Monday, October 20, 2014

A Native Shade Garden in Sydney -- Year Two

Native shade garden in Sydney, Australia -- Year Two

In April 2013 I visited my daughter, Liz, in Sydney, Australia, and wrote a post about a native shade garden she was planting. Liz has continued working on the garden, and here's her update on progress:

Phase I is now complete!

I'll start with the failures:

Not everything has worked in this garden, and bush turkeys were a big issue initially. Because they forage in the soil, they are particularly drawn to areas that have been recently disturbed, and if the plants are too small (less than about 30 cm), the turkeys will pull them out by their stem or just snap them in half. The native gingers fell victim, and the burrawang cycad (Macrozamia communis) was defoliated. Two unfortunate losses, as both would have offered something different to the garden from the simple flowering plants. We also lost a flax lily and a native indigo to the turkeys, but I had them in multiple so they still have a presence in the garden. The Kangaroo fern died slowly from some incurable unhappiness, and the strap water fern looks like going in the same direction but it hangs in there for now.


The Chinese wisteria has been 95% successfully removed and I will finish the job this summer. I used a 50/50 mix of tree poison and kerosene applied liberally to a freshly cut stump. The kangaroo vine is now in its place and taking off like a rocket. I hope I didn't make a mistake there! All the plants other than ferns were tubestock when I planted them, and some are just now getting to a regular nursery size. Others have already reached their full height and spread, including the native indigo, which is now taller than me and bursting with flowers in the spring (it was stunning!). All of the original non-invasive ferns (I think they are common ground ferns) have taken well to being transplanted and spread around the garden.


I have added a number of new plants (see the list below). Some of them are transplants from this garden or a friend's, others were nursery purchases and a few are propagation successes from a local parkland.

And bees! I applied for a native stingless beehive from the council two years ago and finally made it to the top of the waiting list. They aren't for honey, just a bit of ecosystem repair and a talking point. They now live in a sunny corner of the shade garden and the colony will be split every spring (when possible).

A box full of native stingless bees for the garden

Phase II is now underway!

I gave some time (ok, an entire weekend) to the smaller upper level of garden mess that sits beneath the tall camelia. Once I cleared the area, I placed some silver lady ferns (Blechnum gibbum) and a prostrate geebung (Persoonia chamaepitys), as well as some transplanted ferns. Most of this space is deep shade, so will require true shade-lovers. The planting continues...
Silver lady ferns and a prostrate geebun keep the camila company


I have laid very course gum tree chips over the entire area which get refreshed yearly. The garden also gets a native fertilizer about every three months (or whatever the packet suggests), and the ferns get an additional handful of compost whenever I have it available. Since the first summer passed, I only water when the plants look limp, which is only on the hottest days, and weeds are a non-issue. This garden now needs less attention than any other area of our property, which is an amazing transformation from its original state.

Wildlife results

Birds are regular visitors to the garden, the main attraction being the birdbath - butcher birds, rainbow lorikeets and noisy miners all come daily, and a rare king parrot has made a visit. Lack of interest in the plants is probably due to a combination of causes. This is the first year of blooms for several of the flowering plants, including the lomandra and native indigo, but the cordylines, tuckeroo, and banksia remain flower-free. Additionally, none of the plants are large enough to host a perching bird, but perhaps next year we will see a change as the banksia looks set to take off with a growth spurt this summer. Turkeys still forage regularly through the garden, but the plants are all big enough to withstand the occasional partial exhumation. For all their trouble, the turkeys are still some of my
favorite garden visitors.

Lizards and amphibians are either rare or well camouflaged. One aspect the garden lacks is a decent ground cover, and this would definitely encourage the smaller vertebrate visitors.

The list of new plants

Lindsea linearis - Screw fern, a very distinct-looking small, upright fern
Calochlaena dubia - Common ground fern
Blechnum gibbum - Silver lady fern/dwarf tree fern
Cyathea australis - Tree fern, grows to 6 m with long, broad fronds up to 4 m each
Hakea sericea - Silky hakea, foliage provides protection for small birds and flowers attract birds
Persoonia chamaepitys - Creeping geebung, provides low cover for lizards, flowers attract birds
Correa glabra - Native fuchsia, attracts honeyeater birds
Correa baeuerlenii - Native fuchsia, attracts honeyeater birds
Scaevola aemula - Fairy fan flower, a bit of summer color in an otherwise very green garden
Hardenbergia violacea - Native sarsparilla, provides low cover for lizards, improves soil and attracts seed eating birds and insects
Cupaniopsis parvifolia - Small-leaved tuckeroo, small dry rainforest tree to 6 m (in NSW), fruit attracts birds and butterflies

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Watercolor Classes and Workshops for 2014

Be sure to check out the terrific watercolor classes and workshops planned for 2014 by such teaching greats as Tom Hoffmann, Catherine Gill, Michele Cooper, and Kathy Collins. I've listed quite a few of them on my Classes and Workshops page and provided links to many others. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Garbanzo Bean Pancakes (Gluten Free)

Hypo-allergenic Garbanzo Bean Pancakes
By popular demand, here's my recipe for hypo-allergenic garbanzo bean pancakes. Due to severe food allergies, I don't eat any grains except for rice, and eat no eggs, so traditional pancakes are out. These pancakes are more than just a substitute, though. They taste wonderful and keep my blood sugar stable for hours because they're high in protein.

