Sunday, 17 February 2019

Lilies That Are Pineapple and Sage That Is Just Sage

Introducing a new contributor who has some sage advice in plant of the Week, a crunchy but sweet root veggie in vegetable heroes, No shade for outside dining in Design Elements plus Talking Flowers is back with pineapple lily flowers to delight.


Sage as Herbal

Herbs are great plants to grow in the garden because they’re so useful in cooking.
But perhaps you’re not using your herbs to fullest?
Even if you just made a tea, you’re expanding the usefulness of that herb.
But what kind of benefits would you get from just drinking a freshly made herbal tea?
Let’s find out … I'm talking to new contributor Simone Jeffries, a naturopath, nutritionist and herbalist.

Sage is Salvia officinalis which you may already know, means it’s the one for medicinal use.
There’s no point buying a Pineapple sage plant and using it’s leaves, it just has to be the medicinal sage which is also the culinary sage. 
There are heaps of benefits of drinking Sage tea but Sage tea is an acquired taste.

Put 6 fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water and let steep for a minimum of 5 minutes.
Somone says "Sip throughout the day for control of night sweats for post-menopausal ladies."
So, if you really want the benefits, then you’ve just got to drink it as Simone says, maybe add a dash of honey.
For sore throats: Make a strong tea and lemon juice and honey and gargle it.

If you have any questions either for me or Simone why not write in to


Yacon is in the Daisy or Asteraceae family.

Scientifically speaking: Smallanthus sonchifolius (syn Polymnia sonchifolia)
Yacon is sometimes called, Peruvian ground apple, strawberry jicama, Bolivian sunroot, llacon, ground-pear, and pear of the earth.
We’ll stick to Yacon-which is the name this vegetable mostly goes by
Yacon is native to the Andes- Colombia and Ecuador but did you know that until as recently as the early 2000s, yacón was hardly known outside of South America?
You probably won’t see it any time soon in your veggie shop but you can buy Yacon tea or Yacon syrup.
So what does this plant look like and which part do you eat?
Yacon is a hardy, attractive herbaceous perennial from which you get quite a few tubers.
The plant grows to 1.5 to 2 m tall with light green angular leaves that look a bit like a milk thistle’s leaves or even a Jerusalem artichoke.
When it flowers, you’ll have male and female daisy-like yellow to orange flowers that are pollinated by insects.
Each plant forms a underground clump of 4 to 20 fleshy large tuberous roots.
The plant itself is extremely hardy tolerating hot summers, drought and poor soils.
The part that you eat is underground.
Yacon tubers look a bit like sweet potatoes, but they have a much sweeter taste and crunchy flesh.
The tubers are very sweet, juicy and almost calorie free but more on that later.
I would say that the tubers taste like a cross between apple and watermelon, but with more sweetness.
Generally it’s a bit tricky describing the taste of a new food, but everyone agrees on the crunchiness.
If you can grow Jerusalem artichokes or Parsnips, you can grow Yacon.
Yacon has a long growing season-up to 7 months so generally suits temperate to tropical areas.
But you can grow it in cooler districts.
Yacon can be planted all year round in frost-free areas as it is day-length neutral.
In tropical areas grow Yacon during the dry season before the wet sets in.
It appears to be drought tolerant compared to other vegetable crops and so far, pest-free.
Planting in Cool Climates

Two Types of Tubers
Yacon actually produces two types of underground tubers, reddish rhizomes directly at the base of the stem that can be eaten but are a bit stringy and tough so they’re mainly used for propagation.
Then there’s the larger brown or purple tubers-these are the ones you eat.
Prepare the soil by loosening well with a fork and working in compost.
To plant, cover a large rhizome/tuber which has several sprouts, with soil to a depth of 3 cm.  Space them 0.5m apart.
But you might just want to start with one plant which you can buy online or some garden centres.

Mulch well because yacon will grow up through the mulch, just like potatoes.

The stems of this plant are brittle so if you haven’t got a wind break tip prune the stems to make the plant lower and more bush.
Because this plant creates dense shade when it grows you probably won’t have to do any weeding. Bonus!
TIP: Yacon grows fast even in poor soils but gives you much bigger tubers in rich, friable, well-drained soil.

So when do you pick this strange vegetable?

