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“Build it and they will come”

This morning as I sat on my back patio looking around at the back garden drinking a coffee, a butterfly almost landed on my head. How delightful that sensation was once I had got over the initial shock response! I watched it fly away and cross the path of two other butterflies in the process. As I reflected on the growing number of insects I have been seeing in my garden lately I was reminded of a conversation that I had with my sister yesterday. Somehow the conversation got around to the praying mantis egg case that I had discovered before and after hatching. She commented on how lucky I am to have that happen in my very own garden and told me that her husband’s brother had just bought a praying mantis egg case because he couldn’t seem to attract them to his garden. She asked me what I was doing that I thought might be helping them thrive in my garden. The truth is that I am not really sure. I think that a garden is such a complex system with such an abundance of variables that it’s hard to isolate one or two things that make a difference, but here are the things I think are making a difference.

  • I garden organically with no insect control whatsoever, not even white oil. The only way that insects die in my garden by human hands is by being accidentally squashed, squished, crushed or eaten (note: accidentally!). Otherwise I leave it to other predators in the food chain and I think the birds are quite happy about that! Not to mention the praying mantises and lacewings.
  • I try to put the beneficial insects and suffering plants in the same vicinity. For example, the Lacewings seem to like laying eggs on my clothesline pegs so I simply take them off the line and peg them to a plant with scale or aphids. Lacewing nymphs will eat each other in the absence of a ready food source so I figure that I am not only controlling aphids and scale I am also maximising the population of their main predator. I am not worried about being taken over by lacewings either, because the birds seem to appreciate them as a snack. Recently I “saved” two Tuckeroo saplings with this method. It was fascinating watching the transformation as the Lacewings took over the aphid and scale populations and the saplings grew new healthy growth. Both trees are thriving now!
  • I make an effort to maximise biodiversity in my garden. An obvious way to do this is to plant a variety of species and I do that with an effort to preference endemic and native species. I also remove or control invasive species to stop them smothering other plants, particularly the endemic plants in our natural bush gully.
  • I let some of my annual herbs and leafy vegetables flower. Basil and lettuce in particular seem to attract so many beneficial insect species!
  • I leave piles of “garden debris” for nesting purposes. My garden isn’t tidy, because gardening for me is more about the wild delights of nature. Apart from that I’m busy and I’d rather have a messy, wild garden full of biodiversity than a tidy collection of low maintenance species. I don’t have a problem with the latter… if it floats your boat go for it!

This issue of insects is an important one. A quick google search reveals an alarming number of studies showing a decline in insect populations around the world. Without insects, other species in both plant and animal kingdoms won’t last long. I would love to see a revolution in the way that we think about them so that we can celebrate their place in the system and all the benefits we reap due to their “little” lives.
Gardening, for me, is therapy and that therapy is far more effective when it’s full of a delightfully wild variety of things that grow, glow, climb, bloom, crawl, sing and fly, but more than that it’s about the surprises, the astonishment and all the amazing learning about this wonderful thing called life!
Wishing you an abundance of insect life in your garden,
Janegrowsgardenrooms

PS Have you seen my video showing all my newly hatched praying mantis babies. If you’d like to see it Click here

Native Ginger or Alpinia caerulea

Plant Profile

A Blue-banded Bee forages on a flower spike.

Also known as:

  • Red Back Ginger (subspecies from the Atherton Tablelands)
The lovely red of the Red Back variety.

Growing Conditions:

  • Shade, will tolerate part shade
  • Moist, well-draining soil (tolerates sandy soil)
  • Protect from frost
  • Pots, garden beds, rockeries, gaps, narrow gardens, hedges, as a screening plant
  • Flowers late Spring/Summer
  • Fruits follow flowers in Summer/early Autumn

Propagation

  • root division – click here to see a video on root division
  • seed (8 weeks to germination)

Uses

  • edible root
  • edible berries (don’t eat the seeds!) – click here to see a video on harvesting the seeds
  • leaves can be used to wrap food before cooking
  • edible new shoots
  • leaves and stems were used to make shelters and other craft items by Indigenous Australians
  • Chop and drop mulch
  • Ecosystem services (lizards, pollinators, birds)
The gorgeous bright blue berries!

This plant is a wonderful way to find buzz-pollinating bees in your garden. It delivered my first Teddy Bear Bee sighting and numerous Blue-banded Bee sightings.

My first sighting of a Teddy Bear Bee!

It is a classic understorey plant from subtropical and tropical rainforests and can therefore be used in shady places in our gardens to provide attractive foliage and edible harvests.

