Friday, 28 September 2012

Don't Choko On this Feature Design Element



with Landscape Designer, Louise McDaid
Feature Plants in Pots
How is the potted garden makeover going? Have you decided to do away with some of the pots, perhaps even re-potted others. Well in the last of the series on the potted garden, Louise and I are looking at what makes a feature plant suitable for the potted garden? Listen here for more...

Vegetable Heroes:

Mystery Vine (Identified: A Chayote)
  • Choko is Sechium edule belongs to the pumpkin or Cucurbitaceae family.
  • Because the choko plant is a climber, it can easily be grown on fences, trellises or frames allowing the fruit to hang down for easy harvesting.
  • This mild-flavoured squash looks like a wrinkled, pale green pear. It needs to be cooked before serving, and for a longer time than other squash.
  • It has a very mild flavour, some say bland flavour, and unless you cook it with some strong tasting spices and herbs, you won’t get that much out of chokoes.
  • Now is a good time  because spring weather has been getting warmer over the last few weeks.
  • In Subtropical districts, plant them out in October and November, in temperate zones, wait until December, in Arid regions, again you’ve won  the jackpot because you can plant these for 6 months of the year from September through to February, in Tropical areas, which I haven’t mentioned before, because no- in far north Queensland takes this program, however, from a comment on my Facebook page, I’ve discovered that people are listening to the podcasts from all over Australia, not just those who can hear the radio broadcast.
  • So, in tropical areas, you can only plant them between April and July, and unfortunately for cool temperate districts, unless you really want to try them and have a hot north facing wall, chokoes aren’t recommended for your area, because chokos are frost tender .
  • Having said that, I found plenty of people as far south as Hobart, growing them in December against a north facing brick wall.
  • So Chokos will grow as far south as Tasmania when given a sunny site sheltered from wind and frosts.
  • If you’re having trouble getting them, a found a post from Chris who says he’ll send you the seeds for free as long as you pay the postage, Chris’s email is Just put chokoes in the subject line of your email.
  • Here’s a quick method to make sure the vine takes off.
  • Buy a couple of chokoes and keep them in a warm dark place for a few weeks, till they put out a runner, then put in a warm light place for a few weeks, by the time you’re ready to plant them they will have a strong runner maybe 10cm long..
  • When you plant them, after any danger of frosts is over, plant the seed with the sprouted end pointing down a little to stop water getting into the fruit and rotting it.
  • Plant the whole fruit - half in the soil and half out but wait till it starts sprouting (just store it with the potatoes till then).
  • The choko can be grown in nearly all soil types but prefers rich, well-drained organic soils with plenty of compost or animal manure added annually.
  • When grown in the tropics, the choko is evergreen, but in cooler and even temperate climates like here in Sydney, it has one crop then dies down to the tuberous root system and sprouts again the following spring.
  • So are they making it into apple pies? No. Vegetable industry group AusVeg, which tracks produce volumes, says choko volumes are so low that they can't be tracked.
  • The fact is apples are more plentiful and cheaper to buy than chokos, apart from the fact that it would be illegal under labelling laws.

Plant of the Week:

