Saturday, April 30, 2011

Art in the garden.

As I have a very young garden (I'm starting from scratch) I don't have many places for art or sculpture. I love seeing bird baths and decorative glass, metal and ceramics hidden amongst foliage and little birds flitting about, but seeing as there are no large shrubs on the block there are no little hidey places. There will be one day!

You may have seen a succulent planter in garden photos, that Joel and I made ourselves.

We found the big concrete / limestone slab (its most likely concrete) when pulling out masses of Tradescantia or as its commonly known with the slightly distasteful name of 'Wandering Jew' (which is a terrible environmental weed in Australia). Straight away I thought that it would make a great plinth for a sculpture, or as it happened, to be a base for the rusty old plough disk that we picked up from a scrap yard in eastern gippsland. Joel secured the disk by welding a rod onto it and drilling out a hole in the plinth to slide the rod in. I mounded up some succulent mix and planted it out with a few of my favorite succulents - mostly Echeverias and a couple of Sempervivums. The pink, grey and bronze / rust colours work really well and I'm very proud of our handiwork!  Its nice that we can see it out of a couple of windows too.

But the most exciting sculpture that we have was a gift from the Jewelers that Joel works for on Saturdays (and previously full time before he went back to uni).

Terry, Annie, Heidi and Toby from Ruby Tuesday Jewellery gave us this wonderful Justin Purser sculpture of a sun flower for our housewarming and I just love it! It is yet to find its permanent home, but for now it is in the veggie garden so that I can look at it out the window and when I am working in the garden. It was such a generous gift, both Joel and I are touched and delighted!

That's all the art I have in the garden at the moment (other than the plants themselves of course!) but I'm looking froward to adding to the collection!
I think what we have sets the tone for progressing with the garden in an informal and rustic style that will suit our little cottage down to the ground!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Plant Files: Fabulous Florence Fennel

I planted a whole lot of fennel seeds over Easter because I love it more than I love tomatoes (is that blasphemous?!). BUT, technically, it’s not really Fennel sowing time (for the south eastern states of Australia anyway). If you are in the northern states and even NSW you can happily grow it well over winter (lucky buggers). 

Thanks to Quinn Anya for the
use of this lovely photo!

Florence fennel, for those new to this sweet aniseed flavored, funny vegetable is the bulbing kind of fennel that you generally see at the market in spring and around now. Generally, you want the hard, white small bulbs (the bulb grows above the ground and is blanched like a leek with a collar and or straw) which are sweet and juicy. The small bulbs are delicious finely sliced raw in salads with orange and radish. The larger, woodier bulbs are better cut into slices and baked, with salt lemon and oil or they are good baked whole and stuffed with yummy things. But I digress.

Here are the facts:

-         Fennel likes very a friable soil. With a ph of 6.5-7.5.
-         It loves the sunshine and continuous moisture. Drying out is the enemy of fennel, if it does dry out the bulb development is inhibited and they become tough and stringy.
-         It’s best to direct sow because transplanting also inhibits bulb development.
-         Sow in a shallow furrow about 5cm deep that will help with blanching. As they grow build up straw around the bulbs to keep them white and sweet. Make sure that the sanils and slugs are kept at bay because they love fennel.
-         It is said to repel coddling moth, so its good to plant with Apples.
-         Some organic gardeners say that other plants don’t like growing near it. I have never found that but you do notice in the ‘wild’ the weedy fennel (non bulb forming) has nothing else growing around it other than other fennely friends… (I grow lettuces around it and have had no trouble)
-         Sowing time- Ok, here is the deal, I have 3 very reliable veggie gardening books and all three of them have different months listed for climatic regions (whats going on people?!). Generally the best months to grow fennel are when there is little temperature fluctuation between day and night. So spring and autumn. Spring makes big juicy bulbs with a short growing period and an autumn sowing and harvest through late winter and spring will mean a smaller, dense, sweet bulb. As always winter crops are slower growing, and cooler temps are not good for seed germination, so those of us down south should either sow a small crop now or wait till early early spring.

