Featured

“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

Plant Profile  – Native Violet – Viola banksii

The contrast of dark green leaves against the pale sandstone rocks in my rockery creates a pleasing visage.

Also known as:

  • Viola hederacea (Not the same plant, as explained later)
  • Australian Violet

Growing conditions:

  • Shade/part shade (some sources advocate full sun, but this plant has not survived in full sun in my garden)
  • Tolerant of most soils but prefers moist site
  • Will tolerate boggy sites
  • Will tolerate light foot traffic
  • Tolerant of light frost

Propagation:

  • Layering
  • Separating runners from established plants

I love this delightful little groundcover.  Whether it’s scrambling through my rockery, tumbling out of a hanging pot or trailing along the ground from my frog hotel, it’s always a source of delight. Its tiny flowers stand up amongst lush green kidney shaped leaves and both bloom and foliage look great in a salad. Like most Violas they are completely edible from root to bloom.

A botanist on a Facebook identification site kindly explained that he could differentiate this specimen, Viola banksii from Viola hederacea due to the deep, narrow gaps between the lobes of the leaf and the clear white and purple on the flower. Viola hederacea has a more kidney shaped leaf and the flowers have a gradual fade from purple to white.

In the process of researching for this post I discovered that despite being labelled as Viola hederacea, most Native Violets sold in nurseries are in fact Viola banksii. The distinction between species is a relatively recent one in botanical terms. They weren’t described as two different species until 2004.

One of the steps in my rockery covered in Native Violets. Some weeds struggle through but they are easy to remove and rarely given room to thrive.

As this species tolerates light foot traffic I am growing it on the steps in one of my rockeries near a bird bath. The birds tend to splash a lot which ensures that the steps get regular moisture. The experiment has been a resounding success. During the drought it grew slowly, but held on as this hardy little native tends to do. With more rain this season it is thriving and has spread along the step and through the rocks. This habit offers a pleasing visage and shows off the lovely green leaves against the pale sandstone rocks. We don’t use the steps much, but there’s little evidence when we do and it is competing healthily with the weeds making it relatively low maintenance. The site gets dappled shade for most of the day from a Soap Tree which prevents moisture loss.

I also grow it in a hanging pot by my front door. This pot was inside the house, but my house is generally dark and it didn’t thrive. I believe it would grow quite well indoors in a bright spot provided the soil was kept moist. This plant tolerates over watering quite well.

My frog hotel under construction with a small Native Violet as the feature plant.

I chose a Native Violet for my frog hotel which has a dangling set of leaves that look pretty, but the leaves tend to die off in the pot. This makes the hotel itself less leafy so I will find an alternative plant to give shelter to my amphibious friends. The Native Violet dangling down will remain as a ladder for small frogs like the Eastern Sedge Frogs (Litoria fallax).

Wishing you lush, green, edible groundcover,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

PS This plant is on my Ten Australian Bush Food Plants for Your Garden list. Click here to read the full article.

Plants Profile – Perennial Basil

This plant is invariably covered in bees and other pollinators.  No plant in my garden gets more visits than this one and it flowers constantly!

Also known as:

  • African Blue Basil
  • Ocimum killmanscharicum x basilicum
  • Dark Opal Basil
The long, attractive flower stalks are consistent, prolific and make a lovely edible garnish.

Growing conditions:

  • Tolerant of most soils but prefers well-drained soil
  • Grows up to 1.2metres tall and wide
  • Will tolerate some shade
  • Can be grown indoors in a brightly lit position
  • Suitable for garden beds, rockeries and pots
  • Needs protection from frost
  • Perennial in warm climates, annual in cool and cold climates
Perennial Basil loves raised garden beds and happily grows next to Native Basil. I have to prune it regularly to prevent it from taking over. The pruned stalks make propagation by cutting easy.

Propagation:

  • Seeds are sterile
  • Cuttings strike easily (soft or hard wood)
  • Cuttings should be kept moist (Not wet!) until established in soil
I propagate this plant in my propagation station where it continues to be visited by bees until it produces roots and is planted out. It only takes a couple of weeks.

Uses:

  • Cooking, as for any basil, has a mild flavour with slight hint of camphor
  • Pesto
  • Edible Flowers
  • Can be processed and frozen for use in the kitchen
  • Attracts pollinators and other garden friends

I originally purchased this plant from Mudbrick Herb Cottage because I liked the idea of fresh basil all year. It has delivered, but I still grow sweet basil for those dishes that need its pungent sweetness.