I mix up a batch of batter on Sunday and keep it in the refrigerator all week, taking out just enough to make a pancake breakfast each morning. The pancakes also work as "bread" for almond butter or peanut butter sandwiches.

Note that while I list some ingredients as optional, make your best effort to include them because they really help the flavor and texture of the pancakes.

2 cups Bob's Red Mill Garbanzo Flour*
1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill Potato Starch (optional - for a "crumb")
1/4 cup Bob's Red Mill Coconut Flour (optional - for moisture and flavor)
2 rounded tablespoons of sweet potato flour (optional - for moisture and sweetness). If you don't have sweet potato flour, then add 2 heaping tablespoons additional coconut flour.
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 to 6 ounces plain, unflavored goat or cow yogurt (omit for vegan pancakes)
2 cups water -- enough to make a batter
Baking soda -- or if you omit the yogurt, use baking powder instead. If you're allergic to corn starch, as I am, then mix together equal parts of baking soda and cream of tarter instead of using baking powder. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon per cup of batter just before cooking.
Coconut or other cooking oil
Dried or fresh blueberries
Non-stick griddle (one that's non-toxic!)

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients except for the baking soda, and then mix in the water. Stir in the yogurt. If necessary, add a little bit more water to make the mixture "stir-able," but still slightly firm. If possible, store the mixture in the fridge overnight. This allows the garbanzo flour to really soak up the water.

To make four pancakes -- two each for Bill and I -- I put about 1 cup of the mixture into a bowl, add a bit of water as needed to make it the consistency of pancake batter, then stir in a couple handfuls of blueberries and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (no baking powder for me because of a corn allergy).

I preheat a non-stick griddle to medium heat and cook the pancakes in about 1/2 teaspoon of coconut spread. You can use some other type of cooking oil, if you prefer, but the coconut oil gives nice results and great flavor.

*I use Bob's Red Mill products because they're non-GMO. My worst food allergies have developed in the last 10 years, since GMO foods have proliferated, and I suspect they could be the source of some of my issues.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


German Shepherds of the Bird World

Our neighbor's two darling kittens have grown up to be lethal bird catchers, so keeping cats out of our yard and away from the feathered morsels at the bird feeders [sigh] is a continuing, occupation. After some experimentation (yelling, arm waving, chasing, paper snapping), I've found that watering the cats with a Super Soaker convinces them to skip our backyard in their search for prey. Recently, though, our next-door neighbor's sweet little kitten has also developed an unhealthy fascination with the bird feeder. Much as I hate doing it, I also treat that kitty to a super soak every time I see her in the backyard. [Update. The kitty, named Quira, has learned to visit me while I'm gardening in the front yard and entirely avoid the back. Who says cats can't be trained?]

Fortunately, I don't have to spend all day watching out the back window for cats. Bertram, Corvina, and Ned have turned out to be watchbirds and caw persistently when there's a cat in the yard. There is no ignoring the noise, or mistaking it for anything but a demand for cat mitigation measures. At first, the crows cawed at cats hanging out in other yards, too, but gave it up when they learned that their fuss only works in our yard.

Bertram warns the other yardbirds about a predatory cat. 

I thought this warning behavior might be unique to "my" crows, but a couple of weeks ago I watched a crow caw angrily at a bus that had hit a seagull. The crow sat on the wire over the bus stop and cawed at that bus and every other bus that came during the 15 minutes I was standing there. Crows also take action towards predatory birds during nesting season. When hawks and eagles try to raid a crow's nest, they flock from the surrounding areas and gang up on the predators, hassling them until they give up and leave.

Dr. John Marzluff, at the University of Washington, is very interested in how crows share knowledge with one another about "dangerous humans,"--humans who have trapped and banded them for research and then released them. From my personal observations, though, it isn't just humans that crows mob, but anything that represents a danger- a hawk, an eagle, a cat--or even a bus. Crows are to other birds world like German Shepherds are to people: watchers, warners, and sometimes even attackers.

Go Bertram!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fun and Exhausting

Saturday's reception at Habitude was so much fun. Thanks to those who came. It was my first experience being the focus of an art event rather than being the hostess or one artist among others, and being a typical introvert, I found it both enjoyable and exhausting. Ten paintings were sold, which I found astounding. I'm so glad they've found good homes!

Here I am with my superhero, Bill, who hung most of the 29 paintings that were displayed.

This is my Personified Pears series.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My work will be featured on the June Ballard Artwalk

I was thrilled to receive an invitation from Habitude Salon, Spa, and Gallery to be their featured artist for the June 8 Artwalk in Ballard. Please join me there between 6 and 9 PM for a wine and snacks reception!

