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Adventures in Gardening, Adventures of a Girl Reporter, Australia

Bird in Paradise all green fingers and thumbs

I’m a city girl as you know and a stranger to the traditional Aussie backyard. All that changed 12 months ago when the current Mr Baxter and I did the grown up thing and bought a house. That would have been exciting enough but this one came attached to a quarter acre block covered with 57 – count ‘em, 57 – trees.

I’ve spent a year mostly just watching things grow and wondering whether to intervene and, if so, when and how drastically. It’s time to actually get to grips with owning my first ever big garden. I have no idea what I’m doing, which seems a good enough reason to introduce Sally’s Adventures in Gardening, an occasional series in which Your Girl Reporter tries her hand at a new skill. What could go wrong?

Some of those 57 trees.

Some of those 57 trees. It’s a sub-tropical paradise… but how do I keep it that way? Join me in this new occasional series as I find out.

Trees and shrubs 

With great trees comes great responsibility. One of our first acts was to engage an arborist who took out a diseased red gum and a couple of palms which looked in danger of falling.

The garden is a landscaped low-maintenance tropical paradise which has suffered years of neglect. At some point in its past someone went through with a chainsaw and took out a lot of trees, leaving sprouting stumps everywhere.

There are also many jacaranda and umbrella tree seedlings which need to come out at some point but that’s a bigger job than this little gardening neophyte can manage alone.

Flowering plants 

I love flowers and there aren’t many in the garden so I’d like to do something about that but I’m not sure what to put in. There are three large clumps of spider lilies which look magnificent with their dainty flowers hovering above dramatic strappy leaves. They seem to have finished flowering but they look just as handsome without their flowers.

We're not the only ones to enjoy the Strelitzia but we haven't been getting quite so up close and personal.

We’re not the only ones to enjoy the Strelitzia but we haven’t been getting quite so up close and personal. Picture courtesy of the current Mr Baxter.

There are also two Bird of Paradise plants (Strelitzia) – one huge, one much smaller. My guess is that they were planted at the same time but one gets significantly more sunshine.

The small one has just produced its first flower, while the big boy is on at least his third flush. I blame the compost and chicken poo which I applied in the spring and again a few weeks ago.

Salad bowl 

Who doesn’t want to grow veggies? There’s a square bed right next to the back steps which seemed a good spot for some greens. We’ve been feasting on our own basil all year but I fell down on the salad leaves by failing to plant more as the season progressed.

I’ve just put in some more rocket, cos and fancy lettuces and am wondering about crop rotation. I have no idea how to manage my salad bed but at the moment it’s not feeding me, so that definitely needs work.

Lady Garden 

I might be a novice on the land but after years of apartment living I am a dab hand at container gardening. So it’s probably no surprise that my first attention was given to an empty space down the side of the house which gets very little light and is extremely private.

A work in progress - the Lady Garden takes shape.

A work in progress – the Lady Garden takes shape.

It was made for all those pots I’ve carted around for years and I set about creating a shady garden which the current Mr Baxter impishly rechristened to all-round hilarity.

You may laugh along with him but let the record show that my private shady garden is benefitting from frequent attention and plenty of moisture. Most of its inhabitants have travelled with me from place to place since I returned to Australia in 2001 but there are a few newbies.

I planted some native ginger which did so well it managed to push out new shoots faster than a plague of crickets could attack them. A bird’s nest fern has also grown in a year from a small garden centre bargain into a huge beast which will soon need repotting.

The result of frequent attention and plenty of moisture.

The result of frequent attention and plenty of moisture.

What next?

Autumn has been slow to arrive but we are starting to enjoy cooler mornings and evenings. I’ve been assiduously running two compost bins since we arrived and have started spreading its crumbly goodness around the yard.

In the process, I’m tidying the knowns and the unknowns among the residents – removing spent flowers from the Strelitzia and cutting back dead foliage from the shrubs, some of which are Lilly Pillies, while others remain unidentified. I’m not sure how seriously to trim but there’s plenty of weeding to do while I wonder.

I’ll let you know how I go. It will be fun.

© Sally Baxter 2016
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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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