Mint

On the damp, shady side of my childhood home, the only things I remember that grew well were fuchsias and a huge patch of mint. It didn’t seem to be used much, only for homemade mint sauce to go with the Sunday lamb roast. As a child, I didn’t take much notice of the garden and I was well into adulthood before I realised that ‘common mint’ was not the only variety of mint in the world!

Over the past few years, we have grown several varieties of mint apart from the most common spearmint: pennyroyal, apple mint, pepper mint, and, my favourite scent of them all, chocolate mint. Mint doesn’t cope well in really hot weather, which may be why it grows well in damp, shady areas. I have seen chocolate mint standing in water at the garden centre of the local hardware shop, in the same tub where the more commonly recognised water-loving plants are sold.

While it is an excellent ground-cover, the one thing all mint seems to have in common is its tendency to take over an area of the garden. That’s why we grow our mint in pots. Like all plants in pots, watering is really important, the plant relies on the gardener to supply its needs, it cannot send out more roots looking for water.

Grown in a pot, the plant can be moved into full sun in winter, and a shady area in summer. If you place the pot where you brush against the plant, the fragrance will fill the air, bringing pleasure to you and keeping insect pests, such as mosquitos and flies, at bay. Dried mint sprigs are said to deter ants.

Mint makes a delicious and refreshing tea, with or without sugar. It adds a delightful tang to vegetable smoothies and, of course, has long been used to garnish drinks, especially cocktails. We put leaves in the water to make ice cubes which are then floated in the punch bowl for our non-alcoholic punch.

Traditionally, mint was used to treat stomach ache, indigestion and a host of intestinal disorders. It is a natural breath freshener, which is why it is used to flavour such things as toothpaste and chewing gum.

Mint is a creeping herb, from the family, Laminaceae. It has slightly hairy, aromatic leaves which grow opposite each other along square stems. The flowers are very attractive to pollinators. It is, in most parts of western Sydney, an evergreen but it can ‘disappear’ in very cold winters and re-appear in Spring, especially if being grown in full shade. It favours a part-shade position, where it gets protection from strong afternoon sunlight in summer. The eastern side of the house, or in the shade of a trellis or trees, is ideal.

Many herbs have the same scientific name for all varieties; for example, the different basil plants we grow are all Ocimum basilicum, and both flat and curly leaf parsley are petroselimium crispum. This indicates, in the case of basil and parsley, that they are both of the same species and the same genus.

On the other hand, there are many different genera of mint. What I have always known as ‘mint’ (that plant of my childhood), is also known as ‘common mint’ or ‘garden mint’. It is, in fact, spearmint, Mentha spicata. Penny Royal is Mentha pulegium, apple mint is Mentha suavolens, peppermint is Mentha piperita, and chocolate mint is a variety of peppermint, Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’! Confusing, isn’t it? Luckily, we don’t have to know the scientific names to enjoy the aromas and the flavours.

Peter Oldfield, a grower in Devon, grows one of England’s ‘national collections’ of mint. In 2014, he was listed as having over 200 different varieties of mint! (National Mentha Collections)

HOW TO GROW MINT

It is possible to grow mint from seed but I have found that it is not easy to germinate. It is much easier to buy a pot of mint at the garden centre or to find a friend who has the variety you want and ask for a piece or two. Try to get pieces with roots on them but, if not, simply place the cutting in water and in as little as a few days, roots will start appearing from the nodes on the stems. Change the water every couple of days so it doesn’t get slimy and smelly.

Pot the rooted pieces in a good quality potting mix, with some additional cocopeat (coir) to hold extra moisture. Mulch the surface of the potting mix to keep the moisture in and place the pot in a spot where it gets morning sun but is protected from the harsh afternoon sun of summer. In winter, you can move the pot into full sun. The most important thing is to ensure that your mint stays constantly moist.

FUN FINAL FACT

There are six Australian native mint species. Mentha diemenica is endemic to the Cumberland Plains woodland which once covered much of western Sydney. The plant is available commercially.

I’ll be back next Friday, in the meantime, why not read our daily (except Sunday) hints and tips (Q&A) posts?

