Saturday, 27 October 2018

Chillin with Chives, Perilla and Flowers Protea and Waratah

What’s on the show today?

Expert tips about Chives in Spice it Up with Ian Hemphill from herbies spices. Something a bit lemony and a bit minty that you can grow in Vegetable Heroes. What is the soil food web with editor of PIP magazine, Robyn Rosenfeldt from Pambula.
And, is there a difference to look after native Australian flower and South African flowers in the Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.?


There’s no end of uses to his herb which is will loved by chefs.
What would a baked potato with sour cream be without it?
What would instant noodles and packet soups be without the freeze-dried version?
Something less than ordinary. 
But did you know there were two types?
Onion chives and garlic chives, but what's the difference?
Let’s find out what it is.
I'm talking with Ian Hemphill from

The leaves of onion chives are hollow and round, think "O" for onions. 
The leaves of garlic chives are flat.
Onion chives
You may not find them identified as such in your garden centre, but now you know what to look for.
Also, chives are one of the few herbs that dry quite effectively, but they are commercially freeze dried.
Freeze drying means the moisture is removed very rapidly by placing the chives in a special pressurised chamber. The water is taken from the chive leaves; the liquid goes straight to the gaseous state.
Ian says if you get good quality freeze dried chives, it’s very hard to tell the difference between that and the fresh ones!
Remember, when the chive clump gets to about 20cm, that’s the time to divide them up.
If you have any questions about chives, either for me or for Ian, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Perilla (Perilla frutescens) is also called Beefsteak plant, Chinese Basil and Purple Mint
Perilla is an annual herb that belongs in the Mint or Lamiaceae family and originates in China and Central Asia.
But did you know that Perilla has some amazing properties that will surprise you?
You’ll be amazed to hear that one of the components of the volatile oil extracted from perilla, Perilla-aldehyde, can be made into a sweetener, said to be 2000 times sweeter than sugar, with very low kilojoules.

This sweetener has been used as a substitute for maple sugar or licorice in processed foods.
Not only that amazing fact but analysis of perilla’s anti-microbial properties, has shown it to have over one thousand times the strength of synthetic food preservatives.
Did you know that Perilla is grown as an oil seed crop from Japan to northern India?
The oil makes up to 51% of the seed’s weight.
The oil is used not just used in cooking as you might use linseed oil, but it’s also got industrial applications such as in paint, printing, and paper manufacture.
Perilla contains a natural red pigment called shisonin which is used in food processing as a colourant.
So what is Perilla then?
Perilla is a fast growing annual plant that grows to around  50cm to 1m tall.
Perilla comes in several varieties and the leaf size and shape look a lot like unpatterned coleus or large a leafed Basil plant.
There is also a frilly, purple-leafed variety that’s quite ornamental as well as being used in cooking.

  • If you saw the purple variety you might think that the leaves are a bit similar to Beefsteak plant or Iresine herbstii.

  • Perilla the plant itself has two lipped flowers in either white, pink or lavender-purple, that grow in the leaf axils and terminal spikes.
  • The plant has a very bushy canopy of opposite leaves on square stems, like all Mint family plants.
  • Leaves are oval shaped to 15cm long, and are aromatic with a fresh flavour similar to lemon and mint.

