Practical Palms

Palms and their products

Palms and Their Products

Some people dislike palms because of the mess they create, however, if you choose the right variety, such as the self-cleaning  Alexander Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae), they can be one of your greatest resources. Not only do they provide a cool, shady, tropical feel, the flowers are a magnet for birds and bees (especially those of the native variety), and they are very resilient in dry weather, and they also thrive when inundated with water for long periods.

Here on The Ridge, we make use of every bit our palms. When their fronds fall, we use the leaves as an excellent source of carbon for the compost, or we cut them into small pieces to use as mulch around the veges. Once the leaves have been stripped off the frond, we use the remaining ‘mid ribs’ to make strong garden stakes. We collect lids cut from tin cans and use metal punches to stamp out the names of the plants we want to mark out and then screw the lid straight to the stake. These make very long-lasting, weatherproof labels (sometimes lasting longer than the plant itself).

Palm Leaf Sheath

The Palm Leaf Sheath Makes for a Great Vase

The inflorescence (flower spike), once dried, is a very useful material for weaving baskets, hats, platters or garden art. The leaf sheaths, creatively folded, make very strong baskets or a wrap for a bunch of flowers or herbs as a gift. The flower sheath, once fallen, can be finely stripped to make string and rope or be used for weaving.

The seeds are easily propagated and can be sold or given away as yet another resource, but the best use of all is to hang a hammock between two sturdy palms and while away the hours with a good gardening book.

Using Vetiver

Published in Eumundi Green Issue 188

Life on a Better Ridge Using Vetiver

With the children back at school and the New Year now in full swing, we can once again turn our attention to jobs other than building sandpits and balance beams. No longer do we have the blissful excuse of a trip to the river or a lazy day chasing the breeze with the company of a good book. With the heat still beating down and the big rains just hinting at their imminence, there is much to be done to make the most of what our Queensland summers bring.

In the eternal quest to use what we grow; the vetiver grass clumps are once again being harvested, and the many lemongrasses are having their quarterly haircuts. Some of these fibres have been ‘chopped and dropped’ as mulch while much of it has been painstakingly bundled and prepared for basket making and thatching.

The grass clumps that seem to be outgrowing their positions are dug out and separated and have been planted as individual stalks around the uphill side of the garden beds. This will slow down the inevitable watershed that comes with a month’s worth of rain that falls in a torrential, deafening afternoon around these parts, and forms a protective barrier around the more fragile plants within the beds. As they (very rapidly) grow, their roots multiply, spread and mingle with each other, forming a great soak or sponge that will slowly release the water and nourish the other plants long after the rains have gone.

Apart from the abundance of useful grasses, this time of the year brings many more rewards here on The Ridge. We have been enjoying a plentiful supply of lychees, bananas, passion fruits and cherry guavas and have a lemon tree I’m sure I can hear groaning under the weight of its bounty. And then there are the salad greens. If there’s one thing that hot, wet summers bring in abundance, it’s the ability to grow salad greens (especially any from tropical climates).

So, as I reach for another basket to gather up the day’s harvest and wander past the evidence school holidays have left behind (recalling the noise and ceaseless activity it brought with it), I’m mentally preparing my next salad and keeping a keen eye out for a fitting place to hang a hammock.

The Value of Vetiver

Published in Eumundi Green Issue 179

Life on a Better Ridge The Value of Vetiver

You would never know just from looking at these large clumping grasses that they hold so much value! Vetiver (chrysopogan zizanioildes) has many and varied uses and grows superbly in our local climate. A native to India, vetiver is grown commercially and domestically in tropical countries around the world. On our Better Ridge, we mainly use vetiver as a hedge plant around garden beds and for erosion control on the slopes of the property.

Because of their deep roots (which can grow from 3-5m down), vetiver is very effective at slowing down water and minimising soil erosion. In fact, this plant is so good at water and soil conservation there is a recognised ‘vetiver system’ in which the plants are grown closely together in hedgerows to form a thick barrier of grass above and roots below the grounds which slow down floodwaters and high rainfall run-off, preserving precious topsoil.

One of the most delightful things about working with vetiver, and another fragrant reminder of spring, is the scent of the roots. As the species grows in clumps and requires stems to be cut or teased apart for separation and propagation, there is ample opportunity to experience their deeply sweet and heady aroma. As a ‘scent-ual’ person, I was not surprised to learn that 90 per cent of all Western perfumes rely on vetiver for their base.

At this time of year, we dig out the biggest clumps and divide them for planting as single stems. If we have the need, or the room, they are planted directly into their final position, if not, we pot them up for later, letting their roots become strong and well established before again planting them out. An important point to note is that if their position is too shady, their roots will not grow very deep or strong. So, placing the pots in the sun after they have been potted up goes a long way to making sure they are hardy and will do their job well once plated into their final locations.

In line with the core philosophy on our Better Ridge, this one simple grass serves many purposes. The cut grass can be made into twine and thatching to put on a frame over young seedlings while they become sun hardy as well as used as a mulch or livestock feed. In India, a matting is often made of the roots and hung over windows or in doorways during the hottest months. This not only provides shade from the punishing heat of the sun, but if it’s misted with water, it cools and fragrances the air. However, around here, both the roots and the grass are made into beautiful and practical baskets for daily life.