with Horticulturalist, Sabina Fielding Smith .
Cosmos flowers, Yuzawa, Japan
  • Recommended by permaculture devotees, Cosmos is an ideal plant to grow in your vegetable garden because it gets along with all varieties of vegetables and attracts pollinators which leads to a bumper crop. 
  •   Cosmos produces masses of colorful flowers that attract a variety of bees, butterflies, birds and beneficial insects into the garden.
  • Plant rows of cosmos in between plants that do not like one another, such as onions and beans. This creates a physical barrier that allows both plants to thrive. Scatter seed randomly throughout the garden to ensure a variety of beneficial insects visit. This will help you with natural pest control, which is an essential element of organic gardens.
  • Throw in a packet of Cosmos seeds, they’re easy and your garden will be glad you did.
  • Cosmos is Greek for order, so yes it’s a neat and tidy or orderly plant. And bipinnatus is Latin for having bipinnate or heavily dissected leaves. Another plant with heavily dissected leaves that listeners would be aware of is Grevilleas.
  • This plant flowers best in Summer and Autumn or until the first frosts knock them off.
  • The other good part about growing Cosmos is that they grow in almost any soil type.
  • Tip: if the soil is too rich you’ll get more leaves than flowers so ease off on the fertiliser.
  • Cosmos is not drought tolerant so if your district is going through water restrictions, why not put a small container like an ice-creamer container in the sink and every time you wash your hands, that water that you catch you can use to water your cosmos.
  • Another way to conserve water is to mulch your garden bed with a soft mulch for these annuals.
  • I mentioned there were many varieties of petal shapes and here’s one called Cosmos-Sea Shells because it has unusual shell shaped petals, this is a tall one growing to 1 metre.
  • Cosmos Double Pink-two rows of petals on 1 metre stems.
  • Cosmos Psyche White that has semi double fluted petals with frilly edges,…nice
  • What about the funny named Klondyke Bright Lights that has semi double flowers in reds, golds and orange shades.
  • If you want something a bit more subtle go for the Sensation range in mixed pinks, mauves and whites, great for the cottage garden and vegetable garden. Bees like the pale mauve and white end of the vision spectrum and they also can see ultra violet, but I can’t help you with those flowers.

Feature Interview:

Perfume Consultant Catherine Menage'
Spring is the best time to be talking about perfume and scent because we know that scented plants are just about to start opening up with the warmer weather. For some people the rambling Jasmine means spring is really here, for others it’s Wisteria. But up next I’m talking to Mike Barrett about how you can find out more about Perfume and the Science of Scent.
Catherine has set up an interest group via MeetUp, Sydney Perfume Lovers. Why not join Catherine for a coffee and chat offline and find out lots more about perfumery. Catherine plans to have people join who’ll talk about making perfumes as well. So get to the MeetUp website and register your interest with Sydney Perfume Lovers.
For more information  on the next Science of Scent talk and walk in October, visit the gardens website at  or ring Donna on 9231 8124

Friday, 21 September 2012

Give A Fig About Birds While Eating Asparagus

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney 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.

Wildlife in Focus:with ecologist Sue Stevens

Figbird feeding (Male Australasian Figbird) There are a number of fruits that are only seeded by being eaten by these and other fruit eating birds, being geminated when they are passed through their digestive system and then excreted onto the ground in a fertilized pool of droppings.
If you want to attract Figbirds to your garden you need to plant native fruit bearing trees and shrubs .(such as Persoonia, Quandong and other rainforest trees) and encourage your neighbours and council to do the same.
Sue mentions that the nest of the Figbird is quite flimsy and information from Wires in the Northern Rivers Area says that the young chicks are often blown out of their nest in the strong spring winds,which is how they end up in the care of Wires.  Let's hear more.....

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Vegetable Heroes:

