Category Archives: Garden

My Sustainable Garden -Chickweed Pesto

Web_chickweed-pesto
Tiny seedlings are starting to appear in our garden from plants that I let go to seed last year. The fun is in spotting these new plants growing in unexpected places and in being able to identify what they are. I know I have violas, sweet alyssum, petunias and begonias but I have also noticed another seedling spring up all over the garden. Web_chickweed-in-bricksThis last unknown is appearing in my hanging baskets, tumbling over my walls, and in between the pavers. Web_chickweed-basketInitially I nurtured it with water and seaweed emulsion only to have an explosion of growth suddenly start taking over the beds. Suspicion started to creep into my mind as nothing I have planted grows that quickly and I have now realised I am battling a worthy foe. Chickweed!

Web_chickweed-stalksI have been on my hands and knees reaching under the roses, through the hydrangea, around the olive trees and across the brick pavers removing this fragile but tenacious weed and throwing it into the bin. Fortunately it is relatively easy to pull out but little bits still litter the garden probably preparing to haunt me in another 12 months. I have been muttering to myself, asking where did it come from. As I have been growing my own mulch (which is another story) for the past 12 months I doubted that it was from the bag of sugar cane I had used 12 months ago. Web_chickweed_neighbourI didn’t remain in ignorance for long as crouching under the olives I glanced across my neighbour’s neglected backyard and saw a glorious carpet of light green starting right next to my fence. The ground is covered in a tangled mass of stalks, leaves and flowers.Now I had found my source; Stellaria media commonly known as chickweed, winter weed, bindweed, satin flower, satin-flower, starweed, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass and white bird’s eye.

Web_chickweed-flowerI am trying to make my garden as sustainable as possible and I hate throwing plant material out but this weed had gone to seed and I am not going to put it into the compost bin. As I threw the fourth bag away I started to wonder if it was edible. The name surely has to be a clue; I mean chickweed? I grabbed a couple of handfuls and walked through the forest to see if my son’s chooks would eat it. No problems there and they are still alive as I write. Chickweed is easy to identify with its frill of fine hairs running up one side of its stalk, changing sides at a leaf juncture.

Web_chickweed-and-chookMy father, curious about my frenetic gardening activity, wandered down to see what I was doing. I explained that having identified that this weed was not toxic to humans I was going to put some in our salad. Curious to see what it tasted like he reached down and picked off a few leaves to nibble on.

‘Mum won’t forgive me if you die on my patch,’ I told him. ‘Hey, at 91 years old I have to die sometime,’ he said, munching like Peter Rabbit on the sprigs.
Chickweed is one of those super foods, rich in omega-6 fatty acids and saponins, high in vitamins A, C, D, and B as well as the minerals, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese, silica, phosphorous, sodium and copper. Web_chickweed-in-mug2It now definitely has a place in my diet both in salads, as an infusion and in pesto. It is also said to be useful as a poultice or tincture for skin irritations and helpful in treating obesity not that this is a problem in our household. I am really quite excited about identifying this plant and am now keen to see what else I can use from my garden’s supply of edible weeds.Web_chickweed-pesto

The chickweed was starting to go to seed and forming stalks which might have made the pesto stringy so I pulled the leaves from the stalks. The pesto was delicious.

Chickweed Pesto

Ingredients:

2 cups chickweed leaves

1 large clove garlic, smashed

½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated

¼ – ½ cup nuts – pine nuts, macadamia or walnuts

½ cup virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

salt and pepper

Web_chickweed-pesto-chair
Process:

In a food processor, pulse the chickweed and the basil leaves with the garlic until well broken down and blended, scraping down the sides to ensure even chopping. Add the Parmesan and pulse, then the nuts and pulse well. Slowly add the olive oil pulsing all the time. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on bruschetta, over pasta or as a dip with vegetables.

Web_chickeed-bruschetta

I lost Autumn

Autumn has eluded me.  Occasionally when I wake, the western hills are cloaked in a thick, grey fog dampening the sounds of an awakening suburb. It fills the gullies and swirls around like a dancer clothed in a cape of moist air teasing me behind a mask of summery temperatures warm enough for a t-shirt when I work in the garden.Web_fog_9127
This morning, I heard, over the shrill squabbling of the lorikeets feasting on the bread, milk and honey mixture I put out for them, an unfamiliar chirruping outside my kitchen. Coffee in hand, I wandered into my front garden and squinted up into the early sunlight. Perched high in the spindly branches of the crepe myrtle, surprisingly well camouflaged despite its bright blue and yellow colours was a Rosella, visible only because the leaves have finally started to fall. This drought tolerant deciduous tree is a delight in summer with its bowl-shaped canopy of mauve crepe flowers attracting lots of bees and in winter its beautiful bark is a stand out feature. I think I lost autumn, I am not sure it occurred and now this elusive season has segued into winter.

