Sunday, 19 October 2014

Plants Banks and Waratahs

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
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


by Louise Brooks with Manager/Curator Plant Bank The Australian Garden, Mt Annan John Siemon

Have you ever wonder what would happen if we lost a further 50% of living plants here in Australia?

Would they be gone forever or could they regrow themselves?
Plant Bank Mt Annan-photo Louise Brooks
I’m not being a doomsdaysayer, because the hard facts are, that 50% of the world’s plant species ARE  under threat of extinction?
It could happen through bushfire, mining, over-grazing, or drought.
So what kind of insurance to prevent this happening do we need?
What about a plant bank?
Let’s find out what that really is….

The Australian PlantBank is a science and research facility of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust and is located at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan.
Behind the glass windows are three vaults storing 100 million seeds in temperatures ranging between four to minus 20 degrees.

John Siemon, the PlantBank's is the project manager, of Plant Bank at Mt Annan.
Trays of small foil packets are carefully numbered and linked to other DNA related samples in the collection.
Inside the bunker a fifth of Australia's 25,000 plant species are represented, including 260 of NSW's rare and endangered species. An insurance policy, if you like, against possible extinction, allowing future scientists to bring back to life native plants for regrowth or medical research.

PlantBank houses thermal efficient seed storage vaults, climate controlled glasshouses, and state of the art laboratories.
Plant Bank Mt Annan-photo Louise Brooks
It houses the Trust's seedbank and research laboratories that specialise in horticultural research and conservation of Australian native plant species, particularly those from New South Wales.If you want to visit the Plant Bank-you can.Plus if you’re a bit tech savvy you can download the new mobile app that takes you behind-the-scenes.
Plant Bank Mt Annan-photo Louise Brooks

You can explore this exciting new conservation centre, including the laboratories and seed vault, the surrounding landscaped gardens and the nearby endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland. If you have any questions about Plant Banks, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


New Zealand Yams Oka or Oca

New Zealand Yams Oka or New Zealand yams
Scientifically it’s known as Oxalis tuberosa and it’s in the Oxalidaceae, the oxalis or wood sorrel family.
Did you know that New Zealand yams are considered the lost crop of the Incas and were introduced to Europe in 1830 as a competitor to the potato?
Did you also know that New Zealand yams were also introduced to New Zealand as early as 1860 and are grown commercially there?
New Zealand yams also grows very well in the UK and Ireland?

What does it look like?
Oxalis tuberosa (Oxalidaceae) is a perennial herbaceous plant that overwinters as underground stem tubers.
When New Zealand yams does grow it becomes a compact, bushy perennial plant with clover-like leaves to 20 - 30 cm high.
Being a tuberous plant it grows like potatoes but belonging to a completely different family to potato it’s unaffected by blight and other associated pest and disease problems that potatoes normally get.
New Zealand yams  have small edible tubers that look like stubby, wrinkled pinky-red carrots.
These tubers can then be boiled, roasted, stir fried, or even eaten raw in salads.
The tubers have a pleasant sweet/ tangy flavour,

