Plant Profiles

Flower Profiles

Calendula

Calendulas give a splash of sunshine in the garden and as cut flowers they bring some sunshine into the house.

Calendula officinalis indicates by the second part of it’s name (officinalis) that it is also a very important herb. Nowadays, pot marigold, garden marigold, English Marigold and Scotch Marigold are most commonly known as Calendula which helps to distinguish it from the African and French marigolds, (tagetes genus) now commonly called marigolds. Calendula officinalis is grown for its beautiful flowers, edible petals and the many medicinal uses of its flowers, stems, and leaves.

The calendula is a member of the Asteraceae or daisy family. It is native to the Mediterranean through to the Macaronesia region and some areas of the Middle East.

Although sometimes classed as a warm weather plant they dislike the extreme heat of our summers so it is better in the Southeast corner of Queensland to plant them at the end of summer. To grow Calendulas prepare a well drained garden bed with lots of organic material in full sun (they will grow in partial shade but prefer the full sun). If your garden bed is not suitable they will grow well in pots and other containers. It is a very easy plant to grow, sow seeds directly into the garden beds or if you prefer into a seed tray. Extra seedlings can be planted around the garden wherever there is a space to be filled as they will attract many beneficial insects to your garden.

Mulch plants to stop weeds and conserve moisture in the soil and in very dry weather give them some water. They will grow about 40 – 45cm high and as wide and flowers can range in colour from lemon to bright orange and even a red colour and have an almost spicy aroma. As with most flowering plants the more flowers you remove the more flowers the plant will produce but leave a few flowers to go to seed, keep some seeds for next year even though they will self seed.

Aphids like the succulent calendula but can easily be treated with a soap spray. Snails, slugs and thrips can at times cause a few problems. In rainy, hot and humid weather they can also suffer with some mildew but treat with milk or sulphur spray.

Calendula flowers can be used as cut flowers to beautify your home, alternately the petals can be used in the kitchen. The simplest way is to add them to your favourite salad or add to your stir fry, cakes, puddings, stews, rice or even soup. Did you know calendula was once known as ‘poor mans saffron’ or that an extract from them is feed to hens to make their egg yolks golden. Calendula is also used to colour butter and cheese and to flavour confectionery, soft drinks and many baked products.

 

Herbal Properties

Calendula offers great medicinal properties. It has antiseptic, anti-viral, antibacterial, anti-genotoxic and anti-inflammatory uses.

Externally Calendula is effective for skin problems such as cuts, abrasions, sunburn, burns, acne, rashes, dermatitis, eczema, tinea, diaper rash, almost any skin disorder, boils, abscesses, remove wrinkles etc.

Internally it can be useful for constipation, abdominal pain, gastritis, peptic ulcers, recurrent vomiting, colitis, gastrointestinal problems, menstrual problems, headaches, toothaches and even tuberculosis, liver complaints, cleansing for the liver and gallbladder. Calendula flowers can be added to massage oils and salves to soften skin and also makes a great conditioner for oily hair.

In history it has been reported that:

  • The ancient Romans used calendula to treat scorpion bites
  • Soldiers in the American Civil War found it helped stop wounds from bleeding
  • European folk medicine healers used it to induce menses, produce sweat during fevers, and to cure jaundice
  • Rub a calendula flower onto a bee or wasp sting to relieve pain and reduce swelling

Calendula can be used as creams, salves, teas and tinctures. While I don’t recommend how you use these here are some recipes you might like to try.

Calendula tea: pour a cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of calendula flowers, sit for 15 minutes before drinking.

Calendula tincture: soak a cup of flowers in 600mls of rectified alcohol for 5 to 6 weeks. Five to fifteen drops of this may be taken with water or tea with no more than 3 doses per day.

Calendula salve: boil 30 grams of dried flowers or leaves in 30 grams of lard for external use only

Calendula ointment: add 2 handfuls of calendula leaves and flowers to 1tbsp lanolin, 5tbsp olive oil and 1tbsp beeswax and heat gently. Mix together; take off the heat and leave to set. The following morning re-heat the mixture and pour into a sterile jar and leave to harden.

