Speaker Spotlight: Michael Perry

Michael Perry, otherwise known as Mr. Plant Geek, has been a PLANT GEEK for as long as he can remember! Of course, during the “cool” teenage years, he said he desperately tried to hide it. But now, as we enjoy a golden age in horticulture, he says he “is out and proud!”

With a deep interest in horticulture that began in childhood, Michael began selling plants when he was a teenager to make pocket money. Carrying that interest into adulthood, he spent 18 years working for a premier mail order plant company in England, introducing hundreds of brand new plants into the UK marketplace, with headline grabbers such as the Egg and Chips plant and the tasty Fuchsia Berry.

Then, around four years ago on a rainy evening in New York, Michael was on the brink of going freelance and needed a title. A title that would sum up what he’s about. Mr. Plant Geek was the result!

Now his brand can be explored on the fun, yet informative website, mrplantgeek.com which provides super accessible content such as WTF Gardening, Your Ideal Plant Guide, the online ‘gardening school’ that can help any level of gardener. He’s easy to find on social media and loves sharing his plant finds with followers. “I hope to excite and inspire!” says Perry.

Michael puts a positive spin on gardening mistakes saying, “every time a planting fails, you know what not to plant there next time!” Having learned the hard way not to get too down on yourself he said the first cutting he rooted, he took home to plant and promptly stood on it. “I cried for hours!”

These days if Perry were to give any advice to new (or seasoned) gardeners, it’s that people shouldn’t get too hung up on the ‘rules’, and they should feel free to pronounce plant names however the hell you want! 

Register for Working the Plant Geek Way: An Insight into a Hortpreneur, and find out how Mr. Plant Geek works, and how he has achieved an enjoyable mixed portfolio of work! Mr Plant Geek gives us a peek behind the secret to his success, with the story behind many of the plants he’s introduced, plus he reveals his working style, how he handles social media, and the ways to keep clients happy.

Becoming A Sister Of The Soil

By Christine Froehlich

Before I jumped into the horticultural field, the only real job I had ever held was working in a bank. I had a half-finished art degree and no idea of what I wanted to do. The only soul satisfying thing I had going on was nurturing a bunch of houseplants in the sunroom of my apartment. I got the idea that I’d like working with plants professionally, so when I was biking through the park one day, I decided to apply for a job.

I’ll set the scene – 1972, Maymont Park, Richmond, Virginia. The Superintendent of Horticulture turned me down for a job – having no experience wasn’t a problem, but being female was. He thought the public wasn’t ready to see women working outside. I was dumbfounded and angry. Instead, he offered me a job inside the Victorian mansion that was being restored. There, I met five other young women who had also applied for work as gardeners. “Maybe he’d consider putting us outside at some point,” he told us. That made me even more determined.

I got my chance when one of the other girls finally wore him down (a whole other story!). Being a woman worked in my favor though. Back then, horticulture was well funded in the city of Richmond. As none of the men on the crew wanted to work in the gardens, I received lots of individual training from the staff horticulturist. I learned a lot and got totally hooked on working with plants even when I was doing jobs I didn’t like.

Landing my next job on the ground crew of an all-female school was easier. My boss was more open to the idea of women working outside, but the crew was another story. We were an unlikely combination – a young black foreman, an octogenarian farmer and a bunch of redneck mountain men. They were suspicious and patronizing, but I won them over when I learned how to operate the forklift, backhoe and gang mower. Mr. Scharr, an 86 year-old farmer, was my daily mentor. He patiently taught me the art of pruning, transplanting slips and starting seeds in the greenhouse.

Fast forward several years. I moved to Connecticut and landed a job on a small estate in Wilton as head gardener. It was a big jump. I was young, unsophisticated and had no style. Working in public gardens did not prepare me for the expectations of Manhattan weekenders or Luther Greene, the flamboyant landscape designer I worked with. A former Broadway director, writer and producer, he gardened like he was producing a play. He was an impossible taskmaster, (another whole story!) but I was determined. He taught me about the art of gardening and putting on the show.

It was invaluable training that eventually led me to start my own garden maintenance and design business. I worked hard and took classes to gain additional skills. Networking with other people in the business – landscape architects, nurserymen and other gardeners helped me to learn the ropes. I had always wanted to write about gardening too, but I didn’t know how to go about it until I was invited to my first GWA symposium in 2003. Classes and workshops helped me learn to write better, but networking with folks in this group helped me to get started in the business of garden communications. That, along with dumb luck, a stubborn nature, passion for plants and a strong work ethic have kept me going.

