The Gardens of Chiconia 40: Bathtime

In the very dry winter/early spring weather we’ve been having in the lead up to summer, it’s not only the garden that has suffered.

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The birds have been going thirsty, and apparently, unwashed!

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 4.55.49 pmWe have got into the habit of providing water for drinking and bathing, and since the dishes went out onto the bird feeder, they are rarely empty of bird life. It can be hard capturing the action out there, but the lorikeets are the boldest, noisiest and by a long way, the splashiest.

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The dwarf mango tree we planted some weeks ago is loving its new position, and has rewarded us by blossoming, at least a year before I would have expected it. I don’t know if the flowers will come to anything, but if they do, I’ll be pleased and impressed. This tree began its life in northern Queensland as a baby, a slender wand about 40cm high. It’s now a good 2m tall, with a sturdy trunk. Given the lack of rain, we are watering it carefully by hand, using the water condensed out by our living room air conditioner.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 4.57.16 pmThe lychee is also signalling that spring has arrived with the most gorgeous display of new foliage in glossy shades of pink and bronze. All the new shoots it has put out have increased the canopy of the little tree by about 30%, and I think it may be time to consider finding it a new home in the ground rather than in the tub it has occupied for a few years. The avocado, which flowered a few weeks ago, has had its new shoots and most of the flowers eaten by the blasted grasshoppers, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing any fruit there, but again, it’s increasing in size and should be transplanted. I have potted on my angel trumpet cuttings and my custard apple seedlings, and they are enjoying life in the sunporch until they’re large enough to go into the garden.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 4.57.54 pm Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 4.58.11 pmThere’s some lovely colour showing itself: orchids, petrea and so on, but mostly things are looking very brown and crispy.

The garden is waiting with bated breath for the start of the Wet. Won’t be long now. And when it starts, you’ll almost be able to see everything growing!


The Gardens of Chiconia 39: Winter colour

By now, most of you know that here in Chiconia, our experience of winter isn’t quite as chilly as it is in temperate climes.

It’s downright warm and sunny, in fact. I walked around the back yard with my camera and discovered all sorts of signs that spring is on the way, whether it’s flowers or a bit of action on the part of the fruit trees.

Come and take a tour with me.  First the flowers…

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Little pink trumpets twining round the frog pool

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Pink silk pompoms

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These buds will become tiny yellow and brown spotted orchids

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It’s been a stunning year for the hibiscus

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Buds on the white phalaenopsis

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White silk pompoms

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First flowers from the petrea, lots more buds coming on

And now for the vegies and fruit trees…

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Blossom for next year’s mandarins

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Tomatoes enjoying mildew-free weather

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Giving the mulberry’s neighbours a haircut has obviously done the trick!

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The passionfruit, twining obediently along the fence. For now…

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That tiny round thing in the middle is a baby mango…

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Mango blossom, and green ants playing havoc with it.

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My dwarf avocado is flowering for the first time.

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Custard apple seedlings in the sun porch, waiting to move to larger quarters.

It’s starting to get lighter in the mornings and evenings, and the time will soon come when I won’t be able to work outside in the middle of the day. I have some post-winter tasks to take care of, like transplanting some things, tidying up edges and fallen palm fronds and leaves, weeding the patio paving and starting some seeds.

My most important jobs in the next couple of days are potting on my Angel Trumpet cuttings, which have ample roots and are outgrowing their accommodation, and cleaning and clearing Frogtopia, which is becoming a frowsy nest of dead leaves and bits from the palm and acacia above it. I have to clear the dead vegetation, take out all the rocks, empty the pond, clean it, flush and clean the pump and then put everything back and refill it, ready for the return of the froglets in spring. The huge elephant ear taro growing above the pond have died back a bit in the cooler, drier weather of winter, and I need to cut them back and clear out the dead stuff there too. It’s quite a big job, but it’ll look so much better when it’s done!

