Six on Saturday – 20/1/2018

I’ve gone to the end and come back up here to roll the credits before the film starts because I know most of you will switch off at the end of the pictures, not that I blame you. This is my contribution to Six on Saturday, a meme hosted by The Propagator, who will have links to other contributors at the end of his own weekly post. I’m still on holiday in Australia, though not for much longer, so I don’t know what is happening in my garden this week. I offer you the following  meanderings instead.

The Sunshine Coast. That’s what the stretch of coast from Caloundra to Noosa, 60 odd miles north of Brisbane is called. Basically it’s a string of resorts along a beautiful stretch of coast. Resorts are not kind to the natural environment, but do act as honeypots, attracting vast numbers of people who are then not putting pressure on more sensitive areas. Noosa has a National Park, a fair sized area of rocky headland that has escaped development. The path around the coastal edge is intensively used, mostly for access to several beautiful beaches; the limited number of inland paths are very quiet. Hardly anybody goes off the paths, too much scratchy vegetation and there may be snakes or spiders.

Bribie Island is just to the south of the Sunshine Coast. A short distance offshore, the channel between it and the mainland, known as Pumicestone Passage, is where most of the action is. On the side facing the ocean the sea is much rougher and access more difficult. You can drive along the beach to the north end of the island but you need a four wheel drive vehicle to do so. Many people do; I don’t know what they do when they get there; have a beer, turn around and drive back I would guess. The next tide erases the tyre tracks and beyond the high tide mark disturbance is minimal.

This week’s six come from these two places. They are a celebration of what the overwhelming majority of people walk right past and don’t see. Or perhaps they do see and it means nothing. Or perhaps they see it and value it but know that the best thing they can do is leave it alone. You never know what’s going on in other people’s heads.

Casuarina equisetifolia. She Oak. This is one of the coastal front line species, growing in the most exposed places and right to the tide line. It looks very conifer-like, but is a flowering plant. Individual trees are usually damaged and misshapen. It lacks “horticultural merit” so you don’t see it in gardens and only occasionally in public planting schemes. It has utility in spades, beauty in teaspoons. It’s an underdog. I like it very much.

Pandanus tectorius. Screwpine. These dramatic, architectural plants are dotted along the ocean margins in the same area as she-oak, but usually as isolated individuals. Female trees produce pineapple-like fruits which float away on ocean currents like coconuts. On Bribie they are growing in sand at the high water mark, their roots being washed by the sea. They are popular in public plantings on Bribie, make a nice centrepiece for a roundabout.

Hibbertia. There are boards up at Noosa and on Bribie showing some of the more common local flora and fauna. The Noosa one says that their picture of Hibberta vestita is one of nine species on their patch; Bribie’s is a picture of Hibbertia scandens. Suffice it to say that there are several very similar looking scrambling shrubs with yellow flowers around. Some of them will be species of Hibbertia.


Ipomoaea pes-caprae. Goat’s foot convolvulus. Just above high water mark on Bribie is a zone of sand with pretty much only two plants growing in it. This is one, the other is Spinifex hirsutus, which I’d have identified as Marram grass. That however is something different. It’s also known as Silvery Sand Grass or Beach spinifex. Both species produce very long runners that help bind the sand together.


Thysanoutus tuberosus. Fringed Lily. This is not exclusively a coastal plant but was growing on the headland at Noosa. It’s lovely and you’d expect to see it in cultivation. I remember one of our liner suppliers back home offering a form of it some years ago. I doubt they still do. It is reckoned to be difficult to cultivate and each flower only lasts a day. One to enjoy in situ.


Gloriosa superba. I’d been labouring under the misapprehension that this was a species of Gloriosa native to Australia. Just shows how wrong you can be. It is a major component of the flora just behind the beach along miles of Bribie’s shoreline, scrambling through the front line of shrubby species. It’s in fact a non-native, naturalised extensively on the east coast of Australia and considered a rampant and dangerous invasive weed that dominates sand dunes at the expense of local species and killing native animals and birds that ingest it. All parts of the plant contain colchicine, which is very toxic, the seeds being particularly rich.
Ironically, in India, where it is native, it is threatened by over exploitation for herbal medicine.