Speaker Spotlight: Stacey Hirvela

by Cris Blackstone

Search Engine Optimization   or

            Stacey’s Experiences are Outstanding

Cruising through anyone’s Instagram tells a story – a story they crafted intentionally or a story you put in to the stream of photos because of your own experiences. In the case of Stacey Hirvela, that story could be overwhelming. As I scrolled through her #gardenstacey site, I was impressed with how her photos are shot with such honesty, telling the story her captions enhanced, but not taken over by the ways Instagram pics can be overthought and overworked. We learn a lot about Stacey – one of her top three favorite Proven Winners Color Choice Shrubs is the Ginger Wine Ninebark; or that she’s been busy digging and prepping a garden plot and showed a multileveled shot of bones, pottery shards and glass bits she found doing that work. And the Icelandic knit sweater! That was where I stopped and went back and saw more in the photos I skimmed over, where she showed handspun yarn for a different project she was tackling! She really drew me in with that shot of the sweater ready for blocking. Iceland=my favorite vacation place! There was a part of Stacey’s story I wanted to connect with besides everything we’ll learn during her webinar on “SEO Rising to the Top-Getting to the Top of Search Results” scheduled for February 24, 2 PM EST.

Stacey Hirvela brings this topic to us, with her strong interest in people being successful with gardening and accomplishing what they want to with their personal connections to gardening. As a child, she remembers picking lily-of-the-valley flowers in her grandmother’s yard. In her first garden, she learned a lot about pruning, or maybe better said, how NOT to prune, since her severe cutback of lavender plants in that garden never quite recovered from her attempt. She’s shared that story countless times, so people realize that to garden is to grow! Grow our knowledge, confidence and that if you find what you love to grow, you’ll explore that plant and be successful. “Passion is far more crucial than knowledge or experience,” is her driving statement shared with gardeners, especially key in becoming a life-long gardener.

And, now with this role as the marketing manager for Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs, Spring Meadows Nursery and GreatGardenPlants.com, Stacy brings her outstanding experiences to her art and craft of marketing plants. During this webinar, the focus is on how to gain traction with the gamesmanship of search engine algorithms, but the person behind this webinar sharing that knowledge has a complex algorithm built from working as a landscaper during her college years, where she earned her degree in Linguistics. Hands in the dirt, boots on the ground, and seeing firsthand this type of gardening and intensive schedule gives her the strength of conviction when she recommends a plant or when she’s taking photos of plant trials which need to show, realistically, what a plant looks like and what the plant’s performance means in the garden.

Maybe it was also the Linguistics degree which led her to other outstanding experiences, such as her Sirius radio program, “Homegrown.”  Her internship with Jeff Mendoza working on urban rooftop gardens, may have led her to continuing to cultivate dream jobs such as being a horticulturist for the Tavern on the Green in Manhattan. She now includes being able to work on large scale floral design work as a consultant for corporate events.

For the Garden Communicators audience, we have in Stacey Hirvela just about every aspect of garden communication work. Radio shows, content writing, horticulture for commercial clients, Rodale press author, and successful student in the NY Botanical Gardens Professional Horticulture Program along with marketing expertise AND the skills needed for internet search language – it’s tough to define Stacey succinctly.

She’s based in Western Michigan, but has a worldly sense of plants, gardens and the ways we can utilize the worldwide web’s ability to reach as many people as possible. With this webinar, you will learn what’s needed to get the results you want and your work deserves in a google search. Stacey says she will help “make sure your work doesn’t end up in the content graveyard.”

Want to learn more about SEO? Tune in to this podcast episode with Chris Sabbarese of Corona Tools and Stacey Hirvela as they discuss SEO strategies and website optimization.

One Easy Good-for-our-Planet Step toward Sustainability

By Judy Nauseef

The Nature Conservancy in its Everyday Sustainability Guide suggests eating more plant-based foods. For a gardener, this might be easy. But we have people in our lives–husbands, parents, kids, friends, and others–who believe that meat is required at every meal and that vegetables have no flavor. They tell us we must eat meat to meet our protein needs. More about this later.

