'...we are teachers only in our home gardens, and learners elsewhere.'
Bill Mollisson - Permaculture - A Designer's Manual
Personally, I am also a learner in my own garden, which is an ongoing experiment.
There are 6 sections, plus a list of plants that are no longer grown, and why:
Trees - Vines and Climbers - Shrubs - Perennials - Self-propagating Biennials and Annuals - Annuals needing hand planting
Plants grown in the past
The lists are in alphabetical order, and the Design notes below will help to put the information in context.
Important Note:- - This is an Australian website
References to the medicinal use of herbs are not to be used as a guide for self-treatment. If you are interested in the medicinal use of any herb, you should look for more information in a Herbal Pharmacopaea, or consult a qualified practioner. I can take no responsibility for any problem arising from the use of any plant listed here. The information is basic and anecdotal - a starting point only for your own research.
Adelaide's climate is officially 'Warm Temperate', but most of the plants I grow will do well in Mediterranean climates, in the sub-tropics, and many in cool temperate regions. Most of the deciduous trees and shrubs can be grown in regions that have very cold winters. Micro-climates - the creation of very localised conditions which extend the range of plants that can be grown - are an important element of Permaculture Design.
Adelaide's rainfall is very variable, but averages 23 inches a year. Some years are much drier. The evaporation rate is far greater than the amount of rain that falls. I am fortunate, because my block is situated between a large school sports ground, which is well-irrigated, and the river, so that the water from the oval seeps back into the river through the sub-soil beneath my and neighbouring gardens. This gives the area a great advantage.
If deep-rooting trees like stone fruits and apples are encouraged to find their water supply in this sub-soil, instead of being artificially watered, they will survive as long as the school continues to water the sports ground. Shallow-rooting varieties like citrus and avocados can be grown between the deeper rooting trees - they also enjoy the shelter and mulch provided by their deciduous neighbours (Permies call this 'stacking') - and water reserved for them when necessary.
Deep mulch, composed of a wide range of organic materials, reduces the amount of watering that is necessary, as well as supplying nutrients and humus. In the depths of winter, living mulch is encouraged because this gives some protection against frost, as well as eventually providing green manure.
I chose to grow mainly tree crops because the block is only a narrow strip around my tiny 3-roomed cottage, and so situated that no part is in full sun for the whole day. Also, because of the design and placement of the cottage, I need as much summer shade as I can get if the place is to remain habitable without air conditioning. Most of the trees are grown more closely together than would normally be recommended, and I have in fact removed one or two, but the design works well.
Warning! to other Adelaide residents, and anyone whose home is built on reactive clay soil.
DO NOT plant deep-rooted trees close to your house unless you have taken steps to prevent the soil drying out under your foundations.
I am able to do what I have because my sub-soil is deep alluvial silt.
I do not need huge quantities of produce so much as variety and a year round succession of crops, since here there is no season when nothing can be harvested.
This does mean that I do a great deal of 'overhead' gardening. It is made easier by the use of suitable tools, and carrying out tasks little by little, rather than in huge blitzes - this also helps to maintain the carefully nurtured eco-system which has developed here. Birds, insects, reptiles, and small animals are all important elements in the system, so disruption to their habitats must be done delicately and without haste.
If you want more information, and can't find it elsewhere, please contact me and I'll do my best to help.
Nuts = protein and calcium, & the beautiful and delicately perfumed flowers attract bees and several varieties of native honey-eater. They are the first blossoms of the season, flowering in mid-winter.
Once established the tree is surprisingly drought resistant.
It provides shade in summer, while fallen leaves provide mulch and allow the sun through in wintertime. Prunings can be used for kindling, put through the shredder for mulch, or used, when suitably seasoned, as firewood.
When I planted this tree, there were 2 mature almonds next door, and several more nearby.
Over the years these have all been removed, so my tree is the only one left for the local Rosellas and Lorikeets, who noisily protect 'their' crop from larger parrots like galahs, corellas, and sulphur-crested cockatoos. I haven't been able to harvest a crop for years.
Adelaide and the Fleurieu Peninsula are famous for their almond orchards, which produce oil and perfume as well as nuts.
BOTTLEBRUSH or Callistemon.
In October 1999 I replaced one of the avocados with a small bottlebrush.
This is an Australian native tree, now very popular in gardens, as it is evergreen (or rather, grey-green), has a graceful weeping habit, and attractive red or pink flowers several inches in length just like the brush for which the tree is named.
Once established it flowers twice a year, and attracts large numbers of native birds.
A wide range of cultivars are now available, I chose a Callistemon Harkness 'Gawler Hybrid', bred in South Australia, which grows to only 3-4 metres in height.
Whether the European variety, (which I had to remove some years ago, but have now replanted in a different spot,) or the one native to Asia and Australia, the elderberry is a graceful and vigorous addition to the garden. It can be cut back really hard every year - in fact in a small garden like mine, it had to be! Yet by early summer it had grown back to shade the whole SE side of the house.
