Thursday, 30 May 2013

Winter Flowers for Birds

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
Real World Gardener is funded by CBF, Community Broadcasting Foundation.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.
The new theme is sung by Harry Hughes from his album Songs of the Garden. You can hear samples of the album from the website

Spice it Up

with herb expert and author, Ian Hemphill for Herbies Spices.
sumac fruit close up, natural color
You may not have heard of this spice before, but prepare to be surprised at what this spice can do. Let’s find out….

The spice is tasty on grilled meats and fish or as a seasoning for rice. It complements lentils and other beans as well as vegetables.Substitute it into any dish that you need to use lemon juice.Sumac is used a lot in a tang tomato appetiser called Za’Atar. I’ll post that recipe up on the web. If you don’t have a computer, write to me and I’ll send you a fact sheet.Let me know if you’ve used Sumac before or send in your recipe to or by post to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675,  or post them on Real World Gardeners facebook page, and I’ll post a CD in return.

Za'atar-Tomato Appetizer
2 Tablespoons dried thyme
1 Tablespoon sumac
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 recipe fresh Flatbread
In a small container with a lid, shake together the thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. This is a Middle Eastern spice blend called "zaatar."

Cut each of the cherry tomatoes in half placing them into a medium bowl as you go. Sprinkle with one tablespoon of the zaatar; toss well. Taste and add more of the seasoning, in small increments, until you have what you consider a tasty concoction. Serve right away along with the flatbread allowing diners to pile the tomatoes onto the bread for themselves.

Makes enough for 4 to 6, depending on serving size.

Vegetable Heroes:Winter Spinach

Spinach  or Spinacia oleracea. Spinacia comes from the Latin word for spine and refers to the prickly seed coat.
Baby leaf spinach The oleracea part of the name, means a plant that is edible.
Did you try growing Spinach in Summer? It was alright for a while then when the humidity got turned up the stalks went a funny grey colour, then the leaves turned a sort of greeny-brown. Not that attractive or edible.
I had to pull them out, not a great experiment.
Spinach originates from the Middle East, most likely Persia or modern-day Iran. It was brought to Spain via the Moors somewhere between 800 AD and 1200 AD.
Did you know that Medieval artists extracted green pigment from spinach to use as an ink or paint.
Spinach seed was sent out from England in 1787 with the First Fleet but in the new colony they found it difficult to grow.
They found growing silverbeet much easier, which is why Silverbeet is sometimes called spinach in Australia, but true spinach has smaller leaves and a much sweeter, milder flavour.
When to Sow:
In Cool temperate zones, you can plant spinach from April until September.
In Arid zones, you’ve hit the jackpot because you can plant Spinach all year round.
In temperate zones you had from February until the end of May, and in sub-tropical zones, from April until the end of July.
These times are only a guide, and personally, I plant some vegetables and see how they go even though it might be a month or two out of their supposed best planting time. So, I have some Spinach seedlings coming up in my garden right now, even though I’m in a temperate district.

We’ve all seen or heard about Popeye the Sailor Man and his love for Spinach. His muscles would always grow huge after devouring a can of Spinach. Forget Popeye! Spinach contains many more nutrients than just iron.  More on that later.
Growing from seed is cheapest way of growing any vegetable and even herb in your garden. Saved seed is even better but if it’s not that easy to remember where you last put the seeds or if you’re not that good at recording how old the seed is, there’s plenty of packet seeds around in market stalls as well as supermarkets. Germination of spinach seeds can take anything between a week and 2 weeks.
Plant your seedlings / seeds around 7cm apart in rows about 30 apart.
For once a vegetable that grows well in partial to full sun.
Spinach likes a moist but not waterlogged soil. Using a mulch of straw or grass clippings can help to keep moisture and warmth in the soil.
Plenty of compost and the usual organic matter to so that your spinach will grow well. Having a worm farm or compost bin really does help your veggie bed no end!
Spinach doesn't like acidic soils, a good PH is around 6.3 -6.8. Add lime to the soil if you need to a few weeks before you put the seeds in.
Spinach like all leafy vegetables is what’s called a heavy feeder –ie, needs lots of Nitrogen to grow well.
If you haven’t already applied Blood and Bone or cow manures to the soil a month or two ago, your soil will run out of nutrients.
During the cooler months of winter, organic matter doesn’t break down that much and to get the needed Nitrogen, applying liquid fertilisers such as compost tea or fish emulsion often will be the best way to go
Another thing to remember is that Spinach grows on shallow roots, so don't dig vigorously around it. If you get weeds because you didn’t mulch, carefully hand remove them.
Water frequently to keep up with the fast growth of the plants.
In about 6-7 weeks, your Spinach plant has put on enough big leaves so you can pick them one by one like you might lettuce. The leaves will keep regrowing for quite a while. Otherwise pick the whole plant for Spinach pie etc. Make sure you wash spinach leaves well - soil is not tasty!
When you want to store Spinach in the fridge a tip to remember is that
Spinach is highly ethylene sensitive. To stop leaf yellowing don’t refrigerate with apples, or tomatoes.
What can go wrong with spinach?A problem you might get in the cooler weather is Down Mildew. Downy mildew (Blue mold). What is downy mildew- fungal disease, shows up as slightly yellow or chlorotic lesions of irregular shape on the top surface of the leaves and purplish sporulation on the underside. To prevent it, space plants for good air circulation and, when you water, wet the ground around the plants not the foliage itself
Why should you grow your own Spinach?
 Because Spinach is best eaten fresh. It loses nutritional properties every day.
Putting it in the fridge slows things down, but half of the major nutrients are lost by the eighth day after picking your Spinach.
Why is Spinach good for you. 
The amount of iron in spinach comes way down the list after vitamins A and C, thiamin, potassium and folic acid (one of the B complex vitamins).
Dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach, contain carotenoids. May help prevent cataracts.

