Despite its preference for moist soil, this plant has been one of my drought survivors. It recovers quickly from wilt making it easy to judge when it has reached its point of tolerance. That tolerance was much higher than I expected or feared.
Its natural distribution goes some way to explain its hardiness. It’s found along the East Coast regions of Australia from the Tropics in North Queensland all the way South to the Cool Temperate climate of Tasmania. It will tolerate many different conditions and is even tolerant of air pollution. It’s surprising then that it is not tolerant of salt spray.
The berries are edible and can be eaten straight from the tree. Ours are pleasantly tart, some trees produce sweet or bitter fruit. Culinary uses align with its European cousin. The berries can be used to make wines, cordials, jams, dessert crumbles, pies and even syrups said to lessen length and intensity of cold and flu symptoms. The results will be slightly different from the plump purple berries used in other parts of the world. Likewise the flowers can be used to make elderflower recipes. I plan to experiment with mine as soon as the harvest period is over which will likely be in July. Until then I will harvest and freeze the berries.
I bought my Native Elderberry from Lamington Native Nursery which is a lovely little nursery in Cainbable near Canungra. Every plant I have purchased from there has survived and thrived. I try to support local businesses as much as possible, but this nursery is so good it’s easy to support it. I only wish that I could make the drive to them more often!
The lovely lady who runs the nursery advised that they tend to self seed and cautioned me to consider where I planted it. It is now situated on the shady end of one of my contour banks and is thriving. Thriving despite the fact that I once accidentally pulled it out when my son distracted me as I was weeding. With some seaweed emulsion and regular watering it is as good as new. Thank goodness! Such a lovely tree!
Wishing you fruitful 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.
When I think of Aloe Vera, I think of sunburn. I don’t know how many times I had the goo from inside the sticky stalk smeared all over a painful burn in my teens and twenties. This amazing plant has many medicinal uses, but the relief it offers for any kind of burn is astounding. People around the world use it in many different ways and its medicinal qualities have been questioned by some. Everyone agrees, however, that it’s great for skin!
I’ve never been blessed with amazing hair and as I get older it’s getting coarser and dryer. I recently read a blog post about using Aloe Vera as a pretreatment. I extracted some gel, rubbed it into my hair and scalp, paying special attention to the dry, dull ends. I tied it up in a bun and left it for 45 minutes before washing it. As soon as I took out the bun, before I even washed it, the ends were softer and shinier. After washing with my good quality shampoo and conditioner bars my hair is even softer than it usually is after washing. As an added bonus, my hands are oh so soft!
It’s also a wonderful air purifier and can be grown in a bright spot indoors.
The jury is out on whether it should be ingested but there are commercial “juices” available and some people swear by regular internal doses of this fascinating plant.
Hello and welcome to my garden. This beauty isn’t a dead tree, it’s a sustainable, slow-built, high-rise apartment building for wildlife. In this tree we have observed countless birds, including endangered species, mammals including possums and gliders, reptiles like tree snakes and bearded dragons and various insects and arachnids. Many people have suggested that we cut it down, but why would we destroy such a superb habitat that actively contributes to our backyard biodiversity? That said, this is Tip Two for Backyard Biodiversity!
If you want a greater range of biodiversity in your backyard, big or small, you need to provide habitat for the creatures you are hoping to have living in your garden rooms. The National Geographic tells us that organisms need four things for a successful habitat: water, food, shelter and space. The habitats you can provide depend on the space that you have. Let’s start with the small ones and work our way bigger.
In Australia we have so many species of tree frog that all you need to create a new habitat is a Frog Hotel, patience and a little luck.
Frog Hotels were originally created to keep frogs out of outback toilets. They can be as small or as big as you would like. As far as the habitat checklist goes… Water – contained within, Food – as long as you have some insects around they’ve got dinner, did you know that most frogs love eating cockroaches!?, Shelter – that’s what the pipes and plants are for, Space – frogs don’t need much space, some species will even breed in a frog hotel.
