Tag Archives: gardening in Brisbane

Growing faith, hope and wisdom in the garden

Gardening like writing requires time and much of my time this year has been a rollercoaster of reacting to crises, sadness and responding to other people’s needs. There is no point in complaining; to be alive and to love; is to hurt and this year has been full of loving and hurting. There has been lots of laughter lots of loving and lots of crying. 

I was reflecting on this recently when, coffee in hand I stood, soaking up the Spring morning sunshine, surveying my realm. I say realm but truly it is a very small inner-city garden and this year it is much neglected. The garden which always provides me with pleasure, exercise and joy has had to look after itself and it has done a spectacular job of doing so.  Life doesn’t stop, it doesn’t even seem to slow down at the moment, so I am encouraging myself to pause, to observe and to smell the world around me. How absolutely appropriate I thought this week, as we said goodbye to our Queen, that my garden is a palate of flowers in shades of royal purple. The resilience she demonstrated right to the end has been reflected in my garden.

At some stage during the year I had grabbed a moment and haphazardly planted some annuals then completely forgot about them. This month I have showy fluffy petunias in many shades of purple spilling from pots and tumbling over the mulch under the pruned fruit trees. They are such delicate flowers that our tropical rain will bruise the petals yet more keep replacing these damaged beauties. 

Each morning this past fortnight, I have stood in that early sunlight absorbing the delicate scents from the wisteria that surprised me with its strength in rebounding after a decimating attack by borer. New lime green leaves are sprouting from the tendrils already streaking along the wires with lacy droops of petals in varying shades from deep to palest mauve. We planted this hardy creeper to provide shade over the driveway in summer and I am so excited that this resilient vine is well on its way to doing just this.

I hear the loud song of the noisy miner where they are hidden in the leggy branches of a salvia. These long tendrils of deep almost black purple flowers are source of delight for the cheerful birds.   Grown from a cutting, it has sent vigorous shoots across the garden.

I should have restrained it, pruned its branches, but how can you resist a length of blossom where the bees are feasting and butterflies landing, which give the flowers life of their own, as they land and lift off. Pruning can wait.

Under azaleas, roses and even the wisteria,  I notice a profusion of intense purple violets standing high above the dark green leaves, appearing throughout the garden with more flowers than in previous years.  

I have been giving away clumps of violet in a box on the footpath and picked lots of small posies for sitting in little vases on my desk. There are so many flowers, I have even resorted to coating them in sugar them which is proving a very messy task.

Under the magnolia trees,  the French lavender planted to remind me of holidays in Europe should also have been pruned. All day its pale purple flowers are mobbed by bees so I cannot cut it now. It is far too tall for a lavender, but fortunately the pretty stalks are being supported by a white azalea. This year with all the rain we have had, everything is growing faster than it can be contained. This is the most challenging task in a garden, pruning. Not because of the time it takes but because I hate cutting a plant to discard it, even if it is only to put it into the compost or as mulch. 

Prettiest of all, casting a blue haze over the garden, under the citrus, under the olives, in fact everywhere, is the blue Louisiana iris which have also thrived with all the rain this year. Its deep purple frilly leaves, streaked with white and gold, are a symbol of royalty, a constant reminder that this year is very special. The flower, named after Iris the Goddess of the rainbow is considered a symbol of faith, hope, wisdom and valour. Qualities that the Queen and my father displayed in ‘spades’.

Without me even planning it, this garden with its colour, scent and beauty has provided me with gentle solace as I quietly whispered farewell to my Queen and to my 96 year-old father, who died in June.

Nasturtium delight

Nasturtium – Tropaeolum majus

I have often taken the nasturtium for granted as I see them scrambling across the rocks in nearby gardens and tumbling down neglected embankments. They are the seeds you give a child when learning about gardens knowing they will sprout quickly and flower well. Once you have planted a nasturtium in your garden you will find it popping up in the most unlikely places in neglected pockets and it loves poor soil. Just add water and it will grow. No wonder the nasturtium managed to travel around the world. Originating in Central and South America then across the Atlantic with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16thCentury the nasturtium quickly invaded the gardens of Europe and England where it was used to treat scurvy, then back across the Atlantic to the United States where it was grown in the vegetable garden of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. In a letter, he mentions using the nasturtiums in his salads. 

I have been trying to remember the botanical names of plants but as I was not a student of Latin I resort to visuals to remind me and I bless the imagination of the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus who selected the Greek word tropaion from which the English word trophy stems, because he thought the rounded leaves resembled shields and the curved shape of the flower that of the helmets worn by Trojan warriors. These battle trophies were hung on a pole by the victorious Roman soldiers. The common name of nasturtium was given in recognition of the ‘nose-twisting’ flavour of the mustard seed oils that the plant contains. 

Although they aren’t a showy plant as compared to many, the nasturtium has been popular with many painters and artists including Clarice Cliff who adorned her fabulous ceramics with brightly coloured nasturtiums. I wonder how many generations of children have pored over Cicely Mary Barker’s Alphabet Flower Fairy series in which the ‘N’ Fairy is a boy sitting in a nasturtium lower cap using a leaf for an umbrella and shoes adorned with nasturtium seeds. Cressida Campbell an Australian artist has used the nasturtium with its curving trailing lines in her beautiful wood blocks.

Once I started looking seriously at the nasturtiums growing around my neighbourhood I realised that the flowers come in lovely shades of orange, lemon, yellow, salmon and red that contrast against the bright lime green leaves. There are also variegated leaves and dark green almost black leaves that I am on the search for. It is easy to understand their attraction to Monet who planted them at Giverny where they spilled out across the pathways in his garden. I now have them spilling out over the top of my pots and popping up all over the place. 

Fortunately, the root system is shallow making them easy to remove as the plant self-seeds easily. It is a fast grower and a very energetic territorial creeper that doesn’t stick to boundaries or fences and I am sure that if I stood still it would cover me. I now have blue plumbago invaded by a yellow flower, and a lemony yellow variety taking over the iris bed. I have draped it up and around a couple of stakes and it is now flowering happily in competition with the tomato bushes that stand beside it. This also takes the pressure off the white gerbera that were being smothered by the profusion of saucer shaped leaves on the stalks which were acting as a living mulch and covering up everything that stood in its path. As I pull it out, I smell the distinctive sweet honey aroma tinged with the spice from the mustard oils. 

It is suggested they are a good plant for companion planting with roses and vegetables possibly because of their spicy oils which are said to repel aphids however, looking at the number of aphids on my rose stalks I am not sure I could grow sufficient nasturtiums to deter these voracious insects.

They don’t seem to have too many pests although I have seen the White Cabbage butterfly hovering around and did spy a beautiful green caterpillar on one leaf.

On the plus side the flowers do attract hoverflies and bees so I hope someone nearby is producing nasturtium flavoured honey. 

They are also a very useful edible plant with the seeds, the leaves and the flowers all being used in my kitchen. I am lucky to garden in the sub-tropics where the nasturtium flowers prolifically even in winter. The leaves and flowers are a rich source of nutrients including Vitamin C and natural antibiotics. I have used the flowers to add gorgeous colour to a simple green salad, the petals have a gentle buttery flavour. 

I have stuffed the flowers and small leaves with goats’ cheese mixed with fresh herbs for a delicious hors d’oeuvre and I am going to collect the seeds which can be pickled in vinegar and substituted for capers.

Once you start looking there are lots of recipes that use nasturtiums including in sauces, pesto and in muffins as well as in beauty products including Hair Tonics. This ordinary fragile plant has opened up an entirely new world for me. 

Camellias and Chanel



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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. 

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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.

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