Archive for the ‘Indulges in name dropping…’ Category

Have had some wonderful blog posts all formed in my mind, but they have stayed there… It happens when I’m gardening. Beautiful words and thoughts form as I weed and plant and till the good old soil. What I need is to write it then and there, because by the time I finish in the garden, I don’t want to go on the computer. They don’t go together well for me. When I’m all doused in nature, the call of the keyboard grows faint and is easily ignored.  Oh well.

This spring is so full of growth – I have watched the cherry blossoms burst into intense pink glory, dissolve into a carpet of pink snow upon the path, and now rot into brown mush. Must be time someone swept I guess. Under the cherry blossom and extravagance of old bearded irises sings loud and bright, there were sweetest lily of the valley before, sending wafts of perfume everywhere.

this iris bud fell into the fallen blossom. After the photo, I placed it in a water bowl, it opened and shone for a couple of days before shrivelling into a crinkled, crepe thing.

I have picked the largest rose I ever saw, a Mr Lincoln, and more are coming. It’s of course a classic velvet crimson thing, and was a gift to me from Patsy Hollis, who loves roses and words, and to whom I mentioned my fondness for Mr Lincoln. The roses I grow are all gifts, except my Iceberg, which I bought because I was feeling left out of Hobart’s obsession with iceberg roses. Coming along is Pierre de Ronsard, recent gift from the garden of a wonderful friend who thought she was moving, so gave me her roses, then changed her mind, but lets me keep them. Two x Pierre to adorn the brand new rather raw fence, and a couple of David Austens about to reveal themselves.

Soon I go to India. Some travellers are coming to mind house and garden. I hope it can be their

Light on Columbine

haven for a while, and that from its kind welcome they can go out exploring Tasmania, returning to the gentle realm of the garden. There will be raspberries soon, and the goji berry has flowered! We will see if it comes to anything.

The fence is also about to be clad in PEAS, which are climbing nicely and will feed the houseminding travellers, and hopefully Scarlet Runner Beans, the shiny deep coloured seeds of which are planted, but not yet up. Will they come through before I go?

I have a million photos to show you, am just uploading a couple. At least I have written.



Read Full Post »

Beyond Organics is all about gardens and ecology – why we need to bring nature conservation into our gardening and how to do that. I wrote it because I felt that organic gardening needed to develop a more deeply ecological set of values which recognises that gardens are part of their local ecosystem and should be managed with that in mind. I realised that some organic gardening techniques can be environmentally damaging – for example, the run off from excessive use of organic fertilisers next to waterways or natural bush can encourage weed infestations. Inappropriate planting choices require high inputs of nutrient and water and may give little back to the environment – such as growing hybrid roses in a humid climate with poor soils.

The idea behind Beyond Organics is to minimise the inputs to a garden and maximise the positive contribution it makes to the environment – this might be about local biodiversity, planting for birds and insects, avoiding plants that have been harvested from the natural environment and growing your own food to reduce food miles.

There is a short history of gardening through the ages and in different cultures, bringing us to the question of what is appropriate gardening in these times of ecological crisis? Historical horticultural sins are exposed – the mass clearing of orchid populations in South America during the Victorian orchid craze and more recently, the decimation of Turkish hillsides by the harvesting of bulbs such as cyclamen for the European bulb markets and the taking of mature cacti and succulents from delicate desert ecosystems in North America for ‘instant’ gardens.

My highly respected friend and accomplice, Peter Cundall, wrote the foreword and did me the honour of launching the book at Fullers Bookshop, Hobart in 2005.

My beautiful book, Beyond Organic

Here’s what he thought of Beyond Organics

Extracted from foreword…

Beyond Organics is the book that had to be written and Helen Cushing has done a brilliant job. She goes outside the garden, yet still links our gardening activities with the natural environment. Every organic garden, although healthy, different and seemingly quite separate, is still a vital part of a world environment which is clearly deteriorating rapidly. In short, we can’t have one without the other and there is no such thing as a garden in isolation…

‘Beyond Organics’ is a powerful call to action. The message of this book is quite clear. We can no longer ignore the fact that our gardens are part of a natural world. The spread of organic growing methods has been inspiring. Now let’s take the next vital step and start gardening ecologically too.”

Beyond Organics launch. See anyone you know?

Here are some good bits from reviews:

From: The Weekend Australian 2/7/05 Review by Christopher  Bantick

“Those looking for a book that extols the virtues of gardening organically will find something here that goes much further: it is not so much about how to garden as one that asks why many people garden with environmentally compromising habits. She offers a philosophy of the primacy of working with the environment rather than gardening for fashionable effect by taking “caring gardeners beyond organics and into a deeper ecology of gardening.” Integral to this is the awareness that the kind of gardening we may do could be unhelpful for the wellbeing of the planet.”

