A garden bench, whether painted, treated or weathered hardwood, classic or detailed, is the perfect spot to appreciate your garden with a friend. Sometimes benches are places from which to take in the view, as if at the theatre, as on this page; other times they serve as the viewpoint themselves, creating a picture in the garden. Take time during the holidays to place the perfect bench in your garden, and it will encourage you sit and enjoy the view.
Say “Holidays!” with flowers
In the dictionaries of florigraphy there are floral choices for expressing emotions as complex as a tepid affection (daffodils!) and appreciation of loyalty (violets), but there is no floral choice expressing the sentiment “Yay, it’s holiday time!”
To redress that lack, here’s our choice of the top five flowers that wave happy holiday flags though summer.
1. Red geraniums
Perfect for hot spots and pots, red geraniums are excellent as gifts or for speedily decorating the outdoor table for Christmas lunch. Look for Big Red, which has bigger flowers than usual and is a strong performer. (If you are a radical rule breaker at Christmas and wish to avoid red, it also comes in pink!)
You’ll get a rainbow of colour from one packet of zinnia seeds. Or, if you’ve left it a bit late, you can find zinnias in flower in pots in nurseries now. Mix up the colours to get the wildest effect. Zinnias flower best in full sun — keep an eye out for mildew late in the summer if the weather is humid.
These simple but dazzling flowers bring on Hawaiian fantasies of balmy nights and cocktails (grass skirts optional!). There are lots of cultivars bred to do well in pots, so choose the colour and style that suits and feed often to keep the flowers coming.
4. Agapanthus 'Queen Mum'
This is our favourite of the improved agapanthus hybrids — extra large flower heads of white and blue-rinse, which keep coming throughout December. Sterile seed heads mean it’s not an invasive weed like the ordinary aggies.
5. Queen of the Night Jungle Cactus
This flower lights up the night garden. Each bloom only lasts a single night, but my, what a show! Perfumed, glowing like the moon and as big as a plate, few flowers can challenge the queen for impact and sheer enjoyment.
DIY Growing Gift
These little pots of small-leafed succulents are low-care and make a great gift. Simply plant three to four miniature-leafed succulents into a decorative stone trough.
There are plenty to choose from. Two perfect options include the jelly bean plant (Sedum rubrotinctum), which has rounded leaves which change colour from green to ruby red during the summer; and the houseleek (Sempervivum) which has rosettes of foliage, varying in colour from green to magenta.
Most nurseries have a range of plants in their succulent section, but remember they propagate easily from cuttings placed into a sandy potting mix, so check with your neighbours and friends!
Place the pots in full sun and water only during spring and summer. Look out for a purple form of sedum called 'Dragon's Blood'. It’s evergreen, with deep purple leaves and pinkish-purple blooms in late summer.
IT'S TIME TO...
PRUNE agapanthus flower heads to prevent seeding through the garden and bush.
TRIM whippy growth from wisteria back to 30cm.
WATER lemons; their marble sized fruit need water to mature.
LOOK for baby snails.
PRUNE lavender into globes and dry flowers to use in potpourri.
If leaves get sunburned, don’t prune them off. The scorched leaves will protect those beneath from further scorch on the next blasting hot day. The plant may find it hard to recuperate from two burns.
FEED hungry hibiscus, passionfruit, dipladenia and tomatoes with a fertiliser high in potassium.
FEED palms, ferns and salad greens with seaweed, worm juice or fish emulsion.
CHECK nursery catalogues and order bulbs and perennials to plant out in autumn. The earlier you make your decision the more likely your favourites won’t be sold out!
STAKE dahlias as they grow.
To PICK hydrangeas that last, first water the plants well. Then cut and dunk the mop top flowers into a sink of cool water. Drip dry, then crush the end of the stem and arrange in a vase.
Be vigilant against rust on frangipani, canna and fuchsia. SPRAY with Eco-fungicide, and bin any fallen infected leaves.
SOW seeds of next winter’s vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflowers and lettuce, into seedling trays. Keep in a shaded spot.
In the vegie patch
Zucchini and summer squash
Zucchinis are exuberant summer vegetables that ramble along the ground. They produce a harvest every second day, which might overwhelm if it weren’t for their versatility as raw, cooked, pickled, souped or frittered.
Growing: Zucchini and squash need sunshine, water and space. And we mean space — plant them at least 1.5 metres apart. Before planting add dolomite to the soil, according to packet directions. This will top up the calcium in the soil and prevent blossom end rot, which is a disease that causes the ends of the fruit to rot. Add cow manure and a little handful of potash and wait two weeks before planting seedlings.
Harvesting: Zucchini have both female and male flowers, the female flowers being those with the fruit just beneath. Harvest the fruit at 15cm, every second night through summer, or you’ll end up with tasteless marrows. Wear a long shirt and gloves if you are worried by the leaf spikes.
• The large leaves can be affected by powdery mildew, which looks like white powder on top of leaves. Treat it immediately with Eco-fungicide.
• Yellow and wrinkled fruit are due to lack of pollination. To pollinate, simply move the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers early in the morning.
Lebanese – grows 4-6 metres long, the pale green fruit is best picked 10-15cm long
Black Jack – dark green skin, grows to 2 metres, best picked 15-18cm long
Gold Bullion – great golden colour, though can be difficult to grow in Sydney
Pattypan squash – also called scallop squash or summer squash, these are available in yellow, green, and white varieties. Pick when no more than 6cm across.
Basil Overload? Make Pistou!
The difference between a pistou and a pesto is pine nuts. The Italians use them, and the French (who took up the basil and garlic paste when Italian migrants moved into Provence in the 19th century) don’t.
Typically, a pistou is served with a soup made from summer vegetables and white beans, so it is perfect right now. Think zucchini, button squash, tomatoes, green beans and potatoes, with a handful of small pasta shapes. The pistou is served alongside so that diners can add as much of the garlicky mix as they like. A sprinkling of hard cheese, such as parmesan, is a good addition.
What you need:
100g basil, 6 garlic cloves, 175 ml olive oil, salt flakes
What to do:
Strip the leaves from the basil stems. Cut and then mash the garlic with a few salt flakes, using a mortar and pestle. Add the basil leaves and continue to pound until the garlic and leaves are mashed to a pulp.
Next, whisk in the olive oil. You can do all this in a food processor, but it really does taste better pounded. A pistou will last for a few days in the fridge, but is best eaten fresh, as the garlic loses its zing and takes on rancid flavours if kept for too long.
More ways with pistou:
Spread pistou on toast and top with a fried egg.
Swirl pistou through hot pasta.
Serve pistou like the very similar Argentinean chimichurri (which uses parsley instead of the basil) as a sauce on barbecued meats.
Serve pistou with platters of raw vegetable crudités and summer drinks.
We love our annual day out at Collectors Plant Fair, a beautiful fair filled with wholesale plant growers, pots, books, pickles, good food, coffee and expert advice. The fair is held in the grounds of Hawkesbury Racecourse in Clarendon, April 7-8, 2018. www.collectorsplantfair.com.au •
You can now listen to Linda Ross ‘Talking Gardens’ every day on Talking Lifestyle 2UE. She takes your questions and chats with friends and experts for a fun and fact-filled hour. Recently she explored the gorgeous world of orchid cactus, a favourite for easy hanging baskets with maximum impact. Tune in on weekdays from 12-1pm, or download the 2UE app on your smart phone and listen anywhere!
Call on 13 12 83 if you have a question.