Planting the SFG Bed

Call me sad (don’t you dare!), but I’m all excited – our Square Foot Gardening bed is up and running!

You can read about the basics of SFG here if you haven’t already done so.

Preparing the Raised Bed

The trellises are in place – the posts were bolted to the inside of the bed, the top rails screwed on, and the wire mesh attached in the same way as I attached it to the passionfruit frame.

Sam and Alf

Alf with our friend, Sam. Loving your head-dress, Alf!

Bolts

The blue colour is a rubberised paint which may, or may not, stop the wood from rotting

Again, the wood was recycled from building scaffolding, so it’s fairly warped.

Some would call the trellises rickety and lopsided; I say, they’re charmingly rustic! Thanks, guys.Crooked trellisThe soil has been wheelbarrowed in – we paid Joselito’s son, Alan, to do it because it was too hard for us to do. You’ve got to recognise your limitations sometimes! I then tipped compost on top, and raked it in.

Filling the bedI tied together lengths of bamboo (which I bought because they were pink, but never found a use for) with fishing line to make my grid.

Fishing lineOur newly-laid tiles are 1 foot square, so they came in handy as a template – I lined up the bamboo along the grout lines.

GridI know they’ll quickly fade in the sun, but I’ll enjoy their pinkness in the meantime.

If we have trouble with stray cats (or Tipsy) using the bed as a litter tray, I’ll block off the long sides with shadecloth.

I’ve surrounded the outside of the bed with snail pellets because this is the time of year when the giant African snails really come out to play, and to munch their way through your garden.

Selecting the Plants

Using the companion planting guide from the website, My Square Foot Garden, I’ve come up with this plan (the brackets show the number of plants per square) – click on it to see an enlarged (and clearer) version:

Plan

I’ve positioned the more tender plants at the rear of the bed, so that the taller plants in the centre will provide shade from the afternoon sun.

The “blue” squares indicate successive planting – I’ll be sowing a new square of lettuce or English spinach every two weeks so that we have a constant supply – in theory, at least!

As you can see, I’ll be trying to grow parsnips, but I don’t think I’ve got much of a chance, as they like cold weather, which we never get. Worth a shot though, as I love them! I’d also try rhubarb if I could find a rhubarb crown. And asparagus. Yum!

I’ve chosen vegetables that are either expensive to buy, aren’t sold here, or varieties I can’t get here. I can’t see the point of planting things that are cheap and plentiful when they’re in season.

I’m also planting herbs that I use regularly. Even though they’re cheap to buy, it’ll save Alf a trip to the shops whenever I need them. They’re at the front of the bed for quick access.

I’ll plant butternut pumpkin as a groundcover in the flower beds – I’ve already had a practice run, and found that they grew best in the side and driveway beds.

Here’s a photo of my first pumpkin:

Butternut PumpkinAnd here’s a photo with my hand in it:

PumpkinHaha! The next few pumpkins were much more successful!

I also want to plant honeydew melon as a groundcover, but I have to source some seeds first – guess I’m going to have to fork out $6+ for a melon! But if they grow, it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Planting the Bed

According to my research, because we’re in a tropical zone, and therefore don’t get frost, we can plant at any time of the year.

I’m not too sure about that – even here some vegetables seem to be seasonal.

I don’t know, so I’ve stuck the seeds in anyway, and watered the entire bed with Seasol (seaweed extract) which is supposed to aid with germination.

I bought coriander and spring onions with roots still attached and planted those, and stuck some thyme cuttings in as well, along with a parsley plant I already had. This way, there’ll actually be something green in the bed while I cross my fingers and wait for the seeds to germinate.

Some of the seeds are pretty old, so I don’t know if they’re still viable.

HerbsI’ve mulched the “herbed” squares with seaweed, and will mulch the rest, if and when, the seedlings come up. The seaweed improves the soil, feeds the plants, suppresses weeds, and stops water evaporation and soil erosion.

Mulched squaresAs usual with my learning curve, I’m happily prepared to change anything as soon as I realise it’s not working.

Now it’s just a matter of watering and waiting.

And watching out for giant African snails!

