Saturday, 23 July 2016

From Babbling Birds to Grass Trees


Chestnut Crowned Babbler - An Australian Bird
Did you know that Australian birds are being studied by scientists overseas and the bird on today’s show has been found to be able communicate in a similar way to how humans use language?
Chestnut Crowned Babbler, photo Graeme Chapman
Chestnut Crowned Babblers have a distinct white stripe over their eye.
They also have a curved beak a bit like a honey eater which they use to search for food by probing amongst leaf litter and twigs on the ground. These Babblers are a bit bigger than your average Pee Wee to give you some gauge as to their size. 
So let’s find out I'm talking with  Dr Holly Parsons, Manager of Birds in Backyards.

Babbler birds were found to combine two sounds (let’s call them sound A and sound B) to generate calls associated with specific behaviours.
In flight, they used an "A-B" call to make their whereabouts known, but when alerting chicks to food they combined the sounds differently to make "B-A-B".
The birds seemed to understand the meaning of the calls.

Chestnut Crowned Babbler photo Trinity News Daily
When the feeding call was played back to them, they looked at nests, while when they heard a flight call they looked at the sky.
How interesting is that?
If you have any questions about Chestnut crowned babblers or have a photo to share, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


TEA PLANT Camellia sinensis

But I’m not talking vegetables I’m thinking of a relaxing cup of tea, and why is a cup of Tea relaxing, more on that later?
I'm not talking about herbal teas either, but real tea:
Camellia sinensis is the plant.
There are a number of tea-producing nations and regions all around the world but the largest tea growing nations, are India, China and various regions in Africa. Australia has its own plantations in northern NSW.
And as the second most popular hot drink in the world you would expect that tea is grown in massive quantities.

So Which Camellia Plant Should You Grow?
Not all camellia plants’ leaves are suitable for using in tea and commercial growers use two varieties of Camellias.
The China tea bush, or Camellia chinensis, produces small tea leaves and grows to about 1.6m.
Camellia sinensis leaves
It’s a very hardy, multi-stemmed but a slow growing shrub.
The leaves are dark green, glossy and small as you would expect being a Camellia
The second variety, which will be hard to source for the home gardener is the Assam tea bush (Camellia chinensis var Assamica)
The Assam tea bush has much larger leaves-almost twice the size leaves of the China tea bush and is quick growing and loosely branched
The leaves grow up to 20cm..
Assam tea leaves are light green and glossy.
Normally I give a brief history of the plant I’m talking about in the Vegetable Heroes segment, but with tea, well, I would be here well into the evening!
Some say Camellia sinensis originated in China, but others point to Vietnam as being a source of the original plant.
Either way, the drink, Tea has been around since 2700 B.C. in China of course.
Would you believe that tea didn’t become popular in Europe until trade routes were established in the 17th century?
All those years without drinking tea!
You can get a bit more info on
What’s nice about growing the tea plant, is that right now it has small, (about 8cm wide), single white flowers with a bunch of yellow stamens in the centre. The white flowers set off the dark green leaves- so very attractive.
The Camellia sinensis var sinensis plant is a small shrub about 1 ½ -2 metres in height, although it will grow taller if you don't prune it.
Camellia sinensis flowers.
Camellia sinensis  can withstand hot droughts and severe winters so you can grow it virtually in all climates of Australia.
You don't need a large garden to grow your own tea and being a small and slow grower, a large pot or tub suits this plant right down to the ground.
If you grow this plant to make tea, you will have to keep it clipped to about a metre so you have plenty of new flushes of growth to pick from.
Camellia sinensis or the Tea Camellia, grows just like any other Camellia bush that you might have growing in your garden.
Note: I’ve got to say though, it’s one of the slowest growing Camellias that I know.
For planting, Camellia sinensis likes well-drained soil that is on the acidic side.
You'll need some patience, too.
Your plant should be around 3 years old before you start harvesting leaves.
Tea bushes can be subject to attack from mites, scales, aphids, and caterpillars, but most pest problems can be solved with horticultural oil, or neem oil.
Using organic pesticides is best, after all you want the leaves for something you’ll consume and you won’t be harming birds or other beneficial insects.
See for pest control.
If you’re having trouble getting the tea plant, you can grow it from seed, available from Diggers and online organic seed company called Greenpatch.

So How Do You Make Tea?

