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Another day at SKINC

Last week at SKINC, we were cleaning up tube stock of Austrostipa stipoides. Another botanical name to add to my spell checker’s “add to dictionary” option!
A. stipoides or by its common name Prickly Spear Grass is a coastal species found growing in primary dune scrub, coastal cliffs and salt marsh. According to my handy, dandy Flora of Melbourne the species is local to the Sandringham, Frankston and Mooruduc areas as well as Williamstown and the Kororoit Creek mouth Altona.
We cleaned up a few hundred of these, which had become weed infested in the nursery. This species is particularly popular with local council plantings in the area. Some of the common weeds you find infesting container stock in the nursery include, clovers, liverworts and flick weed. My job that day was to go through the hundreds of A. stipoides and remove the weeds by hand…

Image So the plant I actually want to keep in this pot is the little grassy looking one in the middle.

We had to remove the top layer of potting soil, to ensure we got all of the weeds out and then add fresh soil to top up the pot.


Here’s an after shot and below just a couple of shots of some of the weedy pots and some liverwort.


and the liverwort monster removed from one of the pots…Actually I really like liverworts, they’re very interesting little organisms, there may be  future post about them!




Volunteering at an Indigenous Nursery

I’ve been volunteering at the St Kilda Indigenous Nursery Cooperative (SKINC) in Melbourne. It’s a good way to keep ones knowledge and skills up to date.

SKINC propagate  a  range of coastal, heathland, woodland and grassland species. They collect seed locally to preserve the genetic integrity of the local species. Seed collected of local provenance, means that the seeds and any locally collected propagation material retains the local genetic characteristics, that have evolved to the environment of the specific area. These unique characteristics may contribute to the long term survival of the species in the area, under the local environmental conditions.
Collecting and cleaning native seeds:
Seed develops inside of fruit, which has developed from a pollinated flower. Seed is collected when the fruit is mature. Many Australian natives have woody or dry fruits. An important aspect of seed collecting is to ensure that seed is collected from fruit that is mature as immature fruit will contain immature seeds…well obviously

Now In order to extract the seeds for woody, non-succulent fruit it needs to be stored for drying in a warm, well ventilated place. Period of time stored for drying will depend on the species.
For small quantities the fruit can be stored in paper bags. After the fruit is dried out, the seeds can be extracted from the fruit or husk. This cleaning is done by various methods including: sieving, shaking or by hand.

In this picture I am cleaning up some seed collected from Lasiopetalum baueri by . by hand. This involves  taking the dry fruit and rubbing it between my fingers so that the husk falls off. The fruits of L. baueri are capsule shaped and split into 3-4 segments. Each segment will contain a seed.


In the picture at the top is the small pile of seed I garnered from the large piles of husk in the photo beneath
Once the seed was cleaned we put it into a glass container for storage, until its time to sow them.

Lasiopetalum baueri is very interesting to look at with long narrow drooping leaves, that are red underneath. The pinkish/grey petal like organs on the flowers are actually the calyx: which is usually the leaf like structure that protects the flower bud. In the case of L.baueri the calyx is enlarged and persistent instead of falling off as often would be the case with other plants. They flower in spring. The species is found growing on primary dune scrub in the Sandringham area in Melbourne.
This was my first day at SKINC in about ten years, it was a very interesting and rewarding day. More posts to follow on SKINC


Friendly insects…well that depends

I am always reminding my students that the organism, plants, insects, birds whatever in their garden do not exist solely for their pleasure or irritation.

I often begin a session on plant pests and diseases with the comment that “you are not at war with the insect and plant kingdoms!”

It’s amazing how many people actually think that way. That the plants that have flowers we enjoy and produce food that we eat  live to serve the human race! People actually believe there is such a thing in nature as “good plants/insects/animals” and “bad plants/insects/animals”
I have actually encountered this type of thinking throughout my horticultural career. Maybe it’s just me but I have a lot of difficulty thinking of an aphid for example as inherently  evil just because it’s food source happens to come from plants that I either enjoy for their various aesthetic attributes or its a plant that also happens to be my food source.
Is it just human nature to attribute human intelligence to things out side of themselves, that effect them in one way or another?
The whole theory behind, “friendly insects” and “unfriendly or bad insects” seems to be embedded with that mentality of “if you’re with us, you’re against us” The insects that feed on other insects, are not doing so to help us out.

