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As escavations go, garden mounds are not the least bit photogenic. As soon as you say, 'show us your best side' -- the contour seems to flatten out or its bumpiness is drowned in greenery.

So these images are suggestive rather than scenery you could base a map on.

And they're messy. Higgledee piggledee. Poly plus mix of plants. Any old china plate on top. Wood ash and mulch smeared everywhere. ..

But the main thing, the takeaway impression, is that the mound garden grows. I don't think I have lost a plant despite the angle I'm growing them on.

I've thrown a lot of different plants into the mix so here goes...In another few weeks the mounds will be hidden in jungle.

The long strips of mulch are stuff I got from guys trimming shrubbery at the local tavern. I wanted to lay down mulch stuff over all the cardboard and paper that's carpeting the valleys between the mounds.

Not neat and not quite in forest floor mode. But the thing is my mounds are more verdant than my beds. There is a qualitative difference in activity.

So going with the verdant flow, I've got carrots and radishes planted among all this stuff. Roma pole beans are in there too, and I've just dropped down some jute twine from  a cross-garden aerial line above.

Obviously tubers like mounds -- sweet potato, potato, sunchokes,purple yams (and oca/NZ yam is in there too). So too do cucurbits. In the mix is choko, pumpkins, zuchini. There's spring onions, root veg, pole beans,Chinese broccoli ...For cover : coriander, dog bane, Indian shot canna, pigface, nasturtiums, Brazil spinach and Warrigal Greens.... In the valleys, tomatoes --only because if they were on the mound summits they'd take over the whole hill.Flower essentials: sunflowers and marigolds.

Elsewhere quinoa is coming up, but that's another story (they're on my ridges) I've also planted some pigeon peas out of season among the mounds to see what happens.

The adventure of garden mounds...the thrills come  from all that up and down.
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Making do with less

I don't live in a tent. Nor do I reside in a hut.But I do spend most of my indoor hours in my 'garage'.
Like some sheik, my indoors is coated in tentfulness.

I have floor to ceiling drop canvas hither and yon.

What should be a cold corridor this time of year, is really quite warm because of the cloth layering.
I've learnt that a spread of cotton (and whatever) is a great insulator if folded over. It's like wearing another layer of clothing.

Come the heat of Summer I just roll everything back like a Japanese bamboo screen.

Just saying: if you want to heat up and insulate a room, drop some floor to ceiling curtains. Insert some bamboo rods -- and Voila! you have a comfy cubby. 

When so ensconced I find the ready in-and-out thing, going to the backyard garden and back,  is direct and hassle free.

I'm half outside while being half inside.

And my room, my work room, has ambiance. It's not sterile interior decorated. It has functional substance.

You can engineer a lot of stuff into the one small space. You can add features that service you without being held hostage to 'look'...and still end up with 'cozy'.

And with all those drapes...you can spray them with essential oils and smell up the place real nice.

So small does indeed work. I'm saying we can live in less cubic space so long as we manipulate the environment  with ambiance in mind...and I'm mightily surprised how effective cheap curtaining can be.

Painters drop canvas...that's what I used ... and Op shoppery.

That's the thing in Australia: you need to accommodate to the extremes.Sponsor flexibility. Accommodate yourself on the cheap.

I think huts are great but tents fall down.  Caravans are OK but they are  width constrained.

In the age of the big blow, the big bushfire, the deluge, flash flood and storm tide I don't think any McMansion can save us.

Now is the time to start mixing and matching and making do with less.
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Notes on Mounds

As I mentioned I'm garden  intense at the moment and since my bush turkey fiend seems now to be boycotting the beds she roamed and brutalized so often, I thought I'd risk a plant out. I wanted to plant out some seed spuds -- Nicola -- so I built a series of mounds as is my experimental habit.
But it is nagging me that you can do more with 'a' mound than grow potatoes....so I'm seizing any and every opportunity to mound up.

I planted three mounds with spuds and a fourth with Zuchini. In each I stuck a couple of Roma Italian Pole Beans . Dotted the bottom of each mound with Dog Bane and Pigface cuttings. Threw on a coating of grass clippings as mulch ....inserted my pots....


And as a further decoration -- I dotted my DIY hill with bamboo skewers in case the bush Turkey comes back.

