Sunday, 1 March 2015

Diving into Spires of White


The Greater Crested Tern is the second largest of 18 different terns found in Australia.
Like most terns, the Greater Crested Tern catches its prey by plunge-diving.

Crested Tern photo Sabrina Ferguson St Leonards Victoria
They first locate their prey by hovering above the surface of the water, before swooping down and either picking food from the surface or diving below to catch its prey. They even try to steal food from others in the same family.
Let’s find out what this bird is all about…I'm talking with  ecologist Sue Stevens

The Greater Crested Tern is found around sandy beaches with fish and safe breeding sites that includes sand dunes with spinifex.
A Tern on the beach photo S. Ferguson St LeonardsVictoria

The Crested tern is an adaptable species that has learned to follow fishing boats for jettisoned bycatch, and to use unusual nest sites such as the roofs of buildings and artificial islands in salt pans and sewage works.
St Leonards Vic. photo S. Ferguson
The greater crested tern is vulnerable because they nest on the ground so dogs let loose on the beach can scare them off leaving in the eggs to chicks exposed.
Also the tern's eggs and young are taken by gulls and ibises, and human activities such as fishing, shooting and egg harvesting have caused local population declines.
You can help protect the Greater Crested Tern by:
organising a day to pick-up litter on your local beach
 not getting too close to tern nests as disturbance can distract them from caring for their young.
If you have any questions about Crested Terns or a photo send it in to or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Florence Fennel Foeniculum vulgare dulce and var. azoricum
Did I really mean Florence Fennel?
You might think that I’m trying to get you to grow that roadside weed that is found all over Australia.
No, I’m talking about the culinary fennel. That other fennel was probably the Fennel  mentioned in the seed  inventory list brought out to Australia by the First Fleet in 1788.
Fennel is a member of the Apiaceae family, the members of which include parsley, caraway, dill, cumin and anise.
Did you know that in Ancient Greece fennel juice was used as an effective cure for poor eyesight, night blindness and cataract?

The real fennel (Florence fennel Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group;) is a cultivar group with a sort of bulb at the base that you can use in cooking, salads and stir fries.

The bulb part is sort of a squat flattened oblong with  four or five smooth stalks coming out the top. These stalks are hollow with a white pith inside.
On top of the stalks are feathery, finely divided linear leaves, and if you let if flower, they’ll be yellow followed by greyish brown seeds.
They’re also edible.
Also the real fennel or Florence Fennel has a much milder anise-like flavour, than wild Fennel and is more aromatic and sweeter.
Fennel really only grows to about 60cm and we tend to grow it as an annual although it is a perennial.
This plant is best in hot, dry climates but will grow in practically all climates of Australia, yes Melbourne and Canberra is fine.

When to Sow.
Sowing at the right time of year is important because if you sow too early, cold can cause bolting; if you sow too late, plants won't fatten up before the winter
Now is ideal, when the temperature is stable, day length is consistent and there's at least 16 weeks for bulbs to develop.
In sub-tropical areas, you can plant or sow seeds from March until May, in temperate zones, from February until May, in cool temperate zones, you have from February until about mid- March, and for cold or mountain districts, it was February then not again until November/December unless you have a greenhouse.
For arid areas you have March and April and again in July.

Should you have a soil thermometer, Fennel is best planted at soil temperatures between 10°C and 25°C  and as a general rule of thumb, soil temperatures are around a few degrees cooler than the current air temperature.
It resents disturbance and responds to any shock by bolting: so you’ll only get feathery fronds and flowers, but no swollen stems.
Because the bulb grows only partially below ground, and mostly above ground it suits those districts with heavy soils.
 Otherwise, you can grow it in a pot-by itself.
Florence Fennel isn’t too fussy with soils as long as the veggie bed, or garden bed is well drained as has compost or decayed animal manure dug in.
In cool temperate districts cut back the plant to about 10cm above the ground as winter draws nearer.
Fennel likes a well-drained fertile soil like most vegetables really.
 When planting your Florence Fennel seeds –sow them about 5mm deep, and unless you’ve got a lot of space, you don’t need more than 2 or 3 because they need spacing of about 30cm.
Never let the soil dry out because water is needed for germination, steady growth and swelling.
If roots become visible or plants seem unsteady, earth them up to stabilise them.
This will also help make bulbs white and tender and, later, exclude frost.
After about 6 weeks you can hill out the soil around the emerging bulb so that, like Celery, the base stays white and is more tender than if you let the sunlight turn it green.
Hilling up is just mounding soil or mulch around the base of the plant.

