Category: HortInsights

Forgotten Fruits: The Medlar

Forgotten Fruits: The Medlar

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

Food critics of the 19th Century were just as direct about their feelings toward the Medlar as they would be today, possibly because the Medlar (Mespilus germanica) is largely inedible until it has decayed and ripened properly – yet this fruit has a fascinating history.


“Only one degree better than a rotten apple”


When scientists uncovered a 2000-year old Roman toilet in what is now Switzerland, they uncovered the well-preserved seeds of an unusual fruit. Covered by the waters of the Rhine River for most of that time, scientists determined that the seeds belonged to a relative of the apple in the Rosaceae family.

Despite its reputation for sourness and the cause of stomach complaints when eaten fresh, the Medlar was a popular fruit through the Medieval period and the Middle Ages, gracing the table of kings and royals.


Medlar fruits, a common appearance in artworks. Tapestry from around 1500. Image/ Alamy.


The Medlar is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the two-time queen consort Anne of Brittany’s Book of Hours – a kind of illustrated religious manuscript popular in the Middle Ages. Henry VIII had the Medlar planted at Hampton Court.


“The Medlar is not…worth a turd until it’s ripe, and then it tastes like sh…”


‘Bletting’ The Fruit Makes It Edible

When freshly-picked, Medlars are tough, bitter and astringent. However, food curators in the Middle Ages found that resting them for several weeks in dry sawdust caused them to soften, where they lost their tannins and became more acidic. The resulting texture was described as being similar to baked apple, with soft, fall-apart flesh with a tangy flavour, or ‘like over-ripe dates mingled with lemons, and a slightly grainy texture’.

In 1839, a botanist coined the term ‘bletting’ to describe this process of ripening to an edible state. The fruit was used in jams, jellies and on its own until the arrival of more flavourful tropical fruits such as pineapples after World War Two, though not before becoming an important part of the Dig For Victory gardening movement.


‘Bletting’, the Medlar fruit ripening process. Image/ Nadiatalent via Wikimedia Commons.


Productive and Ornamental

Medlars are also statuesque and attractive deciduous trees, ideal landscape features that makes good shade trees in leaf and attractive in flower with white five-star petals. Some trees have lived for centuries, such as one planted in the UK ion 1820 that is still abundantly-productive.

As more people come to know about this unusual fruiting tree, they are coming back into popularity. They make a great talking point and numerous Australian fruit trees suppliers have them on offer.


Medlar (Mespilus germanica) Image/ Alamy.

Small Scale Ecosystem Endures In A Bottle For Over 60 Years

Small Scale Ecosystem Endures In A Bottle For Over 60 Years

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

When he was 27 years old, UK man David Latimer decided to create a terrarium garden. He took some potting compost and part-filled the jar, then dropped in a common Tradescantia and added some water. Now 87 years old, the terrarium garden is still going strong and has not been opened for more than 40 years!

It is the living definition of a self-sustaining ecosystem, maintaining everything the plant needs to stay healthy and photosynthesise to produce its own foods. With just sunlight, the terrarium ecosystem recycles its plant matter and reuses the water that the plants transpire and condense inside the jar.

David explains that it’s low-maintenance and easy to grow but obviously not very interactive.

“It’s 6ft from a window so gets a bit of sunlight. It grows towards the light so it gets turned round every so often so it grows evenly”, David says.

“Otherwise, it’s the definition of low-maintenance. I’ve never pruned it, it just seems to have grown to the limits of the bottle.”

“It’s actually incredibly dull in that it doesn’t do anything but I’m fascinated to see how long it will last!”, he says.

He hopes to pass on the ‘experiment’ to his grown-up children after he is gone.



Nong Nooch Gardens

Nong Nooch Gardens

By Annette Irish FAIH RH0008 (Photos: Annette Irish)

Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden is located an easy 163 km drive South East of Bangkok, outside the bustling older tourist destination of Pattaya Chonburi Province Thailand. It is not just a ‘garden’ but a vast themed Garden of 240 hectares opened to the public in 1980. One could say it is the Tansacha family’s ‘garden folly’, the matriarch Nongnooch having a vision to establish a botanical conservation precinct to match other world renowned gardens. 

