Category Archives: Garden

#56 Try and Grow a Dead-Straight Carrot

Many a home gardener will tell you that producing a normal-looking carrot in the back yard patch is not as easy as those bags of soldier-straight, perfectly symmetrical, evenly sized, deeply oranged carrots readily available in every supermarket would have you believe.

In fact, even the odd looking “Crazy bunch’ carrots they promote in stores in an attempt to wean us off perfection are pretty impressive with their depth of colour and generous girth.

So I’ve come to believe that the perfect carrot you see everywhere is about as natural as a Stepford wife or a Venezuelan beauty queen.

Quite a challenge then to

#56 Try and Grow a Dead-Straight Carrot

I’ve attempted carrot farming a few times over the years, but the bitter disappointment of waiting months, only to harvest yellowing, mangled, bifid runts has meant that the allure of planting them every year has now waned into oblivion.

Of course, I thought I was following all the rules:

  • Soil: Rich, dense and well composted
  • Seedlings: Healthy looking ones in punnets from a reputable nursery
  • Feed: Regularly, with a high quality nitrogen-containing fertiliser
  • Water: Frequently and generously

Then I watched a gardening show on television about growing carrots and realised every single rule I’d followed was, literally, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG & WRONG.

So, um, starting again…

  • Soil: Rich, dense and well composted?

Ha! Don’t be silly.

Collect sand from the beach and mix it with so-so soil you have that’s a bit deficient in nutrients. Especially deficient in nitrogen.

Just make sure it’s light and fluffy and sort of trickly between your fingers.

  • Seedlings: Healthy looking ones in punnets from a reputable nursery?

Why do they even sell them?

Nope. Never grow carrots from seedlings. Doomed to fail apparently.

 Planting from seeds is the only way to go…

  • Feed:  Regularly with a hIgh quality nitrogen-containing fertiliser?

Not unless you’re after copious greenery on top and rubbish carrots underneath.

  • Water: Frequently and generously?
    …if you want to DESTROY them.
    So water when you think of it.
    If the mood takes you.

Then there are a heap of other tips you need to follow:

Cover the newly-planted seeds to keep them warm, cosy and protected until they sprout:

Cull a number of the sprouted seeds early to reduce crowding:

Then discard the seedlings removed…

No…oo. My babies…

Cull again a few weeks later when growth is lush and magnificent.
Yes, again.

Carrot growth lush

And discard again…

This is doing my head in…

Until finally, weeks and weeks later, when a small orange blip is seen breaching the soil and you believe it’s time to harvest, you hope against hope that you’ve managed to grow a dead-straight carrot.

Perfect carrot





#53 Encourage Native Birds into the Garden

Who doesn’t have fond memories of the Rosella logo on the ubiquitous bottle of tomato sauce that was a staple of growing up in Australia?

It was the only brand my mother ever entertained using. In her case, it was for the taste: in mine, for the gorgeous crimson Rosella on the front.

So since childhood, I’ve cherished my tiny, brightly-coloured enamel rosella pin which the company used as a promotion back in the day when children didn’t expect their favourite toys to be endlessly interactive or need batteries or gigabytes to function properly.

Rosella Pin close up

And what a marketing ploy. More than fifty years on
and I still balk at using any other brand

But imagine if these pretty birds could be enticed to come into your garden every day. There’s a challenge:

#53 Encourage Native Birds into the Garden

So there I was recently, sitting on my front verandah drinking a mug of hot chocolate, when who should flutter by for a quick drink but this little beauty. 

Sorry, starling, but I don’t mean you…

One brief glimpse was not enough though. I wanted him to visit regularly, and I figured that the best way to do this was with food.

Mind you, an article published in The Conversation last Spring suggests that the jury is still out on the virtues or otherwise of feeding and watering wild birds. Do they become dependent on our largesse, resented in the bird-working world as seed-bludgers, expecting handouts on a platter? And does the bird population implode due to a lack of resilience should you go away leaving them with no food and water for a time?

Notwithstanding this debate, I raced out to my favourite hardware store and purchased a small bird feeder, filled it with wild bird seed and placed it close to the backyard bird bath. There was a lot of fluttering around it, but no takers. Was it because the treats weren’t being served on a platter for easy access?

No worries. There’s a waterproof material that can be cut to shape, spray painted and rimmed with clear plastic tubing to keep the seeds from falling off. Good old corflute.

Enter bird feeder Mark II and a lot of interested birds, first watching and hovering…

…before landing and enjoying:

It’s a magnet for sparrows, starlings and spotted doves who empty the feeder in no time.

Based on this early success, I bought a second feeder for the front garden this time, which is where I’d spotted the young beauty in the first place.

