Friday, 19 July 2013

Red Hot Garden Design


Head Gardener, Sydney Living Museums, Dave Grey talked to RWG about volunteer opportunities at two of the properties.

Six volunteer positions are on offer which presents a rare opportunity for locals to go behind the scenes and work in the idyllic sprawling gardens of Vaucluse House and at Rouse Hill House & Farm.
Garden volunteers will be given a range of benefits for their time including free entry to twelve Sydney Living Museums properties during the period of their service, as well as invitations to social outings and tours and talks at Sydney Living Museum properties.
Volunteers will meet on a Monday fortnightly from 9am-1pm over an initial period of six months (approximately eight hours a month). Orientation training is provided for all volunteers.

To read the full position description and access an application form please visit our website at and follow the links to Volunteering> Current Opportunities


Potatoes, Solanum tuberosum
It’s always interesting to find out where our vegetables started and how they became popular. And this is true of the humble potato.
Farmers in the Andes Mountains of South America first discovered the potato 7,000 years ago.
They had it to themselves until the mid-1500’s when the Spanish Conquistadors invaded Peru.
In Spain, when it did arrive, it was thought of food for the underclasses, or feeding hospital inmates.
Around 1780 the people of Ireland adopted the potato as a food crop because potatoes contain most of the vitamins you need to survive.
The potato is a member of the nightshade or Solanaceae family and its leaves are poisonous.
NOTE:A potato left too long in the light will begin to turn green.
The green skin contains a substance called solanine which can cause the potato to taste bitter and green potatoes can upset the stomach, so don’t try them.
TIP:Always grow potatoes from Certified Seed Potatoes from reputable suppliers.
Yes it is possible to simply buy some from a specialist green grocer and keep them for seed, or use leftover potato peelings.
What’s wrong with that? You run the risk of introducing diseases such as Potato Virus Y, Potato Blight or Potato cyst Nematode. If you use leftovers or buy from supermarkets or green grocers. You might think it’s only a small risk, but once you get potato blight into your soil, it’s their forever. No chemical will shift it.

When to Plant
Potatoes can be planted now all over Australia'
In temperate and sub-tropical districts, August to October is the best time.
Arid areas, August until December is your best time.
In cool temperate zones, you have from September through to January.
Cooler areas have a bit of extra time to order some of the more unusual varieties before they grow in the ground.
Choose a Variety?

How about Cranberry Red.
Cranberry Red has red skin and red flesh, great in salads, for boiling and baking. 
These stay red, even after cooking.
Or what Potato Sapphire that has purple skin and purple flesh

Purple Sapphire I’m sure is sold also as Purple Congo, is perfect for mashing, boiling and roasting, and yes, it stays purple after cooking.

Purple mash, Yum, and yes, I’ve cooked it.

And for a good all rounder, try growing Royal Blue.
Potato Royal Blue is oblong, with purple skin and dark yellow flesh.
If you’re buying through mail order or online, you have until the end of August to buy them. After that, they’re not available.
To grow your Potatoes-
  • Put seedling potatoes into a trench in as deep and rich a soil as you can get.
  • Plenty of compost and manures please.
  • And as they grow pile the earth up around them.
  • You will need to hill the rows or potato container several times until the potatoes have flowered .
  • You need to do this to stop the greening of tubers and also protect them from potato moth.
  • Also, hilling up the soil and mulch will give you more potatoes as they tend to form on roots near the surface.
  • That means, as you pile up the soil, you get new roots, and more potatoes....
  • Chicken manure or blood and bone should be dug through the bed as potatoes need a lot of phosphorus but not too much nitrogen.  Too much nitrogen will mean lots of leaves rather than potatoes.
  • Keep the water up and but only water moderately as potatoes will rot in soil that is too wet.
TIP:They can also get a fungus growing inside them if the soil’s too wet.