The root can be used in the same way as traditional ginger or chewed raw. It also produces edible bright blue berries that taste like lemony ginger and are quite refreshing, especially on a hot day.

The roots are a beautiful pink colour.

The whole fruit can be dried and ground and used as a spice. Tender new shoots can be used to add a mild ginger flavour to dishes.

Fancy a sour flavour and red colouring for your herbal tea, pop the whole fruit in the infusion!

Indigenous Australians ate the lemon-ginger flavoured berries after discarding the seeds, to activate saliva and moisten the mouth when on walkabout. According to local folklore, discarded seeds helped to establish tracks for others to follow.

Wishing you tracks of gingery goodness,

Jane

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A True Wildflower of the Tamborine Bush – Slender Hyacinth Orchid

Dipodium variegatum

The Slender Hyacinth Orchid is truly a wildflower. Orchid enthusiasts have tried to cultivate it, but have been unsuccessful due to its unique growing conditions.

Dipodium variegatum is leafless and the only part of it that appears above ground is the stalk and flower. It is a saprophyte meaning that it is not capable of creating its own nutrients. It can’t photosynthesise like most plants.

Most orchids require fungus to germinate but after growing leaves, become less dependent on the fungus. In this case the orchid consumes fungus, but not any old fungus will do and for that reason, it only populates certain environments.

Found in open eucalypt forest with a heathy understorey

The Slender Hyacinth Orchid favours gravelly soils in areas of open eucalypt forest. Botanists believe that the fungus it uses for nourishment is one that is particular to a combination of certain tree species but as yet, they have been unable to isolate the exact components of that combination.

They grow all along the East Coast of Australia.

Spring, Summer and Autumn flowers

The flowers of this unique orchid appear sporadically in warmer weather. I have found that I can reliably find them in our gully a week or so after stormy weather. In mid-November we had three stalks growing vigorously in a small area.

The flowers are only 12-25mm and grow on long stems with up to 50 blooms at a time.

If you have any bush area on your property, it’s worth going to have a look after rain to see if you have any of these crimson-blotched delights! I’ve even seen one from the car while driving up Tamborine Mountain.

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This was first published in the Tamborine Bulletin in December 2021.

A Garlic for Subtropical and Tropical Climates

Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is the perfect way to grow garlic flavours in warm climates.

I love garlic flavours, but try as I might, I just can’t get garlic to grow in my subtropical climate zone. The solution? Society Garlic or Tulbaghia violacea!

This strappy leaved plant with lovely purple flowers will grow as an annual in cooler climates or a perennial in warm climates. In my garden, I have a number of plants which are a few years old. Every Spring and Summer they consistently produce lovely star-shaped purple flowers that smell like onions.

The flowers and the leaves can be eaten raw in salads. The leaves can be cooked and added to soups and other dishes for a flavour, that to my tastebuds, is somewhere between garlic and onions.

It has a host of medicinal uses too. According to some studies, it reduces pressure in arteries and blood pressure. Historically it has been used to treat the following ailments in its native African environment:

  • sinus headaches
  • asthma
  • rheumatic pain
  • coughs
  • colds
  • high blood pressure
  • intestinal worms
  • digestive problems

Society garlic is relatively drought hardy, but doesn’t like frost, unless it’s a “Jane Frost”, haha!

There are a number of cultivars from a lovely lush green to various variegated forms. My favourite is the one in the graphic above with silver stripes on the foliage. I grow them in my permaculture garden, but they are also great for garden edging, rockeries and anywhere that there is a space that needs to be filled.

In good conditions they will spread via a tuber to fill spaces and give you more to harvest!

If your climate is too warm for garlic, you can enjoy this all year! I love to add one or two flowers to salads to add a garlicky zing!

This article was first published in Tea with Mother Nature on January 5th 2022.

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Hardenbergia violocea or Happy Wanderer

Plant Profile

©Jane Frost

Did you know that Indigenous Australians have used this plant as a tea and medicine for thousands of years?

It is known by many names: Hardenbergia violacea, False Sarsparilla, Purple Coral Pea, Wild Sarsparilla, Waraburra, Vine Lilac.

This lovely vine clambers and wanders over anything in its path. It makes a great groundcover or climber with stunning purple flowers just before the end of winter. Indigenous Australians recognised these flowers as a “seasonal indicator” that certain types of fish could be sustainably fished from creeks.

A Plant with Many Uses

It has many uses including adding the flowers to tea as a sweetener, brewing a tea from the leaves (if cooled and sweetened with native honey, apparently it tastes like Sarsparilla) and eating flowers to detox and cleanse. Medicinally it was used to treat: mouth ulcers, chest complaints and stomach cramps. Other uses including weaving the vine to create fishnets, ropes and traps and making a dye from the flowers.