A kind friend made a real wooden base for it before I perched it on an upturned pot and waited for the flurry of activity and the return of my lovely rosella….

…and waited

and waited…

It’s been filled with wild bird seeds for over two weeks now, but not one taker. In fact, no interested party has gone so far as to land and inspect it.

What’s going on?

It is too wooden? The wrong colour? Too square? Not far enough off the ground? Does the fact that the seed is Homebrand® offend the birds’ sensibilities?

What must I do to entice you back, gorgeous Rosella?

I don’t want to sound needy, but I’ll do anything, buy anything, make any changes you desire.

But please come back.


#42 Contribute to the Greening of Winter

Winter’s a tough time for many amateur gardeners, especially the less robust among us.

It’s too cold and too wet to spend much time outside, and even for those prepared to toughen up and bring out the woollies, macs and gumboots, the rewards are few. Nothing much wants to grow.

Sure, there are jobs to do – we can prune and compost, rake and prepare garden beds for spring, but wouldn’t it be better if instead, we could:

#42 Contribute to the Greening of Winter

Sadly, it seems that almost anything you plant this time of the year withholds its rewards until Spring.

A close friend of mine who’s dipping her toes into the waters of green thumbed-ness this season (pardon the mixed metaphor) by experimenting with bulbs for the first time is coming to realise that something she planted way back in April may barely be sighted again until September, despite lavishing attention on it and providing it with a gorgeous hand painted designer pot.


miles to go before I bloom…

The pace of growth in winter can only be described as glacial.

The glorious crimson and scarlet leaves that floated off the persimmon tree a few weeks ago –

Scarlet leaves 2 – have now shrivelled and dried to this:

Shrivelled leaves

yes, it’s still us (sob)…really

The green lawn is balding, too …

Dried lawn

ageing, patchy and way past its prime 

Honestly if it weren’t for the camellias and the mandarin trees, bless their little hearts,

Mandarinswinter might have to be rebadged. Just as the North Americans call autumn ‘fall’ in honour of what they see happening around them, so we might consider renaming winter ‘brown’.

But all is not lost. Notice the line “almost anything you plant this time of the year withholds its rewards until Spring”?

I’ve managed to find a project for winter that will deliver plenty of green:Grow Wheat Grass

You know wheat grass – the ludicrously expensive additive that’s cut from a tray of living green blades of grass sitting on the bench at hipster cafés. The stuff that’s thrown into smoothies and juices to persuade you it’ll counteract the fructose and glucose from the added banana and maple syrup.

Here’s how the wheat grass project goes:

Begin with a cup of wheat bought from your local produce store:

Wheat Day 0

Soak it in lukewarm water for 24–48 hours until it’s swollen and just beginning to sprout:

Wheat sprouting

Then layer these grains over some potting mix in a well drained tray, cover with damp newspaper, spray with water regularly and keep in the dark.

Within a couple of days (I kid you not) you’ll have real mid-winter growth:

Wheat Grass D 2

And after another couple of days of watering and covering with newspaper, it’ll look like this:

Wheat grass D 4

Now it’s time to throw off the coverings and let in the light.

Go away for the long weekend and when you return, you’ll come home to the real deal:

Wheat grass D 7

…the wire cage was to keep the blades upright, but believe it or not,
mother nature knows where the light is!

No wonder sprouting wheat seeds was such a popular pastime in primary school.

It’s ‘instant horticultural gratification’.

All that’s left to do is cut off a small clump of this vitamin- and mineral- enriched goodness, throw it into your next smoothie and charge yourself a fortune.

But if you find drinking the stuff is about as exciting as eating grass and if it spoils the flavour of the yummy banana and maple syrup, don’t panic.

Just gift it to someone who’ll be more appreciative:

Wheat Grass D 10

#33 Welcome back Spring!

Has anyone else felt that Australia’s been in the grip of a rather miserable winter for two long years? A Narnia-esque feeling that we’ve been under the control of someone or something wanting to keep us cold and afraid?

Until suddenly, on the evening of September 14th, it all changed and the country sprang to life again. So it’s time to celebrate and…

#33 Welcome back Spring!

Hallelujah! No more doom and gloom.
Ring the bells…

Bells and chickens

 …because there’s a snowflake‘s chance in hell of continuing to scare us now .

And give Tough Border Protection a new meaning as you work out the best way to stop those sneaky chickens from making it over the border and into the spinach bed…

Spinach barrier

Worried about bombs in Syria?  Put your mind at rest in the knowledge that you can have rockets in the kitchen instead.