Perilla flowers
Perilla will grow from seed but needs cool conditions and light to germinate.
Before sowing, garden suppliers recommend that you place the perilla seeds into a bowl or glass that contains a couple of cm’s of water.
Soak the seeds overnight or for 12 hours.
Sprinkle the seed where it is to grow in autumn or in early to late spring’
Because Perilla is a herb, you could grow this in a tub or pot if you live in colder districts.
For growing Perilla pick a sunny and well-drained spot with some afternoon shade if the summers are hot.
Add plenty of organic material to the soil and keep it moist.
In temperate climates, the plant is self-sowing, but the seeds aren’t viable after long storage, and germination rates are low after a year.
However if you don’t want it to self-seed, cut off the flower spikes as they appear.
This will also increase the life of the plant.
There are a couple of companies that sell the seeds either listed under Salad Greens or Asian Vegetables.
I have found two varieties that you can buy, under Salad Greens, there is Perilla Green  Leaves and flower stalks eaten raw, or with tempura, leaves have a deep green colour and Perilla Red (Crispa) Leaves and flower stalks eaten raw, or with tempura, with a deep red colour and pleasing aroma.
Sow both of these in late spring.
  • If you can’t get the seed but have some at your local fruit and veg store, here’s a way to get some plants.
  • I found this on a blog. Maki says she grew her Chinese variety from cuttings from ones bought at an Asian grocers.
  • Just pop some in a glass of water and they should strike. Easy peasy.
How Do You Use It In Cooking?
Apparently Perilla plants are usually divided into 'red' or 'green' categories because they have somewhat different uses.
Purple Perilla
Red/purple perilla is used as a red or pink food colouring, for pickling fruit and vegetables, especially preserved ginger and pickled sour plums, and as a dried powder to be used as a side dish with rice, as an ingredient in cake mixes and as a flavouring in beverages.
Green Perilla
Green Perilla is used as a sweet-spicy flavouring for oriental dishes such as stir-fries, with raw fish and sliced cucumber, in vegetable dishes, rice and soups and goes well with sweet potato.
The Japanese often eat the fresh leaves with sashimi (sliced raw fish) or cut them into thin strips in salads, spaghetti, and meat and fish dishes.
It is also used as a savoury herb in a variety of dishes, even as a pizza topping (initially it was used in place of basil)
The seeds of perilla are used to make oil, and to flavour foods, especially pickles.
 Seeds (called egoma) can be used on baked goods, like sesame seeds. The flowerheads are also used as a condiment.
You may even be able to order in some Perilla herb from your garden centre, as they certainly sell small plants online.
A little hard to get I know, but sometimes, you can be lucky and you’ll be rewarded with this amazing plant.
Why is it good for you?
Perilla leaves are high in the minerals calcium, iron, and potassium, rich in fibre and riboflavin, and very high in vitamins A and C.
Perilla has anti-inflammatory properties, and is thought to help preserve other foods.
That was your vegetable hero for today.


Australian Native Cut Flowers vs South African Native Cut Flowers
A lot of customers to florists shops ask for a bunch of Australian native flowers, then point to some King Proteas in the shop, saying, " yeah, some of those."
Of course they're surprised to learn that the King Protea is from South Africa.
Sure, Australia was once connected to Africa millions of years ago when it was still Gondwana, but there's no reason to be confused.
King Protea
The reason some people think that the King Protea is an Australian flowers is possibly because both the Proteas, Waratahs, Banksias, Grevilleas, Leucondendrons reside in the same family, namely Proteaceae, and
that causes confusion?
In any case, time to learn how to look after some of these hard stemmed flowers.
  • Never leave fresh flowers in a hot car.
  • Recut the stem ends neatly with sharp secateurs, removing the bottom 3 cm.
  • Prepare your vase or container: make sure it is clean.
  • Add fresh clean filtered water but NOT flower food to these flowers
  • Check every day, as your flowers can use a lot of water.
  • If cut-flower food is not used, change the water at least every second day.
  •  Do not display your flowers in areas that are exposed to full sun, draughts or high temperatures.
  • Keep as cool as possible without freezing.
I'm speaking with floral Therapist, Mercedes Sarmini.from

Video recorded during live broadcast of Real World Gardener show at 2RRR 88.5 fm in Sydney

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Expert Hedging, Rosella Tea and Tropical Flowers

What’s on the show today?

Expert hedging tips in Tool Time, sharp and tart, sweetness you can grow in Vegetable Heroes. Part 2 of gardening in tight spaces in Design Elements, and flowers that hate the cool-room in the Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.


Expert Hedging
Chances are you have a hedge in your garden, maybe to hide the back fence or just for show.
Hedges come in sizes and shapes and even vary in the colour of their leaves.

