ACHILLEA aka Yarrow
ALFALFA aka Lucerne
Alfalfa is not only attractive as a ground cover - it can be clipped or mown according to the height required - but fixes nitrogen in the soil. It's roots go deep into the subsoil, bringing up essential trace elements.
Even my few plants provide a rich addition to the mulch or compost.
The leaves can be used for tea, fresh or dried, and the fresh flower-heads are delicious in sandwiches or salads - if you can get to them before the bees!
Pure alfalfa honey comes close to clover honey for delicacy of flavour.
I think my alfalfa eventually succumbed to too much shade!
Alpinia aka wild ginger
This dramatic looking plant, also known as the Ginger Lily, has large delicately perfumed flower spikes, and blue berries which can be used for flavouring. I have now removed it, as it requires too much water.
In 2008 the last remaining tree was removed from next door, so an extra possum moved into my garden. After 2 years of extreme drought, the removal of many other trees from neighbouring properties, & the lack of water and greenery in the immediate locality, my tiny food forest became a refuge for everything in the area that moved. Eventually the birds and possums between them killed my apricot tree, & I have decided to replace it with something less vulnerable.
Apricots are a valuable fruit, containing lots of beta-carotene (vitamin A pre-cursor) and iron. They also dry extremely well, either halved or whole, or make tasty fruit leathers - now marketed (with additives and lots of packaging) as fruit roll-ups!
Eat as much of the fresh fruit as you can, it doesn't last long. Can or bottle a few, for quick pies or crumbles, or to eat with homemade yoghourt, and dry the rest. They also freeze well.
While you can make chutneys, sauces, or jams if you have a huge surplus, dried apricots are a nutritious staple, and take up little storage space. Eat as a snack, or use in casseroles, especially with chick-peas or rabbit. Keep a few stones, and grind the nuts with almonds to give a stronger almond flavour in baked goods. Though harmful if you use too many, a few kernels give some zip to the blander almond.
Apricot trees have a particularly lovely blossom, and supply similar products as other deciduous flowering trees.
Mine was a late 'Moorpark', so I got large fruits in mid-summer, after the early varieties grown by most of my friends have finished cropping.
Arundo Donax alias Wild Bamboo
For several years I resisted demands by neighbours that I remove this, but I finally decided to do so in Autumn 2002, as I needed to open up the garden to admit more light, and also reduce some of the heavy garden work, which included the annual cutting down and mulching of the Arundo. The recently planted Callistemon can now make good growth during the winter, and the mature grapevines will give plenty of summer shade.
But I already miss, and feel I always shall, the Arundo's graceful appearance, and the sound of it's leaves.
Here it is seen from my neighbour's garden.
I planted it as a temporary measure soon after starting the garden, as I desperately needed to shade the 8 square metres of glass facing SW, which makes up most of one wall of my living area, from the midsummer sun.
It grew so rapidly that by the summer I was able to create a living shade house, by tying the long stems to the roof of the cottage. These horizontal stems then produced numerous delicate verticals, increasing the shade and both looking and sounding delightful, rustling in every slight breeze.
In my tiny garden it has always required heavy pruning, including root pruning, each winter. Some stems were allowed to grow for 2 or 3 years before being cut & properly seasoned, to provide construction & craft material, but most were put through the mulcher, providing much of the mulch I needed for the following summer. In addition the old roots were seasoned to use for firewood - they have a pleasant grassy scent, even when completely dry.
Commonly called wild bamboo, though botanically it is as close to the canes as to the bamboos, Arundo Donax is much maligned. It has a clumping rather than a running habit, and while it will flourish in a swamp, it is tolerant of drought, and grows almost anywhere. I was told by my own Permaculture teacher that it was good only for mulch.
