Saturday, 1 December 2018

Beauty in Flowers on Trees and in Vases

NZ Flax plant

What’s on the show today?

What’s the link between NZ and Australian plants we ask in the Garden History segment? Growing a summer type of spinach in Vegetable Heroes; , plus a which is the best flowering gum in Plant of the Week and more floral happenings in Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.


New Zealand Plants in Australia
You may not know that Australia was once joined to New Zealand.
Does this explain some plants that are similar because they were left when the continents drifted apart ever so slowly?
Or was it the fashion of the day to bring over plants from other countries when the colonials started setting up their ornamental gardens?
Let’s find out why NZ plants have made their mark.
I'm talking with Stuart Read who’s a member of the National Management Committee of the Australian Garden History Society.

New Zealand plants it turns out, mostly came across to Australia in the 1800's.
Phormium tenax, or New Zealand flax plant is one example; this plant remains fashionable today because of its sculptural qualities that fit into modernist homes.
Apart from failing to learn the techniques of rope making using flax, gardeners even today, use this plant far and wide, not just in Australia.
Cordyline australis or Palm Lily is another example, called Torquay palm in England because they think it's theirs.
The australis part of the scientific name reflects that it is from Australia, but in this case means "of the south" in a general sense.
Cabbage tree or palm lily has an exotic look and the buds of which were cut off and used as boiled cabbage.
Having more than one growth bud, it didn't kill off the plant.
Stuart remembers how the streets were lined with NZ Christmas bush where he grew up.
Plants in the myrtle family have many similarities, for example, Pohutakawa or NZ Christmas bush has the same type of flowers as our lilly pillies and bottle brush.

If you have any questions, either for me or for Stuart, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


SILVERBEET or Beta vulgaris is grown as a leaf vegetable in Australia. 
Did you know that although the silver beet leaves are eaten like spinach, the stems may be cooked like celery?
The seedlings can also be served in salads.
Although it looks like true spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.), silver beet has a larger, coarser, milder tasting leaf.
It is also more tolerant of cold, heat, drought and disease.
What Is Perpetual Spinach?
As silver beet doesn’t easily go to seed during hot weather, it is grown in summer.
Did you also know that what’s sold as perpetual spinach, whether plants or seeds, is actually a type of silverbeet?
Perpetual Spinach is called that simply because it looks like and tastes similar to real spinach and so that name has become the norm for over a century.

The scientific Name is Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris.
Common Name: Silverbeet 'Perpetual Spinach',
Whereas, true spinach is Spinacia oleracea.
You might be surprised to learn that another name for chard is in fact ‘perpetual spinach.”
So Where Did It Come From?
Silver beet, a leafy relative of beetroot, comes from the coasts of Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean islands. From there it spread to Britain and then to Australia and New Zealand.
The stems can be white, red, pink, orange or yellow. The leaves may be smooth or crinkled.
Leaf colours vary from light to dark green to deep red.
In general, the paler the leaf colour the milder the leaf flavour.
Silver beet is a biennial plant meaning it should last for a couple of years in your garden.
In the wild it grows leaves in its first season and produces seeds in the second season after germination.

Silverbeet prefers a shaded aspect that is sheltered.
Although it copes with strong winds, they can cause some leaf damage.
Will It Grow In A Pot?
If you want to grow Silverbeet in a pot, it must be quite deep, so a tall pot would suit quite well.
Silver beet does well in a wide range of climates, even in sub-tropical, temperate and cold temperate climates.
Varieties of Silverbeet
Fordhook Giant and Fordhook have broad, white stems and heavily crinkled, dark green leaves. 
Both these varieties are grown over the warmer months.
How to Sow
Silver beet can be direct sown or transplanted.
Silverbeet Seeds are Knobbly. Why?

