Garden Update #7- June 2014

I’ve finally made my way back into the garden – permanently this time.

I lost interest in it after Alf died – it made me too sad.

I watered it occasionally, and cut the grass infrequently, but that was about it.

Alf was very proud of what I’d achieved, and was always showing it off to our visitors, or watching what I was doing from our balcony. I miss him, and gardening reminded me too much of him.

Anyway, I’ve decided that it’s about time that I get off the couch, get stuck into it, and continue to make Alf proud.

Plus I can hear him say “Don’t you dare let that garden die – do you know how much we’ve spent on it!!!”

Luckily I planted a low-maintenance garden, otherwise I’d be in big trouble after ignoring it for six months! Good news is, nothing died, and everything kept right on growing. In some cases, a bit too much!

Square Foot Garden Bed

I dug up the bed as the soil had compacted and was rock hard.

I then added a mix of composted horse/chicken manure, perlite and coco peat, and dug that into each square.

The only things still there from last year were a straggly thyme plant, spring onions, half-dead oregano, and strawberries.

The original strawberry plants had died, but I transplanted about 20 new small plants that had grown from runners.

I’ve planted parsley, chilli, mint, thyme and sage seedlings, and I’ve sown the following seeds:

Capsicum (peppers)
Beef steak tomatoes
Roma tomatoes
Celery
Sugar snap and snow peas
Bush beans
Silverbeet (Swiss chard)
English spinach
Lettuces (including Cos for Caesar salads!)

Again, I’ve only planted things that are expensive or not available here.

I have six empty squares which I’ll use to plant more salad vegetables in a few weeks’ time, so that I get a staggered supply rather than have everything maturing at once.

And I’ve moved my cement statue into the middle of the bed – she adds height, colour and interest to the empty bed.

SFG BedAerial ViewUsing Compost as Mulch

One of the reasons the SFG bed was so dry (ignoring my bad watering practices for the moment!), was because last year I mulched it with the horse/chicken compost we bought.

The compost was either hydrophobic and repelled water, or it absorbed the water, and just held on to it.

I’m not sure which, but either way, it prevented water from reaching the soil.

I’m glad I’ve discovered that now, as I plan on mulching the entire garden with it at some stage.

As an experiment, I’ve soaked it in water, along with perlite and coco peat, and mulched the planter on the garage roof with it. This planter is in full sun for most of the day and dries out quickly, so I’ll soon be able to tell whether it’s effective or not.

Raw ingredients

Dry mix

Mulch

Soaked in water

Passionfruit

After almost 2 years, I have fruit! Only a couple, but it’s a start:

Lack of fruit on the vine can be due to insufficient water, so I’ve given it a good soaking, and used the mulch mix around the base of the vine to stop evaporation.

Passionfruit

What a beauty!

It’s been so long since I bought it, I can’t remember whether it was a yellow or purple variety – hope it’s purple – yellow clashes with the wall colour!

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Garden Update #4 – June 2013

Passionfruit Frame

It’s finally up! Yipee!!!!

The delay has been due to the bottom length of wood – it was warped so kept falling off the wall, despite Alf’s best efforts to screw and nail it on.

Then, our ex-builder, Joselito, came a-visiting, and worked his magic. What a star!

Because everything here is built with hollow breeze blocks, you really need someone who knows how to work with them.

Alf and JoselitoHe ended up drilling bigger holes in the wood and wall. He then inserted chips of wood into the holes, along with the wallplugs, and bolted the wood to the wall, chiselling lumps out of it, so he could countersink the bolts.

So now we know for next time!

Though, if there is a next time, I think we’ll just pay Joselito to do it. It took him ages, and would take us forever!

After filling all the holes and gaps with Woodfiller, sanding it back, and touching up the paint, I stapled wire mesh to the frame:

Gaps

Thank God for woodfiller – not even close!

WoodfillerStaplesThe mesh comes in 3 foot widths, so as our frame is over 5 feet high, I had to join 2 lengths of mesh together:

MeshI finished it all off with painted wooden beading held on by small tacks, then painted the tack heads to stop them rusting.

TacksThe beading will stop the mesh from falling off when (not if, but when!) the staples rust. The combination of humidity and salt air guarantees that.

It also looks nicer.

