Saturday, 25 March 2017

Solitaire Palm - Ptychosperma elegans

Gavin's presentation for the March meeting was one of his favourites, a palm.

Solitaire palm from blogpwrpnt

Thanks Gavin for another excellent presentation.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

May 2017 Outing - Taylors Arm

The 4 May Outing is to Taylors Arm. Pat is organising the C.ex bus which takes up to 19 passengers at $14 per person and this payment must be made by our April meeting.

The bus will be leaving 9am from Coffs C.ex Club.

Visit: Perry's Lemon Myrtle Farm, Taylors Arm.

The Program Committee would love you to join in on this visit to a fantastic commercial Lemon Myrtle plantation. It is not only interesting to visit but it is a wonderful opportunity to network with your fellow club members.

There is a need to RSVP (full details will be in the April Newsletter) not only for the bus but also the Lemon Myrtle plantation because they are providing a FREE morning tea with some yummy treats.

More detail about the plantation, products and what to expect from a visit can be found at their website There will be retail opportunity to support their business with an extensive array of their products for sale, these can be viewed on their website too.

Lunch is to be at the Pub With No Beer at Taylors Arm - visit their site to see a comprehensive rundown on what is available for lunch, along with details about the brewing company and how it was established. Please note that there are gluten free options available from their menu.

If time allows there will also be a stop at a nursery for an opportunity to get a living souvenir of this fantastic outing.

Thank you to Pat from the Program Committee for organising another interesting outing.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Growing Broccoli

Simon gave a very entertaining presentation on growing broccoli. His last crop was just awesome, so I guess it would be fair to say that if you follow his guidelines you'll be into some lovely greens in a few months time.

He did point out that there should have been activity in the veggie garden already to prepare the beds for the winter crops - there were a few guilty faces, so perhaps some action will have to be done very soon to prepare for his recommended April 25 plantings.

Broccoli Presentation from blogpwrpnt

Thank you Simon for some really good advice.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Allamanda - Jane's March 2017 Presentation

Allamandas just keep on keeping on and they love our climate. This presentation will be given at the 18 March meeting. See Jane's full presentation below to find out more about this wonderful plant.

Monday, 13 March 2017


Flower of the Month - March 2017

KINGDOM: Plantae
CLASS: Magnoliopsida
ORDER: Malvales
FAMILY: Malvaceae (Mallow)
GENUS: Hibiscus L.

Jerry from Gardening Australia says there is a hibiscus for every garden. With its colourful flowers and often pretty foliage, the species choice is huge; here are a few:

Hibiscus syriancus: Rose of Sharon has white, mauve, blue, red, pink or lavender blooms, all with a crimson eye. Double or single cultivars; good shrub, hedge or standard. Deciduous, cold tolerant.

H. tiliaccus
Hibiscus tiliaccus: Mangrove or cotton hibiscus has yellow or white single flowers; a purple-leafed form is available. Tolerates salt spray. Forms a tree, shrub or windbreak. Evergreen (or tiliaceus rubra with red leaves). 

H. tiliaceus ruba
H. schizopetalus

Hibiscus schizopetalus: Elegant, pendulous pink, red or white flowers have deeply dissected petals. Japanese lantern is a bird-attracting shrub for the garden or containers. Evergreen to semi-deciduous.

H. rosa-sinensis 'Blue Bayou'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis: Chinese hibiscus is available in a wide range of colours, including multi-coloured variants. Specimen shrub, containers or shrubberies, depending on size. Deciduous.

If you would like to find out how to grow Hibiscus there are some excellent cultural notes written by Jim Purdie from the Australian Hibiscus Society Inc. The time line of care has been written for the Brisbane gardener so is very relevant to our conditions here on the Coffs Coast. There are some wonderful images on the Society's website too - enjoy!

March To-Do List

It was pointed out to me from a near and dear that as we're almost half way through March this post is perhaps a bit misleading....... so I guess it should read 'March/April To-Do List'.

Most of us don't want to become a total slave to our gardens, however there are some vital jobs that need to be done this month. We can tidy up our Summer flowering shrubs and plan for winter and spring with some plantings to add bright colour and wonderful flowers.

Spring Bulbs for the Subtropics

Yes, I know it seems a bit premature to be thinking of spring bulbs.... yes it is too soon to plant them just yet, however nurseries and catalogues are bursting with tempting bulbs! 

