Saturday, October 31, 2015

Edible Ornamentals - Sedum Autumn Joy

I have a very small front garden which I have stuffed full of beautiful edibles, with a few irresistible ornamentals and some medicinal herbs as well. Always room for more though. Today I added a tarragon plant, and contemplated what to replace the spent forget-me-nots with - there are now several square feet of earth all fed, watered, covered with a pea straw mulch and just waiting for a summer crop to fill the space. While I was pottering about the garden, weeding, feeding and pruning I contemplated one of my favourite ornamentals, the sedum Autumn Joy.

This perennial plant is a joy in all seasons. In Spring it pops up out of the ground, forming an elegant, tight green ball. Here it is, flanked by love-in-a-mist which is just about to bloom, with garlic chives in front, feverfew and giant artichokes behind and the apple tree in the background.

In summer it produces glorious pink flowers which are always covered in bees, and also beloved by our resident praying mantis family.

Image from

In winter its dead flower heads provide a beautiful sculptural structure in the midst of a rather bare perennial garden bed. It can be easily propagated by division, and just this spring I have discovered that it even self-seeds. So what's not to love? If only, I thought, it was edible or medicinal as well, that would just be the icing on the cake..

Well, as it turns out, sedums, or stonecrop, are all edible (click on 'stonecrop orpine'), with the leaves and the roots both apparently good cooked in stir fries, or used in stocks and soups (they are mucilaginous, so good thickeners). Some people use them in salads. I tried some, and to be honest, with a garden full of lettuces, I don't think the sedums will be my go-to salad ingredient.. I don't know, maybe very early spring is the best time to eat them. My sedum is about to burst into flower, so maybe it gets bitter then like lettuce does.

But, if I ever need a remedy for diarrhorea, piles, 'gnawing of the bowels' or quinsy (I didn't know what quinsy was, but keep coming across it in old novels so I looked it up and now wish I hadn't)... I will know exactly where to go.

Its other popular use is to stop mosquito or other bug bites itching. Peel off the sticky film (this is a little fiddly), and apply it to the bite. Now this is very useful to know when out in the garden.

I am so excited and surprised to discover that one of my favourite ornamentals is also useful. I suppose I shouldn't be, because every plant no doubt has some properties which make it of use to us, if only as a deadly poison. We have such demarcated gardens in the modern world. Fruit here, vegie gardens over there, medicine from the chemist, flowers out the front, but other times and cultures use everything they can get their hands on to keep themselves fed and healthy, and that is what I want my garden to be as well. Ravishingly beautiful, productive and useful.

PS: I will stir fry some leaves and report back on whether this is a good idea or not so much..

Updated to add:

Today's lunch: egg strips plus stir-fried broccoli, broccoli stems, broccoli leaves, SEDUM LEAVES, garlic chives and pickled ginger. Really very yummy. Couldn't taste the sedum leaves at all, as they fried down to nothing. BUT apparently they are very good for the liver and kidneys, like other bitter greens (dandelions etc), so maybe I will toss some into the lunchtime stir-fry occasionally, because, you know, health food.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Tom the Tomato Man

So last week, I smugly planted all my seeds, expecting they would all pop up in a matter of days as they generallyoften, occasionally do.. no-one likes a smug gardener though, do they? First, Benson-the-enthusiastic-gardener-puppy (otherwise known as That Bloody Dog) dug up all the tomato seeds. I haven't had a dog and a spring garden before. Well, now I know. Also, I was thriftily using up all my old seed packets, and the only seeds that the dog didn't find, the zucchinis, still aren't up yet (Best Before 2013). Fingers crossed. The only gardening success I have had this week is with the two packets of fresh seed I planted, lettuce and snap peas, in nice tall dog-proof planters. Thank goodness for that..