Finished framePassionfruit Vine

Passionfruit vine

Before transplanting

The passionfruit vine is in place: I dug a large hole, replacing the rubble-filled soil with compost, and the topsoil we bought, and watered the passionfruit thoroughly with Seasol (seaweed extract) as it helps reduce transplant shock. I’ll also be giving it a deep soaking everyday, and mulching it with seaweed.

I used some of the rocks I dug out of the garden to make an edging so that we don’t trample all over the roots and damage them further. I can remove the edging down the track (though what I’ll do with the rocks is another thing!).

Rock edgingI don’t know whether it will survive. It’s been in the raised bed for about 9 months, and the roots had burst through the container it came in, and grown into the soil. They had spread pretty far, and although I tried not to damage them, I did.

To compensate for the broken roots, I pruned it back very hard.

It’s looking pretty sad.

If it lives, I’ll tie it to the mesh until it starts climbing on its own.

If it dies, we’ll be heading back to the nursery at Labourdonnais for a new plant.

But as this is Mauritius, and plants do their own thing here, I’ll just wait and see.

Transplanted passionfruitPot Stands

OK, explain this to me – metal doesn’t stretch, and plastic, tiles and grout don’t shrink – so how did the pot stand and pot go from this:

Stupid pot standto this:

Magic pot

?????????????

I went to remove the pot so that I could work on the stand, but it was stuck – I can’t get it out!

It was much too big for the ring before. What’s going on? I’m completely baffled!

Maybe we have fairies living at the bottom of the garden.

Very, very weird!

I’m probably going to have to knock some tiles off to get it out.

Anyway, I’ve finished the other stand – I tried using a wire brush to remove the loose paint and burgeoning rust, but didn’t find it very effective, so I used coarse sandpaper, which worked really well.

Pot standPot standPot standAlf’s thinking is, that as long as the rust is well covered by the paint (thereby stopping air from getting to it), I won’t need to use rust converter, or primer.

So I didn’t – I don’t need much encouragement to save myself a lot of work!

After a quick wipe, I gave it three coats of purple paint (very time-consuming!).

I’m not sure whether I like the purple – it’s a bit much. I may end up changing the colour.

Purple standOther than that, it’s a huge improvement. I’ll keep an eye out for any breakthrough rust.

I’ll also be making mosaic tiles to stand them on, to keep the feet out of wet sawdust.

Anyway, one down, and one to go.

Once I get the pot out!

White Mould

Everything’s growing well with the exception of the pawpaw, chili hibiscus, and some of the Madagascan frangipanis, which all got badly infected with white mould.

Mould

Chili Hibiscus

Mould

Mould

This is after a few days of treatment

It looks disgusting, and deforms and kills the leaves, and if left untreated, ultimately kills the plant. And it spreads.

Because the pawpaw tree was too tall for me to reach (and it was soooo disgusting!), Alf kindly removed most of the leaves, and sprayed everything with a mixture of milk and water (1:3 parts), re-spraying every couple of days. We used fresh milk as opposed to UHT.

It seems to be working – it’s certainly killing the mould – but we’ll have to wait and see whether the plants survive. Both chili hibiscuses have already died.

Alf will keep spraying the other plants with the milk solution until there is no sign of mould left, then I’ll spray with Seasol to give them a bit of a health boost.

I also promise to be more vigilant in future, and to spray at the first sign of mould. Amen.

So all in all, it’s been a productive month, seeing an end to some of the projects that have been sitting around unfinished for the past year or so, and a start to others.

And best of all, I can now start work on the raised bed, and move the pile of soil that’s been sitting in the driveway for months! Finally!

Grass

The idea I had about using hessian as a weed mat has gone by the wayside – when we came back from Perth, as expected, the grass had all grown back.

But what I didn’t expect, was to find that it had grown through the small holes in the astroturf!

Seriously?

If it can grow through astroturf, I’ll have no chance with hessian!

So I’m back to the poisoning option, with one difference:

A friend told us she did a similar thing back in Scotland, but instead of using a paintbrush, she put on rubber gloves, then a sock on top of that, dunked her hands in the poison solution, and wiped it over the grass.

Quicker than the paintbrush, and hopefully, less splashing of poison onto the surrounding plants.

I’ll definitely be raiding Alf’s sock drawer and giving that a go. Thanks, Linda.

Garden Update #3 – Mar 2013

Pots and Pot Stands

I found el cheapo plastic pots for the top of the stands, which I sanded, applied two coats of terracotta paint to, tiled and grouted, then applied a third coat to cover the grout, as it was much darker than the paint. They’re the right shape, but a bit smaller than I wanted. In Mauritius though, beggars can’t be choosers – you might end up waiting forever if you hold out for something specific.