It has to be remembered though, that a lot of bulbs here on the Coffs Coast have to be treated as annuals - these include Daffodils and Tulips [pictured above at Floriade in Canberra a few years ago]. Once you make the decision to have some of these wonderful flowers in your garden (or pots) and you have finished drooling over the catalogues and made your purchases, it is best practice to place them in a brown paper bag in your crisper section of your refrigerator in the lead up to planting. 

If, however you wish to have that lovely naturalistic effect of wonderful swathes or drifts of bulbs it is best to leave the Daffs, Tulips and Hyacinths in the nursery/specialist growers' catalogue and go for the South African species and cultivars which tend to do better in our climate - Arista, Dierama, Babiana or Freesia [photo left] (although care has to be taken with the latter two as they can get out of hand). You can see an article on growing bulbs on the Coffs Coast here. This article is just not confined to spring bulbs but others like day lilies as well.

Winter and Spring Colour

During rain events when it is too wet to garden, some thought could be put into deciding what we plan for that WOW factor in our gardens during winter and spring - remember also that the Spring Garden Competition is judged in early September see this article for information on the competition. Preparation, preparation, preparation is the key to any really good show of colour-popping plants. Ensure your soil is very well prepared by removing all weed growth and give your soil a treat with aged manure, compost and a little fertiliser. Some suggestions would be humble pansies and violas which are perfect for edging or low planting in drifts (they also make a stunning show in pots in a courtyard or sunny deck). 

A favourite of mine are primulas - could be due to their ease of growing! They work very well in some shade and bring some lightness and cheer to those areas, often self-seeding (but not rediculously so) they are a terrific inclusion to your garden and make a pleasant cut flower too.  

Sweet peas would have to be one of my all time favourite cut flowers, they will last from 3-7 days and are the ultimate 'cut and come again' flower (it's important to cut Sweet Peas regularly to encourage more blooms). There are plenty of colours to choose from, but a good mix of shades makes the prettiest posies. Cut the flowers just as the lowest bloom is opening. Never spray with water as this can disfigure the petals. 
If you wish to plant sweet peas prepare your soil as above and add some lime too. Yates have done extensive research into Sweet Peas - they deal in tonnes, not kilos of these seeds! The seeds that are recommended to plant in March are 'short day' seeds and are bred from the 'Yarrawa' stock which was released in 1911 in Australia. If you want to plant on the traditional planting day - St Patrick's Day (March 17), ensure that they are 'short day' seeds. Sweet Peas enjoy A LOT of sun to flower best, so a East-West fence or trellis is the way to go. I prefer to wait and plant next month as they seem to perform better here on the Coffs Coast.

If you are like many gardeners a splash of blue in your garden is just so restful - cornflowers (pictured right) really fulfil this bill. These plants make a wonderful drift of colour and with regular deadheading encouraging new growth and keeping them tidy. On the Coffs Coast the annual variety is best grown from seed and seems to do quite well in full sun. There are pink varieties as well which are quite lovely. Cornflowers have a rich nectar so are a beacon for bees.

Tidy Up

Geranium 'Apple Blossom'

March is an excellent time to cut back Geraniums or Pelargonium plants. They have worked hard all summer long producing blooms, however they will have become quite 'leggy' and will need some decent attention. They can be cut back by half, cutting back to just above a node or leaf joint. If you see any small side-shoots, appearing on the stems, cut just above this growth. Best to bin any shaggy growth as there may be fungal issues with Geraniums and Pelargoniums. Having said that though, if there are good healthy pieces these can be propagated by cuttings 10-30 cm long - more on this later.

Lavandula stoechas - Bella
Trim lavender bushes lightly to maintain their shape - DO NOT hard prune as this will be the death knell for them. If you've grown the 'winged' varieties eg Sedonie, Bee, Bella and Baby series, these plants have been bred in Australia and relish humid conditions here on the Coffs Coast. Guaranteed to flower throughout most of the year, they will have taken a well-earned break during the hotter months and will come into their own during autumn, winter and spring. If you haven't already done a little tidy up it is not too late to give them a little trim now.

Cut back kangaroo paws hard when they have finished flowering and remove any diseased foliage. 

To see more on growing Kangaroo Paws see this post.

It is also time for the big salvia trim up - they will have become 'leggy' and untidy after their summer flowering so cut back hard to encourage good growth, give them a little water and fertilise.

To read more on growing Salvias please visit this link on our blog and you can read more from ABC gardening's plant profile on Salvias.

Mango trees will take off like a rocket if they are left to their own devices. It is best to keep them to a 2-3m high tree not only for ease of harvest but also because it reduces the incidence of anthracnose. 

