Stevia leaves?
If you Stevia plant is big enough, the easiest technique is to cut the branches off with secateurs before stripping the leaves.
TIP:As an extra bonus, you might also want to clip off the stem tips and add them to your harvest, because they have as much stevio-side as do the leaves.
 If you live in a mostly frost-free climate, your plants will probably cope with winter outside, as long as you don’t cut the branches too short (leaving about 10cms of stem at the base during pruning).
These plants do last a few years in temperate and warmer climates.
In cool temperate districts, it might be a good idea to take cuttings that you’ll use for next year’s crop.
Cuttings need to be rooted before planting, using either commercial rooting hormones or a natural base like honey.
Stevia seed is apparently very tricky to germinate, and the cutting method is your best option.
I should mention that the stevioside content is only 12% in the leaves you grow compared with the 80-90% that commercially extracted stevia has.
It’s still had a decent amount of sweetness all the same.
So you’ve picked the leaves now you need to dry them.
  • As with drying all herbs you can hang your bunch of leaves upside down in a warm dry place.
  • Otherwise, on a moderately warm day, your stevia crop can be quick dried in the full sun in about 12 hours. (Drying times longer than that will lower the stevioside content of the final product.)
  • If you have a home dehydrator use that instead.
  • Finally crush the leaves either by hand,  in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle that you use for spices and herbs.
  • The dried leaves last indefinitely!
  • If you add two or three leaves added whole or powdered, that’s enough to sweeten a cup of tea or coffee.

HOT TIP: Another way is to make your own liquid stevia extract by adding a cup of warm water to 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed stevia leaves. This mixture should set for 24 hours and then be refrigerated.
Why are they good for you?
 Stevia is a natural sweetener that has zero calories and isn't metabolised by the body.
Stevia isn’t suitable for everything in cooking but you can use it to sweeten drinks, fruits, salad dressings, stewed fruit, yogurt and most creamy desserts.
The processed Stevia that you buy in the shops has been stripped of all the natural goodness that Stevia contains, so it’s better to grow your own Stevia.

Gardening in Tight Spaces Part 1

Tillandsia capitata
Gardening in tight spaces seems to be a modern day occurrence with people living in smaller and smaller accommodation.

Today we’re tackling a tiny balcony situation high up on the 7th floor.

That may not be where you live, but there’ll be something that you can take from this.

Let’s find out.

I'm talking with Peter Nixon, garden designer and director of Paradisus garden design 

If you have a westerly aspect that’s under cover, go for anything in the Tillandsia family.

Peter suggests Tillandsia fasciculata hybrids and Tillandsia capitata hybrids.
And the suggestions were if you’re stuck with a tiny balcony, or even courtyard, then do use those vertical surfaces.
Those modular units can be a bit pricey, but there are alternatives if you’re prepared to do your own hand watering. If you have any questions about gardening in tight spaces or have a suggestion either for me or for Peter why not write in or email me at


Shorter Lasting Flowers for the Vase:

True love may last forever, but flowers do not. Some flowers only last a day. But what a day!

Some flowers do alright in the garden, but not so good in the vase.
So which ones are they?

 Short vase life, anything less than 7 days.
Daylilies make the top of my list. Not true lilies because they belong in the Hemerocallis family.
Each flower only lasts 1 day like its name says but they come in all colours of the rainbow. In fact there used to be a daylily farm called Rainbow Ridge.
 Hibiscus flowers only last 1 day, but in temperate climates they flower for at least 6 months of the year. Longer in warmer climates.

The hardy hibiscus bush can produce up to a hundred flowers in a season.
Evening Primrose-flowers that open in the evening and close again the next morning. If it’s cloudy though, the flowers will stay open. They just don’t like opening for the sun.
Queen of the night.-member of the cactus family, you’ll have to stay up late to watch this one flower. Also known as night flowering cereus.
Desert plants and cacti can have gorgeous, sometimes also fragrant, flowers which last less than a day.
Bearded Iris-only flower for a few weeks then are gone until next season can also be cut for the vase. Will last 4-5 days..
Iceland Poppies have a short vase life of 4-5 days.
Cosmos also 4-5 days. Pick them when they’re not 100% open.

Things you need to do to keep the flowers longer in the vase.
Change the water every two or three days, making fresh stem cuts and adding more floral preserver. Never use tap water, only filtered water.
With roses, avoid fully opened blooms, but also pass on stems with tight buds. Roses harvested too early will not last as long as those that have been cut later.

And remember, true love may last forever, but flowers do not. “It’s OK for flowers to die,” Miller said.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini from

Recorded live during studio broadcast of Real World Gardener show on 2RRR 88.5 fm Sydney.