Red potFinished potsUnlike when I bought the small pots, this time, I actually measured the pot stand so I’d know what size pots to buy.

Pot Stand

Perfect!

However, I made the fatal mistake of only measuring one of them:

Stupid pot stand

!!!!!

I’m starting to develop a serious dislike for those pot stands!

I’ll be planting the pots with ivy geranium, (after drilling holes in the bases – why don’t pots have drainage holes anymore? We have a drill, but I’m sure lots of people don’t). Hopefully, the geraniums will trail down and disguise the size problem!

Anyway, on a more positive note, I love paint – instead of ugly red plastic pots, I now have two lovely “terracotta” pots.

Even if one of them doesn’t fit! Grrrrr!

Moving on…with the pot stands, I’ve still got to apply rust converter and primer, and then spray them with either white gloss or matte black – I’ve yet to decide, though I’m leaning towards black. But I’d better do it pronto – with all the rain we’ve been having, they’re getting rustier by the minute – bits will probably start falling off soon!

Weeding the Beds

I’ve weeded the final two beds, and the only problems hiding under the grass were:

Easter Lilies

I have two plants – they both died back, but one is showing signs of new growth. My friend, Robin, said that you’re supposed to dig up the bulbs each year, store them, and replant them the following season.

Afraid not – I planned a low maintenance garden, and am not prepared to do anything like that – I’ve got enough to do! I’ll see how they go, and perhaps replace them.

Day Lilies

They haven’t grown at all (nor have the agapanthus). Maybe if you live in a tropical zone, you should stick to tropical plants! Having said that, the red ginger plants haven’t grown much either, so who knows?

Ruellia Hedges

I cut all the bushes back hard. However, I think it’s too little too late – most of them are growing sideways, and I can’t see them ever turning into the gorgeous hedge that at the moment exists solely in my imagination.

So I’ve stuck about 20 cuttings into a jar of water, and will start from scratch when they root – it will only take a couple of weeks.

This time, I’ll plant more of them, and reduce the spacing between them, so that as they grow, they can support each other.

Also, I’ll prune them regularly so that they become bushy, and turn into a low hedge instead of a tall, straggly mess.

The weeded garden:

Driveway bed

Driveway bed

Lemon bed

Lemon tree bed

Mulberry tree and front beds

Mulberry tree and front beds

House bed

Bed running the length of the house

House bed

Ditto

Side Bed

Side bed and passionfruit in the raised bed

Grass

The paths have been weeded and poisoned, and the grass in the new paths has been cut and poisoned, and the paths covered in sawdust.

The type of sawdust we get varies, depending on what wood the cabinetmakers are working with. So you end up with a patchwork effect when you first spread it as you can see from the above photos.

After a while, it fades in the sun and all looks pretty much the same colour.

The paths I’d already poisoned and covered were relatively easy to weed – it was mainly grass that had spread from the adjoining beds, so the roots were shallow and pulled out easily.

Half-weeded path

Half-weeded path

So to that extent, the sawdust mulch is working. Any grass that grows from now on will be promptly Roundup-ed or pulled out.

However, the grass in the beds is going to be a huge ongoing problem – the roots are very deep (even where I’ve previously poisoned), and it grows back very thick. It also grows back very fast.

Newly-weeded bed

Newly-weeded bed

Weeded two weeks ago

Two weeks’ growth

Half weeded bed

What I can expect in two months

There’s no point in just covering it all with mulch, as the grass will grow through it.

I don’t want to poison the beds as I killed some plants last time I did that – plus it takes forever as it’s too windy to spray, so I have to use a paintbrush. And it’s obviously not very effective.

I googled “weed mat” – the general consensus was that the soil underneath gets very dry, and because it’s loosely-woven, weeds/grass still grow through it. And it frays, so you get little bits of black plastic floating about the place.

Instead, I’ve decided to look for hessian (jute or burlap) fabric, and lay that on the beds before mulching.

It’ll let moisture through, and the grass and weeds will have to try pretty hard to get through both the hessian and the mulch. Any that do make it will be easily seen as the mulch is black, and I can poison them immediately. By the time the hessian rots down, the grass should all be dead.

Theoretically!