Web-Lorikeets_9234-2We get excited about the leaves dropping in our cooler months. I get excited as they are a useful dry leaf matter addition to the compost bin, but my gardening assistant sees them as a chore to be swept up. I have uttered serious threats to this individual, because after sweeping up the Wisteria leaves, he tends to toss them into the rubbish bin rather than into the compost. As punishment, I have set him a task to install a light under the Frangipani to highlight its sculptural bare limbs in the evening. Now the Birch has started to drop leaves around the garden, the yellow colours mimicking the yellow paint on the house. Suddenly there are enough leaves to scrunch beneath my feet, a true sound of autumn and winter.Web-autumn-birchleaves9475

The shorter days are still perfect for long lunches on the deck although we have dusted off the gas heater so that as the sun disappears below the hills we can continue the conversation over another bottle of wine.

Soon it will be time to bring out my collection of old rugs under which guests can snuggle to ward off an evening’s cooler temperature. I have an assortment of old tartan rugs inherited from various members of the family plus those knitted or sewn by myself. None are so precious that I get upset if a glass or two of wine is spilt over them. They need an airing to rid them of the smell of lavender that I store with them to dissuade the clothes moths.Web_blankets_9481

Now that the cooler evenings have arrived, we have moved from eating outside with tea lights for romance to dining under soft candle light at the dinner table. Our barbecue is still frequently used, but now I am beginning to plan meals around warm soups and casseroles accompanied by winter salads incorporating the delicious flavours of vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and beetroot.

I am impatient for the colder nights to arrive so that we can light the first of only about 20 fires that we have each winter. Our winter evenings are not really cold enough to warrant a fire, but I have been known open all the doors and windows to let in as much cold air as possible. My idea of bliss is to sit having a drink after dinner, feet encased in uggies, books and knitting beside me, soaking up the warmth of the flames.  Web_pinecones_9470

If I am really lucky next morning there will be enough coals left, that with the addition of a few pine cones, the fire will reignite. This is definitely one of the pleasures of not having to rush off to work in the morning, because I will make a coffee and curl up under a rug eating breakfast in front of the flames.

This week in anticipation of a cooler night, I put a light winter blanket on the bed which was a total waste of time as it is still too hot to sleep under anything heavier than a summer blanket. This didn’t stop the cat who leapt onto me in the middle of the night pitter pattering with his claws, purring loudly and commandeering more than his fair third of the blanket. If I get tired of being squashed between the two males in my bed, and try to shift the hairy one, he digs his claws in and bites. Ouch!

I am however, the eternal optimist and have started on a list of tasks for the elusive autumn and winter:Web_kindling9472

  • Get the firewood and pine cones ready for the first fire. Set the fire in preparation. This can be a very competitive business in our household.
  • Buy more candles for the dinner table
  • Fill up the gas bottle for the heater on the deck
  • Wash the old rugs and give them an airing.
  • Start thinking about recipes for soups, winter salads and pies
  • Finish knitting the baby rug for number 11 grandchild before he goes to school!Web_meatpie_7205

Camellias and Chanel



Web_white-camellia2
I have been picking camellias from my garden and naturally, loving fashion remembered that the Camellia is a wonderful link to one of my favourite designers, Coco Chanel who was born on this day, 19 August in 1883. When you look at the pink blossom, you can see why she was attracted to the symmetry and elegant shape of the camellia which became one of her signature symbols. Weaving together seduction, glamour, beauty, and a touch of the exotic.

CamelliaMy garden is in a constant of flux as I debate over how much space can be devoted to flowering plants versus fruit trees and vegetables. I savour every mouthful of home grown lettuce, rocket, tomatoes, oranges and herbs. Yet I also adore being able to place a bunch of home grown flowers in a bowl on the table.Web_white-camelliaIn one perfect corner of my garden this month I have been indulging in a sumptuous display of pink and white camellias. These flowers aren’t easy to display because they have short stems that makes them difficult to stand in vases which if shallow are often too delicate and insubstantial to hold the weight of the flower. I have found the perfect bowl for displaying them: my shallow yellow bowl with the silver rim. It is just the right depth and lets the full blooms lie showing their gorgeous faces to the world.

My three camellia bushes are tucked into a hidden aspect of my garden that gets protection from our harsh strong summer heat and thrive despite the neglect that I am sure they suffer from. Even nicer, I see them through my bedroom window and watch the Minah birds feed on the insects in the flowers each morning from my bathroom windows.Web_Great-Eastern-pink-camellia
The white bush has somehow survived in a small narrow space and is covered in large frilly multi-petalled flowers. Just when I think it has run out of buds more appear to nudge the tired flowers from their stems. In the afternoons when I rummage through the bush collecting the limp, browned flowers to throw on the compost heap I can smell the lightest of perfumes. It is also attracting bees to the garden. 