While it certainly provided many bags of that each winter when it was cut back severely, it grew back quickly into a thick 4 - 5 metre high screen. It provided much-needed shade, a refuge for birds & small creatures, & white noise which combined with the sound of birdsong, the water featuere, & wind-chimes, to mask the background noise of the city. When Arundo flowers, it looks exotic & excites much comment. Unlike some bamboo species, the plant does not die back after flowering. More about this multi-purpose giant - which admittedly needs proper management if it is not to become a pest - on bamboo.
There is a variegated variety which is not so rampant, but not so useful either.
I originally planted 3 avocado trees, a seedling in 1989, and 2 grafted trees in 1991. They were carefully selected, the idea being to give me ripe fruit for at least 9 months of the year. However it didn't quite work out that way!
One of the grafted trees is a large tree with thin-skinned green fruit, (Bacon), the other 2 were smaller trees whose fruit has a black warty skin (Hass).
Bacon started bearing small crops in 1995, and has since fruited reliably every year, though the size of the crop varies according to the weather.
In 2000 I removed the grafted Hass, which was not happy. Subsequent investigation revealed a large piece of concrete slab buried, presumably by the builders, about 6 inches below the bottom of it's root -run! The tree was transplanted to a friend's chook-run, where it receives lots of TLC. I have replaced it with a Bottlebrush or Callistemon.
In 2003 I removed the seedling Hass, as it still had not produced fruit, in spite of flowering well, and replaced it with a Pineapple Guava (Feijoa Sellowiana).
Bacon has given good crops in most years, and in some they have been positively embarrassing. Since it is not easy to preserve avocados, except by freezing them as guacomole, I use the surplus for barter and gifts.
The tree loses it's leaves at the beginning of summer, soon after flowering. Both fallen flowers and leaves provide plenty of useful mulch. Avocados are rich in potassium and essential fatty aids - "good oil" - and although high in calories make a much healthier spread than either butter or margarine. They begin to ripen after they are picked, and if unbruised will store for many weeks, even months.
Though there are several Avocado cook-books available, I prefer not to mess the fruit around, but to use them either as a spread, or halved with a little seasoning.
They are shallow rooted evergreen trees, so need to be cultivated as for citrus fruit. Hot dry winds will burn the leaves and strong winds damage them, as well as interfering with pollination, and causing unripe fruit to fall. They do well when sheltered by taller deciduous deep-rooted trees, as long as they are not in complete shade.
While usually regarded as a sub-tropical fruit, some varieties will withstand frost, so if you like avocados it's worth doing some local research. It was widely believed that avocados would not grow in Adelaide, until our State Premier, the late Don Dunstan, acquired some trees and grew them in his own urban garden.
The flowers have a rich vanilla scent, and attract both bees and native birds.
Babaco - click for file and link to photo.
After growing successfully for six years, my babaco tree could no longer cope with the increasing shade, and succumbed to rot.
I may try again, but consider this fruit a curiosity rather than an essential dietary item.
These were grown for aesthetic & sentimental reasons, as the fruit seldom ripens even in the micro-climate created here. They are gross feeders and also require a great deal of water if they are to thrive. The flowers are beautiful, aromatic, & very attractive to native honeyeaters. They were watered & fertilised with my dishwater, which they soaked up up completely, even in wet weather.
However, I am now (2004) working hard to "drought-proof" the garden, and so have replaced the banana clump with an Acacia Fimbriata, which has a graceful habit, makes a good screen, and produces edible seeds.
Strictly speaking, bananas are not trees, but herbs. Banana leaves make excellent plates or platters, can be wrapped around food and tied before steaming it, and are a cool, compostable substitute for a waterproof sheet in baby's cot or a sickbed.
All parts of the plant can be used when dried, for making hats, mats, baskets etc. as a paper substitute, and for numerous other purposes.
The inside of a banana skin rubbed on scratched wood or leather will make the mark almost invisible. Wonderful for scuffed shoes.
A well-established clump of bananas gives ample shade, and the leaves make a very pleasant sound in the wind.
