Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rooftop Gardens and Crazy Lettuce

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
Real World Gardener is funded by the Community Broadcasting Foundation
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition. The new theme is sung by Harry Hughes from his album Songs of the Garden. You can hear samples of the album from the website

Wildlife in Focus
Photo By Roger Smith

with ecologist Sue Stevens
According to National Geographic, the habits of migratory birds are something of a mystery Scientists think that the birds take their cues from the landscape from above of course. Perhaps with their fantastic eyesight, they can see waterholes appearing in the landscape that link up through river paths.
But one of the strangest things though is they tend to go back to exactly the same place, and exactly the same spot.
Let’s find out what the Straw Necked Ibis is all about…

Did you know that Straw-necked ibises can fly up to 20,000km. and may follow landscape cues back to their breeding grounds in wet years - these grounds remain in the same small area.
If you have seen some Straw Necked Ibis in your area, why not drop us a line. Or send in a photo to or by post to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675,  and I’ll send you a copy of the Garden Guardians in return.

Vegetable Heroes

Celtuce, Asparagus Lettuce or Celery Lettuce or Lactuca sativa var. asparagine or var anustana.
Are you a fan of lettuce or celery or do they go mouldy in the crisper before you use them?
All types of lettuce, helps you sleep at night if you include lettuce in your evening meal.
But we don’t feel like lettuce in the cooler months so what do we do then?
Lettuce soup is nice but not every night.

I’ve heard it called Asparagus lettuce, Celery lettuce and stem lettuce.
Sounds like people just can’t make up their minds what it actually tastes like.
Did you know that China produces about half of the world’s lettuce?
So it’s no surprise that Celtuce, or this mixed up vegetable cross originates in China.
Lettuce has been grown in China since about the 7th century, and that includes this strange lettuce mutant.
Did you also know that Chinese traditionally don’t use lettuce in salads but in stir fries.

What is Celtuce exactly?

When Celtuce is growing, it looks a bit like Cos lettuce, and it’s at this stage that your pick the leaves and eat them as you would lettuce.
The leaves of Celtuce are more coarse than most lettuce so steaming them or using them in stir-fries might be a good option.
The stem actually does look like a bit like a fat Asparagus stem.
In China, where it’s grown in commercial quantities, the fleshy stem is cut into sections and cooked by steaming or stewing.
Growing this vegetable would be very useful because you can use all parts of it, plus it’s easy to grow.
Lettuce can be planted all year round in most areas of Australia.
Sow the seeds of Celtuce, or Asparagus Lettuce in September through to December in temperate zones.

When to Sow:

For arid areas and sub-tropical districts, Celtuce can take more heat in hot summers than lettuce, and it doesn’t seem to mind wet weather either.
Having said that, in Arid districts, it might be a good idea to avoid the hottest months of the year, and in cool temperate areas, you might like to grow your lettuce in a greenhouse or undercover somewhere during winter.
Celtuce tolerates most soils, including clay soils.
Any gardening book (mostly written for the northern hemisphere) will tell you that full sun is essential.
Full sun is best ONLY when it isn't too hot. Once the temperatures go into the thirties, your lettuce will definitely appreciate some shade, especially afternoon shade!

How to Sow:

Sow the Celtuce seeds only half a cm deep, spreading the seed very thinly along a row and cover lightly with soil, or sprinkle it over a bed and rake it in.
For all you balcony gardeners, any largish pot will do for 3 or 4 lettuce seedlings.
Lettuce seed is very fine so you'll get a few clumps.
Thin them out, you know the drill.
If the weather is very hot and your soil sandy, you will need to water daily. Stick your finger in the soil if not sure.
By the way, lettuce seed doesn't germinate that well at soil temperatures over 250C. 
So if you are sowing it in a pot, keep the potting mix cool by putting it in light shade until the lettuce seed germinates.
Don't plant you celtuce or any lettuce in deep shade, like under a tree, or they’ll just grow into pale, leggy things with few leaves on them.
If you can't find a position that provides dappled shade in the afternoon, try interplanting between taller plants that won’t totally shade them like capsicums/peppers or eggplants, staked tomatoes.
Lettuces need good soil, that means light, free draining and rich in organic matter.  
You soil need to be able to hold lots of water, nitrogen and other nutrients.
Sandy soils need help from your compost bin or worm farm.
If you have clay soils, growing celtuce or lettuce shouldn't be a problem, as is growing them in pots.
All types of Lettuce have shallow roots, so they dries out easily.
You must keep up a steady supply of water because any set back will at best, make them tough and bitter, at worst it will cause them to bolt to seed straight away without making any leaves for you!
So make sure they never get stressed (e.g. by forgetting to water them).
Celtuce not being a hearting type of lettuce won’t go to seed in summer very quickly.
TIP:In the summer months, you can’t grow hearting lettuces, even Cos/Romaine types, as they're also very heat susceptible and won’t form a heart at all.
I have grown those types of lettuce and they were the first to bolt to seed at the first sign of hot weather
Celtuce takes about 3 months from seed to harvest, but you can pick the leaves much earlier.
When the stem of the celtuce gets to about 30cm tall and is about 3-4cm thick, that’s the time to cut it and use it as a sort of asparagus come celery alternative.
TIP: Unlike Asparagus, you need to peel the stem because the outer part which has the sap, is bitter to taste.
The soft, translucent green central core is the edible part.
You can eat this fresh, sliced or diced into a salad.
I've heard that the flavour is sort of like a cucumber, yet different.
Why it’s called Asparagus lettuce or celery lettuce has more to do with it’s appearance and not it’s taste.
So why is it good for us?
Asparagus Lettuce is very good for digestion.
All types of lettuce have good levels of Vitamin C, beta-carotene and fibre.
You won’t put on any weight eating Lettuce  because most varieties have over 90% water and are extremely low in calories.
Lettuce contain the sedative lactucarium (lactoo-caree um) which relaxes the nerves but not upsetting digestion.
By varying the greens in your salads, you can boost the nutritional content as well as vary the tastes and textures.  
•Happy Asparagus Lettuce growing everyone!