Chosen carefully hedges don’t need that much maintenance in the form of pruning or clipping or even disease control.
Perhaps you’ve let it go over the years, and now it’s that bit too high to manage easily making you dread having to tackle it.
Let’s find out how to get the hedge back into shape.
I'm talking with Tony Mattson General Manager of

Today’s episode was all about bringing that 3-4 metre high hedge back to a more manageable height, starting with the top first and only lightly pruning the front.
Tony's expert hedger, Simon was tackling a lilly pilly, Acmena smithii minor "Goodbye Neighbour," and Murraya.
Plumbago and Muehlenbeckia hedge
Recommendation:Simon's recommendation was to hard prune hedges only in March-April, and August-September.
Each time you
You will need to use long handled (1.2m shears) as well as normal sized hedge shears.
Also, a pair of secateurs to cuts some of the thicker stems that are too hard for the hedge shears.
BIG TIP: cut or trim the hedge back, do it in stages, that is , a bit deeper each prune, otherwise you risk losing the hedge or getting a lot of dieback. 
You might start off with cutting the top back 1/2 metre in the first stage, wait a month, then come back and cut a bit deeper .
At this point, only lightly prune the front of the hedge 5-8 cm leaving lots of new growth.

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


Rosella (or sometimes known as Roselle plant.)
Botanically-Hibiscus sabdariffa.
Being a hibiscus it belongs to the Malvaceae family of plants that mostly come from tropical Africa.
Did you know that in 1892, there were 2 factories producing rosella jam in Queensland, Australia, and they were even exporting big quantities to Europe? Didn’t last though finishing up around the early 1900’s
Where does it grow in Australia?
Rosella grows in a wide variety of climates because it’s very adaptable, possibly weedy even.
It grows especially well in dry climates right through to tropical climates.
The only drawback is that the growing season is 5 months, so you need to start this weekend.
Why grow Rosella plants?
Well the Rosella plant looks nice with its green leaves that have red stems and red veins and the flowers are deep pink hibiscus like; but the fleshy red calyx-about the size of a shot glass is the part underneath the flower.
Rosella calyx
This calyx is excellent in making jams, sauces, cordials, in fact it’s the main ingredient in a herbal tea called Red Zinger.
Botanical Bite:If you were wondering what a calyx is (calyces-plural),  its just the collection of sepals behind the petals of a flower.
Sepals in most flowering plants are leafy and green, that make up the outer protective covering of a flower bud. Think of a rosebud as an example.
Germinating Rosella Seeds
Rosella seed is a little hard to find unless you look in seed saver networks, or organic growers, certainly you’ll find them at organic markets where there is a seed stand.
Nurseries will have seedlings in late spring early summer if they carry unusual plants.
Seeds remain viable for a good long time but soak the small hard triangular seeds in warm water to help speed up germination.

Don’t drown them, just a saucer of water overnight will do.
Rosellas need a very warm soil to germinate, preferably over 25°C.
In tropical areas, they sow the Rosella seed in early spring.
In the Northern Territory the seed is sown during the early wet season as Rosella is a long day-length plant and needs 12–12 ½ hours of daylight to flower.
In NSW areas and more southern areas of Australia this would be as late as October early November outside.
Some years the soil might take even longer to warm up.
So gardeners in cooler areas need to start seed indoors using a small bottom-heat unit, or the top of the water heater.
Cover the seed with 12mm of fine soil or seed raising mix.
Rosella plants begin to crop when they’re 3 months old.
I’ve read that 3-4 plants will give you enough fruit to make jam or tea, but I’m not sure how much jam and tea that might be, so you could trial it with just a couple of plants because they take a bit of room.
Where to Put It?
Too much for the veggie garden so go for the flower bed or flower pot.
Now it grows to 1 ½  metres so a big pot will be good.
There is more than one flush of seed pods, but the trick is to remove the first flush because the second is much bigger and better..

When to harvest?
You’ll know the Rosella bud is ready when it easily come away from the bush, usually 3 weeks after the flowers have finished when the pod is 2-3 cms across.
Keep them well watered but it must drain away reasonably quickly because
Tip: Rosella plants are prone to root rot
Roselle plants are weedy in the Northern Territory and Western Australia-but aren’t a problem anywhere else.
If you are going to go for growing this plant, here’s a tip:
When the fruits are about the size of a walnut, about 20 days after flowering, you need to separate the seeds from the inflated and ripened outer fleshy casings or the calyces- or fleshy part.
The best way to prepare Rosella fruit is firstly by washing it, then making an incision around the tough base of the calyx below the bracts to free and remove it with the seed capsule attached.
The calyces are then ready to be used in jams or teas or whatever.
 They may even be chopped and added to fruit salads.
Use an apple corer-from kitchen shops.
By the way the young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable.
To make Rosella tea-

