Monday, 30 December 2013

Rainbows and Bees

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

with ecologist Sue Stevens

The speedy Gonzales of the bird world this bird can twist and turn like those fighter jet plants on Top Gun, but it miniature form of course.
But that’s only one of the marvellous adaptations that this bird has that’s made it possible to survive all this time.
Let’s hear about more surprising facts about this bird…
PLAY: Rainbow Bee_eater_25th December_2013
Sadly, people are still the main danger as you heard. Yep, some apiarists shoot these birds even though they’re a protected native species.
Being shot is hard to avoid but these birds are also predated on by animals including dingoes and monitor lizards.
But they’re not silly because a bit like minor birds when threatened, they'll engage in mobbing behaviour -- emitting an alarm call and flying directly at the potential predator. This may start with one or two birds but can escalate so a whole flock is mobbing the predator.
If you have any sightings of Rainbow Bee eaters or photos why not send it in to or by post to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675,

Vegetable Heroes

What is Malabar Spinach?
Ever heard of Ceylon spinach, Indian spinach, vine spinach, and Malabar nightshade?
Doesn’t matter if you haven’t because you’re about to find out.
The one we’re focussing on is the red stemmed version or Scientifically it’s Basella alba 'Rubra'.
Malabar or Climbing Spinach originates in India. but is also found naturally in Africa and other parts of Southeast Asia.

Fun Facts
Did you know that an extract of the fruits of the red stemmed version of -Basella alba ‘Rubra’, has been used for many centuries as deep red dye for official seals and a natural form of rouge in cosmetics?
The Malabar region-on the south-west coast of India is in fact dense tropical jungle, coconut and pepper plantations.
Malabar spinach first made its way from India to Europe in 1688 when it was introduced into Holland by the Dutch governor of Malabar, Adrian Moens.
The juice from the berries is so intensely purple that it puts beet juice to shame. A bit like Dianella berries I think.
In some countries, this juice is used as a natural food colorant for agar (vegetable "gelatine") dishes, sweets, and pastries.

So what does this spinach look like?
For lovers of all things romantic in the garden, you can’t go past a plant with heart shaped leaves even if you want to eat it.
Malabar spinach is a climbing plant not even related to true spinach (Spinacia oleracea) but grows large succulent heart shaped leaves that are a bit like spinach in taste.
The leaves are quite a bit more waxy to my way of thinking.
I would describe it as crunchy and juicy when raw.
The taste is slightly peppery with a bit of a citrusy flavour with hints of earthy spinach to it.
It’s not bad to eat, some say even delicious to eat, but I can’t say I use it a lot in cooking. More of an attraction in the garden with the leaves and the purple flowers followed by black berries.
The upside is that if you like your Spinach, this one’s is easy to grow and  is much better suited for summer growing than Spinach itself.
When your lettuce and other salad greens are wilting, because Malabar spinach is a twining succulent (stores water in the leaves and stems), you’ll have plenty of greens for your salad.
Malabar spinach does best in warm, tropical areas, where it can easily grow a 10cm per day.
 In the tropics, Malabar spinach can grow 2-3 metres or eight to ten feet tall and wide and has small white-tinged pink to purple flowers in the leaf axils.

Where To Grow

This plant is not frost tolerant and in temperate areas doesn’t grow anywhere near as tall as in tropical areas.
In cool temperate districts, I would treat this plant as an annual, but yes you can grow it too!
If you’ve grown this plant before, you would know that the plant seems to die down in winter then re-shoots again in late spring.
So don’t go thinking you’ve killed it at the end of autumn.
There are forums on the internet that say Malabar spinach can twine up on a trellis and make a backdrop for a display of other dark-leafed cultivars like—purple-stemmed sugarcane, black-leafed cotton, aubergine-coloured beets, kale, and Swiss chard.
Straight species Malabar spinach has yellowish stems and green leaves and looks nice enough, but it's the red-stemmed cultivar 'Rubra' that really stands out.
Red and green are opposites on the colour wheel and the combined effect is always a bit dramatic. The red veins in the leaves make it more so.
When the flowers are fertilised, small, attractive, single-seeded purple berries will grow.
Basella alba grows best a humus-rich, sandy loam in full sun but will produce larger juicier leaves if grown in partial shade..
It grows easily from seed that has been sown in situ or you can start it off in a punnet.
Saving seed is easy too:
Simply dry the entire fruit and use it for planting the following year. Just make sure you store it dry in maybe a paper envelope.
 I had saved some seed, but there must’ve been some moisture in the jar because they had become all mouldy.
The red-stemmed cultivar of Malabar spinach comes true from seed.
Luckily, when I was renovating my veggie bed, I noticed quite a few small seedlings in one corner of it that looked like-in fact were seedlings of Malabar Spinach.
I remember from last year that once it starts to take off in the ground, it can grow about 30cm in a week!  In a pot , it’s much more tame.
When you have a plant in season, tip cuttings will root readily in water so you can give other members of your garden club or other friends some plants.
Use any style of plant support you like: poles, teepees, chain-link fencing—I’m growing it up a metal spiral, but I think it’s going to outgrow that real soon. Whoops!
Malabar spinach is insect and disease resistant, and that’s saying a lot; because at the moment, the grasshoppers are eating whopping big holes in my Kale and a bit of my spinach, but not touching the Malabar spinach.!
I am catching and squashing those hoppers!
Where do you get it? Plenty of those big box stores that have garden centres have it as well as your local garden centre or plant nursery.
Why is it good for you?
The succulent leaves and stem tips are rich in vitamins A and C and are a good source of iron and calcium. They may be eaten raw in salads, boiled, steamed, stir-fried, or added to soups, stews, tofu dishes, and curries. Or you can use them as a filling for quiche, omelets, or even a frittata!
Since red-stemmed Malabar spinach can lose a lot of its red colour when cooked, perhaps it is best in raw dishes.
A great way to use it is to plant it thickly in pots in spring, and when it’s growth takes off, pick the young shoots off daily for stir fries & omelettes. Eventually it will get away from you by climbing or sprawling, but usually can be contained for a couple of months this way. The shoots are delicious & tender!