I had built a bed only a short time ago -- like a camel's back with two humps -- two mounds -- and it is doing a extraordinarily well with its cargo of potatoes, pole beans, coriander and tomatoes.
So I'm telling myself, 'This works! By gingoes mounds are go!'

But I immediately felt anxious because this isn't garden lore. Ridges or raised garden beds may be  horticulturally approved, but mounds don't get much gardening press. I do have ridges running hither and yon but give me a good round mound any day.

Conical shaped. Knoll like...dotted about the landscape.
In geography, knoll is another term for hillock, a small, low, round natural hill or mound.
With mounds you have all around to play with. Research in New Zealand suggests that , at least there, productivity varies between the northern and southern faces of traditional Maori kumera mounds. My experience, using much smaller mounds, doesn't replicate that conclusion. Indeed, my mounds seem to share whatever fertility and moisture is in the mound by facilitating plant access. In a sense they are an oblique version of a vertical garden. Although I  have a shadier southern side too.
Do I get erosion? With a Bush Turkey mining away I get plenty. But with the roots and tubers infesting the hillock, and a coating of mulch , these smallish mounds hold their ground. Even with subsidence, all you have to do is mound up anyway.

Mounds give you more surface area to grow plants.
 It's simple:
^ has  a larger surface area than -
So hypothetically you should be able to grow more per square metre.

Mounds offer at least 2 microclimates: One in the valley (between the mounds or at their base)and one on the hillock. I'm thinking that you plant accordingly. While I water the mound -- embedding its core with a terracotta pot -- the valley acts like a swale and collects precipitation and run off. Indeed, it seems to me that mounds embedded with terracotta pots -- are extremely irrigation efficient. I've found that when I convert a flat garden bed to a succession of mounds I need fewer terracotta pot watering stations., and it's easier to monitor the hydration of all the plants.

Traditionally, mound gardening in Melanesia generates a sort of compost heap effect. I'm sure I could engineer that too if I stuff manures into the core of each of my mounds. But for now, my mounds make sense because I have a small tank of water embedded inside them.  On my sandy soil that's  a big advantage.

You plant differently for mounds. Since you are planting on a slope you don't have  the concept of rows to rely on. 'Spacing' doesn't mean the same thing. I'm still experimenting but obviously a root vegetable like a carrot may not suit mound gardening if it was planted on an incline. Indeed, what's the preferred angle for a mound that enables you to plant the largest array of different vegetables?
  • Read further extended discussion on this topic: HERE
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The Garden in July

The way it comes together!

There may not be the explosive growth of the warmer and wetter months but the plants that appreciate a bit of chilling start doing their mid Winter thing. And you still get new growth. The seedlings come on. Plant cuttings take root. And the garden's navvy gets to work longer shifts in the cool and sunshine.

No sweat. Nothing gets away from you and you can engage more with the dirt.

It's potting about weather.

Insect Hotel

A friend had a wee small hostelry for insects. The horticulturalist I work with who is new to the area bemoans the shallow local bee population. And I, to my credit, was renovating my two ponds when  I thought in a sort of 2 plus 2 equals five moment...I'll go into the hospitality industry.

So the last few days I've been collecting bits and pieces from around the yard and recycling them into apartments for insects. Re-imagining yourself from the house hunting insect POV is a lot of creative fun. With so much old bamboo about the place my industry had ready hardware. Saw up a few canes. Chop through some pawpaw trunks. Recycle some old bamboo curtain beads. Make use of some old containers...Hang em up. Attach them.

I already had structures: Sculptural local woods laid and strutted together around the ponds and skywards for a wind chime,  so I simply inserted the apartments among all that. Clambering over these was some keen growth: nasturtium, Bolivian cucumber and a coastal legume.

So now, all I gotta do is wait for the clientele to come visit. Here and a the local school gardening project  methinks stingless native bees may be an option...


It makes me distinctly uncomfortable to be obsessed with a gardening contour that no one else (on this continent at least) seems to indulge in: mounds. (See the recent: Notes on Mounds)  I may be an eccentric gardener but I do not garden in the nuddy. I do however build up mounds of dirt, shove a terracotta pot in the top as a flu and grow stuff at an angle of  45 degrees.

I grow at an angle... I'm telling you it works!  45 degrees. 45 degrees.

