In season

June 28

In now: Dutch plant breeders first crossed purple cabbage with Brussels sprouts to create purple sprouts in the 1940s. Expect to see more of them around this winter.

At its best: Flush with the success of rebranding Chinese gooseberries as kiwifruit, New Zealand fruit farmers mashed ‘tama’, Maori for leader, with ‘amarillo’, Spanish for yellow, to turn the tree tomato into tamarillo, now in peak season.

Best buy: Can’t beat bags of navel oranges, sold as juicing oranges but perfect for eating.

In the vegie patch: Gardeners growing French tarragon should make up another bottle of tarragon vinegar before the herb dies down for the winter.

What else:

  • feeling it’s time for apple pie? Braeburn and golden delicious give the best tart-sweet balance and won’t go to mush in a pie crust.
  • cumquats are available for the jam makers
  • toss cubes of peeled,  steamed kohlrabi in one of the season’s peppery fresh olive oils, such as Cobram Estate’s First Harvest
  • try celeriac remoulade with corned beef and mustard.

 

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Rhipsalis baccifera
Plants I love

Hanging garden

Sydney gardeners first fell for rhipsalis at the first Australian Garden Show Sydney, held in Centennial Park in 2013, when we saw it falling in curtains from a Brendan Moar-designed pergola. Moar accentuated the thin vertical hang of rhipsalis with slender hanging threads of silver beads. The long lime green stems caught the slanting sun and waved and shimmied in the breeze so that all but the plant nerds in the crowd stood amazed and desirous, asking what’s that and where can I get some?

Brendan Moar garden AGSS 2013

Brendan Moar’s garden at AGSS 2013 with rhipsalis and chain of bananas hanging from the pergola.

The first part of the question was the easiest to answer. Rhipsalis is a large family of mostly epiphytic cactus that look nothing like the typical image of a cactus. Though some are hairy, even bristly, none are spiky or spiny. The stems are generally thin and cylindrical and they hang down. In their native South American and tropical African rainforests they do this from the forks of trees, but they do it just as well in a pot.

Rhipsalis baccifera

Rhipsalis and macrame hangers – a marriage made in hipster heaven.

Different species of the plant branch in different ways. In some the stems hang as straight as the hair of a teenager practising with her new hair straightener. Longest and straightest of all is R. campos-portoana. Others branch more compactly, such as R. ewaldiana, which is like a tangled perm, dense enough to use as a groundcover in a shady, well-drained spot. R. baccifera, is in between those two, trailing to a bit more than a metre, with branched lime green stems like so many split ends. Its little flowers are followed by translucent white berries so that the plant in fruit looks covered in a net of pearls.

Hanging plants

Rhipsalis, chain of hearts and chain of bananas in Justine Smith’s Jungle Cactus greenhouse.

For a few years after Moar’s revelatory experiments with rhispalis the second part of the question – whereabouts – was harder to answer. Now rhipsalis is no longer a collectors’ rarity and can even be found in commercial garden centres.

Justine Smith is a wholesale grower who supplies several species of rhipsalis to Flower Power from her greenhouses at Peats Ridge just north of Sydney. With perfect timing her interest in growing the plant coinciding with a huge new demand.

Rhipsalis

Part of the initial appeal for Smith was that rhipsalis doesn’t just look good, it’s easy to grow, and to propagate. She advises partial shade for the best-looking plants. Rhipsalis will grow in full shade though growth will be slower and flowers less likely. In full sun the foliage, which is the real point of the exercise, yellows and looks sick. Too much water is worse than not enough, especially in winter. For best growth, keep it watered but not soaked through the warm weather, a little drier in the cold, and offer slow-release fertiliser.

As well as hanging in baskets from pergolas or from the branches of mature trees, use rhipsalis to spill over the edge of a large pot to soften its impact and balance whatever is growing upright. Or take a leaf from Moar’s copybook and use rhipsalis as a curtain, veiling a view with a shimmer of green.

It’s time to

Watch pines
A new pine nematode is killing pine trees in the Sydney basin. Plant Biosecurity NSW is asking for help reporting dead and dying pines so that the nematode and its vector beetle can be tracked. Go to www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/content/biosecurity/plant/pine-nematodes

Book Nambour
The speaker program is a drawcard for Queensland Garden Expo and this year there are more than 100 lectures, demos, q and a sessions, advice clinics and workshops. July 8,9,10, Nambour Showgrounds, Sunshine Coast. www.qldgardenexpo.com.au

Cut back
Trim liriope to the ground to allow fresh new growth to rejuvenate the plant.

Feed bulbs
Use a soluble fertiliser on spring bulbs you plant to keep for next year.