The dried red calyx is used for tea and it is an important ingredient in the commercial Red Zinger, Hibiscus and Fruit teas.
The tea is very similar in flavour to rose hips and high in vitamin C.
To make it, strip off the red calyx (the fleshy cover surrounding the seed pod) and dry it in a solar drier or a slow oven until crisp.
Only two small pieces are needed per cup.
Try mixing it with dried lemongrass or lemon verbena and dried organic orange peel  for a wonderful herb tea that is also good chilled.
If you want to make Roselle jam or cordial, go to my website for the link to the recipes.
Why is it good for you?
Rosella hips contain a very good source of Vitamin C, and is rich in Calcium and Magnesium. vitamin A, and amino acids.
Also Rosella is rich in anthocyanins , essential minerals and vitamins.
Roselle is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium, and is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamins B1 and B2, Niacin, Iron and Potassium.
Anthocyanins are water-soluble flavonoid pigments, which are responsible for the red, blue and purple colours in many fruits and vegetables.
If you have any questions about Roselle, JUST EMAIL ME

Gardening in Tight Spaces part 2:
Eco Pillows, grow baskets, and vertical gardens turned on their side.

Tired of hearing about green walls because
a) you think they’re too expensive,

b) sounds too hard to maintain or

c) you’re just not into green walls.

So what else can you have that’s much cheaper, easier to put up and more of what you want?

I'm talking with Peter Nixon, garden designer and director of Paradisus garden design.

Let’s find out more. If you want a more relaxed style of vertical planting then go for these vertical grow baskets.
In them you can put in plants with pendulous foliage such as:
  • rhipsalis, 
  • aeschynanthus, anything from the 
  • gesneriad family, such as
  • nematanthus, 
  • columnias, and gloxinia sylvatica or whatever you like really.
Nematanthus: Goldfish plant
Of course we did mention that green wall again but this time put it on its side then there’s those eco-pillows.If you have any questions about gardening in tight spaces or have a suggestion either for me or for Peter why not write in or email me at  


How to care for Tropical and Exotic flowers.
So, what does your florist do to keep their flowers in such fantastic shape?
For every florist, no matter where they are in the world, keeping flowers at just the right temperature is essential. 
Frangipani flowers photo M Cannon
That’s what makes their refrigerator(s) the most important piece of equipment. 
A small flower shop might have just one fridge in the back of the shop whereas larger florists will have larger, walk in fridges and their premises might resemble more of a warehouse design. 
Small flower shops usually place just a few bouquets on display in the front on the shop while the rest of their flowers are safely stored in temperatures ranging from 50 to 120 C.
This is what a commercial cut flower grower in FNQ recommends. 
Cut Flower Care
Chandelier Orchid photo: M Cannon
  • Never refrigerate tropical’ s they should NOT be stored below 13 degrees.
  • Tropical’ s like tempered conditions.
  • Keep Tropical’ s away from direct heating and air-conditioners units.
  • Drastic changes in temperature burns fresh cut flowers.
  • When handling exotic tropical flowers keep in mind that cold weather can affect them, keep your exotic tropical flowers in a relative warm area.
  • To get the best out of your Tropical flowers after you unpack them you can submerse them in a bath tub or a large bucket/bin for 20 mins with tempered water NOT ice cold tap water to re hydrate them from travelling.
  • Re-cut stems at least 2 to 4 cm with sharp secateurs.
  • Preservative is optional.
  • Replace water every day – these large flowers are thirsty.
  • Misting is recommended once or twice a day as they like high humidity.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini from
Recorded live during the studio broadcast of Real World Gardener Show on 2rrr, 88.5 fm Sydney.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Sweet Leaves, Nectar and Flowers

What’s on the show today?

A tiny honeyeater in Wildlife in Focus, sweetness you can grow in Vegetable Heroes. A new series starts in Design Elements, that’s gardening in tight spaces and less value for money cut flowers in the Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.


Eastern Spinebill
Did you think all honeyeaters were on the large side in Australia?
Well if you did, you’ll be surprised to learn that there’s a tiny honey eater weighing only 11 grams.
Not only that, the Eastern Spinebill is the only Australian honeyeater that will feed will flying.
So how can you spot them because they’re bound to be terribly shy?
Firstly get up at the crack of dawn, when most birds are out and about then listen to what Holly has to say about them.
Let’s find out more.
 I'm talking with Dr Holly Parsons from

America has the humming bird but Australia has the Eastern Spinebill which can hover will extracting nectar from flowers.
Not as spectacular as the hummingbirds, but pretty amazing all the same.

