What's growing in the backyard?


I've been working in my garden for a few weeks transitioning from a vegetable to a cottage garden and trying to get everything ready for spring.  Spring is the season that sets our gardens up for the year and if you get good rain in spring, as we did, it's even better. But I have no illusions of a lush floral display throughout summer, I just hope I can help most of it through the prolonged heat that I know is coming.  Our average annual rainfall is about 1800mm and that is one of the reasons we chose to live in this area. However, so far this year we've had 755.4mm, 286mm less than the previous year. This was the first year two of our tanks ran out of water, and the big 10,000 litre tank had only about 2000 litres left. I wouldn't grow vegetables without the safety net of tanks. They're expensive to put in, but like solar panels, they earn their place in most environmentally sound houses.  We saved for our tanks, one went in soon after we arrived here, and the big one was established about ten years ago; again, when we had the cash to pay for it.  When you set yourself up with tanks, you can water liberally most of the time and know that you're producing food with no hidden costs.



These are old photos of two of our tanks. Our other tank is a 3000 litre corrugated metal tank - a real old-school Australiana icon.

If you're just starting out, or can't afford the upfront cash payment, start with some smaller containers.  We bought a 500 litre tank from Bunnings several years ago for $50, on sale. I just checked their website and they now had a 300 litre tank for $149.  Here is an old post about our water tanks. Hanno set up out system and it's worked perfectly since day one. 

If you're determined to grow some food, and I certainly think that is a fine goal, there are a couple of other ways to keep rainwater or tap water in the soil. Make as much compost as you can and dig that in before you plant. If your garden is already planted, surround each plant with compost and cover it with sugarcane, straw or hay mulch. That is the best way of conserving water already in the soil. Every time you plant something, add compost before you plant. And if you're a committed gardener, do think about investing in some tanks.  They'll earn their keep in no time.

So let's talk about what's in the garden now. I'll take some photos next week as well but for now, this is what the garden looks like.  You'll notice nut grass growing in a number of spots, it's an ongoing problem here but I'm slowly weeding out small areas when I have the time and energy for it and I'm trialling Monty Don's remedy of applications of lime.

We have two David Austin 90cm standard roses - Munstead Wood (above) and Mary Rose (not in flower now), a miniature rose called The Fairy, Cecile Brunner (below), an unnamed mini rose, The Montville Rose, and a white shrub rose called Summer Memories.  If you look at the photo below you'll see Cecile Brunner against a backdrop of our pecan tree with catkins forming.

 White gaura and society garlic.

I've never been able to name this tall salvia, it's got blue curled flowers. Do you know it? Blue spires salvia is next then fireball salvia. The great thing about salvias is that they look charming and fragile but they're as tough as old boots. They love the heat and the only thing they really hate is frost.
This is a mix of salvias, a pink gaura and the beautiful pink Chiapas salvia - not flowering yet. I took cuttings from a main plant and have dotted them around.
Here we have unknown pink rambling salvia, nepeta Walkers Blue and a white cleome.
What do you know, more salvias! - White Victoria, Amistad - the friendship salvia and Mexican sage at the back.

We planted this banana at the beginning or the year and it's growing well. It's a mini Cavendish and we hope it bears its first fruit late summer.
If you were alive in the 1950s, this White Crystal cucumber would have probably been on your plate. It and the other Australian apple variety, Richmond Green Apple, are both available as seeds at Diggers and are absolutely delicious and easy to grow.

Finally, the elder tree is in full flower and attracting bees in their hundreds. We use the berries to make a lovely summer cordial. 

Not pictured in the garden this time but growing nicely are lavender, pelagoniums, non-invasive buddleia - Joan, Blue Chip and Purple Haze, angelonia, allysumm, coreopsis and daisies.  All these plants are strong summer plants in the sub-tropics as long as they get enough water.

We started this garden off with four rectangular beds about 20 years ago. We added two more and grew most of our vegetables here. Two beds were removed last year and now we have two rectangles and an L-shaped bed along the chook fence.  I'm not going to change their shape, neither Hanno or I have the strength to do that now, and as long as I have a garden to tend, a shady place to sit and flowers to pick, I'll be happy.  πŸ™‚  I mean it, my garden makes me happy.


24 comments

  1. Gardening is such good therapy and they say that if you are a gardener you will live longer...well with a little exercise, being outside in nature, attending to the garden and eating home grown produce I'm not surprized. I just went and got some seeds this afternoon to get some summer veggies on the go too.

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  2. The local newspaper just released the April-Sept rainfall totals for my county and the station within 1 mile of my farm listed over 87 inches of rain. No wonder my butt felt like it was glued to the seat of the lawn mower. Never stopped mowing, it was awful. So much rain two nearby fields were unable to be planted.