Thank you for visiting, do come again!

The Gardens of Chiconia 17: winter flowers

I’m not talking about the big, flamboyant stuff that flourishes in my tropical garden.

I’m talking about flowers that mean FOOD!Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 3.17.14 PMScreen shot 2014-06-24 at 3.18.03 PMScreen shot 2014-06-24 at 3.17.46 PMScreen shot 2014-06-24 at 3.17.27 PM

Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 3.18.42 PMOh, there are other flowers too, most notably on things that are not normally known for their flowers…. I’m waiting to see what this is going to do next. I’ve never seen one flower before.

Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 3.18.54 PMAnd the sun is doing a great job of cranking out the rays that are feeding watts into our new solar power system.

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Just LOOK at the colour of those new leaves

The avocado tree has replaced almost its entire canopy (rather a grand term for such a little tree), and has almost doubled the size of it at the same time. The lychee is putting on a massive burst of new growth.  I’m quietly hoping either or both of them may show willing with the odd flower or fruit in spring.

Right, outdoor interlude over. Back to the kitchen.

The Gardens of Chiconia 11

Although I’m out there daily, watering, weeding, pruning and bugslaying, I haven’t shared progress with you for ages.

And there’s plenty to report!  Despite a plague of grasshoppers of all sizes from the length of my little fingernail to the length of my middle finger, almost everything is holding its own. This is supposed to be the Wet, and normally we wouldn’t see grasshoppers in such profusion, but they’re making a beeline for anything lush and tempting because it’s been a very dry summer.

Here we go, then.

All the usual suspects, but twice the size!

All the usual suspects, but twice the size!

A general view of the tropical garden. Things have shot up in the past month or so, most notably the banana tree and the Brugmansia. The former is now taller than I am by quite a margin, having been planted at knee height. The latter is now as tall as I am, having been planted at mid shin height. Unfortunately the grasshoppers love the Brugmansia despite its toxicity, so we’re fighting a rearguard action with a soapy water/pyrethrum spray which seems to slow them down and doesn’t hurt the plant. We’re very careful about where and what we spray, and so far the ladybird population is undeterred.

Dwarf Ducasse banana. Not so very dwarf, if you ask me...

Dwarf Ducasse banana. Not so very dwarf, if you ask me…

First, the banana tree. Just, wow…

The Brugmansia is also suddenly all grown up. It’s like getting used to small children, and then suddenly they’re teenagers, all legs, flamboyant clothes and attitude.

Out the back the lychee is flourishing but not showing any signs of reproducing yet. The little lemon tree is groaning under the weight of 5 large lemons, which are just beginning to turn colour. The mango is getting quite huge for a dwarf tree, but it’s grown well all along so it’s not so interesting to show.

Anyway, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. More soon.

Dwarf Meyer lemon, heavily in fruit

Dwarf Meyer lemon, heavily in fruit

The dwarf lychee, looking happy and bushy, but unfortunately, not fruity!

The dwarf lychee, looking happy and bushy, but unfortunately, not fruity!

Look, in the middle: Flowers coming out on the passionfruit

Look, in the middle: Flowers coming out on the passionfruit

Close up of more flower buds, like cute little spiky purses.  Lots of buds means lots of passionfruit.  I'll cope somehow....

Close up of more flower buds, like cute little spiky purses. Lots of buds means lots of passionfruit. I’ll cope somehow….

The basil and gotu kola, the former holding its own in the Bug Wars, and the latter staging a comeback after looking very sorry for itself.

The basil and gotu kola, the former holding its own in the Bug Wars, and the latter staging a comeback after looking very sorry for itself.

Brugmansia (the tall one!), which will one day have sweetly scented flowers if it survives the grasshoppers.

Brugmansia (the tall one!), which will one day have sweetly scented flowers if it survives the grasshoppers.

The Gardens of Chiconia 8

It’s a long time since the green stuff got a look in.