Design Elements

with Landscape Designer Louise McDaid

Did you know that people have cultivated roof gardens for centuries.As far back as 600BC, people living in Mesopotamia were growing trees and shrubs above ground. Ever heard of the famous hanging gardens of Babylon? Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers, certainly has!
You may not have a rooftop – but this is a very interesting garden and many of the elements can be incorporated into a ‘ground’ garden as well, like your backyard.
Listen to this…

Today’s inspirational garden also came from the RBS Rooftop garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower show that I visited.
Roof gardens can combine all elements to support wildlife and biodiversity.
OK Australia’s climate can be a bit harsh in some areas for us to even consider having a rooftop garden on your shed or garage, or even your house.
But if you’ve got a balcony, you might try it there instead.
If you have any questions about this week’s Design Elements, send it our email address, or just post it.

Plant of the Week:

Would you like some electric blue flowers that are easy to grow?
Easy to grow but hard to say.
The flowers of this plant can hang around for up to three months.

L. biloba.flowering now down the side of Henley Cottage.

England may have it’s blue poppies, Meconopsis, everywhere in gardens but we have Lechenaultia with the same bright blue flowers.

As usual, when the name was copied down it was incorrectly spelt, so the botanist attached to Baudin's expedition to Australia, Jean Baptiste Leschenault de la Tour. Spelt with an s, became without an s, and persists today.
As usual, the most exotic looking flowers seem to come originally from Western Australia.
The flowers, which grow to 1.5 cm long by 2-3 cm in diameter, have a tubular corolla, split on one side, and surrounded by five sepals.
The corolla has five lobes  and look similar to flowers of Scaevola.
Flowering time is from late winter through to summer.
The leaves are soft, blue-green in colour, very tiny at3-9 mm long to 2 mm across, crowded along the stems.
Lechanaultia grows naturally in gravelly and sandy soils of southern and central Western Australia. 
If you like this colour blue and want to grow this plant, you need to copy its original habitat and grow it in sandy, well-drained soil.
Plants in heavier sites will generally not last a season. The plant is not a long-lived one, three to four years being its most probable life span.
Without any tip pruning the shrub will become an open spreading plant to 50 cm high.  
Now here’s a great tip because there’s some of these plants growing outside the cottage at the radio station.
Lechanaultia is easily propagated by cuttings taken at any time of the year, but the best time is in late spring and summer.
A few weeks ago I took some cuttings and struck them in situ in a couple of places in the gardens.
seem to be surviving so far.
I used semi-hardwood cuttings about 6-10 cm long.
Spring is the best time, so if these don't survive, I'll try again later.
Lechanaultia is growing at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in built-up beds with added limestone chips; but I don't think you need to do that unless you have limestone chips lying around in your backyard or property.
The most important growing requirement is a perfectly drained situation, like in a rockery, built-up beds or pots.
L. biloba has been successfully cultivated in pots for many years in Europe.
Minimal watering is required and the roots will penetrate deeply in a free-draining soil.

Lechenaultia biloba can be allowed to straggle over rocks, or a more compact shape may be obtained by a light pruning after flowering. No pests or diseases have been observed and this plant is frost tolerant.
This is a perfect plant if you’re looking for the colour blue to add to your garden.
Lechanaultia would suit the front of the border, and especially rockeries and even hanging baskets.
Team it up with Yellow Buttons ( Chrysocephalum apiculatum), Paper Daisies, Rhodanthe anthemoides, and even Brachyscome, or Scaevola or fan flower.

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