Cherry Tomato Bushes


Conventional wisdom says that to get the best out of a tomato plant you have to train it up a stake and pinch out all side shoots to maximise cropping.

And for large fruited varieties like Ox-Heart, Marmande or Grosse-Lisse that is largely true.  Though I must say I prefer to let three stems grow from the one plant and use three stakes set out in a triangle format – this really does maximise cropping.

However smaller cherry sized varieties like Tommy-Toe, Sweet-Bite and Small Fry can often be best grown as a low bush.  This means letting it do its own thing and not pinching out any side shoots.


The plant will naturally bush out but the downside is that you’ll lose a lot of fruit as it rots from contact with the soil.  Nature doesn’t mind as it aids propagation, but us human harvesters we want to maximise crops into the kitchen.

The best way to do this is to make a deep bed of straw around the plant to keep the air-flow moving between fruit and soil.  You’ll notice from the photos that I have also included a central stake, thats to help lift the heavy centre up a little by tie-ing off a few central stems – this creates a more bell-shape rather than a pancake-shape if left to its own devices.


The examples you see here are relatively early days, but recently I grew one Cherry Tomato over winter (in Sydney) and it took over the entire raised bed, 2.5m in diameter.

Fruiting was so intense that one family couldn’t eat them all and the neighbours were very happy as a result.

There will still be some self-seeding, that’s unavoidable, but in return you get a bountiful supply of one of nature’s best treats –  cherry tomatoes.



Bursting Citrus

Burst citrusWe received a query from Jill in Spain asking why her orange crop had all burst this season, rendering them pretty much inedible.  And I can say we have similar problems here in Australia too, in fact all citrus except Grapefruit suffer from this problem from time to time – usually in autumn and most commonly Navel Oranges.

There are various reasons for it happening – all cultural, so all in your control.

#1. Too much water.  This is the most obvious as too much content inside is bound to burst out at some point.  The main time to keep watering to a minimum is in winter when the tree requires very little.  Only ramp up the watering in spring and the heat of summer and make it a long, slow drink over the full root area – ensuring of course that the plant is in a perfectly drained location, preferably raised.

Burst navel orange#2. Hot summer winds can also be a cause in that they dessicate (dry out) the rind and the fruit.  The tree responds by taking on more water than usual to compensate, but as the rind has dried and thinned it cannot contain the new bulk of juice within and bursts open.

The best way to avoid this is to irrigate heavily when you know hot dry winds are due and then lightly, directly afterwards.  This stops the plant having to relocate moisture from the fruit to the tree in emergency (to survive) thereby compromising the rind’s ability to stretch when new juice is created.

#3. Over fertilisation.  Citrus are gross feeders, in particular needing a lot of nitrogen.  Feed citrus regularly, once per quarter but make sure you don’t overdo quantities.  If you do give them too much then they will take it all in regardless of needs, produce too much, too quickly and the end result is usually burst fruit.

The best way to avoid this problem is to apply sustained release fertiliser – though it is more expensive.

So there is no bug or disease that causes this problem and no chemicals to apply to solve it.  Its all in your hands to observe the weather, maintain a good and consistent watering regime and fertilise steadily in correct amounts.  Then you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labours.

Wimbledon – Plant Excellence

Wimbledon CourtsAs a first time visitor I was blown away by the standards of presentation and organisation at this, the world’s greatest tennis event.  Not only is this a showcase of the world’s best tennis and grass court preparation, but it is also demonstrates the high level skills of the teams of plantsmen who prepare the All England Tennis Club to welcome the world.

Wimbledon Creepers

Wimbledon is a test case for lively and colourful plant displays and it is all executed with the ultimate neatness and precision.

Visitors first of all can’t help but be impressed by the vine clad buildings, all evenly covered with lush and verdant Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) perfectly trimmed around doors and windows, ensuring the tournament colours of green and purple are well established.