Her son Kampon Tansacha took on that challenge in 1983 and surrounded himself with specialists to oversee the collections. He set up major research projects, a cycad gene pool and instigated conservation programs all of which are curated by Anders Lindstrom, respected Cycad researcher and author. He has developed long term ‘plant lovers’ partnerships with a number of Australian plant people including Stan Walkley of Plantation 2000 and Anton Van der Schans, Singapore ex-pat Cairns horticulturist.

Kampon has spent years collecting heritage and ancient specimens from around the world, often sending out horticultural scouts to find and purchase living collections to ensure they are kept intact for the benefit of other plant enthusiasts.



For the crazed botanically inspired horticulturist the collections, many touted ‘as the largest in the world’, include Cycadaceae, Zamiaceae, Heliconiaceae, Marantaceae, Zingiberales, Arecaceae, Cactaceae, Orchidaceae, Bromeliaceae, including a stunning Dracaena (syn. Sanseveiria spp.) collection and other rare and unusual species.


Left: Bromeliad Right: Cycad


Architecturally the gardens include features that are beautiful, quirky, interesting, sometimes replicas and many attractions to entice tourists, botanists, designers and horticulturists.

Collections of garden art, animal art, ants running up walls, pottery collections, dinosaur valley, animals wandering the grounds even a heritage car collection provides a garden destination and experience to satisfy all members of the family.


Amazing animal art.


The site houses a bustling community of specialist artisans who carefully produce most of the art and sculptures seen in the gardens.




A conference centre, accommodation and fabulous restaurants provide for a wonderful horticultural destination. If planning to go ensure you allow two days to really take in all that the gardens offer.



If you don’t think Pattaya is your sort of town other accommodation can be found close by, and this enables you to visit some of the beautiful temples, gardens and interesting fishing village destinations of the Chon Buri region.

The gardens can’t disappoint as they provide so many options to meet and excite the senses and certainly is a garden no-one can forget.


Annette Irish FAIH RH is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Horticulture,  Chair of Fellows and former President.

Hortitecture: The Next Wave Of High-Tech Horticultural Thinking

Hortitecture: The Next Wave Of High-Tech Horticultural Thinking

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

Australia’s horticultural research and development corporation, Hort Innovation, recently announced the formation of a new partnership to advance the state of high-tech urban farming horticulture with partners RMCG, the University of Technology and US-based Agritecture.

The growth of advanced urban food production systems is gaining speed across the world with massive interest in systems that supply high-volume greens in stacked decks with LED lighting, or vertical systems that use hydroponic growing media on walls. In Singapore, Aerofarms has partnered with Singapore Airlines to grow microgreens and salad greens adjacent to the airport for low-mileage catering supplies.

So far, though, much of the interest has centered on edible produce innovation.

Hort Innovation CEO Matt Brand said, “Bringing such technology to Australia will attract capital and new entrants to the sector with new ideas, approaches and mindsets. It gives us the opportunity to grow more from less and to keep demonstrating the good work that Australian growers do, day in day out, providing food to families both here and overseas.”


Image Credit: Chris Barbalis


For ornamental horticulture, high-tech production opens up possibilities around new thinking in landscape design and amenity horticulture.

“The opportunity we have in horticulture is to enable people of all interests and backgrounds to apply innovative thinking through horticulture based around their own interests”, says Michael Casey MAIH RH, who has worked extensively in greenwall horticulture and educational gardens.

“For students that love technology, we have the potential to install sensors that quantify plant-related data and use computing technology to visualise plant and crop performance. For students that love media and photography, there are endless ways to showcase the beauty of plants in the urban growing environment. For future chefs, that access to locally-produced, high-quality plant products including not just traditional greens but also edible parts and flowers can open up innovation and ideas for amazing food experiences in their futures. This is how we can bring new ideas and new people into horticulture”, Michael says.

The convergence of new ideas and advances from overseas into Australia makes horticulture ready for a bright future. The way we produce food, greens and plant products will continue to be influenced by horticultural technologies, apps and integration with cloud computing.