I haven’t had to water for a few days, thanks to the wonderful rain we got recently. Despite the forecast saying we’d have rain for the past week, though, it hasn’t materialised and I was out again with the hose this morning. And really, I was amazed at the growth things put on in this climate after a good soaking. It’s the usual culprits: banana, passionfruit, mango – and now they’re joined by the avocado, lychee, and even the citrus. Time for more before and after shots, I think!

Musa acuminata x balbisiana var. awak (Ducasse, or Pisang Awak banana)

Dwarf Ducasse banana, just planted

That same tree, this morning...

That same tree, this morning…

The banana’s the one that’s impressing me most. It loves its slightly damp corner by the fence, where it’s fairly well protected from the wind blowing its leaves to bits, and the ground is slightly lower so moisture accumulates there. Even so, the growth is almost visible. What is a rolled up pointy leaf bud in the morning is fully unfurled and a huge leaf by the evening.

I’m constantly nipping out the growing tips on the passionfruit vine, which, if left unchecked, would be all over two neighbours’ gardens and strangling the flame tree. It has the added benefit of making the vine produce more side shoots, which is what I want.

The Dead Stick

The Dead Stick

... and the Dead Stick today!

… and the Dead Stick today!

The Tree Formerly Known As A Dead Stick, or Frangipani, is also flourishing. Its leaves are enormous, and more appear every day.  It clearly enjoys life in a large ceramic pot, with its feet out of any water that might pool while the rain is heavy. I look forward to pink flowers one day soon.

The avodado before

The avocado before

The avocado now

The avocado now

I am fighting an ongoing battle with caterpillars and grasshoppers. You can only pick off so many by hand… They are munching holes in almost everything. Where there’s a lot of foliage, or the plant is well grown, I’m not so concerned, but they have destroyed a few plants down to the bare stem. I don’t know what the answer is. We get limited success spraying with soapy water, and I’ve had to resort to pyrethrum where a plant is infested with a dozen or so insects, but if I could point all the little devils at one or two sacrificial plants, I’d be happy! And of course, their favourite food is the tender young leaves on the fruit trees, and my most cherished ornamentals. They have made lace of the lower leaves of the Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet), so obviously they are immune to the poison in the leaves.

The Monstera deliciosa (Swiss Cheese Plant) in the corner is also thriving. It’s at least doubled in size, the leaves are huge and glossy, and I’m still amazed that I can grow something like that outside which has to be carefully nurtured inside in a pot in Europe. Tropical gardening is a continuing adventure and delight.

Come the autumn, I look forward to discovering how vegetables do here, with the construction of my raised beds and shade tunnel. I’m going to miss the things that prefer cooler weather. The area I have to work with is small, sheltered and hot, and floods in the Wet. Which means that even the things other people in this climate can grow don’t thrive in my back yard. So the first year is going to be a process of trial and error, seeing what works and what dies. I may be growing some fairly exotic stuff, working with the climate and environmental conditions, instead of against them! And I certainly don’t expect to feed us completely out of such a small plot: 3/4 square metres – especially if the grasshoppers discover it.

The lychee 3 months ago

The lychee 3 months ago

...and the lychee now.

…and the lychee now.

Everyone is getting a nice dose of worm tea and Seasol tonight, and a good watering. We’re going away for three days, up to Cairns and the Atherton Tableland, and while I’m away, the garden is left to the kind and tender mercies of my neighbour.  She’ll water for me, but she doesn’t know the plants and their preferences, so I want everything to have a good feed and be as strong as possible. I’m a tremendous enthusiast of worm tea. It might smell like, well, what it is, liquid poo, but it is absolutely chock full of nutrients and micro-organisms and the plants, which have no sense of smell, adore it.

And now, it’s time to sit in my swing seat with a cold glass of water, enjoy the sound of trickling water, and plan what plants I want to install next.

The Gardens of Chiconia 7

I realise with some dismay that I’ve been neglecting my garden posts.