The perfumed flowers make fritters - just dip flower-heads in batter and fry - and a highly esteemed and effervescent 'champagne'! They are also used to flavour jams, jellies and stewed fruit, also to make cosmetics. But you need to pick the flowers before the bees and birds have taken all the nectar and pollen. Many other beneficial insects are attracted by the bountiful blossoms.
When the sap is running freely, small boys make whistles from the stems, while the tree has the reputation of being a witch-repellant. Certainly the bruised leaves repel flies, and a bunch used to be hung in cottage doorways for this purpose.
The bunches of tiny deep purple berries can be gathered when fully ripe and used to make elderberry wine. When well-made, this is every bit as good as many clarets - poorly-made, it is a rough red, but with quite a kick!
Elderberries are used to flavour jellies and stewed fruit. They were even used, in wartime, because of the strong colour and many pips, with turnips and apples to make erzatz 'raspberry' jam! They can cause slight stomach upsets if eaten raw - though many children seem to eat large quantities with impunity - but are delicious in pies, breads and muffins. They can also be dried and used instead of currants in baked goods.
Elderberry Rob, a syrup similar to rose-hip or blackcurrant syrup, was made each year by countryfolk as a remedy for winter coughs and colds.
Birds of all kinds find the fruit good to eat, as well as enjoying the thick shade, so in summer and autumn the tree was full of them. A good crop of elderberries will to some extent protect other soft fruit crops from bird damage.
Another deciduous tree, it provides a lot of mulch. Tradition has it that it is unlucky to burn the wood, and animals prefer not to eat it, so I shredded the prunings too.
I finally bit the bullet and removed the original tree in Autumn 2002. It had, after being coppiced regularly every 2 years, still grown far larger than the average elderberry - it probably discovered an underground spring. Since I had not expected it to become more than a large shrub, I had planted it too close to the house. It was grabbing far too large a proportion of the available moisture and nutrients, and it's canopy was affecting the growth of several other trees. Sadly, the only solution was to remove it, though the stump remains as a testament to it's unusual size.
It's replacement, planted in spring 2010, next to the almond tree, has not become quite so rampant, & provides excellent summer shade.
Mine is a 'Black Genoa' and has been bearing prolifically since the second year after planting, although the tree grows very slowly. It takes many years to reach maturity, and tends to sprawl sideways as much as growing upwards, so has to be ruthlessly pruned to force it to grow vertically. Suckers need to be removed from the base of the tree as soon as they appear.
When mature, fig trees develop a broad shady crown, are strong and long-lived, drought-resistant and frost hardy.
They must be forced to get their roots down into the sub-soil while young, and should not be planted near drains, as the root system is very invasive.
Figs are a highly nutritious food - in fact a staple food in Mediterranean regions. As well as potassium, magnesium, and small quantities of vitamins, they are high in calcium and iron. Their high sugar content, as well as lots of fibre, make the dried fruit a sustaining snack. The crop ripens over a long period - young figs appear in the spring before the leaves! - and should be harvested daily, before ants and birds attack the delicious fruit. If you wait until the figs are fully ripe before picking them, you will lose a few to the other inhabitants of your garden anyway, but it's worth it!
When fully ripe, the skin is thin and has lost the abrasive quality of less ripe fruit. Also there is little or no latex.
Fruit may be picked and eaten at an earlier stage without nutritional loss, but the fresh latex and rough skin is hard on the lips and tongue, so they should not be eaten until several hours after picking, and the stem and thick skin at the top removed. You can even peel them completely if you wish, but you lose nutrients this way.
They can be poached in a light syrup, and can then be eaten without problems.
Figs are so prolific they need to be preserved in order to gain full benefit from the crop. They can be dried - blanch them first, to soften the skin - older recipes tell you to dip them in a strong alkaline solution for 30 seconds before blanching - or even poach them lightly in a syrup containing a little vinegar or lemon juice, then drain and dry them as per your dehydrator's instructions.
Fig jam, fig chutney, and figs in fruit mixtures were staple winter stores wherever figs grew, until mass-marketing took over. Jam made with slightly underripe figs sets well, and doesn't need quite as much sugar as jams made with tart fruit. One old recipe, called 'Scrumptious' jam, calls for a mixture of figs, dark plums, and a few passionfruit. It is delicious.
The fig is easily propagated from cuttings, so is an excellent source of gifts or goods for charity stalls.
Fig leaves are good for lining baskets or plates instead of doilies, but not as clothing. The mature leaves are fairly abrasive, so Adam must have had a painful rash as a result of his impromptu attempt at modesty!
Unripe figs can be split and used as a poultice for boils, and the latex can be applied repeatedly (with care!) to get rid of warts.
No garden which can grow one should be without a lemon tree.
Since there are some varieties which will withstand a degree or two of frost, and others which will grow happily in a suitable container, the lemon can be grown more widely than other citrus trees. Mine is a Lisbon, which is hardy, bears fruit all the year round, and has large thorns.