Wimbledon Borders

Next to impress are the borders – again drawing on the art direction colour scheme but this time adding new textures as they rise up to meet the creeper clad walls.  And again the neatness of presentation wouldn’t look out of place at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Wimbledon PlantersPlanter boxes are used extensively throughout the site to soften lines and build on the lush feel throughout the tournament site.

Here they have used Hydrangeas to provide a range of colours and shades to support the overall colour scheme whilst also providing height and bulk while foliage plants add the elegance of silvers and greys to the livery.

Wimbledon BasketsHanging baskets are a very effective addition, sometimes reflecting the tournament livery, whilst other times providing some welcome, warm contrast colours.

But regardless of colours, the horticultural team never fail to produce the brightest, healthiest and freshest floral displays you’ll see anywhere – and they keep it in perfect shape for the full two week period.

I’d say that’s a great achievement – game, set and match, well done.

Birth of the Eucalypts – thanks to a Frenchman

Eucalyptus obliquaThe Eucalyptus is considered the quintessential Australian tree and we assume its always been that way – indeed the plant has but the name hasn’t.

When Captain James Cook first set foot here in 1770 whilst mapping the east coast of Terra Australis, he and his crew took a large amount of plants and plant samples back to Kew Gardens in London.  But as exciting as these new finds were, due to lack of resources, many of them remained purely on display for the botanical intelligentsia to oggle at.

Cooks LandingOne of them was a Frenchman, an amateur botanist by the name of Charles-Louis L’Heritier de Brutelle, a follower of the English Linnaean system of plant classification.  He published hundreds of papers on new plants in his lifetime and due to his friendship with Joseph Banks came to London to see these fascinating plants from the Great Southern Land.

L’Heritier became obsessed with one particular specimen which had remained unclassified – a strange tree with grey/green sabre shaped foliage.

Eucalyptus obliqua

Eucalyptus obliqua

He described the curious casing around its flower buds in Greek :- ‘Eu’ meaning ‘well’, ‘calyptos’ meaning covered.  The slanting, assymetrical foliage was described as obliqua.

In 1778 the Eucalyptus obliqua was named as the very first in this exciting new genus – not thanks to Joseph Banks as many would have assumed – but a Frenchman . . and we say, ‘merci beaucoup monsieur.

Floriade – Canberra’s Spring Celebration

Its heartening to realise that humans can’t deny the natural instinct to celebrate seasons. We’ve done it for millennia and still today we love to visit gardens resplendent in the full bloom of the season.

Tulip Walk

Canberra puts on the best springtime show in Australia, being blessed with a climate that has distinct seasonal changes and (for good bulb displays) has a cold enough winter to trigger vibrant blooms from daffodils, hyacinth and tulips.

DaffodilThey also have a public park in an idyllic setting alongside Lake Burley Griffin where the municipal gardeners have created huge display beds that erupt in a riot of colour in mid September.

With over 300,000 visitors every year from Australia and overseas the organisers also have to ensure there’s plenty to amuse the kids as well as provide a tempting variety of food outlets and musical entertainment to serenade the garden guests.


Tulip Walk Floriade

StiltwalkerStreet entertainers, wandering musicians and old fashioned pipe organs help generate an atmosphere of the traditional country fair and a large stage also provides a platform for a variety of entertainers, both amateur and professional.

But it is the massed displays of intense colour that are the prime attraction with over a million plants arranged into artful patterns on an awe-inspiring scale.

Most regular domestic garden borders feature relatively sparse layouts but as the originators learned from the Dutch at Keukenhof, you’ve got to cram them in tight and in huge quantities to make a world class attraction.

Flowers En-MasseFerris WheelMy only gripe with the displays (and it does seem a bit ‘cranky’ to criticise after all the hard work involved) is that the patterns created are just not possible to appreciate unless you hover over the beds in a helicopter.

Making intricate patterns from Pansies, Daisies and Tulips that cannot be observed from street level does seem a bit daft.  Though if you take a ride in the Ferris Wheel you can at least see the display of a map of the world that is situated directly in front of it.