A Black-banded Hoverfly harvesting pollen.

During Wild Pollinator Count Weeks it’s the first plant I visit. It is a wonderfully positive beginning as I try to count and capture (with my camera) the numerous pollinators attracted to its prolific blooms. I haven’t managed to photograph the elusive butterflies but I have shots of various bees, hoverflies and other unidentified pollinators, as well as the spiders who opportunistcally set up their webs in hope of capturing the insects harvesting pollen.

This Golden Orb Weaver is a permanent resident in the Perennial Basil. No doubt it is taking advantage of the many insects who frequent its flowers.

It is a hardy plant, but not very tolerant of drought. Having said that, it only requires occasional supplementary watering to keep it going. This seems a small price to pay for the ecosystem services that it provides.

Wishing you edible blooms and pollinators aplenty,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

References:

Mountain Valley Growers

Tropical Self Sufficiency

It Starts with a Trickle

Living Upstream and Downstream in a Global Community

I reuse as many containers I can which makes my pantry shelves look somewhat eclectic.

When you think about it, every revolution in human history started with a trickle, a small group of humans pushing for change. As the trickle moved downstream it gathered volume and momentum, followers, and the push for change intensified until it became a flood that the most obstinate could not stand against. It follows then, that if we want to create a revolution to save our place on the Earth, every little drop of change adds to the trickle and keeps it moving towards that flood.

Contour Banks are a great way to catch and store energy. They slow water and nutrients on their way downhill and stop topsoil washing away.

Water

I started saving water by being mindful of consumption. I had short showers, washed laundry only when I had enough for a full load and minimized use wherever I could. I learned about permaculture and started purposefully using my greywater and built contour banks on our slope to catch and store the rain water and topsoil that was being washed into nearby waterways. I planted and planted and planted. I learned that scientists estimate that more than 35% of microplastic pollution in our oceans comes from laundering synthetic clothing. I started checking tags and buying natural fabrics whenever I could. Did it cost more? Yes, it cost more money from my pocket, but it reduced the cost to the Earth. I am spending my money in ways that support the society that I want to live in. And the trickle grows…

Food Waste

I started composting. Only the “bad compost foods” like citrus and alliums made it to landfill. I learned about soldier flies and started composting anything biological in origin. I got a worm farm and fed them carrot peels and banana skins and eggshells. I researched how people used to store vegetables before refrigerators and tried them. I was stunned to discover that in combination with refrigeration this made my vegetables last longer. I learned about biochar and started charring bones and meat scraps. My general refuse bin started going to the kerb with less than a third of the original waste each week. And the trickle of change became stronger…

Energy

I started reusing plastic containers and glass jars. I stopped buying matching plastic containers. I learned to live with a “mismatched” pantry full of all kinds of containers. I started preferencing brands that used containers that I could reuse or repurpose afterwards. I started turning lights off. We got solar panels on our roof. I started spending extra to buy more energy efficient appliances. I am trying to stop throwing things away and repair or repurpose instead. I am asking myself, “Do I need that appliance?” I am buying less cheap plastic and more items that will last. And the trickle of change continues to grow…

Transport

I live in a rural area with no public transport. I started minimizing my trips by going without or being organized enough to get everything at once. I started parking in one place and walking between locations rather than driving and parking again. I started buying local produce even if it meant going to multiple shops and using seasonal produce in the kitchen. I planted vegetables and fruit trees. I started carpooling whenever I could. I am staying home more and eating better food. And the trickle gains momentum…

“Refusal to participate is a moral choice. Water is a gift for all, not meant to be bought and sold. Don’t buy it. When food has been wrenched from the earth, depleting the soil and poisoning our relatives in the name of higher yields, don’t buy it.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Biodiversity

All my life I have witnessed the damage that invasive species can cause. We bought property covered in invasive Lantana. We spent every weekend for months clearing it with a machete and a mattock, no power tools or machines. I planted and planted and planted. We moved on. We bought property covered in many different invasive species. We cleared and cleared. I planted and planted. We sectioned off a part of the property to rehabilitate and another part to live in. In the rehabilitation section I planted endemic natives and identified each new species that appeared once the neighbours’ herding animals were fenced out. New natives stayed, I removed the invasives. I wanted to see more frogs. I started hunting cane toads, horrified at having to kill them even using stepped hypothermia. The frog population exploded. The local wildlife discovered my vegetable and herb gardens. I planted more and more to share. An ecosystem is starting to develop and we have seen at least five endangered animals and I have planted and nurtured rare and endangered plants whenever I can find them. Trickle, trickle…