Happy growing!
Lynne 🍅

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this blog post is written for general knowledge and/or entertainment purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. While all care is taken to be accurate, Hillside Homegrown & Handmade accepts no responsibility for actions taken by the reader because of information shared in this article. 

Flanders Poppy

The bright red Flanders Poppy, currently flowering in temperate Australian gardens, including ours in Emu Heights, NSW, has become synonymous with ‘remembrance’. It is a poignant symbol associated with commemoration, particularly of the First World War.

Many people have eaten poppy seeds at some point in their lives, but did you know that the leaves of these brightly coloured annuals are also edible? The young leaves can be eaten as a spinach substitute or used raw in salads or sandwiches. The red petals can be used to make a red syrup or food colouring. The seeds can be used, not only as a topping for bread rolls, but in the bread itself, or in cakes or biscuits. If you had a lot of seed, you could even press them for oil.

Flanders poppies do not contain opium so they are not illegal to grow or transport in NSW, which their more pastel coloured cousins (Papaver somniferum) are.

The brightness of the flowers is followed by attractive, but small, seed heads which can be used in floral arrangements. Flanders poppies are recognised as herbs and the flowers were often dried and used in medicines. The red petals were also used as a natural dye.

Because Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) self seed easily, they could be mistaken for being perennial plants as they pop up, year after year, in the same place. They are, in fact, annual plants which have become weeds in some areas, particularly in Europe, leading to common names such as ‘corn poppy’, ‘field poppy’ or, simply, ‘red poppy’.

HOW TO GROW FLANDERS POPPY

The easiest way to get Flanders poppies growing in your patch, is to find someone who already has them and see if they will allow you to take a few small plants from their garden when they first start appearing in autumn. Once you have them flowering in your garden, they should self-seed and, basically, look after themselves!

In our experience, Flanders poppies can be tricky to germinate from seed and are very slow-growing at the beginning. They are sown in late summer or autumn. Simply sprinkle the tiny seeds onto the surface of the soil, in the area you want them to grow. You will need to water gently if there is no rain. You may need to protect the emerging plants from slugs and/or snails.

If you have a challenge with slugs, as we do, or if you prefer to have a little more control: sprinkle the seeds onto the surface of seed raising mix, cover lightly with more of the seed raising mix and keep moist. In theory, the seed will germinate in 14-21 days but you may need patience. When the seeds germinate, the seedlings will grow very slowly and the temptation to give up is strong, but I encourage you to persist! Prick them out from the seedling tray or punnet into their own pots when they are big enough for you to handle. Plant the seedlings, which may still be tiny, into your garden in late autumn, about 30cm apart.

As spring approaches and the weather begins to warm, your poppy plants will grow much more quickly. Within a few weeks they will expand in size, growing upwards as well as outwards, and the first buds should appear in mid-Spring. A strong wind at that time can blow all the petals off the flowers, which can be disappointing, but poppies are tough and soon there will be many more flowers, blooming over several weeks. If you cut off the old flowers (this is called ‘dead-heading’), the flowering period can be extended.

As the seed heads form and dry out, you can collect the seeds, save some for yourself and/or share some with friends but, truly, it’s easier just to let the seed drop and look after itself. If you decide you want the poppies growing in a different location, wait until the new plants have started growing and move them in mid to late autumn while the soil is still relatively warm.

Fun Final Fact

Flanders poppy seeds are tiny; in fact, there are about 7,000 Flanders poppy seeds in 1 gram.
I wonder who counted them to work that out!

Until next Friday
Happy growing!
Lynne 🍅

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this blog post is written for general knowledge and/or entertainment purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. While all care is taken to be accurate, Hillside Homegrown & Handmade accepts no responsibility for actions taken by the reader because of information shared in this article.

D.I.Y. Garden Tool Storage ideas

On the first Friday of every month, instead of talking about plants, we look at a simple DIY project that you can do around your home or garden.

Last Saturday, Mark gave a workshop entitled ‘Essential Garden Tools: how to clean and care for them’. One of the ways of caring for any kind of tool is to store it properly so that the user is kept safe, can find the right tool for the job and has easy access to that tool.