My mounds aren't Polynesian/Melanesian huge. My mounds are little islands rising up out of the detritus like a volcano in a shabby sea.

On these pet knolls, I've planted out a lot of stuff. A lot of different stuff to see how it grows.

I've got potatoes, oca (NZ Yam), pole beans, tomato, zuchini, coriander, Sunchokes, spring onions, carrots, sun jewels, sunflowers, sweet potato, pumpkin, purple yams, aloe vera, cannas...planted atop or on the sides of my wee hillocks.

Truth to tell I thought such a polygamous mix was sure to be a hard ask of elevated soil, but each mound is becoming its own micro-climate. Each is its own fantasy land.

I'll need to christian each and everyone of them. That's a lot of champagne!

Indeed when I look at what can happen at 45 degrees and then gaze  at the flat beds,  the horizontal beds seem desultory and vapid  in comparison. But here's the thing: I can see these islands'  flora  easily  because the convex contour offers a 360 degree look around. In a polycultural gardening indulgence such as  mine, that's a real plus.

Gardening is easier...because it's diced up into manageable parts.Wee round beds: O-O-O all about.

While the initial mound I built this year is so verdant -- I cannot see anything at all except jungle -- the others are likely to follow suit. I'm now meditating on the option of engineering mounds on my east/west beds. My north/south beds are so far gone that they'll all metamorphasize into mound-dom within a few months. Any delay in earth moving is simply about waiting on what's there now to reach harvest.

Between the mounds I throw all the brush and cuttings I collect and tramp it all down as I traffic hither and yon.

Garden vistas

Looking south: poles supporting aerial lines for climbing plants; seedlings on the go at bottom right;    
behind them a two mound bed buried under growth; milk crate garden bottom centre. Click on image to enlarge view.
In my mix are a lot of climbing plants. The old garden hoses I strung through the air across the garden are now supporting feeder lines both vertical and horizontal as I drop twine down to pole beans, Bolivian cucumbers, Mouse Melon, an exotic cucurbit (so exotic I can't recall or pronounce the name) and choko. The advantage of taking these plants so sharply skward is that this time of year they don't shade their neighbours so much and I get to plant climbers more or less where ever I like without having to build trellises. No need to clump plant. I'm still gardening with an eclectic polycultural, companion planting, mix.

I give aerial gardening with jute twine: nine and a half out of ten

As the Vulcan salute says, "Live long, climb up and prosper."[ Or should it be?: " Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to bravely go where no plant has gone before".]

Milk Crate Gardening.
Not my norm, but I'm experimenting with container gardening. Usually I hate containers as they are so routinely thirsty.


I'm a milk crate junkie. Can't live without them. And now that I've found a regular supply of these design masterpieces at the local tip, a lot can now happen.

At the local school gardening project  we've been vertical gardening with pallets and I passionately hate them. I think the whole exercise is absurd. So in looking around for useful hardware, that could use weed mat in its walls, I  researched  milk crate gardening as an option.

Bingo: crates have wings. 

The pros of milk crates as gardening containers are:
  • milk crates are cheap ( I pay $1) or free.(Retail: $12)
  • milk crates offer good volume to grow stuff. Indeed a milk crate on average has a volume of around 27 litres.
  • milk crates neatly butt against one another so they are easily arranged into 'garden bed' shapes.
  • milk crates when butted together insulate one another and the soil they may contain.
  • milk crates can be stacked so that a quick 'raised bed' is a milk crate atop a milk crate.(You can also create vertical gardens this way if you must.)
  • milk crates are sturdy and moveable so they can be shifted about with changes in the seasons and weather.
The one drawback with  milk crate gardening is that when filled with soil, a milk crate is a hefty lift (over 30 kgm I'd guess) -- so moving them about may (or 'should' for the back conscious) require the use of a trolley.

Are they worth the effort -- collecting them and fabricating with weed mat?  That's why I'm experimenting. My beginner plant is tomatoes. I suspect crate gardening will also suit sweet peppers and cucumbers...and they may offer me the advantage that some of the fungal diseases my garden is prone to will be  less when the plants are grown above ground in a crate.

Or so I hypothesize...