Watch Jane’s Tour of her bush rehabilitation area

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrp7bRYTfvc&t=4s

Education

I am a teacher. I taught Drama and History, then I seized an opportunity to teach Science. I taught my students to analyse, theorise and criticise. I gave them raw data and conflicting opinions and I told them to challenge me. They did. I told them to have their own opinions. They began challenging each other and we had debates and they disagreed and I was glad. There is no change without a pressing need and those to argue the pressing need against those who wish to stay the same. And the trickle meets other trickles and the volume heading downstream grows…

This is a summary of my contribution to the trickle of environmental change. Do I still use plastic? Of course! It’s hard not to in this day and age. Do I still drive my car? Yes. Do I still buy synthetic fabrics? Sometimes.

Robin Wall Kimmerer said “we all live downstream” in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, and I love that concept. I am trying my hardest to send only good stuff downstream but I’m not perfect and I am a product of my time and place in history. I can only work with what I get from the society upstream from me.

There is cause for hope. I am sure that the trickle has grown in my lifetime. I have seen things become normal that were unheard of in my childhood. Reusable coffee cups are everywhere. Plant-based plastics are getting more shelf space in supermarkets. Countries are banning plastic straws and cutlery.

My greatest hope is with the children. No one is better at changing minds than a child and they are more environmentally aware than ever before. I hope as each year of new adults take their place in society and voting lines they bring with them enough understanding to push that trickle to a flood that saves our Earth. Until then I will keep trying to add drops of change to the trickle I send downstream and spread the word, as revolutionaries have always done, before the flood of change.

“we all live downstream”

― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Wishing you wonderful trickles from upstream,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

Plant Profile – Native Raspberry

These delicious berries take their time to become truly ripe. When they are they almost fall off the vine when touched.

Did you know that Australia has eight native raspberry species? All adapted to our climates and varying in taste, they are a great choice for a bush tucker garden. One of the most palatable and abundant, in terms of fruit, is Rubus probus or Atherton Raspberry.

A Native Stingless Bee harvesting pollen from a flower. The five petals contrast delightfully with the five sepals forming a star shape.

Also known as:

  • Rubus probus
  • Atherton Raspberry
  • Rubus muelleri 
  • Rubus fraxinifolius (now accepted as the name for a different species in Asia)

Growing conditions:

  • Full sun/part shade (prefers full sun)
  • Well-drained soil
  • A vigourous grower that can be confined to a large pot
  • Will climb a trellis
  • Scrambling habit
  • Flowers in Spring/Summer and Fruits Summer/Autumn, but can be variable and flower and fruit at any time of year

Propagation

  • Fresh seed (benefits from cold stratification – one month at 3 degrees Celsius)
  • Cuttings from firm new growth
  • Layering – tip layering
  • Division
The flowers have five petals but they inevitably get damaged by heavy traffic and wind. Here you can see an ant and a Native Stingless Bee harvesting pollen.

“Mummy! There’s a ripe Raspberry!” No plant in my garden gets more visits from my children than our Native Raspberry when it is fruiting. At the beginning of the season it’s sweetly frustrating as the berries ripen individually limiting harvest to one berry every two or three days. But hey, it’s teaching them (and us) patience and rewarding with healthy snacks. Red doesn’t necessarily mean ripe either. You’ll know they are fully ripe when they seem to be almost falling off the vine at a touch. Interestingly they also go through a “plumping” stage just before they ripen, growing by one and a half times the original size overnight. Their taste is sharper than commercial Raspberries that you buy at the store, but it is by no means unpleasant. A healthy plant in good conditions can produce up to three kilograms in a season. That’s a lot of raspberries!

Our Native Raspberry is planted in a large terracotta pot to prevent its growth becoming an impenetrable thicket. Its flexible green stems are covered in small thorns that will grip and climb a trellis, but ours is freestanding and is currently almost three metres tall. The long flexible stems insist on climbing the nearby ginger plants and grab us with their thorns as we walk past. Time for relocation? Probably, but I need to consider the best location. They do lose leaves when the weather cools and they fruit best with regular moisture and light fertilizer, so I like to have them in a location where I can monitor them closely.