 

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In season

June 21

In now: Truffles get better as the weather gets colder, and a couple of good frosts are necessary to build aroma. The early harvests have started in cold areas around the country. Join the hunt with trained dogs at The Truffle Farm, outside Canberra.

At its best: Dutch carrots aren’t just carrots pulled early from their homes, but a variety bred to be mature twice as fast as regular carrots. Look for bunches with fresh-looking leaves.

Best buy: Wombok responds well to cold nights and is especially good now.

In the vegie patch: The shortest day of the year is the traditional time to sow onions.

What else:

  • cold soils make the sweetest parsnips, so the season starts now
  • pretty blushed corella pears are an Australian fruit, bred by the German settler orchardists of the Barossa Valley
  • treat rapini like cavolo nero, briefly blanching before frying up with garlic
  • chervil likes the cool weather
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Gardens

Sydney’s bush foods

We’re familiar with the way flowers tell us the time: the heliconia that opens its hot-pink, canoe-like flowers for a special birthday; the camellias warning of State of Origin hogging the airwaves; or the jacaranda ringing the bell for HSC angst.

For the Eeora people flowers help write the specials on a mental dinner menu. When the sand dunes are spotted pink with the flowers of pig face, Carpobrotus glaucescens, flounder and flathead are dish of the day. It’s the turn of the tailor when the edible blue berries of the dianella are in full flush and when the tall spears of the Doryanthes, Gymea lily, open their big red flowers the female salt-water crabs will be laying eggs so are temporarily off the menu.

Barangaroo Reserve

I have to apologies for the pictures here. It was pouring the day I did the tour and the place was not at its most photogenic. All I can say is go look for yourself.

I learned all this on a tour of Barangaroo Reserve, the park on the northern tip of Barangaroo, where, one year after opening, the newly built coves are drawing sea life back to the shore, and the plants are flourishing. Banksia are covered with flowers, great mounds of pig face and hardenbergia lounge over the sandstone walls, the tree ferns look stately, and only the Port Jackson figs on Stargazer Lawn at the top of the park, planted into 2m of soil atop polystyrene, look like they haven’t quite decided if they are happy in their new home

Barangaroo Reserve

To the south all is construction, but here, there is a developing sense of place. The landform was built to mirror the pre-colonial shape of the point, using watercolour sketches from the early days of the colony as a reference. The topography echoes pre-colonial life and so does the planting, which was chosen to replicate the plant species that hugged the harbour foreshore before settlement. These plants were culture, medicine, calendar and pantry for the local people.

Barangaroo Reserve

Indigenous guides tell the stories of the land and its plants on daily tours. For gardeners there is much to discover, and lots of it is edible. Take the yellow flowers of the native hibiscus, Hibiscus heterophyllus, which are sweet treats. The fruits of the Port Jackson fig are also good, as long as they are coloured completely purple, and have no holes, which would indicate the presence of wasps in the fruit. Banksia flowers, rich in nectar, can be dipped in water to make a sweet drink and the tiny fruit of the pig face is like lychee I’m told, but even better.

I plan to try them all, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never get around to eating lomandra ‘bread’. The spiky-flowered, knife-edged lomandra is the convenience store of the bush. The base of the leaf is as juicy as a lemon grass stem and when stripped of flesh makes a useful paintbrush. The whole leaves can be torn into fibres and woven into mats, baskets and fish traps. And then there is the seed. Inside each seed are two little grains, which, painstakingly gathered, ground and mixed with water made a kind of ‘bread’. You can imagine the women’s astonishment when the white fellas showed up with sacks of white flour.

To the south Barangaroo is all money and power and domination of the landscape, but on the north side, the Reserve and its plants tell an older story of human interaction with the natural world.

Tours of Barangaroo Reserve run Mondays-Saturdays at 10.30am and last for about an hour and a half. $36.50. www.barangaroo.com

It’s time to

Garden visit
Garden designer Stephen Vella’s Little Hartley garden, Wild Meadows, is open next Saturday to show off the wintry skeletons of trees and seedheads of perennials. 243a Coxs River Road, Little Hartley. June 25, 10 – 2pm, Entry $8

Volunteer at Eryldene
Sydney’s great camellia garden Eryldene is looking for garden volunteers. No experience or knowledge is required. Call 9498 2271.

Bargain books
Florilegium’s annual book sale of new and second-hand garden-related books starts today. Plenty of titles are under $10. June 18-26, 65 Derwent St Glebe. Monday- Friday 10-6, Saturday-Sunday 10-5.

Collect leaves
The best compost is layered like a lasagne with fresh green material alternated with dead brown material. Collect fallen leaves now to provide the brown matter.

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In season

June 14

In now: The sweetest winter pineapples are the hydrids, which are grown under license and consequently sold with the tops cut off so that buyers can’t regrow the fruit.