If you have any questions about growing spinach or any other vegetable write in or email me.

Design Elements

Caring for Indoor Plants

There’s a program going round called Improve Your Plant Life Balance.
It’s not just for your garden outside, but indoors as well. Recent research has shown that indoor plants significantly improve a whole range of aspects of our indoor environment. 
From cleaner air to helping to lower stress and negative feelings,Let’s find how to look after these indoor plants?

Air-conditioning systems are almost never designed to remove outdoor gaseous pollutants from air drawn into the building.
Plants greatly help in removing volatile organic compounds that are emitted from plastics/synthetics in furniture fittings, computers, printers and more.
These compounds cause loss of concentration, headaches, eye, nose and throat problems.
So, if you don’t have indoor plants because you thought it was a 70’s thing, forget that, get some today.
Ten Gold Rules of Indoor plants:
1.Don't Drown Them: Roots need air as well as water - keeping the compost soaked at all times means certain death for most plants. Waterlogging kills by preventing vital air getting to the roots and by encouraging root-rotting diseases. More plants die through overwatering than any other single cause; they are killed by kindness.  By the way, don't empty tea or coffe dregs into pot plants. Doing this attracts Psiarid flies.
2. Give Them A Rest: Beginners are usually surprised to learn that nearly all plants need a rest in winter. This means less water, less feeding and less heat than in the active growing period. Also make certain there are no draughts as this can be fatal. If plants are close to a door, pick a different winter location away from chilly temperatures. 
3. Accept The Loss Of 'Temporary' Plants: Some popular gift plants such as Cyclamen, Chrysanthemum and Gloxinia will die down in a matter of weeks. You've done nothing wrong, these types of flowering pot plants are only temporary residents.  Either throw them into the compost or for cyclamen, plant them into a shady spot in the garden.
4. Give Them Extra Humidity: The atmosphere of a centrally heated room in winter is as dry as desert air. Increase the air humidity placing plants in a moist area such as the kitchen or bathroom. You can mist the plants, grow pots in groups to increase the moisture surrounding plants or double pot the plant using an outer waterproof container and fill the space between the pot and the container with moist peat. 
5. Treat Trouble Promptly: Expert or beginner, trouble will strike some time. One or two scale insects or mealy bugs are easily picked off; an infestation may be incurable. Overwatering is not fatal at first, but kills when prolonged. Learn to recognize the early signs of trouble.
 6. Group Them Together: Nearly all plants look better and grow better when grouped together. The standard group consists of four to twelve clay or plastic pots closely grouped together to produce a pleasing arrangement in which both shapes and tints are varied. In the most usual grouping foliage plants are used to provide the permanent framework and flowering pot plants are used to provide splashes of colour. The taller plants, the darker greens and the larger leaves are placed at the back of the group.

7. Learn To Repot: After a year or two most plants begin to look sickly. In many cases the plant simply needs repotting into a larger container. The best time to repot is in spring so that the roots will have plenty of time to become established before the onset of the resting season.

8. Choose Wisely: Pick the right spot. Even the expert can't make a shade lover survive in a sunny window. After buying a plant monitor the activity for the first few weeks and make sure it's in the right place.  

9. Have The Proper Tools: Buy a watering can with a long, narrow spout and a mister for increasing humidity, reducing dust and controlling pests. You will need a good brand of potting mix and a collection of pots plus stakes and plant ties or string. Drip trays will keep water off the furniture; a bottle of liquid fertilizer and a safe pest killer will keep the plants looking healthy. To complete your tool kit include a soft sponge, an old kitchen spoon and fork and a pair of small sized secateurs.

10. Check The Plant's Specific Needs: Look up the secrets of success in an A-Z guide for each plant. This will prove invaluable as you will detect problems, maintain healthy plants and realize what plant is best suited for a specific location.Did you know that air pollution is almost always higher indoors than outside?