Web-white-camellia-bud
A while after the white bush starts run out of buds, the neighbouring camellia with exquisite symmetrical flowers comes into its own with petals a deep glorious Schiaparelli pink. It is such an intense colour I am wondering whether I could use them as a natural plant dye. This could be my next project. ‘Not another project,’ my husband groans, sensing mess and chaos in the kitchen. But the petals seem too pretty to just throw away. Does anyone know if you can use these petals and if so, what colour comes from them?

How wonderful to be reminded every day by flowers, of two of my favourite designers, Schiaparelli and Chanel.  I cannot resist, I am now going through garden catalogues looking for another white to complement the two pink bushes I already have.

Web_Great-Eastern-camellia

 

 

 

Lemonade days

Web-lemonade-with-rose-2If the thought of lemonade stalls and cool, pale green liquid in long glasses cloudy with condensation seems like a perfect way to pass warm summery days then you could be excused for thinking we are living in the northern hemisphere rather than in sub-tropical Brisbane. Our long Indian summer has delayed Autumn and it is wreaking havoc on my equilibrium. I have capitulated to the realisation that my garden will never be perfect however, this season I am experiencing citrus envy which is threatening to impair the quality of my relationship with my trees.

When I look at the picture perfect citrus displayed on Gardening sheets and blog pages I start hyperventilating with fury and begin raging at the mealy mites, the ants, the grass hoppers and the aphids which have been, judging by their population, orgasmically enjoying our long hot days.Web-tangelo-tree

My latest weapon in the fight to perfection is to release Cryptolaemus larvae onto the leaves where the mealy mites have populated in profusion. These larvae feast on the mealy mite then morph into tiny beetles that resemble lady bugs. They are brown with rusty red heads and move so quickly that I haven’t managed to get a photo of them. I have resorted to wandering through my trees trying, in vain, to count the number of beetles that have hatched. As my non-gardening husband asks, ‘How can you tell whether you have counted the same one three times because it flies around so quickly?”

I adore the smell of citrus blossom and missed it hugely whilst living London, so when we returned to Brisbane, I went overboard and have planted oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, seville oranges, blood oranges and tangelos. As always there will be too many fruit for just one family and my father regularly directs his hose towards my trees so that he can claim watering rights in the form of tangelos and navels for his morning orange juice. I give away jars of marmalade and salted lemons as gifts.

Scale is often a problem, not in the size of my garden or the musical tinkle of ice blocks but in the rough patches on the skin of the fruit. They would never win a prize in our agricultural show and could be used as an example of how not to look in a dermatologist’s brochure. They look ugly but are so delicious.Web-cut-lemonades

Our lemonade tree is one of the earliest to ripen particularly in these still hot days. It is a strange fruit, and has come from either a cross between a Meyer lemon and an orange or a lemon and a mandarin tree. Whatever its source, the fruit is sweeter than a lemon and sharper than an orange.

The delicious pale green juice can be drunk straight or with soda to make a summer spritz. The fruit can be eaten but it does contain a lot of seeds that become annoying. It does not need a sugar syrup.  Even the most discerning four-year old palate will accept lemonade squeezed straight from the fruit.

I have been waiting to see whether the fruit ripened to a lemon yellow or an orange colour before picking but this doesn’t seem to happen. The fruit stays a light lime green, slowly turning yellow by which time it is almost over-ripe. The trick is to test the ripeness of the fruit by gently tugging or twisting the fruit hanging from the branches. If ripe, the fruit comes away easily. I have realised that it is best not to wait until they become yellow because by then they have been attacked by fruit fly and rot on the tree.

Web-lemonade-thornsOur young tree has fruited too heavily and has a decidedly drunken lean to it but I have been reluctant to prune it. The challenge is in avoiding being impaled on its thorns which are sharp enough to use as tapestry needles. Even worse, the rootstock tends to send out rogue branches that would be a perfect material for weaving a crown of thorns. I have already suggested this as an option for the next dress up event at school and I think I am about to be reported by my daughter-in-law for cruelty to children.

Web-lemonade-with-roseIn the meantime I am enjoying fresh lemonade for breakfast.

Nutritionally, you don’t need a large amount of fruit juice so it can be difficult to find the right size glasses. Traditional water glasses are too large and clumsy so I was delighted when I remembered these lovely crystal glasses sitting at the back of the cupboard. A perfect size and shape. The  etched star pattern was the right complement to the homegrown lemonade sparkling in the early morning sunlight.