 Asparagus or Asparagus officinalis from the Liliaceae or lily Family.
Once thought to be an aphrodisiac probably because of the shape more than anything else. Reference to Asparagus was found in an  16th century Arabian love making manual.
What is Asparagus exactly? The plant consists of a crown that is actually an underground stem from which asparagus spears shoots.
The roots are called rhizomes (pronounced rye-zomes). The spears, which are tender and succulent to eat, are slightly glossy, about 18-25cm long and 1.5-2cm wide, with many small, bumpy, triangular scales (called bracts) concentrated in the top quarter of the stem.
Well you might be thinking were can I buy Asparagus to grow? In fact, do I buy seed, or tubers or what?
I’m here to tell you all that. You can in fact buy Asparagus seed, including Purple Asparagus seed from online companies such as
But now’s the time to buy something called Asparagus Crowns, and you can buy these from some supermarkets. I saw some this week in a supermarket, they were the Mary Washington variety.
How to grow:
In temperate and sub-tropical districts, plant Asparagus crowns from August right through to November.
In cool temperate zones, you have from September until November, and unfortunately for arid zones, you had June, July, and will now have to wait until January.
This is one of the plants that don’t really belong in a vegetable patch, because the crowns last for many years, like rhubarb crowns, and need to be left in the one spot.
 Normally, your veggie patch gets a makeover every 6 months or so, -not that good for the crowns of these plants.
So find a sunny spot in the garden where you don’t mind some veggies growing there year after year.
Preferably with soil that’s been given some Dolomite and heaps and heaps of compost and complete plant food.
Plant you Asparagus crowns in furrows about 20 cm deep and 30 cm apart.
Place the crowns onto a small mound in the centre of the furrow, so that the roots point down , spread the roots out carefully. Backfill with compost to a depth of 7.5 cm.
Fill in the trench gradually as they  growth.  
Doesn’t sound too hard does it?
In spring Asparagus will grow long and thinnish with soft ferny leaves.  Don’t cut any spears in the first Spring, because this is when the crowns are developing.
During Autumn and Winter the tops will go yellow and brown off, cut off the old tops about 7.5 cm from the soil surface.
Apply a generous dressing of compost and well-rotted manure to feed the bed for its spring flush of growth.
Then top with a thick hay mulch.
The next Spring light cutting of spears can be done for the first month of the growing season, with normal cutting taking place each following year until late December. 

Design Elements:with Landscape Designer Louise McDaid

The potted garden is great for all types of reasons, but there are some pitfalls that make the overall look messy, top-heavy and just downright awful?
Here’s some tips to get you on your way for potting up your potted garden.

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After listening to the podcast, go out into your garden and decide which plants in pots need re-potting or just moving out of their pots altogether and into the garden.
Make a list of what you would like to see and over the coming weeks, see if you can meet the target of renewing some, most or even all of your pot plants. 

Plant of the Week: with Horticulturalist Sabina Fielding_Smith

 Lavandula spp. or Lavender. Lavender belongs to the Lamiaceae family.
Lamiaceae  mostly have aromatic leaves and square stems quadrangular with simple, opposite or occasionally whorled leaves. 
Lavenders originate from the Mediterranean and prefer wam, dry conditions.Clay soil and humid conditions are a challenge for growing lavender.
Raised beds and pots work very well for a lot of new Lavender varieties.
Recommended that lavenders should be given annual feeds of Calcium and Magnesium.  Calcium is best applied in the form of lime which usually contains a small amount of magnesium. However dolomite lime has a higher level of magnesium which gives better results).
Lavender "Princess"
IMPORTANT: Pruning a lavender bush to the point where it has no foliage will most likely kill it. You can try pruning in spring,  by cutting  back by 1/3 to stimulate new growth. After new foliage has grown in, cut back by 1/3 again to stimulate new growth at base of the plant. If new growth does come, prune back to just above the new growth.
Never prune out old wood unless it is completely dead.
Generally prune French Lavenders in summer and L. angustifolia in Autumn.
If you’ve got a hedge of Lavender, prune the sides in spring, leaving the top to flower, then again in Autumn.
Most of the varieties sold in nurseries now are hybrids of L. Stoechas. Examples are L. ‘Avonview, L. ‘Bee Series.’ Great as ornamental plants in the garden, but not for cooking, or dried flowers.
L. multifida-is naturally low growing-no need to prune. They maintain their bush and compact habit.
L terratheca are ferny leaved lavenders like L.’Sidonie.’
When picking lavender flowers here’s the best tip you will get.
For flowers of L. angustifolia and L. intermedia, put the stems into a vase or jar, but no water. These will dry naturally and last for ages.
For flowers of L. dentata (French Lavender), put these immediately into water otherwise they will wilt.
Other lavenders or best left for show in the garden-most have too much camphor in the flowers.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Bell Peppers and Allspice

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney 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.