Plant of the Week:

Winter flowering Grevilleas
There’s a lot to choose from but before you run out to the nursery to buy up all the winter flowering ones for your garden. Let’s look at what conditions Grevilleas need to thrive.
Red soil is too heavy for many grevilleas. Sounds about right because my friends in Moree can’t grow many grevilleas  because of their heavy soil.
Grevilleas like air in the soil, so a light sandy soil is preferable,but you could easily just plant them on a bit of mound mixed with good compost and some light potting mix in it so they  can get established first..
Once they are older they don't seem to mind the heavier stuff..but yes drainage is a must.....and also down there the soil is a bit more alkaline so mix a bit of sulphur or compost of neutral pH, into the hole as well.
As grevilleas love more acidy soils......... just mulch and keep the water up to them in the beginning.
Once established they’ll tolerate dry periods but will want a deep soaking
Grevilleas require low phosphorus, slow release fertilizer so something with a Phosphorus number of less than 1.2 Most Important!
Yes, you have to read the back of the pack.
Blood and bone is good.
This can be applied during spring. Avoid using any fertilizer containing phosphorus as grevilleas, banksias, waratahs and other proteaceous plants cannot tolerate this fertilizer.Start tip pruning your Grevilleas when they’re little to make them more compact and bushy.
Only a few can tolerate a real hard prune when they get much older. I’ve just done G. moonlight. It was practically a tree, and it got chopped by half. Sprouting all over now.
What flower shall we go for.Where does one start? Probably picking ones that grow best in your region is a good starting point.
Ground cover Grevilleas like
G. Pink Lady, small 30cm x 1.5m with pink spidery flowers. Good for small birds.
G Bronze Rambler, 3-cm x 4m red toothbrush flowers all year, bird attracting also.
G. New Blood-Red flowers.
Bush Grevilleas to 2m
G. Cherry Ripe .5 x .5, small and compact, with cherry red flowers. Bird attracting.
G. Billy Bonkers 1m x 2m low growing plant with bright green foliage and bright pink flowers for most of the year. Tolerates frost to -30 C
G. superb. 1.5 x 1.5m. Red to yellow flowers, Yellow tips on the stamens. Tolerates frost to -30 C Bird attracting.(left picture)
G. coconut ice 2 x 1.5m. Reddish pink flowers through out the year. Dense semi-spreading habit. Not like coconut ice confection at all. Tolerates frost to -40 C

G Honey Gem, an old favourite although rather big. 4 x3m Large leaves which are deeply lobed, dark green above silver reverse. The flowers cylindrical and bright orange which drip with sweet nectar. Bird attracting. Tolerates frost to -30C
Grevillea 'Lollypops'1.5 x 1.5m is a cultivar. It is a bushy small shrub with attractive large clusters of bright raspberry pink flowers all year round. The leaves are grey green and finely
divided giving a feathery. Tolerates frost to -10 C
(pictured left)

Grevillea 'Peaches and Cream' grows to 1.5m x2m. with cream flowers which change to pink as they age. Flowers all year.
Brush flowering grevilleas (ie. Robyn Gordon, Moonlight, Honey Gem,...) are considered 'tropical' grevilleas, although they grow in the southern states if there's adequate drainage.
G. Orange Marmalade 3.5 x 3.5m.Large shrub with deep green leaves and bronze new growth. The bright orange spidery flowers appear in winter. Bird attracting.(pictured below left)
Winter Delight, Austraflora Cherry Ripe, Sunrise, Carpet Layer, Orange Marmalade, Red Sunset, Apricot Glow, Olympic flame... and Bonfire.
TIP: BE CAUTIOUS about planting grevilleas near plants that require a lot of fertilizer.
So good luck !

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Ring My Bellbird

Wildlife in Focus

with ecologist sue Stevens
Heard and not seen is probably the best way to describe this bird.
These birds get their common name probably from their favourite food. Eating almost exclusively on the sweet, waxy, crunchy shell secreted by tiny, psyllid insects, known as "bell lerps" or "lerp psyllids".
Let’s find out more about these mystery birds….

Bell miner (Manorina melanophrys)

As Sue mentioned, the bell lerps are tiny insects that feed on sap that they suck from eucalyptus leaves and surround themselves with dome-shaped secretions that are designed to protect their soft bodies from predators and from the environment.
Except Bell miners or Bell birds love them.
Let me know of you have Bell Miners visiting your garden, or send in a photo to or by post to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675, 
 or post them on Real World Gardeners facebook page, and I’ll post a CD in return.