Why eat vegetables? We know that reducing the fat in our diet improves our health. Vegetables provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Vegetables are also good for the earth. Most of us would like to contribute to protecting the environment and even slowing climate change. Growing and buying vegetables can help. Simon Hill writes, what we eat is “at the heart of our global climate struggle.” (from a special edition of the magazine Nourish, https://nourishmagazine.com.au/culture/) Plant-based foods include vegetables and grains and foods made from them. Usually they have a much lower carbon and water footprint than meat. Conventionally raising animals for food uses large resources of water and animal feed and produces great quantities of methane gas, adding to the greenhouse effect. Eating a plant-based diet is responsible for a lighter footprint. As individuals we can find ways to reduce our carbon footprints.

What is a carbon footprint? It refers to the amount of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from our activities. Plants also perform another function. They pull carbon dioxide out of the air. This is carbon sequestration, a process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form. Our landscapes of trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and gardens can do this and are called carbon sinks.

Like a glass greenhouse that traps the sun’s heat to create an environment for growing plants, certain molecules in the earth’s atmosphere absorb and trap the sun’s heat. These molecules are called greenhouse gases. The greenhouse effect keeps the temperatures on our plant mild for living things. Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation and agricultural and land use have grown to the point where the excess heat produced cannot escape into the upper atmosphere. Our climate warms when the gases trap infrared radiation. These gases absorb and re-emit radiation, some of it returning to the earth’s surface and warming it.

Ok, let’s get to the fun part, cooking and eating vegetables as part of every meal. I am familiar with this. When I met my husband, he and I were meat eaters. His mother made a spaghetti sauce with sausage, chunks of beef, and meatballs. It was delicious. In my house, my mother made, meatloaf, meatballs, and roast and fried chicken. Sometime during the latter part of our kids’ elementary school years, he stopped eating meat, having lost a taste for it. My parents never truly reconciled our dining on vegetables alone and worried about the lack of protein in our diet. Tofu, tempeh, beans, and green leafy vegetables filled that gap.

About this time, we became serious gardeners and grew as many vegetables as we could. Our kids would not eat most vegetables at the table but loved standing in the garden eating sweet peas. Farmers’ markets became popular. Great vegetarian cookbooks appeared; we both cooked; and our food became tasty without meat. We have fallen off the wagon a little, me more than he, but still eat 95% plant-based foods at home. We have learned to cook delicious recipes with tofu and tempeh and found many unknown grains in the coop, now available in the grocery store. We still get plenty of protein. Peanut butter is a staple.

According to Project Drawdown (www.projectdrawdown.org), we can reduce the impacts of agriculture on the environment by reducing the amount of red meat we eat. This production uses more land and resources than does the growing of plant-based foods. Cutting consumption of meat can help address climate change. The sustainability of a plant-based diet includes the actions of choosing minimally processed, locally grown products, and of growing vegetables at home.

Judy Nauseef is a freelance writer and garden designer. She writes about her interests in sustainability and native plants in the book, Gardening with Native Plants in the Upper Midwest:  Bringing the Tallgrass Prairie Home. Learn more about Judy and read her blog at https://judynauseef.com.

Gardening: The Activity From Which You Never Have To Retire

By: Duane Pancoast

In my area, this is the only gardener I could find, and this guy was in British Columbia, Canada. It’s the same in many other regions, a perfect opportunity for knowledgeable, enterprising people who want to garden for a living.

You can take an interest in gardening as a child and continue that interest all through your life.  Or you can take an interest in gardening at any point during your life. Perhaps the biggest gardening myth is just now being busted: that seniors have to give up their favorite activity when age starts catching up with them. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can stay one step ahead of old age by continuing to adapt to compensate for our new challenges.

You may have heard of the Aging-in-Place movement. Businesses are springing up to provide services that help seniors keep living in their homes for as long as they can. The outdoor component of that movement is called Adaptive Gardening. And that’s what I write about in a blog called thegeriatricgardener.wordpress.com.

At age 82, I have a wealth of experience to draw on, as well as a growing amount of information on the internet, primarily from Extension Service sites. Conditions that create a need to adapt include mobility limitations and arthritis; cardiopulmonary and respiratory conditions; and sensory problems, such as fading vision and memory loss. Limited mobility caused by arthritic joints, especially knees and backs, seems to be what leads to most adaptive gardening.

The whole idea of adaptive gardening is to enjoy your garden more than you enjoy gardening. That means reducing the amount of work needed to maintain it. You don’t have to be a certain age to begin adapting. Gardeners in their 40s and 50s who are planning garden renovations, might consider incorporating adaptations for the future into their plans. Construction costs aren’t going down.