And rather than fretting about ‘Death Cults’, watch the streets come alive with blossoms:

Vicotira street blossoms

If you’re tired of meaningless three-word slogans, create your own, better ones.

Like Magnolias in Bloom… 


or how about Asparagus for Lunch?

Asparagus bedFinding these in the garden each morning is equivalent to an Easter egg hunt –  for grown-ups

We all know that climate change isn’t crap, that the Bureau of Meteorology didn’t fudge their temperature readings, that another hot, dry Summer’s just around the corner.
And we realise that we’ll forget these heady, exciting days of Spring soon enough, but isn’t it great that even for a few, brief weeks, colour has returned to our lives with a vengeance?

Red camelia

So thank you Aslan …or Malcolm …or whichever lion-hearted creature brought this about.


#25 A Journey ‘From Source to Sauce’

The idea of creating some sort of Popular Movement as a fun and frivolous retirement activity rather appeals to me, especially if it leads to a truly enjoyable outcome.

So because the following activity hasn’t yet been listed as an Official Movement with a Name, it’s the one I’ve decided to start:

#25 ‘From Source to Sauce’

Think ‘From Nose to Tail’ or ‘From Paddock to Plate’ without the sad connotation of a sentient creature with trusting eyes and a peaceful life about to be cruelly sacrificed for our eating pleasure. (Sacrificed in a respectful way, of course.)

Thankfully, the ‘From Source to Sauce’ movement is about Seed Saving, followed by Planting and Growing, then Harvesting, and finally Cooking and Bottling, all without Sacrificing. Well, as long as you’re happy that picking fruit or vegetables isn’t killing.

So I started with a perfect Roma tomato, The perfect tomato chosen as it’s slightly more resistant to fruit fly – the scourge of our area – and makes a gorgeously crimson Tomato Chutney. Heritage tomatoes would probably be the best choice if you can find and grow them successfully.

Next step is to follow reliable instructions for saving the seeds. The website ‘How to Save Tomato Seeds to Grow Next Year’ gave a wonderful, step by step guide – with illustrations – that really worked. IMG_0686

Can a tomato bush really grow from each one of these?

Then it’s time to sow the seeds into small pots using a good quality seed raising mix. It makes the world of difference when it comes to transplanting them into your prepared garden bed if you have the seeds protected in small saved cardboard rolls (I’m sure you can guess where they come from) as shown: IMG_0708 When the seeds sprout into tiny tomato plants, the whole cardboard roll can then be transferred into the ground without damaging the delicate roots. The cardboard eventually disintegrates in the soil.

To protect them from the cold, add a plastic cloche over each one to provide that mini greenhouse feel. A washed, trimmed and inverted V8 vegetable juice container (love the Hot and Spicy one, mmm…) makes an ideal cover: IMG_0710 Once each seed has sprouted and been planted out and watered, it grows into an entire tomato bush with tiny copycat tomatoes on it before your very eyes. IMG_0899 Then, without having to do much more than add some worm juice if available and await the sun’s magic, you should end up with something like this: Tom bush

I know it looks like it all happened overnight, but several months have passed since the first photo!

Gathering the bounty and saving it until you have enough for a batch of whatever you want to make is the next step. Basket of toms

If at all possible, resist the urge to toss them with grilled haloumi and serve on home-made sourdough toast every morning.

Now comes the serious bit.

Some years ago, a good friend gave me the Best Ever Recipe for Tomato Chutney. A chutney so delicious that in my experience, it’s been coveted by everyone who’s ever tried it.

I have to be feeling über-generous to give away a jar of this ruby treasure.


It should make 8 to 10 medium-sized jars, but the recipe can be halved if enough of your tomatoes haven’t ripened at the same time.

IMG_0910Nearly there…

And if this journey From Source to Sauce hasn’t kept you busy enough there’s always the opportunity to make your own labels for the finished product.

Finished chutney 2

 Starting a Movement doesn’t get any more satisfying than this!

#17 Indulge in Life’s Little Luxuries

What a relief we’re not compelled to believe our Government’s pronouncements.

So if, for example, they were to tell us that the Age of Entitlement is over, we can smile in the secret knowledge that this just isn’t true. Or to paraphrase a classic line from George Orwell’s novel, 1984: ‘They can tell us anything – anything – but they can’t make us believe it. They can’t get inside us.’*

So in retirement, I’m prepared to disregard Government directives and flaunt my sense of entitlement to:

#17 Indulge in Life’s Little Luxuries

TS Eliot may have said ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’ but have you noticed how we’re now expected to measure our life by ‘the cost of a cup of coffee’?  This phrase seems to have entered the language as synonymous with a tiny amount of money, an amount so inconsequential, so piffling that it can barely be considered spending money.  You’ll understand then, if I refer to some of these little luxuries as sometimes costing even less than a cup of coffee.