Pansies

Pansies, with those interesting faces, watching you so seriously from the garden bed, (maybe saying ‘pick me I’d love to come inside’) as you pass by. The pansy is a hybrid of a couple of viola species, early varieties of which were wildflowers throughout many parts of Europe, the viola family includes both pansies and violets. William Thompson, gardener on the estate of Lord Gambier at Iver, Buckinghamshire in 1823 began crossing various species of viola that were the start of the modern Viola X wittrockiana or pansy. The name pansy is derived from the French word pensée meaning ‘thought’ because the flower resembles a face deep in thought. The pansy is a symbol for ‘Free thought’.

While initially biennials, modern hybrids have been bred to be annuals. Through the years breeders have given us a wide range of colours to choose from including yellow, gold, orange, purple, violet, red, white and almost black. They fall into three main colour groups, a single colour such as yellow or blue, a single colour with black lines radiating out from the centre or the most common with the dark centre or ‘face’. A pansy flower has 2 top petals which overlap slightly, 2 side petals and a single bottom petal.

Some pansies, usually the yellow or blue ones, have a delicate perfume which is noticeable in the early morning, this was stronger in the original pansies.

In cold climates the pansy grows in the warmer months but in our warmer climate they grow best in our cooler months and will go on blooming as the warm weather starts but as it heats up will soon stop blooming and die. They do not like hot and muggy weather. Pansies can be grown in the garden or in pots. Pots can be moved into the house for short periods but prefer the outdoors. They do best in a rich, well drained soil with a ph between 6.0 and 6.5. They grow and flower best in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade but too much shade will cause them to get straggly and not flower. Plants will grow to about 20cm in diameter and about 15 to 20cm high. Seeds can be planted directly into the soil or in seed trays but they are small seeds so don’t plant too deeply and water in well (They take a while to germinate). When they start flowering pick flowers with their stem to go in vases or float bowls or if you prefer to leave them in the garden remove the spent flowers to encourage more flowers. Foliar fertilising will help them to bloom and stay healthier for longer.
They don’t have too many problems when growing. Slugs and snails do like their succulent leaves as do grasshoppers and occasionally aphids may attack them. Snails and slugs can be stopped with barriers or traps and the aphids can be treated with a ‘soap spray’. Pansies don’t like to be thirsty but try to water their roots not leaves. Mulch them well to conserve moisture.

Like their cousins the violets, pansy flowers are edible as are their leaves. They are high in Vitamin A and C. Flowers can be candied, used to make syrups, added to salads, as flavouring for honey or as garnishes. The flowers have a mild minty flavour.
Medicinally pansies have been used to make infusions and teas for treating skin conditions such as eczema and acne and for some urinary tract problems.

Pansies have inspired many artists and crafty people in pictures, postcards, embroidery, handiwork and ceramics. They have also inspired many writers and poets including Wordsworth, Shakespeare and D. H. Lawrence.

Add a few to your garden this year.

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Globe Articoke

The Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) also known as French Artichoke or Crown Artichoke is a large perennial plant. They grow up to 1½ metres tall and a metre across, have striking silver grey foliage and spectacular purple thistle flowers which would be very attractive in any garden, but it is its delicately flavoured, edible flower bud that is most sought after. This flower bud is picked and eaten before it blooms. Only the heart and the fleshy base of the leaves are edible. The floral parts in the centre and base of the flower (the choke) must be removed before eating. The globe artichoke is very closely related to thistles. It probably originated in North Africa where they still grow wild today. From there it was probably taken by traders across the Mediterranean Sea to Sicily and Greece then on to the Romans. It has been recorded as being cultivated around Naples in the middle of the 9th century where it was a food of the wealthy. Its cultivation was recorded in France and Holland in the early 15th century and by the early 16th century it was being grown in Henry VIII's garden at Newhall. Early English migrants took it to America and Australia. In Australia it wasn’t grown much until the arrival of the Italian migrants in the 1940’s.