As a follow up to that workshop, the photo gallery below shows the easy methods Mark has set up for some of our garden tool storage. Most of these methods are pretty basic, using nails and timber, and can be done by just about anyone. The specialised hooks come in different sizes from the hardware store.

If you have any questions on any particular storage method, ore perhaps a more general question, you can easily get in touch with us by using the contact form. If you have an idea for a future workshop (we will be planning our 2022 calendar very soon), you can leave your suggestion on the contact form too.

Our final D.I.Y. workshop for 2021 will be Saturday 27 November, 10am-11:30am, when Mark will be talking about his list of “Essential Tools for Home Maintenance: how to clean and care for them”. Some, or all, of these tools might make a great house-warming gift for the young adult who is setting up home for the first time. You will need to register for the workshop to be sure that you will receive the Zoom link.

DISCLAIMER: The ideas given in this blog post are for entertainment and/or information purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this kind of DIY project. 

D.I.Y. CONSULTANCY / ADVISORY SERVICE
If you have a small DIY project that you are considering but have no idea how to go about it, contact Mark, 0414 304 963, send an email to info@hillsidehomegrown.com.au or simply use our contact form to discuss your project.
Rates for Mark’s assistance will vary depending on how complicated the project is.
The initial discussion (up to thirty minutes) and quote (by phone, email, FaceTime or Zoom) is free.
If you live in the Emu Heights (NSW) area, Mark can attend your site in person.
Please note: Mark will not do the work for you but he will help you to ‘do it yourself’: plan, purchase materials and bring the project to completion.

Disclaimer: Mark has over forty years of handyman experience doing projects inside and outside the house, but he is not a qualified tradesman so is not able to give you advice on building codes or regulations nor is he covered by any tradies’ licence.

You must have a licence before you do any residential building work in NSW, including minor maintenance and cleaning, valued at more than $5,000 (incl GST) in labour and materials.NSW Department of Fair Trading

Lettuce

Lettuce is a common vegetable, the basis of many salads: Caesar, Waldorf, even the humble ‘garden salad’. In fact, in some parts of the world, the plant itself is called ‘salad’.

How many varieties of lettuce can you name? For many people, it would be the five commonly sold in the supermarket: Iceberg, Cos, and the hydroponically grown leaf lettuces: Salad Bowl, Oakleaf and Buttercrunch.

It may surprise you to know that at the end of the 19th century, there were over 1,000 named varieties of lettuce known around the world. Many of those no longer exist, or have been replaced by F1 hybrids, but there are still a lot more varieties available than you will see in a visit to the supermarket, the green grocer or even the Sydney Produce Markets.

Here, in our Emu Heights garden, we grow our lettuces from seed. Right now, we have ‘Australian Yellow Leaf’, ‘Frilly Pink’, ‘Marvel of Four Seasons’, ‘Michelle’, ‘Rabbit Ear’ and, our most prolific through winter, ‘Cos Verdi’ and ‘Regina della Ghiacciole’. We pick all our lettuces as ‘cut and come again’ greens, even though some of them are Cos or crisp-head varieties.

In a colder climate, ‘Regina della Ghiacciole’ should form an iceberg-style heart but the climate is too mild here – and our constant pickling of the outer leaves doesn’t help! The photos below show lettuces that have been picked regularly, some more recently than others.

The botanical name for lettuce is Lactuca sativa which, like many Latin names, is descriptive of the plant itself. Lactuca, from the Latin word for ‘milk’, refers to the white sap that is apparent in fresh lettuce leaves when cut or broken. Unlike many other plants that exude a white sap, lettuce is not toxic to humans but can be to dogs. The word ‘sativa‘ is applied to many plants and refers to them being cultivated, as opposed to being gathered from the wild. It is believed that lettuces were in cultivation by the Ancient Egyptians. That means that the cultivation of lettuce as food or medicine has been around for over 4,000 years – an heirloom (or heritage) vegetable indeed!