NZ Yams-photo M Cannon


How to plant:
The recommended planting time is spring in cool areas and at the beginning of the wet season in warmer areas.
In temperate climates plant the tubers in October and November, in cool temperate districts, plant in November or after the last frost.
For sub-tropical areas-September to November, and for arid zones  it’s too hot now, wait until next August.
Store the best tubers for propagation for the next season in dry sand or sawdust, in a cool dark place.
For everyone, planting time is about now for New Zealand yams.
You can grow your New Zealand yams in sun but New Zealand yams are more shade tolerant, and in fact, will do better in partial shade.
All you have to do when planting New Zealand yams tubers is to cover the tubers with soil to a depth of 5 cm and space your plants 30 cm apart.
Ideally wait until tubers begin to shoot before planting.
You can speed this up by placing the tubers on a tray in a morning sun position.
New Zealand yams also grows well in styrofoam boxes, pots and planter bags.
You can start off by planting dormant tubers in a 12 cm pot, 8cm deep, in potting mix and transplant out once plants show active growth.
You need to feed the bed with fish emulsion, worm tea or some blood and bone sprinkled on the surface every couple of months.
One thing to remember is that at about 4 months, New Zealand yams plants should be hilled like potatoes to encourage tuber formation.
So when do you know to dig up your New Zealand yams tubers?
Just like with potatoes, the tubers are ready to eat when the foliage starts to die back.
New Zealand yams is resistant to low temperatures and thrives in moderately cool climates but freezing will kill the foliage. If the tubers are already established they’ll re-sprout.
On another note, temperatures above 28°C cause the plant to wilt.
Tubers start forming 4 months after planting and production peaks at 6 months.
Store the best tubers for propagation the next season in dry sand or sawdust, in a cool dark place.
Each 10cm tuber (always eat the big ones) should produce up to 30 edible tubers as long as a man`s middle finger- and a lot of smaller ones ideal for planting the following season.
Once again, just like potatoes, New Zealand yams grows in all types of soil and a wide range pH.
From some web bloggers I discovered that Charles grew New Zealand yams in Victoria for years and as you know they have many days over 40 degrees.
He says as long as you hill them up like spuds, they survive.
The downside is that frosts finished them off before they were ready so he got a lot of small immature tubers as a result.
Another blogger who lives in Brisbane  writes that he really loves New Zealand yams, but in order to grow it successfully in his area you need to 'reverse' the season.
While everyone else in Australia starts growing it from mid-Spring, he has to plant it mid-Autumn. Winter temperatures in frost-free areas of Queensland are ideal to grow New Zealand yams.
Buy it and store it until March.
The summer is simply too hot, humid and wet .
Once you successfully grow your crop, save some of it in the fridge every year for autumn planting.
New Zealand yams is more perishable than potatoes, but if properly handled can be stored at room temperature for some months.
They store pretty well in a plastic bag in the crisper of the fridge.
Cooking with New Zealand yams
Cook New Zealand yams as you would a potato i.e. New Zealand yams can be boiled, baked or fried.
In Mexico, New Zealand yams is commonly sprinkled with salt, lemon and hot pepper and eaten raw.
In the Andes, the tubers are placed in the sun for a few days, to sweeten them.
New Zealand yams leaves can be eaten as a sorrel substitute.



New Zealand yams is one of the highest vegetable sources of carbohydrate and energy. They are a good source of pro-vitamin A (beta carotene), and also contain potassium, vitamin B6 and small amounts of fibre.
Yellow-orange coloured varieties indicate the presence of carotenoids; whilst red skins and red specks in flesh indicate the presence of anthocyanins.


with garden designer Lesley Simpson

succulent Coral Garden-My Island Home. photo M Cannon

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a guest Melbourne landscape designer, Phil Withers.
Phil had created a garden called My Island Home which had a coral reef bed made up of succulents.
It looked like the real deal-a coral reel made up of plants.
So keeping in that theme of creating things with succulents, it’s possible to create other types of themes using succulent plants.
Let’s find out what this is all about.

The ideas for using succulents to do another concept are endless.
What about a river bed of succulents? 
Ever thought of a fairy garden with succulents?
Or even a gnome’s garden?
Succulents in a bowl?

photo M Cannon
 There’s plenty of possibilities and on the up-side succulents are pretty drought tolerant and forgiving
 because succulents store water in their leave, stems and roots.  Because the roots of succulent plants are relatively shallow, a bowl or dish can look great. Just make sure that your pot has good drainage, or that you can put holes in it.
Just because they're drought hardy doesn't mean they like to bake in the midday sun.
Most succulents do best if they are in the direct sun for only a few hours a day. Many need protection from getting scorched in the mid-day sun, but almost all need some bright, indirect light. Succulents can actually suffer from sunburn!


What floral emblem do you have in your state?
Did you know that Telopea speciosissima or the waratah, was proclaimed the official floral emblem of New South Wales on 24 October 1962?
Waratahs grow to 3 metres tall and about 1.5 metres across. They have stiff, wedge-shaped and usually coarsely toothed, dark green, leathery leaves to 15 cm long.
Muogamurra Nature Reserve-photo M Cannon
The NSW species normally flowers red, but many produce pink or even white flowers. A rare white-flowering form, ‘Wirrimbirra White’, is occasionally available from specialist growers.
did you know that the large, pinky-red flowerheads are actually a lot of small flowers densely packed into conical about 15 cm across, and surrounded by a collar of large red, smooth bracts.
The ‘flower’ is in fact a conflorescence makes up to as many as 240 individual flowers. It flowers during spring, October to November.

It is a bird-attracting plant, providing large quantities of nectar for a variety of honeyeaters.

People want to know why Waratahs sometimes drop dead?

Sometimes the conditions just aren’t right and eventually your Waratah gives up the ghost.
What are those conditions?
Some say grow near a Banksia serrata is the key.
Others that you need to get some mycorrhizal fungi.
There are members of the Australian Society for Growing Plants that wouldn’t think much of that idea either.
But what everyone agrees on, never hard prune your waratah plant and watering is the key.
Plants bought from garden centres and nurseries are cutting grown and don’t have that deep water searching  tap root that Waratahs have growing in the wild.

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