This year, it’s the turn of our mandarin tree to go bonkers.

Ponkan Mandarin fruit (Citrus reticulata)

It’s not a surprise, really, it’s a variety that’s well known for fruiting in alternate years. Last year, it was the mangoes that cropped spectacularly, but so far they’re showing no sign of flowering. The mandarin tree is smallish and tucked away in the corner, and I hadn’t even noticed flowers on it. A few months ago, I saw a load of dark green marble-sized fruit on it, and briefly thought “woo hoo!” and then promptly forgot about them again, till just a few weeks ago, when the now much larger fruit started to change colour. Usually, we wait till they start to fall of their own accord or the lorikeets start decimating them before we pick the fruit, but so far, there have been only two windfalls and no bird or fruitbat activity, so we decided to get out there and do battle with the green ants for them.

With green ants in the tree (and boy, are they IN the tree!), there’s a technique for picking the fruit without getting bitten a lot. You take a bucket half filled with water, a pair of long handled loppers and a grabby thing (you know what I mean, the doohickey you use for getting things down off high shelves). You grab the fruit with the grabber, cut it off with the loppers and dump it straight in the bucket of water, which drowns any ants silly enough to have come along for the ride. It sounds elaborate, but is a much more pleasurable experience than having the vicious little buggers run off the fruit, up your sleeve and then bite you hard on parts you can’t get at easily. Repeat till the bucket is full of fruit and water. Once in the kitchen, you remove any leaves and stalks, and then toss the water with the ants outside so the insect-eating birds can have a feed.

The fruits are huge for mandarins (my hands are not particularly small), the skins are very loose and easy to peel, and while there are usually half a dozen pips in each one, the flavour and juiciness is so fresh, intense and wonderful that you really don’t care! I’ve been busily looking up recipes for mandarin gelato, I’ll be making my mandarin syrup cake (minus the apricots) the Husband’ll be taking a couple of these to work in his lunchbox each day for a while, and I may freeze some juice and purée for winter consumption.

And that’s only the first crop. We have at least six more to go 🙂


The Gardens of Chiconia 43: volunteers

I haven’t been doing any work in the back yard this winter.

The reason isn’t difficult to guess; you can’t garden well (or at all) if your back won’t bend and you’re in constant pain. Since surgery, I’ve gradually improved enough to look at the chaos out there and wish I could do something about it, but had say “no, not quite strong enough for that yet…”. Today, however, was different.

To make things easier, Mr & Mrs Bush Stone-Curlew have moved up the back yard and over into the neighbour’s with Junior. We can still catch sight of them through the wire fence, but it’s given us carte blanche to get the mower out at last (some of the grass was knee high!). I ventured out too, picked up a rake and pair of secateurs and got cracking, while the Husband tootled up and down on his ride-on mower. We have a ‘hedge’ of golden cane palms (Dypsis lutescens), very thick and well established. In normal times, it’s possible to walk under their canopy. Since I’ve been out of action, they’ve taken all kinds of liberties, and were sprouting densely from the base. Hack! Slash!

Perennial capsicumsUnder heaps of this riotous vegetation, I discovered that my Perennial Capsicum (Capsicum annuum) has blithely continue to grow and flourish, despite outrageous neglect. It was covered in brilliantly red little capsicums. I picked the best, and left the rest to do their thing. I have no doubt I’ll be seeing not only heaps more fruit from this bush, but some new bushes, if the amount of fallen fruit around it is anything to go by!

I’ve also taken the seed heads off my 2.5 metre (8ft) lemongrass so it doesn’t seed any more of its giant self. I did give the heads a small shake over an empty garden bed, just in case it felt like volunteering, but the rest have gone on the ‘rotting down’ mulch bed surrounding the palms in the centre of the back lawn. If they choose to seed themselves there, that’ll be fine. I can’t stop the original plant growing in girth, but I can at least keep its spread to sites of my choosing.

The two mature mango trees are covered in blossom. The mandarins are in flower, as are my lime tree and the dwarf avocado. The lychee, which looked as if it was on its last legs three weeks ago, is back in full leaf. The banana tree I’ve grown from a sucker taken from the old Gardens of Chiconia is now over a metre (40 inches) high, with a thick truck and large leaves. It’ll need planting soon :-).

Looks like Nature can get along just fine without my help…

The Gardens of Chiconia 26: The Wet is dry

It’s been a while since you saw anything much from the Gardens of Chiconia.

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Long beans – those long stalky things at the front ARE the beans. They’re going to be huge when they’re ready…

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Baby limes. I know they won’t all survive, but I’m hoping that a handful make it through this dry weather

So here we go.  We’re having a very, very dry start to the Wet.  No big thunderstorms, no days of overcast and rain, no monsoonal downpour, no water gurgling in the gutters, no grass growing so fast you can practically see it. What we laughingly call a lawn is dry and brown and crispy.  My vegies are doing their valiant best due to nightly watering, but the rest of the garden is having to fend for itself, and some of it is looking a bit stressed.

