Saturday, May 21, 2011

They did it! (& a 50th post seed giveaway)

Today has been a great day!

I let the girls out of the coop and inspected their roost (expecting to find only poo) and lo and behold I found AN EGG!

Its just small but fingers crossed I'm going to get some double yolked whoppers soon!
Thanks girls, I'm so proud of you!

By the way, this post happens to be my 50th! And to celebrate, I'm offering some home saved Gem Squash seeds to a lucky follower. All you need do is say hi, and if you have any topics that you would like me to cover in future posts or any questions, please leave them below. I will announce the winner on Saturday the 4th of May.

I'm very excited to have reached the 50th post mark and the fact that it coincides with the day one of my chickens laid an egg is absolutely fitting!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Garden Inspirations: Villa d'Este

A few years ago now, like many twenty somethings in Australia, I set off with a couple of my closest girlfriends for a 6 month grand tour of Europe. Luckily, my besties are also Landscape Architects which meant that the priority of visiting some of Europe's grandest gardens was pretty high up on the list!
One of the most spectacular gardens we visited was the Villa d'Este in Tivoli just outside of Rome. The Villa itself began life as a Benedictine monastery in the thirteenth century and was later confiscated by the papacy for use as a governors residency. It became the residence of Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este who commissioned works on the villa and the gardens from 1550 in the late Renaissance mannerist style.
The villa and garden is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

The garden itself is structured on a central axis intersected with cross axies on various levels stepping down from the villa. These divisions of space all have different characters and themes reflecting ancient roman myths and symbolism, so quintessential of the renaissance style.

The most critical element of the overall design is the use of water in all manner of fountains, reflection ponds, grand pools and grottoes! I think my landscape history teacher described it as the best place to have a wet T-shirt party! Get the idea?!

Anyway, enough of the history lesson, here are the pictures!
Looking to the villa from the central axis.
The Oval Fountain off one of the upper terraces.

Crossing through to another 'garden room'
The biggest fountain I have ever seen!

By the way these fountains are all naturally pumped! No machines here (or maybe they do now, but originally it was some serious Renaissance hydraulic engineering and a whole lot of gravity!) I guess it helps being situated on the side of a mountain...

The giant fountain looks down over this series of reflection pools.

The resident cat next to the citrus in teracotta pots of course!
The 'Hundred Fountains'

More hundred fountains.
Aren't these fountains scary!
Looking through to the other picturesque villages through
the very old pines from the upper terrace.
I love how good Italians are at putting together old and new.
Fancy displaying contemporary sculpture in such an old garden. It looks great!
An Artemis fountain (or Diana if you are Roman)
A clever use of water to enhance the scale of the grand fountain.
Looking back to the Villa from the 'Fountain of the Model of Rome'.
From this angle you get a sense of scale!
I hope you have enjoyed your tour of the Villa d'Este through my camera! It is such a spectacular architectural masterpiece that uses some of the fundamental design principals that designers still use today. Albeit on a lesser scale!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Plant Files: Eucalyptus preissiana - Bell Fruited Mallee

For those of you that have space for a small ornamental tree and you want it to be native, look no further than Eucalyptus preissiana or the Bell Fruited Mallee.

The great thing about mallees - which is a term to describe Eucalypts that have a multi-stemming habit  and regenerate from a basal swelling called a lignotuber - is that they are tough, are bushy and you can easily maintain their height. Have a read of this if you want to get technical.

This little gem of a tree comes from the coastal and sub-coastal areas of southern Western Australia, where it grows on limestone and sand based gravely soils. Now, free draining soil isn't really all that common where I am in Melbourne but with a bit of love and cultivation, this tree really thrives! 

The compact bushy form is a real feature, almost as much as the flowers!
Thanks to Gooddoggy for the picture.
Being a mallee it can grow to around 5m, but generally hovers around 2-3m (can be even smaller). It can be maintained as a round shrub as well, where the leaves can be used as a contrasting feature to bright green or fine leafed plants and grasses.

The blue colour of the leaves are very useful in the
garden as mid structure feature that draws the eye.
But the most striking feature of the Bell Fruited Mallee is that it has spectacular limey yellow flowers in big groupings all over the plant.

The striking contrast of the foliage colour and the flowers are beautiful.
It flowers all through winter and spring and when the flowers are spent, they have large bell shaped fruits that remain on the plant all year round.

The large woody fruits remain on the tree.
In terms of cultivation, it needs good drainage! This can be achieved by mounding the soil, even 250mm will help, and mixing it with some coarse sand to create a free draining planting medium. Adding some lime will also help and they don't even need much food. An all purpose low phosphorus native fertiliser is all it needs, and the rate of application is only once a year or so in autumn. A full sun position is essential and watering need only be through summer months to get it established.
Unfortunately for those up north its best grown in the southern parts of the mainland as it doesn't like humidity or the wet season.