We have two new pâtisseries in town, Patty’s and Geoffrey Michael’s. Not cake shops. Pâtisseries. They deserve the French title, because they both produce the most exquisite little treats imaginable. A feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

Just look at what I was able to buy on Saturday for a special morning tea with friends: treats

 And each of these delicacies cost a mere 0.75 of the ‘cost of a cup of coffee’.

Then I noticed from my kitchen window that the last of the Apricot Nectar roses were blooming. Why leave them out in the garden to be ruined by the rain? Isn’t a vase of fresh flowers the ultimate in luxury? And all it takes is some gardening gloves, a pair of secateurs and a little time to provide such an indulgence. Flowers

 …Costing significantly less than the ten cups of coffee a florist would charge… 

Now, until Cussons soaps started advertising their Imperial Leather brand as the soap for use in the bath on your private jet  I considered soap was just  – well, soap.

That advertisement changed my view a little, but now, it’s been ratcheted up even further. And hurrah for that. More little luxuries.

Have you heard of Himalayan salt soap? Or SoapRocks® in assorted styles and colours, like Fire Opal™ or Citrene™?

I hadn’t until recently, but now they’re officially on my list of little luxuries. Soaps

Soaps just ain’t soaps any more… but to be fair, these cost more like a cup of civet coffee than regular coffee.

And does this ring a bell with anyone?The Good Set

The imprisoned ‘Good Set’…

Yes, it’s the ‘Good Set’, the one handed down from your grandmother to your mother and now to you, and forever destined to be locked up behind a glass facade, or hidden in a box somewhere upstairs, only to enjoy day release on very rare, very special occasions.

Pshaw, I say to that. Be a devil. Use the ‘Good Set’ just because you can.

And it’s a known fact that tea and coffee tastes better in a forbidden cup. coffee

The one above costs more than the one below!

The good set in use

Is it just me, or is there something seriously luxurious about fur? These days, fur means faux fur, of course, unless we’re talking about a real kitten. But I even love the feel of faux fur against skin, and every time I put on my faux fur-trimmed gloves I feel … special.

I could go on for ages, adding items like sleeping on silk pillowslips, or using bathroom fragrance tapers, or indulging in a glass of Grand Marnier or Frangelico liqueur, because finding little luxuries is very close to my heart.

But the best thing is, I don’t have to sacrifice even one cup of coffee for any of these treats, because the truth is, I don’t actually drink coffee…

* The original quote from George Orwell’s 1984 was said by Julia: ‘They can make you say anything – anything – but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you.’


Unfortunately, Julia was wrong.

#10 Keep Backyard Chickens

This blog entry was supposed to be called #10: Attend a Major Sporting Event, because I was lucky enough to be given centre court tickets to the Australian Tennis Open in January for my birthday.  Alas, life had other ideas.  An acute hand injury just after Christmas required emergency surgery and put me well and truly out of action for several weeks. The trip to the tennis, and my next blog, became a forgotten dream.

No matter, as there’s always another Fun and Frivolous event to fill the void:

#10 Keep Backyard Chickens

This activity has become somewhat de rigueur, I know, but in my defence, it began over three years ago as a rescue operation for two anonymous chickens that a neighbour was about to kill due to their poor egg-laying habits.

In my mind, I’d named them Scarlet and Nancy, after the Scarlet Pimpernel and Nancy Wake, because they were about to cheat certain death.  Unfortunately they suddenly turned up their toes – literally fell off the perch – before I could save them.

Come to think of it, this probably explains their previously poor egg-laying ability.

By this stage, though, I was enthused enough about owning chickens to construct a chicken coop with the help of Rentachook who provided the flat pack and plentiful instructions to get started:

Chicken coop in constuction

The chicken coop takes shape

This also led to building a fenced area so they could wander in the garden, – within limits – fertilise the lawns and keep the area pest-free. How easy was this going to be?

Soon after two new ISA brown chickens joined the family:


Naturally they were named Scarlet and Nancy

A crash course in chicken husbandry taught me that chickens want food, on tap, 24/7 so I bought an inexpensive feeder and filled it with layer pellets which they could access easily.

Before I knew it, I was also feeding the entire sparrow, pigeon, dove, starling, magpie, peewee … you get the picture … population of the surrounding district, who’d evidently sent out the word: “Smorgasbord, guys, all you can eat over at Number 525.” The bill for chicken feed became anything but chicken feed.