The Australian Institute of Horticulture is continually scanning for new advances and new ways to prepare our members for a new kind of future.

How Science Explains the Colours of Our Christmas Food

How Science Explains the Colours of Our Christmas Food

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

When we think of Christmas, what colour comes to mind? For most people, that colour is probably red. Even Santa himself is red. Red is a colour reminiscent of family, good food, Santa and his gifts, and festive holidays. The Christmas table is laid-out with fresh crab, the vibrant red of holly berries and the delicate pinks and intense reds of Poinsettia.

Christmas red actually dates back to Roman times when celebrations used holly berries for decoration, picked as one of the few spots of colour in an otherwise winter-bare landscape. In modern times, we’ve adopted all things bright and red, pink, orange and yellow to showcase the colour of Christmas celebrations.

According to leading plant science researcher, Dr Chris Cazzonelli at Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, these colours originate from the natural plant pigments called carotenoids.

Carotenoid pigments are made only in plants, bacteria, fungi and some insects like aphids and mites. Animals such as crustaceans (lobsters, crayfish and prawns) have to obtain these pigments as a food source from organic matter in the same way humans need to eat fruits and vegetables.

These pigments serve various organisms by attracting pollinating insects to plants, enticing beneficial fungi to make healthier soils, warning predators due to their toxicity, and even providing vibrant colours to a bird’s feathers to attract attraction.

For humans, these colours represent beauty, nutrition and health, which is why we are so drawn to them in times of celebration.



Dr Cazzonelli said these carotenoid pigments are essential to the healthy functioning of our bodies.

“Vitamin A is a classic beta-carotenoid-derived plant pigment that humans cannot produce themselves, so we have to ingest it from the foods we eat,” he said.

“We need beta-carotene and a yellow coloured carotenoid lutein for the health of our eyes. We can get these carotenoids from eggs (that beautiful yellow of a yolk is a carotenoid that chickens take in from their grain-based diet) and from eating carrots, oranges, leafy greens  and other brightly-coloured vegetables and fruits.

“We need another pink coloured carotenoid lycopene for our skin, which we can get lots of from watermelons and tomatoes. We also need our antioxidants such as the carotenoid astaxanthin, which you can get from lobsters and salmon.

“Finally, if you need to spice your Christmas foods add the orange carotenoid saffron, which has claimed health benefits in traditional medicine.”

This Christmas, celebrate the colour of good health – drink, eat and be naturally Merry!

Dr Chris Cazzonelli is based at Western Sydney University Hawkesbury. For this article, he drew on his own research paper called ‘Carotenoids in nature: insights from plants and beyond’, published in the journal ‘Functional Plant Biology’.

Originally published in the Hawkesbury Gazette.

Why Your Business Needs an Extreme Weather Action Plan

Why Your Business Needs an Extreme Weather Action Plan

Provided by Daniel Holmes, Fitzpatrick & Co Insurance Brokers

Extreme weather conditions are increasing around the world, and Australia is no exception. Experts predict this summer will, again, be one of the hottest on record, with severe bushfires, storms and floods all set to increase.

In the absence of the vast resources of larger organisations, there is an urgent need for small businesses to have specific plans in place.

Preparing your property and fully understanding the risks in the event of extreme weather events, in both regional and urban areas,  such as storms, fire and cyclones is vital. However you also need an overall strategy to protect your business and its assets to ensure its survival.

Building a Support Network

After Cyclone Larry hit Queensland in 2006, a National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility report found businesses and individuals with strong community ties recovered better, as they relied less on overburdened government systems and their workers were less inclined to leave the area.

“Individuals, households and groups who have strong social networks are able to draw on shared material and social resources to sustain them during and through the aftermath of a cyclone,” the report said.

In both urban and rural settings, banding together during a crisis can be mutually beneficial. Having a plan for how small businesses can help each other can be the key to survival.

After the northern NSW town of Murwillumbah was ravaged by flood in 2017, locals led the recovery effort and a database of hundreds of volunteers was created to help those in need.

“Constantly we’re expecting governments and services to fix things for us,” organiser Carmen Stewart told the ABC.