As you know, I live in Melbourne and have thrown the rule book out and am growing it now anyway! My veggie garden is near my house and gets a lot of reflected warmth from the north facing earth wall, so my chances are reasonably good. If they don’t grow well, I will use the foliage as a herb in soups (with artichoke – it’s a Greek thing) and spinach pie / spanakopita (which is very common combination for spinach pie, traditionally from the islands).

I hope this helps answer some questions about fennel. It really is a very divisive vegetable because it has a very aromatic taste, but if you like licorice, you should have a go!

Ali, It’s the perfect time for you, so I hope to see you sow some seeds (just incase mine fail and I need to save face)!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter Sowings

The Easter break this year was a rather busy one with a housewarming (ours), birthday (mine on the 23rd) and tree lopping (on my birthday), gardening (all the rest) as well as finding lost chickens (don't ask!)

I managed to build some new garden beds that will be filled with Asparagus and rhubarb that I will relocate from the soon to be chicken run.

They fit quite nicely with the existing raised beds but not so well with the tyres! Oh well, at least the potatoes have sprouted! I might have to find a new home for them...

I managed to remove the tomatoes and sowed some new seeds following my earlier plans (I wrote about them here). This bed is now filled with Asian greens and some brassicas, as well as FENNEL (I love fennel). When the Basil dies off I will finish the rest of the bed with rocket and some bitter leaf salad greens.
I harvested buckets of basil too, which I will pound up with oil and freeze in ice trays. I will really miss the basil through winter though, I love adding it to everything!

The broads are doing well and have really liked the warm sunshine that we have had this long weekend.  They are almost 30cm tall now, and I can't wait to have my first harvest!

Most of the snow and podding peas have been eaten by slugs and chickens, so I will have to do some re-sowing soon! There was no point in taking a photo!

Otherwise its been a quiet weekend, which has been nice. Apologies for the slow down in posts too, things have been rather busy preparing for the housewarming, but I have lots of things planned, so stay tuned!

Hello also too the new followers! I hope you find my blog interesting and please say hi and comment, I love reading about what others are up to in their gardens!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Weekend of Garden Visits.

Last weekend I visited a couple of interesting native gardens, so this post is just photo heavy inspiration shots...

The first three were taken at Dianne Cummings garden in Doncaster East. I very much liked the planted out nature strip, which looked like it would fit seamlessly in a bush park (sans concrete kerb and bitumen road of course). It was a bit wild but suited the garden and extended it out into the street.

There were many shallow bird baths dotted through the garden, often partially hidden under an overhanging branch or some feathery native grasses. I liked that the paths were narrow and were interrupted by plants spilling out over the edges.
The back area was quite narrow and was divided along its length by a combination of sleeper and bluestone block walls. The colour of the Bluestone worked really well with the soft greens and blue greys of the surrounding plant material.

In 2005 Dianne won an award for her garden as part of SGA's Sustainable Gardening Awards. You can see the entry here: Dianne's garden write up.

The next garden was just out of Yea, and was created by a member of the Australian Plants Society, Yarra Yarra group. It was a lovely mix of natives from all over Australia, including both indigenous plants suited to the local conditions and showy WA natives.

The composition of colours and textures felt natural, yet gave the garden a sense of drama and helped the individual specimens to stand out (even when so densely planted).

The Goodenia ovata (front) sets off the silver acacia behind.
The feathery leafed acacia in the middle divides the two texturally.

Cute art pieces, found skulls and weather worn timber creates
a nice little story hidden amongst the salt bush and native flax lily.
Crushed white granite paths set off the
white trunk of the young Snow Gum.
An informal hedge of Correa 'Dusky Bells' defines the
edge of the pergola area from the rest of the garden.
Clever plant combinations pick up similar colour tones whilst providing textural
contrast. The silver of the native mint bush adds to the lovely combo.
I LOVED the pairing of the Acacia glaucoptera and the Persoonia pinifolia
(Geebung - hows that for a common name!?) The Geebung in the middle with the soft feathery
 upright foliage has similar couloured growing tips to the Acacia (front left).
Would never have thought to pair the two, but looks so good.