Overnight this berry “plumped” growing half as big again. This is another indication that it is ripe.

This species is found across Northern Australia and in parts of Papua New Guinea. The young leaves and shoots are also edible, however I am yet to sample them. I know that wallabies can strip a young plant back to stalks, so they obviously enjoy the leaves and shoots! Truth be told we are happy to just have the berries which live up to their latin name “probus” or “good”. In fact they are so good that many people have to cover them in bird netting to get any harvest at all.

The canes of the plant can be hard to find in a large thicket.

Native Raspberries are somewhat drought tolerant and have survived the dry seasons in their partial shade position. Perhaps they might have fruited better in full sun, but they may not have survived the dry weather. Being a predominantly tropical and subtropical species, they are very tolerant of hot, humid weather and, if protected from frost, they will even grow in temperate zones.

When you pick the raspberries you may notice white pith in the centre. This can be eaten or discarded, but if you’re making jam make sure the pectin rich pith goes into the mix to help the jam set!

Handy Tips from the Garden Rooms!

Wondering where to buy them? I got mine at Lamington Native Nursery. Every plant that I purchased there has thrived.

If you have the space for a large pot or a dedicated patch, this is a great plant for an edible or permaculture garden!

Wishing you abundant harvests,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

PS This plant is on my Ten Australian Bush Food Plants for Your Garden list. Click here to read the full article.

References:

Useful Tropical Plants

Australian Native Plants Society (Australia)

Plant Profile  – Native Mulberry – Pipturus argenteus

The children have found their foraging more challenging since the Rainbow Lorikeets have finally discovered the Native Mulberry Trees.

This plant is a biodiversity hub in my garden.  A few moments of close observation on any given day reveals species galore. From the Eastern Sedge Frog family to Rainbow Lorikeets to countless insects, I am never disappointed. My children are also regularly drawn to the tree to gather and gobble the tiny sweet fruits or search for caterpillars and eggs. They are inevitably rewarded for their efforts.

I love seeing my children forage for fresh berries in the garden.

Also known as:

  • False Stinger
  • White Mulberry
  • Amahatyan
  • Ghasooso
  • White Nettle
  • Koomeroo Koomeroo
  • Kongangn
  • Queensland Grass-Cloth Plant
  • Thi-la-wo
This shiny fellow is one of the Eastern Sedge Frog family that lives in our Native Mulberry Tree and no doubt feasts on the abundant insect life that the tree attracts.

Growing conditions:

  • Full sun/part shade (Prefers full sun)
  • Prefers moist conditions, but is drought tolerant with intermittent watering (It may defoliate, but mine have come back with regular moisture. )
  • Well drained soil
  • Frost tender, especially when young
  • Grows 3-8 metres tall and 3-5m wide, responds well to pruning
  • Excellent hedging or screening plant
Eggs on a leaf. We believe that they are from a Jezebel Nymph Butterfly, but time will tell!

Propagation

  • Fresh seed/cuttings
  • Dioescious (Male and female plants) – female plants will set fruit without a male, but will not produce viable seed
The small white berries can be super sweet but the birds love them too! Look for them along the stems, hidden beneath the leaves.

It’s easy to see why this plant is called Native Mulberry. It’s form, structure and flowers are certainly reminiscent of the Mulberry Trees that many of us grew up raiding for the succulent purple berries that stained our hands and mouths. However, that’s where the similarities end. This tree is part of the nettle family. Thankfully it doesn’t sting like many of its cousins and it produces delicious, if variable in taste, small berries. It produces fruit from January to July, but the harvests are small and inevitably shared with wildlife.

Click here to watch a short video showcasing this lovely tree

The first tree that I bought survived the drought and is still going. It is small, probably partly due to its position which gets dappled shade for most of the day. Of the two I bought later, one perished during the last months of the drought and the other is flourishing and threatening to overwhelm the Lemon Tea Tree that is planting next to it. It is in a position that gets full sun for most of the day. It has been flowering and producing fruit since mid January, around four months and shows no signs of stopping. It is frequently visited by all of our family, as well as Rainbow Lorikeets, Blue-eyed Honeyeaters, various butterflies and moths and countless other insects. An Eastern Sedge Frog family of at least three individuals also lives in the branches and calls at all times of day and night.

Some kind of fruit fly feasting on a berry.