“I’m interested in what happens when a community is engaged first, then bringing government and services in as a partner, not as the leaders.

Be Prepared

Complacency and a failure to adapt to the increased likelihood of extreme weather is a real danger for small businesses. Research conducted by James Cook University revealed 90 per cent of cyclone-related insurance claims could be avoided through proper preparation.

Ensure you have formulated an emergency action plan for your business in the event of extreme weather, such as flooding. Educate your employees so they understand the risks and know how to react.

There are other vital proactive measures you can take. Regular maintenance on your property ensures it is as well placed as possible to handle and recover from extreme weather events. Contracting an expert to assess the structural integrity of your dwelling ensures any weak or degrading materials particularly vulnerable to damage can be repaired.

Clearing your property of refuse, such as fallen branches and bushes can help to ensure any damage severe storms can cause is limited. This includes securing outdoor items and garaging vehicles and machinery.



Don’t Risk Being Underinsured

An ASIC report into extreme weather found that “possibly as many as 80 per cent” of properties in Australia were underinsured by 10 per cent or more.

Sydney’s 1999 hailstorm dropped around 500,000 tonnes of hailstones over the city and caused $2.3 billion worth of damage, more than 25 per cent of which was uninsured.

During Brisbane’s 2011 flooding, photos of David Moore’s destroyed waterside restaurant Drift became emblematic of the widespread devastation. Moore’s repair cost was $4 million. Without insurance and eligible only for minimal compensation, he went into liquidation.

Uninsured or underinsured small businesses are unlikely to survive the catastrophic losses that extreme weather can bring, because the majority don’t have the large financial assets needed to recover, according to Steadfast’s Broker Technical Manager Michael White.

“There are a number of different aspects to underinsurance,” White says.

  1. “Businesses do not have insurance at all (e.g. they own a building but do not insure it).
  2. “They insure the physical assets but they don’t take business interruption insurance. This is very common – the client can see that their physical assets may be damaged but they don’t understand there could be financial consequences of that.
  3. “They take out a policy and the sum insured is inadequate, e.g. they insure for $500,000 but the actual replacement cost  is $1 million – if there is a total loss, the client gets $500,000; if there is a partial loss the amount payable is written down to reflect the underinsurance.”



A Harvard Business Review study analysing the impact of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy found small businesses were affected badly by extreme weather for a number of reasons.

“Firms may be especially unlikely to prepare for infrequent events such as major hurricanes since they are exposed to so many risks that occur with a higher likelihood,” wrote Benjamin Collier, Assistant Professor Risk, Insurance & Healthcare Management.

But Collier is adamant small businesses need to understand extreme weather and natural disasters will likely become increasingly common.

“A risk that seemed too rare to actively manage a decade ago may look very different now,” he wrote.

Businesses should consult their brokers to help ensure they are not uninsured or under-insured. For expert advice on the best insurance solutions for your business, talk to one of our brokers.


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Horticulture Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Horticulture Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

By David Thompson, Engagement Manager Australian Institute of Horticulture

Australians have turned to outdoor greenspaces over the last few months as the world is gripped by a pandemic of historic proportions. The indoor has become a place of containment and restriction, while our parks, gardens and green landscapes have offered the kind of COVID-19-safe space that we can turn to in relative safety.

The media reports that visitations to parks has dramatically increased, with the NSW Planning Department figures showing a 46% increase in people’s use of outdoor spaces since the arrival of the pandemic. In addition, the horticulture industry has fared reasonably well as outdoor installations have been able to continue with effective physical distancing practices.

Professional horticulturists know that success in tough times comes down to providing value, continuously learning and drawing on a network of similar professionals to find the right support. Helping horticulturists achieve these goals is the mission of the Australian Institute of Horticulture.



Helping Horticulturists Thrive

The restrictions have, however, forced all of us in horticulture to reconsider how we get business done. In an industry that values the outdoors and its opportunities for working together and meeting in-person, horticulture has had to adapt to the new normal of wider distances and separation.

At the Australian Institute of Horticulture, we have always relied on web conferencing and virtual meeting technologies as our council and member network is spread throughout Australia. In so many ways, we have found the changes very beneficial as the use of Zoom teleconferencing and webinars has actually helped us increase the accessibility of our events and webinars compared to the traditional get-together events we have held.

