Marcelle Nankervis is a Horticulturist who has worked in the Horticultural Media for over 16 years.
She is passionate about Permaculture, Sustainability and Gardening for the Future.

Marcelle regularly writes for Your Garden magazine and Better Homes and Gardens.
Her first book was Plants for Australian Dry Gardens (Murdoch Books).
Marcelle's second is Smart Gardening (Exisle Publishing).

Welcome to my Blog!

As a horticultural writer I often come across people, stories, tips, tricks and real gems of information that never really make their way out of my notebook. I am hoping to share a few of these insights here as well as my own gardening experiences, which includes getting my children excited about plants.

I believe that a strong connection with the garden and our landscape when we are young is vital. I am hoping that educating my children in "Green Living" and "Smart Gardening" will provide them with the fundamental building blocks necessary for them to live long and healthy lives, while also doing their bit in helping to create a sustainable and green future for all.

Happy Gardening!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Start growing some Spring Vegies

We have finally had our first taste of warm spring weather. While the night air still carries a chill, the soil is beginning to warm and the garden is filled with the promise of warmer days and all of spring's abundance. Now is the best time to get out in the vegie garden. There is no excuses for not growing a little produce of your own - even a pot of fresh herbs! Whether you’re an experienced vegie grower or this is to be your first season, here are a few tips and tricks to keep you reaping the rewards for months to come.

1. Plant Asparagus
Asparagus is a long term crop requiring fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Crowns can be purchased in late winter and early spring and should be planted in a position where you will not want to move them for several years. Start with a raised bed and plant the crowns about 50cm apart and at a depth where the crowns are covered with only 2-4cm of soil. The crowns will throw up fern-like foliage which dies back in autumn and can then be removed. The cycle repeats for several years, until the second or third winter sees asparagus spears emerging from the soil. The spears can be harvested when they reach 10-15cm, usually from late winter onwards.

2. Keep track of harvest dates
There are no hard and fast rules about when to harvest vegetables as each vegetable has its own criteria. If you’re the grocery shopper, you’ve probably got a keen eye for the premium produce already so you should be able to pick when crops are at their best crops at home too. It's easy to tell when crops that grow above the ground, such as beans, are ripe for picking because you can see them at a glance. Others, such as carrots, may require a little bit of digging to make sure they are ready to be harvested. As a general rule when sowing seed, read the directions on the packet – these will give you a rough harvest date. Mark it on the calendar and you’re already half-way there.

3. Tasty tomatoes
Tomato Pink Pearl is new to the Oasis range
with part proceeds going to the
National Breast Cancer Research Foundation
A trip to the nursery will quickly tell you when it is time to plant tomatoes – the racks are brimming with various grafted varieties, some new and some old favourites. Grafted plants have the benefits of being much larger when you take them home, as well as improved disease resistance. However, you may prefer to grow your own tomatoes from seed because there is a much broader range available. Sow seed in pots or trays from September and transplant into larger pots as they mature. For the best tasting tomatoes, grow a variety you’ve eaten before. It's always a good idea to grow different tomatoes for different purposes. For example, if you like pasta sauce, plant ‘Roma’ tomatoes. If you like fresh salads, ‘Apollo’ may be a better choice. Of course, if you’re not sure, grow a few different tomatoes. They take up very little space and give you a great harvest every time. 
Cherry tomatoes are the perfect introduction to vegetable growing for kids. They grow well in pots or in the ground. Cherry tomatoes generally require staking because they produce an abundance of fruit, so be sure to position the stakes before you plant, to avoid damaging the root system. You can use a single stake that will do the job adequately, or dress the pot up with a tee-pee of bamboo stakes. Cherry tomatoes are considered sweeter than larger varieties, and kids love them because they are bite sized. Make sure you keep your tomatoes well watered during hot weather otherwise the fruit may split when developing.  Harvest the bunches with secateurs or scissors to keep the stalks intact and the plants tidy.

4. Space savers
You don’t need a big yard to have your own fresh produce. Pots, planter boxes and bag gardens make excellent vegie gardens. Build one to fit your yard or buy something suitable from a nursery or pot shop. The benefits of container vegetable gardens include easier harvesting, as you don’t have to bend down quite as far, and that they are completely relocatable if conditions appear to be not quite right for your vegetables. Many plants grow well in pots, especially herbs, tomatoes, chillies and lettuce.