You can spot the eastern spinebill male has a grey black crown, white chest and throat with a rusty patch right in the middle, plus a beautifully curved beak to get the nectar from flowers, particularly tubular flowers.
Listen out for their call which as a few variations. Often though it includes a staccato like twittering.

If your garden is near bushland and you want to attract the eastern spinebill, then think about planting more of those tubular flowers like epacrids ( pictured below) and correas.
Epacris impressa var, grandiflora
Also smaller flowering grevilleas like Grevillea sericea and Grevillea speciosa.
If you have any questions about beds either for me or for Holly why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Stevia rebaudiana
Native to Paraguay and other tropical areas of the Americas, the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana) has leaves packed with super-sweet compounds that keeps its sweetness even after the leaves have been dried.
Stevia is a member of the chrysanthemum family but did you know that Stevia leaves have been used to sweeten teas and other drinks throughout South America for centuries?
So why are Stevia leaves’ so sweet?
Because the leaves contain something called steviol glycosides.
Steviol glycosoides are high intensity natural sweeteners, 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.
In fact the leaves of the stevia plant contain not just one, but many different steviol glycosides and each one varies in sweetness and aftertaste.
So what does Stevia plant look like?

Stevia is a small perennial shrub with small pointed lime green leaves that do best in a rich, loamy soil — the same kind that most of your plants in the garden like.
It has little white flowers at the end of long stems.
Stevia is native to semi-humid, sub-tropical climates where temperatures typically range from -6°C to 43°C.
  • Although Stevia tolerates mild frost, heavy frosts will kill the roots of the plant.
  • Since the feeder roots tend to be quite near the surface add compost for extra nutrients if the soil in your area is sandy.
  • From all that, you could guess that Stevia is evergreen in temperate, sub-tropical and tropical climates, but in cold and arid districts, it’ll lose its leaves in Autumn.
  • By the way, I’ve grown my stevia plant in a pot for several years now without any problems and it’s survived several bouts of dry hot summers and lack of watering during spells with a house sitter.
  • But, it really isn’t drought tolerant like a succulent or a cactus and won’t tolerate long term neglect.
    Stevia flowers
  • During warm weather don’t forget to water it and if you’re going away for a few weeks put in a dripper system, otherwise you’ll lose your Stevia plant.

TIP:But don’t plant your Stevia in waterlogged soil and don’t overwater it.
 Adding a layer of compost or your favourite mulch around your stevia plant so that the shallow feeder roots won’t dry out.
 Stevia plants do best with fertilizers with a lower nitrogen content than the phosphorus or potassium content.
Which means the artificial fertiliser aren’t your best bet, but most organic fertilizers are because they release nitrogen slowly.
HINT: Stevia leaves have the most sweetness in autumn when temperatures are cooler and the days shorter.

Definitely the best time to pick those stevia leaves.
If your district is prone to frosts in Autumn, make sure you cover the Stevia plant for another few weeks’ growth and more sweetness.
How do you store Stevia leaves?
If you Stevia plant is big enough, the easiest technique is to cut the branches off with secateurs before stripping the leaves.
TIP:As an extra bonus, you might also want to clip off the stem tips and add them to your harvest, because they have as much stevio-side as do the leaves.
 If you live in a mostly frost-free climate, your plants will probably cope with winter outside, as long as you don’t cut the branches too short (leaving about 10cms of stem at the base during pruning).
These plants do last a few years in temperate and warmer climates.
In cool temperate districts, it might be a good idea to take cuttings that you’ll use for next year’s crop.
Cuttings need to be rooted before planting, using either commercial rooting hormones or a natural base like honey.
Stevia seed is apparently very tricky to germinate, and the cutting method is your best option.
I should mention that the stevioside content is only 12% in the leaves you grow compared with the 80-90% that commercially extracted stevia has.
It’s still had a decent amount of sweetness all the same.
So you’ve picked the leaves now you need to dry them.
  • As with drying all herbs you can hang your bunch of leaves upside down in a warm dry place.
  • Otherwise, on a moderately warm day, your stevia crop can be quick dried in the full sun in about 12 hours. (Drying times longer than that will lower the stevioside content of the final product.)
  • If you have a home dehydrator use that instead.
  • Finally crush the leaves either by hand,  in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle that you use for spices and herbs.
  • The dried leaves last indefinitely!
  • If you add two or three leaves added whole or powdered, that’s enough to sweeten a cup of tea or coffee.

