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Garden diary by Warren and Gloria Sheather

Long term members, Warren and Gloria Sheather, share regular updates on their Northern Tablelands garden, Yallaroo, and now their new garden in the Blue Mountains. 

What's happening in the garden

  • 25 Aug 2017 10:03 AM | Anonymous

    In this 3rd week of August we should describe how useful our microwave is in our horticultural activities.

    We use commercial Seed Raising and Cutting Mix for all our cutting and seed propagation. After potting on our propagation successes we place the used mix in a rice cooker (earmarked specifically for this purpose). When filled the rice cooker is placed in the microwave on high power for 15 minutes. After cooling the recycled mix is ready to use again. Occasionally we add some fresh mix.

    Before sowing wattle seeds we soften the hard seed coats using the microwave. The seeds are microwaved in half a cup of water for 3 minutes. They are left to cool for 30 minutes before sowing. The photo shows how this treatment swells the seeds. The seeds are of Acacia leptoclada (see Plant Profile) a beautiful wattle from Northern NSW.

  • 17 Aug 2017 4:45 PM | Anonymous

    Our dense shrubberies have created a haven for small native birds. Around our house we have a flock of Superb Fairy Wrens that forage on our lawn and use the shrubberies for shelter and nesting sites. The pair, in the photo, spends a lot of time admiring themselves in our windows. Our bird list now totals 90 species.

    Hakea sericea is a very prickly shrub that flowers towards the end of winter in our garden. Finches take advantage of the prickly leaves and build nests in the protective foliage.

    H. sericea would be useful for areas needing protection from animals and directing foot traffic.  

  • 14 Aug 2017 10:30 AM | Anonymous

     In this 2nd week of August the end of winter is fast approaching. Perhaps it is time to reflect on those plants that have brought colour to our winter gardens.  

    Correas usually flower from early autumn to early spring. In our garden their nectar-rich blooms provide food for our resident honeyeaters. 

    Hardy, fast growing, free flowering and with low water requirements once established Correas are ideal for gardens both large and small.

    Descriptions, of the varieties illustrated, are on this site's Plant Profiles

  • 10 Aug 2017 4:44 PM | Anonymous

    In this first week in August our wattles are beginning to put on their annual floral extravaganza. Because we have a range of wattles, growing both in the garden and surrounding bushland, our “wattle season” extends from July to late October. One of the first to flower is Acacia flexifolia, the Bent-leaf Wattle (see photo). This small shrub becomes covered with lemon-yellow blooms in July.

  • 2 Aug 2017 8:24 AM | Anonymous

    The garden diary will be a weekly blog that provides information about our horticultural activities plus items about the wildlife with which we share our garden and surrounding bushland.

    Our garden, on the Northern Tablelands of NSW, has become rather large over years and we have created extensive shrubberies which on our 900 metre high hill provide some protection from the sometimes inclement weather as well a sanctuary for a host of small native birds. Because we cultivate a wide range of native plants there is always something in flower.

    Over 95% of the plants used are propagated on site. A large number of plants are grown from cuttings. We use a propagating unit with bottom heating and intermittent misting (see item and photo above).

    On this last week in July we have potted on struck cuttings of Correa baeuerlenii, Grevillea evansiana, Hakea nodosa, Prostanthera aspalathoides and Isopogon formosus. Descriptions and photos of most of these species are in the Plant Profile section.

    On the wildlife front: This week, for the second time, a Brown Antechinus (Antechinus stuartii) ran across our deck when we were having lunch. This was a very exciting sighting. Our White Boxes (E. albens) are in full flower and the Rainbow Lorikeets are raucously making full use of the nectar flow.

    This week’s photo is a flower head of our Grevillea Pink Surprise. This plant is carrying over 50 flower heads.

  • 24 Jul 2017 6:29 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    We find that the internet is a treasure trove of botanical and horticultural information. 

    A recent search brought to light a biography of Leo Hodge, christened Leomin, the originator of many Grevillea hybrids, all prefixed ‘Poorinda’ after his property in the Gippsland area of Victoria. The name is taken from an aboriginal word meaning 'light'.