Overall the Bell Fruited Mallee is pretty tough little tree and with only a little effort at the time of planting, you will be rewarded with a striking Australian native that attracts all manner of birds and beneficial insects to the garden!

I'd love to hear if anyone has one in the garden or plants one - or even if you have some other mallees in the garden.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Suffering the Gardening Blues

Things havnt been going all that well lately at the cottage. There's been all manner of badness happening that has totally sapped my will to go out into the garden! Its mainly the fault of four legged creatures and some two legged with wings. Oh, as well as some with no leggs. And millions of legs. Umm, and mother nature herself...

Let me show you.

The rabbits have eaten ALL my Ranunculus to the ground. I love Ranunculus (Ranunculi?) and this is my first time growing them here at the cottage and I was really looking forward to their pretty double crimson blooms come late winter / spring, but at the moment I can't see that happening.

Then, mother nature threw us Melbournians the first frost.

Thus, the Basil is not long for this world.

THEN, I went to go and pick some lettuce for my lunch, and this is what I found:

All lettuces in the garden are as above. (The cut off pot is protection I fashioned this weekend (after the trauma was discovered) to protect my poor babies).

So as an alternative to lettuce, I thought, 'Hey, that's OK, rabbits need to eat too', I'll just pick some baby silverbeet!
Oh, no. The silverbeet was not worth picking!

The slug and snailed creatures had polished off most of the decent leaves of my baby SB.

By this time I was pretty angry!

To make matters even worse, ALL of my peas and snow peas... Oh I can't go on!

Munched to the ground.

I was saving posting this beautiful tomato till a bit later so that I could make all you other Melbourne bloggers jealous that I still had tomatoes. But no. Again I was thwarted by no legged creatures, and million legged creatures.

Look at that hand sized beefsteak!!!! Why do the slugs, slaters and millepedes curse me so?!

An then there was this:

All the rain that we have had these last couple of weeks has split my last little eggplant.

And this:

NONE OF THE SEEDS I SOWED 2 WEEKS AGO HAVE GERMINATED! NONE! (We have had a cold snap these last couple of weeks) But I hope they will come up when it warms up, or at least the sun comes out and they haven't been munched by ants!

And this:

The cucumber is no longer. Although, look! What's that hanging there? A little burpless cucumber just for me?!

No. Not for me, but my chickens. Thieving, naughty chickens!

Although they did have to fight Ollie for it!

They will never lay any eggs with him around!

Almost last but not least are the weeds. Weeds everywhere. All I ever do is weed. I'm over weeding. I wont even bother showing you the re vegetation area to the front of our block! Its ALL weeds!

At least the autumn leaves are pretty, and can cheer up the most grumpy and blue gardener.

But then I remember who does the raking...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday's Rewards

Sundays are great. Usually by Sunday, the washing has been sorted and the house is presentable and the time that is left is free to do things, i.e. fun gardening things. Like buying new plants.

My haul
Today was the annual Australian Plants Society Plants Sale!!! And I totally forgot to post about it. I am such a bad member! I went early to help arrange the flowers (we put together bunches for sale of flowers and foliage from the garden - totally didn't take a photo.) and to snap up the plants that always go first like the Eryngium ovinum Blue Devil, which is a crazy native perennial herb that dies back in autumn and comes back late winter to flower in early summer. The reason its crazy is because it has these metallic blue flowers that are SO spiky!

Look at that!!! How cool! (picture taken from the ANBG website)
 They are under threat in Victoria because they are indigenous to the grasslands of the north western plains of outer Melbourne (and other parts of NSW and SA) which are prime housing development land. Hopefully they will be happy in my little front garden and establish a new colony that Ollie won't want to sleep on!

Also in the haul are some native raspberries. Yes, you heard me, Australian native raspberries! Pretty much any time I bring home a new plant, Joel asks A: 'Is it native' and B: 'Can you eat it'. This time I could say, yes and YES!  The one I bought is a Rubus parvifolia, Which is a scrambly plant like a normal raspberry but the fruit is a lot smaller, not as acidic and the bush is smaller. We are both looking forward to harvesting our own bush food raspberries!

Thanks Wikipedia.
I also managed, on my rewarding Sunday, to find a fig tree laden with fruit! Now, I'm not the tallest of humans, so there wern't too many ripe that I could reach, so I only got a few, but still, being free, they taste so much better! (Gosh there were a lot of commas there!).

They are a pretty common variety with green fruit with a small purple blush when ripe and a soft pale pink center. Unfortunately not the black fig with the red centre, which is usually tastier in my opinion. Although apparently the reason figs haven't been very sweet this year is because of the lack of heat and sunshine over summer... But still, a free fig is a good fig!

Last but not least is my Sunday tomato harvest.

I don't think I need to say anything about them other than, buffalo mozzarella.

I love Sundays.
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