The fruit contains a fair amount of vitamin C, and makes refreshing drinks, whether as lemonade, cordial, or simply sliced straight into a jug of water.
Lemons can be kept in a box of dry sand, or waxed, for longer storage. Dried, salted, or pickled, they are used in many Middle Eastern recipes. They make excellent marmalades, jams and lemon curd or cheese. They are added to many jam recipes for their acid content and for added flavour.
Household uses include cleaning the loo, washing windows, and fabric conditioner - use lemon juice in the last rinse instead of commercial products.
Cosmetic uses - Use the strained juice of one lemon diluted in a litre of water as a hair conditioner, while a tea made from the leaves controls dandruff. Smoothing a few drops into the hands after washing them or doing the laundry will take away that 'tight' feeling, strengthen the nails, and reduce the amount of hand cream you need to use. Make hand lotion by mixing the juice with honey or glycerine. I could go on, but not here. Maybe a whole page on lemons one day?! Using lemon peel
This small evergreen tree gows well in Adelaide, and bears the earliest spring fruit, usually ripening in October. This is very welcome, bridging the gap between citrus crops, and the early stone fruits, and if you have a grafted variety, they grow almost as big as apricots. They are delicious to eat, easily peeled if you find the skin too tough or sour, and the large shiny stones are easy to avoid. They also make excellent chutney, and can be bottled successfully if a little lemon jiuce is added to increase the acidity.
I planted this tree in 2010, to replace an ageing apricot which was being decimated during the drought years, first by gangs of Rainbow Lorikeets, which greedily ate each leaf bud as it appeared, then finished off after I netted it, by possums sitting on the netting frame and peeing on the fresh growth! So far the leathery leaves of the Loquat don't seem to be attractive to either, and I got a small crop in 2011, after netting the individual clusters of fruit, rather than the whole tree.
One of the things I most love about the Loquat is the scent of it's blossom, which usually appears just in time for the May Full Moon. The scent is much like that of English Hawthorn, or May blossom, but stronger.
I chose an Ellendale mandarin - an old-fashioned variety, with pips, but large, late-maturing, and full of flavour. Many modern varieties are insipid by comparison, even though they peel more easily and are seedless.
This is a fruit to be eaten fresh whenever possible. It stores quite well, but not for as long as oranges or lemons. Children often prefer mandarins to oranges, because they are easier to peel than oranges, the segments come apart neatly, and they are sweeter.
Excess fruit can be made into jam or marmalade. The peel is very fragrant and when dried is particularly good in sachets or pot-pourri.
Using Citrus Peel
The Macadamia, or 'bopple-nut' is a native of tropical Queensland, although it was first grown commercially in Hawaii. The nut, though not high in protein, has a delicious flavour, and the oil is mono-saturated. The shell is spherical and extremely hard, so it's not easy to crack. My original method was to place nuts into the holes in a rubber door-mat - the sort with small hexagonal 'cells' - and then use a light hammer to crack the shells. They are then removed from their 'nests' using a teaspoon, and carefully separated from the shell. Take care to remove even the tiniest pieces of shell, as the wood is hard enough to damage your teeth if you bite on it. I now have a "B.O.N.K." - Bart's Original Nutcracker - made in Australia, and available from good kitchenware shops. Excellent for small quantities, but the occasional extra-tough nut requires a strong wrist!
A much larger & easier to use machine is now available, but fairly expensive.
The tree is evergreen, and has long tassel-like flowers, attractive to birds and insects. Being a rainforest tree, it does best in the shelter of taller deciduous trees.
I chose an old variety which is still popular and widely available, the ELBERTA. This has large mid-season red and yellow freestone fruit, which peels easily when ripe. Planted where it gives extra shade to my 'glass wall' in summer, the leaves colour beautifully in Autumn, then fall to allow the light through in Winter.
Peaches come in a wide range of varieties, and two main types. These are the 'Freestone' and the 'Clingstone', descriptions which are self-explanatory. Varieties can be selected to produce early, mid-season, or late crops. There are also ornamental varieties, with large double blooms, these still usually produce small fruits, unsuitable for eating, but they make good jam.
Some peaches have very rough skins, which need to be removed before eating. This is easy to do, though messy, when the peach is quite ripe. The skin also comes off very easily if the fruit is dipped in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute, depending on size, and then into cold water.
One of the best peaches of all for flavour is the old-fashioned white, but it is seldom grown now, as when ripe it is so fragile. It needs to be eaten straight from the tree, and literally melts in the mouth! Should you have one of these trees, or find one in an old garden, do take some budding material from it and graft or bud onto suitable stock. It would be a great pity if it died out.
Peach trees are not long-lived, though they produce fruit almost to the point of death. The wood is fragile, and unless the branches are well-supported when laden with fruit, they easily break off.
If you inherit old trees, give them lots of TLC, and be prepared to replace them and/or bud or graft them onto new stock.
Plant List - Trees ....... Vines & Shrubs.......Perennials .......Biennials and Annuals
Plants Grown in the past
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