A Hardy Plant

It is a hardy plant that will adapt to most growing conditions. Flowering at the end of Winter is generally more abundant in sunnier positions. As a widespread plant certain varieties will grow better in certain conditions. Different coloured flowers ranging from blue-purples to pinks and whites have now been cultivated and are sold in nurseries.

Propagation is easy from seed provided that the seeds are pre-treated with boiling water or by abrasion to remove the coat that allows seeds to remain viable for many years.

About two years ago we cleared a patch of about two square metres of lantana near our front gate. Hardenbergia violacea appeared of its own accord and has now covered the soil with its attractive leaves.

Apparently, the tea is similar to green tea in flavour and historically was used in some communities, unsweetened, as a punishment for children who skipped school!

This article was first published in the Tamborine Bulletin March 2022.

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Sago Bush or Ozothamnus Diosmifolius

Plant Profile

Sago Bush Flowers – enjoyed by florists and pollinators alike!

This plant is not hard to find in Tamborine Village. Ozothamnus diosmifolius is flowering beautifully this year. From my back patio It looks like the bushes are snow-topped as they cluster around our dam.

The name comes from the Greek Ozo “to smell” and Thamnus “shrub” referring to the pungent smell of crushed foliage. Diosmifolius refers to the similarity of the leaves to plants in the Diosma genus, like the “Confetti Bush” which was popular in the 1980s. The common names, Rice Flower or Sago Flower, refer to the closed buds which resemble the small white grains.

It was first described by a French botanist in 1804 and since then has been renamed at least twice. For some time it was in the same genus as Strawflowers, Helichrysum.

A Florist’s Delight

This plant has been used as an alternative to the ever-popular Baby’s Breath for filling out flower arrangements with bubbles of white or pink. The cut flowers last a long time in water before wilting. It also dries well and keeps its colour for a long time. This has made it popular in bridal flower arrangements.

Flowers range from white to dark pink and recently a yellow variety called “gold dust” has been propagated and distributed through nurseries in New South Wales. Interestingly, this plant is in the Daisy family and is also related to Marigolds and Lettuce.

White-capped delicate foliage

A Tall Leggy Shrub

This plant generally grows to between 1.5 metres and 2 metres tall, however, the Australian National Botanic Garden records indicate that there have been specimens found up to 5 metres. They grow readily from seed with little preparation and are drought and frost hardy.

A Birdwatching Favourite

This lovely plant, found en masse, is popular with birdwatchers thanks to the abundant nectar. Quiet observation in a large patch can yield sightings of honeyeaters, wattlebirds, wagtails and thornbills, not to mention the jewel beetles and other pollinators.

Growing Conditions

These shrubs favour hillsides and rocky outcrops with well-draining soil. They will grow in full sun or partial shade, with coloured flowers fading quickly to white in full sun. It has a number of cultivated forms and is said to respond well to pruning. Having said that, flower growers consider it “past useful” after only three years of growth.

Originally published in The Tamborine Bulletin in November 2021.

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Invite Some Garden Friends: Backyard Biodiversity Tip Four

Using nature to control weeds and pests is a great way to garden organically and improve the biodiversity in your garden.

Gordon is a fabulous worker in my garden. He helps control insects on his nightly hunting missions. Photo by Author.

It’s been a long time coming, but here it is and it’s all about using nature to control weeds and pests.

This is the fourth in a series. You can find the first three by clicking the free reading links here:

There’s really very little point having water, habitat and wild spots in your garden if the organisms that are being attracted by those things are ingesting primary or secondary poisons.

Pesticides and herbicides have lasting impacts on a garden ecosystem, not the least of which is the impact on soil. The importance of soil is becoming more evident as the results of ongoing and increasing research are released.

It’s about the mycelium networks yes, but it’s also about microbial organisms that use that mycelium as habitat.

No matter what poison you use you’re going to use, it will unintentionally impact on other species, most of them microscopic but integral to the complex habitat that you are nurturing.

The point here is that mother nature gives us plenty of tools to use that don’t damage the food webs or habitats for any size organism. She uses plenty of tools herself to ensure that organisms are working in balance.

When I started using these tools, I had to suffer through pests and weeds annihilating parts of my garden.

Graphic by Author (using Canva)

Weeds

  1. Pull them.
  2. Snip them.
  3. Cover their habitat
  4. Limit your disturbance of the soil
  5. Plant perennials

There are a number of different ways to eliminate weeds.