If your plant flowers don’t bother with any seeds you might bet because they’re mostly un-viable.
Yacon is almost always propagated from cuttings or tubers.
Why the tubers keep sweetening during storage is because of starch conversion.
You can put them in the sun for a couple of weeks to speed up the sweetening process.
The tubers can be eaten raw as a refreshing treat on their own, finely sliced and mixed into salads, boiled or baked, fried as chips or prepared as a pickle.
There’s plenty of eating tips, too many to mention, but I’ll post them on the website. For those without a computer, write in to me and I’ll send you a fact sheet.
First remove the outer brown skin and inner white skin by peeling with a knife as the skin has a resinous taste.
Inside is amber coloured sweet crunchy flesh.
Like all tubers there are no seeds to remove, so it is quick and easy to prepare.
Chop the tuber into chunks and add it to green salads where they impart a great flavour and texture. I
When cut into long strips, they make an interesting addition to a plate of raw vegetable crudites for dipping into your favourite guacamole or cream cheese dip.
It can also be boiled, steamed or baked with other vegies. In cooking they stay sweet and slightly crisp.
If boiled 'in the jacket' the skin separates from the flesh and can be peeled off like a boiled egg.
Yacon can also be used in a dessert crumble or pie with apples, pears or choko.
In the Andes, they are grated and squeezed through a cloth to yield a sweet refreshing drink. The juice can also be boiled down to produce a syrup. In South America the juice is concentrated to form dark brown blocks of sugar called chancaca. The young stem can be used as a cooked vegetable.
Why is it good for you?
Nutritionally yacon is low in calories but it is said to be high in potassium.
Yacon tubers store carbohydrate in the form of inulin, a type of fructose, which is a suitable food for type II diabetics.
Plants with the sugar inulin such as Jerusalem artichokes and yacon can be useful additions to diet of people with type II diabetes.


Pineapple Lily: Eucomis comosa

Grows in the wettest parts of South Africa where it orginates.

Member of the Asparagaceae family.

Pineapple lily is a bulbous perennial with a basal rosette of lime-green leaves.

Mercedes will say, Mr Pineapple Lily, because it starts from a bulb.

The thick stem  carries hundreds of small star-shaped flowers with a tuft of green bracts at the top.

This sort of looks like a pineapple top, hence it's common name.
The Pineapple Lily as a cut flower will last for several weeks in the vase.
Cut the stem straight across, because the flower arises from a plant with a bulb, therefore Mr Pineapple Lily.
Remember to always use filtered water.

I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini of

Video was recorded live during the broadcast of Real World Gardener at 2rrr 88.5 fm radio studios 


Garden Walkways

Today’s garden challenge is for those gardeners that don’t want hard surface garden paths.
Concrete, brick or other types of paving for paths can be a bit harsh in areas where the garden is quite natural.
In this segment, garden designer Peter Nixon explores some softer alternatives.
Let’s find out…
I'm talking with Peter Nixon, garden designer.
Peter’s not a fan of pebbles on paths.

Instead why not try a combo of bark chips and shell grit, or decomposed granite, perhaps Lillydale topping and bark or woody mulch.

You would need to run the plate compactor over these surfaces to compact the path.

If you have any questions about what to do for your garden paths in your garden, or have some information to share, write in

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Birds, the Bees and Anthuriums

What’s on the show today?

A beautiful bird regails us in Wildlife in Focus, the elusive pollination problem in vegetable heroes, a an alluring indoor plant in Plant of the Week plus Why Don’t Plants Last in Design Elements.


Beautiful Firetail Finch: Stagonopleura bella
Over the years, Australian birds have featured on this program, but how good are we at identifying the calls?
It’s not that easy is it?
Beautiful Firetail finch
What about placing a particular bird in the correct family of birds?
That should be easier so where do finches sit? Parrot family or Passerine?
Let’s find out .
I'm talking with Dr Holly Parsons from

Amazing to see in the wild, males and female Firetail Finches are similar, being small and chunky, with striking barring and a pale blue eye ring.
Let’s hope listeners that people don’t mistake them for mice scuttling about the long grass looking for grass seeds.
They also like the seeds of Casuarinas and Tea-Trees.
Can you imagine this little bird building an exact bottle shaped nest tipped on its side? 
The nest is built from grass and carefully woven by both of the birds.
Not found in urban settings that much, but in shrubby settings.