HOW TO GROW LETTUCE

You could grow lettuce from seedlings bought at the garden centre but the range is limited. If you want to grow more unusual varieties, starting from seed is the way to go! Lettuces are fairly easy to grow from seed, if they are given the right conditions. They need a loose, fluffy seed raising mix. The must be kept moist but not saturated; baby lettuces are easily ‘suffocated’ (drowned) by too much moisture and not enough air in the growing medium.

Being soft-leafed, lettuces are susceptible to ‘damping off, a soil borne fungal disease that attacks the stems at the soil level and causes them to rot overnight. To counteract this, lightly sprinkle cinnamon on the surface of the soil. This inhibits the growth of the fungus that causes the disease. Tender soft leaves are also a magnet for slugs and snails, so try to grow your plants in pots until they are big enough to fend for themselves in the ground. Put copper tape around your pots – the slugs and snails will not move across it. We cut the bottom off old pots and put copper tape on the outside – we then put these, in the garden, around our susceptible small plants as ‘collars’.

Wild forms of lettuce were originally found from the shores of the Mediterranean to the steppes of Siberia. This would indicate that lettuce had a wide range of growing conditions and that it tolerates cold quite well. The Mediterranean climate is made up of hot, dry summers and cool wet winters. This shows that lettuce is not good in hot weather (there are some exceptions), so plant your spring and summer crops on the east side of the house, a shed, fence or trellis and make sure they have plenty of moisture – those soft leaves will dry out quickly and may not recover. You could also try growing lettuce inside in summer, keep plants away from the air-conditioner vents as the constant movement of air can dry out the leaves.

You can start harvesting leaves when the plants are about 10-15cm across but always leave the growth point at the very centre of the plant intact. If you want a hearting lettuce, stop harvesting leaves as soon as you see the heart beginning to form. In general, hearting lettuces, especially those of the crisp-head (iceberg) varieties, are cool weather crops.

FUN FINAL FACT

Lettuce are members of the Asteraceae family, which includes sunflowers, chrysanthemums, daisies and dandelions. The white sap exuded by lettuce when cut or broken is a form of latex!

Happy growing!
Lynne 🍅

DISCLAIMER: The information given here is for entertainment and/or gardening purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. If you have never eaten it before, try a leaf and wait a few hours before eating more.

Salsify

Salsify roots, photo used with permission from the owner, A.J.

Salsify is an old ‘heirloom’ or ‘heritage’ vegetable. It was eaten by people in the ‘ancient’ civilisations of Rome and Greece. It was widely eaten in England during the Victorian period, especially in the late winter months when there wasn’t much fresh food around.

Generally, the root was eaten but the young leaves and the flowers are also edible. Salsify went out of favour in the late nineteenth century and is now little known and rarely eaten, at least here in the western suburbs of Sydney. It is known by various common names, one being ‘oyster plant’ because the root is likened to the taste of the well-known seafood. some have likened it to asparagus.

Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, is a biennial plant which means that it is sown in one year and flowers in the next. All that is seen above ground, at least for the first twelve months or so, are slowly growing, grass-like leaves, up to 2cm wide, that are similar to Lomandra (an Australian native perennial). The plants mature, in our garden in Emu Heights, NSW, at around 70cm tall but they can grow to 100cm.

The daisy-like flowers, which only open in direct sunlight, give rise to another common name, ‘Jerusalem Star’. They appear in Spring from seed sown in autumn the previous year. The plant can be grown as an ornamental: it’s blue-green, grass-like leaves providing a foil for other greens in the garden and serving as a backdrop for brightly coloured flowers. To keep salsify growing permanently, flowering every Spring, you would need to grow new plants every year.

The flowers give way to a stunning seed head which looks like a giant dandelion. It reminds me of those popular light fittings of the 1970s, that look like a giant ball made up of cones! In more modern terms, the seed head looks similar to a ‘crystal sputnik chandelier’ (go on, look it up! I’ll wait!!) Unfortunately, like its cousin the dandelion, the seed blows away in the wind, and the plant has become a garden escapee (aka ‘weed’) in some parts of south-eastern Australia.

Does that mean you should not grow it? Of course not. The solution is simple, if you are not collecting seed for next season’s plants, simply dead-head the flowers when they cease to look attractive! If you are collecting seed, put a bag over the dying flower head.

