Sunday, July 28, 2013

Visit to Post Office Farm Nursery, Hellebore growers and hybridizers.

Earlier today I braved the cold Macedon Ranges winter environment to visit Post Office Farm Nursery which is a Hellebore grower and hybridizer located outside Woodend not far from my home. In my opinion Post Office Farm produces the best Hellebore hybrids in Australia and being a wholesale supplier the nursery is only open to the public during certain times of the year. It was great to see what this sort of production environment looked like on the inside and it was surprisingly not as mechanized as I thought it may have been. All processed apart from watering looked to be done by hand in contrast to the plug growers I have heard about which have robotics most of the duties. The selection of hellebores on offer was amazing and I strongly suggest you visit yourself if you have the inclination to do so (links to the website are below). If you like the Hellebores they produce you can also find their hellebores labelled as 'Winter Elegance'. In retail nurseries. I will write a blog entry with more info about hellebores and also growing / care instructions in the near future.


Post Office Farm Nursery

Winter Elegance range of hellebores

Peter Leigh (owner and manager of Post Office Farm) giving a talk about hybridizing. He gives tours on Sundays and provides lots of information about growing and caring for these sensitive plants. Notice the black coloured Hellebores at his feet.

So many plants. I think these ones were about 12 months old.

More advanced plants. The price is significantly higher for a more established plant such as these.

Below are the pots which contain sown seed from the hybrid plants. They looked to be growing in a very rocky growing medium. From here they are pricked out by hand and transplanted into tubes.

The plants pictured below are Peter Leigh's collection of Hellebore sp. plants he has grown from seed sent from overseas. Some are used to create hybrids for sale. Others are just collection plants.

This is where the magic happens. It is the shade house where the stock plants are hand pollinated to create hybrid seed which grow into the plants they sell. What you see below is only an eighth of the total amount of stock plants that were in this area. 

These last shots are of several of the flowers on the stock plants. I could have photographed all day as there were so many plants. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Winter flowering plants in Parkville

It's a common misconception that plants do not flower in winter. In Melbourne this is definitely not the case and I am a great believer in winter flowering plants they provide attractive colour  in the garden when the deciduous trees have lost their leaves. Although we are now approaching the middle of winter there are lots of beautiful plants in bloom at my work. Strangely the weather has been unseasonably warm lately with several days approaching 20 Celsius after frosty mornings. The warmer temperature makes gardening a lot more comfortably and to be honest I haven't hated the frosty mornings because, in Parkville, I have had lots of physical morning tasks that keep me warm. Of all the winter flowering plants my favorite has to be the Magnolia trees. There is one large specimen in Parkville that, so far, has not lost its buds to hungry possums. Last year it only had a handful of flowers due to bud loss but its looks as though it will fully flower this year.

Magnolia soulangiana. This could be my favorite tree and the flowers are just starting to pop.

The same tree as above. You can see how many flowers have already opened. This time last year we only had about half of what is shown here across the whole tree. Notice the sunny blue winter sky.

Hellebores are also starting to open. We have several different types in the Parkville garden.

Another Hellebore. Not sure of the variety but I'm fairly sure we sourced them from 'post office farm nursery' which is a grower up in Woodend near my home. They have open days on Sundays this time of the year. A link to their website is below.

The annual bed is loaded with new plants. I planted Kale, Violas, Pansies, Cinerarias and Stocks. I also cannot bring myself to remove that small bunch of violets that have self seeded in the front of the bed. In a mont or so this bed should look fantastic.

I discovered this plant in flower whilst pruning some nearby Wisteria. It is called Luculia and its perfume smells amazing. 

The good old Salvia plant keeps flowering year round not just in winter.

Several bulbs have popped up out of the ground and this Jonquil seems to have beaten them all and flowering first.

Below is a Strelitzia or 'bird of paradise'. These plants are a common sight in many Melbourne gardens. They are tough plants which do not need much water.

Another one of my favs is the Kniphofia plant pictured below. The ones I propagated and planted at home have still not flowered but the ones in Parkville are in full bloom.

Friday, July 5, 2013

1st attempt at pruning my apple tree (spur pruning)

Last year I was set the assignment of writing an assignment on pruning apple trees. I wrote it and handed it in and since then I have been waiting for winter to prune my own apple tree at home. Pruning apple trees is not something I've had any experience in so I'm hoping that the tree will respond in a positive way. Other tasks I have left to complete are feeding the tree (which I will do once it breaks out of dormancy) and netting it to keep the birds away from the fruit. If I can manage to complete those last two tasks I should have lots of apples come summer. Listed below are pruning instructions from my pruning assignment and also some before and after pictures of my tree.


Winter pruning;

The main pruning is done during winter when the tree is dormant. Tasks for winter pruning include;

  • Removing branches that do not conform to the shape of the tree (ill directed branches pointing inwards rather that outwards are an example)

  • Removing week spindly branches to allow more energy to be concentrated on the strong branches

  • Removing dead or diseased wood which may promote or harbour certain pests or diseases

  • Thinning crowded growth to improve ventilation and light penetration through to lower branches.

  • Shortening back last seasons growth by two thirds to encourage spurs to form and to keep these close to the main branch.

Summer pruning;

Summer pruning can also be performed which involves

  • Picking out water shoots to allow energy to be directed to more established fruiting spurs

  • Pinching the growth tips of over vigorous lateral branches to concentrate the trees energy to the fruiting spurs

Spur pruning a lateral branch;

This is done on an established tree where formative pruning is already complete. The purpose of spur pruning is to enhance the fruit production yield rate by concentrating the trees energy on its fruiting buds rather than letting it grow longer branches. Done correctly it should increase the amount of fruit and the size of the fruit.
The way to do this pruning is to shorten the lateral shoots to three or four buds for shoot. Also the main leader of the branch should be shortened to half of the growth produced during the previous year. As always try to prune to an outwards facing bud to maintain an attractive and functional shape. Below is a drawing showing how you would prune a spur-bearing fruit tree branch.      

Below is my illustration of spur pruning

The apple tree prior and post pruning. Notice all those upright twigs at the top of the tree. I think they are what they call water shoots.