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Friday, 30 October 2015

What a garden requires

A garden requires patient labour and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfil good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
~ Liberty Hyde Bailey

Setting out food for feathered friends near your garden encourages them to stick around and do some insect control.

There's something pleasing about a bunch of carrots with tops on. Maybe it's the thought of pulling them out of the ground!


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The first 3mm of rain

It's amazing what even the tiniest amount of rain does! The very next day after we had only about 3mm of rain, many of my succulents burst into bloom, as if saying "thank you!" The ground under the trees wasn't even wet, but I think these thankful little plants will bloom even just at the smell of rain!

For the first time ever since I acquired my one Aloe aristata (Guineafowl aloe or Lace aloe), which has just been clumping and producing more babies, has flowered. One single stem with lovely coral bells on the end.

Aloe aristata flower

My Bunny Ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys) has been dormant for ages and is also now rewarding me with lovely new green pads.

I've been waiting and waiting for this, and at last it looks like my Mammillaria cactus is going to produce some flowers! The flowers form circles around the crown and I'm hoping mine will too.

The Epiphyllum crenatum (Litroos in Afrikaans) has produced lovely flowers this season, even though it's still very small, Given to me by a dear friend, it first died off and I thought I'd lost it, but within a couple of weeks it sprouted and now, 18 months later, I have flowers! Amazing!

 Peanut cactus in flower

All the Peanut cacti started flowering at the same time. I have four small pots of this lovely little cactus, which looks great in a hanging basket as they tend to grow long tendrils that hang over the pot.

Rattail cactus in flower

Both my Rattail cacti (Aporocactus flagelliformis) have been flowering since the beginning of spring but now, after the first drops of rain, they finished off over-night. Lots of seeds to be gotten here - they are at the base of the flower where it joins the long 'rattail' - and when laid on top of some soil, they soon take root and form tendrils.

So here's to the next bout of rain, VERY late this year, and the lawn and garden desperately needs it.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Even when it's winter...

Even when it's winter and I'm not out in the garden much, I still think of my garden! Here are a few things I planned last winter : to sketch and plan new little corners for the garden, to move pot plants around, to rearrange all the succulents on the plant stands, to trim low-hanging branches of the trees to allow in more sunlight, start a compost heap again and maybe start a new rock garden. I just have to find a large, sunny spot.

Thunder rumbled its way into the distance, and then the rain came, dropping words to the ground all around me.

Step outside after the first storm after a dry spell and it invariably hits you: the sweet, fresh, powerfully evocative smell of fresh rain! If you’ve ever noticed this mysterious scent and wondered what’s responsible for it, you’re not alone. It's called “petrichor.” It’s the name of an oil that’s released from Earth into the air before rain begins to fall. This heady smell of oncoming wet weather is something most people are familiar with – in fact, some scientists now suggest that humans inherited an affection for the smell from ancestors who relied on rainy weather for their survival.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

What now?

It's the beginning of summer and everything in the garden is running smoothly - we've had a couple of weeks of a heatwave, but Chrissie and I managed to stay on top of most of the chores - the lawn has had it's first mowing, edges are neat, leaves have been dug in to serve as compost, excess growth has been trimmed, trees have been neatened up and the pond is clean.

Mulched and composted, the Hydrangeas are just starting to recover from the winter

So what is there to do now while the rake and spade are enjoying a well-deserved rest?

Redheaded Finch (Amadina erythrocephala) - watercolour in Moleskine - Maree

It's obvious - watch the birds! They're enjoying everything the garden has to offer - seeds and fruit, bird baths and shelter for nesting. My binoculars, camera and sketch-books have been working overtime - the Redheaded Finches (pictured above) flocked to the Butterfly bush at the pond and for weeks on end there has been constant chattering and fighting over the best vantage and nesting points. Some Bronze Mannikins (Spermestes cucullata) joined them, but the two groups occupied two different bushes, putting up a big show of territorial behaviour should anybody stray from one to the other.

"Red Bishop" - sketch in an old soft-cover book - Maree

The Red Bishops are a beautiful sight, their red flashing from tree to tree and their presence at the bird table is always a joy - they're very tolerant of everybody else, yet don't hesitate to defend their territory if necessary.

I was cleaning up earlier on and came upon some old books, so I carried them to the patio with a cup of tea and was busy going through them to decided which ones to throw out, when the Bishop in all his glory caught my eye. The male's buzzing song alerting the female to the nest he's building for her is always the first to alert me of their return. I was so excited to see them that I grabbed one of the books, opened it and started sketching him sitting on the fence post. I then rushed to get some paints and got his colours while he was flitting around, showing off to the female. So now none of the books are being thrown out - I've found a new use for them!