Like many garden wonders you’ll need some patience and some luck, it can take months or even years to attract permanent residents to your Frog Hotel and yet some people have success in days. Comment below if you’d like me to create a vlog or blog post on Frog Hotels.
Native Bee Hotels for Megachile species
In Australia we have more than 1700 native bee species and most of them are solitary or semi-social rather than the social European bees that we hear so much about. There are a number of ways to create habitat for these little wonders.
Arguably the easiest species to build or buy a hotel for are those in the Megachile genus and the Hyledoides genus. This includes, Resin Bees, Masked Bees and Leafcutter Bees. Historically these species nested in holes created by wood borers, like the one pictured below in one of my Lilly Pilly trees. It’s easy to simulate these holes by using holes drilled in wood or bamboo cut in lengths. It’s best to place them facing South if you can and protection from wind and rain will also encourage residents. Spacing lots of small hotels around the garden will help them evade predators. A Grey Butcher Bird in my garden sits watching one of my hotels and snaps the residents out of the air when they leave the nest. Clever little birds they are! I plan to post a video of a Leafcutter Bee in my garden carrying cut leaves to its nest in my rockery on YouTube soon!
Native Bee Hotels for Reed bees
Reed bees from the Exoneura genus like to nest in pithy stems like tree ferns or lantana. Lantana may be an invasive species but in some areas where it has out-competed the natives, Reed Bees use the dead canes for nests. If you’re clearing lantana, keep an eye out for these tiny bees. When I remove lantana I now keep some of the canes and dry them to create nests which I place near my dam.
Native bee hotels for Blue-banded Bees
The delightful Blue-banded Bees are a solitary species that use buzz pollination which is necessary for the pollination of some plants, like the Blue Tongue Plant the one pictured below is buzzing around, or creates higher yields for other plants, like tomatoes.
You can create nesting habitat for them by building rock walls with spaces between the rocks or by creating your own mud brick nests. Plant blue and purple flowers nearby to encourage them to explore your garden. Comment below if you’d like me to create a vlog or blog post on Blue-banded Bee Hotels.
Native Bee Hives
Native Stingless Bee Hives are a great way to ensure your garden is full of pollinators. I haven’t purchased one yet but it’s on my wish list!
Possum Boxes, Nesting Boxes
If you have a larger property you might like to consider installing nesting boxes for the species that need tree hollows. With land clearing for development and recreation, big old trees with enough hollows to service the local wildlife populations are becoming fewer and fewer. This means that some species can’t breed because they simply don’t have a safe place to nest. Placing nesting boxes on your property can help marsupial species like gliders and countless bird species like the lovely King Parrots. A Possum Box might even keep Possums out of your roof! There’s lots of information on line about how to build or buy them.
The importance of garden debris and flowering weeds
Now I like to think that I am a wild gardener, but some people would say I am a messy gardener. That’s because I don’t clear all my garden debris. Many lizard species, frog species and invertebrates need leaf litter, sticks or old wood for their habitats. If you have an ordered garden, try leaving one area for garden debris to give these species a room in your garden.
Lizards and frogs will help keep pests at bay and there are lots of helpful insects in leaf litter that will improve your soil and eat the nuisance insects.
I also make a point of letting some of the more innocuous weed species flower in my garden. They attract pollinators to help my plants fruit and seed and they also attract beneficial species like praying mantises and lacewings who eat aphids and scale. Many vegetables are also good for this purpose, so I let some of my lettuce, carrots and other vegetables flower. By doing this I find I don’t need to try to keep something flowering year round for the pollinators. Weeds and vegetables fill any gaps in time when my shrubs and trees are not flowering.
Ponds, Frog Bogs
Ponds and Frog Bogs are great for bigger gardens. In my first Backyard Biodiversity Tip I discussed the importance of water for not only amphibians, but wildlife in general as well as garden helpers like the mosquito destroying dragonflies.
Bird baths are delightful to watch, especially on a hot day and provide an important part of habitat for our flying garden helpers.