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A kitchen garden for a cook who gardens

Since I've recently been negotiating a period on intense gardening indulgence which have qualitatively improved my engagement with da dirt,  I want to rule off on the intensity with some peripheral thoughts.

All gardens are different one from t'other. ..and all gardens vary in their purpose.

I say this because at the school garden we've rebooted, it's amazing how the project presents so many different opportunities. Since I act as a sort of manager and gofer, working with the various stake holders -- children, teaching staff, groundsman, P&C, the bistro we supply with produce, and volunteers you have to learn to respect the different POV. Not that consensus is hard to attain, but comprehending  the likely trajectory and engineering it  is not as simple as it is in your own backyard.

But this 'issue' has made me reflect on my own out-back gardening experience: What sort of garden am I growing? What's its identity?


I think the first feature of my gardening indulgence is that mine is a polyculture. That can suggest a range of methods but mine is intensely mixed polyculture. It's a rainbow of different annual plants -- in ones and twos -- growing next to one another in the same bed (and having sex). I may have over ten different species sharing the same space.

As they grow this mix and match may make  harvest difficult. I have to find the plant in order to harvest from it. That means I need to be intimately familiar with each plant: I must know where it is and at what stage its growth is at. That presumes an intense level of engagement...and I'm finding that hand watering -- often daily -- facilitates that.

The other key feature of polyculture is that it sponsors companion planting. I'm not great shakes about which plant pairs with another, but I do know I don't have many problems with insect infestation or disease.

Touch wood.

And when I do have an outbreak I tend to ignore it because I have other plants, other species, I can turn to. What I may lose on the swings I gain on the slides. This means I don't fret over any single plant. I'd like to. It seems callous not to. But I suffer from a perspective that doesn't focus on  individual species because I have so many planted out.And besides,  the whole is greater than the sum of its plants.


This leads into the key concept that rules my patch: I'm gardening for the kitchen. It may not seem that simple or that direct, but when you garden to feed the house on a daily basis, you don't want surpluses -- you want a supermarket in the soil you can pick and choose from as required.

This is also why the polycultural mix and match makes sense. It's all about what's on hand -- and some plants, like herbs,  you want more 'on hand'    than others.

This is also why depending on cut-and-come-again is my preferred method of harvest. I want fresh food daily. Not weekly or when a harvest is due.


I'll own up to being ruled by my early experience growing cottage gardens. It was my parents' obsession.
The cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back several centuries, but their reinvention in stylised versions grew in 1870s England, in reaction to the more structured and rigorously maintained English estate gardens that used formal designs and mass plantings of brilliant greenhouse annuals.
I want to emphasize this orientation because I'm dedicated to growing annual plants -- not perennials. That may seems a superfluous statement but in the context of the current vogue for Permaculture, I'm consciously rejecting food foresting and a reliance on perennial species. 

The French Jardin Potager tradition -- while often presumed to be based on very formal design -- is really in the same sync as  cottager. It serves the same purpose.And like the cottager form, the potager is driven by planting annual seeds. 

Cottage gardens , despite their seemingly quaint attributes, were working class in origin and based in towns, villages and cities. They weren't pretentious 'designs' but functional places that grew food to eat in order to supplement the family food budget. And when the land wasn't there, allotments were utilised.
And therein hangs a tale: allotments in modern times had to be fought for as a direct response to the enclosure acts of the 19th century. Local authorities  in Britain must maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent. By 1945 there were 1.5 million allotments in Britain. Indeed, further back, a  1732 engraving of Birmingham shows the town encircled by allotments.
We are not in temperate England or France and our gardening traditions suffer from an unfamiliarity with various kitchen garden habits across the sub tropical and tropical planet. Outfits like Kitchen Gardens International try to address that ignorance but in my experience there is still a lack of information about the various ways many cultures garden for the kitchen. Commercial and peasant agriculture of primary crops is more often studied...as is the anthropology of gardening among indigenous communities.

The other feature often over looked is that the kitchen garden must be polycultural. Indeed that's the point. You grow a mix of vegetables for the family pot...and if we weren't growing mixes we wouldn't have vegetables like we do today because aside from core staples each family's food, once-upon-a time, was grown in kitchen gardens or it had to be  bought from the local market. 

