Mr Lincoln in bloomIt seems I’m a bit of a traditionalist in some ways. This must be the case because, although I love roses in general, red roses are – and have always been – my favourite.

When we moved into this house (many) years ago, there were three standard white roses out the front of the house. All very Homes-and-Garden, really, and altogether to orderly for me. In due course they were salvaged by a friend and replanted in her garden, where they fitted in perfectly.

I’ve always meant to replace them with some not-at-all standard red rose bushes, but have never found just the right variety. Then, when I was in Tasmania last November, I came across Mr Lincoln – the perfect red rose for me. It’s a hybrid tea rose, produces beautifully fragrant long stemmed blooms, and grows to 1.8 metres of untidy rose garden beauty. Bellissima!

So towards the end of summer I went hunting for Mr Lincoln and found a bush that was perfect for one of the few remaining spaces in our garden. I was a little concerned as to how well it would do there, given that the spot is only part-sun, but it’s thriving. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been gifted with a few late autumn blooms and have revelled in finally having my very own red roses to enjoy – both in the garden and indoors, where they fill the air with essence of rose-happiness 🙂

Apparently I should prune the bush back by 70% this winter to ensure good growth for next season… eek?

Late last year I had an epiphany: summer was rapidly approaching and it was time to get some mulch down to protect the garden over the hotter months. So I logged in to Mulchnet and ordered 5 cubic meters. To ensure that it wouldn’t take too long for the mulch arrive, I opted to pay for it rather than be wait listed for a free load. (Been there, done that, and it seemed to take forever.)

The truck arrived the next day and deposited an epic pile of mulch on our verge. The timing was supreme… slap bang in the middle of one of the busiest times of our year. DaughterDearest was moving house, a friend was celebrating her wedding, work was chaotic… and then I set off on a trip to Tasmania. No sooner was I back than Christmas happened, followed by a patch of I-don’t-want-to-garden weather (hot!), then we got a puppy…

I’m sure you get the picture. The mulch pile on the verge slowly started to collapse in some areas and grass started to grow up and over it. I started to imagine it turning into a grassy knoll and to worry that one our homes-and-garden-neighbours might complain to the council, resulting in the wrath of the gods (or some other dramatic outcome). And the garden still needed mulching…

So I asked a few people if they’d mind helping out, bribing them with offers of lunch and super tasty cake. They accepted with surprisingly alacrity – which I attribute more to their kindness than to the food bribes, but who knows 🙂

As the scheduled day drew closer, the weather got worse. In the end we caved and rescheduled, not wanting to subject our garden gnomes to the howling gales and torrential rain. Most of them came to lunch anyway, since the cakes had to be eaten.

Yesterday was attempt number three, attempt number two having been skittled by  a combination of weather and dog dramas. This time the weather held, the dogs were (more or less) manageable,  and the garden gnomes were successful. After much digging, heaving and carrying, the mulch pile / grassy knoll is no more. Much happiness!
mulchpile transition
The gnomes then went on to remove epic quantities of grass from our verge garden, trim the rosemary bushes and plant out my sweet potato cuttings. They definitely earned their lunch, ALL the cake – and my heartfelt thanks.


This weekend it was time to harvest all our grapefruit and limes so that the trees can be pruned back. To this end, we bribed Daughter Dearest, Boychilde and their respective partners with lunch… and delicious lime cake.

Harvesting grapefruit and limes_May 2016

The result was a yield of 220 delicious pink grapefruit and 244 limes… and that’s excluding the dozens that went home with the helpers.

Some of our 2016 citrus harvest

I also juiced three dozen limes on Friday (frozen in ice trays for use at a later date) and used three (yes, only three!) limes in the delicious-cake-of-bribing. And most delicious it is too.

I found many variations on this recipe on the Internet and most of them appear to be based on a recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly recipe. This is my version, as made to bribe the troops. I’ve simplified it, clarified the instructions (by making the cake!) and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you get round to making it.

