Articles on Gardening

Makeover for nasty urchins

*This article was published by the Sydney Morning Herald July 2018*

When I was a kid nasturtiums grew over the septic tank, lush and lovely and a haven for red-bellied black snakes. We called them ‘nasty urchins’.

 

You can access the entire article here.

Time ripe to dream of summer harvest

*This article was published by the Sydney Morning Herald July 2018*

 

The catalogues have arrived! Flowers, bulbs, shrubs, fruit trees to tempt gardeners for the summer to come. And vegies, wonderful, deeply delicious looking veg. And I am ordering a ludicrous number of them. Bryan is not as enthralled. He feels I am entirely too enthusiastic.

You can access the entire article here.

Flowering fruit trees are winter's seductive deceivers

*This article was published by the Sydney Morning Herald July 2018*

 

‘Tis spring, we sing, gazing out our offices at the almond trees blooming down below ‘Sing tra la la and put the overcoats away.’

 

Or words to that effect.

You can access the entire article here.

Clever storage solutions to maximise your winter harvest

*This article was published by the Sydney Morning Herald May 2018*

Autumn vegie gardens have a special smell - over-ripe tomatoes on the soil, that faint bitter smell of lettuce going to seed, carrots sweetening as the soil cools. Every food has its season - beetroot have a richer flavour after a frost, cauliflowers are firmer and cabbage less sulphurous in winter. 

You can access the entire article here.

Knowing your onions

*This article was published by the The Canberra Times May 2018*

 

"An honest laborious country man with good bread, salt, and a little parsley, will make a contented meal with a roasted onion.'' - Evelyn, Acetaria, 1699

It is time to plant onions, or at least get the ground ready to plant onion seedlings in a few weeks’ time.

Why bother? After all they are cheap, readily available and you can buy plastic bags of frozen chopped ones that are so easy to bung into a stew or soup, unless it has an acid tomato base or wine content in which case their texture will stay as plastic as their packet

You can access the entire article here.

A choko needs to know its place

*This article was published by the The Canberra Times April 2018*

Plants need to know their place. The natural (Aussie) setting for a choko vine should be covering a backyard dunny in leaves and fruit, or now that dunnies are an endangered species, neatly climbing up a trellis.

You can access the entire article here.

A balm for mad dog bites, baldness, and melancholy

*This article was published by the The Canberra Times May 2018*

According to medieval legend, Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) will cure all of the above. Warning: do not rely on this. It is extremely unlikely it will help at all. I suspect most of the "cures for mad dogs" were like the medieval cures offered for the plague: it would be unlikely that the patients would live long enough to blame the medical practitioner when they didn’t work.

You can access the entire article here.

for the love of limes

*This article was published by the The Canberra Times April 2018*

 

If I was planting a garden again a Tahitian lime is one of the first plants I'd put in. They are excellent in large pots, too, smallish, neat trees loaded with fruit all winter.

They are luscious in lime pie, lime-instead-of-lemon delicious pudding, or used in marinades and salad dressing, in hummus or squeezed onto almost any baked vegetable.

 

You can access the entire article here.

School libraries: miracles and madness

*This article was published by the SCIS April 2018*

 

The first school I went to burnt down. This was not my fault. The library didn’t burn down, because there wasn’t one — just a classroom with a shelf of books. I won third place in the lottery to read one of the two or three new books donated each year: The Magic Pudding. Three weeks later, it was mine for a week. (And it changed my life.)

 

You can access the entire article here.

The good oil? We've finally got olives

*This article was published by the the Sydney Morning Herald  April 2018*

 

Houston, we have lift off! Or at least olives. Finally, decades after I planted my first olive trees. Olives of many shapes and colours varying from almost white through green to purple black.

 

You can access the entire article here.

What's not to dig about fresh carrots?

*This article was published by the Sydney Morning Herald March 2018*

Our carrots are grown behind reinforcing mesh. Lots of reinforcing mesh, about two metres high and half a metre deep, since a wombat 20 years ago worked out how to climb a reinforcing mesh fence.

You can access the entire article here.