But the tomatoes! What to do? In autumn my friend Karlin and I visited a local gardener to buy some sauce tomatoes for making passata. His name is Tom. He is over ninety years old, and every year he grows dozens of tomato plants in his suburban back yard, and sells hundreds of kilos of tomatoes in the summer and autumn. What I didn't know is that in Spring he also grows hundreds of tomato plants from saved seed and sells them to local gardeners. I discovered this from the sign in his front yard when I walked past with the dog this week.

Well, wasn't this a serendipitous discovery? And while walking the tomato-eradicating dog too. Ironic. So I bought a dozen tomato seedlings. And seriously, if you live locally, you should too. I have never seen such healthy plants. All individually potted up, half a dozen different varieties, just bursting with health. Usually Tom takes them to Evandale Market over three weekends in the Spring, and sells them all there, but recently he tripped over the sill of his green-house, and has torn a ligament in his arm, so can't drive... and he needs to sell fifteen hundred tomato seedlings. Do pop over - 35 Amy Rd, Newstead. His is the house closest to the road - if you head up the driveway you will no doubt find Tom pottering about in the backyard. If not, bang on the door. He asked me to tell my friends.. so, friends, go buy a tomato plant from Tom.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Green and Thrifty

Some days my heart does little happy somersaults and I send thankful thoughts back to my past self who occasionally did just the right thing. Just over eleven years ago I was six months pregnant with Posy, and my very dear friend Karlin was helping me to plant two apple trees. Well, when I say 'helping', I mean, I pointed out where they should go and serenely folded my hands over the bump, while Karlin did the actual digging. And then I carried off a single clump of forget-me-nots from Karlin's garden to plant under the apple trees. Karlin's husband Ed was appalled. He had spent the last two years desperately trying to eradicate every last skerrick of forget-me-nots from his garden. He was convinced I had gone mad. But look! Sheets of forget-me-nots under the apple blossom. Yes, I have to weed forget-me-not seedlings out of the rest of the garden, over and over again, but I am convinced it is worth it. Next year I am planning pink tulips to peep through the forget-me-nots..

Anyway, how is any of this green and thrifty? Apple trees, gloriously pretty and produce food. Forget-me-nots - gloriously pretty and free, and reproduce themselves a thousand times over. I love my garden full of self-sown weeds:)

In other green and thrifty moments this week, I was given a bunch of kale from a friend's garden and cooked up an enormous warm potato salad with bacon and kale. I steamed the kale then tossed it with the bacon...

Then added rosemary, olive oil, salt and garlic aoli. That was lunch for everyone for several days.

This morning I washed the breakfast dishes then put all that hot, soapy water to good use cleaning out the fridge. There were some, ahem, casualties. But I also managed to save the last sad apples and pears and stew them with cinnamon for tomorrow's breakfast, and put a pot of vegetable and barley soup on to rescue the limp vegetables in the bottom of the 'crisper'.

Clearly, after that I needed to buy more vegetables, so I set out to do all errands that involved heavy lifting ( I am trying very hard to walk for errands that don't..). I came back with a 20kg bag of pool salt, a bale of pea straw, and exceptionally heavy vegies. 5kg of cheap carrots, which didn't fit in the fridge, so I chopped, steamed and froze half of them, for fast food when I need some 'veg in a bag'. And many large tubs of Greek yoghurt that were on sale. I really, really need to have a go at making some. Since I have banned just about every other food from the house the girls have taken to living on a yoghurt, oats, nuts, seeds and fruit mixture. We go through kilograms of yoghurt every week.

I went to the library just in time to avoid library fines. I am a star! And now I have a lovely new stack of delicious, delicious unread books. I just love the library:)

It is seed planting time. Once upon a time I fussed about with endless little pots of seedlings from August onwards. Now I just wait until the weather is warm enough and direct seed everything in the garden. I make tiny individual seed beds in the garden with a trowel full of compost to start the baby seeds off. So much simpler. And I still get ripe tomatoes more or less when everyone else does...