When you cut them open, they’ll have grey patches inside which actually do taste mouldy. Ewwww!
  • You can add fish emulsion and seaweed extract when you’re watering too.
  • Potatoes can also be grown in your black compost bin if you’re not using it for compost. Plant the seed potatoes at the bottom, let them grow to about 50cm,( so with your ruler that’s  almost 2 x ruler heights) then, over the top and add 8cm of soil, let them grow a little more, add some more soil, and so on, in the end a stack of potatoes.
  • Pick your potatoes when the vine has died down to the ground, that’s if you want the most potatoes, but they can be harvested from when the first baby potatoes are formed.  The lower leaves should be turning yellow – this happens about 3 to 4 weeks after flowering.
  • If you plan to store your potatoes, cut off the foliage and let the potatoes rest in the ground for 3-4 weeks to allow the skin to 'set', they keep longer this way. Store in a dark, cool, well ventilated spot. 
Roasting Potatoes include: Arran, Royal Blue, Cara, Celine, Desiree, Maxine, Picasso, Ruby Lou, Romano, King Edward, Kondor, Maris Piper, Stemster and Valor.

For Chip Potatoes try: Nadine, Kestrel, King Edward, Desiree, Kennebec.
For Boiling Potatoes try: Nadine, Dutch Cream Kestrel, Desiree, King Edward.
For Mashing Potatoes try: Kestrel, Nadine, King Edward, Tasmanian Pinkeye.
For Salad Potatoes try: Nicola, Tasmanian Pinkeye, Ponfine.
Why are potatoes good for you?
The potato is densely packed with nutrients. The Irish couldn’t be wrong could they?
A medium potato provides vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6 and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc.
Potatoes are known as the foods people crave when they are stressed. 
Why? because the carbs in potatoes (about 26%) help make space for tryptophan and this, in turn, boosts the serotonin level in the brain.
High serotonin levels help boost your mood and help you feel calm.
To preserve these nutrients it is important to peel the potato just prior to cooking and not leave it exposed to the air or standing in water any longer than necessary.

 Design Elements

with Landscape designer, Louise McDaid
 I have a friend who for years has been trying to get the pink blue and white hyacinths to flower at the same time.
Each year she buys these bulbs and has attempted to plant them in pots at different times. But no, with repetitive stubbornness, these Hyacinths just refuse to comply, as if obeying some other higher order.
So what do you need to do to get other flowers to open at when you want them too? Here’s a bit of a hint….
I never can get my blue flowers to open up at the same time as the yellow flowers in the front garden. So to beat this conundrum, I’ve planted bushes with yellow foliage like Abelia, Frances Mason, and variegated Buxus to name a couple.
If you want a white garden, there’s plenty of plants with white in the leaves, that you could add. Then you need to pick something from each season that has a white flower whether annual or perennial, it doesn’t matter.
It could also be a tree like the Handkerchief tree, which is much admired in English gardens, but grows equally well in Australia.

Plant of the Week:

Kniphophia Species
Sometimes, plant of the week features something not because it’s in flower, but because it’s a good time of year to either order them, prune them or propagate them in a very easy way.
This plant is no exception. of  Kniphophia
Light up your garden with the many colours of torch lillies or Kniphofias.
They’re very tough plants that cope with neglect.
Start of your collection with Kniphofia “Princes Beatrix” Or Little Maid. You’ll be hooked on how easy they are to grow once you do.

Kniphofia-bare rooted perennials (to order this time of year.)