The Institute has been able to strengthen its focus on value for its professional horticulturist members, with strong attendance at our business development and technical webinars over the last few months. The Institute brings information, updates and knowledge to its members to keep them ahead of the game as the industry evolves and develops.

Building a Professional Identity and Mindset

As Australians do find solace and turn to their gardens and landscapes, the demand for good-quality, professional horticultural advice and services will remain strong. Professionals that thrive tend to have several things in common: a commitment to positioning themselves as the best and most-trusted in the industry, living up to those values and associating themselves with other trusted professionals.

The horticulture industry is not large, and word of mouth remains a vitally-important method of finding opportunities and success. That’s where the Institute’s professional memberships are valued by horticulturists as a demonstrable marker of quality and commitment to the industry.

The Australian Institute of Horticulture invites professionals and enthusiasts to commit to growing the professional approach that keeps Australians turning towards healthy, vibrant and well-planned green spaces.

Find out more about becoming a trusted professional horticulturist.


A. Hoen & Co., 1917, U.S. Department of Agriculture

During World War I and World War II, gardening took on a distinctly martial air. Citizens were encouraged to grow their own backyard produce (dubbed “war gardens” in WWI and “victory gardens” in WWII). “It gave everyone a sense of contributing to the war effort, sometimes in the most minuscule ways,” says Dr. Paul Ruffin, Distinguished Professor of English at Texas State University, who has written about victory gardens.


Member Spotlight: Dimension Gardenscape’s Trevor Fuller MAIH RH

Member Spotlight: Dimension Gardenscape’s Trevor Fuller MAIH RH

Trevor Fuller, Owner and Director Dimension Gardenscape

Trevor Fuller MAIH RH

Hi Trevor! Tell us about how you came to be in horticulture in Canberra and what brought to this point in your career?

I’ve been the owner of Dimension Gardenscape for nearly fifteen years and we are based near Queanbeyan, on the NSW/ACT border.

My horticultural career started out as many do – as an apprentice greenkeeper at a bowling club, crafting lawns so short you wonder how they would survive. Then I was allowed to raise the mower blades slightly when I worked at Parliament House, famous for its expansive lawns. That was about the time I became interested in irrigation techniques and landscape maintenance with interests in plants and horticulture.

I think this experience opened my eyes to life beyond turf – the diversity and vast potential of horticulture as a whole discipline. I decided to open my own business and haven’t looked back – the creative opportunities as a business owner are really wonderful. While I enjoyed working in a horticultural team at the Parliament House, there’s something about delivering your own vision – it’s a real feeling of creation and it’s more than just the income.

Your business Dimension Gardenscape offers a diverse range of services – what are your sources of inspiration and ideas?

We’re inspired by the opportunities we see in our clients’ landscapes, and it’s essential to take a flexible, creative and adaptable approach to being able to see the potential in a site. I like to believe that people are looking to us to offer a solution that brings out the soul of their landscape, and that means we think broadly and inclusively about what is possible.

If you think about the big life purchases people make – it’s the house, then car then landscapes and gardens. If you have a client building their forever garden, that’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime investment for them. So we look at the site and its lines and bring our knowledge across construction, landscape, plants and horticulture together with our own inspirational touches to ‘paint the canvas’.

I believe that there is a lot to argue for having a masterplan, that we are part of, that sets out the strategy and the vision for that landscape and that helps us to understand where we can fit into that plan. We’re always learning and testing new ideas as a team, and again that ability to be creative is something we really value in our business, much more than I could as an employee.


Photo: Dimension Gardenscape

Photo: Dimension Gardenscape

What suggestions and advice can you offer young horticultural professionals making their mark in Australian horticulture?

There’s always room for learning. No matter how far you go down a career in horticulture, people are seeing new ideas from around the world and the big drivers of water efficiency and rising heat are becoming issues that people want to address in their landscapes.

For young people going into a career, horticulture remains a great choice. It is an industry where you can feel the difference you are making, and not every industry offers that. For young and upcoming horticultural professionals, some things remain the same.