A lesson in life's wonders

*This article was published by the Sydney Morning Herald February 2018*

This is the season for school vegie gardens, places where kids can discover the wonders of picking and eating, see a dead-looking stick become a tree, the tiniest seed turning into lettuce and the extraordinary generosity of the earth...

You can access the entire article here.

Chard hard to beet

*This article was published by the Brisbane Times February 2018*

What is red and gold and green all over? (Except for the red and gold bits.)

Answer: Coloured Swiss chard (also known as rainbow chard or, if they have only red stems, ruby chard) is also known as ''that silver beet with coloured stems'' or, back in my childhood, ''spinach...'' 

 

You can access the entire article here.

The veg that keeps on giving

*This article was published by the CanberraTimes February 2018*

I wrote this as a joke today, as part of a fictional newspaper column written by the fictional market gardener, Broccoli Bill, desperate to sell his all too prolific crop. But as he began to give increasingly valiant ways to use zucchini, I realised he was right...

You can access the entire article here.

A Summer full of aggies

*This article was published by the BrisbaneTimes February 2018*

Our agapanthus abundance began small, which is the way all garden abundance does, unless you are rich like the Prince of Wales and can buy 20,000 carpet thyme plants in one go to create an instant thyme walk, of which I am not at all jealous....

You can access the entire article here.

Other People's Roses

*This article was published by Brisbane Times November 2017*

 

This is rose envy time. Big-time envy time.

Okay, we do grow roses. A lot of roses, and some even fabulous, great rambling beauties that have grown into giants over 35 years, like the albertine on the front fence, the vast white and yellow banksias and the parson's monthly that invades the vegetable garden every year...

You can access the entire article here.

How to Love a Mulberry

*This article was published by Brisbane Times November 2017*

If you see someone with purple fingers and tongue in the next few weeks they may well have a mulberry tree.
This is the peak of mulberry season, more ripe fruit dangling from the branches every morning. Mulberries are fat, juicy and luscious- or they should be. And they stain. (There is a rumour that you can remove the stain with the juice of unripe mulberries. I have never been able to squeeze out enough juice to test this.)

You can access the entire article here.

Here be Pumpkins

*This article was published by Brisbane Times November 2017*

That's probably all you need to say about pumpkins – they grow themselves, though nowadays you are more likely to see them sprouting from compost heaps than dung heaps.
Cinderella rode in a pumpkin, which was a waste of a good pumpkin unless the Fairy Godmother made soup with the flesh and only used the skin for coach making. (It was probably an Ironbark that has skin almost tough enough for a decent chassis even without the use of magic.)

 

You can access the entire article here.

PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES

*This article was published by Brisbane Times October 2017*

I have just one word to say on eating flowers: don't.
The editor, however, expects more than a single word column. So to elaborate …

You can access the entire article here.

Parsley packs a punch

*This article was published by Brisbane Times October 2017*

 

Whenever I don't manage to put my daily greens on the plate – when the asparagus patch hasn't produced enough, or I can't face more brocollini without 500 calories worth of olive oil and lemon – I munch on parsley. It's an eternal standby in our garden, surviving and producing even in the heat, cold or drought.

You can access the entire article here.

the beauty of 'toofer' roses

*This article was published by Brisbane Times October 2017*

Our first rose this year was an accidental one. A climbing rose planted beside the lemon tree died in the 2003 drought but its rootstock, an old and vigorous rose known as Parson's Monthly, flourished. The Parson has now wound itself all through the lemon tree.
 

It's a natural early bloomer, helped by the lemon tree's position in a hot, sunny sheltered spot with extra shelter from the tree itself. The soil may be cold, but it's warmer two metres up the lemon tree.

You can access the entire article here.

Summer's essentials

*This article was published by Brisbane Times September 2017*

 

This summer I will not be gardening. Much.

A decade ago I might have said, "I am not going to plant anything at all, no trees, no veg."

I have now learned that's impossible – the last time I swore I wasn't going to plant anything, due to a hot dry summer ahead, I put in a grove of olive trees (most of which are thriving, even the ones much nibbled by wallabies), made a new vegetable patch and added a pumpkin garden. Also "some" salvias ie,. "lots".

You can access the entire article here.