African snail

African Snail

It’s thicker than my finger, and so very, very slimy and disgusting! And worst of all, it’s chomping away at my sawdust path! Eat the grass and weeds, you revolting thing!

Snail poop

Plus they poop all over the walls!

Snail poop

Don’t be embarrassed little shark – I know it wasn’t you.

Yuk! Where’s that pressure cleaner?

Garden Update #5 – July 2013

Passionfruit Vine

It’s alive!

It survived the transplant (I love the tropics!) – most of the leaves fell off, and some branches died, so I pruned those off, together with any that were growing away from the wall. I’ve tied the remaining branches onto the mesh for now, but will remove the ties once more tendrils grow.

passI’ve also mulched it with leaves from next door’s Coeur de Boeuf tree (soursop) as I haven’t made it to the beach to collect seaweed yet. I’ve kept the mulch well away from the stem to avoid stem and root rot.

Pawpaw Tree

It started dying back due to the white mould (which apparently is a widespread problem in Mauritius at the moment), so Alf cut the top off (as I couldn’t reach it):

Topped pawpawand covered the cut with a plastic bottle:

Protected trunkThe pawpaw trunk is hollow, and if left uncovered, will fill with rainwater, causing it to rot.

We continued to spray, and look what’s happening:

New growthI don’t know what this new growth is – I’m hoping that it’s leaves and flowers as opposed to major branches. Not sure – will wait and see.

I also don’t know what to do about the top – surely we don’t leave the bottle on forever? Does it close up? Branch out? More waiting and seeing, I guess.

Bamboo, Cordyline, and Daylilies

After tying it up, I’ve decided not to prune the bamboo (sorry Asmi – no cuttings yet!) as I like the way it looks and moves in the wind:

BambooAir can now circulate properly, and the cordyline that was buried underneath can get rain, sun, and space to grow.

BambooUnlike the daylilies, which were getting crowded out by the rhoeo:

DayliliesI’ve since moved them to the mulberry bed, as they need room to spread, multiply, and eventually give me lots of free plants.

Mulberry Tree (Mure)

White mould strikes again!

A lot of the leaves fell off, and the new growth at the top of the branches was distorted.

I pruned off about 5 feet as even Alf couldn’t reach to spray the tops of the branches – it’s a much more manageable height now at about 6 feet, and hopefully, this will also cause the tree to branch out as it was pretty straggly.

Mulberry treeWhen I googled “pruning mulberries”, the information was too general and contradictory: only prune when the tree is dormant (doesn’t happen in the tropics – it’s evergreen here), prune off 1/3, don’t prune, only prune branches growing into the centre. Arrgh! No details of where on the branch to prune or other things I need to know.

Google’s great for a lot of things, but when we lived in Perth, I would always borrow gardening books written by experts from our local library, rather than spend hours online with not much to show for it.

Anyway, I just guessed and made the cuts above buds that were facing away from the centre of the tree. Don’t know what the buds are. Leaves? Branches? Who knows. So again, will wait and see.

Mulberry treeRuellia Hedges

I’m having one final go at these, and if it doesn’t work this time, I’m planting something else.

Many of them have died (I don’t know why), so I have a lot of gaps.

Others are growing horizontally or unevenly.

They still don’t look like a hedge – maybe I should have planted them closer to each other.

Anyway, I’ve pulled out the dead ones, and pruned the rest back hard.

I selected about 20 straight cuttings (about 1 foot long) from the bits I pruned:

Ruellia pruningsstripped off the lower leaves (so the leaves don’t rot and turn the water slimy):

Stripped stem

Yep, that’s dirt under my fingernails!

and stuck them in a jar of water with a few drops of Seasol added (to strengthen the plants and help them root):

Cuttings and dodosThey will have rooted in a couple of weeks at which time I’ll fill the gaps, and also replace any existing plants that are misbehaving.

I hope it works this time as I really like the plant, and I really, really like hedges.

Oh, and did you notice the sad state of our dodos?

We haven’t had workers around for a while, so I forgot to move them from under the tap before Joselito washed out the tile adhesive bucket.

The good news though, is that I had to repaint and varnish them after the painters covered them in housepaint, so I already know how to mix the right shade of green.

Sometimes, you’ve just gotta look on the bright side of life!