Essentially though, Floriade (which comes from the latin Floriat – meaning ‘to design with flowers’) is a triumph of horticultural skill and love of nature at its most flambouyant.

Tulipa FabioEstablished in 1988 Floriade is the largest tourist event in the Capital’s calender.

Hotel rooms are at a premium, but Canberra is blessed with plenty of accomodation so there’s no excuse, you’ve just gotta make the trip.

Entry is free during the day and it’s impossible to not have a good time.

At night there’s a $25 entry fee but there’s plenty to entertain  at ‘NightFest’ with ‘Son et Lumier’ shows, cafes, bars and a packed schedule of top class DJs and entertainers on the main stage.  And for the Social Media addict there’s free WiFi too !

I’ve been meaning to go for years – I’m so glad I finally made the effort.


Harvest Veggies in Early Morning

When I was a child and stayed with my grandparents my enduring recollections of waking up was to hear the old cockrell crowing with a shrill, manic urgency, soon followed by the sounds of my grandmother bustling out to the garden.  She would take her basket and a sharp knife to harvest the day’s vegetables before the sun got too high in the sky.

Harvesting Silverbeet

Silverbeet can provide on-going harvest supplies – just break off the leaves at stem base.

My child mind didn’t question it until I grew my own vegetables and then found out that they take up the maximum moisture during the cool of the night and are therefore at their best for cutting at first light.

Cabbage harvest

This cabbage harvest will keep two families happy for weeks

I tried it and it is true.  Greens in particular will have plump and crisp leaves which will keep longer in the fridge and taste better when cooked.  Beans, peas, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers – in fact the whole gamut of home veggie bed produce will all be better for a dawn harvest.

Another lesson I’ve learned from the practice of gardening is to always harvest vegetables before they go to seed – even if that means cutting more than you can consume immediately.

Cling film wrapping cabbage

Wrapping freshly harvested veggies in cling film will help keep them fresh for weeks in the fridge

Once a plant has ‘gone over’ or gone to seed it is wasted, but a plant that is harvested fresh at dawn and wrapped in cling film will last a long time in the crisper drawer of the fridge, so why not?  Its better than wasting all that good growing you have so carefully nurtured.

Peas – Garden, Snap or Snow, which is best.

Garden Peas

Whatever happened to the garden pea?  Finding them in veggie shops is so rare these days.  Yet the Chinese Snow Peas or Snap Peas (sometimes called Mange Tout) seem to have taken their place.  Seems a pity really as the common Garden Pea is so sweet and tasty and we were always told they were full of goodness.

Well its one of the examples of how big business technology actually serves us better because 90% of all Garden Peas consumed today are frozen or canned.  And this is simply because they are generally better this way, being blanched and flash frozen within a few hours of picking.  The process really does lock in the flavour, texture, nutritional value and freshness –  unlike any other vegetable.

Pisum sativumGarden Peas – Pisum sativum – do taste best when hand picked and eaten right away but they do become dry and mealy in texture after a day or so.

Shipping them to veggie stores is therefore a very difficult operation with the distinct possibility that they’ll just not be at their best.

Then you have to shell them as the pods are bitter to taste and stringy in texture ! Not many of us want to do that.

Snow PeaSnow PeasPisum sativum macrocarpon – on the other hand have edible shells and can be popped into boiling water for the quickest preparation of any vegetable.  They are sweet and tasty and also go very well in stir fries.

But the drawback is that they are lower in nutritional value.  This doesn’t mean they are not good, just less good than the fuller shaped garden pea that has had more time to develop.

Snap Peas or Sugar Peas are a cross between the Garden Pea and Snow Peas are plumper in shape and have a crisp, snappy texture.  The pods are also edible.  Again though, they are lower in nutritional value and calories than Garden Peas.

So next time you scoff at a slick TV commercial claiming that Frozen Peas are better . . well Mr Birds Eye and Mr McCain have actually  got it right this time.  Unless of course you are patient enough to grow them yourself then you can have the best of both worlds.

What do you reckon?  Is it worth the effort to grow them yourself?