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Chickweed makes a natural nursery

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August was a month of great excitement here at our inner city organic retreat. Under the blossoming almond tree, annointed with monarch butterflies and honey bees, while the bellbird serenaded us from the huge magnolia next door in the Botanic Gardens – David and I found life teeming back in No.4.

Towards the middle of the month I began to really discover the virtues of our very un-pristine garden. Most of our vegetables from last summer had gone to seed then and we had let the soil be covered over with chick weed, nettles, shepherd’s purse and all manner of other weeds. What planted or sown vegetables there were had been stunted and generally things looked very untidy. Getting stuck into it with the warmer weather was a huge relief, and a tremendous buzz.

Virtually all of our veggie beds were nurturing seedlings we had no idea were there. Even the driveway was harbouring Chinese cabbage, garlic and hundreds of broccoli seedlings.

The lower spiral bed (a faint spiral could still be traced, reminding us of the summer’s glory) had peas, garlic and Chinese cabbage all popping up from last season. Elsewhere in the garden, parsley, coriander and borage have made numerous welcome appearances, while California poppies are coming up in the shingle by our sunny back door – I had tossed some seed around the area last year, collected from the Gardenz show.

The most exciting parts of the garden currently are undoubtedly the ‘toilet bed’ and the orchard. The first of these got its pragmatic yet unkind name from its position in relation to that particular household facility. The small plot was built on top of solid concrete early this year and hosted a number of tomatoes and other vegetables.

As David and I peeled back the chickweed (itself a nutritious and tasty salad vegetable), we discovered a row of interesting lettuces, a few little borage plants, lots of coriander seedlings, several silverbeet seedlings, sweet peas, calendula, onions and a clump of chives. Some of these had been planted or sown, but quite a few had just popped up there of their own accord. That piece of the garden is now practically ready to go. Once we get the tomatoes and chilllies in there a bit later on it will be one of the most dynamic spaces we have.

Critical to the success of the ‘toilet bed’, as in other part of the garden, was actually letting the chickweed cover everything. Not only were we able to harvest the green shoots, and use them as pizza topping, garnishes on the sides of dishes or in winter salads, the chickweed protected the delicate seedlings growing underneath. If we had been ‘tidy’ gardeners, and removed the chickweed as it was coming up, we would have lost all the crops underneath to the frosts.

We are also beginning to resuscitate the orchard. It has always been our intention to plant up the previously herbicide-sprayed tree circles with things like borage, comfrey and umbellifers, but what with everything else it just hadn’t happened. One apple tree, not part of the orchard, had received some of Bob Crowder’s anchusa seedlings last year, and these are now looking very lush and promise to take over huge tracts of garden (hear hear!). Anchusa is one of the boragio plants and its leaf is similar to comfrey. It has small blue forget-me-not type flowers. With roots like comfrey it no doubt has the same uses as a liquid manure, though we haven’t tried that as yet.

Nevertheless, we have made progress in the orchard proper. David has underplanted most of the trees with borage seedlings, Queen Anne’s lace and forget-me-nots. The bulbs we planted earlier in the year are appearing, and the yellow crocuses have come out. Tulips and daffodils will not be far away. The patch of jonquils donated by Dianna Kirpensteijn has begun to flower between one of the apples and a feijoa. It is idyllic. We have also made an agreement not to mow the grass along the southern fence, and to establish a biodiverse sword in its midst. This is a major development, and I will keep you posted.

The almond has came into a showy pink blossom all of a sudden nearer the end of August, and now bright green leaves are appearing. In the final week of August, the apricots have burst into delicate white bloom.

In short, despite our neglect over winter, things are alive and well at No. 4.

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