I love planting seeds. It seems just too easy. Of course, two weeks ago I weeded and fed the gardens, and put a little lime down, and sheep poo, and pea straw, and all of that nearly killed me, but today at 9.56am I decided to plant seeds, and at 10.04 I was done. Eighteen tomato plants, two zucchini, some lettuce and a few peas in pots.  I am determined to crack succession planting for lettuce and baby spinach this year (not a difficult feat, you understand, merely requiring planting some lettuce seeds every two or three weeks. Consistency. Not my thing).

Green and thrifty just goes on and on - as I am typing at the table, Rosy is in the kitchen making a banana cake out of the squishy bananas. Being thrifty is just so delicious.

Tell me about your green and thrifty week while I go and sample some of that cake...

Friday, October 9, 2015

What I Did On My Holidays

After the coldest winter in fifty years we are now having the warmest October. A mini-Summer during Spring. In slightly more northern states there has been a heat wave. Here in Tasmania we are merely gently thawing out, and cautiously exposing our alabaster limbs to the unaccustomed warmth and sunshine. After an insane week of cleaning last week, I spent the weekend quite unwell, and had to spend quite some time reading in the hammock to recover.

The old pear tree was in full, glorious bloom, and covered in hundreds of honey bees, several dozen tiny black native bees, which hover like dragonflies, and a solitary, rollicking bumblebee.

Despite wasting much time on the project, I could only manage a photo of a bee's backside. They were truly very, very busy.

So many lovely books, from a recent library raid. I won't bore you with them all, but - Elizabeth Gaskell! I haver never read anything of hers before, but have now remedied that. A contemporary and friend of both Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, her work reminds me most of the novels of George Eliot (Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda). I loved the novel North and South which lays bare some very entrenched prejudices of Victorian society, and has some salient points of view about modern relations between capital and labour as well. I also had a volume of her Gothic horror short stories, which were intriguing but not amazing, all except for the tale of Lois the Witch, set in Salem at the time of the witch trials, which was frighteningly modern in these days of religious extremism.

But it hasn't all been about lying about in the hammock. I have nagged and encouraged all the girls to clean and vacuum their rooms, and throw some things away. They have also washed their windows, taken all of the winter bedding off and washed it, and cleaned out their clothes cupboards. My room is now home to large piles of clothing that needs to be sorted. Hmm, that wasn't quite what I hoped would happen. I have mopped all the floors, and the only rooms left to spring clean are the bathrooms. I am waiting for Rosy to make good on her promise to climb up on the ladder and clean all the mould off the ceiling (yes, I will be paying her well..), then I will attack the lower reaches.

Then, there is the garden. Our cold, cold winter wreaked havoc with my poor lemon trees, so now that there is little chance of more frost I have been pruning off the dead branches. Luckily lemon trees adore a good pruning once in a while, and hopefully these will bounce back. Next, feeding them prodigiously. Lemons love to eat.

I have also been transplanting perennials around the front garden while it has been the correct phase of the moon for transplanting. Soon, I will be able to plant the spring garden, and in anticipation have been weeding, digging and feeding various promising patches of earth. Come this time next year I hope to have a whole garden full of raised beds for planting, but this year the great project is the Chicken Palace, which is close to completion..

So, over to you. Books? Projects? Who has been Spring/Fall cleaning?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Let's Spring Clean the Kitchen and Hallway!

Kitchen: Day One: Oh, the zeal with which I zipped out of bed on Wednesday morning to start cleaning the kitchen! Before I began I removed every single item from the kitchen benches and piled it all onto the dining room table.

It looked like I had moved out.

But now I had an empty slate which I was about to turn into a clean slate. I started up high again - the down lights in the kitchen ceiling have screw-in glass shades with little chains to hold them onto the light fitting, and as I stood on the step-ladder directly underneath them I was showered with tiny dead bug bits, and in one case, a rather large dead cricket. Dubious design for functionality there..