There comes a time, though, when aging gardeners need help. I’m all for asking family and friends, particularly children and grandchildren, for help. Working together can be a bonding experience. Who knows, it may become a new, lifelong passion for the younger family members, and a source of future GardenComm members.

Those who don’t have family willing and able need to hire outside help. In many areas of the country, finding a professional gardener can be next to impossible. There are many landscape professionals but most don’t offer gardening services. This niche could be a good opportunity for those GardenComm members who offer garden installation and maintenance service to develop another profit center. Be forewarned, however, the client will probably want to work alongside doing the jobs that they can handle. They are doers, not just watchers.

About the Author: Duane Pancoast is a garden blogger and speaker who has just written a book titled: The Geriatric Gardener, Adaptive Gardening Advice For The Senior Gardener. He has been a member of GardenComm since 1985.

POWER CIRCLES 2021 ~ All for One and One For All

Power circles are gatherings of three to ten GardenComm members who share the same goals and agree to meet regularly to help each other out and spur each other on. They are a member benefit of our organization, and not open to non-members.

Power Circles are NOT webinars, run by a leader or expert. These are more like study groups, where all members are responsible for planning and the growth of the group at large.

Every Power Circle member agrees to take responsibility for the planning and facilitating of at least one meeting. The person responsible for that meeting will decide the subject of the day and if there will be a guest speaker. The facilitator of each meeting will also be sure that all members have a chance to speak and be heard.

A power circle will only be formed if one member agrees to be the facilitator for at least the first meeting, and agrees to the power circle guidelines. As facilitator, that member will poll members to find the best time and day to meet, then inform everyone about the first meeting. The first meeting is usually a time for introductions and to clarify the goals for each participant.

Some groups find that it’s easiest to have one person be the coordinator for sending out emails and reminding the group of future meetings. That person is not responsible for providing continual content, however, nor is that person expected to be a group expert on the topic.

Time zones can be a problem for meetings. If some who sign up for a Power Circle can’t meet when the majority of people are available, a second group on the same topic will be formed, calling for others in that time zone to join. Note that it’s best to only be in one Power Circle at a time, so pick one and save other areas of interest for the future. Some groups meet for a few months and are finished, while others continue on for a year or more.

Watch for the notice in the GardenComm Clippings emails about how to sign up for the following power circles, which will begin to meet in mid-January.

Groups forming in January of 2021

Finding My Why and How: A power circle for members wanting to clarify the focus of their garden communications and plan for taking that passion into a business plan.

Getting A Garden Book Published: This group is for members who are planning or working on a book about plants or gardens. It’s a group that will support each other through the process of refining visions, writing a proposal, and either submitting to publishers or self-publishing.  

From Non-Fiction to Fiction: Many garden writers are either writing novels or planning to do so. This power circle is for those who have either written a novel and are ready to take the next step, or for those who are finishing a work of fiction.

Speaking In 2021…And Beyond: This power circle is for those who want to expand their speaking business, both virtually and in-person once the pandemic is over. Topics covered could be self-promotion, speaking skills, presenting virtually, and more.

Content Marketing: If you’re interested in providing content for horticultural businesses or institutions, this power circle is for you.

Increasing Income From Garden Communications: This is a group that will help each other explore how to earn more money from their garden communications. Members might be in need of broadening what they do, or focusing on a specialty more intently in order to raise their income.

Garden Photography: A power circle for those interested in improving their skills and finding ways to market their work.

Marketing Your Brand: Whether you are promoting a book, blog, or business, you need to promote your brand. This group is for those interested in doing a better job with marketing, be it on social networks, local media or beyond.

If you don’t see your area of interest here, you can suggest a topic as new Power Circles can be formed throughout the year.

For information or help, contact Kathy Jentz: kathyjentz@gmail.com or C.L. Fornari clfornari@yahoo.com for assistance or information.

Sign up for one of the Power Circles here: 


See guidelines and best practices here: 


It’s Nuts, Y’all

Karen Ott Mayer

In my first garden built on a Missouri farm, I came to know a relentless interloper called bindweed. A terrible, mangled mess that mats a garden like a woven rug, I gladly left it behind when I moved back South. For years, I longed for that farm, but never once that weed.