You can make sleeves out of newspapers or use bottomless milk cartons to keep the hilled soil from getting into the leaves of the Fennel plant.
Plants take several months to mature that’s 3-4 months after sowing.
When they look big enough to eat use a garden fork to loosen the roots and cut the bulb off about 2.5cm above the ground.
This way you’ll get more feathery shoots that can be used as celery/dill-flavoured seasoning in the kitchen.
An advantage of growing Florence fennel are that it attracts parasitic wasps and very small Praying Mantises.
It’s free of pests and it looks great and the Fennel bulb is delicious baked, too.
Why not try it grated raw in a salad or baked in lasagne.?
Cooking with Florence fennel
The bulb is best sweet, ripe and fresh (try it raw in salads) but it will also keep for several weeks in a cool, dry place

The small bulbs are delicious finely sliced raw in salads with orange and radish. The larger, woodier bulbs are better cut into slices and baked.
Where do you get it?
You can get root cuttings from plants that have been lifted during spring, so any if you attend a garden club, ask if any members have this plant.
There are plenty of seed suppliers in Australia that have Florence Fennel Seeds.
Try these companies/ and
Why is it good for you?
The fennel bulb is also an excellent source of Vitamin C
Fennel also has folate (Vitamin B), fibre and potassium.
One cup of fennel has 10.8 per cent of the daily fibre intake, 5.9 per cent of the daily folate and 10.3 per cent of the daily potassium.
Definitely worth a try.


with Jason Cornish landscape designer.
You might’ve seen green walls on gardening programs on television, in magazines or in situ inside a building or even on the outside.
You might’ve even though of building one to hide an ugly view but were put off by the cost and well, do the plants last in green walls?
Today’s landscape designer doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to describing the pitfalls that greenwalls or vertical gardens have.

Jason also describes a simple method he thinks is a simple but fool-proof design for a DIY vertical garden.

Let’s find out  about them

There are lots of things to consider if planning a green wall, and I think you have to be really handy to build one yourself.
Otherwise buy one of those vertical garden modules that are easy to install and don’t require attaching to a fence.


Ivory Curl Tree. Buckinghamia celsissima
Do you need a fast growing tree?
If you do, then you can’t go past this one then because it’s a robust native tree, you can keep it low by pruning, it’s evergreen and has creamy fragrant spires of flowers in summer and autumn.
A native of northern Queensland coastal rainforests, where it grows on deep well-drained volcanic soils.

Let’s find out about this plant.

Rainforest plants can be grown in most gardens provided they are given protection from the extremes of heat, cold and the drying winds.
Buckinghamia celsissima is a hardy reliable flowering tree which is often used as a street tree in many areas because of its adaptability.
It can either be grown as a tree, or be kept pruned as a shrub.
Ideally, ivory curl tree prefers full sun and deep well-drained soil, where it will develop a dense, compact, rounded crown of deep green leaves.

New growth is flushed bronze/red. Moderately fast growth can be expected if well-watered and fertilized in summer.
Although watering is necessary initially, once established, rainforest plants require no more water than other garden plants.
Ivory curl tree flowers, sort of look like those of Grevilleas, and native birds just love them as do bees because they’re a good food source.

Bushy foliage is made up of slender, shiny green leaves that have a velvety underside. New growth often has a pinkish red tinge.   Worth a try.

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