Betony

Betony is a useful herb

Betony is a tough and versatile herb

The old Spanish saying, ‘He has as many virtues as betony’ reflects the once wide-ranging uses of this attractive plant. Betony (Stachys officinalis) is a tough and versatile herb that grows as a compact clump of pebbly, dark green leaves. From this clump grow stalks with pairs of opposite smaller leaves. In summer, towards the top, whorls of reddish-purple flowers occur, just above the leaf pairs, with a dense group of flowers at the top of the spike. There are also cultivars with white flowers and various shades of pink.
Most books will tell you that betony does best in full-sun but I find it thrives in dappled shade, in a humus-rich, sandy loam soil with some moisture. It doesn’t do well in an open position in our hot dry summers but it does cope well with my heavier slightly acid soil. Generally, betony does best in cool temperate regions where it will tolerate temperatures down to -25°C, but it will also grow in the sub-tropics and mountainous regions of the tropics.
It can be grown from fresh seed sown in autumn, although this can take several weeks to germinate, but is most easily grown by dividing an existing clump in spring or autumn then replanting into a pot or straight back into the garden. The only other care plants need is to cut back the dead flower heads and any old growth in autumn and protect new growth from slugs and snails in spring. Read more

Australian Grasses

Australian Grasses, A gardener’s guide to native grasses, sedges, rushes and grasstrees.

Introduced grasses have been popular in our gardens for many years now but not native grasses. To help encourage wider use of Australian grasses we have needed a well-written, accessible book on how to grow and use them, and finally we have one. Nick Romanowski obviously has a passion for, and wide-ranging knowledge of, this subject. In chapter 4 he profiles more than 200 native grasses, sedges, rushes and grasstrees and from the numerous photos we can see that many Australian grasses are as beautiful as the introduced grasses. They also have the added bonus of providing food and shelter to native animals, insects and birds, and unlike introduced grasses, very few of them are weeds or have weedy potential. The early chapters explain the differences between the different forms of grasses, as well as how they can be used in the average garden – lawns, borders, mounds, water gardens, bogs, formal and semi-formal beds and finally in pots. Growing, propagating, maintaining and even eating the grasses is also covered. Read more

Berry Bounty

Berry Bounty, How to grow traditional and unusual berries, from strawberries and blueberries to feijoas, mangosteens and tamarillos.

I’ve never quite mastered the art of growing berries but I’m hoping this book will make the difference. Allen Gilbert is a well-known and very experienced garden writer who has grown most of the berries described in the book. He is very much a hands-on gardener with books on citrus, tomatoes, nuts, apples and espalier already published. He starts this one by defining berries. Many plants that we think of as berries (strawberries and blackberries for instance) are not technically berries. While plants such as guavas, magosteens and persimmons are berries (botanically speaking). So the first part of the book covers those plants that are generally believed to be berries, namely blueberries, brambleberries, cranberries, currants, elderberries, gooseberries, jostaberries, mulberries, raspberries and strawberries. The second half looks at botanically true berries that are not included in the above list. Cape gooseberries, Chilean guava, feijoas, goji berries, guavas, jaboticabas, kiwi fruit, mangosteens, passionfruit, pawpaws, pepinos, pepperberries, persimmons, pomegranates and tamarillos. It is a great mixture of common and unusual fruits and covers everything from how to propagate, grow and harvest, to pests and diseases and how to deal with them organically, as well as some well-chosen recipes showing how to use the fruit when ripe. Read more

Colourful carrots

Cruncy, multi-coloured heirloom carrots

Colourful heirloom carrots

The early Romans grew purple and white carrots, but it is believed that the first purple carrots came from Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Iran. Purple, white and yellow carrots were imported to southern Europe in the 14th century and were widely grown in Europe into the 17th Century. Our familiar orange carrots only appeared in 16th century Holland when patriotic Dutch growers used seed from purple carrots and yellow Turkish carrots to produce orange roots, reflecting the colour of the ruling House of Orange. Over the ensuing centuries, orange carrots came to dominate and carrots of other colours were only preserved by growers in remote regions of the world. Purple and white carrots  still grow wild in Afghanistan where they are used by some tribesmen to produce a strong alcoholic beverage. Read more

Gardening in sand

Native grasses

Native plants like kangaroo grass need no attention

A few gardeners are blessed with deep, rich, textured, fertile soil. In Australia however, these soils are very much the exception and most of us have to cope with much less than perfection. For more than ten years I gardened on the sandy, alkaline soils of the southern Mornington Peninsula and during that time made numerous mistakes in trying to establish a garden.
The most obvious problem was the need for constant watering and constant feeding of the soil. I was gardening on what used to be a sand dune, now stabilised by native vegetation. There was a few centimetres of grey stuff that might have passed as soil and then about 10 metres of pure sand before we hit limestone (not that I ever dug that deep). The indigenous plants in this region have masses of shallow roots that rapidly absorb moisture before it disappears into the aquifers under the limestone. Small amounts of soluble nutrients added to the soil are taken up by the plants, but the rest are carried with the water well out of reach of the plants. Sandy soils just can’t hold water or nutrients. Read more

  • All words and images © Copyright Penny Woodward 2017.
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