    The farm has a 1908 water system which consists of a 3000 gallon wooden tank (picture the Petticoat Junction tank) that was connected to a windmill. The windmill was replaced with an electric pump when power came through the area in 1929 since wind power is pretty unreliable. The original cypress tank was replaced in 1976 with a redwood tank. Not sure if we'll be keeping the tank or switch to a pressurized system when the current tank needs replacement. This last winter with the polar vortexes were pretty hard on it. Hoping to get 10 more years out of it, but if the winters continue to be so severe it might happen a lot earlier. I'd love to keep it, but the only wood tanks I can find are cedar and claim they only have a 10 year lifespan. And they were around $7000! Yikes! Plus my well guy says I'm the only one in the county still using a tank like this so finding anyone to do repairs on it are a bear. Had a new roof installed a few years ago and the guy who maintains the wood water tanks on Chicago skyscrapers did it and he was in his 70's. He hadn't retired yet since no one wants to take over his business. :)

    Pat

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  3. I don't have any Salvias so I must put some in as those colours are spectacular. Lovely photos!

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  4. Good morning Rhonda I have found salvias to be very drought tolerant in the past and now trying them in pots also, trying to build up some flowers in pots to attract the pollinators as my vege garden is very small, so no room left there! I have a small cream colored rose in a pot for 25 years. Several pots and a bit of love and it's just burst into bloom outside my kitchen window. Always makes me smile🌞

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  5. The garden really is a lovely place to be Rhonda, yours is looking wonderful :) Kate (Tassie)

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  6. Your garden Rhonda and Hanno is looking wonderful. I purchased 4 tanks from Clarks, delivered to my site, awesome to have water for the garden.

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad you've got tanks. It takes the worry out of summer.

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  7. Your garden is looking healthy and beautiful. I have a couple of salvia varieties in our big veggie garden, and even though the frost demolishes them in winter, they come back again in the spring. We are not connected to mains water on the farm - tank water for all uses except the loo and the garden for which we use bore water. Our tank has run dry once, last summer, in the 8 years we've been here. Our 'green' drought will be with us for some time yet so we may need to buy water in again this summer. It is a relief to be able to use bore on the garden - it is relatively plentiful in supply and is good water. Does your elderflower have a scent? I put in an elderflower wanting to making cordial etc but it has no scent. Not sure if that is normal, or I just picked a dud variety! Love seeing photos of your garden. As the weather is warming up (aside from our crazy windy weekend we are having) the pull to be working in the garden is getting stronger.

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    1. Hi Paula, lovely to see you. It's good to know frost doesn't kill salvias. They're tough plants that's for sure. I hope you don't have too bad a summer. Our elderflower has no scent, you don't have a dud. I've just come in from the garden and it's very windy here too. I've got my fingers crossed for a bit of rain next week. I hope you get some too. xx

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    2. I could have been making elderflower cordial all this time?!! Ah well, at least now I know. I finally bought your books this last week, and am really enjoying them. I do love to peruse your blog, but love even more having it all neatly layed out on paper (I love books). I made your soap recipe a couple of days ago and played with adding oats and honey and cinnamon. Will post some photos on my blog today if the internet doesn't keep dropping out (side effect of wind and an ancient phone line). I hope today is a calm and peaceful day, with decent rain on the horizon.

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  8. I am not growing as many vegies this year as last year was non stop watering and many bolted so i am just planting veg that can take the heat.There is now only my husband and i at home, we live rural and only have an occasional visitor so having the big gardens as in the past is a thing that has gone. I am growing flowers. I just want to look at "pretty".

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  9. I love your water storage system, it looks like something we could do. So I'm wondering: Do you have a pump running inside the big tank, or does it gravity feed out into your irrigation system? We are in Oregon and get a great deal of rainfall in three seasons but have dry summers, so water tanks are a definite possibility for us.

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    1. Yes, we have pumps on both large tanks but the 500 litres tank is running on gravity. I hope you get a system up and running because it will make things much easier for you in summer. Let me know how you go with it.

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  10. That David Austin is absolutely gorgeous! I am sure the smell is also. Thank you for sharing. We are just entering fall/winter and expecting snow today (we had 8 inches last week). We just set up our raised beds in our new place here for the first time. They are only 3 feet by six feet but I hope to get a lot out of them. I was happy to hear you started with four beds also. I am sure yours were larger but anything will help. I am having a pergola put in on one side of our house soon (so hot you cannot stand to go out there in the summer) and will put a potager garden there. I hope you and Hanno are doing well.