HOT TIP: Another way is to make your own liquid stevia extract by adding a cup of warm water to 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed stevia leaves. This mixture should set for 24 hours and then be refrigerated.
Why are they good for you?
 Stevia is a natural sweetener that has zero calories and isn't metabolised by the body.
Stevia isn’t suitable for everything in cooking but you can use it to sweeten drinks, fruits, salad dressings, stewed fruit, yogurt and most creamy desserts.
The processed Stevia that you buy in the shops has been stripped of all the natural goodness that Stevia contains, so it’s better to grow your own Stevia.

Gardening in Tight Spaces Part 1

Tillandsia capitata
Gardening in tight spaces seems to be a modern day occurrence with people living in smaller and smaller accommodation.

Today we’re tackling a tiny balcony situation high up on the 7th floor.

That may not be where you live, but there’ll be something that you can take from this.

Let’s find out.

I'm talking with Peter Nixon, garden designer and director of Paradisus garden design 

If you have a westerly aspect that’s under cover, go for anything in the Tillandsia family.

Peter suggests Tillandsia fasciculata hybrids and Tillandsia capitata hybrids.
And the suggestions were if you’re stuck with a tiny balcony, or even courtyard, then do use those vertical surfaces.
Those modular units can be a bit pricey, but there are alternatives if you’re prepared to do your own hand watering. If you have any questions about gardening in tight spaces or have a suggestion either for me or for Peter why not write in or email me at


Shorter Lasting Flowers for the Vase:

True love may last forever, but flowers do not. Some flowers only last a day. But what a day!

Some flowers do alright in the garden, but not so good in the vase.
So which ones are they?

 Short vase life, anything less than 7 days.
Daylilies make the top of my list. Not true lilies because they belong in the Hemerocallis family.
Each flower only lasts 1 day like its name says but they come in all colours of the rainbow. In fact there used to be a daylily farm called Rainbow Ridge.
 Hibiscus flowers only last 1 day, but in temperate climates they flower for at least 6 months of the year. Longer in warmer climates.

The hardy hibiscus bush can produce up to a hundred flowers in a season.
Evening Primrose-flowers that open in the evening and close again the next morning. If it’s cloudy though, the flowers will stay open. They just don’t like opening for the sun.
Queen of the night.-member of the cactus family, you’ll have to stay up late to watch this one flower. Also known as night flowering cereus.
Desert plants and cacti can have gorgeous, sometimes also fragrant, flowers which last less than a day.
Bearded Iris-only flower for a few weeks then are gone until next season can also be cut for the vase. Will last 4-5 days..
Iceland Poppies have a short vase life of 4-5 days.
Cosmos also 4-5 days. Pick them when they’re not 100% open.

Things you need to do to keep the flowers longer in the vase.
Change the water every two or three days, making fresh stem cuts and adding more floral preserver. Never use tap water, only filtered water.
With roses, avoid fully opened blooms, but also pass on stems with tight buds. Roses harvested too early will not last as long as those that have been cut later.

And remember, true love may last forever, but flowers do not. “It’s OK for flowers to die,” Miller said.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini from

Recorded live during studio broadcast of Real World Gardener show on 2RRR 88.5 fm Sydney.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Tickle Your Taste Buds and Value Cut Flowers

What’s on the show today?

How to stop your veggie garden from drying out in the Good Earth segment, sunflowers not for show but for seeds in Vegetable Heroes. Five senses-today’s it’s all about taste in Design Elements and more value for money cut flowers in the Talking Flowers segment with Mercedes.


All About Wicking Garden Beds
Wicking pots, or wicking beds are nothing new, ask any African Violet society member.
They’ve been using wicks in their self -watering pots very successfully for years.