Vegetable Heroes:Peas

  • I eats my peas with honey, I’ve done so all me life, it makes my peas taste funny, but it keeps them on me knife.
  • Ever heard that one? Yes, my father used to say that everytime we harvested peas from our garden.
  • Peapods are botanically a fruit, since they contain seeds developed from the ovary of a (pea) flower.
  • But as always, cooks don’t stick to Science and  peas are considered to be a vegetable in cooking.
  • Peas or  Pisum sativum, belong to the Fabaceae family, which means they fix Nitrogen from the air into their roots.
  • And you thought you knew everything there was to know about peas?
  • We all know what Peas look like-those green spheres in side green pods around 1o-cm long.
  • Did you know that Peas have been found in ancient ruins dated at 8000 years old in the Middle East and in Turkey?
  • In these ancient times dried peas were an essential part of the diet because they could be stored for long periods and provided protein during the famine months of winter. No fridges then, remember!
  • Both dwarf and field peas were part of the cargo of the First Fleet to Australia in 1788 and, on arrival at Sydney Cove, each convict and marine was given a weekly ration of three pints of ‘pease’.
  • By 1802 Peas were growing in Port Jackson and in Parramatta gardens.
  • Garden Peas
  • The best time to sow Peas, if you are living on the East Coast is from April until September;
  • From April until August in arid climates, from April and until July in sub-tropical districts and for cool zones, late winter until October. On the Tablelands they should be sown after the last frosts.
  • Peas are best planted at soil temperatures between 8°C and 24°C.
  • Sow the seeds directly into the soil 15mm to 20mm deep (1'' or knuckle deep) and 75mm to 100mm apart (3'' to 4''). Water in well and don't let them dry out.
  • I like to soak my Pea seeds over night. This helps achieve a better strike
  • Some gardeners prefer to sow their seeds into tubs/punnets so they can keep a closer eye on them especially if there is a possible of a frost, once they have their second crop of leaves and no more frost, they can be transplanted out in the garden.
  • Peas  don’t  seem to grow well near Onions, Chives, Garlic.
  • Peas  don’t like a lot of mulch or manure especially up against the stalk/stem, or being over-watered as they tend to rot off at the base of the stem.
  • Don’t overfeed young plants or they’ll grow lanky and you won’t get too many pea pods.
  • Wait until they’ve started flowering and then give them a good feed of liquid fertilizer at least once a fortnight.
  • I prefer to feed my plants with liquid fertilisers in winter because in the cold weather, plants can use liquid fertilisers, easier and faster than the granular type.
  • TIP:Water your Peas in the mornings to avoid mildew.
  • Don’t overhead water late in the afternoon. If you do have mildew, try spraying with a  MILK spray mixed with a couple of drops of detergent.
  • With dwarf Peas you will have one main crop, with a second lighter crop and some pickings in between for the pot.
  • Peas freeze well and, providing they are processed immediately after picking, lose no more of their nutritional value than in just cooking them.
  • A good idea is to place a bottomless container around the young seedlings to stop the cut worm, or in my case the dragon lizard, from cutting/biting the tops off the new shoots; this will also give the new plants some protection from the wind.
  • Dwarf Peas only grow about 300mm to 600mm high (12'' to 24'') but they will require some support. You can use pretty much anything from wire/mesh, string and bamboo.
  • Climbing Peas grow to about 2m and crop for quite a long time.
  • If you pick them regularly, your pea plants will grow like mad and you’ll get a bigger crop.
  • They will need a good heavy-trellis or stakes. The position of the trellis should be facing towards the midday sun, (towards the North).
  • After the Peas have stopped producing the trellis can also be used for growing cucumbers, pumpkins or tomatoes.
  • Before you start ripping the pea vines off the trellis cut the stems off at ground level; leave the roots in the ground as pea roots produce nitrogen nodules. They will break down and give your next seedlings a good kick start.
  • Why are they good for you?
  • Being low in calories, green peas are good for those who are trying to lose weight.
  • Green peas are rich in dietary fibre, may potentially lower cholesterol.
  • Peas have a  high amount of iron and vitamin C.
  • The lutein present in green peas helps reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Green peas have a low GI.
  • Green peas also have folic acid and vitamin B6.

Design Elements

with Landscape Designer, Louise McDaid
Have you got a garden that’s got a boggy bit in it? You know, it gets waterlogged if you get a few days of heavy rain.

Maybe the water is running off your driveway, deck or patio, or maybe from downpipes.Even from the overflow of your rainwater tank.
Plants you’ve put there don’t seem to grow. You’ve tried ag line but nothing doing.
Let’s find out how to garden in a waterlogged garden?

Podcast Powered By Podbean
Raingardens that Louise mentioned are now an initiative by various state water boards. In fact you can get lots of information and instruction sheets by going to your state waterboard’s site.
Melbourne water has lots of information you can download not just on raingardens, but on building those swales that Louise talked about as well.
It may take a bit of time and effort to do that. In the meantime grow your plants in pots, troughs, in fact any old thing. When an area is ready for planting you’ve got yourself an instant garden when you plant out your potted plants.

Plant of the Week:Magnolia "Genie"

What do you think of when you see large tulip shaped Magnolia buds?
Are you smitten by the Magnolia flowers that have those deep red colour tones?  In the past we’ve had varieties like Magnolia soulangeana, M, Vulcan, Elizabeth but this one took 15 years to perfect, and once you hear about the colour, you’ll probably want one for your collection.

Magnolia Genie

Magnolia soulangeana Genie, a smaller growing Mangolia than all the ones mentioned, to 4m x 2m. Suits pots and tubs.

Flowers in late winter to early spring with spot flowering in Autumn.
What you’ve been waiting for, what colour are the flowers?
Magnolia Genie has really really dark tulip like deep burgundy flowers that are according to the breeder, frost resistant. And it flowers twice, first in late winter early spring and again in late summer/autumn.
Magnolias are slow to medium growing and can be used in small areas as they have a non-invasive root system.
Because they keep an attractive shape all year round, they look good even when not in flower.