Next Friday, 26 January, is Australia Day. It celebrates the arrival in Sydney Cove of the eleven ships of the “First Fleet”, carrying over 1480 men, women and children, many of them convicts, on January 26, 1788. In Caboolture Historic Village, a museum near here, there are scale models of all eleven vessels and a list of all the people, including those who died or were born on the voyage. Let’s just say it wasn’t Britain’s finest hour.

The plant life here has played a large part in the story since then. Timber extraction was a major early preoccupation; growing crops essential to survival. No doubt plants were just as important to the indigenous people in the 40-50,000 years before Europeans arrived.

I look at a forest here and wonder what it looked like before the logging started, how well it has recovered since, now that it’s a “conservation area”. I drive through vast areas of sparse grassland supporting very low densities of farting cattle, cleared of forest for the purpose and ask myself a million questions. I look at species after species that don’t quite look at home and wonder whether they are native or not. I wonder about gardening here, what sort of garden I might have, what I would grow, what the hell are all these plants I’m seeing, what conditions do they need.

Sometimes unfamiliarity seems to make things clearer, you see with a fresh eye, but that’s often through ignorance of the complexities of what you’re looking at. Six on Saturday is probably not an appropriate place to talk of such things, but if you’ve stayed with me this far, you have to share some of the blame. Have a nice day.



Six on Saturday – 13/1/2018

Away from my own Cornish garden as I am, down under in a Queensland summer, (38°C today) I’m finding more to nourish my horticultural leanings in the remaining wild areas around here than in gardens, public or private, as good as some of them are.

One place I have returned to on several occasions is Mt. Mee.  North of Brisbane there is a coastal plain around 25km wide, backed by mountain ranges. Mt Mee State Forest and Forest reserve is part of D’Aguilar National Park and is an area of mixed forest, the highest points of which are around 500m. altitude. From a central carpark/picnic area you can access miles of forest roads and walking tracks. Only a few of the roads are much used, so I have mainly walked for hours without seeing anyone.

There are many very different types of environment within quite a small area, often with bewilderingly rapid changes between them. You move from rainforest to dry sclerophyll forest within a couple of hundred metres. There are Hoop pine plantations, remnants of old growth forest with lots of Hoop pine, towering straight white trunks of Eucalypts and areas dominated by Piccabeen palm.

Very little of what I have seen is familiar. I know a Eucalyptus when I see one, but here there are Eucalypts that don’t look like Eucalypts and things that look like Eucalyptus that are something else. The Queensland Government has a list of plant species for D’Aguilar National Park; 1468 native species. 4 Cycads, 94 Orchids, 65 Ferns and so on. (The list of vertebrate animals native to the Park stands at 587 species) Confronted with an unfamiliar plant, it is at least a start.

My favourite is dry sclerophyll forest. Here the trees are relatively wide spaced, short, often with twisted trunks, the forest floor a mix of grass trees, grasses, Restios, Lomandra, assorted other monocots, mostly not flowering, and a wide range of tough and wiry shrubs. There is a characteristic strong aromatic smell. The trees are unsuitable for timber so these areas are relatively unscathed.

Mt Mee dry sclerophyll forest. I know I’m pushing my luck to squeeze an entire ecosystem into one item, but this is my surrogate garden for just a few more weeks. The two most obvious species are Scribbly Gum, Eucalyptus racemosa subsp. racemosa and grass trees, Xanthorrhoea latifolia.

Dendropthoe vitellina. Long-flowered mistletoe. There are quite often bits of the crown of the Eucalypts that look a bit different; very pendulous, slightly different leaf shape. They are mistletoes, easily overlooked out of flower, somewhat extraordinary when in flower. This one was growing from four or five places on the trunk of this tree, low enough to get a good look at. When I saw the flowers I could scarcely believe my eyes.


Eucalyptus racemosa subsp. racemosa. Scribbly Gum. One of the commonest, and by far the most obvious trees in the dry sclerophyll areas of Mt Mee. A pile of shed bark flakes surrounds each tree and the scribbly patterns are completely unique to each. A moth larva is responsible.