In my recently dug hill garden here at Moon Hollow Farm I have found a new sworn enemy: Nutgrass. Just like fire ants, the weed had largely remained off my radar in another garden built 25 miles north at a former residence. This persistent, slender grass-like weed is really a sedge and multiplies by setting its long underground runners. From above, the weed looks line an individual blade of grass that’s easily pulled by hand – which I happily did in the spring.

Had I read more, I would have realized this weed is also a bit sinister, silently wishing a naïve hand will pluck if from the ground. Why? Because then it simply set more runners and produces more plants, laughing quietly behind your back. My lovely tulip bed, the raised bed packed with white yarrow and a fledgling dahlia bed all succumbed to a dense grassy mat by late summer, just about when scorched-earth gardening happens. When the heat relented, my resolve returned and I began earnestly figuring out how to control the beast in the raised beds and hoop house.

If hoping to avoid the chemical route, options do exist. First if all is out of control, mow it down simply for some instant gratification. Because I was dealing with a large area, I then chose the smothering method. I covered the hoop house floor with plastic, cardboard, old tax records and anything else that felt weighty. I walked away and then dealt with the raised beds where I found good news. Filled with soft, friable pro mix, the boxed developed a record-breaking crop of nutgrass; but with a hay fork, I found the whole mat could be pulled out in chunks and tossed aside. I spent less than an hour in each 4 x 10 raised bed. Using a tined tool instead of a shovel prevented the dreaded chopping of the runners.

Despite my brilliance, anyone who has dealt with nutgrass knows the real trick is preventing its early establishment. If you see one blade, get it gone. If you see two blades, it’s time to sell the property and move – preferably to a large city with acres of concrete.

Karen Ott Mayer published her first garden-themed article in 1999 in Mississippi Magazine. Since then, she has traveled extensively across the U.S. and around the world, where she’s worked with media and business affiliates in various travel, horticulture, agriculture and health care fields. Today, she works in Mississippi, on her farm, Moon Hollow Farm, in the hills of northern Mississippi. Moon Hollow Farm is her focus now, growing cut flowers! 

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp interviews Natalie and Joe Carmolli about their upcoming performances in ‘A Betrothal’

Dear GardenComm members,

Greetings from the chilly Midwest, where fall has finally arrived and winter is just a few weeks away.

2020 has been a year of firsts:

• First COVID19 pandemic of our lifetime.

• First time companies of all kinds had to shut down and then adapt to first-time curb service, deliveries and online shopping.

• First time the GardenComm conference and expo were virtual.

• First time many of our lives have gone virtual with friends, families and clients.

• First time Zooming for many of us and the first time for Zoom (or similar apps) as the only way we can do programs.

When things are so challenging, what can we do? 

Let’s put on a show! One with a flower theme! Done!

GardenComm will present its first end-of-the-year special event fundraiser. A Betrothal is a 35-minute comedy about two iris growers who meet at a competition under a tent during a rainstorm. Natalie and Joe Carmolli will perform in the play by Lanford Wilson, which will be videoed by Adriana Robinson of Spring Meadow Nursery. Pat Stone, publisher of GreenPrints, will entertain with a musical introduction.

A Betrothal will be video taped making it available on demand December 3 through 6. This makes it very easy to select a convenient time for viewing …and to pause it for a break, if needed. We hope you, your family and guests will enjoy this GardenComm special event. Tickets are available now here!

BROADCASTING YOUR VOICE through Garden Podcasts

By Kathy Jentz

More than half of all Americans listen to podcasts and that number is increasing every month. A quarter of those listeners report they regularly listen to a monthly podcast episode. Of those listeners, 80% listen to the entire podcast, or most of each episode. Businesses everywhere are trying to capture this new, loyal audience by either advertising or sponsoring podcasts or by starting one of their own.

If you have ever entertained the thought of having your own radio or television talk show, podcasts put that dream in your own hands. You can create one for little up-front investment and it can be a source of customer marketing and connection that is extremely valuable.

Before launching my GardenDC podcast earlier this year, I spent a month listening to every garden podcast I could find. There are many available but compared to other subject categories like sports or crime, horticulture is far under-represented. We are lumped under DIY, Home or even worse, “other” on podcast networks.

Getting Started

On your desktop or laptop computer, you can record your interviews online using a free site such as Zencastr.com. Add to that a good quality microphone and download an audio editing program, like Audacity. There is a bit of a learning curve, but there are many tutorials on YouTube and once you do a few episodes, it will be much quicker and easier for you.