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The sweet potato heading for the trees. There’s so much of it now I couldn’t get it all in one shot. If it gets any worse, I’m going to pinch out the tips and eat them in a salad.

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Front to back: Desert Rose, Avocado, Lychee, Lemon, Lime, Mango and Flame Tree. Frangipani in the blue pot you can just see at the front.

Having said that, I’m thrilled to be growing any vegies at all. With the lack of rain is a corresponding lack of humidity, so things aren’t falling prey to mould, mildew and the other delights you face in the tropics. We’re picking tomatoes daily, the long beans (a local speciality) have just started to set and the snake beans are reaching for the sky but no sign of flowers yet.  My capsicums keep flowering, but the heat is such that they won’t set fruit and just blacken and wither.  The zucchini is producing a respectable number of male flowers but I’m waiting for the tiny female ones at the base to get cracking.  Finally, the sweet potato vine is making a bid for world domination, and is investigating the local palm trees as potential climbing material.

All the dwarf fruit trees in tubs are hanging on, too.  There’s no sign of fruiting yet from the mango, avocado or lychee, but they’re all thriving and in full leaf. The Meyer lemon has 5 fruit on it, and the Tahitian lime is covered in small fruit which I’m hoping it will mostly retain.  Down the garden, the mandarin I rescued from the Burnie Vine is water stressed and has dropped all its tiny fruit bar one.  It’s a long way from the tap, and the hose won’t stretch that far, so I keep a watering can under the airconditioning water outlet, which fills it for me daily, and the tree gets about 10 litres a day from that. The big mango trees down the bottom of the garden are looking dreadful, mostly denuded of leaves and full of green ant nests. One of the two has a solitary mango right at the top, and I’m not braving the green ants to go after it!

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Frogtopia: you can’t really see the tiny trickle of water coming from the pile of rocks, but it’s all water under there. The pot is partially submerged and on its side to give frogs a cool hiding place in hot weather.

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What are they all looking at?

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He’s looking at it too…

Frogtopia also receives a nightly soaking, and is looking lush and lavishly healthy. It must be OK, because there are loads of froglets in it – I counted at least 9 this morning.  On really hot afternoons, I’m tempted to climb in there myself to cool down, but I don’t think I’d be a welcome visitor…

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The future vegie patch of Chiconia. The taps are just behind the trees in tubs on the left. You can see how green the grass is there; it’s where we put everything around a sprinkler to be irrigated each evening while I was away in hospital. The brown crispy stuff at the front is how the rest of our grass looks…

We’ve finally designated a section of the yard at the side to be the vegetable area. This prolonged dry weather has made it clear that we won’t be able to get away without an irrigation system long term, and the most sensible place is at the side, near the taps and partially shaded by the row of palms down the side.  The area is generally green a little longer than the rest of the garden, and is handy for the kitchen.  So now we just need to chop down all the remaining grass and weeds that are growing there and put down sheets of cardboard and newspaper to kill off the grass.  After that, we can build 3 or 4 long raised beds, put down sugar cane mulch or bark chips over the rest of it, fill the beds with soil and compost, mulch them, and wait for autumn, when it will cool enough and dry enough after the Wet to start planting.

Plenty to do around here. Shame it’s too hot to work outside much….

Getting well in Eden

…Perhaps Eden is a slight exaggeration. I’m pretty sure there was no chicken poo in Eden.

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“If it moves again, I’m going to eat it!”

Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.02.38 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.03.09 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.04.00 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.04.25 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.04.50 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.05.17 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.05.47 PMIt’s time to bid farewell once again to Dorrigo. I’m glad to be well enough to move on but I’ll be sorry to leave. My sister’s back yard is a very healing place. It’s filled with fruit and flowering trees, birds great and small, and an endless array of rampantly, gloriously happy vegetables and flowers. I get inspiration for my own very different garden every time I visit, and rarely leave without some garden ‘loot’.

The creatures are inspiring too. The Girls stroll around in a stately fashion, patrolling for insect pests, seeds, worms and tiny invisible delicacies. The only time one sees them agitated is at supper time, when they hoik up their fluffy black skirts and flat out run into their chookyard to demolish the grain, vegies, weeds and occasional doses of comfrey they’ve been served. In return, they give us warm, light brown fresh eggs, with dense whites and brilliantly orange yolks. The taste is something so completely different from what you buy in the shops that you’re spoiled for the bought thing forever after.

They’re like elegant and dignified bourgeois French widows, clad in shimmering black satin, with black fishnet hose and distinctly Parisian black froufrou undies. Perched on their heads are brilliantly coral red combs, like chic little hats. I love the Girls…. I’ve been promised my own very, very soon.

It’s spring here in northern NSW. Along the road from the coast up the mountain, there are jacarandas, crepe myrtles, tibouchinas and flame trees in bloom. Despite very little rain, things are still green and lush. and the vegetables and fruit are vibrantly colourful.