Pulling weeds is an arduous task, but doesn’t have a significant impact on your soil.

Certain weeds can be snipped off at the base of the stalk so that their roots remain in the soil and as they die are devoured and broken down by soil organisms therefore improving the quality of your soil as well as eliminating the weed.

You can also make sure that you have significant ground covers that will discourage weeds from spaces and edges. Keep in mind that many weeds are attracted to disturbed soil which you create when you pull weeds or turn soil, so groundcovers are a great alternative and reduce your garden maintenance workload.

Also if you plant perennials rather than annuals and limit your disturbance of the soil then you’re going to be limiting ideal habitat for many weed species.

Pests

1. Attract predators

2. Plant distractions

3. Nurture predators

A great way to eliminate pests, or rather to minimize pests because you’ll never eliminate them, is to attract their predators. Really, why would you want to eliminate them?

They’re part of the ecosystem.

They’re food sources for many of the beneficial organisms that you want to inhabit your backyard. So rather than spraying them and poisoning them, you can attract their predators which in turn keeps those predators alive.

This keeps them working in your garden ecosystem and discourages future infestation. It also maintains biodiversity and garden health. The garden ecosystem is so complicated that no one aspect can ensure health. Encouraging as many organisms as possible allows the whole system to flourish.

Birds are also very efficient predators of pest insects and they will soon make regular visits to your garden if they can guarantee good food. They will help by keeping all aspects of the insect world in control. Even beneficial predators can unbalance the system if the conditions are too good.

You can incorporate “distractions” to encourage pests to (mostly) leave your valued crops alone.

Some pests like the Cabbage White Butterfly can wreak havoc on certain crops. The Cabbage White Butterfly favours brassicas and can quickly destroy crops, but they prefer Nasturtiums. If you plant Nasturtiums near or in your brassica crops, the caterpillars will mostly destroy the Nasturtiums and leave your brassicas alone for the most part.

Some of the best helpers in my garden are Lacewings. Lacewings eat scale and aphids amongst other pests. They have a ridiculous habit of laying eggs on my clothes pegs. This creates problems because there’s no food on my clothesline for them. If there’s no food when they hatch they will eat each other.

To nurture the population of Lacewings, I find a plant with aphids or scale and simply attach the peg to the plant. This way, when the little predators hatch, they have a good food source so they won’t eat each other. They also start working on one of my pest problems straight away. I end up with fewer pests and more predators and hopefully, a recovering plant. I’ve done this for years and now I find that aphid and scale infestations are rarer in my garden.

Final Thoughts

Humans have the really weird practice of looking at a system and seeing undesirable elements without appreciating how they might work for that system. For example, some organisms are seen as a beneficial or a desirable element in a garden, but on the other side of the coin the larvae are considered to be undesirable pests.

A prime example of this is caterpillars and butterflies. Caterpillars are seen as a pest that eats the leaves of our plants to make them unsightly although most caterpillars don’t destroy a plant in its entirety. Whereas butterflies are seen as beneficial pollinators and a desirable visual element in a garden. I discussed this concept in more depth in this article published in Illumination last year.

Caterpillars Versus Butterflies: Why Can’t We Love Them Both the Same?
We know that the world has changed when we “like” caterpillars as much as we “like” butterflies.medium.com

Beetles are a similar case in Australia where the loss of the Christmas Beetle is a hot topic on social media. This species has become threatened due to people poisoning their lawns to kill lawn grubs. Unfortunately, it kills the grubs that would later become the shiny beloved Christmas beetles so-called because they used to be everywhere in December.

The thing is that if we want the beneficial aspects of the system, we need to care for the system in its entirety. Natural systems are so complex that removing any part has a knock-on effect that is often unpredictable.

Instead of fighting the aspects of the system that you find undesirable, find ways to use the system to help you create a flourishing ecosystem that benefits all organisms. You will reap the rewards through enjoying a biodiverse backyard that requires less work to maintain!

Wishing you many garden friends, botanical and zoological alike,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

The Newsletter from the Garden Rooms

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Graphic by Author

Each week includes 5 regular feature topics. Over the month 4 other feature topics will be included at least once.

Feedback and requests are welcome!

You can find the newsletter by clicking here or using the QR code below. Or keep scrolling for details of the regular and special features. There’s also a YouTube clip showing the title graphics for the first five issues!