Iris and morning sunshine

A perfect combination; clear blue skies, crisp cool morning, glorious sunlight and a cup of coffee brewed by my husband. We have divided our meals according to our skills. He does breakfast, usually toast and coffee, yoghurt and fruit and I do dinners.

Iris along pathIris in sunshineThis August morning was too beautiful to stay inside, so I stood on our landing soaking up the early sunshine admiring my hard work in creating a garden path that blended so well into our small suburban plot. I had planted clumps of iris along the edge of the path and the lime green leaves scraped against my bare ankles as I walked along the sandstone pavers. I love the look of these delicately ruffled flowers that are mid to deep purple with a striated white centre standing on mid-height stems. They look so pretty particularly when teamed with my white iceberg roses and lavender. When a girlfriend was moving house about 15 years ago, she gave me some rhizomes from her garden and they have flourished ever since.

I think they are a type of bearded Iris that my husband calls Flag Iris but we cannot find out why they are called that. They such a resilient plant which is necessary to survive our hot sub-tropical summers and desultory watering that they get in my garden. They don’t even get affected by the ants and mealy mite that are destroying local plants in our area.

When I put them in a vase they remind me of an impressionist painting. So gloriously intense and so wonderful to have these flowers during winter to brighten up a garden and home.

Papaya plants

I love breakfast. I wake up hungry and look forward to munching on fruit and toast and fresh coffee every day. In fact, if I don’t eat breakfast I am not a happy person, as my husband will testify. I never tire of eating breakfast and I think my favourite dish would be papaya with its colour of a pink and gold sunrise, the sweet distinctive smell and then the delicious flavour enhanced with a touch of lime juice. Yumm! This treat I took for granted until living in Los Angeles where I was disappointed in the quality of the imported papaya. USA import regulations use a hot water treatment which requires the papaya to be immersed in hot water at 48°C for 20 minutes that although it might kill fruit fly, tends to cook the outer layer of flesh and skin of the fruit thus altering the taste and flavour of the papaya. The fruit end up looking wrinkled and unappetising and I am not going to tell you what they remind me of (just use your imagination).

So it was with great excitement after moving back to Brisbane and its sub-tropical climate that I have grown a couple of papaya trees in my backyard. Tim, my neighbour has a papaya tree which bears so many fruit that he puts them in a box outside his front gate for local walkers to take. I decided that if he could grow them so could I. Plant lore suggests using local trees when planting the same species as they have already adapted to the nearby environment, so after enjoying my breakfast I kept the seeds from one of his papayas. I left the seeds on a sheet of kitchen paper to dry out then rubbed them in a sieve to remove the papery coating. Then it was a simple matter of planting a couple of seeds in the garden and waiting for them to sprout. And sprout they did with enthusiasm. I also had to wait until the trees flowered to determine whether I had male or female trees, which bear the fruit. The problem being that you only need one male tree to about a dozen female trees but I seemed to get more males than female trees growing. Male flowers are carried on long stalks where as the female flowers are carried very close to the trunk of the tree.

Yesterday was culling day for the males and I approached the trees carrying my tree knife, with great sadness, as I hate destroying plants. As I watched the vigorous saplings fall I was thinking what a waste of the flowers so I broke off the flower stalks and put them into my watering can.

Papaya flowers in watering can

Papaya flowers in watering can

It was fun challenging visitors to determine what type of plant they had come from because I don’t think I have seen anyone use them as a decorative flower. I can understand why as sadly the flowers don’t last very long and soon fall all over the floor or table. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to make the flowers last longer than a day or two?

I also wondered whether you could cook with them so did a bit of searching on Google and sure enough recipe posts started appearing. They are said to be bitter when used in Indonesian stir fries and the sap is caustic but if you rinse them well first then blanch the small flowers they can be delicious to western palates in stir fries. As my daughter has suggested she might cook a chicken satay tonight to celebrate Chinese New Year, I think I will contribute a new vegetable dish with stir fried papaya flowers and broccolini. I will let you know what it tastes like. Hopefully I will have found a use for the male of the species.

Red Poppies

In the spirit of Remembrance and hope I scattered some poppy seeds through my garden earlier this year. My delight turned to dismay as I watched the young seedlings wither only to find out that my enthusiastic husband had mistaken them for clover and had been spraying them with whatever herbicide came to hand. I managed to wash the poison from a few of the plants which thrived and they began producing flower heads. Their next challenge was to avoid being drowned with love from my mother whilst I went away for a month. My daughter tried valiantly to tell Mum that poppies like a dry summer but nothing would dissuade my wonderful parents from determinedly watering my garden.

Naturally they burst into flower during that month in the UK so photos were duly exchanged of the beauty that I was missing out on by visiting my other daughter. I was quite sad about that but you can imagine my excitement in finding there were still a few beautiful red heads adorning the garden when I arrived home, very appropriately on 11 November.