5. Harvesting lettuce
Lettuce is an essential summer crop with fresh salads a must during the warmer months. There are several varieties of lettuce available. Those that produce a head, such as iceberg, have a set harvest date and must be planted or sown at various intervals so that you do not have all your lettuce ready at once. Continual harvest types are preferable, especially if space is limited. You can simply pick a handful of leaves as required and they will continue to produce leaves. Eventually they may go to seed, but the more often you use them, the longer they last. Try different colours and shapes for a great mixed salad and apply liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks.

6. Colour in the vegie garden
The vegie garden can be as colourful as any other area of the garden. There are many different coloured vegetables available including kale, red-leafed lettuce and even rainbow coloured silver beet. Not only is it a great idea to try something different in the vegie garden, the colours help to create a spectacular effect in the garden. Plant among other ornamentals or in a dedicated vegetable patch. Either way, make you garden productive, colourful and striking.

7. Reliable root crops
Beetroot and carrot are among the most popular root crops in Australia. Ideally established in early spring, the plants grow well throughout the spring months and will see you harvesting crops in around 12 weeks. Carrots need plenty of space if you would like them to grow straight, so regular thinning is required - but that's OK because you can eat these carrots too. Beetroot develops more quickly than carrots and thrives if given regular applications of liquid fertiliser during development. Don't underestimate beetroot. It is an excellent source of Vitamins, can be added to freshly squeezed juices or can be roasted with your other root crops for Sunday lunch.

8.  Getting squashed
Baby squash, also known as Summer squash, is best picked when small because the larger it grows, the more bland the flavour becomes. Harvest before they reach 10cm in diameter and pick frequently to encourage further crops. Sow a few plants each month to ensure a succession of fruit and to extend your harvest season. This will also help to keep the size of your crop manageable as you will be picking from different plants each month. The fruit is not the only edible part of this plant, there are several recipes for baked squash blossoms too.

9. Vegies in small gardens
Australian vegetable gardens were traditionally designated to the rear of the yard because they were considered practical and not beautiful. But English vegie gardens have always been an asset, another element that adds to the overall look of the yard, and most are quite beautiful. In a small garden it's better to follow this example and create a vegie garden that is striking. By planting in a pattern, much like a formal garden, the vegie garden can become a feature, which is vital when space is at a premium. Edged with lettuce and then planted with chives and other leafy vegetables, it's easy to make your vegetable garden, the jewel of your backyard.

10. Beautiful beans
Purple King available from Eden Seeds

Beans are prolific and reliable crops that are perfect for screening unsightly areas or fencing. But if you don’t need to hide any elements in your yard, you could make a statement by growing your beans on a tee-pee. The beans will grow up and cover the structure, giving the vegie garden height and a lovely focal point. You can make the tee-pee or wigwam from sticks, twigs or bamboo stakes, or you could always buy a ready-made obelisk for a more formal statement. Look at Butter Beans, Dwarf French Beans, Snake Beans or Purple King.

Whatever your favourite crops, choose a few and get planting. Fresh produce is invaluable in the kitchen and a worthwhile inclusion in any garden.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Top 10 Fragrant Plants for Spring

Gardens should delight all your senses. They should look beautiful, include tasty produce, and smell gorgeous.  

I know that I am always talking about including herbs and vegies among your garden ornamentals. 'Smart Gardening' as I call it, is imperative in the modern garden. Resources and space are limited so we need to do our bit in reducing our footprint and improving the health of our family and planet. But just because your garden is productive does not mean that it most forego any beauty or fragrance. In fact, perfumed plants can encourage beneficial insects to the garden and improve pollination.

So what are a few scented plants perfect for the spring garden?
Here are a couple of my favourites.

1. Narcissus
With all the easy grow traits of daffodils only much more fragrant, the smaller flowered earlicheer and jonquil are ideal in pots where their perfume can be brought straight to your door. And they are just as popular indoors as cut flowers. Place a bunch in the bathroom for a constant supply of spring fragrance.

2. Hyacinths
Great in pots or on a windowsill in a bulb vase, hyacinths come in a variety of colours including shades of purple, pink, cerise, apricot, lemon and white. Each has a slightly different fragrance, much like individual roses, so you’ll have to grow a few to find your favourite. Buy a mixed pack and do the test yourself.

3. Freesia
Bursting through the soil from late winter and flowering right throughout spring, leave a few freesias in the garden year after year. When left to naturalise, the sweetly scented flowers will keep blooming each spring, giving you a better display every year. Plant under a deciduous tree for a spectacular spring picture. 

4. Jasmine
A fragrant evergreen climber, jasmine flowers profusely throughout spring and then produces batches of scented blooms on and off during the summer months. A vigorous climber which establishes itself quickly, you’ll need a trellis for this one. Use it as a scented divider between properties and position it outside your kitchen window to enjoy the fragrant blooms every time you air your kitchen.