This is a rainforest and wet schlerophyl forest plant that appears in disturbed areas. It is a hardy pioneer that responds well to pruning. Without pruning it has a tendency to become “leggy”. Its natural distribution is from Lismore in New South Wales North along the East Coast to North Queensland and around to the Northern Territory, as well as some Asia-Pacific nations, including Guam, Samoa and Indonesia.

The flowers of the Native Mulberry Trees are similar to the exotic Mulberry Trees. This picture demonstrates why the Greek origins of the name might refer to the tail like stigma.

First described during Captain James Cook’ s 1769 voyage, this plant had been used for centuries before that by First Nation peoples in its range. Indigenous Australian women and newborn babies ate the seeds. The bark was used to make fishing nets and dyes in Eastern Australia. Every aerial part of the plant was used medicinally to treat ailments from coughs to malaria to burns to centipede bites. The wood was used for construction and the tough fibrous bark was used to make traditional mats in Samoa.

These Hawk Moth Caterpillars regularly appear on my Native Mulberry Tree. Did you know that most moths build their crysalis underground?

As for the scientific name, argenteus is generally accepted as referring to the silvery underside of the leaf. Pipto is Greek “to fall” perhaps referring to the fruit which drops easily from the branches when ripe and ouro means “long tail” which could refer to the hairy stigma or the leaf petiole.

This plant is host to many butterfly species which is clearly evident from the activity in my garden. Having said that, the foliage is so abundant that the damaged and eaten leaves are far from obvious.

This tree is a rewarding addition to a garden or food forest that will enhance your biodiversity and provide a welcome snack whenever you pass by during the long fruiting season.

Wishing you berries and biodiversity,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

PS This plant is on my Ten Australian Bush Food Plants for Your Garden list. Click here to read the full article.

References:

Save Our Waterways Now

Tucker Bush

Wild Food Plants (Book)

Useful Tropical Plants

Garden to Kitchen  – Fried Pumpkin Flowers with Basil and Lemon Myrtle

There’s a hungry critter in my pumpkin patch and we’re not getting any pumpkins! So instead I am going to cook up some of the flowers.  They’re a delicious,  nutritious snack or side dish and they’re not being eaten as often as the fruit. I am using the male flowers which are easy to identify.

Recipe available as a YouTube clip!

Jane Grows Garden Rooms
Our pumpkins are being devoured overnight! So I decided to cook the flowers instead.

Ingredients:

  • 9 pumpkin flowers
  • 1 teaspoon of minced basil leaves
  • 3 small lemon myrtle leaves – new growth only, minced (optional)
  • 2/3 cup of plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
  • 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 eggs
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper (optional)
Only use the tender young Lemon Myrtle leaves for this recipe.

Method:

1. Cut the stems off the flowers, remove the stamens (male flowers without the bulb at the base are best for cooking) and wash thoroughly to remove any pollen.

2. Dry the pumpkin flowers,  making sure that they are dry inside and out.

3. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl.

4. Add basil, lemon myrtle leaves and parmesan cheese and mix well.

5. Add water and eggs. Whisk until a smooth batter is formed.

6. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a heavy pan over medium high heat.

7. When the oil is hot, gently dip the flowers in the batter, coating evenly.

TOP TIP: To check whether the oil is hot enough, add a small drop of batter. If it sizzles straight away, it’s ready!

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

8. Put the battered flowers in the oil a few at a time and fry until golden brown.

9. Remove flowers and drain on paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Let me know if you try this one by posting in the comments!

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

Backyard Biodiversity Tip Three – Leave some of the Wild

With the dire warnings of an insect apocalypse and the potential impact on the food chain, encouraging creepy crawlies has never been so relevant. My garden purposely embraces the wild, but the messiness drives my partner crazy. Over time and with compromise I have managed to convince him of the importance of garden debris for garden visitors. I tolerate his spaces of lawn and he leaves patches of debris for the wildlife. After all, it’s lovely to feel the soft grass on bare feet and the lawn encourages our friendly magpie family as well as the local wild ducks. He enjoys encounters with Bearded Dragons and the many other species that rely on garden debris. It’s a win win compromise.

Leaving fallen logs and sticks provides habitat for numerous species including funguses, moulds and lichens. Scientists are finding that these members of the ecosystem provide more services than previously thought.

So what do I mean by garden debris?