In that sense the whole kitchen garden dynamic is related to the business of farmers markets as some kitchen gardeners either sold their surplus, or switched over to growing the produce full time --assuming they could get access to land. I think this is evident in Australian history if you consider the impact gardeners of Chinese and Italian origin  have had on the country's diet.  Even the Gold Fields of the 1860s were paired with Chinese Market Gardens. 

It's an irony of Australian urban history that the large size 'quarter acre' suburban house block wasn't  usually turned into a vegetable garden. Whereas the post war wave of migrants, especially those of Greek or Italian origin, keenly converted even much smaller patches of real estate into vegetable gardens.


My grandfather had 5 children but his whole suburban backyard  was a vegetable garden. It was a steep upward slope and over the years he tiered it layer by layer and you had to use stepping stones to get around the patch. Everything was a mix. There wasn't so much garden beds but you stepped between the plants and  each row were narrow like a staircase

He wasn't my favorite human being but he certainly has a novel approach to gardening.

So I guess, through my own parents, I'm channeling him. 

I've had many other gardens in my life in the various places I've lived in but this is my first opportunity to truly indulge my passion and cash in on my own experiences. And when I look back I see how often I was a victim of  then current gardening fads. It's like not seeing the wood for the trees. 

It may seem self evident to say it, but gardening is about food.  Well, it is for me, anyway. That's the primary point. And in growing food for yourself and family you tap into all these other benefits. 

I'm a cook who gardens. Food is a major part of  my life. So my garden begins in the kitchen and is  ruled by my culinary needs and aspirations. 

It is a kitchen garden.There: I've said it.

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The Garden in June: many surprizes

My garden appeared dull and stressed. Not much rain. Above average 'Autumn' temps. What's a plant to do?

But on closer inspection there are many surprizes. It may not look keenly verdant but hither and yon some delights are consolidating.
  • Achocha: aka Bolivian cucumber -- these crunchy morsels are carried aloft by a keen climbing plant of which I have 3. I think this plant is a great discovery. The small cucumber-like fruits are easy to grow and the skyward bent suits my preference for climbers. You may have to fossick a bit to find the Aladdin's slipper shaped morsels among the leaves but the crunch is worth it.
  • Jicama: aka Yam Bean. Yesiree my Jicamas have taken! And I loves the bulbous tuber these crispy apple like creatures put out. Versaite in the kitchen. Great in salsa. Keeps well. Another crunch for the gob.
  • Choko: aka Chayote.I may be suffering from a Choko glut but let's say, that outback I can always get a meal. They're big now and have enough weight in them to cause a few of my jute lines to break. I thought this was going to be a problem, but like ripe fruits falling from a tree, when my lines break it's a single that harvest is ready. Even though I've used a light gauge the twine system for climbers has performed wonderfully so far. I need more bamboo poles than I have in order to support the lines running all over, but I'm delighted with my aerial garden.
  • Allium: aka garlic, leek and onion. Since I have decided to embrace a noble quest, this year is the year dedicated to the Allium family  at maison d'ave and I'm determined to master the business of growing onions, leeks, chives, and scallions. If I'm gonna be allowed an obsession that's it. I won't share with you my multitudinous frustrations with onions  but without going into detail, I'm beginning to learn the Allium trade through an apprenticeship in my own dirt. There are so many bulbs and stalks out there in the big wide world of soil that I want to try them all.  Growing (and surviving) I have a range of perennial onions -- Rakkyo, Potato and Tree -- and three types of garlic as well as my regular supply of spring onion seedlings. I've yet to master the DIY transition from seed sowing of Allium at home...but it is still early days in this quest.
  • Dill: Finally by dint of experiment I can grow dill (touch wood). Coriander I mastered long ago and can grow in my finger nail.
  • Huauzontle: aka Aztec Spinach. Thus far all I can say is that I can grow this exotic...but the complication is that mine looks like Quinoa ( a close relative) rather than the green spinach head it was reputed to produce.I guess I need to do more homework...and try to do green next time by at least checking my seed library with greater diligence.
  • Arrowroot: aka Queensland Arrowroot. This was a surprize. I grew arrowroot in the poor soil sections of my garden and it prospered. So I divided it and planted it out in a few extra places. Now I have a harvest coming on. The plant did much better than the Cassava I had in. Soon I hope to get my hands on some West Indian Arrowroot which is probably much more versatile in the kitchen.
  • Okinawan Spinach: I grow several 'spinaches'  and I admit to not liking some. But loving most.  My loves are: New Zealand S, Egyptian S, Brazilian S, Betel Leaf....but I am not so keen on their glutinous cousins like Abika. In my soil are the still culinarily untested Mushroom Plant and Surinam Spinach. Okinawan Spinach is something else again -- I delight in its texture and unique taste although I haven't explored it much in the kitchen. So I'm looking forward to a bigger harvest. While I hesitate with the Abika, the size of the leaf makes it a great substitute for grape vine leaves when I next make dolmades.  The Betel Leaf I'm saving up to wrap ground meat in as the Vietnamese do. But I'll do it kofta style....
  • Serpent Gourd: Grown from seed(quite a feat) and still an unknown. While I wait, I've planted out more New Guinea  Bean -- aka cucuzzi . These climbers do much better in my garden than Zuchini.
  • Oca:aka New Zealand Yam. I did plant out some Oca I lovingly collected  but not all of it has taken. I guess the good news is that some of what I planted has grown....but next time I'm planning on seriously investing in this tuber. This year it's novel horticulture; and an experiment. But if I do as well with Oca as I've done with Jeruslaem artichokes/Sunchokes I'm gonna be thrilled.
  • Miscellany: Among all this, I planted out some spuds and am waiting for the bulk of these to come up. I also secured a supply line of Purple Sweet Potato (Hawaiian Gold) which I'm keen to focus on as a home grown veg. I have a few other sweet potato varieties planted but the purple is my culinary passion. Tomatoes coming up all over, many self sown. I'm drowning in chillies and have a supply line available of banana (sweet) peppers --although I've learnt to harvest these early as they keenly rot on the stem. The  'Nopoles' Prickly Pear has taken -- mine is a variety not classed as a weed and (talking of weediness) the Horney Melons are growing (what have I done!?). Poor harvest of Tumeric...but then the soil wasn't so good in that spot. I have two varieties of pumpkins in -- Butternut and Kabocha -- and while I'm getting a small number of butternuts the plants suffer like my zuchinis and cucumbers and never do well. Root veg struggle terribly, even radishes -- so I  persevere and angst over them. I gotta da radishes, carrots, turnips and beetroot planted all about and it's all 'touch wood!' as far as I'm concerned.
Unfortunately a bush turkey visits my garden every day and the avian beast and I are at war...
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PHD: note to self