I’m woken in the morning by the cheerful giggling of currawongs, the loud gabbling of rosellas and galahs invading the chook run to steal grain and bits of fruit, and territorial announcements from the magpies. Everywhere my eye turns there’s some magic going on.

I’m sure I’m getting better much faster because my eye is at rest on all this beauty, and my mind is at peace. 

The Gardens of Chiconia 21: hoping for fruit…

After days and days of faffing about, the people selling the house to us have come to the point. We have finally, FINALLY, got the date sorted out for the house move. 25th September it is, one week from today.

Packing has recommenced with a vengeance and because I’ve been head down and bum up in cardboard boxes for the last week, I didn’t notice that my hitherto nice neighbour has murdered the passionfruit. Or at least, mangled it so severely that its future is in some doubt. When I planted it, we discussed whether she was OK with it twining through the fence. Oh yes, I was told, she likes passionfruit, no problem.  I told her to snip off any bits that were particularly intrusive.

Yesterday afternoon I went outside, looked across at the fence and promptly burst into tears. Instead of a luxuriant tangle of foliage obscuring a rather ugly fence, there were dead, dying and drooping branches, dozens of leaves on the ground, and a stark view of said ugly fence.  She’d only gone and cut every branch that passed through the fence, even if it came out again on my side. She cannot possibly have a shred of passionfruit left on her side, and I have barely a shred on mine. There’s ONE branch that survived unscathed. I’m fearfully sad about it… I can only console myself with the thought that I couldn’t have taken it with me anyway, but I do think that good manners should have prompted her to mention that she was about to conduct a passionfruit massacre instead of leaving me to find the corpse…

Anyway, on a brighter note, the little lemon tree is absolutely covered in the most deliciously scented flowers and the lime tree has noted this and decided that a spot of flowering is also in order. There aren’t many on the lime, but I live in hope. The banana tree, another one I can’t take with me, has put out two suckers which are now of a size to be potted, so they’re coming too, and I shall dig up my two pineapple bushes and pot those for transportation. The mango, avocado and lychee are still holding their own, but I think they will be much happier in the ground, so I’m looking forward to some action once they’ve got over the transplantation shock.

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Loadsa lemon

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Less lime…

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Baby bananas!

I’m picking the last of the weeny cherry tomatoes, and then that bed can have the capsicum and rhubarb plants dug out and potted, and I can clear it. The potatoes are dying back too, so it’s almost time to harvest them – I’ll probably get that done before the move so I can carry a bucket of spuds rather than 6 potato bags of plants!

The adventure in the Gardens of Chiconia 1.0 are almost over. The New Gardens of Chiconia, version 2.0, are about to start

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 6

It’s been a while since greenery featured, so here’s an update.

Frangipani and friends, doing well

Frangipani and friends, doing well.
I’m hoping the three agapanthus
will flower this year: one white,
one blue and one pale
pink, very unusual.

The frangipani and its friends are getting bigger, lusher and bushing out nicely. Which is good, because they’ll feature strongly in the view of the Chiconia garden this Christmas, when the family descends.  All of them. Or, let’s face it, all the local ones, since if we included remote Chiconis it would be well out of control.

Fruit corner: the passionfruit vine and the Ducasse banana.

Fruit corner: the passionfruit vine
and the Ducasse banana.

Also doing well are the Ducasse banana and the passionfruit, which is doing a spot of neighbours’s-garden-invasion.  Pam next door keeps pushing it back over the fence, but it likes her side. Something to do with how much sun, or a more humid microclimate? Who knows, but at any rate, most of its inordinate new growth is still on my side.

There’s a new hibiscus in there since my last garden post, pale green and white variegated leaves and a scarlet blossom.  I’m looking forward to seeing that.

The desert garden, looking very green for a desert...

The desert garden, looking very green for a desert…

The desert garden’s getting nice and sprawly too.  Things are big, happy, flowering, spreading and generally giving the impression they’ve settled down and have some confidence that food and water will be regularly supplied.

Young fruit trees: foreground lychee, centre avocado, back, mango

Young fruit trees: foreground lychee, centre avocado, back, mango

Out the back, the young fruit trees are doing well.  The avocado hasn’t given me a day’s worry, but it’s also not growing much to the naked eye.  Still, so long as it’s not dead.  The lychee and especially the mango are tearing away, but it’s the time of year for pests to start increasing.  I’ve had to drench them both to knock off loads of tiny white eggs on leaves and bark, and the lemon tree is infested with tiny green grasshoppers. Every so often I go and knock them all off, knowing they love the new young leaves and will be back as soon as my back is turned.  The tree seems to be doing OK in spite of this. The lime tree has also had its young leaves infested with something.  Time to go and get another white oil spray and smother the little devils.  Anyone with any other helpful suggestions about dealing with grasshoppers, please speak up.

That’s it for now.  I may have more later today, but it’s almost time to get ready for work.