Calanthe triplicata. Christmas Orchid. I saw this plant yesterday, a meter or so from the path, having walked past it the day before. Nearly three feet high it’s a stunning thing. I’d seen one a month ago, then none since, so I assumed it was rare. Not so, once you see one in flower, the identity of the clumps of leaves dotted about becomes clear. There are lots but few in flower. The species is very widespread, from East Africa, through Asia and down to Australia. On Mt Mee it grows in the denser, shadier areas, not quite full blown rainforest.

Archontophoenix cunninghammia. Piccabeen Palm. When it rains around here, it doesn’t hold back. You don’t get hours of light rain, you get torrential downpours that generally don’t last long. A slightly elevated piece of ground with the surface parched and hard will not absorb much, it almost all runs off. The flat areas and slight depressions are the beneficiaries of both their own rain and the runoff. I think this partly explains the variety of habitats mixed together. The piccabeen patch at Mt Mee is in a slight depression and usually has some pools of open water and boggy bits. The palms grow densely and become very tall, to 20m or so. It seeds around very freely and it’s easy to see why it has become an invasive weed in some other parts of the world.
Amongst them are dotted very tall Eucalyptus trees, providing them with some shade.


Araucaria cunninghamii. Hoop Pine. Mr Cunningham did rather well when they were handing out plant names way back when. I came across a few bits of what looked like old growth forest with a substantial component of Hoop Pine in it. The logging in this area started in the 1870’s and finished in the 1980’s. Looking at it now it is hard to see which bits have been much changed and which have not.


I think I’ll only get one more post in before coming home. I am really starting to wonder how the garden there has survived and what is now stirring. I’m going to be checking out other posts linked to The Propagator’s Six and it’s going to get me thinking about sowing and planting and so on.

Six on Saturday – 6/1/2018

One of the advantages of being in Oz is that I can write a post at 6:30 Sunday morning and still be in time for Saturday in the UK.

A couple of times this week I drove our host to the station for his commute into Brisbane to work, passing by a very nice garden at the end of the road where the owner was out with loppers, curtailing the enthusiasm of her fast growing Corymbia ficifolia. At five to six in the morning!

The fact is, at this time of year here it’s the only sensible time to garden. Fresh, bright, temperature in low twenties. I’ve been doing a little bit of gardening with our host, it’s a bit different from home, even in high summer.

Dypsis lutescens. Golden Cane Palm. I put this into my first Ozzie post a few weeks back, without knowing what it was. Palms are so exotic looking and so few are growable in the UK that to strike any kind of negative note about them seems ungrateful at best. They must be just about the easiest plants it is possible to grow here. There are at least two native species that grow locally and which are used in gardens, though most are foreigners. Dypsis is very common, partly because it is relatively small, partly because it is multistemmed and makes an effective screen. At least it can, if the occasional big stem is removed and the young ones that shoot from the base are left. Alternatively the suckers can be removed and the big shoots left, growing to around 10m in time. They shed leaves constantly and removing dead ones is one of the jobs I have contributed to.

Bromeliads. Again, I have mentioned these before. Useful for groundcover in shade, but possibly harbouring mosquitoes, there was a sizeable patch around the Bismarkia in the back garden here. No more, they have been moved elsewhere or potted up. A big chunk went out the front. I grabbed hold of the clump and pulled, it came up easily, there being very little by way of roots. A square metre of it was plonked back down out front, pushed around a bit, watered once. A week on and it looks like it was always there. The front gets the same amount of sun and rain as the back, but the back is flat, giving the often spectacularly heavy rain time to penetrate; out front the ground slopes and most of it runs off. The bromeliads catch water in the rosettes so are less dependent on moist soil, hopefully they will thrive.

Cycas revoluta. This should be a fantastic garden plant here, the climate suits it just fine. Unfortunately it is targeted by a small butterfly which lays its eggs on the newly emerging leaves. The larvae are small but numerous and will frequently completely destroy a newly emerging rosette of leaves. The plant grows by putting up whole rosettes all at once, repeated once or twice in the year. It’s often all or nothing. We were giving this one the occasional spray of our mosquito repellent to try and deter the butterflies. It didn’t work, might even have been phytotoxic. Another tatty, ragged rosette of leaves will be the result, leaving you wondering whether to keep it or not.