Lime syrup cake with almond meal
For the Cake
200g softened butter
200g caster sugar (1 cup)
4 large eggs
100g self-raising flour (just less than a cup > 1 cup = 125g) – sifted
2 tsp baking powder
100g almond meal (~1 cup)
zest and juice of one lime

For the Lime syrup
50g caster sugar (~ ¼ cup)
zest and juice of two limes (about ¼ cup / 50ml)
¼ cup water

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a spring-form cake tin and grease the bottom and sides.

Make the cake
Add all the cake ingredients in a large bowl and beat until they’re thoroughly combined. You can do this by hand but, really, why would you if you have an electric mixer?
Spoon the mixture into a spring-form cake tin lined with baking paper.
Pop the pan in the oven – I found it useful to put a baking tray under the cake tin to catch any seepage.
Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 40 minutes.

Meantime, make the lime syrup:
Add the lime juice, water and sugar to a pan and bring to a simmer, stirring regularly. Add the zest and then simmer the syrup for about 10 minutes – you don’t need to stir it for this period, but keep an eye on it.

The final touches
When a lovely golden colour and firm to the touch, remove it from the oven. Take the cake out of the oven, but leave it in the cake tin.
Using a skewer, stab little holes all over the top of the cake.
Now spoon the hot lime syrup over the top of the hot cake, allowing it to seep in between each spoonful.
Leave the cake to cool, remove from the cake tin (making sure that the syrup hasn’t stuck the cake to the sides…!) and serve.
The cake keeps quite well because of the almond meal, but it seldom has a chance to do so!

I grew up climbing over dogs, playing with them, taking them for walks and to the vet for inoculations/check ups, attempting to train them (!), feeding them and cleaning up behind them. It wasn’t until we had been in Australia for 15 years that I discovered just how woefully under informed I’d been with regards to the multitude of risks dogs face in and around their homes.

It turns out that large, deep-chested dogs (such as German Shepherds and Dobermans) are prone to a condition called bloat (Gastric dilatation-volvulus).  Finding this out when we brought our 10 week old German Shepherd home was, quite simply, terrifying. The breeder put the fear-of-all-things-bloat-related into us, detailing the symptoms and the various and assorted steps we needed to take in order to minimise risks.

We’d had a German Shepherd in South Africa many years earlier, but had known none of this. Did he survive purely by chance, I wondered, or are some breed lines more predisposed towards getting bloat? Research provided me with more details on the condition and it became clear that it was probably a little of each, although this in no way lessened my paranoia with regards to the bloat issue.

The next eye-opener was plants. Suburban gardens don’t tend to be designed with pets in mind and often contain a number of potentially hazardous plants. Who’d have thought that tomato plants might be a problem? Or avocados, apricot kernels, azaleas, jasmine? Once again, it seems that my dogs have largely survived despite my ignorance on these matters.

With two young dogs in residence I’ve been doing some catch-up reading up on common household/garden risks. In the process, I came across a rather useful info graphic that outlines a wide range of the more obvious risks.

Pet Poisons Infographic.jpg

The more I read, the more I find – to the point where I’m starting to feel an overwhelming urge to do some serious garden revamping to deal with our more obvious risks (see highlighted plants, below). But I need a list to refer to, so I’ve compiled one based on information from sites such as Burke’s Backyard, Cornell University and a pet poisons helpline (recommended).

Whilst it’s not comprehensive or complete, it’s a good starting point.  The printout’s stuck up on the fridge as a reminder – both to us and to visitors. If you know of any more or can add any details, please add them in as comments.