From: Good Reading Magazine (print and online)


The Good Reading Magazine gave Beyond Organics a five star (outstanding) rating in its June 2005 issue.

In the reviewers words, “This is a very generous book, infused with warmth and sense of purpose – it deserves a place on every bookshelf in the country.”

From: http://www.no-dig-vegetablegarden.com/ ecological-gardening.html

‘When we begin to think of the combined size of gardens, rather than individual size, new possibilities begin to emerge in terms of their ecological role.’

This is a quote from my new favourite book “Beyond Organics: Gardening for the Future” by Helen Cushing.

Cushing goes on to describe ways to do this by creating natural habitat for the birds, insects and small animals that are native to your area. Building up the soil to create a vibrant ecosystem that will naturally thrive and survive while natural habitats are being wiped out… the concepts really smacked me between the eyes. It’s worth considering gardening ecologically. (end extract)

in action giving a talk about choosing flowers that support biodiversity

So, if you want to read the whole thing, let me know! It costs AUD$25 from me ($29.95 RRP). Postage in Australia is another $5. Elsewhere it’s more. You can pay into my Helen Cushing Paypal account or ask for my banking info to pay that way. I’ll go away now and figure out how to put a paypal button on the blog…

Have tried and so far failed to put PayPal button into blog. Some technical hitch… So in the meantime, write to me if you want to buy the book and we’ll make a plan.

Read Full Post »

All day I’ve been writing the Marjorie Bligh article so my word brain is used up.  At times like these, we need flowers, and a little help from previously published work…

Lily in the Sky

“For many gardeners the source of inspiration is an aesthetic one. They want to create and be surrounded by beauty… As a creative art, gardening uses the bounty of nature like no other form of human expression.”  from Beyond Organics, by me.

Winter Rose, Helleborus, Bonnie Banks garden, Tamar Valley

Winter Rose in the Sky

Feet in the water, reaching for the sun: Louisiana water iris

Eucalyptus leucoxylon rosea, a delightful small tree for the garden

Eucalyptus ficifolia: bowls of nectar

“In Australia, eucalypts are the most important tree genus in the wild, and ditto in the environmental garden. In the ecological profit-and-loss sheet, they give and give and give, and their needs are easily met due to the sophistication of their adaptations to survival. Their blossoms, nectar, pollen, leaves, seeds, sap and even their wood are all food sources to myriad birds, insects and mammals. The food matrix on a eucalypt is complex, as the feeders themselves attract many predators… Nesting sites, nesting materials, perches and shelter are all provided in abundance by eucalypts, especially old trees and hollows.”  from Beyond Organics, by me.

Colours of Australia: Kangaroo Paw

Kangaroo Paw in the sky

“Flamboyance is for the birds… Give them big red flowers dripping nectar and a strong stalk to grip onto, and they will take pollen to your neighbour, no questions asked. Think of the Australian grevilleas, kangaroo paw, bottle brush and most magnificent, the NSW waratah – radiant, sturdy, nectar-rich and with pollen strategically placed for brushing onto the bird’s nead or neck.”  from Beyond Organics, by me.

Water Lily dreaming

“Water means life. Research has shown that a reliable source of clean water is the single most important factor in attracting and keeping birds in gardens. Using birds as a biodiversity indicator, it can be assumed that overall biodiveristy goes up when there is a water supply such as a pond or birdbath… The combination of water, flowers and humidity also brings more insects, which, of course, attract more birds… Providing water helps maximise the potential of your own plot. In this way you create opportunities for other life forms.” 

from Beyond Organics, by me.

Beyond Organics: Gardening for the Future by me, Helen Cushing is available from me. Next post will be about it and how to purchase from me. If you are desperate for it before then, please let me know and we can make a plan to get it to you quick smart!

Beyond Organics being launched, 2005

Read Full Post »

Both kids are out for the evening. Interestingly, upon return from the supermarket with multiple bags of shopping now covering the kitchen floor, all sense of domestic obligation has suddenly evaporated. No-one wants to know what’s for dinner… time to blog…

The undisturbed shopping bags seemed quite peaceful...

As it’s a summery Saturday I spent the entire morning at Salamanca market, arms being stretched by bags filled with very sweet and very cheap strawberries and cherries while I indulged in pleasant and drawn out conversations with long-lost friends. One of them was the purveyor of the cherries. I stayed chatting so long that people started asking me for half kilos and I ended up packing bags for her while we caught up. It was Sally Dakis, of ABC radio’s Country Hour, wife of  Chris Wisby, also of ABC broadcasting fame – while he’s on air from 6am, she’s out selling the cherries he’s been farming all week. I shared an office with Chris for a while during my Gardening Australia days when I was an itinerant desk-occupier. But that’s another story.