Your plant knowledge is crucial – you have to get to know your plants, they are the characters in your book, or the paints on your palette. Plant knowledge is really important in creating effective landscapes because you need to know what will work in terms of the site and the climate but also the character of a plant when it matures – its ability to create form and amenity on space now and in a decade or two.

I think it’s important if young professionals are open to the experience of their colleagues too – that combines energy and creativity with the wisdom of experience; that works well as a combination. Being able to understand how construction works, how a business works and how we really create something valuable for our clients – these are important early learnings too.


Photo: Dimension Gardenscape

Photo: Dimension Gardenscape


What trends and ideas do you think will be important in the next 2-5 years for horticulture in your region?

The big influences are what you would expect – landscapes that collect, retain and use water sensibly are really becoming important. Canberra can be fiercely hot and dry as well as cold so landscapes that can thrive in those conditions are what clients are aiming to achieve. There’s also a growing trend of portable gardens, with people moving between properties, they want solutions that enable them to take their treasured plants with them. This means large pots with style and form are important.

We are also seeing a lot of interest in vertical landscapes – greenwalls, uprights and climbers, and trellised landscapes that make the most of vertical space. By combining use of decorative and portable plantings with water-tolerant natives and exotics, we can get a really good result in Canberra landscapes.

Trevor Fuller MAIH RH is the owner and director of Dimension Gardenscape and a Registered Horticulturist member of the Australian Institute of Horticulture. Photos: Dimension Gardenscape. Visit to find out more about landscaping services in Canberra.

Far North Queensland Gardens – A Horticultural Respite – All in Our Own Backyard

Far North Queensland Gardens – A Horticultural Respite – All in Our Own Backyard

By Annette Irish FAIH RH0008 (Photos: Annette Irish)

Once a year a horticultural respite trip is part of most avid gardener’s time table. 2020 Headlines: COVID19- Overseas, Australian garden events, most Interstate travel and Open gardens – cancelled or constrained. “Woe is me who loves to mix my travels with horticulture and garden tourism”.


Dilemma – Where to visit? When to travel?
Where’s the best weather in Australia in July?
Where can you travel with a few hours flying?

Answer ….. All in our own backyard! Far North Qld!


Itinerary – Michael Ferrero, international plant hunter, friend and local born Port Douglas horticulturist organised 9 private gardens, 5 nurseries, Flecker Botanic Gardens, Munro Martin Park, special Italian delis, Rusty’s food market and seaside park walks.

Accommodation – Horticulturally themed Lilypad Inn , owner Matt Mitchley, MAIH RH.

What Can You See That Compares With Any International or Australian Gardens?

South to the Cassowary Coast and Gordonvale Districts

Pat Pensini’s magnificent gardens at Sundown. Vandaceous Orchid garden reminiscent of SE Asia, swathes of aroids, orchids, Begonias, Philodendrons, palms, Crotons, rare flowering shrubs, flowering Tecomanthe plus Amherstia in flower with their pendulous fire engine red blooms. The list of species is extensive.


Left: Croton Right: Amherstia

Left: Croton Right: Amherstia

On to a Mirriwinni garden poised over tumbling waters of granite boulder Pugh Creek, Chris sells Heliconia flowers from her huge collector’s gardens… pity it was between seasons.

Overnight in Babinda Quarters, formally the historic nurse’s home and local landmark, The Quarters is a restored Art Deco guesthouse.

No garden tour is complete without a visit to a quirky garden that excites the senses. At Babinda, Colleen presents an intriguing Bawdy, Bold and Beautiful ‘Belgique’ tribute garden adorned with cheeky ornamentation.

Bev and Lyle Squires’ Little Mulgrave River garden is a collection of 80 Mangosteen, 50 Rambutans, rare palms and fabulous tropical plants.  Bev’s Mulgrave Gardens  is plant eye candy! Swathes of Cordylines, palms, Crotons, ferns, aroids, vertical wall, pavilion with ponds … makes a lovely venue for ‘weddings, parties … anything’.