Cockatoo conundrum

*This article was published by Brisbane Times September 2017*

 

When we bought this farm it came with 16 big old walnut trees. The walnut trees also came with their own mob of cockatoos, who'd arrive every year to eat every nut before they were quite ripe.
 

The previous owner had tried scare guns, as well as hanging dead cockatoos from the branches. The cockatoos failed to be scared and used their dead comrades as perches to get to the more difficult nuts. He finally settled on positioning a grandson with a shot gun till picking time...

You can access the entire article here.

 

For Love of Sweet Alice

*This article was published by Brisbane Times September 2017*

 

She is small and unassuming, blooming in crevices in paths and paving or as a frilly froth at the front of old-fashioned flower borders. Sweet Alice is an old-fashioned girl indeed.
Sweet Alice is more commonly called alyssum these days. She is also no longer used to cure – or attempt to cure – victims of the bites of rabid dogs (do not try this.).

 

You can access the entire article here.

LEt the birds feed your garden

*This article was published by The Canberra Times September 2017*

 

The clematis is spilling from the trees, a great froth of white and beauty. The hardenbergia is a vivid purpley-blue, draped on shrubs and creeping along the ground; the indigofera is beginning to flame pinky-purple; and the Acacia longifolia is glowing yellow. And I didn't have to plant a single one of them, nor water, weed or feed them.

 

You can access the entire article here.

 

The Rocky Road to early tomatoes

*This article was published by The Canberra Times September 2017*

 

If you want early tomatoes you need a rock. Preferably a large rock, or even a small quarry, where the rock will absorb heat during the day, reflect it onto your tomatoes and then radiate warmth all night so the tomatoes aren't touched by frost and nor do they go into that sulking stage when the tomatoes get wonderfully warm days but chilly nights and refuse to grow at all.

 

You can access the entire article here.

Plum crazy ... or a paean to plums

*This article was published by Brisbane Times August 2017*

 

Our plum trees were old when I was young, which is slightly more years ago than I care to count just now. Shall we say well over half a century?
They were even older when I met them about forty-four years ago, richly hung with fruit – plums, of course, but I have no idea what kind. Nor did whoever planted them, perhaps, because back then most fruit trees planted here in the valley were grown from seed, whatever tourists had discarded up in Braidwood.

 

You can access the entire article here.

Flowers on the way? So is Christmas...

*This article was published by The Canberra Times August 2017*

 

The name says it all – Christmas roses. If you are a Christmas rose, or hellebore, it means you have been carefully bred to bloom for a Northern Hemisphere Christmas. Which means they should be blooming in my garden now – it's well past the winter solstice and not nearly as cold as a European winter.

You can access the entire article here.

Invest in some home-grown luxury

*This article was published by The Canberra Times August 2017*

 

his is where I was going to write about what the gardener with a sophisticated palate should grow this year, in order to eat the best of everything. And then I realised, not quite coincidentally, that I was also thinking about cooking/eating a potato cake made with home-grown spuds, tender home grown shallots, winter-sweet home-grown parsley, home laid eggs and olive oil from a farm in mid-NSW. 

You can access the entire article here.

MId-winter murders

*This article was published by The Canberra Times July 2017*

 

Midsomer Murders is that creepy place with no kids unless they are psychopaths and the local forensics team still hasn't learned to turn up before any cricket match or outbreaks of Morris dancing.

You can access the entire article here.

interview: Dear Dyslexic Podcast Series: Episode 5

*This interview was conducted with Dear Dyslexic July 2017*

You can access the interview here.

interview: Dear Dyslexic Podcast Series: Episode 5

*This interview was conducted with Dear Dyslexic July 2017*

A love song to your winter garden

*This article was published by The Canberra Times July 2017*

 

I grew up in Queensland. Things grow in Queensland. All year round. Not just the sweet potatoes we dug almost every dinner time, or the rockmelons hanging off the fence, but the kikuyu grass, clambering up the gum trees. The lantana. Fruit not just ripening but over-ripening entrancing fruit flies all year round.

And then I moved south.

You can access the entire article here.