Plant them as a focal point in the garden for you to enjoy for many years to come.
If you're lucky enough to have a rich soil for growing Magnolias, then you'll have fantastic results.
Otherwise add lots and lots compost and mulch with a 3-4 cm layer of well composted cow manure.
If your soil is heavy clay, mound it up to improve drainage and in sandy areas leave a depression to collect the water.
Protect the young plants from frosts, and from pests such as snails and slugs and the occasional possum who seem to love the buds.
Water young plants well every 7-10 days in periods of hot and dry weather, and prune lightly if branches become straggly and untidy if you really have to. Best left unpruned.

 Otherwise, Magnolias are relatively maintenance free, especially once established.
One unusual thing that the breeders would like you to know about Magnolias, and that is that they often don’t flower true to colour for their first year or two, so if your new deep purple variety has suddenly thrown a mass of pale pink blooms in its first season, don’t despair!
What’s your favourite Magnolia flower? Write in and let us know. We’d love to see a photo.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Crocodile Rocky in the Garden

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
Real World Gardener is funded by CBF, Community Broadcasting Foundation.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.
The new theme is sung by Harry Hughes from his album Songs of the Garden. You can hear samples of the album from the website

Living Planet

with Manager Urban Ecology, Katie Oxenham
Blue Tongue Lizard
Did you know that the study of reptiles and frogs is called Herpetology?
And did you also know that there are no Australian lizards with a dangerous or venomous bite?
You might have wondered whether or not the little skinks in your garden do anything useful?
Let’s find out more about these reptiles….

Are we becoming to soft as a nation, scared of creatures in our backyard?
Do you know of someone that shrieks at the site of spiders and lizards?
Can you believe that calls received by snake catchers/wildlife around Australia in summer are because people mistake Blue Tongue Lizards for snakes or even baby crocodiles?
I think most gardeners know what a Blue Tongue lizard looks like.
Remember not to use snail pellets if you see these reptiles in your garden. They'll do the snail catching for you.
Anyway,  you can check what reptiles you have in your area.
 A few useful links to the sites that were mentioned in that segment. ; is a database of reptiles.

.Let me know what reptiles visit your garden,
or send in a photo to or by post to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675,  
or post them on Real World Gardeners facebook page.



Vegetable Heroes

Winter Lettuce or Lactuca sativa

  • You might think it too boring to be a hero, but the earliest mention of lettuce in history is a carving on an Egyptian temple.
  • Lettuce was considered an aphrodisiac in Egypt.
  • The Greeks used lettuce as a medicinal plant to induce sleep. Who is right-see the answer below?
  • Lactuca sativa or lettuce is just everywhere and thought to have originated from the wild or prickly lettuce, found as a weed in the Mediterranean.
  • Nothing beats the freshness of home grown lettuce. Just pick some leaves fresh when you need them.
  • The flavour of lettuce is lost in as little as 24 hours, and there's no way supermarket lettuce is only 24 hours old.
  • The Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is a temperate annual or biennial plant of the daisy family Asteraceae.. great in salads, tacos, hamburgers!
  • But here’s the thing not all kinds of lettuce are created alike!
  • Hurrah, this is the time to be plant all those hearting lettuce like, Iceberg, and Butterhead, Cos or Romaine.
  • These varieties do best in the coolest months because the upper temperature limit to grow heading lettuces is 28°C so they’re not going to bolt to seed now.
  • Did you know that there are four main types of lettuce grown commercially in Australia and these are three of them?
  • In northern Victoria the main growing season for these types is May until October.
  • The optimal growing temperatures are 25°C during day and 8°C during night.
  • Lettuces taste best when they are grown as fast as possible and for that they need water and food.
  • Lettuces can be grown in light sandy soil to heavy clay types, as long as the soil is well drained.
  • Lettuce has shallow roots, so it dries out easily.
  • You must keep up a steady supply of water because any set back will at least, make them tough and bitter, at worst it will cause them to bolt to seed straight away without making any leaves for you!
  • So make sure they never get stressed (e.g. by forgetting to water them).
  • Any gardening book (all written for cooler climates) will tell you that full sun is essential.
  • Don't plant them in deep shade, like under a tree.
  • They will just grow into pale, leggy things with few leaves on them.
  • To sow lettuce seed, either spread the seed very thinly along a row and cover lightly with soil, or sprinkle it over a bed and just water or rake it in.
  • For all you balcony gardeners, any largish pot will do for 3 or 4 lettuce seedlings.
  • Lettuce seed is very fine so you'll get a few clumps.
  • Thin them out, you know the drill.
  • If the weather is very dry and your soil sandy, you will need to water  every couple of days.
  • Stick your finger in the soil if not sure. Lettuces have a very shallow root system.
  • By the way, lettuce seed doesn't germinate that well at soil temperatures over 250C. 
  • There should be no problems at this time of year.
  • Time to Plant:
  • In cool districts, you’ve got until end of May, then again in September until the following May.
  • In arid areas you have from March until October,  in sub- tropical and temperate areas, we’ve hit the jackpot because we can grow lettuce al year round.
  • Funnily enough, my self-sowing lettuce like Freckles and Mustard lettuce start appearing around the veggie bed around mid-April onwards.
  • Once your lettuce seedlings start appearing start giving them side dressings of compost, worm tea and so on.
  • Lettuce that seems to be growing slowly, or are starting to show signs of going to seed even though you’ve watered them, is a sure sign that they’ve run out of food.
  • Did you prepare your veggie bed with enough compost?
  • If not there are plenty of organic type liquid fertilisers that you can add to your watering can and use on your leafy vegetables.
  • So why is it good for us?
  • Lettuce is very good for digestion and promotes good liver function. 
  •  It has good levels of Vitamin C, beta-carotene and fibre.
  • Lettuce obviously won't lead to weight gain as many varieties have over 90% water and are extremely low in calories.
  • Lettuce contain the sedative lactucarium which relaxes the nerves without impairing digestion.
  • As a general rule, the darker green the leaves, the more nutritious the salad green.
  • For example, romaine or watercress have seven to eight times as much beta-carotene, and two to four times the calcium, and twice the amount of potassium as iceberg lettuce.
  • By varying the greens in your salads, you can boost the nutritional content as well as vary the tastes and textures.  
  • Happy Lettuce growing everyone!