Dracaena. This was in someone else’s six last week as a house plant. Here in the garden it is well over 2m and more than a little stemmy. It rains dead leaves. I think I’d cut it back hard, it clearly would shoot and regrow and I suppose produce a bushy plant with a different character to it. At the back is a plant of a brightly variegated form which isn’t doing so well; though I couldn’t say why that is.

If there is one thing in the plant line that is tricky here, it’s smaller growing stuff. This Callistemon is presumably a compact selection and I have seen it mass planted down highway central reservations and on roundabouts. It’s lumpen. I don’t like it.

This is what Callistemon should look like. Bribie Island again. The price in mozzie bites for these pictures was very high. But big drifts of red and yellow Callistemons growing in a swamp. What?


That’s it. Time to resume role of curmudgeonly grandfather to two year old. Gotta go.
Meme-meister ThePropagator will have links to other sixes.

Six on Saturday – 30/12/2017

The last post of the year. I feel like I should make an extra effort but the season’s festivities have taken their toll. Yesterday we visited Maleny Botanic garden, which was very interesting, but full of exotics. I could do six from there, but instead I’m going to give you six indigenous plants to end the year.

Along the east coast of Australia are a number of sand islands, the nearest of which, and the most accessible, is Bribie Island. It is only barely separated from the mainland at the north end and is accessed at the south end by a road bridge. The southern end of the island has been built on, with some pretty swanky housing all with moorings for pretty swanky boats. The bulk of the island though is a mix of conservation areas and forestry, with limited access on sand roads. I parked up and walked in on the access road then cut off onto tracks prohibited to vehicles. The are large areas of open heathland with an abundance of wild flowers. There are apparently 542 species native to the island and the species list makes impressive reading.

Callistemon pachyphyllus. This is not the first time I’ve seen Bottlebrush growing and flowering in the wild, but I still got pretty exited about it. I doubt whether this species would be hardy in the UK but it is very similar to some that are.

Banksia sp. I need to go back and have a more careful look at the various Banksia species to try and work out what this is. Perhaps B. robur. Most of the banksias I saw were small trees, 5-8m tall, but they had finished flowering. This one was a small plant at the edge of a pool covered by blue flowered water lilies and shaded by a few paperbark tea trees, Melaleuca quinquenervia.

Grass trees. The native plant list includes three species of Xanthorrhoea and I have no idea which of them these are. They are growing in an area that when we first saw it six years ago, was recovering from a recent fire. The grass trees seem less well able to survive fire than the Banksias amongst which they grow, but they recover from seeds on the ground and can form quite dense stands.

Blechnum indicum. Bungwall fern or Swamp water fern. There are extensive areas of this fern, usually in the wetter areas, often in water. It has very handsome fishbone pattern leaves which emerge flushed red. There is only one Blechnum listed in the plant inventory so I presume this to be it; in other places I have seen similar ferns that are just as ornamental.

Leptospermum spp. There are 8 species in the list, including L. liversidgei, which I have grown in the UK. There were lots of similar things flowering profusely, recognizable as Leptospermum but whether one variable species or several different ones I could not say. On a couple of occasions I tried to get nearer to plants but found my way blocked by a roadside ditch of indeterminate depth. And diving into dense vegetation never seems such a great idea when there are probably snakes about and you’re on your own a fair way from the nearest proper road. I didn’t see any snakes, but then you don’t, that’s the problem.

Restionaceae spp. Another live and learn moment. I thought restios were from South Africa with maybe one or two outlier species in Australia. Bribie has 12 species. They are everywhere there, to the point that in some places they have been mown along the edges of the roads. They’re common in the dry forests around here as well, and very attractive. I’ve popped a couple of Bribie fauna pictures in here too. A roo and a red-backed fairy-wren.


That’s my six for this week, hope you found them interesting. I’ve been keeping half an eye on the weather back in blighty and feeling a little sorry for you all. I walked into the one room in this house with air-con on earlier, set at 24°C, and it was like walking into a fridge. It’s much hotter than I like, I’m OK visiting, but I wouldn’t want to live here. Reading everybody else’s northern hemisphere posts keeps me grounded. So I’m off to follow the links from The Propagator. It’s 6pm here, so still only 8am in the UK. Has he posted yet?