The point is, I shall dine on those fruits while I blog, as no-one else needs dinner. The bags on the kitchen floor look very peaceful. Let us think GARDEN instead.

It’s high time we discussed zucchinis. In languages other than Australian, I believe they are known as courgettes. Same thing.

The plant, the zucchs, the garlic that grew there before them, and some friendly nasturtiums

The important point here is that they are a vegetable with a potentially bad attitude. It’s tempting to compare them with the adolescently undisciplined nasturtiums – lacking regular attention, they get away and do their own thing. But the comparison doesn’t quite stand. Zucchinis have to be watched for a different reason. They look innocent enough, but they have a cunning streak, and if given less than half a chance, very quickly develop an oversized ego akin to that of the alpha male. To avoid this, you must visit your plants daily and eat their babies!

If you don’t, you can be certain that one fruit, most likely hiding under a leaf (bit like Adam?), will start doubling its dimensions daily. This display of dominance is at the expense of the plant’s overall productivity. The alpha-male zucchini demands all the plant’s resources for its exponential, self-centred growth. Its sole motive is reproduction. Left to its own devices, that so-called zucchini will soon become a marrow. The marrow is not what you want. The marrow is full of large seeds, the flesh around them is stringy and mushy at the same time, the flavour is non-existent, the skin is thick and hard, like a shell. That’s right, it has become thick-skinned, domineering and devoid of endearing qualities. Know anyone like that? Would you want them in your garden? I think not.

At the back is the one I found under a leaf - on the way to alpha-maledom

The only culinary solution to the marrow is stuffing ie you scoop out the unwanted stuff and stuff in things that taste good. In my experience, we often don’t get round to stuffing. The thing hangs around the kitchen, or shed, or back verandah, taking up space while you prepare better meals, meals with subtlety.

What we want from our zucchini plants is to eat its babies. Toddlers at the most.  A small zucchini is a good zucchini. I reiterate, you must visit your plants daily, preferably in the morning. Why morning? Because they need help with sex, and that’s when it’s possible. Incidentally, this applies to pumpkins as well. If there are no bees and you do nothing about it, there will be no zucchinis and no pumpkins. The window of opportunity is brief, and morning is the time. Let us talk botanically now.

These plants, known as the cucurbits, have separate male and female flowers. The flowers are wide open in the morning and then they close and shrivel. It’s easy to tell the girls from the boys. The girl flowers are held on a stalk that is a baby version of the mature fruit ie a mini-zucchini. The parts inside the flower are complex compared to the male’s flower parts. The male flower is held up high and proud on its long stem, no babies to hold it back. Inside the flower there is just one prong of pollen held up to the sun and the bees. It is that prong of pollen that you must steal. Here’s how…

  • Break off the male flower at its stalk;

    Male flower on the left, female on the right

  • Ruthlessly tear away the petals;
  • The pollen stalk is now exposed;
  • Rub the pollen stalk onto the female flower parts;

That’s it! You have fertilised the flower and the fruit will set. If the pollen is not transferred by you or a bee, the baby zucchini will soon look sickly, go rotten, and fall off – failure to thrive.

Zucchini management is an important aspect of vegetable growing. If you handle them well, the rewards are many. It’s a simple formula – help with the sex, eat the babies and curb their alpha male urges.

On a sunny morning the bees should do the work for you. Here they are pollinating a female flower.

This bee is headed for the pollen stalk of the male flower.

Practical: Cucurbita pepo; common names: zucchini, courgette, summer squash

General: A summer crop, very easy to grow and bears abundantly. Needs quite a lot of space as it sprawls around continually increasing its spread.

Climate: Zucchinis thrive in dry heat with adequate moisture at their roots. Humidity results in mildewy leaves and shortens the productive life span.

Sun: Full sun is best, less is okay.

Soil: Well drained with good moisture retaining properties and plenty of organic matter and nutrients. Incorporate compost and other organic fertilisers before sowing. Mulch well to keep soil cool and moist.

Water: Regular water is needed for good growth and production. Large leaves soak up lots of sun for fast summer growth but also lose water quickly. In humid climates it’s essential to water the soil not the leaves as mildew will be a problem.

Propagation: In spring sow the large seeds where they will grow or else in small pots. Protect from snails, slugs and rats as they germinate. Given good conditions the plants will quickly establish and grow very fast.