Guess what? Plants that produce beautiful flowers and parts that are tasty to humans, do not do so, just for the benefit of the human race. Nine times out of ten, the parts we think are beautiful or tasty, are actually part of the plant’s reproductive system. Simple enough to understand that right? You’d think so, but people do live in their own narcissistic little worlds… *looks sheepish for a moment… as she sits furiously blogging her opinion to the world?*
Apparently some god supposedly gave “Man” dominion over the earth and all of its creatures… I am not even going to go into the numerous, misogynistic and prodigious fallacies of that little piece of biblical rubbish, even though there are still people who seem to have it embedded in their psyche. <insert rant here>
Ahem…well I just mean that I don’t personally feel the need to wage war against and dominate nature and am of the opinion that we as humans are merely just another species; part of a greater cycle. A cycle that involves many billions of other species, that help maintain the balance of the planet’s ecology. Well seven billion humans consuming the earth’s resources can’t be good for that balance. Maybe we are the ‘pests’?
In any case for me it is not logical to go out into the garden and obliterate thousands of organisms just because one particular group of them happens to be feeding (we will refrain from the word “attacking”) on the same organisms that are the source of my food and pleasure.

I have seen gardens that have been bombarded with every herbicide and pesticide, guaranteed to wipe out ecosystems in a matter of moments. These are abominations of perfection! Not a single blemish on that rose bud or apple, perfectly plump, luscious fruits  and vegetables abound. Not a single dandy lion dare’s turn it’s sunny face to the blue sky in this garden no sir!
There is not a single vertebrate creature here to upset this paradise of human created bounty! Nope, no aphids here…No caterpillars, snails or earwigs. No bees either, no spiders, no lacewings, no worms in the soil…You have conquered nature?
. You have killed everything, eliminated all of the competition to your existence all of the competition to those things which you have decreed should be allowed to live, your plants.

Actually you have destroyed the balance of the ecosystem in your little kingdom, called ‘garden’.

The minute you stop spraying those chemicals around, the entire artificial system will collapse, because often the creatures which are so successful at decimating your crops are also the first to recover. There are so many of them for a reason.

There is also a phenomenon known as ‘resistant population’. Simply put, some insect species  have become resistant to the chemicals we spray to destroy them. A number within a population will be resistant to the chemical. You will kill off all of the weakest specimens, leaving a small number of the resistant population to breed up and recover to continue feeding on your plants. Artificial as apposed to natural selection. Darwin had something didn’t he?
The consequence is that you must then find another method to which they are not resistant.
Now this post is getting rather long so I will cut it short here and leave you with a picture taken in my garden this morning.


I’m not sure if this a winged adult aphid or a parasitic wasp feeding on the aphids, it’s easy for an untrained eye like mine to confuse the two. I’ll need to have a closer look some day soon when I have time. Watch this space

Busy spring

I have a busy October this year. I have something on every Saturday of the month. I haven’t been on a plant thieving walk for at least three months. Working, volunteering, visiting and decision making has consumed much of my time.
Well this was the only free-ish Saturday I will have this month, so I took some to take some new pictures of my garden. With spring really underway ow, my stolen/free plants have really taken off.
Now my garden is a bit weedy at the moment so here are some close ups of what’s in flower.








This Cineraria is winter straggler, still flowering into spring, but despite looking the worse for wear that loveley blue is still as vibrant as it ever it is.  The plants were left over from a planting we did with the community garden.
This Osteospermum was ‘acquired’ on one of my walks. It was a stray growing closing to the foot path which quickly disappeared into my plant bag.
and here’s white one I got a little further up the street


I have grown everything in garden myself from bits of plants and cuttings from my walks and bike rides or from projects at Uni. The roses were here when we moved in.

Mawarra and Edna Walling

During my garden design,  graduate certificate I had to write a five  thousand word essay about a favourite garden designer. I chose Edna Walling, because, reading about her, her strong  personality and design philosophy, her whole outlook on life, really, struck an identical chord in me.
In the research for this project I was very lucky to be invivted to one of her most well known gardens, which at the time was in private hands. Mawarra has all of the elements of my ultimate garden fantasy in one perfect harmonious design. Beautiful stonework, hidden green hidey holes, lots of autumn color and lots of different shades of green, hidden features, like little cherups peaking from amongst the foliage, a reflection pool, whose mysterious depths are hidden beneath a blanket of Azola (duck weed).


 Edna Walling regarded the garden at Mawarra in Sherbrook as one of her finest works. Describing it herself as, ‘a symphony in steps and beautiful trees.’ In the Italianate tradition the garden follows a great axis with side axis, leading off along the contours of the terrain, leading to all the wonderful hidden features of statuary and stonework.