Various other projects and cooking have been consuming my blogging time, but I haven’t been neglecting my garden. Each morning when I water, I’m out there talking to the plants, pulling up weeds, wreaking vengeance on grasshoppers and tying up the latest long shoot on the passionfruit vine. Each morning, I marvel at how fast things grow here. I get what I would formerly have considered a season’s growth in just a few weeks. For example:

Ducasse banana now

Ducasse banana now

Musa acuminata x balbisiana var. awak (Ducasse, or Pisang Awak banana)

Ducasse banana when I first planted it

Flame Tree now

Flame Tree now

The flame tree has got yet another bunch of new leaves at the top and is a good 30cm taller than when I bought it.

The flame tree shortly after I bought it

Passionfruit vine now

Passionfruit vine now


The passionfruit vine about a month after I planted it

The avocado tree has finally decided that its living conditions are acceptable, the supply of water and nutrients is sufficient and that it can’t let the mango tree take all its sunshine. There are several new shoots and leaf buds coming out.  Progress at last! I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever see it do anything – it’s been three months and nothing happening. The mango, of course, is being legendary, and the lychee is looking healthy and happy and green and lush after all my worry.

Dwarf mango now

Dwarf mango now

Baby mango

The mango tree when I first got it

I have some digging to do today, assuming my back will hold up. I slipped recently, and to try and save myself, stiffened my back at an odd angle. Well, I didn’t fall, but I did injure myself, a fact which became apparent a few hours later. Now, until the anti-inflammatories kick in after breakfast, I hobble around like someone even more ancient than usual, can’t bend over, can’t get up from my chair without pain and definitely can’t dig. So I just have to wait to become pain free and then I’ll be out there with my fork.

We’re getting the patio ready for the nosh-fest on Christmas day. Once the shed’s finished, I can put into it the litter of tools, seeds, watering cans, brooms, and other garden-related detritus currently forming a thick mulch on most available surfaces. The Husband demands to know how big I think the shed is? Big enough for that, especially after I’ve put a shelf unit in there. Ah me, another thing to assemble. Then we have to move the swing seat, pull the 3 metre table away from the wall and start assembling the chairs. 14 are required at the latest count, but we may go down to a mere 12 if our two outside guests pull out. The husband wants to come, I think, but the wife isn’t too sure about inserting herself into a large, noisy Italian family Christmas.

It’s almost a pity we’re not having a late dinner, because it’s looking extremely pretty out there at night, with the soft glow of solar lights, and the sight of the Christmas tree twinkling through the window, the sound of cicadas and the trickle of the fountain. Still, by dark, the last die-hards will probably have left, and we can enjoy it quietly with a sense of relief and satisfaction. I’m looking forward to getting everyone together, but I suspect I’ll be even happier when they all go home….

Avocado tree, finally producing some new twigs and leaf buds

Avocado tree, finally producing some new twigs and leaf buds

I must see if I can cajole some more plants out of my long suffering spouse. There are some bare patches (where I have to dig today) which are calling out for something lush and lovely that likes wet feet – it’s where the air conditioner drains, and while that’s on, there’s always a little trickle of water. Hostas would be perfect, but it also gets a good bit of sunshine, so they’re out. I’d really like a big papyrus, but haven’t seen any around. I shall have to do a bit of careful selection.

We’ve finished work on the shed for the day. All my gardening bits are now racked inside it, and the place is starting to look much tidier. We’ve built a shelf unit to go inside, and tomorrow – if we feel like it – we’ll put together and instal the door. But only if we feel like it…

Time for some gentler activities, I feel.

The gardens of Chiconia

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Ok, time for some garden notes….                        Top: this is my ‘tropical garden’, before work started. Middle & bottom: some work done, plants in. Imagine the planting space filled with huge lush plants. The area was originally parched in the winter and wet and boggy in the summer.  In the Rains, the water pools in that […]