Again, hours of cleaning the fly poop off the ceiling, then the grime from the tops of window frames and the kitchen blinds. Dish washing liquid is excellent for cleaning all of the kitchen - after all, it is designed to remove grease and dirt, a layer of which settles with great tenacity on every kitchen surface. Which is why I have no idea why open shelving in the kitchen is so popular - perhaps only in kitchens where the residents eat out a lot.

My favourite bathroom cleaner paste is brilliant for removing this grime layer from the stainless steel range hood, elsewhere, cupboards and benches require only soapy water and enthusiasm. Now, I have been experimenting recently with not using the dishwasher. I did this by deliberately running out of dishwasher powder, and not renewing it, otherwise it is just too tempting.. if I had had dish washer powder on the premises I would have used the dishwasher in a minute to clean the range hood filters, but as it was, I soaked and rinsed them in hot, soapy water, rinsed them and left them outside in the sunshine to dry. Not as hard as I thought it might be. Really, machines give an illusion of efficiency, but my two hands are quite capable as well...

While I am scrubbing the window frames with a toothbrush I conduct a spirited discussion on feminism with The Girl. Now, I am a feminist to my tippy toes, but in no way do I feel that this precludes a life of comfortable domesticity. In my mind, the feminist discourse provides me with the courage, the tools and the legal authority to say, "I am my own person, no-one owns me, or can make decisions for me, and I will be taking my share of the power and responsibility of being a full citizen in my community." In no way should feminism limit any of the ways in which I want to live my life, including the option to scrub the woodwork with a toothbrush, should that be my choice. I absolutely respect the choice of any woman who doesn't have a penchant for perfectly white woodwork either, or who chooses to pay someone else to keep them white. As long as she pays them a reasonable wage with good conditions..

At this point, I feel the need for a little nap coming on, and accidentally fall asleep over my book on the couch. The Girl boils some eggs for dinner, and makes Eton mess with home made coconut macaroons, home made lemon curd and whipped cream for dessert. She is a treasure, and I really think she should stay home and look after her old mother forever. She, however, is a feminist to her tippy toes, and has plans to be off to make a life on her own terms. Damn that dratted feminist discourse..

Kitchen: Day Two:

I wake up feeling like my freshly spring-cleaned house has just dropped on my head. Some days are like that. It is cold, grey and windy today. My interest in cleaning is less than zero percent, and I am having trouble standing up. I wash the dishes, wash some of the kitchen bench bits and bobs on the table, and put them away. Then I get to the toaster, and crumple at the knees. There is nothing in me that cares whether the toaster is clean, now, or ever. I thump it onto the kitchen bench, scattering crumbs, and go and lie on the couch for the rest of the day and read my book. Luckily I remember to pick up the girls from the airport, and The Girl from work. Rosy kindly makes dinner, Posy unpacks her entire suitcase all over the living room floor, all the better to gleefully show me every single piece of glitter and bling she has spent all her birthday money on whilst Away.

I go to bed with a hot water bottle.

Kitchen and Hallway: Day Three:

Sunshine! I wake up feeling better. Not great, but better. Today I wipe down the fronts of all the cabinets while listening to Radio National. Then I sit in the sun. Then I do some weeding. Sun, dirt, garden, bees. Make everything better. The girls have one of their buddies over. They cook, swing in the hammock, walk the dog, make sushi and fruit salad and brownies and play stupid games.

I dust the light fittings, door frames, ceiling and book case in the hallway, wipe down the walls. I decide that spring cleaning is over for this week. Sometimes I just need to calm down. I can go for weeks and months living with hand prints on the walls. Then suddenly I need to clean the whole house in a matter of days?? It's like I am a mad perfectionist, but only at the full moon with Gemini rising..

Instead I go out in the sun and weed around my courtyard hedges (Chilean guava, yum), feed and mulch them, and fork over and feed some vegie garden space that I will plant up in a couple of weeks. I am still a bit manic, but working in the sun with the dog curled up next to me is very therapeutic.

I am so glad I have spent several days madly cleaning. My future self will love me for it. I am so glad I have stopped for now. I need a week end..