Acts of Kitchen interview

*This article was conducted by Alexandra Pierce for her Acts of Kitchen podcast June 2017

We talked about how a lack of deliciousness may doom our planet; how taste can set the social and physical background of a book; the sad generations who have never eaten anything sun warmed and fabulously flavoured, or climbed a tree to pick and eat a dozen apples.

You can listen to the interview here.

how not to prune an apricot tree

*This article was published by The Brisbane Times June 2017*

They were possibly the most glorious apricots I had ever tasted. Actually they were the only glorious apricots I had ever tasted, growing up in Queensland where apricots had the texture of flannel...

You can access the entire article here.

Trees that stand naked in the cold

*This article was published by The Canberra Times June 2017*

Mid-winter is nude tree time. Or 'unclad', if you prefer. The leaves of deciduous trees have dropped, apart from a few stubborn ones like pin oaks where the leaves hang brown and wrinkled until the next gale blows them into your gutters, or the new spring leaves push them off – whichever comes first.

You can access the entire article here.

sneaking through winter with the perfect spot

*This article was published by The Canberra Times June 2017*

 

You need to be sneaky if you live in a climate with cold winters, but still fancy a lemon tree, winter tomatoes, or 100 chokos. (Chokes either come as 'none' or 'lots'.)

You can access the entire article here.

 

past crimes and a passion for poppies

*This article was published by The Brisbane Times May 2017*

We are not growing poppies this year. We will not be growing poppies any year, despite my love of poppies: a front garden bed of waving Iceland poppy heads, defying winter glooms; the massive heads of the many, many kinds of poppy you can buy for spring, or summer too. A single poppy plant can be so extravagant that passers-by stop to gawk...

You can access the entire article here.

THE WORDS OF AN HONORARY WOMBAT

*This article was published by Huxley Press May 2017*

Jackie French is a name synonymous with Australian literature: she graces the by-line of over 200 books, which range in genre from historical non-fiction, right through to fantastical picture books about the animals she grew up surrounded by. 

And the books aren’t stopping anytime soon. We caught up with Jackie and found out a bit about the 2017 Townsville Savannah: Festival of Stories guest speaker, her two latest releases, and what she believes kids today are missing out on

You can access the entire article here

 

Jackie French: Saffron, home-grown gold

*This article was published by The Age May 2017*


I have just had a letter from gentleman farmer and gardener, Thomas Tusser, with extremely good advice – which is not surprising as Thomas Tusser wrote one of the first gardening books in English, A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie, a book of wise, rhyming couplets about the growing year.

You can access the entire article here.

how to grow a garlic elephant

*This article was published by The Age May 2017*

I have just had a letter from Bill about my purple garlic article of a few weeks ago. Bill states that if I want really magnificent garlic, I should be growing elephant garlic, with its massive easy to peel cloves, tender stems and hardy habit of popping up again next year if you forget to harvest it.

You can access the entire article here.

a Work in progress

*This article was published by Townsville Bulletin May 2017*

Kids need trees, kids need animals, kids need the bush, kids need physical challenge and if they don’t have physical challenge they’re going to have to not be bored some other way, which is probably going to be something more dangerous than swimming with a shark or trying to eat your Vegemite sandwich with an emu. At least with my books, kids can be part of the bush.

You can access the entire article here.

Look At me! tress

*This article was published by The Age May 2017*

 

Some trees are just show-offs. You know the kind: liquidambers that have stood docilely and insignificantly green all summer suddenly scream, 'Look at moi!' turning that flagrant shade of red and orange with a touch of purple that only the tall, slim, young and gorgeous can wear.

You can access the entire article here.

Why there are (probably) no witches in your elderberry trees

*This article was published by The Canberra Times April 2017*

 

We have just proved it conclusively. There was no witch in our elderberry tree. Which means that you can plant an elderberry in your garden without luring a witch to live in it or, alternatively, you can cut it down with impunity too. 

You can access the entire article here.

JAckie french: 'to be a woman in power now, you need to better than men.'

*This article was published by The Guardian April 2017*

'There are some extraordinary stories. I discovered an incredible network of female spies. You see, it was so much easier for a woman to be a resistance worker. Every man who wasn’t in uniform would be conspicuous..'