HOW TO GROW AND HARVEST SALSIFY

Sow seed, in Spring or Autumn, 6mm deep, directly where you want the plants to grow, or in cardboard (toilet roll tubes are perfect) or paper pots to transplant when they are 15cm tall (or when the roots show out the bottom of the pot). Don’t use an egg carton for this, they are too shallow to allow the tap root to develop properly. The straighter the root, the easier it is to peel.

The soil must be free-draining and ‘fluffy’, all pebbles and sticks removed, to a depth of at least 30cm. Unlike carrots, salsify requires a fairly rich soil – extra nitrogen does not induce forking as much as obstacles in the soil will! Any rocks or other hard structures in the soil, including clay, will cause the root to bend in an attempt to find a softer place to grow. This results in deformed roots which are still edible but hard to peel. The plants are slow-growing so be patient.

When the top of the root begins to emerge from the soil surface, or about 100-120 days after planting, they can be dug up; they will not simply ‘pull out’ like carrots and parsnips. If you’re not sure, dig around the root with your fingers: ours always grow like skinny carrots, but some people have told me that they can grow quite thick! Once the plant begins to grow flowers, the roots become tough. The root in the photo above was from a plant which we allowed to go to seed.

They are cooked by roasting, steaming, and can be served mashed or puréed. Their odd shape can make them difficult to peel. The skin is thick and rough. Perhaps the difficulty of preparation makes them an unpopular choice in an age where we want meals quickly with minimum fuss and preparation time?

FUN FINAL FACT

There is another plant that is from a different family which is known as ‘Black Salsify’ (Scorzonera hispanica). It is a perennial plant, the roots have black skin and white flesh. The taste is said to be similar. Why not try one or both in your garden?

Until next Friday, when Mark returns with another DIY post…
Happy growing!
Lynne 🍅

Salad Burnet

SALAD BURNET

Salad Burnet is a relatively unknown, evergreen, perennial herb which tastes a little like cucumber. Being evergreen, it can be added to salads in the middle of winter, when cucumbers ae not in season. The taste will be fresh, without the need to purchase something that has been grown in a hothouse or been in cold storage for months; and probably travelled several hundred kilometres into the bargain!

This attractive clumping herb grows to a height of 40-60cm. Ours is growing in an area that receives more shade than sun; although the area is brightly lit, the plant has barely reached 40cm. The leaves are an attractive, lighter shade of green, contrasting with the darker green of the leeks and Cape Gooseberry growing nearby. Supposedly it flowers in Summer but ours has been in bud (in mid-Spring) for about two weeks. The green, ball-shaped flowers have crimson tops and are found on the top of thin stems.

To add leaves to a salad, just run your fingers down the stem, as you would if removing leaves from thyme or rosemary. The leaves can also be added to sandwiches as a salad green with the taste of cucumber; or you could use them to make a dip similar to tzatziki. Try using it in recipes that call for coriander if, like me, you don’t like the taste of that particular herb! It could also be used as a garnish in drinks where you would normally use cucumber or mint.

The Latin name , Sanguisorba minor, literally translates as “blood soaked minor”. In folk medicine, it was used to stop bleeding.

GROWING SALAD BURNET

Salad Burnet has unusual shaped seeds that could not be mistaken for anything else, at least not in our collection of seeds. We have found salad burnet a little bit difficult to germinate, which, in the right conditions, it should do in 7-14 days.

Don’t wait too long before transplanting the seedlings into moist soil in a semi-shaded position; it suffers easily from ‘transplant shock’. Its soft leaves don’t do very well in the harsh, western-Sydney summer sun so make sure it has morning sun only. Although it is plant from ‘dry’ meadows of Europe, it will need to be kept moist while it gets settled. Once established, it seems to thrive on neglect as long as it gets the occasional watering. It is attractive enough to be grown as a border plant in the ornamental garden or in the more traditional herb garden.

FUN FINAL FACT

For fans of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (historical fiction classic by Baroness Orczy), Salad Burnet is a cousin of Sanguisorbia officianalis which, among its many common names, is known as ‘pimpernel’. They are both members of the family Rosacea and are, therefore, distant cousins of the rose.