This disease affects not only foliage, but the flowers and fruit, severely reducing the harvest. The optimum time for pruning is just after harvest. The primary idea in this prune is to open up the canopy of the tree, allowing free air movement and sunlight to penetrate the canopy. Encourage lateral growth by removing any vertical branches, also remove anything that looks damaged or diseased. Go over the whole tree and prune the tips to encourage lush new growth with plenty of flowers next season. To read more about this disease please see this Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry PDF on Anthracnose.

If you have a giant of a tree it can be redeemed however not by you, the average gardener - this job is to be tackled by the professional guys. Once the major cut back has been done you will be able to tackle the annual prune as described above yourself.

Take Cuttings

This time of year is an excellent time to take cuttings. Preferably take cuttings in the early morning while it's cool. Select tip pieces that are at least 10cm long and with a minimum of two sets of leaves. If you can't pot them up straight away, wrap them in paper and put them into the refrigerator until you're ready to 'set-to' (with the exception of Geraniums and Palargoniums). Remove the bottom leaves and cut just below the node, if the leaves are large cut them in half. Use a knife or blade to scrape down the side at the base of the stem for about the last centimetre. This will form a 'wounded' area where roots are more likely to develop. Dip the base into growing hormone powder. Dibble with a pencil a small hole in propagating mix and insert the cutting into the hole and gently firm the mix to hold the cutting upright. Put a number of cuttings into each pot - there are always some losses! For a comprehensive article on cuttings see this link.

Take cuttings of native groundcovers like this beautiful Scaevola. A friend gave me some years ago and it has not missed a beat, such a terrific little performer for our climate. Also Brachyscome can be propagated now.

    As mentioned previously, it's the best time to take cuttings of Geraniums and Pelargoniums while you are giving them their end of season spruce up. For these old-fashioned favourites snip a nice healthy piece and leave on the ground in a pathway for a couple of days until the end callouses over so it won't ooze sap. Pot up in a good propagating mix.

    Pentas is one of the best butterfly-attracting plants around. It blooms all summer long, even during the hottest (and for here, wettest) weather. It is a stalwart in a lot of Coffs Coast gardens and we can 'spread the love' by taking cuttings of our best performers and sharing. Take softwood cuttings either in spring or now. 


    Dahlias require a feed of high-phosphorous fertiliser now to keep them blooming at their best for a bit longer. Keep deadheading spent flowers to encourage the development of further blooms.  If this is done now they should be looking very vibrant for the Coffs Harbour Show in May.

    Cannas will benefit from a high-phosphorous feed at this time too to keep them producing good flowers. If they are showing rust on their leaves, cut off at ground level and place in the green bin. 

    Transplant or Plant Trees and Shrubs

    Now is a very good time to correct an error or two....... not happy with where you planted a shrub last year? Now is one of the best times of the year to correct that little speed-hump in your gardening journey.

    Preparation is the key element in this process. Start by dosing up your shrub with a seaweed solution in the weeks leading up to the big move. Trim back your shrub and spray some Stressguard on the leaves (this will help with moisture retention). Lasso the branches together to prevent damage to them during the move. 

    As a general rule of thumb when moving shrubs or trees you add a zero to the diameter of the trunk and this will give the overall measurement for the rootball diameter.  For example if you have a 5cm diameter trunk it is fair to assume that a 50cm rootball needs to be taken with the shrub. Also at least a good spade depth is required too - up to 30cm if possible. See the illustration to the right.

    The intended spot has to be nurtured before the move as well. Dig over the site very thoroughly preparing a hole at least two times the diameter of the rootball, place some rock dust and compost in the hole and work well with the soil - use this to back fill when the shrub is in situ.

    Citrus Renovation

    Citrus trees need to be treated for scale and sooty mould by spraying thoroughly with horticultural oil. 
    Citrus trees can be treated much the same as that described above for Mango trees as it is a good idea to 'open up' the tree to allow light and air to get into the middle of the tree. 
    A quick trim up now will make your tree more manageable for harvest (and also spraying) if kept small.
    Citrus are also 'heavy feeders' so continue with your feeding fertiliser regime - best to feed small, often. This excellent article from ABC Organic Gardener's Phil Dudman will explain how best to trim (and why) a citrus tree.
    NB: don't feed citrus while they're in flower.

    Time for a Trim Up

    Hedges and topiaries need a tidy up now to bring them back into shape after their summer growth. Consider a string-line along the length of your hedge to act as a pruning guide. Trimming 'by eye' is always very difficult unless you are exceedingly practised at it. Always taper the sides of your hedge so that the base is a little wider than the top. This gives the lower growth greater exposure to sunlight, which helps maintain thick foliage growth from the top to bottom. On completion give your hedge some fertiliser and water it in well.