Just imagine though, if you had a veggie or other garden bed that uses this self watering idea.
That would mean your vegetable garden would get watering from below.
Let’s find out .
You can build a wicking bed yourself easily enough with recyclable materials.
Here's how Margaret put hers together.
Photo: Margaret Mossakowska
Use wooden crates from a fruit market and scoria if you can’t get vermiculite. 
Margaret sources vermiculite in bulk from pharmaceutical companies that use it as packing material.
Start with a frame, then line it with something like pond liner or even black plastic.
Lay in some aggregate and ag-pipes.
You need to build a 10 – 15 cm layer of this base on top of which you place a coil of ag-pipe connected to an upright pipe which is where you’ll fill with water.
Credit: Leaf Ninjas

On top of this, place a layer of geo textile fabric,a 10 cm layer of vermiculite then your best garden soil.
The soil shouldn’t be more than 30 cm high otherwise the wicking system won’t work. 
For veggies the soil should be 20 - 30 cm to give them room to grow.
Tip: Don’t forget to put in an overflow valve about half-way up the sides.
One more thing, it takes a week for the wicking system to start working properly after you first fill the reservoir, so don’t forget to water your vegetables everyday until then.
If you have any questions about beds either for me or for Margaret why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Growing Sunflowers for Seeds.
You may have grown sunflowers in the past but did you grow them for just the flowers or just the seeds?
That seeds for eating that is.
Had you thought that all sunflower seeds are alike even?
Did you know that there’s a big difference between growing sunflowers, and growing edible sunflower seeds.
So that means if you’re interested in the edible seeds, you need to select your sunflower variety carefully.
Not just any old sunflower seed.
Certainly not the doubles, or pollenless sunflowers.
Sunflower Helianthus Annuus is in the Asteraceae family and started off as a wild sunflower growing in North America.
This sunflower was first cultivated around 3000 BC and some say it could’ve have even pre-dated corn as an Indian crop.
It wasn’t until the 1500’s when the Spanish took the seed to Europe to show off as an ornamental plant that the rest of the world knew about them.
By the 18th century, sunflowers were produced on a commercial scale for crushing, particularly in Russia where Peter the Great was a fan.
Russia was the world leader in production and breeding for many years so it should come as no surprise that there are some varieties with Russian in their name.
From the 1970's that, seed companies began to produce hybrid seeds which produce higher yields, oil content and resistance to disease.
Botanical Bite
Did you know though that the seeds in the sunflower head follow a remarkable spiral pattern.
This allows them to be packed into the head in the most efficient way.
The seeds sit against each other at the "golden angle" 137.5 degrees and head off in left and right spirals the number of which are Fibonacci numbers.

What’s Fibonacci-that’s another story.
What Does It Look Like?
I’m sure most people know what sunflowers look like but here’s a short description.
Sunflowers are annuals that have hairy, rough to touch central stems that grows to around 2-4m tall.
The leaves are dark green and egg shaped or perhaps more triangular.
The edges of the leaves are serrated.
The flower for seed production is bright yellow with a dark centre nodding on a long stalk.
The diameter of flowers varies from 10cm – 30 cm wide.
Sunflowers only seem to follow the sun when the plant is quite young and the stems more pliable.
Which Variety To Grow For Edible Seeds.
Mammoth Russian-grows 2-4m tall with thin-shelled seeds.
Sunflower Sunbird-an old heirloom variety that grows to 2m, can be used as a trellis for smaller climbing plants.
SunflowerYellow Empress-has flowers up to 25cm across, and grows to around 2m
Mammoth Grey Stripe-2-4m the seeds have lower oil and content so it’s good for birds such as caged parrots.
The only drawback is that it has a lower germination rate than those sold by bigger seed companies.
As a general rule, heirloom types of sunflowers will produce good quality edible seeds..
How To Grow