Habitude Salon, Spa, and Gallery
2801 NW Market Street,
Seattle, WA 98107

My original watercolor paintings will remain on display there through July 10.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Planting a Native Australian Shade Garden in Sydney

Bird's Nest Ferns
I'm visiting my daughter, Liz, in Sydney, Australia, where she's rejuvenating the landscaping around her home. Like most gardens in this country, hers is dominated by non-native plants -- in this case English cottage garden plants such as camellias, azaleas, lilies, iris, and daffodils.

This would be fine, except that imported plants have an unfortunate tendency to "escape" from gardens and displace native species in the wild, causing irreparable harm to the delicate ecosystem here. Australia's geographic isolation has allowed its native plants and animals to evolve uniquely, and many species aren't found anywhere else the world. Since European settlement, 61 native plant species have become extinct, and a further 1,239 are threatened. Although many factors contribute to this tragic loss of diversity, the introduction of invasive, non-native plants into the ecosystem is a major one.

With this in mind, Liz has accepted the challenge to replace non-natives in her garden with native plants indigenous to the Sydney area. And a challenge it is. The small part I've taken has made me appreciate why people prefer gardening with familiar plants from their own countries (and may explain why Australia has so many non-natives). There is so much to learn! Australian native plants aren't like anything I've dealt with before. Their appearance is unfamiliar. I don't know their growth habits or their sun/shade/water/nutrient/soil requirements. I can't distinguish a weed from a desirable plant, or a native from a non-native

To meet the challenge, Liz has adopted a phased strategy, planning to take on just one section of the landscaping at a time, clearing it and figuring out which plants will work best in that particular spot. This should make the learning curve a bit less steep. Fortunately, most of the non-native plants in her yard are fairly well behaved and not known to be "escapees," and the problem plants can be controlled by removing their flowers and seed pods until such time as the plants themselves can be removed.

During my visit, I've assisted with Phase I: rehabilitating the garden across the driveway from the patio -- the most visible one. The whole garden is shaded all winter, and the front of it's sunny in summer.

Phase I: This garden hosts several invasive species, including Fishbone ferns, which are native to another part of Australia, but invasive here, where they choke out other plants.  The fence in back is covered with Chinese wisteria that Liz will remove in the  future and replace with native Kangaroo vine. Just as we experience in Seattle, the wisteria wants to take over the world, and will climb trees and strangle them if not constantly cut back. 
Liz clears the ground, digging out roots and tubers. Fishbone ferns seen on the far left of this photo are in a Phase II section of the garden and will be removed later.
We acquired these natives in an expedition to two native plant nurseries. Liz selected plants with a mixture of growth habits, adult heights, and foliage. Small plants are less expensive and easier to plant than larger ones. See below for her plant list.
Here's a close-up of several ferns, which should do well in this shade garden.
The planting begins.

Everything's now in the ground, including some stones for a path to the birdbath. As the plants mature, they will overtake the empty spaces and create a full, lush effect.
Here's a different viewpoint. Liz has started to apply a thick layer of mulch to retain moisture and help give the plants a good start.
And here's the next section waiting for rehabilitation.
Liz's list of shade-loving (or tolerant) Australian native plants and their habitat value:

Indigofera australis - native indigo, shrub, 1.5 m tall.  Produces small pink flowers which attract native bees and butterfly larvae, seeds attract birds.
Dianella caerulea – flax lily/paroo lily, perennial herb, 1 m tall. Purple berries attract birds and butterflies.
Alpinia caerulea - native ginger (and Atherton ginger*), perennial herb, 1.5-3 m tall. White flowers and blue fruit attract birds.
Lomandra fluviatilis - no common name, NSW ENDEMIC, 50 cm tall, tufted perennial herb. Attracts seed-eating birds and provides shelter for small birds and lizards.
Cissus antarctica - kangaroo vine/water vine, climbing vine. Provides nesting sites for birds. Purple fruit attracts birds, moths and ringtail possums.
Macrozamia communis - burrawang cycad, NSW ENDEMIC, 3 m wide, 1-2 m tall. Large seeds attract marsupials, large birds and fruit bats. However, they are extremely toxic to humans and non-native animals/livestock and can cause death.
Cordyline stricta – slender palm lily/narrow leaved palm lily, shrub, 2-3 m tall.  Attracts butterfly larvae.
Blechnum patersonii - strap water fern. Provides shelter to small birds and lizards.
Microsorum diversifolia - kangaroo fern. Provides shelter to small birds and lizards.
Doodia aspera - rasp fern. Provides shelter to small birds and lizards.
Asplenum australasicum - birds nest fern. 
Adiantum spp. – maidenhair fern (already in the garden).
And then of course the sun-loving Banksia integrifolia – coast banksia, tree, 25 m, to create more shade for the shade-loving plants.  Large flowers attract nectar-feeding birds and seeds attract small mammals.

*The Atherton ginger was the only plant we brought home that is not indigenous to the Sydney area. This ginger comes from Queensland, but we fell in love with the red underside of the leaves.

For an update on Liz's progress, see A Native Shade Garden in Sydney -- Year Two.

For more information on Australia's native plants, see: