Monday, August 26, 2013

Visit to Marysville and Lake Mountain Australia

Lake Mountain bushland and Marysville town plantings 2013

Just got back from an overnight stay in Marysville after a day trip to Lake Mountain to see the snow. Marysville is a town 99km out of Melbourne which, along with several other old Victorian rural towns, was established as stopping point between Melbourne and the goldfields (in this case the upper Goulburn goldfields). It also attracted loggers as it is still surrounded by massive Mountain Ash trees which were once touted as Australia's tallest trees. In 2009 the destructive 'Black Saturday' bushfires ripped through the town causing massive damage. 90% of Marysville's buildings were destroyed and 45 people died in the fires. I visited in 2010 and the town was still badly damaged. I remember seeing that the shops on the main street were destroyed and were temporarily operating out of shipping containers. There was also burnt buildings and trees everywhere. It was a great pleasure this time, to see the town basically fully rebuild and with all services up and running. The great thing was that such a great job had been done during the rebuilding process. The main streets buildings were all up and running and the streetscape planting was magnificent. The main street was lined with hellebores, grape hyacinth and daffodils. Also a new park named 'Gallipoli Park' was build with state of the art planting (a mixture of Australian natives and exotics) and play equipment. The visit to Lake Mountain was both shocking and beautiful. The mountainside was full of ghostly dead snow gums that were also destroyed in the bushfires. As sad as it was to see them in that state they did look striking with the fog drifting through them. The other pleasing thing to see was all the new growth  starting to rise up from the ground level which was once shaded out by the canopy that was lost to the fires.

Several pictures below of Lake Mountain's dead snow gums and new growth appearing over snow.

This is a man made river bed near the new 'Gallipoli Park'. I wish I took some pictures of the park itself. The seeing the park's native plant scheme has reinvigorated my interest in the use of native plants for ornamental purposes. 

The next 3 pictures are of street side plantings on the main street of Marysville. They are all good choices in my opinion. The bulbs should do well because of the cooler climate and hopefully the hellebores should thrive under the deciduous oak trees that shade them in summer.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How to plant and care for Hellebores

Hellebore growing guide

As lovely as Hellebores are they are not the easiest plant to grow. I recently bought some myself and was given a growing guide with them. The following information is from both the growing guide and my own personal experience with these plants.


The correct climate and planting location for Hellebores in Australia

In Australia Hellebores can be grown in Victoria and Tasmania. They will grow as far north as Sydney but they are ideally suited to the colder weather of the Southern states. As you may have guessed these plants are not effected whatsoever by frosts. Hellebores do not like sandy soil or waterlogged heavy clay soils so something in between is needed. The planting position of Hellebores is important. They need to be shaded in summer and have as much sun as possible in winter. This is why people always tell you to plant them under deciduous trees.

Planting Hellebores

Hellebores have very fast growing root systems so you need to plant the as soon as possible. They put on most of their growth in winter so planting them as early as possible in the cool seasons gives them more of a chance to establish themselves. Plant them about 60cm apart and loosen the roots before planting. Incorporate organic matter into the soil before planting and water in afterwards.

Hellebore maintenance

When new growth starts to show through in late autumn remove all old growth. Late autumn is also time to feed these plants as the main growth occurs in winter. During the warm months inspect the plants for aphids. Hellebores usually need 2 to 3 years to establish before flowering will occur.


If you follow these instructions your Hellebores should thrive. The main point is the planting location. They really do need as much sun as possible in winter to put on a good show of flowers. Some people have told me that they need full sun but in my experience I have seen Hellebores flowering well in locations with an eastern aspect so they would only be getting full sun for half a day. Good luck!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii. An extremely tough and drought tolerant plant for Australian conditions.

Whoever owned my house before I bought it decided to put a garden bed right under the eaves outside my bedroom. This is a bit of a classic mistake as the cover of the eaves provides a rain shadow. Essentially no rain will fall on the portion of the garden bed under the eaves creating desert like conditions. I tried planting plants there and watering them with my trusty watering can but I would inevitably let the area dry out too much and they would die. Then somebody recommended that I try planting Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii there and I haven't looked back. The Euphorbia genus may be more well known as a weed to some (and this particular plant is restricted in W.A and the N.T)  rather than an ornamental plant but that weedy robustness is what makes the charcias species such a great plant. The soil under my eaves where this plant is growing is really sandy and dry. I do still water this plant but only once every couple of weeks and it would only get 10 litres at a time if it is lucky. Despite that lack of water and poor soil it has thrived and I would highly recommend it as a drought hardy perennial plant for people in Melbourne or even up in the central highlands of Victoria. It is said that it needs full sun but mine is planted on a Western aspect so it can deal with part shade. Although it is said to be a perennial it does get quite leggy after a few years but I have found that it self seeds quite well so there is always some new plants on the rise. Euphorbia characias is native to the Mediterranean and its milky latex sap has been used as an ancient traditional plant medicine to treat skin issues such as warts, skin cancers and tumors. The latex sap however is to be treated with caution. If you get it in your eyes it can cause significant damage. Do not ingest any part of this plant as it is toxic. There are several different cultivars that are in nurseries so if you are in the market for a low maintenance, drought tolerant plant (and don't live in W.A or N.T) then give it a go.

A close up (and slightly out of focus) shot of the flowers.

Euphorbia characias in full bloom during winter.

I find the foliage of Euphorbia characias more interesting than its flowers. The 'Black Pearl' cultivar has foliage the same shape as the one pictured below but with dark and almost black leaves. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Week 1 of the potting mix shootout!

As part of my studies I have recently starting testing different commercially available potting mixes. Although the test I have performed isn't strictly scientific it should give a good indication of the effectiveness of different brands. I chose curly leaf parsley as the plant to grow and planted it out in 100mm black plastic pots. The pots are all placed in the same area in the outside growing area of Fairfield TAFE. I have also used 3 different types of fertilizer (Nutricote Exotic, Osmocote Exotic & Green Jacket Exotic) in conjunction with a control (no fertilizer). The prices of the different potting mixes vary considerably and many seem to contain the same ingredients. Some of the mixes display the logo which indicates compliance with the AS3743 Australian standard and others do not. Strangely the most expensive potting mix does not have the AS3743 logo on it and I think that may have something to do with the fact  that it is an 'organic' mix. I'm guessing this has something to do with the natural variance of organic materials. I planted out the parsley into all mixes and also fertilized each mix with the three different fertilizers mentioned above. On planting the seedlings were all healthy and were roughly 45mm tall. I will post the end results once the trial is over.


1. Hortico all purpose blend
Price: $6.30c
Description on packet: For a wide variety of indoor and outdoor plants. Composted pine bark. AS3743 compliant. Contains minerals and fertilizer. Living organisms

2. Osmocote multi purpose
Price: $7.98c
Description on packet: 4 months osmocote. AS3743 compliant. Wetting agent, composted pine bark, living organisms. For a wide variety of plants.

3. Osmocote premium
Price: $10.97c
Description on packet: 6 months osmocote. AS3743 compliant. Composted pine bark, water crystals, coir, wetting agent, living organisms. For a wide variety of plants

4. Miracle gro multi purpose
Price: $6.97c
Description on packet: Controlled release fertilizer. AS3743 compliant. Composted pine bark, wetting agent, living organisms. For a wide variety of plants.

5. Debco potmate
Price: $10.47c
Description on packet: Controlled release fertilizer. AS3743 compliant. Composted pine bark, living organisms, wetting agent. For a wide variety of plants.

6. Debco organic
Price: $13.98
Description on packet: Superior composted pine bark, premium blood and bone, organic carbon, NASAA input for organic production, no household green waste, ph balanced. For a wide variety of plants. No AS3743 compliance logo.

7. Rich gro all purpose
Price: $3.78c
Description on packet: Composted pine bark, living organisms, mineral fertilizer. For pots and all plant types. No AS3743 compliance logo.

8. Miracle gro organic choice
Price: $9.42c
Description on packet: Composted pine bark, blood and bone, fish meal, seaweed, chicken manure, feather meal, bio stimulants, living organisms, feeds for 3 months. No AS3743 compliance logo.

9. Osmocote plus organics
Price: $11.98c
Description on packet: Composted pine bark, AS3743 compliant, composted manure, blood and bone, seaweed, fish meal, gypsum, wetting agent.

10. NMIT Debco pro
Price: ???
Description: This is the potting mix that NMIT TAFE buys directly from Debco by the cubic metre. I don't know much about what is in it and can only guess as the the ingredients from visual inspection. It looked to contain no control release fertilizer or water crystals. Like all the others it is made from composted pine bark.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Revisiting the Titan Arum (Corpse Flower) in the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Last year just before Christmas I visited the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne in an attempt to see the flower of the Amorphophallus titanum plant (see my blog entry Unfortunately I was 2 days too early and it hadn't opened yet. I left for holidays a day after I visited the plant and it opened when I was away. I was quite disappointed as I really wanted to experience the 'perfume' of the Titan arum's flower which is supposed to smell like rotting flesh (which is where it gets its other common name 'corpse flower' from). Anyway I revisited the tropical greenhouse at the Botanical Gardens and saw the amazing leaf which is what grows after the flower dies back. Although it looks like an actual tree the plant you see in the picture below is actually one single leaf. I'm pretty sure this is called a compound leaf but it could be called a phyllode which is a modified leaf structure, I'm not quite sure. Apparently the leaf dies back each year and is replaced by a new one which grows from the plants corm. Seeing the huge leaf almost made up for the fact that I missed the plant in bloom. Titan arums are quite rare plants and until recently they had only been propagated in small numbers. The gardens have others that are being grown so hopefully in the future I will be able to experience one in flower.

Front and centre is the massive single leaf structure of the Amorphophallus titanum plant. The individual 'leaves' you see are actually called leaflets. Another 50cms of growth and it will be too tall for the greenhouse.

Thought I would include these two pictures of some orchids that were in the greenhouse also. Everyone loves orchids and there were heaps in flower inside the greenhouse.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Winter flowering tree Taiwan Cherry (Prunus campanulata)

At the NMIT Fairfield campus where I study Horticulture there is a sad looking row of Taiwan Cherry trees. Sad because the have had some bad pruning done on them but at the end of the row is the beautiful tree you see in the pictures below. Prunus campanulata is a tree native to China and Japan. According to information I've seen on the good old internet it can grow to 7m high with a spread of 7m however I can't say I've ever seen one grow to that size. Maybe in Melbourne they don't quite have the ideal conditions they require for full growth or maybe I've just been unlucky and walked past a huge specimen without looking. This beautiful tree is actually an environmental weed in New Zealand where it has spread throughout several parts of the country. Cultural notes on this tree seem to be basically the standard (ie rich and well drained soil with moist conditions) but the fact that it has escaped as a weed in New Zealand seems to suggest that it is not too fussy about its habitat. In all the cultural  notes I've found it is stated that it will grow in clay, loam or sandy soil and it also like full sun. I think that this tree would look great in conjunction with some traditional Cherry Blossom trees as it flowers at the same time.

Prunus campanulata flowers in bloom

The tree in it's entirety and in full bloom.

Close up of the flowers.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne Australia are under attack!

I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne a couple of days ago and saw, amongst other things, damage that has been inflicted on trees and cacti by vandals. Probably the saddest sight was the Separation Tree which is a heritage tree that existed before Europeans colonized Australia.

The Separation Tree is named so because it is where citizens gathered to celebrate state of Victoria separating from the state of New South Wales in 1850. It also holds cultural significance for people indigenous to the area. It is a river redgum and is over 400 years old. The tree was ring barked back in 2010 and had survived by a technique called 'bridge grafting' where redgum sapling bark is grafted across the damaged area, thereby bridging the ring barking allowing energy photosynthesized by the leaves in the canopy to reach the tree's roots. Without the bridge grafts energy cannot be sent to the trees roots and they die. The dead roots cannot send water and nutrients up to the canopy and the canopy then dies. Needless to say it angers me and others to see it attacked once more as even with the bridge grafts the tree was still struggling to stay alive.

The most recent attack was on the 21st of July and amazingly it followed another attack which was on the area in the gardens known as 'Guilfoyle's Volcano' on July the 5th. Guilfoyles volcano is an area planted out with succulents and cacti. When I visited it the damaged plants were nearly all replaced but it didn't look quite as grand as many of the plants were smaller than the originals. Below is a link to a news report showing some of the scale of the damage to the cacti and succulents. In that attack most of the large plants in the succulent garden were damaged.

The attacks have prompted calls for better security to be installed to protect the gardens. The gardens CEO however, has stated  ''In the end though, the gardens can not, and should not, be a high-security compound" and also ''We seem to have a problem with a small number of individuals who have no regard for the importance of these trees and the significance of the gardens". If more attacks occur I personally think that tighter security is necessary and should be used.

The Separation Tree as I saw it on my visit. The hessian covers sphagnum moss in an effort to assist healing. I'm guessing that the moss is only a temporary measure and that bridge grafting will again take place.

Another victim, this time a spotted gum.

Sign of the times.

Attempted ring barking. I wonder whether they were disturbed and ran or if they just got tired and stopped?

This is the succulent garden that surrounds a water reservoir called 'Guilfoyle's Volcano' (not a real volcano of course).

The succulent garden was looking leaner than usual but impressive nonetheless.

More evidence of vandalism.

 'Guilfoyles Volcano' was built in 1876 to store water for the gardens. For 60 years it was left idle but has now been restored. William Guilfoyle become the second director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne in 1873 succeeding Ferdinand Von Mueller. He radically changed the gardens and made them more ornamental and scenic as opposed to Von Mueller's vision which was more of a systems garden. Below are pictures of the top of the volcano.