Gangsta Gardener

Meeting Ron Finley at the Melbourne Food and Wine festival was a once in a lifetime chance to meet the well known ‘Gangsta Gardener’ from Los Angeles.  The renegade fashion designer turned guerrilla gardener took to the streets in south central LA if an effort to rediscover  home grown ‘street food’, and has been leading the verge revolution ever since.

I caught up with Ron for breakfast, to ‘dig the dirt’ on his work and dreams, and got more than I had imagined as this pimped up plantsman explained his ethos…the perfect post for World Naked Gardening Day and International Compost Awareness Week all in one interview.  Enjoy!

Listen to our chat here



Claude Monet’s Gift of Peace to the Nation and his Garden in Giverny

Few scenes are as well known as the waterlilies in Monet’s garden which featured again and again in his famous paintings.  With its famous arched bridge, willow trees, clumps of bamboo and row boat moored casually, each vignette is a perfect moment  waiting to be captured on canvas.  The reflections of sky and clouds ever changing in the dark pools serving to be inspiration for his famous Waterlily Series, Les Nymphéas, gifted to the nation on the day after Armistice Day 1918  after WWI and housed in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Jardin des Tuileries, Grand Palais, Paris as per his instructions in 1927 a few months after his death.  Here, two huge oval rooms display these unique works…that Monet hoped would bring peace and tranquility to the war torn French.

Les Nymphéas, by Claude Monet

Of course, Monet’s Garden has many other beautiful aspects.  His flower gardens where also often his focus.  Here, experiments in colour were played out with plants, and imaginative combinations, often with bright dahlias, roses and other perennials.\, gathering momentum as they flank the arches of roses.

The house too is charming.  The turquoise green paintwork so famous looks beautiful against the soft pink of the house and the brightly coloured climbing roses.

What many people have never seen in the charming inside of the house, where his sense of colour was played out in every detail, from the kitchen cupboards and crockery to the brightly painted timber work and coloured vases, kitchen tiles and gleaming copper cookware.


To grow your your own water lilies you will need a pond depth of at least 60cm, and the water needs to be fairly still and not have splashing that can upturn leaves.  Waterlilies can also be grown in water bowls, and the inclusion of fish mean that mosquito larvae are kept in check.

National Bird Count


Coming up is National Bird Week 2017 and you can participate in the biggest citizen science project to hit Aussie shores. From 23-29 October weekend is the National Bird Count weekend, when you can register all the birds you see and help work on the National data base.

The number one counted bird counted last year was the Rainbow Lorikeet, the inspiration of this work of art at Eden Unearthed are inspired by Australian birds.  Ecomania is inspired by Lorikeets and used the colours of their dramatic plumage to create a human nest.  Created by artists Catherine Whitting (seen here installing the work) and Kate St James, you can see it in the grounds of Eden Gardens overlooking the Lane Cove National Park.

Attracting birds into your garden is a great way to add diversity and help control a range of pests.  Try planting some natives, like grevilleas, adding a birdbath, and having low lying shrubs for small birds to hide in,  Also, try keeping any safe dead branches on trees, as many of these form the hollows that birds use to nest in,

Oranges and Lemons

Image from The Produce Companion by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair, published by Hardie Grant Books

With the first day of winter upon us it’s worth remembering that our very own cold and flu remedy from Mother Nature is ripening on trees this very moment in many backyards around the country.

Not to be sneezed at, citrus are handsome trees that can be particularly beautiful when in fruit over winter or in fragrant bloom during spring.

Use the juice and rind of citrus to make your own cordial, or try drying the peel and adding it to sugar to create a fragrant sweet treat.

Growing Citrus

Citrus love regular fertiliser, lots of sun and great drainage, but for more compressive tips, check out my fact sheet in Gardening Australia or read my Column in Homes Plus this month.

Pruning Tips

For the latest…check out this article on the ABC

The Japanese Connection

kokedama ballFrom Kokedama balls to Ikebana floral arrangements, it seems more and more of our green life if being influenced by Asia, especially Japan.

As winter approaches it makes sense to start bringing touches of the garden inside – and both these techniques are creative ways of achieving this. So what are they?

Kokedama are moss balls that effectively cover a plants roots and become a suspended sphere of garden. They work really well with a range of plants, and can be grown inside or out, depending on the species of plant grown.  If you’re interested in learning, Matt Carroll, known as the Hortiman, will be holding a 2 hour workshop this Saturday in Waitara. For details and bookings.ikebana

Ikebana is flower arranging with a difference. It balances colour, form, texture and line. People train for years to become Masters of this art form.  The Calyx at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney is currently exhibiting arrangements by the School of Ikebana, both as individual compositions and also as a group installation. It will be on display till 28th May.  You can also book in for a half day workshop at the Calyx with  senior teacher Sandy Marker.