Six on Saturday – 23/12/2017

Two days after midwinter and two days until Christmas and we’ve had a week in the low to mid 30’s. When I was out in the midday sun yesterday I was casting no shadow. Phew!

For someone who has worked in horticulture and gardened in the UK all their lives, one of the pleasures of coming to a place like Australia is being surrounded by unfamiliar plants, both cultivated and in the wild. One of the things I don’t know about them is where they all originate from. Most people’s gardens bear little resemblance to what is left of the natural flora hereabouts so it is easy to assume that most of the garden plants are non-native; though without knowing what most of them are there is no easy way to check.

Out in the “wild” I have seen a number of things that I am fairly sure are aliens, some of them invasively so, but have probably failed to recognise others  because I simply don’t know what they are. It is tempting to think the climate here is too challenging for much to gain a foothold, but it does.

Brisbane has two botanic gardens, one in the city centre and a more extensive one at Mt Coot-tha out in the suburbs. We visited the latter earlier in the week and dragged ourselves around in 35°C for a few hours. It was a pleasure and an education and quickly overwhelming. So many fabulous plants, so many unfamiliar names, so much new information to absorb and process. My six this week are from there.

A large area is devoted to native plants and plant communities and there is some encouragement to plant native plants, in particular those from this part of Australia, in gardens. What struck me about some of these plants was just how good they were, how very garden worthy. Grevilleas stood out, with flowers of various shades, all very exotic looking and all having the bonus of being attractive to lorikeets and other nectar feeding birds.

Just inside the entrance is a large area given over to succulents. Much of Australia is arid but succulence is not an adaptation that the native flora has adopted much. These non native ones are very happy here though.

Making it just a little more interesting is the fact that overhead in many places there are massive spiders webs, densely populated by massive spiders.

Buckinghamia celsissima or  Ivory Curl is from NE Queensland and in the Proteaceae. That much is on the label. It is a rainforest species that makes an evergreen tree to about 10m in cultivation. I have seen it in gardens and as a street tree and covered in its 20cm long white flower spikes it is an impressive sight.

Araucaria bidwillii, Bunya pine. Not a pine, of course, but a relative of the monkey puzzles, this was once abundant in Eastern Australia. Logging for timber and land clearance have taken a heavy toll but it is not an uncommon sight still and a good specimen is very handsome. The botanic garden have planted a sizable grove which is now beginning to cone, necessitating warnings about the cones, which can be football sized.

Grevillea ‘Golden Lyre’. One of the areas of native plants has a wide selection of Grevilleas on display. Most have cultivar names but whether they are selections found in the wild, or hybrids raised in cultivation I don’t know. This one stood out as much for its habit as its flowers; large scale ground cover anyone?

Corymbia ficifolia. I’ve been driving past three specimens of this every day to get out of the estate. I had tentatively identified them as Eucalyptus ficifolia, but it turns out that it was moved to Corymbia in 1995. It comes in red and pink and seems to want to make a low spreading bushy tree. In the botanic garden there were cultivars called ‘Summer Red’ and ‘Summer Beauty’, presumably grafted cultivars. It may be that seedlings of the species would be more upright but perhaps of less good colour.

Bamboo. There are some very impressive clumps of bamboo in the garden, though one with exceptional blue stems that we saw last time we were here is now gone. An unwilling volunteer was press-ganged into appearing in the picture, for scale. I forgot to note the name of the plant.


I hope that warmed you up a little. Now I have to steel myself to see what everyone back at the other end of the world are up to and by extension, what our own garden is enduring in our absence. It’s off to The Propagator for lots of links.

Six on Saturday – 16/12/2017

SOS164We’re running at around 32°C by day and 20°C by night. Can’t believe we’ve been here a week. Our host’s garden is a modest affair, as are most gardens in the very many new housing developments hereabouts. All the houses are single storey, so have a big footprint, not leaving a lot of room for the garden.

This is pretty much the whole of the back garden. It’s wildly exotic, palms, Strelitzia, Frangipani, bromeliads and so on. I hate to say it, but it quickly becomes a new normal. I haven’t managed to get a picture of a rainbow lorikeet yet, though they are visitors most mornings. It’s harder to see them as normal. Our hosts used to feed them, but 30 lorikeets at 5 in the morning are not an alarm you sleep through, so they stopped.

