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,

Flights of Fancy: Lepidoptera under the microscope

IMG_2284.JPGTransformations: Art of the Scott Sisters is a breathtakingly beautiful exhibition on at the Australian Museum.

It is a celebration of the sister’s vast contribution to Natural History and Science in Australia during the colonial period. And it is a rare glimpse into the social history of this family as they went against the grain as female scientists, and struggled to survive poverty.

The Scotts’ looked at butterflies and moths drawing the insects throughout their various life cycle stages using live insects. This was time consuming and involved a lot of field work. Glimpses of the areas where the specimens were collected were also shown on the drawings as were drawings of the plants that hosted the insects.

These drawings where to be part of a vast work of their father Alexander Walker Scott, called Australian Lepidoptera and their Transformations.

The exhibition shows the notebooks, field drawings, letters to the Museum and final works alongside collections of the specimens themselves. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and thoughtful animations and quotes illuminate the lives of the insects and the women themselves.

The exhibition is on to mark the 190th anniversary of the museum. It’s well worth going, but if you can’t get there by the 25th June when it closes, download the app from the museum website.

Lost and Found: fungi and mushrooms

Assorted Mushrooms. Image by Sue Stubbs from Harvest, by published by Murdoch Books

On a recent trip “hunter gathering” at Nabiac Farmers Market I couldn’t help but be impressed by Mooral Creek Mushrooms and their superb looking collection of oyster, shitake and field mushrooms.

I left my run too late, however, and by the time I’d done a lap of the place and come back he had sold out, with nothing left but some dried porcini for my risotto.

Mandy Sinclair’s Mushroom and Ginger Pot Sticker’s, from our book Grow Harvest Cook (below) will have to wait till next time.

Mushroom and Ginger Pot Stickers, Grow Harvest Cook, published by Hardie Grant

We got chatting, however, so I can tell you the extroadinary way he is growing his crop of treasures.  In shipping containers. Reinforced and half buried into an embankment to keep them cool.

Mushrooms are one of those strange things that actually like growing in the dark…as long as the air is cool and moist then they’re happy.  They are sometimes grown commercially in disused railway tunnels.

Growing your own mushrooms step x step from Dig Deeper, published by Murdoch Books

Gathering wild mushrooms is enormously popular in Europe, and in some parts of Australia Europeans often forage in forests for some of their favourites. Mushrooming in the Oberon Pine Forests with some Italian family friends is one of my favourite memories from childhood. They would have the BBQ set up there and cook them as they were found. Eating wild mushrooms requires an expert eye, as poisonous toodstools can be deadly.

Our First Nations people handed down knowledge of which were good to eat orally from one generation to another. For a fascinating look at what some Aborigines regarded as “fallen stars”, the Australian National Botanic Gardens website has a great article.

…and if I make it back to the markets in time for mushrooms next time, here’s the recipe.

Mushroom and Ginger Pot Stickers

¼ cup vegetable oil

600 g (1 lb 5 oz) button

mushrooms, very finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 long red chillies, finely chopped

3 spring onions (scallions),chopped

½ cup chopped coriander

(cilantro), plus extra leaves to garnish

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

250 g (9 oz) fresh wonton wrappers

Dipping sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon finely shredded

fresh ginger

2 teaspoons white sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a frying pan over a high heat.

Cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes until soft and dry. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the spring onion, coriander, fish sauce and soy sauce and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.

2 Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place 1 teaspoon of the mushroom mixture into the centre. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with a little water. Fold the wrapper over and pleat the edges together to enclose the fi lling. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.

3 Heat half of the remaining oil and ¼ cup water in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add half of the wontons and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 2 minutes, until the water is evaporated and the wontons are golden and crisp on the base. Repeat the process using the remaining oil and another ¼ cup water and cook the remaining wontons.

4 To make the dipping sauce, mix together all the sauce ingredients.

Serve the wontons with the dipping sauce and garnish with the extra coriander leaves.


TIP You can assemble the wontons up to 4 hours ahead of time.

Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.


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

Cider Days as Fall Finishes


The the last day of autumn is winding up, and with it the last few crops of apples.

Cooking up relishes and chutneys is a great way of using the last of these “windfall” fruits and preserving them for months. Freezing cooked or bottling stewed apples is another. Grow Harvest Cook and The Produce a Companion both feature some sensational seasonal recipes.

However, before the last fresh apples disappear, consider making some fresh cider. Mandy Sinclair’s recipe, illustrated below, is a real treat.

Apple Cider, from The Produce Companion, by Meredith Kirton and Mandy Sinclair. Published by Hardie Grant Books

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!!

Flushed with pink this Mother’s Day


A few days before Mother’s Day I was asked to add some colour into a garden in Waverley. The cottage had been landscaped before and had great bones, but after some years, 5 kids and a business run from home it had, understandably, suffered from some neglect and needed an overhaul.

With a plunge pool tiled in shimmering pink and grey mosaics, who could resist adding my own touch of blush to the garden…especially seeing it was Mother’s Day.

The planting palette now includes Cordilines, Variegated Goldfussia, Tricolour Chinese Star Jasmine, giant purple bromeliads and Rhoeo ‘Moses in the Cradle’ among other flowering gems such as Medinilla, Vireya Rhododendrons and pink Sasanqua camellias.

The additions should make this hard working mum “tickled pink” for years to come.