Time for some plant robbing

When you move countries, your first consideration is where can you live for free (or cheaply as possible) until you land on your feet.  When you’re moving back home, this usually means moving back in the with the olds.  As someone who is (just) the wrong side of 30, this has taken some getting used to.

To set the scene, they still live in the town I grew up in although, over the years, suburban encroachment now means it’s basically an outer suburb of Brisbane.  However, although suburbia has grown around them (all the fields and horse paddocks I remember from a kid are now a distant memory), facilities have not.  Bus service?  One an hour.  Train service?  One every half an hour and it’s a 10-minute drive away.  No money?  Then no car, baby.  Which takes me back to the bus service (hah! sorry.  Bus “service”).

For the most part, I get on ok.  Through an elaborate set of pick-ups, drop-offs and car/ute swaps, I can have a car at my disposal if I really need it.  The treks into Brisbane for job interviews get me out and about and I’ve caught up with a few friends in the painstaking dance of ‘re-establishment’.

Having said that, there’s still a lot of hours to fill – small town people will know that, if you’re looking for entertainment, the local corner shop doesn’t usually have it all going on.  My other half, always a font of wisdom, has said that I should just enjoy my spare time rather than worrying too much about when I’ll get a job so, in that spirit, I’ve been indulging in catching up on all the things I haven’t had time to.

All those books I’ve been meaning to read?  Ploughing my way through them.   All those old TV shows I’ve been meaning to watch in episode order?  Totally all over that.  I’ve also taken on my Mum’s garden as a new hobby.

My Mum likes the idea of a lush, verdant garden with a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables that she can pluck and harvest as she skips through the backyard, butterflies and bellbirds following her progress.  The reality, sadly, is a garden wasteland of dead and dying plants, over-baking in extremely hot and bright Queensland sun.

Although I appreciate Mum’s scientific approach to gardening (she’s obviously taken Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory to heart), she’s been a little hardcore.  A few years ago, Mum went all Brutalist and commenced a tree-cutting rampage in an effort to reduce the number of leaves falling into the pool.  The result is a total lack of shade in the backyard.  At the same time, she ripped up the well-established plantings around the garden as they were too high-maintenance for her but didn’t replace them with anything (or anything that grew), so she ended up with a massive weed problem (nature, as always, abhors a vacuum).

There are a few delights left that managed to avoid the Purge.  A few very brave palm trees at the periphery of the garden, a lovely agave plant that has thrived (thus proving it’s un-killability) and lantana – normally considered a noxious weed but which I’m at least appreciating for providing some much-needed lushness (so long as I keep a very close eye on it).

The first step has been trying to revive Mum’s vegetable gardens.  She spent a fortune on raised garden beds, premium potting mix and overpriced and overfed seedlings.  Of course, the poor little things never survived the transplant shock or the baking sun.  Except the silverbeet (chard).  The immense nitrogen content in the potting mix meant they went beserk, in spite of everything.  The tomatoes have been doing well also, although I don’t know how.  The stems and leaves are withered and brown on many of them, but they’re still pumping out cherry tomatoes. Nature really is miraculous.

Tomato harvest

First thing, explaining to Mum some basics:

1) Premium potting mix doesn’t absolve your responsibility to mulch, water and care for your plants.  Especially as most bought potting mix is total crap anyway.  You’re better off working with your own soil and composting it.

2) You can’t grow nightshade plants (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants) in the same bed year after year, or you’ll breed disease.  For that same reason, you shouldn’t spread out your tomato plants across the ENTIRE garden bed system, otherwise you’ll have no where to plant them the next year!

3) Grow beans.  They’re fast, they’re delicious (and so many varieties!) and they replenish the soil (due to the nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots).

3) Admit your fallibilities as a gardener.  If you don’t have time to garden, then vegetables probably aren’t for you, as they’re usually grown intensively.  If you do want to grow some veg, then pick stuff you’ll eat, that’s easy/quick to grow and suits your environment.

In that vein, I convinced her to grow some capsicum and eggplant and they’ve thrived in the hot conditions she has.  I also convinced her to grow some beans in a vacant garden bed.  Given the season and our conditions, I’ve planted a bush snake bean plant (they love hot weather) and I’m trying some run-of-the-mill climbing beans.  They are currently shooting up the side of the fence and it’s a contest between them and the passionfruit vines for fence dominance.  My money is on the passionfruit vine, once it gets established, but those beans aren’t gonna go down without a fight (either way, the delicious rewards shall be mine!).

She eats a lot of cucumber (at $3 a pop!!!) and zucchini, so we’re also growing those to help her cut down the food bill.  We’ve only planted one zucchini plant as I’ve heard horror stories about how prolific they are.  A couple of weeks later, it’s already produced two babies that seem to be growing into full-sized zucchini so I think I was right to be wary.

Baby zucchini

On the non-vegetable front, I’ve taken a look at the rockery that surrounds Mum’s pool and what’s surviving there at the moment.  The big clue as to how dry and hot it is in those beds is the fact that the only things doing well were the agave plant and silvery-leaved plants (sage, lavender and some other species I can’t identify).

Being a little frugal, I figured the best thing to do was plant more of the same and do it by taking cuttings.  The agave had three babies at the bottom, so I’ve transplanted one and I’m going to pot the other two while I figure out where to put them (oh, who am I kidding, I’m hoping to take them with me when I move back out again!).

I’ve taken a cutting of lavender and stuck it in the ground to see if it will strike – I have no idea if you can grow lavender from cuttings but it was free to try.  It’s looking sickly but might pull through.

Mum also had some aloe vera, so I’ve taken cuttings and popped them in – they’re doing very well.  As are the cuttings of the jade plant, another succulent.

The indestructible jade plant

Given these small successes, I’ve become a little cutting crazy.  Eyeing off other plants that I might be able to take cuttings of and transplant.  Only now Mum’s garden is not enough.  I’m peeking over the fence to see what the neighbours might have.  I’m taking furtive glances down the street to see what I might be able to take a sneaky cut from.  Is this really bad manners?  No one in our street is really on speaking terms – not unfriendly, just no one knows anyone and there’s never anyone out in the garden that I could strike up a conversation with.  However, there’s this really delightful frangipani tree round the corner that I know does well from cuttings.  They wouldn’t notice just a little snip, would they?

It may just be time for some plant robbing – ninja style.

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