  • Did you realise that the light brown, knobbly thing in the silverbeet packet, has two to six seeds?
  • That’s called a cluster seed, which is actually a dried fruit.
  • The cluster seed is sown ½  cm deep in the soil or into seed trays for transplanting.
Don’t let the soil or seed raising mix dry out  until the silver beet seedlings emerge, usually in about 10 days.
Thin them out when the silverbeets are 5cm high and use the thinned out seedlings in stir fries.
Silver beet needs plenty of nitrogen and water for the fast growth of large, well-shaped, tender leaves.
Commercial growers often enrich their soils with large quantities of animal manures, composts or green manures.
That means, alfalfa or lucerne is grown first to put lots of nitrogen into the soil with their nitrogen fixing nodules.
Don’t use fresh animal manures because the animal manures need to be composted to avoid spoiling the silver beet leaves with food poisoning micro-organisms.
Applying some blood and bone fertiliser before sowing gives silverbeet crops a good start, especially on sandy soils.
  • Here’s another interesting fact about silverbeet.
  • Did you know that the leaves are 93% water?
  • If you’re growing it in full sun, your plant will probably wilt in the summer heat.
  • That’s because it might stand up to summer weather but it’s not drought-resistant.
  • Keep it really well watered to prevent wilting.
  • Don’t worry if you come home and find it flopped over, it will recover after watering.
  • Sprinkler irrigation is the preferred method for silver beet as it encourages leaf growth.
  • However, good irrigation timing is needed to prevent leaf diseases from occurring with sprinkler irrigation.
The Most Common Disease of Silverbeet
  • The one fungal disease I have noticed on my silverbeet crop is called Cercospora leaf spot (Cercospora beticola Sacc.) and is the most common fungal disease.
  • It produces light grey spots with brown margins on the older leaves. These spots fall out and create holes in the leaves.
  • The disease is favoured by high temperatures (24° to 30°C), high humidity or long periods of leaf wetness.
  • Cercospora leaf spot comes from several different ways into your garden.
  • It could be from diseased host crops or weeds growing near the silver beet, the environmental factors I mentioned, or a slight possibility that  it was from infected seed,.
  • If you do get this problem, don’t grow silverbeet in that spot for another 3 years.

Silverbeet can be cut and come again with multiple pickings.
The outer leaves are picked by pulling them down to 2.5 cm above the plant base, leaving the central leaves behind.

Pulling rather cutting the outer leaves reduces the amount of leaf damage in later pickings.
Silverbeet is ready in about 8 weeks and when the leaves are about the size of a ruler, ie, 30cm long.
Why is silverbeet good for you?
Like many leafy green vegetables, silverbeet has high levels of magnesium, calcium, vitamin K, iron, potassium, vitamin A –
vitamin A rich foods are great for a smoker or passive smoker. 
This is because a carcinogen found in cigarette smoke induces Vitamin A deficiency,
Eating a diet rich in Vitamin A may reduce the chances of developing lung inflammations.
Silverbeet is also rich in folate (folic acid), zinc, copper, vitamin C, dietary fiber, and vitamin E. 


Grafted Eucalypt Trees: Corymbia ficifolia

Would you like a tree that provides you stunning colour that you could also cut for your vase?
A tree whose flowers cover the leaves like a coloured blanket?
Better still, these trees don't grow much over 3 - 5 metres in height.

Of course you do, and if you have thought of it before, you’ll definitely want to grow this after you hear why it’s so good.
I'm talking with the plant panel : Jeremy Critchley of and Karen Smith, editor of
Let’s find out.

PLAY: Corymbia ficifolia_21st November_2018
The Plant Panel recommends that if your tree is suckering like Karen’s one, keep removing the suckers with secateurs, otherwise they will take over and possibly result in the death of the upper part, which is the scion.
  • TIP: When you plan to purchase a grafted eucalypt, make sure you check the graft union so that the top and bottom is equally matched.
If you have any questions about grafted eucalypts, why not write in to


Classic cut Flowers.
Mercede's definition of a bouquet of classic cut flowers is 'high end' cut flowers.
Think Ms Hydrangea, Ms Stephanotis,Mr Tuber Rose.
It's not just flowers though, there are berries that are incorporated into a bunch of classic flowers.
Try Ms Hypericumred or green berries. Hypericum androsaemum, also referred to as Tutsan, Shrubby St. John’s Wort , or sweet-amber, is a flowering plant in the family Hypericaceae. It is a perennial shrub reaching up to 70 cm in height, native to open woods and hillsides.
Also suitable are Ms Crab -Apple. Some florists say the perfect bouquet consists of crabapple, pepperberries and red/orange roses. 
How to treat Ms Hypericum:

  • Slit the woody ends and then soak them in a bucket of warm water for 3 to 4 hours so they can absorb as much moisture as possible. Strip off any leaves that will be under the water level in their container, fill it up with more water and place them in a cool, dimly lit room until the buds swell and begin to show color. 
Ms Stephanotis is a high end cut flower.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini of

Recorded live during the broadcast of Real World Gardener on 2RRR 88.5 fm Sydney

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