aloe vera – the outer leaves
anemone or windflower – all parts of the plant
apple trees – stems, leaves, seeds
apricot kernels – contains amygdalin
avocados – (debatably)
azaleas – leaves, nectar, flowers
castor oil plant – seeds contain ricin
chalice vine – all parts of the plant
cherry tree – all parts of the plant
chocolate – contains methylxanthines
clematis (large flowered hybrids) – flowers
coffee – contains methylxanthines
cycads – seeds on female parts
daffodils – bulbs
dieffenbachia – plant contains insoluble calcium oxalate
elephant ear – plant contains insoluble calcium oxalate
ficus (all varieties) – milky sap in leaves and stems
foxglove – entire plant
garlic plants
golden robinia – bark, leaves, seed pods
grapes, sultanas, raisins
hellebore – the entire plant
hemlock – the entire plant
holly – berries
hyacinth – bulbs
hydrangea – flower buds
indoor plants: various
iris – foliage and bulbs
jasmine (not clear which ones)
jonquils – bulbs
lantana – foliage and berries
lilac – (possibly)
lillies – bulb, leaves, flowers
lily of the valley / mayflowers – plant, flowers
macadamia nuts
madagascar jasmine – seed pods
mountain laurel – leaves, nectar, flowers
mushrooms (not clear which ones)
narcissis – bulbs
nightshade – the entire plant
oaks – the acorns
oleanders – the entire plant
philodendron (many, it appears)
poinciana (the shrub, not the tree )
potato plants – the green parts
privet – needles and branches
pyracantha (not clear which one)
Rat baits
rhododendrons (including azaleas) – leaves, nectar, flowers
rhubarb – roots and uncooked leaves
Snail baits
stephanotis – fruit
sweet peas – seeds
tomato plants – the green parts
walnuts – mouldy nuts near the ground
wandering jew – foliage
wisteria – entire plant
Yesterday Today  & Tomorrow – plant, flowers

I’ve wanted to try out vertical gardening for ages, but it’s somehow never quite reached the top of the pile… until now. A couple of months ago some gear (a chicken house in kit form) was delivered to our house on a pallet. The build-your-own chicken run has long since gone up to Gallifrey Permaculture, where the chickens are enjoying the extra space. The pallet, however, continued to lurk in our front courtyard, pending action.

Every time I’ve walked past it I’ve thought about how to either use it or get rid of it, but without coming to any useful conclusions. Contemplating it again last weekend, I mentioned to Himself that it was now high on the ‘let’s do something about it’ list and asked whether he had any thoughts on what the ‘something’ might be… He said, ‘Well you’ve been talking about a vertical garden… couldn’t you use the pallet as a base for one?’OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Good thinking, 99! … although this did mean that ’99’ then ended up having to hunt down various tools to reinforce the pallet. That done, he attached the pallet to the wall above one of the raised garden beds with a couple of brackets and declared it ready to start its new re-purposed life.

While he was busy with all that, I scrounged around in the shed to see if I had any suitable sized pots and checked to on how much compost/soil mix we have left over from the last garden epic. The plan we’d devised was to pop the pots into the frame in three rows, about six pots per row, and to encourage the plants to grow up and over the frame. This sounded a lot simpler than the alternative, which is to cover the back, bottom and sides of the pallet with weed mat or landscaping plastic, then fill it with sand and plant up. Our pallet would need more horizontal struts for that to work, so this time I’ll stick to using the pots and see how it goes.

For this fledgling vertical garden I need to take into account that it will be in full sun most of the day. In addition to this, the pots that fit into the pallet-frame are (recycled) 10cm plastic pots; these only have a capacity of about 0.5L, so the soil will dry out fairly quickly. This means I need to select plants that aren’t going to develop huge root systems and that can cope with full sun and sporadic watering.

Growing things makes me happy and it’s a bonus if we also get to eat them (in whatever format),  so I try to choose useful and/or edible plants whenever I make additions – which probably explains our mini orchard and the various vegetable/herb beds scattered around the property. For this experimental garden I’ve decided on a combination of easy-to-grow favourites: cherry tomatoes, rocket, Vietnamese mint, Thai coriander, lemon balm and parsley; perhaps even some strawberries.

I’d promised myself a visit to the Garden Centre and to the horticultural fair this week as a reward for the epic hours spent (successfully) weeding the verge garden. My mission was quite clear… but Garden Centres and Garden Shows appear to be my particular nemeses.

new plants_26feb16

I ended up coming home with a Brown Turkey Fig, a beautiful orange and yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus Bali Sunset), and a Mr Lincoln hybrid rose –  and only three of the 12 herbs I actually set off to get! Not quite the outcome I’d planned, but they made me smile all day – as did the prospect of a return trip for the missing plants 🙂



The weeded verge garden, also ready for planting when the weather cools a little.