Design Elements

with Landscape Designer, Louise McDaid
Rocky gardens can be good if you’ve got places to use that rock to build dry stone walls, but for some gardeners, the rocks aren’t much good.
I know of one gardener who ended up using an old bed spring to sift the rocks out his garden. That’s determined.Let’s find out how to garden in a rocky garden?

You can put your rocks to advantage by using them creatively in the garden, with dry stone walls, gabions-we know now they’re wire baskets filled with rock, or just a simple rock garden.
Of course we can build a reptile friendly area with rocks for those cold blooded creatures to bask on!
It may take a bit of time and effort to do that. In the meantime grow your plants in pots, troughs, in fact any old thing. When an area is ready for planting you’ve got yourself an instant garden when you plant out your potted plants.

Plant of the Week:

Sometimes called Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose, these plants grow best in shade but that doesn’t mean you have to grow them in the deepest darkest part of your garden, because they have beautiful flowers that start from the winter until early spring.

NEW VARIETIES For the collector or Hellebore officionado, some are bred in England from Hellebore expert Robin white of Blackthorn Nursery. Robin raised this beautiful new variety from a batch of H. x ericsmithii, resulting from a cross between a standard H. niger as a seed parent and pollinated by H. x sternii Blackthorn group.
All of these Hellebores grow in full sun, full shade and part shade, flower colours vary, but all have deep green leaves, some are serrated.
Hellebores are compact growing to 50cm x 60cm, needing only a moderate amount of water once established.
During heatwaves or extended days of heat give them an occasional deep soak.
If growing in pots don’t let them dry out completely.
If you do find your Hellebore keeled over if you’ve come home after a long hot day, give the pot a deep soaking in a bucket and it will revive.
Not fussy about soil type and flower better if you fertilizer in late autumn and spring.

Helleborus. Angel Glow 50cm x 60cm-masses of pink flower that fade to off-white
Hellebore Angel’s Red has flowers of deep magenta.
Very vigorous with a tidy habit. A must have for the Burgundy lover, would team brilliantly with the new Magnolia Genie or Magnolia Felix.
H. Pennys Pink-full sun/part shade/full shade. Mid-pink flowers from winter to spring. Flowers have a dome shape some of which face upwards.

Hellebore Ruby’s Glow  UK bred, ruby pink flowers.

HelleboreWinter Sunshine-varies from Ivory to pink within the flowers
People love Hellebores in fact there’s societies dedicated to them.
I think they’re one of those collectible plants because they don’t take up much room, are pretty easy to grow once you’ve worked out the right conditions that they like, and they’re dry tolerant. 
 What’s your favourite Hellebore flower?
Write in and let us know. We’d love to see a photo.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Naturally Planting Your Garden

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
Real World Gardener is funded by CBF, Community Broadcasting Foundation.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.
The new theme is sung by Harry Hughes from his album Songs of the Garden. You can hear samples of the album from the website

The Good Earth

with Permaculture Sydney Institute Director, Penny Pyett
We’ve seen gardening programs on TV telling us to plant out our nature strips with fruits and vegetables, or at least with bush tucker plants that might attract wildlife.
I’ve asked my local council what their policies were on people planting out nature strips. One simple answer, ask first. I think that’s a good idea before you start digging up yours and finding a nasty letter in your letter box asking you to remove the planting.
Let’s find out more about this phenomenon….

I’ve seen a couple of gardeners taking over their nature strip in my area. Do you have any in yours’ Let me know what they’re growing, or send in a photo to or by post to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675,  or post them on Real World Gardeners facebook page, and I’ll post a CD in return.