There is also “an app for that” – actually, several – which allow you to do everything on your smartphone. They include apps such as Spreaker Studio, which has all the bells and whistles, down to the very basic “just get ‘er done” like Podbean.

Next, you’ll need to research and find a host service to post your podcast out on the Internet for you. There are many of these services. I can recommend Libsyb, Blurbrry, and TalkShoe.

Create Content

If you have a blog, book or a newspaper column, you likely have plenty of material you can gather and pull from already. You can collect and read several blog posts on similar topics and make an episode from that material.

You don’t have to do it alone. You could partner with others to share hosting duties or you could be the only host and interview a different expert on each episode.

Maybe you offer regularly scheduled talks to local garden clubs or other groups. Those talks could easily translate into podcast episodes.

FAQs you gather from readers could also be the basis of your podcast material. Tackle a few of those and expand on them for your audience.

Market It

Letting folks know that your podcasts exists will be your biggest challenge. A few of us established garden podcasters have started a Facebook group in the effort to share our episodes and build the awareness of garden podcasts in general. It’s a public group and you can join at https://www.facebook.com/groups/gardenpodcasts. One of my goals in writing this blog is to get more GardenComm members sharing and building up each other’s podcasts. As they say, “a rising tide floats all boats.”

Whenever and wherever you can, you must get your podcast listed. There are several podcast networks such as Apple iTunes and Spotify where you will want a listing.

Building an audience will take work and you should be prepared to spend a great deal of effort to get those first listeners and reviews. After that, things should start growing nicely as folks will search for, and find, your quality content.

Monetize It

Let me be frank here, you are not going to make money with a podcast. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of podcasts earn nothing. You can view a podcast as a means to market your speaking business or your books. A podcast is another tool in your arsenal to publicize your brand.

There are a few ways to make back some of the cost of your time and equipment. One is to solicit listener support. There are various programs such as Patreon where listeners can go and donate a sum to support your work.

Another way to earn some pennies is through sponsorships and advertisements. This takes a bit of work on your part as it entails basically selling and you need to have a certain level of listener numbers to attract advertisers or sponsors.

Tips and Tricks

First, length matters. Amazingly, shorter is not always better. Podcasts averaging an hour in length are among the most popular, so think in terms of topics showcasing your expertise.

Personality reigns. You want great content, of course, but what keeps listeners coming back again and again is a connection with YOU. The want to listen to real, authentic people. Share your mistakes along with your triumphs and don’t be afraid to give listeners a window into your family or home life as well.

Be consistent.  Set a schedule and stick to it. Whether it is weekly or monthly, your don’t have to commit to doing a podcast from now to eternity. You can start out scheduling your podcast as a limited series. For instance, you could create a 10-part series following your growing season and check in every two weeks with what you’re planting and harvesting.

Podcasting takes time. You should budget about five hours per half hour episode in your schedule. That average figure includes creating the content, recording it, editing it, then posting it.

Finally, keep it fresh. Record while you have good energy and are in a good mood. No need to rehearse it to death. Feel free to laugh and smile. You can edit out any pauses or “ums” later. Remember that “done” is better than “perfect.”

A previous version of this article appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Grower newspaper.

About the author:

Kathy Jentz is the editor of Washington Gardener magazine and a long-time DC-area gardening enthusiast. To book her for a garden talk, find her at: http:///greatgardenspeakers.com/listing/kathy-jentz.html.

Her latest foray is as the host of the GardenDC podcast. She can be reached by email at KathyJentz@gmail.com

You say Spring, we say…Kambarang

By Andrea Whitely

Acacia in bloom by Andrea Whitely

Right now, in Perth, Western Australia we are experiencing an abundance of native flora exploding in stunning colour all around us.

We have Acacias in full bloom bursting forth like tiny suns of yellow blossom and Anigozanthos ‘Kangaroo Paws’ and teeny tiny orchids popping up through the bush. The carpets of Rhodanthe ‘Paper Daisies’ which were hot pink in September all over the state are fading to fields of white, now. Banksias are beginning to bloom, providing valuable sweet nectar for the tiny marsupials like Honey Possums (Tarsipes rostratus) and small birds who rely upon them as their key food source.

People are bike riding around the city with black cable ties sticking out of their helmets (compulsory here in Oz) in an effort to prevent being swooped my nesting Kulbardie birds (Magpies) and snakes and other reptiles emerging from their winter hibernation.