Management: Apart from the obvious needs for water, weeding and mulching, the most important thing is to keep picking the small fruits. Visit your plants daily for two reasons: if there are inadequate bees you need to hand pollinate (see above); regular picking means constant supply. If you allow one to grow into a marrow the flowering will be affected as the plant’s energy goes into producing one big fruit with mature seed for reproduction. That is all it really wants to do, so if that’s going on, the need to keep throwing out new flowers ceases.
Uses: Both flowers and fruit are edible. The flowers are quite delicate and need harvesting in the morning. They only last half a day and then close and wither. Both male and female flowers can be harvested, the males being held on a long stalk while the females are attached to the mini-fruit. The mini-fruit and flower can be picked together. The fruits should be picked after only a couple of days growth as their flavour is superior when young and there are no seeds, just soft white flesh. Their uses are many: slice then grill, fry, barbecue, steam or add to soups, stews, curries, pasta sauce etc. Overgrown fruits are best grated for use in fritters, cakes and breads. Grated is also suitable for salad use.

India sunset

Read Full Post »

As gardening writer for the sumptuous magazine, Tasmanian Life, I am privileged to visit and interview Tasmania’s finest gardeners and wander in their gardens. I am ever in awe of their accomplishments. Here’s a glimpse of last weekend’s journey to the north.

yes, they are elephants...

On Friday Tasmania was hot and filled with cricket. I phoned renowned rosarian Susan Irvine from Deloraine, as per my instructions. “Your timing is good,” she said. “Ponting just got out!” The last I had heard of Ponting’s score was the day before when he was not out for 143.  Some 20 hours later he had only just gone, with over 200 runs! (background for the uninitiated: Ponting = captain of Australian cricket team, is a Tassie lad and it was Oz vs Pakistan in Hobart).

That was the last word on cricket as I entered the genteel world of Forest Hall and its roses. Forest Hall has a blue roof, which is something I have always coveted. It is old and made of deep blocks of stone, a building that belongs in its landscape. Lovingly restored by Susan and Bill who came from Victoria in the mid-1990s,  it is set in a classical parkland of oaks, elms, lindens and other gracious trees more than 100 years old. The backdrop for Susan’s rose obsession, which completes the English fantasy, was uninhabited, becoming derelict and seemed to be waiting for her to find it.  So while Bill went fly fishing, Susan got  planting.

Summer roses at Forest Hall

There are a lot of roses here. About 800 in fact. Many of them are species roses which means they have simple flowers, a spreading habit and gorgeous rose hips. It is Susan’s mission to preserve both species roses and Alister Clarke roses. The latter are named after their breeder, another Australian passionate about the belle fleur. He took it upon himself to breed roses for Australian conditions, using Rosea gigantea, from Burma. European breeders had never used this stock as it was frost tender. Alister died in 1949 and his roses were lost to the public. Rosa gigantea had big babies and although the shrubs thrived in our wide brown land, they were too big for the average suburban block. Susan sought them out, saving them from obscurity. With many acres to play with, Susan has been able to plant an abundance of both species and Alister Clarke varieties. Unlike many modern roses, they don’t need much maintenance so a vast private collection is not a burden.

If all this plus the books she has written hadn’t been enough to convince me of Susan’s devotion to the rose, there could be no doubt when we stood in front of a towering mass of some species or other and she exclaimed, “And this one has the most wonderful thorns!” Sure enough, it did! Here they are for your eyes…

Wingthorn Rose - simple white flowers, wonderful thorns and great hips!

Shiny red rosehips - the only excuse you need to grow species roses

I am out of time, though not out of tales to tell. For more on Susan and her flowers, keep tabs on Tasmanian Life as the full story will eventually be there with many more glorious pix. I have yet to fill you in on the baby elephant hedge pictured above (it’s not Susan’s) and my time with housewife extraordinarie,  self-published author many times over, the one who crochets hats from plastic bread bags and mats from old stockings… she has a cult following, is going on 93 years old and is an inspiration to Barry Humphries and his friend Dame Edna – I am of course, refering to Tasmania’s Marjorie Bligh.

Read Full Post »

This is a very quick one to say welcome to Gardening with Helen. I have an actual deadline for an actual magazine article so I can’t write a proper blog just now. But as I just ‘launched’ the site by  emailing many unsuspecting people in my address book, thought I’d better  post a post. More in the next few days…Will report in next week about my Northern Tasmania tour to visit Susan Irvine and Marjorie Bligh.

PS It’s 36 degrees in Hobart today, and the watering is under control.

I’ll be back soon… (photo by PipStar)

Read Full Post »