To make  green tea
Pick the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.
Blot the leaves dry, and let them dry in the shade for a few hours.
Steam the leaves (like you would vegetables) on your stove for about a minute.
For a different flavour, try roasting them in a skillet for 2 minutes instead of steaming.
Spread the leaves on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 1200C for 20 minutes.
Store the dried tea leaves in an air-tight container or a tea caddy.
To make black tea.
Again, pick the very youngest leaves and leaf buds like before.
Roll the leaves between your hands, and crush them until the leaves start to darken and turn red.
Spread them out on a tray, and leave them in a cool location for 2-3 days.
Dry them in the oven at 1200 C for about 20 minutes.
Black tea
Doesn’t sound too hard does it?
Once you get the hang of it, try experimenting with different drying times to get different tastes.
Mix your teas with jasmine or hibiscus flowers for a lovely summer tea right from your garden.
Tea Dust in Tea Bags?
Now if you think that tea dust or the sweepings are used to make the ingredients for tea bags. I have it on good authority from one tea producer, that tea dust is in fact used as mulch on the tea plantation.
The dried tea leaves are cleaned and graded using vibrating screens, electrostatic rollers, sifters and windfall machines.
The smaller tea grades are used for teabags and the larger particles are used for leaf tea, with all dusts discarded.
Tea bag tea is made from the smaller leaves.
Why is black tea good for you?
Tea is the number one source of flavonoids (those cancer- and cholesterol-busting antioxidants) in the American diet.
Tea keeps you hydrated because every cup of tea you drink, especially the low caffeine varieties that grows in Australia, counts as a cup of water, and you’re getting anti-oxidants as well.
Why do we reach for a cup of tea when we’re feeling stressed out?
That’s because Tea can lower stress hormone levels in particular the stress hormone cortisol in the body and it has the added benefit of just making you feel good on a cold winter morning.Tea drinkers may already know that drinking tea may help prevent strokes, heart disease, and cancer.Want to know what to do with used tea leaves?Tea is high in nitrogen and contains minerals like magnesium, potassium, zinc and even fluoride that are needed for healthy plants.Tea leaves make a great organic fertilizer.
And for all you rose lovers out there, did you know that rose bushes love used tea leaves most of all?
Cover the used tea leaves with mulch and water in the nutrients that comes from the tea leaves.
Roses love the tannic acid that occurs naturally in tea.
Another tip: soak that used tea bag again but this time, water your houseplants with it. They love it, especially African Violets.
Why not try growing your own lifetime supply of tea that's as fresh and pure as you can make it.


Climbing Plants for a Temperate Climate
Not all climbers take over your garden and not all climbers, hardly any really, are maintenance free.
Stephanotis floribunda photo M Cannon
But if you choose carefully, you can fit a number of climbers into your garden to give you maximum benefit of luxurious green foliage and scented or unscented flowers.
This week it’s about climbers that are suited for a temperate climate, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t grow them wherever you are.
Let’s find out. I'm talking with Glenice Buck, Consulting Arborist and Landscape Designer.

Glenice mentioned
Stephanotis or Madagascar Jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda)
This is a more moderated climber which has a delicious perfume.  The fragrance is a favourite of mine. The flowers are small star shaped waxy blooms which hang in bunches. It likes a sheltered position in full to partial sun and well-drained soil.  It tends to cope with a hotter spot as long as its roots are shaded.  This climber will grow in warmer climates also.  It is tendril climber.
Hardenbergia (Hardenbergia violacea)

Hardenbergia violaceae photo M Cannon
It is a vigorous evergreen climber that can also be grown as a ground cover in full sun to dappled shade and well-drained soil.  It has few varieties such as happy wanderer which is a purple form.  Its leaves almost look like Eucalyptus leaves.
Hibbertia scandens or the Guinea Flower with bright yellow flowers and is native to Australia.


Grass Trees Xanthorhhoea species
Grasses of all kinds are an essential design element in your garden.
You have grasses for your lawn of course, then there’s ornamental grasses that give you height and a different effect, but there’s also trees with grassy leaves that can act as a standout feature in your garden.
Grass trees in Western Australia. photo M Cannon

Let’s find out more. I'm talking with Karen Smith, editor of Hort Journal  and Jeremy Critchley, The Green Gallery wholesale nursery owner.

Many, grass trees develop an above ground stem which is rough-surfaced, built from accumulated leaf-bases around the secondarily thickened trunk.

Xanthorrhoeae species photo M. Cannon

The trunk is sometimes unbranched, or branched if the growing point is damaged, and others naturally grow numerous branches.
Flowers occur along a long spike above a bare section called a scape; the total length can be up to four metres long in some species.
Flowering is usually in Spring but can be stimulated by bushfire.

Xanthorrhoeae glauca only grows one to two centimetres a year and can take 30 years to get a significant trunk.
Grass trees are frost tolerant to -80 C.

When planting out into the garden be very careful how you handle the root ball.
Some recommend planting on top of a mound. DON’T DISTURB THE ROOTS.

In its natural environment
Many horticulturalists recommend cutting and slowly pulling away the plastic pot and carefully placing into a pre dug hole.
There were some great tips from Karen and Jeremy, particularly about looking for the tag or certificate that should be attached to each grass tree that’s for sale.
NPWS tags are required for all plants acquired from wild sources under wild harvester and approved harvester licences.
Growers definitely require NPWS tags for species, such as Xanthorrhoea, in larger size classes.


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