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!

The Plants

I made a wish list, then amended it after visiting the nurseries over a few months.

Availability of plants is seasonal, so each time you visit, the selection will be slightly different.

For example, I want some heliconia – they’ll be ready in two months, as the nursery has just propagated them.

A couple of months ago, I wanted some cordylines – no-one had any.

You have to be patient. It’s the natural way of things.

Except, I want them now!!!!!!

But, on the plus side, you might find a plant that you hadn’t considered as it wasn’t there the last time you went.

Anyway, this is what I currently have planted.

(X) =  these plants don’t look tropical – they’re the Cottage garden element of the garden style

Red

  • Canna
  • Hibiscus
  • Ginger
  • Bromeliad
  • Chilli Hibiscus

Orange

  • Day lilies
  • Heliconia
  • Other lilies
  • Marigolds (X)
  • Bougainvillea

White

  • Gardenia
  • Cape Jasmine
  • Spider lilies
  • Easter lilies
  • Madagascan Frangipani

Pink

  • Geraniums (X)
  • Medinilla
  • Frangipani
  • Bromeliads
  • Bougainvillea
  • Anthurium

Blue/Purple

  • Ruellia
  • Agapanthus (X)
  • Tibouchina (shrub) (X)

Foliage

  • Dracaena
  • Cordyline
  • Chocolate Bush
  • Bamboo
  • Croton
  • Moses in a cradle
  • Agave
  • Mother-in-laws tongues
  • Zigzag plant
  • Ornamental banana

Groundcover

  • Butternut pumpkin (X)
  • Spider plants

Palms

  • Rodrigues or Spindle
  • Golden Cane
  • Veitchia

Fruit

  • Black mulberry (X)
  • Pawpaw
  • Strawberries (X)
  • Passionfruit vine
  • Lemon (X)
  • Lime (X)
  • Pineapple

Plus a few other things I don’t know the name of.

It looks impressive on paper, but keep in mind that they’re teeny, tiny, wee things.

The Original Garden

When we first bought the house, there were no garden walls, just a lot of thorny trees and shrubs planted along the boundaries, with a million or so banana trees in the middle.

I admit that I exaggerate, but in this case, not by much.

First order of business was to clear the boundary and whatever space the builders needed to work in. So they did:

Clearing the block

The builders clearing the block, watched by Alf

If I were cruel, I could have made a short film called Attack of the Dreaded Yellow Wasp. Instead I peeked from the windows and sniggered at the builders jumping about every time they disturbed a nest.

Heehee – still makes me smile! And no, I’m not mean – you had to be there and know them. You’ll see.

Anyway, plants all gone. Including several bougainvilleas I’d asked them to keep. Snigger snigger – love those wasps!

But before we had a chance to get the green-waste trucked away, the builders did what I’ve dubbed Mauritian Gardening – they built huge bonfires and burnt everything while it was still green.

Slightly smoky, and so good for the environment.

Also, if they really had to do it, why do it next to the plants they did remember to keep???  Now are you getting the wasp thing?

Next, I watched eagerly as they dug the foundations for the walls – and no, not to see them get bitten by giant things that live in the ground – but to see what kind of soil my beautiful garden-to-be would have.

Rocks.

Big, GIANT rocks!

So, as the builders didn’t have a novel way of solving the rock problem, we had them trucked away.

Cleared lock

The cleared block before the banana trees grew back

The Garden Style

Living here, the obvious choice is tropical.

A lush, jungle look.

I initially wanted something like this:

Tropical garden

Courtesy cooltropicalplants.com

But after a lot of browsing through various websites, I decided to make a list of what I liked about different garden styles:

Tropical:

  • The plants
  • Lushness

Formal

  • The planting style – lots of symmetry
  • Hedging

Contemporary

  • Minimalist
  • Modern colour schemes
  • Silhouetted specimen plants
  • Funky garden ornaments

Cottage

  • Certain plants
  • Plants tumbling over paths
  • A tiny bit of rusticity

Then I decided to combine these elements, and invent my own garden style.

I ‘m going to plant a fusion garden.

A Formal Contemporary Tropical Garden with a Touch of Cottage.