Plant choices, Protection from Predators
Another really important consideration is your choice of plants. The more diverse your plants are, the more diverse your animal and insect visitors will be. The most important aspect of this is the levels in your garden. If you can create a garden that has many levels, you will get lots of visitors.
Lets look at those levels from bottom to top.
Start with soil. There are currently campaigns to reclassify soil as a living organism under United Nations conditions. Cultivate your soil to encourage fungal networks, worms and even beetle larvae. Most are beneficial and if you have biodiversity the birds will help keep their populations from exploding. Groundcovers and grasses are very important for insects. Herbs and flowers are great for pollinators. Shrubs and hedges are wonderful for small birds and reptiles. Small trees offer the next level of habitat for birds, reptiles and insects. Finally the canopy level offers habitat for birds, mammals and protection on hot days amongst other benefits. Climbing through all these levels are vines which frequently host butterflies and other beneficial insects.
Many of the levels provide protection from predators. If you have room for small spiky shrubs you may attract wrens and finches. The canopy offers refuge for many species of bird as well as climbing mammals. Groundcovers and grasses protect lizards from birds.
Of course, if you have pets you may need to offer more protection from predators by keeping them out of certain parts of the garden. Before our beautiful dog passed away, she was allowed the run of one section of the garden, but the other section was closed to her unless she was supervised.
There are some great easy options that will fill your garden rooms with visitors for minimal effort. Comment below if you’d like me to create a vlog or blog post on anything that I’ve talked about. With greater backyard biodiversity you can enjoy a garden that gives a lot more than it takes.
The first step is to look into the wildlife in your area and work out how you can use the space you have to provide habitat that will help them live comfortably. By providing what you can, you are helping your local community maintain and build better biodiversity. It starts with a trickle…
Wishing you biodiverse visitors to your garden rooms,
This recipe is a companion piece to my plant profile for Mint species coming soon! A vlog version is also available Garden to Kitchen – Choc-Mint Ice-cream on the Jane Grows Garden Rooms YouTube channel.
1 cup cream
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint (I like a chocolate mint variety the best for this recipe)
150g dark chocolate (remember: the better your chocolate variety, the better the flavour)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon castor sugar
Gently heat cream and mint in a small pan. Remove from heat JUST BEFORE the mixture boils.
Add chocolate to the cream mixture and place back on a gentle heat. Stir constantly until chocolate is completely melted into a smooth mixture. REMOVE from heat and allow to cool slightly while you complete the next step.
Whisk eggs and sugar to a creamy consistency.
Slowly add warm chocolate mixture through a strainer to remove the mint. (Discard the mint after this step.)
Whisk until well-combined.
Allow the mixture to cool (using an ice bath will make this step quicker).
Freeze in an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions,
OR place in a metal container in the freezer. Remove when ice-cream is just firm around the edges and whisk in a mixing bowl for one minute before replacing in the freezer overnight.
This recipe should keep in an airtight container in the freezer for three weeks, but it never lasts that long in my house!
Wishing you taste sensations from Garden to Kitchen,
Temperate and cold climates plant after the last frost
My daughter is a fussy eater. It’s probably karma. I know my own mother had many frustrating evenings trying to make me eat my dinner. My daughter does, however, love salad vegetables which is a great relief when balancing her diet. I can put half a cucumber in her lunchbox and know that it will be devoured happily. She will also eat salad as a tv snack. I can’t cook any vegetables that she will eat. She even eats her broccoli raw, but I can’t really complain about that! She LOVES to browse through the vegetable garden and eat whatever is ripe for harvest (except tomatoes!) so it makes perfect sense for me to add this annual to my crops.
This year I planted cucumber for the first time and to my delight the compact bush variety that I chose has germinated easily and the growth is encouraging. It takes 8-10 weeks for the flowers to appear. I will be hoping to see them towards the end of May.
Watch this space for more details in the coming months!
Wishing you vigourous growth in your kitchen garden,
Very similar to Mentha satureoides and sometimes confused with it.