You can access the entire article here

Poppy, Pansy and Primula: the old-fashioned heroines of winter

*This article was published by The Age April 2017*

Girls named Primula or Pansy are an endangered species these days. A few Poppies, now and then, but in 25 years of book signings I've never come across a Pansy or a Primula (usually known as Prim) under 75.

You can access the entire article here.

A Choko needs to know its place

*This article was published by The Age April 2017*

Plants need to know their place. The natural (Aussie) setting for a choko vine should be covering a backyard dunny in leaves and fruit, or now that dunnies are an endangered species, neatly climbing up a trellis...

You can access the entire article here.

why your broccoli probably doesn't hate you

*This article was published by The Age April 2017*

Your broccoli hates you. That's why despite the news reports about how substances in broccoli and avocadoes may reverse aging, your broccoli produces stingy stumps instead of the fat beauties you see in the supermarket, and why your broccoli plants give you one crop instead of flush after flush as winter and spring progress. That may even be why your seedlings vanish overnight or even between going to work and coming home again. They are scurrying off as fast as their roots can take them to a happier home.

You can access the entire article here.

The Unfulfilled Passions of an Autumn Gardener

*This article was published by The Canberra Times March 2017*

Small gardens need small plants. Big gardens that have already received far too much planting from an over-enthusiastic gardener also need small plants that might, just possibly, fit in. 

You can access the entire article here.

Why we need to fear zombies

*This article was published by The Canberra Times March 2017*

 

Victorian fairies were gauzily clad prepubescent girls, combining sexual allure and innocence. A surprisingly large number of people, including Sir Conan Doyle, believed they existed. Two girls famously produced a hoax photograph that many claimed for decades afterwards was proof that fairies existed. Fairies were fascinating. They also embodied Victorians' secret sexual fears.

You can access the entire article here

A passion for purple and the power of garlic

*This article was published by The Canberra Times March 2017*

 

The perfect bulb of garlic has fat cloves and terrible structural integrity i.e. the cloves are splitting apart from each other at the base, a bit like petals on a flower.

You can access the entire article here.

Growing green for St Partricks day

*This article was published by The Canberra Times March 2017*

If you are hunting for green flowers for St Patrick's Day (March 17 you are going to have to hunt for them, unless you decide to stick a white daisy or carnation in a cup of green food colouring, and watch the green slowly make its way through the petals. Flowers evolved to be noticed, which is difficult if you are a green flower among green leaves, making a green flower a definite rarity in the flower world. Humans have failed to breed many green blooms for much the same reason.

You can access the entire article here

Give us Veg and Roses … a guide to budget beaters

*This article was published by The Canberra Times March 2017*

 

'Give us bread and roses' said the placards of the striking women factory workers. Their words inspired a poem and then a song, and the song inspired countless rallies ever since. This column, on the other hand, was inspired by an article in another publication, complaining that serving ten helpings of fruit and veg per day to a family is impossible on an average household budget.

You can access the entire article here.

Cool your garden, cool your hose

*This article was published by The Age February 2017*

 

When it's 41C in the paddocks and 4,600,926 native pollistes wasps abandon their nests up in the gorge and move into the kiwi fruit on our pergola, and the goannas migrate into the orchard groves around the house, you know you have succeeded in making your place the coolest habitat around. Literally.

You can access the entire article here.

A letter from the zucchini and the melons

*This article was published by The Age February 2017*

Dear Jackie,

It has come to our attention that you have been making aspersions about our lack of productivity in a national newspaper. We would therefore like to bring the following matters to your reader's attention...

You can access the entire article here.

Australia day: let's agree to disagree on the date

*This article was published by Sydney Morning Herald January 2017*

This Australia Day I'll be watching out for brown snakes and bushfires, waiting for the annual fly-over of black cockatoos and the hatching of the rufous fantail's eggs.

You can access the entire article here.

Discreet answers to curly questions

*This article was published by Brisbane Times October 2016

 

Dear Aunt Jackie,

 

Three colonels, two majors and a small regiment have diagnosed caterpillars on my cabbages. I assume a small nuclear device would vaporise them?


KJU, North Korea.

You can access the entire article here.

© Jackie French