In most areas of South East Queensland our climate is probably too humid for this plant to grow successfully but if you are in a cooler area or just like a challenge or really love its flavour give it a go. Globe artichokes prefer cool, moist summers and mild winters and a deep, rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5.

Site selection and preparation is important as they will stay in the same place for quite a few years. Select an open sunny position which is well drained, if drainage is a problem raise the garden bed. Dig the site thoroughly and add plenty of well rotted manure, compost and blood and bone and if necessary some garden lime. They will grow in most types of soil as long as it drains well while retaining moisture. They can be grown in large containers but the same soil conditions would apply.

Globe artichokes can be grown from seed, root cuttings or suckers, seeds will take a year or two longer to produce buds, so root cuttings or suckers are preferable. Seeds can be planted in Spring or in frost free areas they can also be planted in Autumn. When planting root cuttings/suckers plant them with soil at the same level as before, water well and protect from the sun until they are established. Suckers can be removed from the base of existing plants when they are at least 3 years old, always leave at least 3 on the original plant. These can be planted in Autumn and winter but protect from frost. Fertilise with liquid fertilisers and mulch well to retain moisture. The first growing season may produce a few buds but most artichokes do not flower until the second year of growth and should then have several flower shoots with a large artichoke at the tip of each and several smaller ones lower down. After the first harvest you may get a second crop later in the season. This can be encouraged with a good watering of comfrey tea after the initial harvest. When the growing season is over the leaves yellow and die back, cut back the stems to about 4cm or 5cm above the ground and apply some well rotted manure and blood and bone to enrich the soil for next years crop. Artichokes can be divided every 2 - 3 years, starting off new plants.

Eden Seeds and Green Harvest both stock Australia’s most popular variety Green Globe, Eden Seeds also has French Purple (Violet de Provence) and Green Harvest Violetta.

The major problem growing Globe Artichokes in our area would be crown rot. This is why good drainage and a cooler location in summer is essential. In wet weather snails and slugs can be a problem and aphids can take a liking to the flowers. Mould and mildew can occur in overcrowded, damp and shaded positions.

The peak season for harvesting artichoke is the spring, but depending on areas they can be harvested from mid winter through to mid summer and then again in mid autumn. The flower buds are ready to harvest when they are large and swollen, the scales still soft and green, purple or bronze (depending on variety) and tightly closed, also the head should squeak when squeezed. If you wait for them to open they will be too tough to eat. Pick the large artichoke at the tip first, usually about 8cm – 15cm across then pick the side buds when they have reached a decent size. Cut them from the plant with 2cm – 5cm of stem.

Prepare Globe Artichokes for cooking by removing most of the stem leaving only about ½ cm. Some varieties have sharp tips on the scales which need to be cut off before cooking, then remove and discard the small leaves covering the choke; they usually pick up some of the fuzzy bits, and so are best simply disposed of. Use a spoon or your finger to scrape out the soft, furry choke without losing any of the tasty heart below. The “choke” is the cluster of immature florets at the centre of the artichoke and should not be eaten. The artichoke can then be boiled or steamed until tender. If not cooked immediately, brush all the cut surfaces with lemon juice or soak them in water with some lemon juice or vinegar and water to prevent browning. This is necessary when leaves are removed and eaten one at a time. The “choke” can also be removed after cooking, depending on how you are cooking the Artichoke. Small artichokes can be eaten whole, without removing the inside spiny choke. Artichokes can be deep fried, baked, boiled, steamed, sautéed or even barbecued. To check if your artichoke is cooked, gently push a fork into its base. When artichokes are baked, braised, or stewed in olive oil with garlic, they take on buttery, nutty, and meaty qualities, flavours deeper than what you get from boiling or steaming. The canned artichoke hearts are baby artichokes. In Italy the artichoke is the primary flavour of the liqueur Cynar. In Vietnam they make a herbal tea from artichoke leaves.

Medicinally Globe Artichokes are classed as a bitter herb, they are useful for aiding digestion, liver ailments, gallstones, lowering of cholesterol levels and as a blood cleanser. They are high in potassium, calcium and iron.