Spice It Up

with Ian Hemphill from
Chickoo or Sapota Fruit
The name Allspice is because the flavour makes you think that you’re tasting nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Did you know that the fruit and leaf oil are also used in men’s toiletries? Ever heard of “Old Spice, I used to buy that for my father for his birthday when I was going to school. Any men’s fragrance that contains the word ‘Spice’ apparently has some allspice oil in it.
You can buy this tree online from a Fruit Tree nursery in NSW that has just about every exotic tree around. Just remember it’s not drought or frost tolerant. They will also send you a mail order catalog for free if you ring or write to them
I’ll put the link to the nursery on my website. By Phone:  (02) 9034 4626 
By Fax: (02) 66 322 585 By Mail: P O Box 154, Kyogle NSW 2474
Allspice is mainly grown in Jamaica and for some reason, no-one has be able to successfully grow it much as a plantation crop, anywhere else. That’s a pity because the bark and leaves are very aromatic.
So what is Allspice exactly and why is it so difficult to grow? Let’s find out…

Vegetable Heroes:

  • This weeks Vegetable Hero is the Capsicum or botanically-Caspicum annuum or Bell Pepper if you’re from the Northern Hemisphere, and Pimento if you’re from Spain.
  • Also sometimes called Sweet pepper so as not to be confused with those ones that have lots of bite. Capsicum is also from the Solanaceae or Night shade family that also has tomatoes.  
  •  In Cool temperate districts, you have September and October to sow seeds of Capsium.
  • If you live in arid, sub-tropical and temperate zones around Australia, sow seeds only to the end of September because of the long lead up time before the capsicum is ready to eat.  After that time put in seedlings  until December. 
  • Arid zones however have the added bonus of planting direct into the garden from November until April. Also Sub-tropical areas can plant direct into the garden from December until February. So you guys win again.
  • If you’re planting into an existing vegetable garden I urge you to consider crop rotation.. you’ll be planting your capsicums where you last had lettuces, spinach, and parsley, in other words leafy vegetables.
  • The capsicum plant is a medium sized bush between ½ -1 metre tall. All capsicum seeds need higher temperatures than tomatoes to germinate-in the 230C to 280C range. Capsicum seeds can be difficult to germinateI suggest soaking them in a seaweed solution for a few hours. A saucer will do, you don't need to drown them , also  seedlings grow slowly. The other drawback is that it takes 11-13 weeks or  about 3 months from when you put in the seedlings to when the capsicum is ready to eat.
  • The colour can be green, red, yellow, orange and more rarely, white and purple or chocolate brown, depending on when you pick them. No matter what type of capsicum you grow they like it hot.  
  • Capsicum plants prefer moist but not wet soil. Water them regularly in the hot, dry summer. Add mulch around the peppers to keep down weeds, and to hold in the moisture. As the capsicums fruits start to grow, switch over to a fertilizer higher in Phosphorous and Potassium. Tip: Capsicums are self pollinators. Occasionally, they will cross pollinate from pollen carried by bees or other insects. If you save the seeds from the crop, there is the possibility of cross pollination if you plant hot chillies and sweet capsicums too close. Don't worry though, as it will not affect the fruit of this year's crop, but will show up in the genetics of the seeds, if you save them.
  • Pests:    Several insects enjoy your pepper plants. Spider mites and aphids are the most common. I've had this happen, and the capsicums grew anyway. You’ll know when these have been around because the leaves of the capsicum will become deformed. Generally that’s too late to spray with anything. However, there is a natural spray derived from potassium soap or Natrasoap from Yates. By the way, these plants just like tomatoes are favoured by the Qld fruit fly, so if you had that problem in your garden last year, you’ll need to  start putting up fruit fly lures to indicate if they’ve arrived in your garden yet. Then, if they have, there is a pheromone spray that is an organic control of fruit fly. Organic control is ecolure from