I also went to Bulleen Art and Garden for some supplies (where I might have even walked past Mrs Bok who was also there!). They have a display of productive gardens in small spaces, with a focus on espaliered trees. Perfect timing for me who is still deciding in what branching method to use for my trees.
Good old horizontal branching method...
Oh but I do so like the fan!
All in all it was a great weekend that has filled my head with all manner of gardening and plant inspiration, just in time for the Autumn and Winter planting season!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Broads are Here!

Broad beans that is...

Last weekend I set to work with my trusty saw, bailing twine and mallet, preparing the support frame for my Broad Bean bed. I managed to find this timber already in the back yard pushed against the fence and under a thick matting of kikuyu. Total score!

The posts are all around 1.8 / 2m above ground and hammered in about 30-40cm or so, and reasonably stable. My summer crop of beans had a bamboo frame / wigwam that failed miserably under the weight of the plants so I'm trialing the more 'secure' method. Because broad beans are so floppy and don't climb, this frame should be enough to truss against, similar to how I did the tomatoes this year (you can still see them under the shade cloth to the left!). I might use a similar method in the summer for the climbing beans...

I'm growing three types of BB, Egyptian, Coles Prolific and Long pod and will allow for a successional sowing in a months time. I soaked the beans for a day and a night before hand and planted them a little over a week ago in a slight hill.  This afternoon I noticed my first shoots!
The Greeks and cultures through the middle east use a lot of broad beans in their cooking, although mostly in dried form but I LOVE them fresh. I wonder if you can make felafels with fresh green broad beans? Hmmm...

 I have also sown some of the peas on a similar frame, although as well as the horizontal bamboo stakes I have threaded through some wire mesh for their little hands to grab onto.

Last year when Joel was cleaning out his mum and dads garage he brought home a pile of his old Mini tyres which we are using for potato towers. I already have the spuds in (Toolangi Delight) and planted some coriander seeds on top for a quick green crop. I hope they are compatible plants!  We also cut the rims off with a jigsaw to maximise space. Ill slowly add more tyres and backfill with soil and straw as the potato greens poke through.

Inspired by all the organised bloggers in the northern hemisphere getting ready for summer I have sown some radicchio, Kale (Cavalo Nero), Royal Oak Leaf lettuce and maybe even some broccoli (can't remember if I did) into punnets which have now sprouted and will be ready in a couple of weeks. Although I'm very bad with watering and have had a bad germination rate unfortunately - read murdered all my little seeds!

And as always there is Ollie in the garden keeping me company! He doesn't mind if I kill the baby plants!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What's for dinner?

Like many of my fellow bloggers, I really love cooking a satisfying meal out of things I have grown in the garden. I will try and regularly share recipes for quick meals that are flexible, simple and tasty and hopefully you can give me ideas too! My style is generally middle eastern / Mediterranean in influence, mainly because that’s what I know! I will try and share authentic family recipes too because my Greek grandmother is the best cook in the world and my eternal influence and inspiration!  (Hi Yiayia! I know you’re reading!!)

So here goes! What’s for dinner? A tasty couscous salad, with leeks, pumpkin, chicken and chick peas and the one and only Purple Dragon carrot from the garden! (I don’t know how it got there)!!

It’s a rather simple blend of tasty ingredients thrown together. There is a bit of prep of the components but you can do it with one fry pan and the oven.
I managed to feed 4 people (one of whom is eating for two) and a lunch the next day – so you could easily say 6.

It can be ‘beefed’ up with more veg, chickpeas or chicken, whatever you have, but as long as there is a balance of sweet, salt and some acid, the salad will work well.