In the tropics, bananas and plaintains grow quickly to maturity, providing good supplies of nutritious staple food. In addition, where there is no proper drainage, banana circles - formed by the suckers as the first trees are chopped out after harvest (the trees only bear once, being, strictly speaking an annual!) can be an effective and useful means of disposing of liquid waste.
In 1997 I planted a banana passionfruit in this garden for the second time - I accidentally 'drowned' the first in 1996, by not providing an adequate channel for the overflow from my rainwater tank to the storm drain. (The vine was placed so as to hide the tank).
Banana Passionfruit grows more strongly than the black, lives longer, and has extraordinarily beautiful pink or red flowers. The fruit is less juicy, but the deep yellow skin is soft and edible. It makes aromatic jams, jellies or cordials, and is a pleasant addition to fruit salad. Birds enjoy it, and a mature vine can supply enough for the chooks (hens) as well.
I prefer Banana passionfruit to black for many reasons, but the rampant growth threatened to strangle my avocado tree, so I replaced it with two appleberry vines, which are happy in the shade of the now mature avocado.
This well-known spice seems to need more sun than it gets in the location I gave it if it is to flower and set seed. The leaves looked & smelt lovely growing near the Auracacias. Now it's been taken up and I have it in three pots which are waiting for a good home.
This broad-leaved herb is deep-rooted and brings up nutrients from the sub-soil. It is a first-class compost starter, and bees relish the nectar. However, it requires a fair amount of water. For this reason I have removed it from the garden. If I need a small quantity, plenty of friends with larger gardens grew their plants from root cuttings of mine, and will be happy to supply my needs.
The root is dried and used for ointment or tea. The leaves can be cooked as spinach, though the result is so glutinous as to be unpalatable to some people. They can also be dried for tea.
Back in the 1970's there was some controversy over the internal use of comfrey in Australia. Apparently in mining our ancient soils - the oldest on the planet - the plant accumulates high levels of cancer-inducing substances. But many Australians continue to use fresh comfrey just as before - we just can't buy comfrey tablets any more!
Grape - Ladyfinger
One of the two vines I originally planted was this old-fashioned variety which ripens later than the sultana. The plan was to extend the season during which I could eat and share fresh grapes.. However, when I originally designed the garden, the vines, including Kiwi fruit, were planted on a common NW boundary in consultation with my neighbours. While I wanted summer shade, to ripen the fruit successfully required full sun. So the vines were allowed to cover my neighbour's side of the fence and ripen the fruit there. We shared the fruit, and their side of the corrugated iron fence was covered in greenery for much of the year.
Alas, my new neighbour wants nothing from my side to encroach on the fence. So that portion of the garden has been completely re-designed.
Also removed for the same reason was the
Kiwi Fruit aka Chinese Gooseberry - click for file and link to photo
I had three vines , one male, and two female. I would probably have had even better crops if I had planted three female vines and grafted some male scions to one of them. The male vine grows very vigorously, and can easily smother the female plants if not kept strictly under control.
I don't know how to distinguish the sexes in young plants, except by careful labelling. When they are flowering, it is easy to tell the difference - the female flowers have tiny fruits instead of stems, just like female pumpkin flowers.
Manzano Chilli Photos
Also known as Rocoto, this is a scrambler which bears huge crops. My plant had irregularly-shaped bright orange chillis, but the shape and colour of the fruit can vary from plant to plant. Red or light orange, smooth or slightly more lobed. This chilli is also known as Rocoto.. They need a strong trellis, and regular tying up of new growth. While they relish full sun, this variety also does well in partial shade.
Ideal for chilli sauce makers! If you want to dry some, the fruit should be cut into four pieces and the black seeds removed. They can also be pickled, or preserved in oil, in which case the pickling liquid or oil can also be used when a less fiery chilli flavour is required.
Take the usual precautions when working with these potent fruits. Wear rubber gloves, eye protection, and thoroughly wash down all tools and surfaces after you've finished. Chilli juice can burn, even cause blindness.
All chillis are rich in Vitamin C and bioflavinoids. They will also give you the famous Chilli 'High', thought to be caused by the rush of endorphins released to relieve the body' s reaction to the first mouthful.
I removed this vigorous vine in 2004, to conserve water. I had made enough chilli sauce - welding strength! - to last for many years. When I discovered my sensitivity to Solanaceae I gave it away.
This highly decorative plant will grow in almost total shade, and sets fruit even as far South as Melbourne. It does, however, take up a great deal of room for a comparatively small crop. It helps if you hand pollinate the flowers.
I grew it for its tropical appearance, and accepted the fruit as a bonus. The leaves are highly decorative, and quite tough. If cut and placed in water, they will last for a very long time, creating the illusion of an 'instant' indoor plant.
The fruit segments ripen progressively, and fruit is best cut from the vine when the upper parts are beginning to ripen. Keep it in a paper bag, removing and eating the segments as the green caps fall off. Also called 'Fruit Salad Plant' it tastes like a mixture of pineapple and banana.
Unripe segments may make your lips and mouth very sore.
I removed my beloved specimen when I discovered it was sneakily stealing water and nutrients from my Guava - one reason the Guavas had been so small and bitter for the last two years. Fascinating though the vine is, it's fruits are only a curiosity, whereas the Guava is an important staple winter fruit.
I finally removed the nectarine, for three reasons.
1) I couldn't cope with the amount of soft fruit my garden was producing. Apricots and peaches are more than sufficient now the trees are mature.
2) Removing this tree, which was huge, allowed more light into the garden, benefiting the apple and the passionfruit, both of which fruit much later in the season.
3) To reduce the amount of water needed in times of drought.
The Nectarine is indistinguishable from the peach until the first fruit appears. Botanically it is identical to the peach, but the fruit has a smooth skin like a plum. Seedling trees are usually true to type, and unlike most seedlings, often bear good crops when only 4 or 5 years old.
The Nectarine flower is deep pink, with a crimson throat, identical to some peach blooms.
Unlike some peaches, nectarines do not dry or bottle well, nor 'set' as a jam unless picked before they are fully ripe, or mixed with other pectin rich fruit, such as apples or chokos.
This is because special varieties of peach - mostly hybrids - have been developed specifically for canning, drying, and jam or preserves. None of these are so good to eat fresh as the nectarine or the older peach varieties.
was grown partly for its appearance & durability, though birds relish the seeds. It used to provide, together with the Arundo, fodder for the Guinea-pigs before their sad demise.
This sprawling member of the Solanum family produces large crops of fruits about the size of a tomato, or even larger. Apricot yellow striped with purple, they taste something like a mixture of tomato, rockmelon and banana! They leave a long-lasting sweet aftertaste in the mouth, and need to be protected from ants when ripening!
Because they ripen in late winter and early spring, I used them then to replace tomatos in salad. But they are delicious alone as a fresh fruit, or in a fruit salad. Sometimes the skin is bitter, and needs to be removed.
The dark green leaves are evergreen in our climate, and with the spikes of attractive purple flowers make pepino a good ground-cover of medium height.
After growing pepinos for many years on the front fence, with spectacular results, the plant finally started to die back during the hot summer of 2002/3. As the plant needs lots of water, and I also had trouble using all the fruit, I decided to remove the vine, and replace it with some natives.
A good potato patch really needs more sun than is available in my garden. But I until I became really distressed by a sensitivity to Solanums, I still buried potato peelings and 'shot' potatoes in the mulch. The result was enough potatoes scattered around the yard that I could bandicoot them on a regular basis.
I have also grown them successfully in a large carton, but this was before the trees grew and shaded the best spot. Many gardening books also give instructions for growing potatoes in stacks of old tyres.
With any of these intensive methods it is important to have good quality soil and compost at the base of the container, because this is what will feed the plants and determine the size and quality of the crop.
Pussy Willow aka Goat Willow
N.B. - In Australian waterside environments, this introduced species is a pest!
I had not planned to include it in my garden, but soon after moving in I discovered a problem with the stormwater drain.
The builders had made the drain as far as the fence on the street boundary, but gave it no outlet, so that in heavy rain the water simply flooded the garden close to the fence. On further investigation, I saw that, had an outlet been made to the street, as is the practice here in Adelaide, the water would have poured straight into a telephone company inspection pit!
So I got a cutting from one of the Pussy Willows by the River, and stuck it in the ground. It grew rapidly to full-size, and acted very efficiently to use all the excess stormwater, preventing the garden from becoming waterlogged and the fence footings from damage.
In addition, it is a deciduous tree, and provided summer shade and winter sun. Even without its leaves, it provided thick cover for nesting birds, and the lovely catkins - called 'Palm' in Britain, and used in church on Palm Sunday - provide huge supplies of easily harvested pollen, for birds, bees and humans.
If cut before the silver fur has broken into golden flower, the local florist is always happy to buy some, while my friends loved getting their bunch each year. It lasts well indoors, either in water, or dried.
I regularly coppiced the tree every 2 or 3 years This provided some firewood, and lots of light prunings for mulching.
This is an excellent example of seeing solutions rather than problems - my Pussy Willow was not only useful, rather than a pest, in this setting, but a constant source of joy to many, especially European exiles like myself.
I finally removed the tree during the summer of 2004/5, when it became apparent that it's demands for water could not be met without irrigation. It has been replaced by a drought-resistant Wattle.
Since my second Banana Passionfruit 'went to God', I decided to grow a Black Passionfruit on the front fence, where Some heavy pruning had opened up a sunny spot, (Passionfruit love morning sunshine! and I grew the vine from seed).
Black Passionfruit are usually sold grafted onto blue passion fruit stock, which suckers prolifically, and if the graft dies or is accidentally cut off, very aggressive measures are required to get rid of it. Grafted vines are also more susceptible to a virus which makes the fruit woody. Black passionfruit seedlings are less prone to this virus attack, and easy to control, but they live only for 7 - 9 years.
Mine fruited prolifically in the second year, the fruit being produced and ripening well into winter.
If you choose this variety, don't throw out the skins - they make excellent jam or jelly! Recipe
This vine, planted in 2003, died in 2009, weakened by possums chewing on the bark, & finally by roadworks co-inciding with a heatwave.
Since the average age of a passionfruit vine is 7 years, it did very well, bearing 2 generous crops each year, & supplying the entire district with fruit.
I will probably grow another in time, but meanwhile a seedling from the old vine is growing in my neighbour's garden.
The pigeon pea is a staple food in India and Asia, but is in fact responsible for some forms of malnutrition. The seeds contain a Tryptase inhibiting factor which is not destroyed by heat. Thus, if the diet is poor, it's constant use as dhal leads to protein deficiency.
Nevertheless, it is an attractive nitrogen-fixing shrub, with red and yellow flowers, and the 'pea' pods hang on the plant even when fully ripe, making harvesting very easy. The 'peas' can be cooked and eaten green, or dried and used in soups, for dhal, or, as the name suggests, as poultry feed. Grown in the chook pen, it provides shade and food.
This is, in fact, probably it's best use. A short-lived bush, it self-seeds readily. Mine come and go, seedlings springing up and growing to maturity, then dying off a couple of years later, to be replaced by other seedlings.
This old-fashioned herb is attractive and evergreen, with blue-green finely divided leaves and pannicles of golden flowers in early summer.
But it stinks! - though some people find the odour pleasant! It is reputed to keep evil from the house if grown near the entrance, and certainly deters dogs, cats and people alike!
Mine grew outside the fence, close to the street, and passers-by who picked the gorgeous flowers never did so twice!
However I was often asked for cuttings, particularly by people of mediterranean origin.
The plant was given me by a friend when I first moved here in 1989. While I did not enjoy the smelly job of cutting it back each year, it brought me many new friendships, as well as reminding me of an old one.
Once used medicinally, it is too powerful to be used by those without specialised knowledge.
This poor plant finally succumbed to drought in 2002. I have decided not to replace it, preferring to use drought-tolerant species in it's place.
An ancient herb not so much used these days. The fern-like leaves and dainty golden flower-heads make it an attractive groundcover, and it will thrive as long as it gets a few hours of sunshine each day. Mine, however, did not get enough, and eventually grew more & more straggly, until it died. The fragrance is bitter and refreshing excellent in a woody pot-pourri. It is a powerful insect repellant, and used to be used for intestinal worms, but this dangerous practice is seldom followed nowadays. I grew it under my my citrus trees, to deter ants from 'farming' aphids on the trees. If the fumes were not sufficient in times of high 'antivity' I rubbed the trunk of the tree with fresh tansy leaves, and tie a 'necklace' of leaves around each branch. If ants invade food cupboards, put fresh tansy leaves on the shelves, renewing them daily until the ants give up and go elsewhere. Needless to say, sachets of tansy leaves make good moth repellants for the wardrobe!
A few leaves, or a little dried leaf is said to give a ginger flavour to cakes and puddings - tansy pudding was once very popular in England.
In one of my favourite girlhood books, The Girl of the Limberlost - by GENE STRATTON-PORTER there was a vivid description of the use of a poultice of tansy leaves to promote skin-peeling to remove deep sunburn. I immediately resolved never to put this cosmetic use of the herb to the test!
Most years I find a few self-sown tomato plants in spots that get some sun, and sometimes I get quite good crops. I am growing only for myself, and require only one or two plants at any time. If self self-sown plants don't appear, I sometimes buy a plant or two. Other years I don't get around to it, and barter with friends late in the season if I want to make sauce.
In 2008 I put some plants in pots in the front garden where they got quite a bit of sun. I chose 'Sweet Bite' seedlings, as they usually crop well, and I had heavy crops. The plants have also survived mite attack, and were putting out fresh leaves and still flowering well and setting fruit in late February.
I no longer grow tomatoes, since I discovered I am very sensitive to Solanin.
This is the stock used for the 'Le Gref' grafted tomato.
Probably because the few sunny spots in my urban jungle are already filled, this has never grown successfully for me. But the stock clambered over the rainwater tank with the Banana Passionfruit, and produced bunches of tiny yellow tomatoes for most of the year. They had a slightly bitter skin and very sweet pulp. Lovely in salads, and just enough for my requirements.
January 2000 - this poor dear has finally given up the unequal struggle - a 7-year bean suddenly took over, and it died for lack of light. I'll leave the entry, though, for the information of people who lose the top of their 'LeGref' tomato.
I planted several of the smaller wattles (acacia ssp.) in the last few years. As I become older, I'm less able to care for annuals or deal with the harvests from my tree crops. The water situation is also becoming critical. So native species are gradually replacing some of the more demanding plants. Wattles are slow-growing, and not long-lived.
The most advanced was the Acacia Fimbriata, a native of Queensland, but quite tough, and with edible seeds. This was a seedling I found in a crack in the sidewalk many years ago. In July 2005 it had reached a height of 2 metres, with plenty of ferny foliage. It has replaced the bananas
By 2012 it had reached it's use-by date, and had to be removed. I still miss it's copious blossom & graceful foliage.
Acacia Victoriacaea, the Bramble Wattle, is indigenous to this area, and also has edible seeds. This was planted in the front yard, near the E.Caesias & the Callistemon.
In May 2014 I removed it, as it obstructed access to other parts of the garden because of it's contorted shape & nasty prickles. The possum is seriously annoyed, as it's leaves were amongst it's favourite snacks.
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