Full sun/Shade/part shade
Prefers slightly damp soil
Suitable for pots, rockeries and as a filler between paving stones or driving strips
Removing a rooted section of the plant as it spreads
Keep moist until established.
Named after Tasmania when it was Van Diemens Land, this herb is found on that cool temperate island, as well as in Victoria and New South Wales. Some sites list Queensland as well, but this could be as a result of the confusion with its cousin, Mentha satureoides. With these origins it’s no surprise that it is frost tolerant. In hot or dry periods it can go into a dormant phase and regenerate like many other amazing Australian Native Plants.
I started with a tiny tubestock of this tough little groundcover and in good family tradition I planted it under a garden tap. My mother always plants mint under garden taps, an ingenious idea that means they get incidental moisture. My tiny plant is now a spreading mat that has escaped the Garden bed and invaded the lawn. This gives me the delightful surprise of lovely minty fragrance every time I step on it to fill my watering cans. This is despite an awful drought which meant that the tank which is connected to the Garden tap was completely drained. Still it survived and thrived as soon as the rain came back when many of my hardy trees had perished and gone.
It’s a perfect candidate for rockeries and between paving stones. It tolerates low levels of foot traffic and fills the air with minty freshness at every footfall.
The flowers are tiny and subtle. Most varieties are mauve or violet. My plant has almost white, pale mauve flowers with purple spots and purple tipped anthers. They are lovely but almost impossible to photograph, at least with my equipment.
All in all this hardy survivor is a welcome addition to my garden. I have recently dug up some of the suckers and replanted them on the steps in one of my rockeries. I’m interested to see if they’ll do as well in that position which gets the midday sun in summer. Of all the native mints I have grown, this one seems the toughest and most persistent. *fingers crossed *
Wishing you a minty fresh trip to the Garden tap,
PS This plant is on my Ten Australian Bush Food Plants for Your Garden list. Click here to read the full article.
I’ve always had “what the…?” moments in my garden and struggled to get information to explain what is it that I am seeing. Here I plan to document some of my findings progressively. Check back if you’re interested in knowing what those random nests and larvae are in your garden.
Commelina cyanea (in New South Wales, possibly a different species, scientific analysis ongoing)
Native Wandering Jew
Tolerant of most soils
Groundcover (can become invasive in good conditions)
Suitable for rockeries and hanging pots
Perennial in tropics and subtropics, annual in warm temperate climates
My first recollection of this species is dominated by a catch of breath as I spied a delightful deep blue flower on my dam wall. This was followed by a resigned sigh, with a flower like that and the fleshy green stems it was probably an exotic invasive! I put off identifying it which I do sometimes when I am enchanted by a new species. Often I find out that for the good of the biodiversity in my garden I must remove the plant. A couple of months later I was browsing the Queensland Plant Identification Facebook Page when my eye caught the same blue flower! As I read through the discussion in the comments I was delighted to discover that it was native! Even better, the flower was more vibrant than its exotic cousin which also grows on my dam wall! I set out to isolate the populations of each species and started propating the native to replace the exotic. You can read my comparison of the species by clicking here.
I use this plant for erosion control as it’s happy on a steep slope and provides great biodiversity benefits, like habitat for invertebrates and soil coverage as well as food for kangaroos, bandicoots and bettongs. It propagates easily from the brittle stem segments. Indeed if you try to remove it, you need to get every part of this plant or they will likely reappear.
Apparently Captain James Cook gave this plant to his sailors to eat in order to prevent scurvy. The new leaf tips are reported to taste like bitter lettuce.
A Factsheet published as a part of the Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants Edition 7 (RFK7) lists the following uses:
Juice being used to cure wounds, for inflamed eyes, as part of an external remedy for bone fracture and as a digestive aid (Smith 1979).
Women rub their hair with it in the Torres Strait area (Lawrie s.n.)
Within China it is used as a medicinal herb with febrifugal and diuretic properties. A dye is also obtained from the juice of the petals for use in painting.
Wishing you weeds you don’t have to pull out,
Additional: recently I have found out that people plant these near their chicken pens. Apparently they LOVE to snack on them!