It will probably take a while to do, as I’ll have to cut the hessian to fit around the plants. But if it works, it’ll be time well spent, and I rather do that than face a future of eternal weeding!

So much for low-maintenance!

(If you live in Mauritius and know where I can bulk-buy cheap hessian, please let me know.)

Step

I downloaded an English gardening program called “Lovely Garden” by my all-time favourite gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, and in one episode, the garden owner had planted a tiny square of lawn in an otherwise brick-paved area. It was a bold statement and it made me laugh.

(As an aside, how is it that despite their terrible weather, the Brits are such fabulous gardeners? You can’t beat them!)

Anyway, initially, I thought that I’d buy some turf for the step by the front gates – this would be the only lawn in our garden.

However, after our problems with the grass and weeds, I’ve since changed my mind.

I HATE grass!

Instead, I cut some astroturf to shape and used that:

AstroturfIt doesn’t exactly look natural (or pretty – it’s a weird shade of green and is all sparkly in the sun – like Christmas tinsel!), but at least it’ll stop my shoes from getting muddy and the weeds from growing. Hopefully, down the track, I’ll find something better.

Well, we’re off to Perth for two weeks soon – lots of eating, shopping, and catching up with family and friends, leaving our house and Tipsy-the-cat in the capable hands of our housesitter, Amy.

Thanks, Amy, and enjoy Mauritius!

Colour – Decorating the Garden

Walls

I treat the garden like a room in our house.

Generally, I don’t like white walls either in or out – to me, they do nothing to show off your furniture, ornaments, or plants.

Having said that, our kitchen and spare room are both white.

And all the rooms downstairs are white.

I did say, generally.

A painted garden wall also adds colour, even when nothing is in flower.

The exterior of our house is cream, so I didn’t have to worry about anything clashing.

For this garden, I chose a colour as close to terracotta as I could find. Depending on the time of day, it can look orange, pink, and if I’m lucky, terracotta.

The foliage, flowers, and shadows really stand out against it, and it feels warm.

I’m very happy with it.

Pots and Ornaments

I like continuity in the garden – an element of contemporary garden styles – so I chose one main contrast colour, with tiny touches of other colours.

Having said that, I am planning on at least one gaudily-painted statue peeking out from the undergrowth.

When the undergrowth grows.

If it ever does.

Anyway, the contrast colour I chose first was a tuscan blue, as we were tiling the outdoor shower with blue mosaic tiles.

But after our builder, Joselito (no wasps for him – he was great!), finished the tiling, I decided to go with purple, or aubergine.

I’d bought terracotta tile glue and grout, which caused the tiles to take on a purple tinge from a distance. It looks warm and soft against the terracotta wall – very subtle.

Without the terracotta glue, the bright blues of the tiles would probably have been pretty stark, and although Joselito did a good job, I really wouldn’t have wanted the shower to dominate the garden.

outdoor shower

I also used the blue tiles on the corners of the raised bed – but I forgot about the terracotta glue, and used epoxy to attach them. So they just look blue.

Anyway, having chosen the colour, I then went to town.

1 litre of aubergine paint later, and my old scrubbed-down and washed cement pots look brand new.

cement pots

square pot

I also bought some sturdy plastic pots, and a metal pot, which I lightly sanded, wiped well, and painted.

An old light fitting with an interesting shape got a new life as a pot holder, and received the same treatment, as did some MDF sharks I found in a second-hand shop.

wall pot

painting the sharks

sharks

With these, I added a couple of coats of exterior varnish to stop the artists’ acrylic on the sharks from fading, and to stop the light fitting from falling apart any further.

Hopefully.

The Buddha head got a dye job – his hair used to be turquoise so he’s pretty happy about it.

buddha

See him smiling?

Passionfruit Climbing Frame

This is made from left-over timbers that the builders used as scaffolding, and in their formwork. So it’s full of nail holes and character (and termite damage, but I repaired that).

passionfruit frame

It will be made up of 4 lengths of wood screwed to the wall, with wire mesh stapled to it, and finished off with wooden beading to stop the mesh falling off when the humidity and salt in the air rusts the staples.

I think of everything – it’s all that staring I do.

The wood is a bit warped from sitting around for two years, so I was prepared to paint it terracotta, if the contrast of aubergine against the wall emphasised the distortion too much.

But it’s fine – cottage garden rustic!

Once it’s up, I might tile the top corners because I have hundreds of tiles left that I don’t know what to do with.