If you have any questions either for me or for Holly, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


The reason this topic is being mentioned is because although gardeners realise that pollination is vital in a plants reproductive cycle so that seeds, fruit or veg is formed.
The problem is though, gardeners often struggle with the question,
“ why haven’t I got fruit on my zucchini plant, when there’s plenty of flowers, and plenty of bees buzzing around.?
Substitute what fruit or vegetable that you’ve had trouble with getting it to fruit in place of that zucchini, it could be beans.
Sometimes it seems so random, for example, last year, I had plenty of flowers on my passionfruit vine, but not a single passionfruit.
This year, though, there’s plenty of passionfruit.
So what happened?
First , let’s start with what is pollination?
Put simply, during plant reproduction, pollination is when pollen grains move from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another flower.
Insects can pollinate flowers, and so can the wind.
Insect-pollinated flowers are different in structure from wind-pollinated flowers.
Insect pollinated flowers are large and brightly coloured, mostly scented and with nectar.
All of this is needed to attract the insects.
  • The pollen grains are sticky or spiky so that they stick to the insect good and proper.
  • Inside the flower, the anthers are stiff and firmly attached so that they remain in place when an insect brushes past.

  • The stigma, usually higher than the anther, has a sticky surface to which pollen grains attach themselves when an insect brushes past.
  • Wind pollinated flowers are often small, dull green or brown with no scent or nectar.
  • The flower usually has hundreds of thousands of pollen grains that are smooth and light so that they can easily be carried by wind without clumping together.
  • Anthers are outside the flower, and usually looks quite long.
  • All the better to easily release pollen grains.
  • The stigma is also outside the flower and looks more like a feather duster so it can more easily catch those drifting light pollen grains.
  • That’s important to remember if you think about sweet corn which is from the grass family and therefore wind pollinated.
When it comes to insect pollinated flowers, the different heights of the anther and the stigma is designed by nature so that the plant avoids self-pollination or inbreeding.

Did you know that most plants are hermaphrodites because they have both male and female parts in the same flower?

Even corn is a hermaphrodite but because it’s in the grass family, it has separate male and female flowers on the same plant rather than on different plants like Spinach.
In Corn the male flowers are position above the female flowers, ie, silks, below containing the ears.
The flowers are self-compatible with pollen being spread by wind and not insects.
This means it’s subject to inbreeding depression, so seed savers need to replant at least a hundred plants for true to type maintenance.
  • Pumpkin and zucchini is another variation in that the separate male and female flowers are on the same plant and are self –compatible just like corn, but relying on insects.
  • Without insects to transfer the pollen there would be no fruit.
  • Did you know that our favourite vegetable, the tomato, is a hermaphrodite too?
  • Botanists call the flowers of tomatoes, perfect flowers because they have male and female flowers within the same flower.
  • That means they are self-pollinating and don’t need cross-pollination by wind, birds or insects.

Now to that sticky question, “why isn’t my plant fruiting?”
There’s plenty of flowers and insects but still no fruit.
Weather conditions are key factors in successful pollination.
High humidity creates sticky pollen which does not transfer well.
Plants in the cucurbit family rely on honeybees for pollination, and honeybees do not fly in cool, cloudy weather.
Male Flower of Zucchini
  • If you need to you can hand pollinate the cucurbit’s flowers.
  • As temperatures reach the high 20's, the success rate for pollination declines.
  • A heat wave in the thirties, will result in poor if any, pollination.
  • To help with fruit set, try misting the flowers early in the morning with a spray bottle of water.
  • When the weather is very hot and dry with temperatures over 290 C,  the pollen becomes very dry and isn't easily transferred.

Zucchine female flower and fruit
  • Again, it’s a good idea to try misting the flowers with water occasionally and keep up the mulch around the base so the plants don't dry out too much.
  • This is common with many plants, especially with more northerly climates.
  • The cure, shade cloth covers.
Another factor is plant stress:
In nature when a plant is under stress, it will not produce fruit.
Or, it will abort existing fruit.
It’s a survival mechanism, allowing a plant to focus upon survival first.
That stress is caused by:
Water: too little or too much water.
The Cure: Keep soil consistently moist, not wet and not dry.
Another reason is a Soil pH imbalance: this could be pH levels are too high, or too low.
The Cure:: Get your soil tested. Alter pH levels as indicated by the test.
And if you don’t have enough insects like bees visiting your garden, you know what to do, plant more bee and other insect attracting plants like Borage and Alyssum around your garden.


Anthurium "Allure."
Listeners in southern states will have to keep this plant outdoors, however if you live in Townsville or around the Top End, outdoors will be no problem all year round but not in full sun.
But what is this alluring plant with dark green luscious, tropical leaves.
Let’s find out …

I'm talking with the plant panel where were Jeremy Critchley of and Karen Smith editor of

Anthuriums are evergreen, subtropical small plants with dark green glossy heart shaped flowers and leaves.
They’re great for indoors as houseplants but if you live in the tropics, they also make beautiful underplanting for shady and part-shady spots.

If you have any questions either for me or Jeremy or Karen why not write in to