DISCLAIMER: The information given here is for entertainment and/or gardening purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. If you have never eaten it before, try a leaf and wait a few hours before eating more.

Pumpkins

With the advent of the warm weather, it’s time to start warm weather crops, like beans, corn, tomatoes, chillies, capsicums, peppers, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, squash and pumpkins.

With the exception of beans and corn, all the other warm weather crops listed above are in one of two plant families. Tomatoes, chillies, capsicums and peppers belong to the Solanaceae family, which also includes potatoes and tobacco. The rest of the list above, cucumbers, melons, zucchini, squash and pumpkins, belong to the family Cucurbitaceae.

Because they belong to the same family, a lot of what is said here about pumpkins, can also be applied to their relations, particularly the squash and zucchinis. There are, of course, many types of pumpkins: different shapes, sizes, skin and/or flesh colours, texture and taste.

Pumpkins with thick, hard flesh, like ‘Queensland Blue’ store longer than those with soft skins, like ‘Butternut’. The storage time depends on the pumpkin being without flaws or blemishes, the stem being intact and at least 10cm long, how mature the pumpkin was when harvested, how cool and airy the storage location is, and whether rats, mice or other vermin can gain access to the stored fruit. Ideally, the fruit should not be harvested for storage until the stem has completed dried and started to wither.

HOW TO GROW PUMPKINS

The simplest way to grow pumpkin is to let them grow in your compost heap. They will love the rich, nutritious environment. But, if you don’t have a compost heap, what can you do?

First, and probably most important, is to decide where you want to grow your pumpkin. We sowed a JAP pumpkin, late in the season, on
1 January 2020; it grew right up until the severe cold of August. It was fifteen metres from the planting location to the growing tip before we decided it had to stop and put its energy into fruit not leaves! That pale coloured leaf on the bottom left of the photo is near the base of the plant and is suffering with old age, not disease!

If you don’t have that kind of space, or don’t wish to give that much space to growing a single pumpkin vine, you can train them to grow on a trellis, fence, arch, shed or the chicken coop – even over up a tree. We have started them at the top of the retaining wall and let them grow down from there.

Start your pumpkin by sowing directly where you want it grow. Sow two seeds on a small mound made of compost – pumpkins are hungry plants and like a rich, moist soil.

If your preferred planting location is not yet ready, you can sow a single seed into a rich potting mix in two or three cardboard tubes (the inside of the toilet roll). Keep it well watered, soil in cardboard tends to dry out very quickly, especially in windy weather. Plant the seedling sooner rather than later, especially if roots are coming out of the bottom of the tube, which could happen in a few days! Open the folded bottom of the tube, tear away the damp cardboard and plant – trying not to disturb the roots too much. You could plant it still in the cardboard tube, if wish, just make sure you open the bottom to let those roots have easier access to the soil.

If possible, water the plant in the mornings; a wet plant overnight may be susceptible to fungal attack. Your plant may look droopy in the middle of the day but should recover once the sun goes off it in the evening. If not, give it a drink right at the base of the plant, not on the leaves, and water it again in the morning if the weather is forecast to be warm.

The first flowers to appear on your pumpkin vine will all be male (like this one, being visited by tiny insects collecting pollen); be patient, the female flowers will appear in due course. If there is an abundance of male flowers, you could eat them, just as you could eat the cooked leaves of the vine. How to tell the difference: the female flowers have a swollen base, where the pumpkin will develop if the flower is pollinated.

Harvest time varies with each pumpkin variety but don’t be in a hurry; you really won’t be harvesting most mature pumpkins until mid to late autumn.

FUN FINAL FACT

The name “Jap” pumpkin is not racist, it has nothing to do with Japan. It originates with the grower who is alleged to have called it, “Just Another Pumpkin”. It was, like many longer names still are, shortened to “Jap” for convenience.

Those in the know say that “Jap” is not the same variety as “Kent” but the two are used interchangeably here in Sydney.

DISCLAIMER: The information given here is for entertainment and/or gardening purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. If you have never eaten it before, try a small amount and wait a day or two before eating more.