This is the time of year to buy bare rooted plants.
For those that aren’t familiar with buy a bare-rooted planted.
That means a plant with no soil, no potting mix nothing. Usually they’re dipped in something to prevent the roots from drying out too much and wrapped in some sphagnum moss or just newspaper. They’re much lighter to post, and establish a lot faster.
When Spring comes, they’ll take off like mad.
Bare rooted plants are not just for professionals or experienced gardeners.
They’re dead easy to plant out, and even kids can manage them.
Roses and fruit and nut trees have been traditionally sold as bare-rooted plants for many years.
Perhaps people are no longer aware that you can buy bare rooted perennial plants.
  • Why buy bare rooted perennials?
Because these days, a lot of nurseries and garden centres no longer offer the variety that they used to, and you can get a whole lot more interesting stuff from mail order catalogues and over the internet.
Today, we’re looking at bare rooted Kniphophias or Red Hot Pokers. Also called, torch lily, knofflers or poker plant, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Xanthorrhoeaceae, same family as Australia’s native grass trees.
The genus Kniphofia is named after the 16th century German professor, J.H.Kniphof.
These Kniphofias are native to Africa.
The common name though has not a lot to do with the colour, because the flowers come in so many colours these days.
There’s two types- ones that die down to the ground in winter-these are the Herbaceous species and hybrids have narrow, grass-like leaves 10–100 cm long.
Then there’s the evergreen species. These have slightly wider, strap-shaped leaves up to 1.5 m (5 ft) long.
All plants have spikes of upright, brightly coloured flowers well above the foliage, in shades of red, orange and yellow, often bicoloured.
The flowers have lots of nectar and are attractive to bees
With most perennial plants, the roots are fairly fibrous and withstand handling quite well too.
Kniphophias are versatile clumping plants  great in mixed garden beds, large pots, mass plantings and for architectural character.
 POSITION :-Full sun gardens
 MAINTENANCE :-Hardy with few problems and easy to grow. Tolerates windy coastal gardens, hot conditions and are frost hardy. Remove spent flower heads.
 FLOWERING seasons vary with individual varieties.
I’ve grown this one
Kniphofia ‘Princess Beatrix’
One tip about red hot pokers is that they don’t enjoy rich animal manure around their crowns so be careful.
Other than that they are pretty easy to grow given anything like reasonable soil and a sunny position.
Kniphofia ‘Princess Beatrix’ is an old variety with tender soft peachy apricot flowers during the warmer months. Although the flower stems make about 120cm in height it is a mistake to plant them in the back of a border crowded by other plants. 120cm x 80cm.
Another one I grow Kniphofia pauciflora 'Little Maid'
An attractive perennial grass suitable for full sun gardens forming a dense clump of strap-like leaves with ivory/pale lemon flowers during summer/autumn.
FLOWERING:-Ivory and pale lemon red hot poker flowers appear above the foliage in summer and autumn.
Grows to about75cm high x 50cm wide
Kniphofia ‘Strawberries and Cream’
This Kniphofia has coral-pink flowers when they open, turn to cream making for a charming effect. It flowers for many months from spring until late summer.
I cut the evergreen leaves down to about 15cm every winter to keep the plant tidy. 120cm tall by 80cm wide.
Kniphofia hybrid cultivar Dwarf Yellow Poker
is an evergreen perennial with a clumping habit. Striking yellow flower heads in summer. It has long narrow, arching foliage. Drought tolerant once established.  Prefers a full sun to part shade position.  Frost and wind tolerant. Suitable for pots and containers.
Grows 70cm high x 30cm wide.
Kniphofia uvaria
Red Hot Poker is an evergreen perennial with a clumping habit. An eye catching feature in any garden with vibrant burnt orange and yellow flowers in spring and summer. It has long narrow, arching foliage. Drought tolerant once established.  Prefers a full sun to part shade position.  Frost and wind tolerant. Suitable for pots and containers.
Grows 1.5m high x 90cm wide.
Both varieites are supplied as: Bare rooted plant
Suitable climate zones: Cool, Temperate, Arid, Semi-arid, Mild Tropical, Tropical Climate Guide)


  1. I’ve been looking at scenery in a a little bit different way lately. Generally, my focus has been on the plants that take up a garden.
    Adelaroger @ garden design brisbane

  2. "Kniphophia produce spikes of upright, brightly colored flowers well above the foliage, in shades of red, orange and yellow, often multicolored."

    Awesome, this plant deserved to be your Plant of the Week.