Enter GrandPa’s feeders, the best invention to come out of New Zealand since pavlova. (Only kidding. Grandpa’s feeders really are a New Zealand innovation). Sure, the initial cost was quite high, and it took several weeks of s-l-o-w training before Scarlet and Nancy got the hang of it, (remember, chickens have tiny brains) but my chicken-feed bill has dropped so precipitously that I’ve paid for it several times over and I can go on holidays with a free conscience knowing there’ll be plenty of food for them.

Girls feeding 3

“You first…”  “No, you first…”

In fact it’s so good, I bought one for friends who also have chickens. Thoroughly recommended!

Finally, the girls began laying, and how exciting it was to gather their eggs and see them mature from the initial tiny pullet eggs to super sized ones:

Nancy pullet's eggs

For the first twelve months, I religiously locked them up every night to prevent foxes attacking them. Even though no fox has ever been seen so close to the centre of town, everyone will tell you they’re out there, just waiting… waiting…

Then one night I was away and forgot to protect them. Expecting a scene of carnage on my return it was a relief to discover they were doing fine. Since then, they’ve had free run of the garden.

The lack of foxes in the area is probably helped by the presence of my black whippet Ziggy who tolerates no intruders, a noisy dog called Leo over the back fence who tolerates  – well, nothing at all, really – and in particular, Next-Door’s cat who, when not on their roof coolly staring down at Scarlet and Nancy from on high in a rather intimidatory manner, is crawling the gutters outside my house, staking out her territory:

cat-guard 4

 “Just keeping an eye on my property…”

But now, the girls are over 3 years old and as any true chicken aficionado will tell you with a slight sniff, “ISA Browns are only bred to be egg-laying machines for 18 months, then they get culled or die of exhaustion.”

This means the girls rarely lay these days, but I’ve had great eggs for almost three years and the best avocado harvests ever, thanks to the soil underneath the trees being aerated, bugs and fungi being gobbled down and fertiliser being applied daily, direct from the source.

So I think they’ve earned the right to live out the remainder of their days in the front garden at 525.

Scarlett & Nancy for Blog

May they Nest in Peace


#8 Grow an Unusual Plant

Unusual plants are in the eye of the beholder.

There’s a succulent from the agave genus known as the Century plant, said to flower once in a hundred years  – before dying.  In truth, it sometimes blooms as prolifically as every ten or twenty years but on any scale, it would have to be considered unusual and it would be quite amazing to nurture and actually witness the flower.

However, I’m not sure I have that long to wait, so I’ll focus instead on something a little more accessible:

#8 Grow an Unusual Plant

Many years ago, I wrote articles for a Canadian magazine and at the editor’s request, sent an accompanying photograph of myself. It happened to be taken with a fully laden orange tree in my garden as the backdrop, a detail I barely noticed.

Alas, rather than rhapsodise about my literary skills, the magazine’s editor wrote about the fact that people in Australia could actually grow orange trees in their back yards!! (his italics and his exclamation marks).

Unusual plants are, as I said, in the eye of the beholder.

But I guess this means that a plant that others don’t, or can’t, commonly grow but will cause a twinge of envy or regret when people see someone else has done it, can be classed as unusual.

The climate in my neck of the woods is temperate with cold, frosty winters and hot dry summers. When I first moved here nearly thirty years ago, everyone said avocado trees wouldn’t survive the frosts, don’t bother with them. I believed this, and didn’t plant any.

Then after a few years I met someone who lived around the corner and had a flourishing avocado tree.  I’d been duped!

But based on the reputed length of time between planting the tree and eating the fruit (about six years) I thought “too long to wait” and still didn’t plant one.

Finally, about ten years ago, on the basis of “if not now, then never”, I took the plunge, ordered two avocado trees – a Fuerte and a Reed (so they could cross pollinate – they’re very choosy about their companions) –  and waited:

Reed avocados hanging from my tree

Now I have two fully-grown avocado trees – somewhat unusual in this district –  in my back yard!  Planted a little too close together, sure, and growing much, much taller than I’d reckoned on, but absolutely laden with fruit. My first pick was such a proud moment:

The perfect first-born

Now, however, I can be heard muttering: “Not avocados for lunch again,”, so there’s no pleasing some people.

Then my young persimmon tree fruited for the first time this year, and what an exotic little beauty it was with its marvellous leaves which give a spectacular autumn display and its golden globed fruit hanging like Christmas decorations.

With my fuyu persimmon before the leaves changed colour

And this variety doesn’t have to go squelchy before it can be eaten. It’s delicious.

There’s no doubt growing interesting plants can be very satisfying, though the downside is that I’m going to turn into one of those elderly people who’ll only leave home when they’re carried out in a box.

I mean, how many nursing homes will have avocado and persimmon trees?