Throw together Salad:

Bunch of greens from the garden – Rocket, lettuce, basil, whatever green stuff you like.
Couple of leeks
1 small carrot (that’s all I had!)
Half a butternut pumpkin
Can of chick peas
1 Free range chicken breast
Caramelized balsamic vinegar
Greek yoghurt

½ tsp Ground Cumin
½ tsp Ground Coriander
½ tsp Sweet Paprika

Put it together:

Dice up the pumpkin and carrot, pop onto a tray with oil and S&P and into a hot oven to roast off till caramelized.
Meanwhile, panfry the lightly seasoned chicken breast till golden and crispy, yet still moist inside. Set aside to rest before slicing up.
Prepare leeks and sauté in the frying pan that cooked the chicken. Set aside.
Crush and chop a garlic clove (again, into the chicken & leek pan, no washing necessary). Add spices and fry till fragrant – less than a minute. Add the drained can of chickpeas and warm through. Set aside.
In a large bowl, put 1.5 cups instant couscous with 25gm blob of butter, slat and pepper and 1.5 cups boiling water. Cover and allow to swell for 5 minutes.  

To plate up, find a large plate and scatter the leaves over in an even layer.
Fluff up the couscous with a fork. Tip in the chicken that has been sliced into bite sized pieces as well as the juice; add the sautéed leeks, roasted pumpkin and carrots as well as chickpeas coated in the spices. Mix it all up and taste for S & P.
Mound the couscous salad in the center of the plate, leaving some of the greens showing on the edges.
Crumble the feta with your hands over the salad with some large and small chunks. Drizzle the caramelized balsamic over in a snazzy spiral pattern and serve with yoghurt on the side. You could also toss through roasted pecans or hazelnuts which would give a great crunch!

This is a seriously good meal time salad that even non salad eaters are happy to eat (Joel)! Because it was so good we ate it before I could photograph it!

It sounds like there is a lot to do but its quite simple, only a few utensils used, and if I managed in my tiny ships galley of a kitchen you can too!

Let me know if you give it a go!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Feathers in the garden

This weekend was a totally garden focused weekend! My mum and I went to the Melbourne International Garden Show (see Mrs Bok's great pictorial review) on Saturday and Sunday was spent in the garden.

Keeping me company were the girls who are starting to get used to their new home and are becoming a little more adventurous!
They spent last weekend out but generally stuck to the edges of the back garden, well undercover and away from the open lawn areas.
This weekend, they did laps, followed me without following me and generally had a mighty good time!

First of all, they hang out in the veggie patch near their coop with the permanent veg - the asparagus, rhubarb, herbs etc. Note the carnage to the rhubarb leaves! I hope they wont get sick!

After they have had their fill of rhubarb, they make for the large Manna Gum just to the left of the raised veggie bed above.  
From the tree, they make for the cover of a large sweet pittosporum on the fence line, that they dust bath under and scratch around. But they never do this stretch casually walking and pecking, they run, full tilt with their fat fluffy bodies bouncing off the ground in the most comical way!
This is their regular hang out near the fence where Joel puts the grass clippings and gutter contents. Lots of tasty grubs in there. From here they have realised that the veggie garden isn't all that far away... I spotted them through the window - can you spot them near the polystyrene box where the brick edging ends?

 This was their bingo moment!
There's Melanie leading the others saying "quick, she's not looking, lets get us some tomatoes!!"

I promptly shooed them away.

They then stealthily followed me (through their little shelter corridor) to the compost bin, where they discovered the wonderful wormy joys!
I didn't manage to get a good photo of Dumpling (the white one) hidden in the compost bay that Julia is in, except for her head poking out on the lookout for me. Was very funny! They always keep their distance from me but when I'm outside and moving slowly, they are never far away.

Then they made it to the other side of the garden to check out the pots of succulents that were looking a bit sad after being in the shade for too long. LOTS of snails and slugs there! They actually got into the fig pot and the aloe in the big terracotta pot! I would have thought the spiky plants would be safe - but no! (The pot stand was a salvage from Grandma and Grandpas place. Granny saw it today and approved. Thanks granny! )

They were so funny doing laps of the edges but I was so pleased to see them find new places and show their adventurous sides!
Oh and by the way, like all good 'Anglo Greek' girls they now have their Greek names as well as the English ones. Dumpling has been 'christened' Asproula, meaning white woman, Julia (the red head) has been named Coccinoula, meaning Red woman and as you can imagine we have followed the theme with Melanie being named Marvroula - can you guess?

I love my three girls!!
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