The design of a Perfect Health Diet  meal is found in the body of the apple. Assuming two meals a day, the recipe is to combine:
  • A safe starch (roughly 230 grams, which translates to 150 to 300 carb calories);
  • A meat, fish, or egg (110-230 grams);
  • A sauce made up of fats and acids such as lemon juice or vinegar;
  • Vegetables, preferably including fermented vegetables with their healthy acids;
  • (Optionally) some dairy or a glass of wine.
This is precisely the recipe which science has found minimizes the elevation of blood glucose after meals.
It seems reasonable to expect that a meal designed in this fashion will have a glycemic index around 30. The odds of 200 carb calories with a glycemic index of 30 generating blood sugar levels that are dangerous – 140 mg/dl (7.7 mmol) or higher – in healthy people is very low. Even in diabetics, it may be uncommon.
So, yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus, and you can eat safe starches and avoid hyperglycemia too!
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The Garden in May

Click on image to enlarge view 

A visual record this month.

I wanted to start focusing on individual plants rather than the garden as a whole.

In the montage mix, note the Jerusalem Artichoke harvest from one plant! And in part shade!

The Prickly Pear has taken off . Maybe that's not a surprize in Queensland --given the past infestation -- but its rootedness ensures I can look forward to nopales.--especially  for salsa.

And I'm so pleased that after a year of so much frustration with cucumbers my Achocha plantings have decided to settle and grow. Mouse Melons are still indifferent...

...and my Samphire survives. I haven't grown it from seed with any success but cuttings are a maybe.I have nibbled and can vouch for the taste and texture...So I'm keen to persevere.

The Katuk does well. A most generous plant. The leaves in Autumn have a deeper, less sweet,  flavour but there are more of them.