At Deeral don’t miss a visit to Tropicolor Nursery owned by Robyn and Snow Ganley. Robyn’s reputation goes before her as one of Australia’s leading breeders of Crotons and Cordylines and a visit does not disappoint.

West to Atherton Tablelands. Picture opportunity in a Mareeba front garden, a huge Combretum falcatum, Central African native, then onto Mareeba Garden Centre to see what the locals grow.

Food time – Dino’s Deli Mareeba to shop for Italian antipasto, then picnic lunch in the historic town Yungaburra

Be stunned by street planting of the most beautiful Tibouchina mutabilis ‘Illusion’. The large flowers fade through five colours – white with deep lilac edge, purple to lilac to pinks at one time. Onward to Lakeside Garden Centre and Old Kulara Nursery for purchases of Combretum and a dwarf Ylang Ylang tree.

At Malanda a large perennial garden displays rarer Alstroemeria plus roses, Gerberas, Salvias, Carnations, Sweet William, Corn Flowers, Amaranthus, Chrysanthemum and Heliconias for the local flower market.

Time to head north past Mossman Gorge into Wyanbeel. Surrounded by the southern Daintree National Park are 2 acreage gardens of Wynne and Bruce Robinson and Liz and Mark Schoenwruck with collections of fruiting and flowering plants. Sat by Whyanbeel Creek the vistas from the gardens include towering plateaus, peaks and rugged slopes of the Main Coast Range. Wynne and Liz have aroid collections and tropicals for sale.

Back in Cairns visit to the Conservatory, Flecker Botanic Gardens is a must. A photographer’s kaleidoscope of cycads, dwarf palms, orchids, ferns, Begonias, aroids etc. Top off your visit with a Caramel malted milkshake in the Café Botanica.


Begonias at Flecker Gardens

Begonias at Flecker Gardens

Into Equatorial Exotics? …. Visit the Redlynch nursery owned by Arden and Chris, world renowned plant hunters. The extensive bush houses tempt you so take notes or you will forget what species you loved the most. An Erythrina collection challenges you to re-evaluate these stunning trees.

The Redlynch garden of Gary and Jen Tenni boasts beautiful scented, flowering trees. The gardens, designed by Anton Van der Schans, have many rare species on the terraced property and a number of ponds and arbours.

Melsonrock Nursery, run by Sekti, provide a plant candy shop experience to satiate your lust after visiting all the beautiful gardens.

Finally, if parks are of interest Munro Martin Park is part of the new cultural hub of Cairns. Its towering sweeping arbours of climbers, local heroes’ walk, amphitheatre and open stage area provides a cool community zone in central Cairns.

All in our own backyard.

Eight days in FNQ enjoying just a spattering of what the tropics has to offer reinforced it as a world leading landscape of astonishing beauty and biodiversity. Basking in glorious sunshine and light tropical breezes, FNQ guarantees horticultural experiences as good as any other regions’ gardens and

All in our own Australian backyard.


Annette Irish FAIH RH is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Horticulture and former President.


This article featured in our members-only magazine, HortInsightsJoin us today as a member and you will receive our magazine by email every two months.

The Mole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

The Mole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

By Andrew Price FAIH RH0004

A common theme of advice has been given to me over the years by the gardeners, Horticulturists and Botanists whose work I admire is the very old adage “Fertilise your plants little but often”.

When I was younger and filled with misdirected youthful vigour, a client of mine was unhappy with the health of her roses and knowing I had exhausted all avenues that I could think of at the time she directed me to call a well-known rose nursery for expert advice. Having had my Horticulture qualifications for longer than a decade at the time I had to admit I was missing the mark and had to get better.

So I swallowed my pride, steeled myself to be open to direction and not be defensive or argumentative and nervously made the call. I must have called at a bad time, as I described what I was doing to help get the plant back to health so not to sound like a complete horticultural failure of a gardener. I was told what I needed to do was ‘Feed the Plants’. The conversation ended shortly thereafter. I hung up the phone thinking, do roses like rare or medium cooked NY Steak?