    For a comprehensive article on trimming hedges who better to visit than the UK Royal Horticultural Society!

    Divide and Conquer

    For the next couple of months it is the optimum time to dig up and divide clumping plants such as Clivea, Liriope, Lomandra and Dianella. 
    It's not only good for the plants, but it is a terrific way of increasing your plant stock for free and wonderful to share with our friends. If the ground around the plants is a bit on the dry side, give it a good water a day or two ahead to soften the soil and hydrate the plants. Drive a sharp spade into the soil around the plant about 10-15cm out from the base of the clump, severing the plant roots. Once the clump is dug out, use a sharp knife to cut and divide the mass into smaller divisions. Before you replant them, trim off any ragged roots and cut back some of the outer leaves to reduce moisture loss.

    Lemongrass is handy to have in our gardens and it really irks when a recipe calls for it and you slog down to the shops and get gobsmacked by the price! Growing lemongrass is dead easy, yes it does take up a bit of space however, what has to be remembered though, it does like boggy conditions so companion planting might be an issue!

    Every few years it's a good practice to lift and divide the clump as the middle of the plant seems to miss out on nutrient/water balance. So now would be an opportune time to do this - I always like to make a heap of noise whenever I attend to the Lemongrass as it's a fear of mine that there is a forky-tongued individual lurking there!

    Rest Up

    After all the essentials have been taken care of in your garden, make a cuppa, put your feed up and crack out the catalogues and gardening magazines to have a peruse on the latest for gardens - you deserve the break!

    Thursday, 9 March 2017

    Community Commitment Continuance from CHGC

    Just who would have thought that Ian Kiernan's idea of having a dedicated clean up throughout Australia 27 years ago would have such longevity? 

    This community involvement has been supported by our club every single year and the historical cemetery has been the recipient of this spruce up each March during the campaign. 

    Cemeteries are part of our collective history and their gravestones tell the stories of people who once lived, worked, and loved in our community. Their lives have been memorialised by a few carved sentences or phrases, which often paint a poignant picture of their triumphs and sad losses in their lives. Coffs historical cemetery is no exception and IT IS an exceedingly interesting place to visit. What needs to be remembered though, it's all very well to leave floral tributes and other meaningful tokens of love to our departed loved ones at grave sites, but from a safety prospective the use of glass or breakable vessels is not the way to go. 

    It has to be said though, that there are some cultures (including some Aboriginal burials) where glass is used principally to decorate graves, however there doesn't appear to be any of these at this cemetery. Run-down cemeteries are inherently unsafe spaces and just by visiting a cemetery for a stroll, a guided tour or researching for a family tree can be quite a risky excursion and Coffs historical cemetery doesn't deviate from this generalisation.

    CHGC are doing a wonderful service to the community each year (with Pat at the helm for many years and now Peter for the last few) and this cemetery is a safer and more enjoyable place to spend time because of this clean up. Visitors, of course have to be mindful it is a historical site and there will be unsafe areas due to masonry collapse etc, but the glass issue is one where the garden club have come into their own by its removal.

    Some of the CHGC team
    This year there were seven members who joined in (and enjoyed!) the clean up - Peter, Cheryl, Laurie, Michael, Gavin, Janny and Maria. Thank you team CHGC, you did an excellent job once again.

    Sunday, 5 March 2017

    Cutworm - Agrotis spp

    The cutworm is also known as black cutworm, brown cutworm, pink cutworm and common cutworm.

    Cutworms can be extremely difficult to identify because they are named after their behaviour of chewing through the stems of lawns and plants and not on a single caterpillar type. As such they can often look quite different from each other - hence the common names listed above. Their colours can range from a bronze colour to brown, to green and sometimes they even have a variegated pattern. 

    They are caterpillars of night-flying moths that lay their eggs in the soil. After the caterpillars emerge they chew young plants and seedlings at ground level, sometimes eating right through the stem, which falls over. They take shelter in the soil during the day and emerge to eat at night. Their food of choice is to attack seedlings but they can also affect soft fruits like strawberries. Cutworms are more likely to be active after periods of rain. 

    Apart from being differentiated from other caterpillars by the way they cut through stems of plants and lawns, they are also recognizable by they way they curl up when touched. Cutworms can be from many different moth types but belong in the family Noctuidae.

