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Adventures in Gardening, Adventures of a Girl Reporter, Australia

Death in paradise: it’s murder in the veggie patch

We haven't been the only threat in the garden this summer. This guy was making quick work of our young grapevine before justice of a swift and terrible kind was served.

We haven’t been the only threat in the garden this summer. This guy was making quick work of our young grapevine before justice of a swift and terrible kind was served. Picture courtesy Lady Severine Sinful

I regret to inform you, Gentle Reader, that there’s been a killing done. It happened one evening, shortly after my previous filing from a Traditional Aussie Backyard, in which Your Girl Reporter crowed about the array of vegetables we had crammed into our brand new raised beds.

There was no malice aforethought, just incompetence and the over-zealous application of a seaweed emulsion without the necessary dilution.

Sally’s Gardening Tip: Work out how to use an applicator before you start spraying things on your plants.

Obvious really. But life goes on. After a brief period of mourning a quick soil test confirmed that what we needed was some potash to sweeten up our rancid earth. Luckily, the current Mr B. hadn’t cleaned out the fireplace in a while so the materials were to hand.

We (mostly he) dug over the two raised beds and added some funky supports for our fresh victims to clamber over. This was more in hope than expectation and, with a few exceptions, our food producing efforts have been pretty woeful this year.

A rare and sweet success in the Baxter backyard. Picture courtesy of the current Mr B.

Salad Bowl

It hasn’t all been disastrous in the Salad Bowl, which is what I’ve designated the rough square of backyard next to the house.

Away from the formal beds, next to the stunning Bird of Paradise (Strelizia reginae) which marks the end of the functional part of the garden, we planted chilli seedlings which popped up in the homemade compost as we spread it around the place.

After an abundance of the long red chillies we’re now enjoying a feast of the smaller, hotter varieties.

Years and several homes ago I stuck a pineapple top in a pot and, when it outgrew that, planted it in the garden.

When we moved to our last rental – before doing the grown-up thing and taking on this place – I pulled it up and shoved it in a bucket. It then spent about a year sitting in the bucket against the fence, waiting… and waiting… for Your Lady Gardener to settle it into its new home.

Well, imagine my surprise when I walked past it one day and saw a pineapple on it. Reader, it was a delicious pineapple and – perhaps even more importantly – any plant which can survive and thrive on neglect has a place in my garden. My neglect is often safer than my loving attention, as proven by my late vegetables.

The original pineapple plant and its offspring – because of course I kept the second pineapple top too – have received slightly better care since being properly planted in their new home in the Salad Bowl and Your Girl Reporter’s tender attentions have been rewarded this time with a second fruit on the way.

In front of the pineapples are a few strawberry plants – small, but strong. Once we get out of the heat of summer I’ll put more in, of different varieties. Hopefully, like the chillies, they’ll give us a long run of strawberries.

hibiscusFlowering plants

Remember that cutting I took from the neighbour’s Hibiscus? I jammed it in a pot sans rooting powder or any other assistance and, once it looked big and strong enough, planted it at the entrance to the swimming pool area. Well, baby look at you now!

Trees and shrubs

There’s another killing to be done, but this one will be carefully premeditated. The itchy tree (Lagunaria patersonia) has got to go. Its needle-like fibres went everywhere, including the neighbour’s yard and our back deck, and made life miserable for all.

We consulted an arborist who was familiar with its kind, having had the misfortune to deal with one before. The minute his crew set to work on the wretched tree, commonly known as a Norfolk Island hibiscus, hundreds of seed pods covered them in their evil, tiny glass-like fibres.

Innocent times: Here's the veggie bed under construction, before the dream and the soil turned sour.

Innocent times: Here’s one of the veggie beds under construction, and some of our victims, before the dream and the soil turned sour.

Timing will be everything…

Gardening with AS

Regular viewers will recall that I have a constant companion by the unpronounceable name of ankylosing spondylitis and it does make its presence felt while I’m gardening.

I have developed some strategies which may be of use to Team AS or anyone who may have a similar arthritic or otherwise restrictive condition.

The first and foremost strategy is to know when to call for my lovely assistant, the current Mr B who is very good at the heavy lifting.

The second is to have numerous little jobs on the go at once and to avoid doing any one activity for too long.

My two veggie beds are raised but there is still a lot of work that requires bending over and leaning. It took me days to get everything planted – twice, thanks to our early mistake – and more days to work my way round mulching the fresh victims.

It’s going to take a while to work out just what I can manage to grow, given those limitations (and unfortunate tendency to kill things), but in between the ache-making hunching-over work there’s raking, stirring compost, scooping up leaves.

These and countless other tasks are all done in short, sharp bursts and chosen to provide whatever contrast I need to the previous job. It hasn’t taken long to build up a regular rotation of tasks which keep my joints and spine working through a good range of motions.

My final strategy is really easy: Every so often, stop. Do some stretching on the lawn, or just sit or lie down and enjoy the surroundings. And that goes for everyone – not just Team AS.

Hope you’re all keeping hydrated and enjoying the summer Down Under. Stay tuned for more Adventures in Gardening in future episodes.

© Sally Baxter 2017

An occasional series in which Your Girl Reporter documents her struggle to learn the Art of Gardening, after doing the grown-up thing and buying a house on a quarter-acre block – an Australian dream I never sought but am happy to throw myself in to at this late stage of the game. You can read more of my Adventures in Gardening here

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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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