5. Wisteria
With a delicate sweet perfume, wisterias put on a breathtaking display of pendulous flowers in spring. Twining happily up over pergolas and arbours where they can form a scented ceiling, they help to create an outdoor scene that’s ideal for outdoor entertaining in spring. Deciduous, wisterias create a canopy of shade from the summer sun, while allowing the winter sun to penetrate and warm the area, giving you the best of every season.

6. Syringa
A cool climate favourite, lilac became a traditional inclusion in the American colonial garden as a welcome to visitors. It can do the same in your garden, especially during spring when the flowers are produced en masse.

7. Lavender
French lavender (Lavandula dentata) flowers from autumn right through until late spring, producing masses of perfumed flower spikes on a plant about one meter tall. Plant as a hedge for colour and fragrance for much of the year. The downy grey foliage also makes them suitable for coastal areas.

8. Philadelphus
With the strong smell of orange blossom, hence their common name of mock orange, Philadelphus sp. are frost hardy and easy to grow in sun or light shade. Flowering from late spring throughout early summer, the profusion of white blooms fills the garden with their glorious aroma.

9. Boronia
A fragrant Australian native, boronia produces its famed perfume not from the flowers but from the foliage. Boronias have a reputation for being temperamental in the domestic garden, mainly because they prefer constantly moist, free-draining soil. Cut for use in a vase inside, they flower from spring through summer.

10. Stock
A brilliantly scented annual flowering from late winter through spring, stock (Mathiola incana var. annua) is an excellent cut flower which is best collected from your garden first thing in the morning. Varying in height from 15cm right up to around 90cm, there is a variety of stock for each situation. Sow seed in January and February in warm climates and from September to December in cooler areas for flowers next spring.

This list is in no way comprehensive. Take a trip to your local nursery to select the most fragrant plants for your garden.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bag Gardens - The Perfect Planter

African bag gardens are used in Africa as a solution to growing vegies and food crops with limited resources. The same principles can be applied in your own backyard, patio or courtyard.

They are especially useful where space is limited but you would like to grow your own herbs and vegies.

How to:

1. Start with a hessian bag. You can use any type of bag but if looks are important, get a new hessian bag. Otherwise, recycle a grain or other woven pet food bag.

2. Fill in layers with good quality potting mix. As you fill each layer you need to position a column of rocks or pebbles throughout the centre of the bag. This can be done with ag-pipe, pvc pipe, recycled bottle or cans (with holes cut in them) etc. This column is the irrigation channel for the bag so that when you water from the top, the water spreads out evenly throughout the entire bag.

3. Slice holes in the side of the bag to plant seedlings and, of course, plant in the top.

4. Position in full sun. Water regularly.

Bag gardens can be decorative additions to the garden, but most importantly, they are an easy and effective way of growing your own produce in small spaces. Try using bags of different heights and sizes to create an attractive vegie garden in any sunny space.

The illustration above is courtesy of Send a Cow. This is a UK organisation that helps thousands of families in Africa grow enough food to eat, to sell their produce and to develop small businesses that last. To show your support go to:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens Program

Stephanie Alexander is not just a wonderful chef, she is also a great supporter of educating children about growing their own produce. The Kitchen Garden Foundation is her Australian schools project where children between Grades 3-6 are encouraged to develop a productive garden. The grow the vegetables, harvest them and then cook and eat them.

"The aim of the Kitchen Garden Program is pleasurable food education for young children. The underlying belief is that by introducing this holistic approach we have a chance to positively influence children’s food choices in ways that have not been tried before.
A Kitchen Garden is created to provide edible, aromatic and beautiful resources for a kitchen. The creation and care of a Kitchen Garden teaches children about the natural world, about its beauty and how to care for it, how best to use the resources we have, and an appreciation for how easy it is to bring joy and well being into one’s life through growing, harvesting, preparing and sharing fresh, seasonal produce."

I first heard Stephanie talk about this at the 2009 Landscape Conference in Melbourne and I was really impressed by her enthusiasm for the project.

Since then I have driven past several schools boasting the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens logo. 

The more we encourage our children to grow their own food as well as cooking wonderful, fresh, healthy food, the better the legacy we leave behind.

For more information on the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Gardens Program visit the link below.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What's Flowering Now

Welcome to Spring!

A quick drive around my neighbourhood revealed many plants in full bloom now, several of which are a little earlier than expected.

Spring certainly came early on the Mornington Peninsula.

This list is in no way comprehensive. It is just a glimpse of the 1st of September in 2010.