    To read more about cutworms visit:

    Saturday, 4 March 2017

    Sapphire Portion of March Outing

    Darren Smith - The Farmer
    The second stop on our March outing was to a chemical and pesticide free seasonal produce and seedlings farm run by passionate farmer Darren Smith.

    image from facebook - Darren standing in a green manure bed
    Such enthusiasm from a bloke who is 'living his dream' of providing (and hopefully) educating we locals that being sustainable and practising permaculture principles DOES make a difference. Not only to the environment, but to the overall taste of the produce.

    Permaculture is a lot more than just establishing an organic garden. Darren, on his farm is using Weed Gunnel - a permeable and degradable weed mat which has been specifically developed and used extensively in the organic industry. 

    Luffa (or loofah) pictured above and to the right is a terrestrial member of the cucumber family. Eat and cook like you would a zucchini or if you're looking to scrub your back in the bath, dry over a number of weeks, then remove the skin and seeds. If you wish, they can be bleached to a more appealing colour.

    It is Darren's philosophy to use sustainable materials and resources in a collaborative to minimise the impact on the land and environment in growing his vegetables, fruits and herbs. Darren freely admits it has been (and still is) a learning curve for him and there have been occasions where things haven't quite worked to 'the plan'.

    He focuses on maintaining good, nutrient rich soil with excellent plant water take-up. This is achieved by the extensive use of mulch, both green and other eg mulched wood from on-site, trimmings etc thereby reducing depletion of water resources to the plants and on breakdown of the mulch material renewing organic stores in the soil.

    The use of mulch (and its breakdown process) holds to nature's continuum of boosting excellent soil health by keeping the balance in good soil - that is 24% air, 25% water, 45% minerals, 3-5% humus and up to 1% living organism. Having healthy soil will nurture the natural environment, promoting better plant health with wonderful lushness and resilience against pests and diseases.

    fb image
    Darren pointed out that to have bare soil is not only an open invitation for pesky weedy response to a burgeoning nutrient-rich soil environment, it also encourages evapotranspiration of water resources.

    Even during our Coffs Coast 'wet' Darren will continue to water his plants so this vital link in the chain is not broken by loss of water to the soil. 

    Darren makes his own soil blocks, these are small self-contained blocks of lightly compressed soil. There is a special tool that forms the blocks. As the seedlings grow, their roots reinforce the block. 

    When it comes to planting out, it's a simple matter of popping the block into the ground holus-bolus, thereby reducing the shock of planting because there is no splitting, teasing out of roots or other damage to the plant caused by handling.

    The 'mix' is compost, coir-peat, sand and water. This is the combination that best suits Darren's requirements.

    To plant seeds in these blocks once constructed is a breeze - simply place a seed or two into each hole, topping up with compost, gently misting with water until the little holes fill with water. Keep the blocks moist and place in greenhouse (or as Darren has done right, a protected purpose-built tunnel). When roots appear on the sides of the blocks they will start to hold the soil block together and indicate that the seedlings are almost ready for transplanting, brilliant! 

    Darren also brews up his own liquid fertilizer - he has a progressive line up of these wonderful bins (see left) using comfrey, fish emulsion and seaweed.

    Shade being offered by Cassava
    Cassava is a shrubby plant quick to grow with thin stems and nice palm-shaped leaves. They produce tuberous roots and are the main part that is eaten. A really pretty shrub.

    Darren has quite a number of Pigeon Pea plants from the Fabaceae family of legumes growing in his garden primarily for windbreaks and as nitrogen 'fixers'. These plants have a symbiotic relationship with the nitrogen fixing bacteria (Rhizobia). This soil bacteria that fixes nitrogen takes up residence inside root nodules of legume plants. The Rhizobia chemically converts the nitrogen from the air to make it available for the plant. In addition, every time they are pruned and also when the plant dies, the root nodules release nitrogen that can be used by other plants. So Darren is not only making a decent windbreak, he is also improving his soil for other plants.

    Herbs abound in this garden - they are not only used for harvest but also to attract bees, which seemed to absolutely love the Thai basil, which was in flower.

    This is a very serious line up with lots of lovely goodies for the garden. The farm has A LOT of chooks and they do their bit too in improving the health and vigor of plants.

    This garden is immense and it would take many hours to appreciate just how much work this most passionate ex-sparky-turned-gardener has achieved. 

    If you would like to contact Darren or even take advantage of his produce box purchase you can contact him through his facebook page

    Thank you to the Program Committee for organising such an interesting outing.
    The lunch at Beachstone Cafe was just lovely with lots of conversation and Darren took time out of his busy day to join us.