Apart from culinary and medicinal uses, the artichoke is also an attractive plant for its bright floral display, sometimes grown in herbaceous borders for its bold foliage and large purple flower and also used for cut flower displays.

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var gongylodes) is a member of the brassica family and closely related to cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc. They all came from a common parent the ‘wild cabbage’. Until 400 – 500 years ago it was unheard of. It was first recorded in cultivation in Northern Europe in the 14th century and by the end of the 16th century it was known in Germany, England, Italy, Spain, Tripoli, and the eastern Mediterranean and records show it was being cultivated in Ireland in 1734, in England in 1837 and in the United States in 1806. Its name Kohlrabi is a German word derived from "Kohl" which means cabbage and "Rabi" which means turnip.

It is not a root vegetable, the bulb is actually the stem just above soil level which swells into a quite delicious vegetable. There are white/green and purple varieties of this very hardy vegetable. Kohlrabi has a subtle but delicious flavour and is somewhat similar to a cabbage core/stalk or even a broccoli stem and has the texture of a potato. It is very popular in Europe but almost unknown in many parts of Australia. It will grow throughout the year in some parts of Australia but prefers the cooler months of the year in Southeast Queensland.

Kohlrabi can be grown in garden beds or containers. It does best in full sun, but will take some shade, with well drained fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Soil should be prepared with lots of compost and manure and some lime or dolomite. As with all brassicas they are heavy feeders so to develop good bulbs make sure that the soil is very rich with fertilisers when prepared. The soil does not need to be deep as the kohlrabi is not a deep rooted plant and it likes to be well watered. Seeds are best planted directly into the garden bed or container where they will grow but if necessary can be raised in seed trays and transplanted at about 5 weeks. Kohlrabi seeds are fairly small so plant less than 1 cm deep. As seedlings grow thin to about 15cm apart, the thinnings can be eaten in salads or stir fries.

Stagger your plantings of Kohlrabi to allow for continual harvesting over the cooler months of the year.

Green, white, and purple skinned varieties exist, the "white," actually being light green, is much more popular although the purple variety is most attractive. In Europe there are even some fancy kinds with frilled and deeply cut leaves which are sometimes grown ornamentally. They are all white inside. Some popular varieties available here are:

  • "Purple Vienna", which has rich purple stem and bulb with a light green to white flesh
  • “White Vienna”, which has a white/pale stem and bulb with white flesh

Always water them in dry weather to prevent the bulb and stems becoming woody, keep the weeds away from them and mulch well to retain moisture in the soil. During their growing period they will benefit from regular applications of liquid fertilisers.

Kohlrabi makes a good companion for bush beans, beetroot, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, onion, potato and tomato but avoid planting in the same soil following other members of the brassica family.

Kohlrabi grows fairly quickly, usually harvesting can start within 10 weeks of planting or from when the bulbs are about 3cm across. Continue picking as required up to about 12cm across before they get too large and fibrous. To harvest cut with secateurs or with a serrated knife just above ground level. The leaves and their stalks can be harvested as required for use in salads or stir fries the same as spinach or prepare and use as you would cabbage, even as a coleslaw. Kohlrabi loses flavour if stored for too long, store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days but it is best used as fresh as possible. To freeze for later use cut into pieces, blanch for 3 minutes, drain and chill in iced water, drain, dry and spread in a single layer on a tray, freeze for 30 minutes then pack into freezer bags, remove air, seal and freeze. It will keep frozen for up to six months. The bulbs can be baked, boiled, steamed, fried or used raw.

Kohlrabi is attacked by the same pests as its brassica family cousins especially the cabbage moth, if you don’t intend using the leaves, this won’t be a problem. If you want to keep some seeds firstly, it has to be kept separate from other brassica family secondly, Kohlrabi is a biennial which means it germinates and grows in its first year but doesn’t produce its flowers and seeds until its second year, after which it usually dies. Kohlrabi can be grown through our summer months but will be susceptible to root rot.

Don’t let this be one of those vegetables that arrive in your box of mixed vegetables and sits unused in the corner of the fridge until it slowly deteriorates.