In the air I'm being over run with chokoes and, not far behind, Butternut Pumpkins/Squash. Beans coming on. Plenty of greens in da spinach mode: Egyptian, Okinawan, Brazilian...and the Vietnamese Pepper/Betel Leaf.
I had this dish when I was recently in Melbourne -- Bo la lot – Betel Leaf Wrapped Minced Beef(or Lamb) -- and it was stunning.

Much as I want to grow my Cannas I've planted Indian Shot Canna (Canna Indica) as a mulch resource (note the small crimson flower in images) and my Queensland arrowroot (Canna edulis) is doing famously. I'm planning on adding a large range of flowering Cannas not only for the flowers but as a mulch resource. At the moment I'm relying on Lemon Grass to supplement my mulch reserves in the hard , mulch scarce, months of August to November and have also planted Vetiver Grass with that coverage in mind.
Since I'm burning wood to create ash (as a soil addition)  I'm looking forward to any cut backs and trimmings both at home or in the neighborhood.
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A wave of soil with floating pots: mound gardening with knolls

Since I've seriously begun to zero in on what I want,  the sense of what I'm doing becomes clearer -- at least to me.

My template is mixed vegetable gardening -- cropping a large number of different vegetables  in the same space.

To do this in the sub tropics and be imbued with the design logic of cottage gardening isn't a straight forward exercise because I'm growing a lot of unknowns.  If I was simply planting standard kitchen garden  fare I'd have some idea of what any one plant will or should do, but when you chase an eclectic mix of exotics --with many of them being vines --  the medley is sure to be a surprise. 

In the traditional cottage garden, you layer and mix the plants by height. But in our warmer climate such certainties are undermined because of my preference for climbers, creepers, ramblers and tubers. I'm not into look -- despite the flowers -- so much as cohabitation. Planting and growing is about pushing and exploring the envelope.

En route you lose some of your soldiers...

But with each success -- and with each disaster -- the garden speaks to you.

Let us not presume that I am in control. Nor am I so smug to answer in the affirmative the question, "are we there yet?"  The truth is that I have no real idea where I'm going.

It's improvisation -- a layering of what seems to be a succession of good ideas at the time.

This means I don't so much have one garden but several. Last year's. Last season's. Last month's. This week's...

While I've pursued many projects in this kitchen garden in way of experimentation, the overriding handicap of  building it on sterile sand has forced me to be relentless in pursuit of moisture. If I had my time again, I'd start off differently by digging long trenches and filling them with manures before building the garden beds on top. Hindsight is useful like that, but once you are away you make the best out of what you've got....5 years later on. 


But I keep returning to past activities and tweaking and re-applying them. Of late I've seriously gone back to harnessing my garden paths as mulch sponges. I keep layering paper and cardboard on the paths and throwing cut stuff on top, so that they become squishy. I may walk along each path only occasionally so it's not as though they're thoroughfares for traffic.

The irony is that rather than build up the beds, I dug down the paths. In sand you can do that.

While there is no pressing drainage need warranting raised beds -- I'm thinking that I should revisit the option. I'm not planning to raise the beds so much as add mounds to them.This is a Melanesian gardening habit, and the logic is beginning to register with me.


If I add mounds to the beds -- knolls -- I increase my ground surface area, and engineer an inclined plain down which plants can tumble or ramble without necessarily wallowing in damp. I'm finding that many of the plants I'm growing don't so so well on a flat surface. I've also worked out that if I locate a terracotta watering pot in  the core of the knoll (like a volcano's vent) I can more efficiently irrigate the knoll than I  would be able to do a flat garden bed.

According to the above graphic, this works. It works on paper....

So, in a sense, I'm thinking of raising up my terracotta pots as though they've been elevated by a wave of soil -- upon which they'll float.

I hate to say this as it seems bizarre, but my experience with  mound gardening, thus far,  suggests that plants have more choices. They can go up or down. Drink by going deeper or chasing the falling contour of the soil surface. Fruiting bodies resting on the sides of each knoll are less prone to fungal infection and rotting. Inside -- within the knoll/mound -- there is more room for tubers to grow and/or go deeper.And like a box of choclates, you can invest your knoll with different centres: rotting wood, manures, kitchen scraps, dead and buried cane toads.