    Leo was a shearer, dingo trapper, grazier, artist, musician, poet and gardener. Of course Leo’s main claim to fame is the production of over 50 hybrid Grevilleas including the well-known 'Poorinda Constance' and 'Poorinda Queen'.

    We always thought that Leo named hybrids that spontaneously appeared in his extensive native garden. This is not the case. He hand pollinated selected plants and covered the selected flowers to reduce contamination. It is interesting to note that most of his hybrid seedlings took three years to flower. 

    The Grevillea seedlings, in our garden, take about the same time to mature.

    Leo did not limit his hybridizing activities to Grevilleas. Crowea ‘Poorinda Ecstasy’ (above), Philotheca (syn Eriostemon) ‘Poorinda’, Westringia ‘Poorinda Pavane’ (below), Prostanthera ‘Ballerina’ and Boronia ‘Sunset Serenade’ are all the result of Leo’s hybridizing or selection of superior varieties.

    He made no financial gain from his work but left it to commercial nurseries to commercialise his hybrids.

    At his funeral Leo was described as “a man who left an impact on the lives of his family and his name and achievements on the pages of Australian botanical history.”

  • 24 Jul 2017 6:27 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    One of our gardening pleasures is propagating our own plants. There is also an economic reason for our propagating activities. When we plant, three plants are placed in each hole with holes close together to create dense shrubberies (see Density and Diversity article). 

    With this density of planting we could not afford to buy the large number of plants required.

    Some years ago we purchased a self-contained propagating unit (see image) with intermittent misting and bottom heating. The unit came in a flat pack from Victoria. Once assembled all that was needed was a layer of sand on the base plus water and power connected. The unit is on a bench facing east. Running costs have proved to be minimal. The unit’s purchase price has been well and truly covered with literally hundreds of plants flowing from the unit into the garden. 

    Of the plants we propagate over 80% are from cuttings.

    We use red Clonex hormone gel for all cuttings and previously used 50/50 sand/coco peat mix for both cuttings and seeds. We recently switched to commercial seed raising mix for all propagating. Using this mix we find that cuttings have stronger roots and develop faster. We use 50 cm thumb pots for cuttings with a maximum of six cuttings in each pot. 

    The seed raising mix is recycled after cuttings and seedlings are potted on. A recycled microwave rice cooker is filled with the mix and microwaved on high power for 15 minutes.

    Even after many propagating years we are still thrilled when roots are found growing out of a thumb pot full of cuttings.

  • 24 Jul 2017 6:09 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    We have a passionate interest in the environment in general and native plants in particular. 

    We also have an interest in railways and particularly railway history.

    We first encountered Henry Deane (1847-1924) when we read about the now abandoned Wolgan Valley Railway in the upper Blue Mountains of NSW. Henry was engineer-in-charge of construction in the early 1900’s. At the same time, he was collecting botanical specimens. More research brought to light Henry’s skill both as a railway engineer and botanist. He was involved in the construction of the Transcontinental Railway, the electrification of the Sydney tramway system, the construction of the railway bridge across the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney and was president the Royal Society of New South Wales (1897 and 1907) and of the Linnean Society of the same State (1895-1896).

    Henry collected many specimens during his engineering career and five species carry his name. They are Acacia deanei, Boronia deanei, Eucalyptus deanei, Leptospermum deanei and Melaleuca deanei.

    We are not familiar with Leptospermum deanei and Melaleuca deanei. They are both rare species from the greater Sydney region.

    We are familiar with the first three species to a greater or lesser degree. Acacia deanei is an old favourite. We first met this wattle in the Warrumbungle National Park. When cattle were removed from an area added to the park, Acacia deanei regenerated particularly behind contour banks. We have many specimens in the garden of this attractive tall wattle. Light green bipinnate foliage contrasts with the pale yellow flowers that are carried for most of the year. Henry Deane collected this species near Gilgandra, central NSW, during railway construction.

    Boronia deanei is a rare species from the upper Blue Mountains. 

