Daily Life


Keeping out the invaders

Don't let their sweetly smelling flowers or fancy names fool you - a weed is a weed, Jackie French writes

A flower can smile and smile, and still be a villain.

- apologies to William Shakespeare and Hamlet.

''Merry Christmas!'' they cry, handing you a gift-wrapped pot. You try to smile through gritted teeth as you see yet another potato vine, in full white bloom, a sweet scented jasmine or a ''sterile'' decorative flowering broom or ornamental grass.

Gardening is a delicate balance between flowers that thrive in your garden and plants that have a secret plan to take over Canberra and then hide in a rocket ship to invade the moon. Our place was weed infested when we bought it - so weed infested that we could afford to buy it. Slowly, year after year, we've been driving them back.

But other weeds are my fault alone. Well, okay, each was a present from well-meaning friends, but I still should have hardened my heart and not planted them. The lemon balm, the feverfew, the paper mulberry, the white poplars.

Actually I didn't plant the worst of our ''recent'' weeds. A friend planted potato vine over several of our bare fences as a ''surprise''. It was. Now the wretched stuff has to be hacked back every year and even then it's going to outlive me, with generations yet to come cursing their ancestors.


Each area has its own weeds. We can grow even the old varieties of agapanthus here - down in the valley it's too shady for them to set seed (the new varieties are small, longer blooming, shy seeders and less likely to turn into weeds).

A friend gave me all her tree dahlias because they began to take over in her rainforest garden. Lacking rainforest soil - and rain, too - ours survive, but don't spread.

But the so-called sterile bridal veil broom I planted set seed on its 21st birthday, as though it knew that it was a mature adult now and able to breed.

For a while we even had weed dahlias, from a packet of dahlia seed I'd planted. The dahlias grew tall and hardy and their seeds blew across the garden and orchard. A year later their cheery faces were all over the place - until Bryan hauled them out (if he hadn't, a visiting Martian might have decided that the Araluen forest included a vast understorey of red, yellow and white single-headed dahlias).

There is no rule about weeds. Yes, look at the weed lists for your area (just Google ACT weeds) but also keep an eye on any new plant, especially ground covers or any plant that sets seed. One or two or even three self-sown echiums are a gift and a joy.

But uncontrolled reproduction equals ''weed''.

Gardens for the gardenless

■ Buy six big pots or giant hanging baskets. Put them by a sunny window or on the patio. Add potting mix, plants, slow-release fertiliser and water once or twice a week. You can now grow your own silverbeet, spinach, mitsuba, mesclun salad mix, zucchini, cherry or yellow pear tomatoes, bush pumpkins, frilly lettuce, chives, coffee bushes, tea bushes or Italian parsley in indoor pots, or let snow peas and cucumbers climb up sticks, or dangle off the patio (beware of falling cucumbers below).

■ Join a community vegetable garden (one organised on the allotment system) where you can have your very own plot, even if you don't ''own'' it.

Wheeze- and sneeze-free gardens

■ Pave or have gravel instead of lawn.

■ Dry clothes inside during spring, so the wet clothes don't catch all the pollen blowing on the wind.

■ Go for flowers that don't produce much pollen such as ageratum, alyssum, anemone, azalea, banksia, boronia, bottlebrush, many bulbs, cacti and succulents, camellias, correa, gardenia, hakea, lavender, leptospermum, magnolia, lillipilli, plumbago, rhododendron, roses, salvias, viburnums, weigelia, impatiens, pansy, nasturtium, petunias and phlox.

■ Wear goggles and - if necessary - a respiratory mask when pulling out flowering weeds, mowing long flowering grass, using a brush cutter, and putting out hay or other mulch that might have mould spores.

■ Or get someone else to do it for you.

PS: If you are wheezing, sneezing or your sinuses feel as thought they are filled with lead, blame the pine and cypress and grass and weed pollen, not the wattle trees. On the other hand, don't plant a wattle by the clothes line.

What to plant now:

■ Roses! Grevilleas! Banksias! Kangaroo paws! Plus: asparagus seed, beans, basil, beetroot, carrots, Cape gooseberry, celery, chicory, Chinese cabbage, celeriac, cucumber, eggplant, globe artichokes, gourds, corn, lettuce, leek, silverbeet, spring onions, rhubarb, parsnips, tomatoes, zucchini, capsicum, chilli, radish, pumpkin, rosellas, salsify, sweet potato, strawberry seed, parsnip, mustard and mini melons.

Flowers: Ornamental cabbages and kales, ageratum, asters, balsam, begonias, California poppy, coleus, cosmos, marigolds, nasturtium, rudbeckia, petunias, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias … plus anything else tempting in pots or punnets in the nursery.

This week I'm:

■ Wandering in a daze of roses, clematis, acanthus, grevilleas, banksias and more roses. It usually takes me half an hour to remember I'm out in the garden to plant and mulch, not sniff the roses (well that, too);

■ Topping up the pots with more potting mix - potting mix turns to concrete after a year or three. A better gardener would repot every two years, but each year as the potting mix sinks, I just add more. This also helps to cover some of the stems of thyme and pelargoniums, leading to more roots and healthier growth;

■ Cutting the heads of cacti that are withering from the last frost (many of the most ornamental cacti are grafted onto frost-susceptible root stock). This isn't beheading medieval style - I'll let the heads dry for a day, then repot them. So far, all my beheadings have taken;

■ Tying up the rambling roses and passionfruit; and

■ Deciding that the crab apple just outside the house really is too close (Bryan has been trying to convince me of that for five years and it has now had its final blooming.) Now to decide on a well-behaved, short, sturdy shrub to hang the bird feeder on.


Orange rice

2 cups basmati rice

2 oranges

juice of 1 lemon

10 saffron strands

4 tbsp olive oil

3 red onions, peeled and chopped

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp cumin

6 cups water

Place oil in a fry pan, add onion and saute on a low heat until transparent. Add the rice, stir for three minutes with the cumin. Turn heat onto high. Add water, orange and lemon juices, honey and zest of one of the oranges. Boil until the liquid is almost absorbed, then lower the heat and don't stir until the liquid is gone. It should have a slight, delicious crust on the bottom but be soft and still each grain should be separate on top.

Orange and olive salad

4 oranges, peeled and segmented

¼ cup black olives,

1 small red onion, peeled and chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped chives

1 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Salt to taste

Thinly sliced radishes to taste

Mix. Chill until ready to serve. Keeps up to 24 hours, covered, in the fridge.

Orange shortbread

250g butter

grated rind 1 orange

1 cup icing sugar

2 cups plain flour

Melt butter. Add the rest. Put small balls on a non-stick baking tray. Press each with a fork to flatten a bit. Bake at 200C for about 10 minutes till golden brown.