Design Elements:

with Louise McDaid from Eden Gardens.
You’ve decided to makeover your potted garden one way or another, now how do you put them together? Grouping the pots differently will give you a different look. Trying adding or subtracting just one or two pots to see if it looks better. Another tip, is to change the plant that’s in the pot altogether and next week the Potted Garden discusses different plants for different pots. You can’t go wrong if you listen into Design Elements’ Potted Garden Series. Find out more.....   Podcast Powered By Podbean


  Plant of the Week:

with Sabina Fielding-Smith Flannel Flowers 
  • Flannel Fowers-Actinotus helianthi. You'll see them now in bushland around Sydney. Actinotus helianthi "Federation Star" is NSW's floral emblem.
  • Flannel flowers Actinotus helianthi are shallow rooted plants with relatively brittle stems that need excellent drainage as well as protection from strong winds to avoid stem breakage. Keep them flowering all season with a tip prune.
  • Older leaves on lower areas of stems will naturally die off and stay attached to the plant during the cooler months of the year.
  • Flannel flowers can be grown in either full sun or partial shade and tolerate light frost once established. If you don't have good drainange and you want to grow these flowers considera  raised bed. For example, at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan, flannel flowers have been successfully grown in a mix of 40% coarse sand, 40% well composted pine bark and 20% loam. A moderately acid soil mix with a pH of 5.0 to 6.0 is the ideal.
  • Species of Actinotus are particularly sensitive to root disturbanceso don't be tempted to  tease out the roots during transplanting into the garden bed or large pot. Recommended plant spacing is 0.5 to 1.0 m.
  • In humid areas, as with all grey, hairy leaved plants, Botrytis or fungal rot, attacks the lower leaves. Keep plenty of air circulating around the plants and remove any dead or fungus affected leaves. Avoid wetting the leaves when watering. Fertiliser your flannel flowers with a liquid food for natives.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Fly Like a Kite and Eat Licorice.

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney 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


Wildlife in Focus: Black shouldered Kite

with Ecologist Sue Stevens.
Black-shouldered Kite
From a distance you might mistake this bird for a seagull, and wonder what’s a lone gull doing in the open field? But in actual fact you would be looking at a Black-shouldered Kite, in other words an entirely different bird.
Most certainly a farmer’s or even gardener’s friend if you have a garden big enough.
Like all the elanid kites, it is a specialist predator of mice and rats, which it hunts singly or in pairs by hovering in mid-air above open land.
Black-shouldered Kites form monogamous pairs, breeding between August and January. Though reported across Australia, they are most common in the south-east and south-west corners of the country..
Let’s hear more…
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Vegetable Heroes: Anise Hyssop

Painted Lady butterfly on Anise Hyssop, 14 Aug 2012  
  • Anise Hyssop is botanically-Agastache foeniculum. In the Lamiaceae or Mint family, it has square stems. Similar to Korean Mint but with a strong smell of aniseed.
  • Anise Hyssop is also known as:Liquorice Mint. The leaf is used as a tea, in salads, soups, fruit dishes and as a base for fruit cup.  
  • The flowers of Anise Hyssope are spiky purple flowers with an anise, or licorice, aroma. A companion plant that attracts bees, butterflies. bees to the garden because it’s a good source of nectar.
  • How it grows: A perennial plant that's compact and grows to 1 metre tall and 60cm wide, so back of the border for this plant. It's frost and drought tolerant but wilts on hot days. Anise Hyssop is like Borage that self seeds in the garden, but the seedlings are easy to pull so it’s simple to weed out any extras that have grown where you don't want them.  
  • Here are some tips on planting anise hyssop plants to get you started on growing in them in your own garden.
  • In Temperate and subtropical areas you can sow Anise Hyssop seeds in Spring and Summer. Arid areas should also have no problem with this plant, but perhaps grow it in partial shade. It can be grown in cool temperate climates although it may act as an annual due to winter temperatures.  
  • To plant them you can sow seed directly in the ground in early spring. Seeds should be placed about 60cm apart to give the plants room to grow. Anise Hyssop or Licorice Mint grows best in full sun, but can also tolerate partial shade.
  • Water regularly, but avoid over watering them since they don't like too much moisture. The spiky purple flowers arrive in mid to late summer that last through the early Autumn. Just when the garden is in need of flowers and colour.
  • Why grow Anise Hyssop? Thanks to the aromatic scent of the flowers they attract lots of lovely creatures to your garden including bees, and butterflies. The leaves of the plant can be used as garnish in place of mint .

