The benefits of including broccoli in the daily diet have been well documented. The versatile vegetable can be steamed for use as a hot vegetable or small raw segments can be included in salads.
Broccolini is a variety that is particularly grown for its edible stalks. Broccoli sprouts, the young plants that are picked as they emerge from the soil, are also another way to enjoy this vegetable.
It is preferable to harvest broccoli in its earlier stages of growth as, once the flowers begin to yellow its flavour can become rather strong and somewhat over-powering. The plants also get woody at this stage of growth.
Broccoli is relatively easy to grow and plants will be ready for harvest two to three months after planting out the seeds. Seeds should be sown in seed trays and planted out into the vegetable garden in about five weeks. Plants should be placed between 35 and 50cm apart.
Seedlings should be kept well-watered as they will bolt to seed if they lack sufficient water. This will result in a crop that will be inedible.
A good supply of soluble fertiliser will help to ensure large healthy leaves, followed by the green flower heads that are cut for eating. Once the main flower heads have been removed, additional smaller heads will be produced from side shoots if the plants are left in the soil.
The main pest to watch out for with broccoli is the cabbage white butterfly, which will result in caterpillars that damage the leaves. Eggs and caterpillars should be removed as soon as they become evident.
Some gardeners put pieces of yellow material or paper, covered with Vaseline, around the plants. The moths are attracted to the yellow colouring and subsequently become trapped in the Vaseline. Commercially produced traps that can hang near the plants are available.
SHADE TO ORDER
Many gardeners with more mature garden structures begin to find that they have areas of shade in their garden.
These areas are often unsuitable for growing most annuals and many of the more common shrubs.
The shade can be caused by the canopy of overhead trees, with the tree roots absorbing much of the available moisture.
The resultant area could be described as being one of dry shade, and can become a neglected spot in the garden.
However, with the choice of plants that thrive in these conditions, the area can be transformed into something of beauty and interest.
Bromeliads and cordylines suit these areas well, but some more unusual plant types are also readily available.
A number of plants suitable for dry shade areas provide their main colour and structural features through their foliage.
Strobilanthes are a good example of plants that have interesting leaves. Strobilanthes gossypinus (Just silver) has soft green leaves that are covered in fine golden hairs that shine in the soft light under trees.
The leaves cover the plant until soft lilac tubular flowers are produced on more mature plants.
Strobilanthes dyerianus (Persian shield) has large, flat foliage in a metallic purple sheen with deeper green markings.
The Brazilian walking iris (Neomarica gracilis) is one of the toughest garden plants. In spring, many blue and white iris-like flowers are produced on arching stems above the strappy leaves.
The stems produce roots upon contact with the soil, increasing the size of the original plant.
The spreading plants soon create a lush, cool effect
Mona lavender (Placthranthus) features dark bronze/green foliage which becomes covered in violet blooms at different times throughout the year.
Mona lavender is not a member of the more common lavenders, which need a dry, sunny position to survive.
In late spring the local landscape is enhanced by the beautiful purple flowers of the jacaranda. The same is happening now, perhaps not on such a large scale, but with a more intense colour. The plant responsible is the tibouchina, which is in flower.
Originally from Brazil, tibouchinas enjoy warm, frost-free positions in full sun. In Brazil, people decorate churches at Easter with tibouchina flowers.
Tibouchina Alstonville originated from the town of that name on the far north coast, where that particular variety was bred. It grows up to five metres, producing brilliant violet/purple flowers against dark green leaves. This variety can be kept as a tall shrub or small tree by pruning.
Plants should be hard-pruned after flowering in late winter, with tip-pruning during spring and summer to promote dense, bushy growth. More intense pruning at other times may affect flowering patterns. Young plants should be protected from strong wind.
Tibouchinas prefer acidic soil as their leaves will burn at the edges and eventually fall from the plant if the soil is not sufficiently acidic. Sulphur that has been added to the soil around the roots will correct this problem.
In addition to the varieties that produce intense purple flowers, attractive pink varieties are available. Tibouchina Kathleen produces beautiful mauve-pink flowers, while Tibouchina Noelene has flowers that start as white and turn mauve-pink as they age. Most plants are suitable for courtyards, gardens and footpaths.