Storing Onions

Here is a very simple trick to ensure the hard work you put in growing your onions does not go to waste after you have harvested them.

You know they are ready to harvest when the stalks start to fall over.  They may still be green, but go floppy at the neck – it’s a sign that they are ready to pull and store.

If no rain is due its good to just lay them flat on the soil where you have been growing to dry a bit more in the sun.  But if you really want to cure your onions properly before long term storage then the best way is to hang them upside-down in a slatted rack – as per the photos here.


This allows the stalks to completely dry out right down to the neck as the air can circulate evenly all around.


When the stalks are quite dry and ‘Raffia-like’ they can be trimmed off close to the neck with scissors or secateurs.  Discard any bruised or otherwise damaged ones and then, for optimum, long term storage, place them in a cool, dark but airy place like a large cupboard or shelf in the shed or cellar, preferably in single layer trays or open weave baskets.  Air flow is important so don’t stack them up in tall containers like plastic buckets.

The best onions to store for longer periods are the most pungent – these tend to be smaller, brown onions.  The extra sulphur in these helps preserve them longer, even up to 12 months in optimum conditions e.g. dark and around 5-10 degrees C.

Sweeter onions like red or Spanish onions tend to have less sulphur and therefore don’t last as long in storage.  If in doubt then make some Onion Marmalade where the extra sugars will do the preserving and the end result is totally delicious.

If you use onions regularly then you can make a French Plait – so don’t cut the dried stalks off, but plait them (best to include some string in the plait too) then hang them in the kitchen so they are easily to hand when you need one.


Again this encourages good air flow around the onions and of course it also adds a very rustic touch to your kitchen too.

Deterring Possums

I wondered why my Wisteria was so late blooming then I noticed that all the new buds had been chewed off.  Then it wouldn’t even fill out with leaf and on inspection the same pest seemed to be to blame.


Possums, damn their furry little hides.  I know they have to eat but hours of gardening effort become wasted if you have Possums in the vicinity.

I had tried mothballs some years previously but the stink in the garden was enough to deter humans too.


But I’d heard that Wormwood, or Artemisia as an underplanting, especially around roses was an excellent deterrent – and guess what? my new rose buds were disappearing faster than the plant could produce them.

So off to the nursery, where they recommended Artemisia Powis Castle as the most effective.  So I planted a few in pots to be able to move them around to wherever the Possums would strike next.


I strapped two pots to my pergola and within a few days I could see verdant new green leaves developing on the Wisteria.

Then a couple more pots were placed at the bottom of the most chewed roses – it worked quite well but not 100%, there were still the odd buds being snacked on (generally those the furthest away from the Wormwood).

And so the final weapon in the anit-possum armoury was rolled out – dog hair.  A relative gave me a bag of Spoodle clippings (which I must say stank up close).  My wife’s old nylons were filled with doggie hair and tied to fences and standard rose stalks.


Now ten days and counting NOTHING has been chewed in my garden and a cloak of happiness has settled once more onto our household.

Find out mor about Artemisisa x Powis Castle here:- Artemisia Powis Castle

How to Kill Powdery Mildew on Cabbage

Cabbage is one of the most productive and nutritious crops you can grow in your veggie garden.

They are easy to grow from seed or seedlings, will grow all year round in many Australian locations and they generally require little maintenance.

There is one ailment however that can infest a whole crop quickly – and that’s Powdery Mildew which thrives in moist and warm conditions.  If you don’t treat it quickly, it will spread through your entire crop.

You’ll easily identify it as small greyish, powdery spots on the leaves – as per the photo here.


You can use sulphur sprays to kill it off, but for those who like to take a more gentle and organic approach then one tablespoon of baking soda mixed with one-half teaspoon of liquid, non-detergent soap all diluted into one gallon of water will do the trick.

Just spray the it on liberally on the leaves and wait for a week or so for evidence of its success.

Another solution is to spray on mouthwash – yes the same stuff you gurgle round your gums. It kills the bugs in your mouth and on your cabbages too without doing any other harm.  You will want to wash the leaves though after harvesting or you might have peppermint flavoured cabbage.


From David Austin – Rosa x Princess Anne

Introduced in 2010 by legendary British rosarian, David Austin, ‘Princess Anne’ is a fragrant English Shrub Rose that produces an abundance of flowers over a long period.


The young blooms are deep cerise pink, bordering on red, but they gradually fade to a mid pink as they age.  The narrow petals are delightfully curled, with a touch of gold on their undersides.

Rosa-Princess-Anne-PotProduced in large clusters, the individual blooms open in succession, ensuring a permanent supply of colour along with a heady ‘tea’ fragrance.

This is a particularly robust variety, forming a bushy, upright shape with thick, glossy, foliage.  It is an excellent choice for the keen gardener as it has excellent disease resistance and is generally easy to maintain.


It has been named after Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal, the Queen’s daughter, and a percentage of the sales goes to her charity, ‘Riding for the Disabled’, offering therapy and enjoyment to people with a disability.

Rosa x Princess Anne was named ‘Best New Plant Variety’ at the UK Grower of the Year Awards in 2011.

Growing Notes:

Open, loamy soils are ideal, though Roses will grow in heavier top soils if they are well drained and also in sandy soils if they are kept watered and fed more frequently.   Good drainage is critical for Roses to achieve their best.



Chelsea – Horticulture HQ

Recent visits to the world famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show have always been a delight, with so much to see, it really demands a few days to take it all in – that’s if you can stand the crowds (the only draw-back).

There’s something to please just about everyone, from the cute . .


to the nostalgic . .


Floriferous . .



Restful . . .


Whimsical . .


Delightfully oriental . .


Instructive . .


romantically roseful . . . .


or just plain daft.


Just gird your loins, prepare to battle the crowds and you’ll be surprised what a rewarding time you’ll have, in this horticultural Valhalla.

Keeping Hyacinth Standing Tall

Have you ever wondered how Hyacinth seem to always stand so tall and straight without support, especially in flower shows or in florist windows?  Yet when you grow your own they have a tendency to bend or droop a little and an ugly stake alongside such a beautiful bloom seems sacrilege.


On a visit to the famous Chelsea Flower Show, I learned the simple trick and although it seems barbarous and even dangerous, it in fact causes no harm to the plant.

Quite simply it involves getting a thin wire support, similar to those used to hold orchids erect, and sliding it down through the central stem and through the bulb.


Unlike humans, bulbs are not harmed from piercing, which can be removed as the flower dies and the bulb is left in the soil to regenerate some energy before hibernating over summer.

See more about these wonderful bulb blooms here:-

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.