  • Logs and sticks that have fallen from trees
  • Leaf litter
  • Untrimmed dead sticks on plants
  • Dead annuals
  • Weeds that aren’t invasive
  • Broken terracotta pots and tiles
I suspect this Green Tree Frog (Litoria caerulea) lives under this broken terracotta birdbath that I left in the garden.

What? Broken terracotta pots and tiles? Yes.. They are great habitat for nocturnal creatures like frogs to shelter under during the day and for reptiles to sunbathe on top of. They don’t damage the ecosystem or attract pests like termites. If they don’t stay in your garden, they’ll probably end up in landfill. May as well put them to good use!

Cactus Flies like this one eat aphids, but they need leaf litter for their larval development.

Leaf litter doesn’t just break down and add nutrients into your soil. It hosts beneficial microbes all year around. Bare soil is not good for your garden and leaf litter is better than no cover at all. It is also shelter for many different insects at all life stages. Not least of its benefits is its capacity to keep insects warm and cosy over the cooler months, preparing for plenty of beneficial garden activity when the weather finally warms again.

Lacewing larvae will devour whole colonies of aphids and scale, but they need old sticks and stumps to lay their eggs on.

Many plants naturally have sticks or branches that defoliate and die off. The ordered gardener is tempted to trim these off, but before you grab those secateurs read on. Many garden visitors prize these “empty spaces”. The voracious predators Lacewings use these to lay their eggs that will hatch into larvae that can devour whole colonies of aphids and scale. Many of Australia’s solitary and semi-social native bees will use them as nighttime roosts or, in the case of reed bees, use the dead canes as nesting sites.

This old log left on the ground is hosting a fungal network. Fungal networks are crucial for the health of plants and soils.

Dead logs, sticks and bark provide more cover for the soil and host numerous insects and arachnids. Perhaps more important than this, they offer a development site for fungus, mould, lichen and moss. These are essential to ecosystems and in many cases help support plant health.

Huntsman spiders are predators and food. They hold an important position in the food chain and need old bark for protection and nesting.

Dead annuals can be tilled back into the soil or left until they decompose on their own. The are a great way to offer natural compost to sections of the garden. You can even snip them off at ground level and leave their roots to decompose and enrich the soil.

Shield bugs make a tasty meal for many insectivores but they need garden debris for protection so that some survive to maintain the population.

All this garden debris is now thought to be far more important than it was considered in the past. For many gardeners, however, it is challenging to embrace the concept. Every little bit counts. Even a small section of your garden dedicated to debris will pave the way to a healthier ecosystem in your garden. Make sure you keep an eye on your garden debris and the resulting garden visitors may just convince you to expand its range.

This Native Cockroach is thought to eat decomposing matter. It’s a great nutritious food for insectivores.

A last mention of a very helpful garden helper. Have you ever moved garden debris only to see slaters run in every direction? They are actually land based crustaceans and they perform an important function… they eliminate heavy metals, such as mercury, lead and cadmium from the soil. In this day and age of ubiquitous pollution that’s a beneficial skill indeed, especially in your edible garden!

Wishing you garden visitors big and small,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

Plant Profile – Cut Leaf Daisy

Want bees? Grow some Brachyscomes!

A Native Sweat Bee (Lipotriches species) harvesting from a Cut-leaf Daisy.

Also known as:

  • Brachyscome multifida
  • Cut-leafed Daisy
  • Break O’ Day
  • Swan River Daisy
  • Good Old Native Daisy
  • Rock Daisy
  • Native Daisy
These three varieties grew beautifully together as a living mulch for my Native Gardenia until the saplings grew big enough to shade them for most of the day.

Growing conditions:

  • Part shade/Full sun (prefers full sun)
  • Tolerates almost any soil/prefers well-drained loam
  • Needs light watering in dry seasons
  • Suitable for garden beds/rockeries/pots/borders
  • Groundcover/living mulch
Cut-leaf Daisies in my rockery.

Propagation:

  • Seed – poor germination rates but achievable
  • Cuttings – higher success rate than seeds, strikes readily from firm new growth
  • Layering – most successful technique as it happens naturally in the wild

My eye is always drawn to these tiny delightful blooms and oh how they bloom! Flowers all year ’round in my subtropical climate. I can’t visit them without seeing pollinators. Sometimes it’s the quietly busy stingless bees and other times sweat bees, slender bee flies and ants feasting and gathering from these pollen rich native daisies. The flowers are relatively small but abundant and benefit from deadheading every week.