At its best: While imperials are our favourite mandarins there’s now a wide choice of sweet citrus. Also in season are nova, daisy and afourer. For a tangier option hunt up tangelos, which are a cross between a mandarin and a grapefruit.

Best buy: Creamy hass avocadoes are plentiful again after a thinly supplied autumn.

In the vegie patch: ‘Clementine’ mandarins, unlike most mandarins, can hang on the tree for months without deteriorating: perfect for home gardeners.

What else:

  • Navel oranges aren’t yet at their sweetest: slice thinly, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon for dessert.
  • buy fresh horseradish to eat within a week as the colour and flavour fade in the fridge.
  • look out for super-pricey and utterly delicious mangosteens from tropical Queensland.
  • fennel is a bargain this week
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Plants I love

Rosemary

Now that it’s finally cold enough to turn the oven on for dinner my secateurs are seeking out rosemary to roast with potatoes tossed with lemon, braise with beef and bacon, or nestle against a lamb shoulder given the long slow treatment.

The only consensus on flavour in rosemary is that the upright forms are better for cooking than the prostrate form, though nothing beats the lounger for crawling in a tangled fragrant mass over a hot wall. Otherwise, flavour seems to depend as much on conditions as anything. Rosemary likes it hot and dry and prefers frost and drought to humidity and soggy soils.

Consequently, in my humid patch rosemary is not long-lived and every few years it succumbs to a fungus and I start again in a different spot. Next time this happens I’m going to hunt up the variety called ‘Mozart’. This is much praised by nurserymen such as David Glen of Lambley Nursery, outside Ballart, who uses it as an edging along a broad brick path, and Chris Cuddy of Perenialle Plants at Canowindra, who both sell it mail order. ‘Mozart’ has richer blue flowers than the hardware store plant I’m currently growing, and much more of them. The glossy green leaves and flowers grow on strictly upright stems to about 90cm.

Rosmarinus-officinalis-Mozart-at-Lambley-Nursery

Rows of ‘Mozart’ in full bee-happy bloom at Lambley Nursery. Thanks to Lambley for the photo.

That sturdy uprightness of rosemary is valuable in the garden as a contrast to floppier, more filmy plants and it also looks good with succulents, which share the liking for hot dry conditions. Sydney garden designer Peter Fudge channelled a sort of Japanese aesthetic in his own front garden, planting rosemary in gravel alongside felty Kalanchoe tomentosum, succulent crassula and dark green mounds of dwarf Raphiolepis ‘Snow Maiden’. The rosemary is kept trimmed to form neat green-grey mounds. (Read more about Peter’s front garden here.)

Garden by Peter Fudge

That’s rosemary in the top left, along with raphiolepis, and kalanchoe, and with westringia, kalanchoe and crassula in the foreground.

Mickey Robertson at Glenmore House in Camden matches rosemary with other Mediterranean types such as lavender, santolina and perovskia, Russian sage, and it looks suitably rustic against the old farm buildings in the garden. Robertson also puts rosemary to use in her kitchen, where she bakes it with chestnut flower and pine nuts into a favourite cake.

Glenmore House

And here’s rosemary with lavender and citrus in the sunny side garden at Glenmore House.

To keep rosemary looking good it’s best to be mean – no water, no fertiliser, and plenty of cutting. Trim often and prune it back by about two-thirds every year after the flowering starts to wane. Use some of the prunings as propagation material: trim the tips, strip the bottom third of leaves and carefully firm into pots of potting mix. The resulting successes can be used as repeats around the garden, or kept as back-ups to replace old plants and those afflicted by sudden death.

Rosemary prunings not used for propagation or dinner needn’t go to waste. Food magazines use the stripped stems as skewers, which seems like a terrific idea but which I find is more trouble than it’s worth. Instead I allow all the bits to dry then use them as fragrant kindling in the fire pit or barbecue.

It’s time to
Chocolate-coated botany
The Calyx is the new exhibition centre at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. It opens this weekend with Sweet Addiction: the Botanic Story of Chocolate. 10am-4pm. Adults, $15, children $8.

Plant poppies
Plant seedlings close together in a sunny, fertile spot. Fertilise prodigiously for flowers into spring.

Plant a fruit tree
Unless you live in chilly parts of Sydney, choose a low-chill or tropical variety. ‘Anna’ apple could work. It was bred in Israel and fruits even in tropical Queensland. It will need a pollination partner, as well as protection from fruit fly. Expect mighty yields of apples around Christmas, three years after planting. More: daleysfruit.com.

Choose a chook
Don’t know your Australorps from your Orpingtons? The National Poultry Show is on this weekend, June 11-12 at the Sydney Showground, ticket $10 at the gate.

 

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