Sunflower seeds need to be sown directly into the garden.
The soil temperature needs to be a minimum of 130 C to germinate.
Hint: soil temperature is a few degrees less than air temperature as a rule of thumb.
For those districts that have late frosts, you still can sow the seeds two weeks before you’re expecting any frost.
But if there’s a snap when your seedlings emerge, sunflower seedlings can handle it.
For those of you wanting to start them in punnets or trays, you’ll have to be extra careful when you transplant them because all sunflowers grow a taproot.
Because of this taproot, if you have shallow soils, grow your sunflowers in raised beds so that the taproot can reach down to at least 60cm.
Sunflowers need plenty of room so space them out at least 30cm.
Sunflowers grow in open fields in Europe where they receive all day sun.
For the home gardener, the minimum of daylight hours is 6-8 hours.
As your sunflowers grow feed them regularly with any liquid feed, although they won’t mind a bout of hot weather.
There’s two things that sunflowers detest and that’s water logged soil and windy locations.
Can I Grow Them In A Pot?
Yes, there are dwarf sunflower varieties that you can grow in a pot. Check the label on the back of the packet.
When to Pick the seeds?
Cut sunflower heads when some of the seeds inside the edges appear ripe and fall away when rubbed, or when birds start harvesting them for you.
The seeds are usually ready 30-45 days after the flower opens.
Here’s a tip: Sunflower seeds are ripe when the flower head turns from green to yellow and the seed head begins to brown.
You can also give one a taste test though.
Store the seeds in a warm, dry place.
If the birds are going crazy for the sunflower seeds you can protect the heads with some old stocking, or muslin, even cheesecloth.

How to Eat sunflower seeds.
You can eat them raw or in a pasta or pizza dish.
Why not try making Sunflower seed pesto?
Crush them up and make a sandwich spread or in a dressing for salads or vegetables.
Sunflower seed Pesto
3 cups basil leaves;
2 cloves garlic;
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of salt and pepper to taste;
3/4 cup olive oil
Option – try adding 3/4 cup parmesan cheese at Step 2 for a different flavour.
Using a food processor, blender or mortar and pestle, finely chop/crush basil leaves and garlic.
Add sunflower seeds, lemon juice, salt and pepper and combine until seeds are finely chopped.
Add olive oil and combine.
Why are they good for you?
Most seeds are rich in protein, healthy fats, fibre, minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, plant iron and zinc while being naturally low in sodium.
Just a handful of sunflower seeds contains significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, and vitamin E — a vitamin that protects the cells against free radicals and inflammation.
They are also contain vitamins B1,B2, B3 and some are rich in vitamin E.
The fibrous coat of seeds may prevent complete digestion so crushing seeds using a mortar and pestle prior to adding them to snacks and meals may help.
Try throwing some in your next pesto recipe!


Gardening for the 5 Senses: Taste
Probably one of the easiest senses to stimulate when it comes to gardening because it’s all about food and eating.
The sense of taste of course so how else can you stimulate the sense other than putting in a veggie garden.
Let’s find out.
Coffee bean tree.
I'm talking with Chris Poulton, Sydney Convenor for the Australian Institute of Horticulture and an experienced horticultural lecturer and consultant.

Our suggestion is to grow as many herbs as you can.
Don’t be limited by the fact you’ve only got a windowsill, or balcony garden because all you need is 4-5 hours of sunlight a day to grow these things.
Increase your taste range in the garden with some native bush tucker such as finger limes or those bromeliads which have fruits on them.
You could also try growing a coffee bean tree, Coffea arabica, pictured above.
Not only do you get the red berries but the flowers that appear all along each branch, are heavenly scented
If you have any questions about five senses gardening or have a suggestion either for me or for Chris why not write in or email me at


Value For Money Cut Flowers

Cut-flowers are a luxury product and consumers demand a certain standard of quality and value for money.
How much would you like to spend on your cut flowers?
$35? $45? Or much more?
If you’re bit on the Scottish side, and moths fly out of your wallet when you open it you might want to consider those flowers that might cost a bit more but will last for up to two weeks in the vase?
Hang on, I think we all want that really don’t we?

But let’s first delve in to what happens between the grower and you the consumer.
Sure there’s roadside stalls where Jo the flower seller can you give you “quality flowers at a cut rate price.”
But how often is Jo there, and he’s growing them in his backyard.
What about the real grower?
This is how the chain goes, grower, then wholesalers, exporters, auctioneers, florists or supermarket buyers and the local shop.
So don’t whinge about the price of cut flowers, got it?
Alstromerias and Carnations
Here are some suggestions for long lasting flowers in the vase.
  • Carnations -2-3 weeks
  • Chrysanthemums-3-4 weeks ( bargain)
  • Astromeria-2 weeks
  • Delphiniums-2 weeks
  • Gladiolus-10 days.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini from 
Recording live during broadcast of Real World Gardener on 2rrr 88.5 fm Sydney