There are four Frangipanis in the garden here. This one seems to be Plumeria alba, but is probably a selected form. It has a very nice scent that doesn’t immediately remind me of anything else.

A bit of shade. Down the side of the house is an area that is shady until mid morning and from mid afternoon on. Herbs and annuals find conditions a bit more tolerable here, though frequent watering is vital. At 7 in the morning, I find conditions ideal for eating breakfast outside. It’s fresh, the light is bright but not harsh, the temperature about 20°C.

It’s a war against beasties of all sorts. Adenium obtusum, the Dessert Rose, is something I’ll put in next time, but this caterpillar was making a meal of one of its flowers. I have no idea what this is the larva of, probably some stunning enormous tropical butterfly.

Not all palms are big. This one is about six feet tall, perfect for a scaled down exotic look. The downside is that it is a mass of three inch needle sharp spines. The dead flower heads tend to stay where they are until he drop naturally.SOS165

Bromeliads, which I’ve always thought of as epiphytes, grow very well in the ground here, provided that they have some shade. There are several sorts here, some with a single large rosette, some spreading with many small rosettes. The down side is that the water that collects in the rosettes provides a habitat for mosquitoes, and they are plenty bad enough without any help. Dining outside in the evening is very pleasant but you need some industrial strength insect repellent.SOS166

I don’t think there’s any way I can squeeze  Aussie wildlife into six garden connected items, but we saw this baby possum and its mum up a tree on Bribie Island when we were out there this morning. They were being screamed at by lorikeets, which was what got our attention.






It’s nearly Sunday here now, I need to get this posted. The perspective of an imposter in the southern hemisphere. I’m not missing winter so much, but I am looking forward to following all the links from The Propagator’s six on Saturday posting.

Six on Saturday – 9/12/2017

Maisie decided I needed some help. Not with the gardening, help to make the blog more appealing in difficult times. What is it with cats and grasses.

Rhododendron ‘Merganser’. This is the only Rhododendron we have left now, other than a couple of deciduous Azaleas and, come to think of it, a couple of evergreen Azaleas. I still don’t think of Azaleas as being real Rhododendrons. Rhododendrons are fabulous, I love them, but they don’t give good value in a small garden; they just don’t last long enough. This one is very small, with yellow bells in spring. I’ve put it in because apart from my bamboo, it’s the only thing I have with ornamental bark. You just have to imagine that the stems are more than half an inch thick.

A quick mash-up of a few of the odds and ends that are still flowering.

Bismarckia nobilis. This absolutely fabulous palm comes originally from Madagascar. The intensely glaucous leaves are 5-6ft across with quite sharp points. Now that this one has a bit of a trunk and has had its lower leaves removed it is a bit easier to live with than it used to be with leaves to the ground. It will eventually reach up to 12m in height, with a single trunk.

The observant among you will have twigged to a slight continuity issue between items two and three. That is because between taking the two pictures, I flew half way round the world and am now about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane. It’s 32°here, in Celsius not Fahrenheit, sunny though with a strong possibility of showers, perhaps even a thunderstorm. I’m here for a while, so Saturday postings will have a tropical flavour for some time.
I’m a bit out of my depth with the plants. This one is another palm, much planted for shade as it’s multi-stemmed but not so tall. I don’t know it’s name. I shall try and find out.

Agave attenuata. Massively popular in warmer parts of the world, this is just about hardy enough to survive in very mild west country gardens. It lacks the fearsome spines at the leaf tips that most of the other Agaves have. It readily spreads to form clumps of rosettes and eventually flowers, producing a spike rather like Eremurus, the fox tail lilies.

Frangipani. Plumeria is as quintessentially tropical as you can get. Making a tree to about 5m high and at least as much wide, they have very flamboyant flowers with a sweet scent. You’ll be seeing this again.

So the cats and the garden have been left in someone else’s care. Hopefully all will be well.
Between taking the pictures earlier today and waiting for the UK to catch up, the weather has turned spectacularly. It is now flashing and crashing and the rain coming down in torrents. It’s early evening, 10 hrs ahead of UK, and I desperately need sleep. Visiting everyone else linked from ThePropagator’s blog will have to wait until tomorrow.