For more details check out the Sydney R.B.G’s website or the Australian Sogetsu Teachers Association.

The “War on Waste” has its front line in the backyard

wormsThe Chaser turned environmental crusader Craig Reucassel has again been ruffling feathers, this time exposing our disposable lifestyle and unrealistic food standards as largely to blame for massive problems in the ABC’s newest show War on Waste 

Approxiamately half of our household waste is food scraps. Having recently moved from suburbia to an apartment, I have been missing my compost heap and worm farm, but decided to try and instigate a community worm farm at the flats. They live happily near the green bin and yellow bins and now delight in 4 household’s worth of vegetable scraps in their bellies each day. And all the while saving organic matter from growing into landfill and causing methane gas from its anerobic breakdown.

Starting a worm farm does involve a small set up cost, but they can often be bought subsided from the local council.  Any outlay is quickly paid off with free fertisiler im the form of vermicast and worm wee, both great at not only adding nutrition but also beneficial organisms and microbes to your garden.

So now those spent flowers, kitty litter, vegetable peelings and even tea leaves and coffee grounds, have somewhere to go that’s actually doing some good to the environment.

The hungry bin is another great option. It creates an ideal living environment for compost worms. The worms convert organic waste into worm castings and a nutrient-rich liquid, in a large bin like container not unlike a wheelie. Bokashi buckets are great for people in apartments.

And the upshot of my new venture? Not only do four households now have the option to compost, the kids downstairs finally have some pets. Maybe not quite what they’d imagined but much easier to care for!!

The National Arboretum And National Bonsai Collection


The National Arboretum, which is planted on the site devasted by Canberra’s terrible 2003 fires, really has been a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Many of the trees have grown well, but like all things green, there are constant changes and adaptations taking place.

Since it opened, a series of small gardens illustrating various environmental aspects have been planted and are thriving. These range from savvy lawn tips and herb gardens to bird attracting low water usage areas that highlight a need to be water responsible, especially in Canberra.

The latest gardens, designed by Neil Hobbs from Harris Hobbs, openned on Sunday 2nd April by former Patron of the Australian Open Garden Scheme, Tammy Fraser.

Known as the “Gallery of Gardens”, they contain various  gardens, including a celebration one for the Australian Open Garden Scheme (now defunct), an AIDS reflection garden, a labyrinth, and a Mununja Butterfly garden.

National Eucalyptus Day

I love the idea of this, but I’m in a quandary. My favourite gum tree is actually not a Eucalyptus, it’s an Angophora!  So where does that leave me? I feel “genusist”!

Who could not love the Sydney Red Gum? It’s stunning salmon coloured trunks look so stunning, especially when they have just shed their old bark and are showing off their new pinkish skin. Known as “decorticating”, this process is like the exfoliation version of the plant world!

IMG_1630Ok, so if that gum’s out, the what about the fabulous West Australian flowering red gums of which there are no so many stunning cultivars, including this marvellous pink one called ‘Summertime Pink’.  I am yet again snookered. It’s not a Eucalyptus anymore and has suffered from “rebranding” – now being a Corymbia botanically.

Fear not, there is always the garden writers favourite tree; thank goodness for the Scribbly Gum, Eucalyptus haemastoma, whose pale creamy trunks have been graffitied by a mysterious grub and leave indecipherable messages to each other.

But National Eucalyptus Day is supposed to be about what this tree means to us as a Nation. Who could of said it better than Harold Cazneaux when he photographed a red gum in South Australia and titled it The Spirit of Endurance. This Eucalyptus became one of the most recognisable images of its time.

The accompanying prose written in May 1941 by Cazneaux always gives me shivers.

This giant gum tree stands in solitary grandeur on a lonely plateau in the arid Flinders Ranges, South Australia, where it has grown up from a sapling through the years, and long before the shade from its giant limbs ever gave shelter from heat to white men. The passing of the years has left it scarred and marked by the elements – storm, fire, water, – unconquered, it speaks to us from a Spirit of Endurance. Although aged, its widespread limbs speak of a vitality that will carry on for many more years. One day, when the sun shone hot and strong, I stood before this giant in silent wonder and admiration. The hot wind stirred its leafy boughs, and some of the living elements of this tree passed to me in understanding and friendliness expressing The Spirit of Australia

Happy National Eucalyptus Day in any way, shape of form you choose!

Greener Pastures

The view from the French doors outside my lounge room windows at The Top Place make some people green with envy! Yet creating your own verdant lawn is not as hard as you might think.

Use a click on weed and feed sprayer connected to the hose for a fast and effective pick me up. But for a more lasting result, try aerating your grass.

Iif you’re struggling with your own green scene, coring your lawn can be done on a smaller scale than seen here, but the principal of lossening compacted areas to allow water and air to penetrate to the roots, and this increase growth of worn patches, remains the same.