While the mounds will work by dint of contour design alone, the embedded terracotta pots make for a stunning hardware addition. As a centerpiece, the pots' moisture offerings are more accessible to more plants  so that their irrigating area increases.

The troughs between the knolls also serve to collect water as they function as gulleys. And running the length of each bed are the moisture retaining mulch sponge paths.

Now all I have to do is find -- or make -- the 'soil' to make these knolls happen....in places they have not existed before.One garden bed at a time.

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The Garden in April: the Month of the Triffids

After a desultory Summer, the garden has re-invented itself as a garden of Triffids.

Plants that move! Clamber relentlessly. That twirl and twine and choke and crawl...That drag themselves tendril by tendril.

Plants that cannot be stopped!


Outback, taking over, are African Yams, Chokos, Russian Cucumbers and New Guinea Beans. In the mix are Snake Beans, Yam Beans, and Bolivian Cucumbers (Achocha) Sweet Potato, Butternut and Kobacha Pumpkins...

With so many climbers and creepers I had to install lifts. So as the garden grew up and crawled I started feeding it jute twine and began running feeder lines hither and yon like a aerial circus or a spider on acid.

Who would have thought that the air could be so occupied and verdant when the soil is so far away?

I wish I had a plan for this macrame but its all impulsive twisting and tie-ing as I try to keep ahead of the tendrils. Nonetheless, it's a novel garden now. I ran an old hose from the huge Silky Oak to an overhanging Dawson River Bottle Brush so that the future aerial activity has more freeway.

It's detente. I'm trying my hand at plant husbandry. A plant trainer. 

Without my trusty roll of twine....they'd take over. 

The irony is that despite employing such a simple tool, the climbing plants are thriving. They must like the exercise and the journeying, even though I set the route.And nothing has traction like twine. It's ladder for plants.

Unlike the Permies' penchant to 'design' a garden from the getgo, this one comes together on the fly.
For more discussion on this climbing adventure, check out this link for a comments thread about my experience using twine for climbing plants.
But I do have other plants growing closer to the ground, and, with the cooling of the weather, have been madly planting out and sowing seed. Seeds I had planted before that did not take over Summer, are now sprouting on my second try. 

I've improved my sowing routine and embraced a different relationship with...weeds.


Over Summer the weeds got away from me. It was a great season for weeds and given that I was so often ill, the weeds freely grew without challenge. So where they grew I let them be...

Then I smothered them! And those I did not smother in their beds I harvested for mulch.

And a fine thing too. I kept laying down and moving about weed mat on the paths between the garden beds and any weediness underneath died. Why pull a weed when you can darken  it to death? If I don't keep the mulch up I get weeds because my mulch is chockers with grass seeds (because it is cut grass). 
But surprisingly on the beds I get few weeds...
Despite that I seldom weed...so long as the mulch keeps a'coming.

To then be able to turn weeds into much -- by throwing them atop cardboard, packaging and newsprint on the garden paths -- is a delightful irony.But it works just fine. And given that harnessing a creeper is a simple snip snip with a pair of scissors -- both jute twine and plant  is keenly laid to rest on the very same paths. I recycle the dead.

So I smother the weeds with weed mat and then blanket them with paper and mulches.


I've ratcheted up my exotic penchant with my recent seedings. Among the  more interesting plants I've sown are:
These plants may be growing but not all are thriving...not yet anyway.

I  guess my major oversight was to not plant out enough flowers...for blooming at the moment. I've rectified that with another sunflower indulgence and a keen insertion of some classic cottage garden  standards  like Hollyhocks, Lupines and such.

But vegetable or flower, I'm still learning how to handle each plant so that it grows to maturity. It's been a great Summer for peppers after the bad times of the past. But cucumbers -- the ready fruiting thereof -- still alludes me, so maybe I'll be cross pollinating with a feather next time around.

And talking of peppers...and many of my plants in fact: I've been trying to rectify their habit to hall over. My soil is so sandy and the much I use so friable, that plants struggle for anchorage , especially when they get larger or bear fruits. So I've run a 'hand rail' the length of each bed on which I can rest sticks and such to support the plants underneath. Even inserting stick does not suffice as they too fall over so the sticks often need to be supported. Thus my hand rail...chest high: bamboo canes running parallel to the soil.

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