 The stone work at Mawarra is the work of Edna’s master stonemason and long time associate Eric Hammond. Little bit s of Edna’s personality can be seen throughout Mawarra there are leaf strewn path ways for the children and the child within, with carpets of colorful autumn leaves to kick through, reminiscence of gumboots, autumn leaves and winter puddles. Edna’s love of  children and dogs was well known. You can feel her presence there as you wander down the hidden pathways.


This stairway is known as Twenty Shillings Walk. It is the point in the Mawarra garden where Edna’s involvement ceased. There was a dispute over twenty shillings, a transport fee for the stone used in this stairway. The owners were refusing to bear the cost and so was Edna! Being a woman of such strong opinions if she believed she was in the right she was not at all afraid to voice that opinion or to act upon it.
As a result of this dispute over twenty shillings the Mawarra garden was completed after this point without Edna’s input. Eric Hammond stayed behind as he did on so many occasions to complete the stonework for Mawarra.  Standing at the foot of these stairs one can almost imagine Edna waving her arms at the hapless client and storming off never to return. Leaving poor mister Hammond standing awkwardly t one side.  

So Mawarra was completed without Edna and it was always one of her bitter regrets. Later on in her life Edna was able to revisit the garden, when the property changed hands and Edna made peace with Mawarra, one her greatest achievements.

Mawarra is a wonderful garden, since my visit there it has been restored to its proper glory and the owners opened it to the public as part of the Open Garden Scheme earlier this year. Sadly I didnt get to visit again, perhaps next time.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Colour

I went to the Begonia Festival in Ballarat recenlty with my sister.I had managed to save up $30 to buy plants. I was very proud of managing to accumulate that much money for the outing, it had been a tough fortnight with car rego, uni fees mine and my partners, so that $30 wa a great achievement.

We paid 7 bucks to get into the conservatory at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens to see the Begonia display, I was going to give it a miss because I wanted to spend all my cash on plants, but sister offered to pay for my entry fee. As a result of this I was sorely tempted to blow my entire 30 bucks on one big gaudy Begonia plant, the only thing that stopped me was the huge selection of colors. You see I knew if I settled on one color I would be lamenting the fact that I didn’t get that color or this color…
The tuberous begonias are just so in your face, vibrant, I want them all! I mean…

Delicious neon orrange! I could just lick it!



Sexy lucious red…sigh


                                                                         Or happy, fun, cheerfull yellow???

And sooooooooooo many variations of these colors


….Arghhhh I cant choose!

First Day at School…

Today I facilitated my first class, as a horticulture trainer. I got up early so I could get to work an hour and a half before the class started. I wanted to  be ready for my students, to have all thier handouts ready to go. I wanted to make sure the data projector was going to work and get my slide show ready and I wanted to the soil, seeds and plant materials for the practical components all laid out so that we could get through everything for the day.

Well the best laid plans…first the computers at work for some reason are especially slow on the weekend, particularly when you need to get something important done! The data projector just didnt work at all and students turned up a half hour early!

Well luckily because I am a chronic contingency planner, I had already decided the week before that the data projector was not going to work on the day so I had diagrams and pictures printed to hand out and luckily there was a TV and DVD player ready to go in the room that I booked, so I could still show the segment of Sir David’s Life of Plants (More about Sir David  in a future post), that I wanted my students to see. I had live plant specimens to show the students and because I love plants so much I was able to speak for the majority of the day off the top of my head. The practical sessions all went off without a hitch and the students enjoyed themselve imensley.

It all went so wonderfully well despite the technological hiccups. So I hope that the future sessions I’m running in this course will be just as successful.
The course I am teaching is an Introduction to Horticulture, it is non-acredited, although I am qualified to deliver acredited training, this is the first time in a while that the place where I work has had a horticulture course on its books.
The idea is to see how much interest we get if we run the Intro to Horticulture each term, until next year then see if people in the community are interested in studying horticulture further. We’ve had some good interest this term and there have been quite a few young people wanting to study acredited horticulture courses out of school.
The organisation I work for is a not for profit that delivers community services and education to diasdvantaged and vulnerable members of the community.

Part of my job here has also been as a community garden project worker. I have overseen this project from its beginning back in September of last year. I have fluxuated day to day between mostly loving and mostly hating my job! But it has been I think the very best experience in my career to date. I will post more in the next few days about my community garden work.


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