This interaction intensified my resolve to ‘Get Good’ at the application of nutrients countered by the medical Hippocratic Oath of ‘DO NO HARM’. I didn’t study then practice horticulture to make the plants in my care unhealthy nor did i want to contribute to the environmental problems associated by the misapplication of fertiliser.

Anyone who knows me well will attest to the fact that this subject is a personal near psychopathic obsession, so much so that my family and friends nicknamed my first nursery ‘The Meth Lab’. An apprentice of mine at the time was assisting me in making a batch of fertiliser when his girlfriend called, he said he couldn’t talk because he was Breaking Bad.

It has taken me awhile to acknowledge the biggest truth in horticulture that light is the ultimate fertiliser, plants convert photons/light (PAR – Photosynthetically Active Radiation) into carbohydrates then generously secrete about 50% of it to their root tips to feed the billions of specific microorganisms that support that specific plant. Nutrients only assist in this chain of events and plants are exceptional at compensating or adapting to available resources.

That being said there is a big difference between cultivation and nature, the smart money is in the grey area between the two. If you wish to cultivate a plant out of its habitat you must supply the nutrients that the species needs otherwise the result will not be one that makes your account manager or more importantly your clients happy.

This brings me to the point of this article which is how much and often should I dose nutrients and what nutrients? The Australian band You Am I penned a pertinent song called How Much is Enough, not a song about fertiliser but a great song nonetheless.


Image Source: Planet Permaculture


Molar Mass is not referring to a calorically-challenged spook but in this case to the concentration of elements in a compound. Synthetic or organic compounds are what we use on a daily basis.

To get the ball rolling I’ve selected an interesting compound that gets used often – Epsom Salts or Magnesium Sulphate to the chemically-educated amongst us. Referring to our trusty periodic table of elements Magnesium has the molar mass of 24.31 while Sulphur is 32.07 with Oxygen at 16 x4. When these three elements are combined to make a compound the atoms balance together to give us the equation of MgSO4 with a combined molar mass of 120.38 grams per mole.

It must be noted that usual Epsom Salts that gets used in the household is a hydrated compound – heptahydrate MgSO4·7H2O, but of course you know that!

Ok to get the Mg wheel hitting the road and getting those Chloroplasts to green up, how concentrated is 1 Mole of Epsom salts in 1 litre of water in Parts Per Million (PPM) or as I like to say how many cents or dollars in a million Dollars?

Now hold onto your hat based on the above weight of 1 Mole of 120.38 grams if you added this to 1 litre of water you would have a reading of 120,380 PPM. This is obviously way too high for plants or anything else unless you are on Mars.

1 gram of any salt compound in 1 litre of water will give you a reading of 1,000 PPM. It’s worth noting that Mg in seawater is around 1200 PPM, this should give us pause to think about getting heavy handed when applying any fertiliser.

1 gram of pure salt dissolved in 10 litres of water is a good starting point when looking at fertilising on a regular basis. This will give you a reading of 100 PPM, still pretty high but effective if you’re using the required salt compound.

The philosophies held close to my heart are ‘Don’t Chase the Numbers’ and ‘Does Nature agree?’

A game of observation I play when looking at anything in my care is the What’s different today game, this forces me to notice things that might get overlooked.

These are some curveballs to consider in fertilising:

  • Power of pH – check and balance your solution to somewhere between 6.5 – 7, consider wood vinegar on alkaline readings, PyroAg is my go to. Deficiencies can be caused by a pH shift that makes that element unavailable or inaccessible to the plant.
  • Liebig’s Law of the minimum – Growth is determined by the least available nutrient not the most abundant. Plants need at least 17 elements but could be as high as 28.
  • Mulder’s chart – nutrients affect nutrients in either a synergistic or antagonistic way, e.g. too much Mg will affect K and vice versa.


Mulders Chart Image Source: Nutri Ag


Brewed Fertiliser is a great way to magnify a fertiliser so you get a much better result for less input because you are cultivating the beneficial microbes that the plants need.

Time to get back to work cultivating that beloved grey zone between nature and cultivation -Happy Spring!


Andrew Price FAIH RH is a Registered Horticulturist and Fellow of the Australian Institute of Horticulture and Principal of Jungle Horticulture based in Sydney.


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