 Design Elements

with Landscape Designer Christopher Owen

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking to guest landscape designer Christopher Owen about ornamental grasses in garden design. We went through the difference between strappy leaved plants and ornamental grasses, then how to get started with using these type of grasses in garden design.
But where do you put them if you have a particular style of garden?
Let’s find out ….

True grasses are in the family Poaceae, while rushes and sedges fall into Juncaceae and Cyperaceae families.
No matter where you live in Australia you’ll find grasses that cope with wet or dry, sun or shade, hot or cold or a combination of some of these situations.
So no reason to delay, plant a grass today.
If you have any questions about this week’s Design Elements, send it our email address, or just post it.

Plant of the Week

Ceratopetalum gummiferum, NSW Christmas Bush or Festival Bush.

Ceratopetalum....from Greek ceras, a horn and petalon, a petal, referring to the petal shape of one species.
gummiferum....producing a gum. There are many types of plants which flower around Christmas time, and these have earned the name “Christmas Bush” in their particular states in Australia. What you would call Christmas Bush varies from state to state within Australia.

The cut flower industry uses it a lot as filler for sold flower bunches and not just during the Christmas Season.
Gardeners like to plant it in their native gardens. But can it grow in your soil and in sun, shade, or part shade?

I’ve seen this plant growing in many different states of Australia, and it does will in South Australia and Victoria, so why not give it a try.

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.
Ceratopetalum gummiferum is widespread over the east coast of NSW, commonly growing in open forests on sandstone hillsides. Bushes enjoy free-draining, slightly acidic soil along the slopes of a natural watershed.

I grew these 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 only.
Position: Mature NSW Christmas Bushes like full sun for most of the day with a few hours of slightly dappled light during summer afternoons or mornings.
In the home garden, NSW Christmas Bush must have a well drained but moist position, in sun or semi shade.
Annual feeding with a slow release native fertilizer is a good idea.
Problems with Christmas Bush
If you have a plant that just sits and doesn’t appear to be doing much, especially at this time of year. Give it a boost with seaweed tonic to kick it along.
Doesn’t tolerate hot weather after flowering if watering is inadequate.
Prone to iron deficiency-have mentioned that they like slightly acidic soil.

Where to Grow :
Ceratopetalum gummiferum should be grown in well drained, sandy or sandy loam soils.
For plenty of flowers and growth, test soil pH and if you need to, add Iron chelates or Sulphate of Iron according to the packet's directions to bring the pH down to 6.6.
Grow your own:
Propagation:Ceratopetalum gummiferum can be grown from seeds or cuttings. To ensure the bract colour stays true to the parent, grow from cuttings.
When sowing seeds, the whole fruit with calyx lobes attached should be sown for best results.
Young plants grow best in dappled light for most of the day and must be protected against frost in winter.

Watering well thoughout Spring to Autumn will extend the flowering season quite a bit.

Towards the end of December this hardy and reliable plant puts on a great display of red ‘flowers’ that as usual are not really flowers but sepals.
The true flowers are white in colour and fairly insignificant and are seen in late spring to early November.
After pollination by flies and native bees, the sepals, which are the outer series or whorl of flora leaves that protect the flower bud, enlarge and turn deep pink to red in colour enclosing the fruit, a single seed, a nut and the whole fall when ripe.

Plants known in other Australian states as Christmas Bush are entirely different and have no connection with Ceratopetalum.

Ceratopetalum Gummiferum Albery’s Red NSW Christmas Bush. This is the best-known of the NSW Christmas Bush varieties. Albery’s Red has bright red calyces in summer that follow a lot small white flowers through spring. The calyces make great cut flowers and are cultivated in Australia and all around the world for the florist industry. It grows to about  4 metres high and 2 metres wide preferring well-drained soil and full sun for maximum flower development. This Christmas Bush can be pruned to shape and only barely tolerates frost

No comments:

Post a Comment