Regular Features:

  1. Good News for the Planet – a story of hope for our future from somewhere in the world.
  2. Plant Profile – information about a plant that you might want to grow. (requests accepted!)
  3. Permaculture Tip – ideas for creating a permaculture garden or food forest.
  4. A Moment of Wonder – shared from my encounters with Nature
  5. A Free Link to a Medium Article

Featuring at least once a month:

  1. Children and Nature Tip – how to get your children connecting with Nature.
  2. This week in books – a commentary on an aspect of a published work connecting to nature, gardening or sustainability.
  3. What is that!? – Ever see something in your garden that you can’t identify? Want to know if it’s friend or foe? This section will highlight different garden friends and foes from around the world.
  4. Citizen Science News – information about citizen science events and initiatives around the world.

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Plant Profile – Spotted Gum – Corymbia citriodora subsp. variegata

Also known as:

  • Eucalyptus maculata (historical, no longer used by herbariums for this species)
  • Corymbia maculata (historical, no longer used by herbariums for this species)
  • Eucalyptus citriodora (historical, no longer used by herbariums for this species)
The creamy white blossoms are an abundant source of nectar.

Growing conditions:

  • Prefers well-draining soils
  • Like growing on slopes
  • Prefers full sun
  • Drought tolerant

Propagation:

  • Seeds in shallow trays kept moist until germination

These towering majesties, which grow up to 45 metres, are a substantial part of the landscape along the East coast of Australia from Rockhampton south to Coffs Harbour. Like many in the Myrtle family they are difficult to identify without measuring leaves and examining flowers. Most of the trees we call Spotted Gums in the area are Corymbia citriodora subsp. variegata. Unlike other species labelled citriodora, these ones are identified by their lack of lemon scent.

Spotted Gums generally have straight, tall trunks.

Important for Koalas and other native species

They are an important tree for Koalas, functioning as shelter and a secondary food source. This means that they are not a preferred food source but form an important part of the diet, especially as larger primary food source trees are harder to find.

They also provide food and shelter for gliders, possums and fruit bats, not to mention the birds that feast on the nectar and build nests in their branches. It is also important for beekeepers as it flowers abundantly many times during the year.

The sound of the fruit bats during flowering season is impossible to miss with loud screeching and the flapping of leathery wings against the silent night air.

The quiet Greater Glider is easier to miss. The only one that I have seen I caught by accident in the glare of the torch. It sat still and watched me before slowly continuing to munch its nectar filled snack.

When the bark sheds, beautiful colours are revealed. 

Valuable hardwood

These termite resistant trees have brown or red heartwood and white sapwood with a natural greasiness that makes it respond well to machining. It is used for anything from bridges and wharves to cladding and tool handles to furniture and boats.

Outdoor furniture made from this wood has consistently won domestic and international awards, which is not surprising when you consider its lovely grain and ready acceptance of paint, stain and polish.

A cicada uses the thick, shedding bark to emerge from its shell.

A War with Vines

In Spring, our landscape is structured by tall straight trunks in many hues from salmon pink to green, as Spotted Gums shed their bark. We have one in our yard which has a deep green trunk that shines and sparkles like a dark emerald if it gets wet. Others are dark grey or a shade of pink. The variety is amazing. I speculate that it must have something to do with moisture levels or minerals in the soil or a mixture of both.

This shedding isn’t just about growth, it’s also a defence against the encroaching rainforest in marginal habitats. As the vines try to climb up to the canopy, threatening to strangle their strong trunks and invade their foliage, the Spotted Gum sheds the very surface that they cling to. As an added line of defence the bark that litters the forest floor is highly flammable while the trees themselves are fire resistant.

Shedding right before fire season, means that the vines are threatened by bark fuelled fires while the Spotted Gums stand victorious, protected from all but the most ferocious infernos.

When the bark is shedding, the new trunk glistens after rain.

Wishing you majestic views,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

References:

North Eden Timber: Timber Profile-Spotted Gum

EUCLID: Corymbia citriodora

City of Ipswich: Koala Friendly Planting Guide

Tea with Mother Nature

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!

A landing page for my Medium Publication – click on the images to be redirected to the relevant post

Click on this image to go the publication homepage
Submission Guidelines by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
Writing Challenge: Tea with Mother Nature by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
A Question Worth Asking by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
When My Daughter Met Emilia by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
Nature Writing Worth Reading by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
Meet the Trotters by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
In My Lammas Garden – a poem by Elizabeth Barnesco
Six Aops to Connect with Nature by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
Five Tips to Reduce Plastic Waste at Home by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
It Starts with a Trickle by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
Ten Australian Bush for Plants for Your Garden by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
The Moth who Flapped her Wings by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)
The Summer Garden – a sonnet by Jane Grows Garden Rooms (Jane Frost)