Carrots or  Daucus carota var. sativus were one of the first vegetables grown by man and are related to parsley. Think about it? Carrot tops look similar to Parsley don’t they.
Daucus is Latin for parsnip or carrot and carota is Greek for carrot.
Sativus simply means cultivated, so altogether we have the cultivated carrot!
Carrots were thought to have originated in present day Afghanistan about 5000 years ago.
The first carrots were mainly purple, with some white or black - not orange. In early times, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds, not their roots and ancient Greek physicians gave carrot juice as a stomach tonic.
Some relatives of the carrot are still grown for these, such as parsley, fennel, dill and cumin.
In the 1500s, some farmers in the northern Dutch town of Hoorn seemed to have preferred orange carrots.
These farmers selectively bred the orange carrots which ended up dominating the carrot market.
The story goes that the breeders may have started with orange carrots as a secret way of showing support for William of Orange-who became the Royal family of the Netherlands." This has never been proven so it’s probably just a story.
More likely it was an accident of breeding and people just preferred the taste of the sweeter carrot
Carrots are cheap and easy to grow carrot and were a staple food  during Victorian times especially between the two World Wars when other food sources became scarce.
There is a lot more detail of the history of the carrot, but let’s press on with how to grow them.
When to sow Carrots:
  • Carrots are cold tolerant but can grow in all but the hottest climates.
  • They grow year round in subtropical climates, sow them spring and summer in temperate zones and mid-Spring to the end of Summer in cold districts.
  • They prefer full sun but can grow in partial shade.
  • Avoid adding fertilisers and manures to the soil just before sowing, or you’ll get carrots that will fork and become hairy.
  • They like beds manured in the previous season.
  • Make sure the soil has been worked over with no stones or sticks otherwise the carrots will grow into funny shapes or be stunted.
  • In a 4 bed rotation system carrots are grown with onions, garlic, parsnips, leeks and other root crops.
  • Carrots must be directly sown into your garden beds. You shouldn't try growing them from seedlings. This is because they resent being transplanted and won’t grow properly for you. Probably get stunted and funny shapes too.
  • The easiest way to sow carrots is to mix a packet of  seed with one cup of  river sand, pouring the contents into seed drills or just broadcasting them in 10 cm wide row.
  • Cover the seed with finely sieved compost or a drizzle of sugar cane mulch. Not too thick or they won’t germinate.
  • The sand makes germination easier; but because sand drains so quickly you need to make sure the carrot seedlings don't dry out at this crucial stage.
  • Carrots have one of the longest germination times of all vegetables; taking over 3 weeks.
  • Another tip:, add a packet of radishes. These germinate in 4-5 days, and help break the surface crust of the soil. The radishes will be gone in a few weeks so no problems with overcrowding there.
  • Thin the carrot seedlings out when they're about 5cms (2 inches) tall, when they have 4 little leaves.
  • Carrots need about 5cm between plants so they can grow the root without pushing onto other carrots, otherwise you will get stunted growth.
  • Watering is fairly particular for carrots.
  • Too much water and the roots might crack so only give carrots small amounts in the first eight weeks of growth.
  • If the soil dries out near harvest time ,you can water more heavily then.
  • How do you know when they’re ready?
  • In & Around the Garden in Late July
  • The good thing about carrots is that you can pick them at whatever size you want them and they’ll still taste good.
  • Carrots usually need 4-5 months to grow to their full size, so if you’ve forgotten how long they’ve been there, scratch away the soil surface to see how wide the carrots have grown.
  • When they’re ready to pick, use a garden fork to lift them gently out of the ground so the roots don’t snap.
  • Here are some varieties to get you interested;
  • All Seasons mainly for Queensland and NSW,  and
  • Royal Chantenay suits heavy soils, both need 10-11 weeks.
  • Carrots Little Fingers-are sweet baby carrots about 10cm long-8weeks.
  • New Kuroda is heat tolerant and grows to 18cm long and another one for pots Chantenay Red-Cored with the shortest root, orange-red colour through-out, sweet and tender. Suited to heavy soils. 7-10 weeks.
  • Round and short varieties can be grown in planters or pots,  but the long types need about 20cm of soil depth in the open garden.
Why Carrots Are Good To Eat
Carrots are the reason why the whole family of brightly coloured compounds in foods are called carotenoids – they’re such a rich source, especially of beta carotene.
Our bodies can convert beta carotene to vitamin A.
With many vegetables cooking destroys some of their vitamins, but you can absorb more beta carotene from cooked carrots than from raw ones. If you prefer to eat carrots raw, that’s fine because even one carrot has two day’s supply of beta carotene.
Baby carrots have even higher levels.
 Carrots are sweet because they have some natural sugars, but younger carrots have more folate, one of the B vitamins
Carrots are also good source of dietary fibre
100g carrots has 130 kJ

If you have any questions about growing carrots just email

Design Elements:

with landscape Designer Louise McDaid
pH is a soil indicator and mostly we don’t need to worry about it until the leaves of the plants don’t look like they’re supposed to, that is all green.
But instead, they start having darker veins, while the rest of the leaf can turn almost white.

I’ve been told by some gardening radio presenters that testing soil pH is only for the really expert gardener.
Everyone else would find it all too hard.
But I think it’s a load of old cobblers because if can teach year 9 students how to do it in a lesson at the Botanic gardens, so can anybody.
So there’s no excuse in finding out what pH your soil really has.Let’s find out how to garden with this SOIL profile in garden?