D.I.Y. Garden Trellis

On the first Friday of every month, instead of talking about plants, we will look at a simple DIY project that you can do around your home or garden.

There are many types of garden plants that need to have something to climb up, and many more that can be encouraged to grow on a trellis, fence or shed. You could buy something; but it’s much more satisfying, if you have the time and skills, to build it yourself; especially if you can use materials that you have at hand!

Several months ago, a kiwiberry (also called ‘hardy Kiwi’) found its way to our home. It was in winter dormancy so there was no rush to plant it but, a month ago, the new buds started to swell and we knew it was time to get the plant in the ground. Knowing that it was a perennial, fast-growing vine that could easily grow to 2 metres, and at least that wide, we had taken our time before deciding on the appropriate place to plant it.

We already had some concrete reinforcing panels (“reo”) which someone was “giving away”, some 500 mm lengths of 20 mm ‘reo’ rod (left by previous owner) and some 1800 mm lengths of 8 mm “reo” rod (from a previous project) and some plastic cable ties.

A length of the 20 mm rod was hammered into the ground at each end of the trellis and where each panel joined the next. The garden in which the kiwiberry was to be planted slopes away to the south, so the mesh was cable tied to the rod at increasing height to keep the panels level This particular trellis was to go opposite our carport, so the thinner ‘reo’ rod was used to attach the trellis to the carport side beam for stability.

Below is a gallery of photos showing the construction of the trellis and the planting of the vine. Enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: The information given above in this blog post is for entertainment and/or landscaping purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this kind of DIY project. 

If you live in the Emu Heights (NSW) area, and have a small DIY project that you are considering but have no idea how to go about it, contact Mark, 0414 304 963, or send an email to info@hillsidehomegrown.com.au to discuss your project. Rates for his assistance will vary depending on how complicated the project is. The initial discussion (up to thirty minutes) and quote (by phone, email, FaceTime or Zoom) is free. Please note: Mark will not do the work for you but he will help you plan, purchase materials and bring the project to completion.
Disclaimer: Mark has over forty years of handyman experience doing projects inside and outside the house, but he is not a qualified tradesman so is not able to give you advice on building codes or regulations nor is he covered by any tradies’ licence.

You must have a licence before you do any residential building work in NSW, including minor maintenance and cleaning, valued at more than $5,000 (incl GST) in labour and materials.NSW Department of Fair Trading

WARRIGAL GREENS

Warrigal Green plant in Spring, after Winter dormancy

Warrigal Greens, Tetragonia tetragoniodes, also known as “New Zealand spinach”, is a frost-tender, short-lived, perennial vegetable. In our western Sydney location where winters can get below 0°C overnight, it tends to be herbaceous, meaning it dies down in winter and comes back in Spring. Sometimes that’s the old plant breaking dormancy, more often it’s a whole lot of new plants that were self-seeded. Being slightly succulent in nature, it is heat tolerant and disease resistant. Even the snails and slugs leave it alone!!

The plant has been used in Australia for over 230 years, mostly by settlers, as a spinach substitute, particularly in hot weather. It is native to Australia and New Zealand, where it is used in cooking by the Maori, although it, apparently, did not feature much in the diets of indigenous Australians.

It’s natural habitat is along shorelines, and will it survive in salt water. Given its liking for sandy locations, it can be difficult to grow in heavy soils. Try growing it in a large container if your soil is more clay than loam.

In our garden, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, it does better in afternoon shade and is particularly vigorous when kept well watered. It is a trailing plant, rarely growing more than 15cm high, but will also climb shrubs or other structures. The yellow flowers are barely noticeable but it produces masses of large seeds along its stems. Once established in the garden, it self seeds and will survive being neglected as long as it has access to moisture.

This propensity to self-seed is good because, in our experience, it is quite difficult to get the hard seeds to sprout. First, they must be soaked for 12 hours in lukewarm water, then, once sown, they are erratic and may take several weeks to germinate (despite seed packets saying “14-21 days”). We have found the best way to grow it from seed is to soak then put one seed per cardboard tube (see footnote) filled with sandy potting mix (homemade, of course) and be prepared to wait, up to two months! Of course, you could try throwing seed on the ground where you want it to grow and leaving it alone! Don’t try growing it in winter, but any time from late September to mid-February should see the seed germinate (eventually).