The Fiscal Shrike is rearing four babies this season and here one of them contentedly takes a nap after feeding.

One of the Fiscal Shrike parents keeping a watchful eye as I move around the garden

 My Cape Robin-chat (Robbie) watching me as I'm watching him!

Once your garden is up-to-date and you are scrounging around for chores to do, take a moment and enjoy the fruits of your labour! Take a seat on a garden bench and let your eyes roam over all your hard work, noticing the beautiful flowers, the insects pollinating and ensuring future generations of blooms and the birds enjoying your gifts to them. That is what makes it all worth-while!


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Spring is a miraculous experience

My Clivias were already flowering in late-winter and putting up a spectacular show

The whole world comes alive after the winter in which it seemed that everything was dead. The world comes filled with colour and the scent of delicious greenery. The world that seemed so dull and cold has come alive once again. Little did we know that beneath the cold hard ground the plants and trees were preparing for rebirth. Spring gives us hope for rejuvenation in our own lives as well. Spring is a time to renew the excitement and zest for life that lives inside.

The Geraniums responded to the warmer weather by all flowering at the same time

It Must Be Spring
Hush, Can you hear it?

The rustling in the grass,

Bringing you the welcome news

Winter's day is past.

Soft, Can you feel it?

The warm caressing breeze,

Telling you the sticky buds

Are bursting on the trees.

Look, Can you see them?
he primrose in the lane,

Now you must believe it
Spring is here again!

Normally, by early September, we've had our early spring rains, but now, by early October, nothing yet, so Chrissie has to resort to watering the garden from the pond, which delivers strong water through the .75Kw pump. The normal garden hose relies on water tank pressure and is very weak.

My Aloes (A. ferox) flowered throughout winter until late spring, supplying much-needed sustenance to the nectar-feeding birds. Here Chrissie is neatening up the crusher stone edging which the chickens have spread far and wide!

5am on a spring morning is the best time to water the garden before the temperatures begin to rise. This gives the plants a good supply of water to face the heat of the day. Early morning also tends to be a time of lower winds and thus reduced evaporation. If watering cannot be done in the early morning, very late afternoon is also satisfactory. It is important to water early enough so that the leaves have time to dry before nightfall to avoid development of fungal diseases. If possible, choose watering methods that will not wet the leaves (such as soaker hoses) and thus allow for late evening watering.

In spring and summer I also let the girls out much earlier than usual and here they're enjoying some early-morning insect hunting.

My Arum lilies and the Phormiums did well over the winter. Phormiums are not tender greenhouse plants and they are especially good plants for cold and windswept gardens. They can easily tolerate minus 5°C and even minus 10°C, which has never really happened here. Phormiums require full sun in a moist but well drained soil. They will however grow well in poorer soils providing they are given regular granular feeds of a nitrogen based fertiliser. Phormiums are greedy plants which grow quickly if they are well fed. It is because Phormiums provide such a quick and colourful foliage display that so many councils use them on city roundabouts and roadside plantings.

Phormiums are pretty much pest free and most animals seem to ignore them. They are easy plants to grow and make lovely fillers in the garden. The range of coloured leaves between different varieties is enormous. Anyone who has experienced a failure after last winter should try again but remember to mulch heavily before the onset of a hard frost.


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Air plant - Tillandsia

This is an epiphyte or air plant. It is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph wire), derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it. Roots may develop primarily for attachment, and specialized structures (for example, cups and scales) may be used to collect or hold moisture.

When this was given to me by a friend, it was a mere three inches long and after about 3 years, is now a whopping twelve inches! But much to my own chagrin, it should have been much bigger by now had I not neglected it, also labouring under the misconception that it didn't need any extra water apart from rain. And I'm sure the severe frost we get here also hasn't helped.

This one hasn't developed any roots and is just wedged between a dead branch and the tree trunk. Epiphytic organisms usually derive only physical support and not nutrition from their host.

This one might well be Tillandsia albida, in the family Bromeliaceae (Bromiliad), but I'm not sure. There are over 550 species of Tillandsia (plus many hybrids), that grow in the Mexico, South and Central Americas.

Bromeliad Tillandsia have a life cycle of one plant growing to maturity and blooming. Before, during or after blooming (depending on the species) your plant will start producing young (PUPS), most plants will produce between 2 - 8 pups which in turn will mature, generally within a year and in turn bloom and produce pups.

General Info
  • Tillandsias DO have to be watered, they live 'in' air, not 'on' air. 
  • Tillandsias are NOT toxic to animals, although this does not mean your pet won't eat them, but they will survive the experience, your plant might not. 
  • Tillandsias are NOT parasitic, they do not harm the host tree. 
  • Trim away brown, bent or damaged leaves, this will not hurt the plant. 