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    1. Hello Cate. Our beds are only slightly larger than yours. I think they're 2 metres x 6 metres. I hope you have a good winter.

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  11. Thanks for the tour of your garden. It looks lovely. Cottage gardens are one of my favorites. I have one, too.

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    1. Hi Stephenie. You can put almost anything in a cottage garden and it will look good. I hope you're well. xx

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  12. I adore cottage gardens, Rhonda, and have my own little version of one here. I have lots of the same plants that you do with salvia being a particular favourite because of all their colours and their hardiness too. Many years ago, I bought a little book called, "In A Brisbane Cottage Garden" full of advice and planting suggestions. Your garden looks beautiful and is clearly bringing you much joy. Meg:)

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    1. Good morning Meg. Are you in Brisbane? Thanks for telling me about that book. I'll look for it on the library catalogue. Yes, I do love the garden and I'm about to go out there to dead-head, sit in the shade, finish my Bird Count and listen to Macca. Have a lovely day. xx

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  13. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing. I am intrigued by your claim that sylvias are tough plants. Do you think they mind high winds? We live in a very windy, open location (literally in the middle of the largest "wind farm" in Canada, there are hundreds of turbines within sight of our yard) and I find it difficult to get flowers to grow. Roses, for example, are not possible for me. I could never get poppy seed to sprout at all because I can't keep the soil damp enough. Zinnas grow well here, and cosmos, and sunflowers. Don't ask me about my vegetables, they are not so great either...my tomatoes always have tough skins because of the dratted wind. But I can't grow root vegetables because our soil has so much clay, the carrots and beets and potatoes are always so small. Anyway, maybe I should try some sylvia next year for something different.

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    1. Hello Laura. I'm growing salvias, roses, lavender, pelargoniums, true geranium, buddleias and daisies and they all like conditions similar to those that zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers like. I'm surprised that you can grow cosmos because they're quite tall and thin and I'd expect them to bend in the wind.

      Our soil is clay here too but we spent the first year building up the soil with compost. At first we dug planting holes and filled them with compost and planted into the compost. In between crops, we added more compost. Over the years that has given us excellent soil and we can grow anything. If you're gardening, particularly in difficult conditions like clay and wind, you'll need to put in a bit of work to make the garden productive. It won't fix itself.

      If I had a windy site, I'd build a wind break - possibly with clumping bamboo (it won't run). Building a wall won't work because the wind will hit the wall and then either go up and over, or around the sides. A natural plant wall, that's not a solid structure, will help a lot. You'd have to experiment with the wind break plants, ask around and see if others are putting in wind breaks and what they're using. I expect that as you're in Canada you'd need something that won't be killed off every winter.

      I think it will take a year to get your system to a place where you could plant again. Gardening is never fast which is why it helps all of us to slow down. I hope that helps.

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  14. Thank you for the advice Rhonda! The cosmos do bend in the wind and look quite a mess. It is not windy today and I can see them from where I am sitting, flopped over on the ground. But they are still covered with flowers, so I am happy. :)

    We have been adding the straw litter from our chicken coop to the garden each year for about 5 years now, so the "upper" soil is pretty good - it's just that it only goes so deep, and so root vegetables will hit an absolute wall of hard clay about 5-6 inches down.

    I agree with what you said about gardening slowing us down. It's good therapy, especially because there is always that "next year" to look forward to. :)

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  15. Hi, Rhonda!

    Love your blog and love your books! I am reading Down to Earth aloud to my husband. He had a massive stroke 2 years ago but coming along well. We have plans for a move soon, our last move. Your books are great inspiration, especially to my husband who has always been the main "farmer" around our home and itches to get back to it! What is the difference between your vegetable garden and a cottage garden? Will you be buying your vegetable then instead of growing? I know gardening is time-intensive and can be physically demanding! We grew so much more when all 6 of our children lived at home. We are down to the last 3 at home, one getting married in Dec. While recovering from his stroke, I managed to keep a "deck" garden going in containers so that he could sit on the deck in his wheelchair and water and plant. It was excellent therapy!

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    1. Reading to your husband is such a lovely thing to do, Lori. I'm sure he gets a lot out of that. Please tell your husband that I'm thinking of him and hope he's in that garden before too long. I'd love you to email me a photo of him when he's there, back in the garden for the first time. Hanno had a stroke about ten years ago but it was only his speech that was a problem.

      The cottage garden is mainly flowers and herbs with vegetables dotted around in the odd spots. We have cucumbers, tomatoes, Welsh onions, capsicum, chillies, chard, spinach and many herbs. So we have the makings for salad and we don't have to buy herbs. Everything else we have to buy now. Take care. xx

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