This is the season of Kambarang here in Western Australia, it is so called, in local Indigenous Nyoongar language, as the season of birth -it is our second spring, a transformational time of the year with warmer drier days, balmy evenings, still oceans and with that an abundance of flowers and follows Djilba-the season of conception, our “first spring” which is in August-September.

Over recent years, I find myself connecting with the land on which we live, more and more, gardening by the the seasonal descriptions offered by our first nations people and to be honest am gardening much more effectively because of that, whether growing native species or exotics.

Nyutsia floribunda West Australian Christmas Tree Image courtesy of Kings Park and Botanic Gardens

I am very much looking forward to seeing the Nyutsia, also known as the West Australian native Christmas tree in bloom in about a month or so, it’s a stunning gold flower display which bursts out of the grey bushland dotted through the landscape on the outskirts of our city and a little further north of Perth. The native Santalum acuminatum ‘Desert Quandong’ are fruiting right now (great for jam) and look like tiny red Christmas baubles hanging from the small tree. This fascinating tree is a hemiparasitic plant which needs the Acacia to survive and thrive.

It’s an exciting time of the year, the weather is warming, days are getting longer, our swimming pool is looking more inviting again and in my own garden which is punctuated by native Eucalyptus trees such as a large old Corymbia calophylla ‘Marri’ and her garden friend the Eucalyptus marginata ‘Jarrah’.

My roses (pruned in August), a collection of David Austins and Floribundas are about to bloom, I am super excited about the climbing ‘Pierre De Ronsard’ which I have pruned differently this year, following the online advice from the USA company Heirloom Roses and owner Ben Hanna. I can’t wait to see how well I watched and listened to his help, things are looking very promising so far.

Flowering perennials like my collection of colourful salvias, Verbena Bonariensis, Double cream Brugmansia, Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus Day Lilies, Gaura and many, maybe too many, Pelargoniums and true Geraniums are in bud too. My wisteria is flowering and she smells divine. Our Magnolias ‘Kay Parris’ have lost a lot of leaves this year to make room for new ones and are full of flower buds. I am planting some annual petunias in pots for Spring/Summer colour.

These past few weeks, I have adopted a more considered fertiliser regime, preparing the garden better for what I think might be a longer, hotter, drier summer. I can feel it in my waters. Our soil here is ancient grains of depleted-of-any-nutrients, gutless sand and that said, I am being generous, so I have added more organic matter with mature compost and what felt like was a small mountain of straw mulch and also applied a newish liquid seaweed fertiliser which is like a tonic for the soil, jam packed full of humates comprised largely of humic acid and fulvic acid. The soil in my garden has had more lovin’ than every before. Healthy Soil, healthy plants, right?!

In the vegetable patch, I have Blueberries (Sunshine Blue) in flower, Broccoli still coming on and lots and lost of Rainbow Chard and Silver Beet. I have planted my Basil, Heirloom tomatoes, Chillies, Snow Peas and plenty of herbs for cooking.

So, Happy Fall to you all, down here, it’s all about flowers and fragrance right now and I am just a little bit excited!

Briefly, the “C-word” COVID-19, here in Perth and Western Australia, we have used our title as the worlds most isolated city to our advantage and we have had no community transmission of the virus for 6 months and so life here for us is very weirdly and almost surrealistically pre-Covid-19. We don’t wear masks, we do sanitise our hands at every store and business but we definitely hug and we kiss when we greet our friends, as a “hugger” that’s an important thing for me. Some businesses are still having their staff work from home but restaurants and shops are open for trading, the only thing is we can’t leave our state. This has meant a boom for all of our country towns who have never seen more visitors, people are getting out and about (we call it wander out yonder) and we’re enjoying the incredible state that we live in rather than jumping on an airplane and heading off to Bali, which is something most West Australians tend to do because Bali and also Singapore are such close trips for us. Anyone travelling here must remain in either home or hotel quarantine for two weeks before they are allowed out into the community. So, our state is doing pretty well financially, largely due to the continued work of our mineral rich land and Iron Ore and Gold mines. Some businesses are still suffering badly like Travel Agents and Airlines for sure but on the whole we are well governed by stable politicians and life is good. The landscape and nursery industries are booming but we have a future problem looming that demand has outstripped supply for plant material so we will have to see how that pans out.

We have had to give up many freedoms in order to achieve a life like this and life is very hard for families who are separated but maybe our life here offers hope for the rest of the world that life living with Covid-19 can be OK.