Watering is one of the most important aspects of succeeding with Tillandsias, and one of the most misunderstood. Because their common name is Air Plants people tend to think of these plants as needing little or no water (as living on air). This is the biggest mistake you can make. Tillandsias NEED water, although they can survive for long periods of drought, they are NOT GROWING and certainly not thriving in these conditions, they are going dormant and just trying to survive, and will eventually die if water is scarce for too long, though its amazing how long they'll "hang in there" with very little water.

Thoroughly wet your Tillandsia 2-3 times per week; more often in a hot, dry environment; less often in a cool, humid one. They need to be watered (underneath as well as on top) to the point of runoff as though they've just gone through a rain storm, AT LEAST twice a week. The easiest way to achieve this is to actually immerse the whole plant in the sink or a bucket if possible, if not, use a hose or the kitchen faucet to totally wet your plant. Your plant will also appreciate a good soaking for several hours every one to two weeks.

They do not need much in the way of fertilizer - in fact it is better not to give them any fertilizer. Some growers like to give a little liquid fertilizer (diluted 25%) a couple of times a year to assist in flowering and to speed up the production of 'pups' - the baby plants. Do not over fertilize. Also, do not use distilled water when watering as this can cause the nutrients in the leaves to leach out of the plant.

NEVER 'plant' your Tillandsia. Putting a Tillandsia in soil is almost certain death to your plant. If you want it in a pot to look like a normal plant and you need to add some weight to stop it falling over, use gravel, pebbles or any other medium that drains rapidly. If your plant is placed in anything that holds water or moisture and doesn't dry out between waterings it will ROT!!! This is not a good thing!!!

Tillandsia aldiba (Photo Dave's Garden)

Mounting your Tillandsia
Tillandsias can be grown basically anywhere, on rocks, in a seashell or on coral, in ceramic or pottery, attached to wood (not pressure treated wood this is impregnated with copper, and copper will kill your plant), in a fork of a tree. Pin them on your curtains, make a wreath, attach to velcro and stick them on your mirror, attach them to a piece of wood and hang the wood in your tree (that way you can bring your plant in when its going to freeze). Glue onto a pebble or decorative stone, attach to magnets, hang on your front door, attach them to a piece of lattice so they can be hung indoors or outdoors, put them in terrariums (great decorations for use with lizards, snakes etc.). About the only limit is your imagination (with a few exceptions).

Reasons Bromeliads Tillandsias Die 

# They were not initially cared for properly (their owner was told they need little or no

# Thick- and thin-leaf varieties were combined in the same container (different
watering schedules).

# They did not get enough light (they were more than 10 feet from a bright window
or skylight).

# They were placed in DIRECT SUN. Garden windows are generally too warm unless they are shaded or facing south (in the Southern hemisphere).


# Don't worry about roots. You can cut them off to make it easier to place them in
containers (they will grow back). This also makes it easier to water them.

# Don't leave water sitting in the crevices of big, fleshy Bromeliads - Tillandsias.
Shake them off!

# Don't put them in containers that hold moisture around the base (or, let them dry
well before returning them to their containers).

# Don't throw Bromeliad Tillandsias away if there is any green left to the plants.
Soak them for 24 hours.

# Don't soak the flower while in bloom (prolonged periods of soaking will rot them).

# Don't water plants in clumps as much, as clumped Bromeliad - Tillandsias hold
more moisture.
# Don't combine thick- and thin-leaf varieties in the same container, since their
watering schedules will be different.

# Don't let them freeze!

- Constant air circulation -- as the name indicates -- is paramount to keeping your plant happy.

- Air plants need water; from late spring to mid-autumn, mist daily. In winter, mist only once or twice a week and once a month give them a good soaking.

- Fertilize monthly in spring and summer using a low-nitrogen liquid fertilizer mixed at only one-quarter strength. In general, fertilize weakly.

- Although they love warm weather, most air plants need protection from full sun. If it's a type that grows naturally wild on trees, keep it in moist, partial shade. If it is a ground type, such as T. cyanea or T. lindenii, grow it indoors in bright, filtered light and outdoors in partial or dappled shade.

- Don't let an air plant sit somewhere that's colder than 45 degrees; it will die at those temperatures. If you live in Zone 9 or warmer, you can grow an air plant outdoors all year if you keep it dry during the winter.

For more great info on care and on how to revive a neglected plant, read more HERE

Read more on grooming your Tillandsia 

PIC credit 

Airplant Tillandsia with 3 open flowers and daughter plant


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