A Native Stingless Bee (Tetragonula species) harvesting from a Cut-leaf Daisy bloom.

The natural range of the Cut-leaf Daisy extends across the South-east corner of Australia in woodlands near the coast. I grow it in my rockery and as a living mulch for many of my native trees. It definitely likes some spots better than others, tending to flourish in more exposed positions on the outer edges and sunnier positions.

Black-banded Hoverfly (Episyrphus viridaureus) harvesting pollen.

They are tolerant of drought to a point but their shallow root system means that they dry out quickly without a little help. And it’s only a little help, a light water to support them through extended dry periods. The persistent flowers and delicate leaves deliver enough joy to be worth the effort.

A light prune twice a year when they start to get “leggy” keeps them looking tidy and blooming well. Rather than pruning just bury the leggy stems to propagate by layering or extend their range. Their dense habit suppresses weeds and ensures that they fill spots in the garden effectively.

Wishing you many tiny purple delights,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

Italian Flatbread with Thyme, Parmesan and Garlic

It takes me two and a half hours to get this recipe on the table. The smell around the house during cooking is magical.  The bread lasts for up to a week in an airtight container if it doesn’t get eaten! This recipe is also available on YouTube.

Ingredients:

  • 2 x 7g packets of dried yeast (25g of compressed yeast)
  • 300ml of lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 450g strong white unbleached flour
  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (4 tablespoons to mix into the dough and 1 tablespoon for drizzling over the dough before it goes into the oven.
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of Fresh Thyme
  • 3 teaspoons Shredded parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon Garlic granules
  • Extra flour for dusting during kneading
  • Extra olive oil for greasing the bowl as the bread rises

Equipment:

  • A jug for rehydrating the yeast (I use a Pyrex measuring jug
  • Large Metal Mixing Bowl
  • Wooden spoon
  • Tablespoon measure
  • Teaspoon measure
  • Scales to weigh the flour
  • Board for kneading the dough or a food processor with a dough hook
  • Wet clean tea towel
  • Pizza stone or heavy metal baking tray

Method:

1. Fill a jug with 300ml of lukewarm water (less is more, don’t go over this amount). Add the yeast and stir slightly.  Wait for a slight froth to form. This means that the yeast is rehydrating.

I know that my yeast is viable and rehydrated when I can see a slight froth on the top of the yeasty water. This is the ideal time to add it to the flour.

2. While waiting for the yeast, mix together the salt and the flour in the large mixing bowl and then make a well in the centre.

3. Pour the yeast/water mixture into the well with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil.

4. Mix together until it forms a dough.

5. Place dough on a floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic.  This takes me about 5 minutes. (You can use a food processor with a dough hook for this step  if you prefer.)

The dough in a slightly oiled bowl ready to go through its first rise.

6. Clean and dry the large metal bowl. Use the extra olive oil to lightly oil the surface.  Place the kneaded dough in the bowl and cover with a wet tea towel.

The dough rising to more than double its original size.

7. Leave the dough in a warm place until it has more than doubled in size.

TOP TIP: A car parked in the sun is a great place to leave dough to rise, warm and protected from unwanted attention from insects, animals or birds.

Jane Grows Garden Rooms

8. Mix the Thyme leaves,  shredded parmesan and garlic granules together in a small bowl. (If you want stronger flavours you can add more. You can also substitute for different herbs, cheeses, etc)

9. Knock the dough down and knead again. As you knead, stop to sprinkle  the Thyme mixture over the dough before kneading it in. This should be done as a process, that is, sprinkle,  then knead, then sprinkle,  then knead until you run out of Thyme mixture.

10. Place the pizza stone or heavy metal baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 200 degrees Celsius or 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

11. Shape the dough into a rough circle about 30cm in diameter. 

12. When the oven is ready dimple the surface of the dough with your fingers and dribble a tablespoon of olive oil over it. 

13. Transfer the dough to the pizza stone or baking sheet. I just puck mine up and quickly put it on the stone.

14. Bake for 35 minutes or until it is golden brown and sounds hollow when you knock on it.

15. Allow to cool slightly on a rack before trying it.

I find it easiest to cut it into wedges.

16. It lasts up to a week in an airtight container in my house. We either eat it at room temperature or warm it for ten minutes in the oven first.

Wishing you quick and easy baking deliciousness,

Jane Grows Garden Rooms