    We observed Boronia deanei growing along a watercourse in Kanangra Boyd National Park some time ago. Henry collected this species during construction of the Wolgan Valley Railway.

    Eucalyptus deanei is a tall smooth-barked tree that is found in the coastal ranges of central NSW as well as the northern tablelands of NSW extending into southern Queensland. There is a large specimen growing in the grounds of the old College of Advanced Education, Armidale. We also came across the species in the Torrington State Conservation Area, northern NSW. A specimen was growing in the cleft of a granite boulder so its size was a trifle restricted.

    Henry Deane, the botanist, is remembered by the naming of the four plant species mentioned. Henry Deane, the railway engineer, is remembered by Henry Deane Plaza at Central Railway Station, Sydney. He passed away in 1924 whilst gardening at his Melbourne home.

    The photograph was taken during an excursion by the Linnean Society of NSW to the Nepean River in September 1888. Henry Deane is shown surrounded by plant specimens and umbrella. A plant press is visible to the right of Henry.

  • 24 Jul 2017 5:21 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    Australia’s small native birds are in trouble. Honeyeaters, wrens, finches and thrushes to name a few have disappeared from many areas. The loss of essential habitat namely shrub understoreys have suited large aggressive birds, usually Noisy Miners and Currawongs, to the detriment of smaller birds. Noisy Miners now dominate many parks and other public open spaces because there is an abundance trees but virtually no understorey.

    We were faced with a similar situation when we purchased our property, Yallaroo, west of Armidale in northern NSW. The property had been a sheep grazing property with mature eucalypts, an abundance of large birds (but fortunately no Noisy Miners), no understorey and consequently no small birds.

    Over the years, we have rectified the situation by creating a garden that has become a haven for small native birds. We have planted dense shrubberies composed of a wide range of native plants planted very close together (see our Density and Diversity article).

    Our bird list now runs to 90 different birds. At any given time there will be four or five different species observed within 20 metres of our house. Eastern Spinebills, Blue Wrens, Scrub Wrens and Red-browed Finches are some of our permanent residents. Willy Wagtails and Thrushes return annually to nest under the roof of our patio whilst swallows build their mud nests on our front verandah.

    Illustrated is a Yellow-faced Honeyeater. These birds are regular “nesters” in our garden. 

  • 24 Jul 2017 5:16 PM | HEATHER MILES (Administrator)

    The Northern Tablelands of NSW is a challenging area to establish gardens. Winters are usually characterised by a series heavy frosts throughout the season. This presents problems particularly if you wish to cultivate native plants as many come from milder, coastal and more temperate areas.

    Our garden is situated on a windswept, 900 metre high hill west of Armidale on the Northern Tablelands of NSW. We have succeeded in successfully cultivating a wide range of native plants by copying nature. In any given area of bushland (eg the Hawkesbury sandstone country around Sydney), there is a wide range (diversity) of native species growing close together (density).

    We achieve density and diversity by planting three plants (usually tube stock) in each planting hole with holes spaced about 75 cm apart. This results in dense shrubberies where the plants shelter and protect each other. Usually we have three different plants in each hole. The type of plants used depends on the position in the garden. Near paths smaller plants are used such as correas. Away from paths taller as well as shorter plants are used. In this case eucalypts, wattles, hakeas and taller grevilleas are some of the varieties used. We cultivate plants from every Australian environment except rainforest. 

    Even our dense, protective shrubberies are not enough to protect many of these frost-prone, rainforest species.

    There are number of spin-offs from this planting method. We have created ideal habitat for small native birds. The dense plant growth shades the ground and inhibits weeds. Also using a diversity of plants there is always something flowering in the garden.

    To afford this planting method we propagate over 95% of the plants used.

    This cultivation method is not everyone’s “horticultural cup of tea” but it has been extremely successful in our domestic landscape.

    The photo illustrates a section of dense shrubbery in our garden. The plants shown are: Grevillea hybrid, Melaleuca decussata, Calothamnus sp and Correa sp.

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Cremorne  Junction NSW 2090

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