The pH scale is logarithmic. What that means is if you go from pH 6 to pH 7, you changed the soil acidity by 10 times the amount!
If you go from ph 5 to pH 7 you changed it by 100 times and if you go from pH 4 to pH 7 it’s a 1000 times difference. That’s a lot of difference.
If you’re having trouble with growing plants, leaves don’t look the right colour, or the plant’s not growing, chances are your soil’s pH is not right.

Plant of the Week:

I been to English gardens where the Rhododendrons were as big as really big fig trees and hundreds of years old. They still were flowering with huge flowers all over the plant.Of course England has just the right climate for those types of Rhododendrons, but we’ve got a couple of our own as well to suit our soil and climate.
Dendron of course is ancient Greek for tree, and  Rhodo is ancient greek for rose.It’s no surprise that gardeners love Rhododendrons because they give structure , height and provide a mass of flowers.
(I’m including a native one R. Viriosum-rare but obtainable from the Royal Botani Gardens, Sydney Growing Friends Plant nursery)
Before gardeners in warm areas go, I can’t grow Rhododendrons, I’m here to tell you that there are tropical Rhododendrons.
 The vireya rhododendrons originate in cooler mountain forests, from southeast Asia to New Guinea, with two native to northeast Queensland.
These high-altitude plants are becoming popular as new hybrids have greatly improved their habit and floral abundance.
Even though they come from the tropics vireyas can be grown as far south as Tasmania, as long as they can be protected from frost - plant them under evergreen trees or under the eaves of a building.

Many vireya species are tree-dwelling epiphytes, which make them ideal for growing in hanging baskets.
Did you know the first rhododendron society was established in Victoria in 1960
This society has their own garden at Ferny Creek on Mount Dandenong east of Melbourne). Today there are Australia Rhododendron Society has Branches also in South Australia, New South Wales, Southern Tasmania and North West Tasmania (the Emu Valley Rhododendron Society Inc).
I’ve been to the one in S.A. in the Mt Lofty Ranges.
Rhododendrons is a large genus of more than 1,000 species and Australia has 2 of them.
The Australian Rhododendrons come for northern Qld, R. viriosum the more common of the two that I’ll mention here.
R.viriosum is a small shrub which, in nature clings to cliffs by sending roots down into crevices in the rocks. The species has also been described as growing as an epiphyte (ie. on trees).
The species has glossy, oval-shaped leaves about 75mm long. This plant has deep red, bell shaped flowers during spring and summer. The flowers are about 50mm long by 30mm across and occur in terminal clusters of up to six tubular flowers.

R.viriosum grows best in a moist, shaded, well drained position in temperate climates but can be difficult to maintain in tropical areas at low altitudes. It is damaged by frost.
The species also makes an excellent plant for growing in a container.
As it's not especially fast growing, it does not require annual re-potting.

 Propagation is relatively easy from cuttings.
Like all members of the Ericaceae, R.viriosum forms very fine roots which can be easily damaged on repotting.
Striking cuttings in individual small tubes is recommended. Sometimes plants in cultivation will set seed in small pods. The species can be propagated from seed using conventional seed raising methods.
Here is a massive tribe that also includes evergreen and deciduous azaleas and mountain-tropical vireya varieties.
November is also the best time of the year to carry out a whole range of maintenance jobs with rhododendrons.

Rhododendrons can be propagated by cuttings of new seasons growth (i.e. the growth that comes on after flowering) taken between Australia Day and Anzac Day. I guess with climate change this can be extended a few weeks right until the end of May.

Rhododendrons that come from Northern Europe don’t need much fertilising. This is one of the reasons they grow best in acid sandy soils enriched with organic matter - or well-drained loams.
Rhododendrons and azaleas detest clay, poor drainage, high-nitrogen fertilisers and alkaline soils.
That means  no lime, avoid artificial fertilisers and even go easy on the chook manure.
They need one good application of bulky animal manure every year, such as sheep or cow manures. These are high in organic matter and low in nutrients, but amazingly successful soil conditioners. Keep the stuff well clear of stems; otherwise it will rot the lower bark. Cover with a layer of peastraw or even pine-bark chips. If necessary water deeply.
The time to spread it around the plants is right is in mid-Spring
 Believe it or not, spring is also an ideal time of the year to transplant rhododendrons and azaleas, even while in flower.
 All have tight, compact root-balls which allow even large, old specimens to be safely lifted and moved to another site with minimum transplant shock.
If you’ve had a downpour of rain a few days before, then rush out and transplant them if that’s what you want.
The rain would keep the soil close to the rootball and protects the roots when you move the plant.
Most rhododendrons prefer a position where they receive plenty of morning sunlight and afternoon shade, or the dappled light beneath deciduous trees.
If in too much shade they won't flower.
 I’ve seen them clipped to shape, hedged and topiared. How do you grow your Rhododendrons? What’s your favourite Rhododendron flower?
Write in and let us know. We’d love to see a photo.