Gardening / Risky business of being in the garden!

Mop Top Robinias… the top part doesn’t have thorns, but the roots sucker like mad if the ground is disturbed.

MY original Swiss-made Felco secateurs are the best in the world. They are more than 40 years old with the original, high-grade steel blades that I can sharpen to shave the hairs off my arm.

Cedric Bryant.

So much so that just after sharpening them recently I pricked my arm on them and, being on blood thinners, bled profusely.

Just after this I read a timely article by Sally Nex in the Royal Horticultural Society’s journal “The Garden”. It offers an important lesson for all gardeners:

“Gardening is a risky business. I recently scratched myself on a rose thorn. So far, my arms are pockmarked with punctures from brambles, gooseberries and roses, the daily tally of gardening.

“I thought nothing of it until my reddened knuckles started to swell. A day later the swelling covered the back of my hand and was edging towards my wrist.

“I knew something was up when the nurse at the minor-injuries clinic took one look and ran for the doctor. In fact it was the early stages of sepsis or blood poisoning, to which rose thorns are apparently notorious. I do not want to appear over dramatic, but had I left it until I was feeling ill, I might not be writing this now.

The message is clear, wear thick gloves and take being pricked by any bush or tree seriously.

One tree, Robinia pseudoacacia, has wicked thorns, and when small pieces fall to the ground the thorns can puncture thongs. This tree is used as the root stock for Mop Top Robinias. While the top part of the Mop does not have thorns, the roots of the trunk sucker like mad if the ground is disturbed, with the resulting suckers having a mass of thorns.

At our granddaughter’s home we removed these trees and ground the stump. Six months later the suckers are still appearing en masse, growing to half a metre in a few weeks complete with thorns. Cutting them off at ground level and painting immediately with glyphosate is the only answer and eventually we will win. For this reason I do not recommend nor plant Mop Top Robinias.

Campsis tecoma radicans… strictly for the super-size garden

MANY readers have asked me about the bright-orange creeper growing behind the medical centre at Dickson and facing on to Antill Street. This is Campsis tecoma radicans with a variety of common names such as Trumpet Vine, Hellvine and, the most interesting, Devil’s Shoestring.

Native to the northern US, this vigorous climber presents a stunning picture. However, I don’t recommend it unless it has a very large area to grow, such as on a rural property to cover a shed or a water tank. It clings to brickwork and I have been called to properties where it’s coming into a garden from the neighbour’s place.

HYDRANGEAS should be fed in autumn and spring with certified organic fertilisers, preferably a liquid feed that can be absorbed down to the roots quickly.

For pruning, remove spent flowers progressively and then wait until early spring when the new shoots start to appear. Then remove all old wood and cut back the stems to three leaf joints from the base. To change colours, apply the chemicals every six weeks from mid-July to early December, following the manufacturer’s directions. The only real pests are aphids and they can be sprayed with pyrethrum.


  • Bulbs can be dug and relocated any time now.
  • Dead-head perennials and save seeds for sowing in spring.
  • Don’t plant citrus trees yet as young trees will be susceptible to frost.
  • If your lawn is looking sad, think about coring and/or dethatching and give it the last feed before winter.
  • Continue feeding all plants with certified organic plant foods, preferably in liquid form just after rain.
  • The Horticultural Society of Canberra’s “Great Autumn Show” is at the Wesley Church Centre, National Circuit, Forrest, noon-5pm, Saturday, March 3 and 11.30am-3.15pm, on March 4. The show features a magnificent display of dahlias plus a huge range of other flowers. Entry by donation.

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