Once the seeds have germinated and the first ‘true leaves’ come through, you will see triangular-shaped, succulent leaves with a dew-drop appearance, even when they are not wet! Grown in full shade, such as found under our Cape Gooseberry bush, it will grow slowly but will survive. In ‘perfect conditions’, sandy soil with plenty of moisture, it will grow quite vigorously.

The leaves can be harvested from about sixty days, if the plant is growing well. Warrigal Greens are high in oxalic acid and, therefore, must be blanched for one minute, before being cooked. It can be used in any recipe that calls for spinach, silverbeet, chard or bok choy, and is suitable for soups, stews, stir fry or steamed as a side vegetable.

Lizards are attracted to the plant and our hens find Warrigal Greens irresistible!

FUN FINAL FACT

The plants were found growing around the shores of Botany Bay in 1770, and was cooked and pickled on Captain Cook’s ship, The Endeavour, as a prevention against scurvy.

footnote: from the inside of a toilet roll or paper towel (cut in half)

DISCLAIMER: The information given here is for entertainment and/or gardening purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. If you have never eaten it before, try a small amount and wait a day or two before eating more.

CAPE GOOSEBERRY

What is that strange looking fruit? It looks like a little paper lantern!

Here at Hillside, we call it ‘Cape Gooseberry’, but it is also know as ‘Peruvian Ground Cherry’, ‘Golden Berry’ or ‘Aztec Berry’. Sometimes, in USA, it is marketed as ‘Pichuberry’. It comes from South America, around Peru, Ecuador and Columbia.

A less well-known name is ‘husk tomato’. It is, in fact, a perennial plant, related to tomatoes, potatoes, chillies, capsicums and two common weeds, at least in these parts, ‘wild tobacco’ and ‘blackberry nightshade’. Its Latin name is is Physalis peruviana.

It has been grown for more than 200 years in England and yet remains relatively unknown in Australia. It is easy to grow once established and we have found it has few pests or diseases. It does need some managing, it can become a sprawling plant (much like an untrained tomato), and will take over a large area if allowed. Unlike other varieties of ‘nightshade’, it fruits quite happily in part shade; in Winter our plant gets just two hours direct sun a day! The fruit, which ripens in late Winter and Spring, stores well on the kitchen bench; there is no need to refrigerate.

When ripe, the fruit tends to fall off the bush and can be found quite easily because the husks ripen from green to a golden yellow or brown colour. Sometimes the immature fruit falls and, if eaten, can be very tart indeed. We let them ripen on the kitchen bench until the husks are a golden brown colour.

The fruit, which grows inside those papery ‘lanterns’ is delicious, being both sweet and slightly tart. It can be eaten fresh, on its own or in a fruit salad. It can also be used in desserts or preserved in jams or chutneys.

HOW AND WHERE TO GROWN CAPE GOOSEBERRY

Choose your location carefully – the plant will be there for a number of years. It will be need fertile, well drained soil and a position that is in the shade on summer afternoons. You can train it on a trellis or fence or just put a ‘cage’ around it. It will root from nodes on the stems so any part that touches the ground can potentially grow roots. That process when done deliberately is called ‘layering’. Once it has taken hold and the roots are established, the ‘new’ plant can often be successfully separated from the parent plant and given away or grown elsewhere.

New plants can also be struck from cuttings or grown from seed sown in Spring after frosts (September to November) or March (in frost free areas only). The seeds are tiny and can take several weeks to germinate. The recommended distance to plant them is 50cm apart – we have only one bush and it takes up much more space than that!

FINAL FUN FACT

Dried cape gooseberries are sometimes sold as ‘Inca Berries’ coated in dark chocolate – quite a taste sensation with the sweetness of the chocolate and the slight tartness of the fruit!

DISCLAIMER: The information given here is for entertainment and/or gardening purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. If you have never eaten it before, try one fruit and wait a few hours before eating more.