Design Elements:The Potted Garden Series-1. Choosing Pots

with Landscape Designer, Louise Mc Daid from Eden Gardens.
Potted Tulips. Photo:M.Cannon
  • So you have this array of pots which um…could look a bit better instead of being a hodge podge of colour and texture.Where does one start in the potted garden? Lots of factors to consider and in the coming weeks Louise and I will be discussing how to design with pots, what pots are best suited for pots and feature plants for pots. You can’t go wrong if you listen into Design Elements’ Potted Garden Series.
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Plant of the Week:Wattles or Acacia spp.

with fellow Horticulturalist, Sabina Fielding-Smith.
Mountain hickory wattle
Acacia falciformis-Hickory Wattle
    Wattles have been accused of causing allergies even though they’re an insect pollinated plant. Research shows that pollen of wattles is relatively heavy and is not carried long distances by breezes. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) has this to say:"Wattle is frequently blamed for early spring symptoms but allergy tests (skin prick tests) seldom confirm that wattle is the true culprit."There is also no doubt that many allergies attributed to wattles are, more likely, caused by pollen from grasses and other plants that happen to be flowering at the same time. A report relating to Wattles and allergies can be downloaded in full from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's web site.
    • Acacia falciformis-Hickory Wattle:
    • I have this growing in my backyard. A tree like wattle that has many uses.
    • Tall shrub to small tree, 3 to 12m tall, usually with a straight trunk, rough, cracked bark and a narrow canopy of foliage.
    • The leaves are actually Phyllodes or modified stems and are grey-green, sickle shaped, 10-22 cm long with a prominent mid-rib. 
    • Flowers are pale creamy-yellow globular heads of 5-18 headed racemes, sometimes in terminal clusters or panicles. They appear in spring-summer.
    • It’s not a prolific flowering plant, so I’m never overwhelmed by any scent and certainly not pollen. Wattles are insect pollinated so any allergy from wattles is more like to be from the scent of the flowers.
    • The fruits are apparently flat pods (fruit) are 6-20cm long , tapering between seeds. I’ve never had seed pods on any of my trees, but they’re growing on very shallow soil on a rocky outcrop that I have. When one tree dies, another springs up from one of the roots that are leading off the trunk along the shallow bed. They even grow in narrow cracks in the rocks.
    • I wouldn’t say that their roots are invasive, just stretch a long way across the rocks in my backyard.
    • One had grown to about 5 metres doing just that, unfortunately August winds in Sydney were a bit too much and it was blown down last weekend.
    • As I have it in my backyard you would have to say that the Hickory Wattle’s preferred climate is temperate coastal to cool inland; not into dry, hot areas of inland NSW. Preferred rainfall one of 600-140 mm/yr, otherwise tolerant of a wide range of conditions.
    • Where it can grow is shallow, rocky soils in hilly country amongst eucalypt forests; also in heavier, clay based soils.
    • Where it occurs naturally is in an eastern coastal band from north-east Victoria, through NSW into Qld.  
    • Common on tablelands and slopes of the Great Divide, mostly at 800 m to 1 200 m alt., from near Traralgon, Vic., N through N.S.W. and A.C.T. to Warwick, Qld; extending to the Atherton Tableland, Qld, but seldom seen North of Warwick.If anything plant Australia’s emblem wattle Acacia pycnantha, or one of the many new designer wattles that don’t have flowers and are marketed under names, like Acacia Fettucini, or Limelight.