Travel diaries – Oman. Part 2

After leaving the desert we headed towards a coastal town called Sur. On the way we made a side trip to a place called Wadi Shab. Wadi is effectively a valley in Arabic. Wadi Shab was quite a trek but apparently well worth it….so we arrived and packed our little backpacks for the 1 hour hike into the mountains.

We underestimated how hot and how difficult it would be and i really struggled to get there. It was around 40 degrees that day, and despite wearing a large hat i was suffering with the heat.

At one point i wanted to turn back, but my boyfriend had other ideas!! When we made it to the first pool…i literally tore off my clothes down to my swimmers and jumped in. What a relief!

After the first pool we needed to leave our things behind and continue just with our swimmers and a good pair of shoes as there would be some climbing on slippery rocks. We continued to the next pool and met some people who told us that the ‘cave’ was just around the corner. I could see my boyfriends eyes light up, when all i really want to do was enjoy the cool water i was in.

I had come this far, so i decided to head on towards the cave. The only way into the cave is through a very narrow break in the rocks. You can only just keep your head above water enough to get in. You could hear the waterfalls inside but couldn’t see anything because it was too dark.

We only spent a short time in the cave as there was nowhere to stand…..you had to tread water the entire time, which was tough considering it was also quite rough in there!!

We were quite exhausted after leaving the Wadi and arrived into Sur later than we expected.

I imagined Sur to be this beautiful beach front town with lots of shops and restaurants but was very different to this. The Corniche was actually a quiet beach front street with men sitting in groups talking and playing cards. I imagined that if there were an area like this in Sydney it would be filled with cafes and people drinking wine and beer. But life in Oman is just so different. Men go out with men and women go out with women. We rarely saw them mingling, and most of the time in the evening its the men out while the women are at home with the children.

The main shopping area was located further back from the beach and was buzzing with people.

The next morning we decided to come back to the beach to see what it was like during the day and it was very different. Quite a cute little area. We also explored some of the Dhow yards, as Sur was where the original dhows were made!

After our little exploration of the original boats, we drove to Muscat where we were spending 5 nights.

Arriving into Muscat was scary!!! People really are crazy drivers, and we came so close to having an accident. It’s not only the way people drive but its how fast they drive. I was sooo unbelievably happy to get to the hotel and not have to drive for the next few days.

Our time in Muscat was fantastic! We spent our first 3 days scuba diving in the Diminyat Islands. This was the highlight of the trip for me, because for the first time i got to dive with turtles and a whale shark!

We took some time to explore the city and looked around the Souq and also the Grand Mosque. The Grand Mosque was a big highlight for me. This was my first visit to a mosque and the dress code was very strict. I had to be totally covered. No neck or hair showing.

This is the only mosque in Oman that you can visit if you are not Muslim.

It was magical being there and looking into life inside the Mosque. The prayers rooms were breathtaking, and materials had been shipped from all over the world. The windows from France, the stone from India, the timber from Burma and a massive rug from Iran….and the list goes on!

I hope you enjoy my photos from Oman. My trip here was one of my best and favourite travel experiences also.

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Travel diaries – Oman. Part 1

Wow…Oman. Incredible. I am initially lost for words when i want to tell you all what a wonderful place it is!!

So, you might be asking why Oman?

Well, we initially wanted to go scuba diving in Egypt but changed our plans due to things being fairly unstable there right now. Then i was researching late one night ‘best scuba diving spots in the world’ and Oman came up! So that is that, and after a little more reading we booked our flights.

The flight from Zurich took a little over 6 hours, which for me is a piece of cake considering i have 24 hours ahead of me when i fly home to Australia!

We landed in the capital of Muscat and got a hire car for the next 10 days. To begin with we drove straight up into the mountains to an area called Jebel Akhdar where we spent 2 nights. Jebel Akhdar was very similar to that of the Grand Canyon in the USA. We did some hiking and got to explore some very small villages and even visit a rosewater plant (unfortunately they were not making any because its not the right season)

It was so nice that local people were so interested in us. It was quite obvious that they don’t see many western tourists there and were keen to come over for a chat.

From here we drove to Nizwa where we were reminded that we were definitely in the desert! It was 40 degrees in the city….we had been spoilt in the mountains where it was around 23 degrees both days.

In Nizwa we visited the Fort and also the Souq. The souq was extremely interesting. They had an area specifically for all fresh fruit and vegetables and then another area for small gifts and hand made pottery.

We didnt spend anymore time in Nizwa than to do these two things as we had to be in the desert for a night of camping….and it gets dark at 5.45pm so we had to fit a lot in to the day.

Unfortunately we got lost on our way to the desert camp and had to call to get them to pick us up. We had missed sunset and then had to follow the driver from the camp into the desert. It was approximately 20 minutes into the camp in thick sand. Our instructions were to accelerate constantly and don’t break when we hit a bump or hole. My boyfriend did amazingly well to get us there…especially since the driver was going very very fast!!

Arriving at the camp was pure bliss for me. Quite a stressful day after getting lost and also being 40 degrees. We were welcomed with our lovely tent and a cold beer! We then had a buffet dinner and had some live arabic music to keep us entertained. It was fantastic!!

The next morning we had organised with a driver to take us in a 4 x4 into the sand dunes. What an exciting experience….i havent been in a 4 x4 since i was a kid. So we had a fun few hours out in the sand, and got to see what it is like to live life as Bedouin.

I was quite interested in the Bedouin people and how life was for them. Our driver told us that they make their money from the camels they have and they race them. The racing camels are not allowed to roam around like ‘normal’ camels but must be kept in cages where they eat only honey. Honey gives them more strength to run faster instead of eating desert shrubs. A wining camel can earn the owner up to 100,000 swiss francs!

Bedouins also have electricity for air con and cable tv (quite amusing when you think they live in the middle of nowhere!)

Leaving the desert was really sad. I had such a wonderful but short stay.

Im going to leave it there, as there is so much more to tell about Oman…and part 2 will be up next week!

 

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What to do in the garden this month – October

This will be my last post for 2 weeks, as i am about to head off on holidays!! Of course i will be posting some photos when i return.

But for now…here is what to do in the garden this month!

Southern Hemisphere 

It is Spring! Now get outdoors and enjoy the warmth.

October is a great month to prepare your garden for the hot Summer ahead, because as soon as Summer arrives unfortunately the weather is too hot to be planting and adding new things to the garden. Summer is the time to sit back and enjoy all your hard work.

So, this time of year is a real treat for the senses with all sorts of scented flowers in full swing, from roses and michelias. Also look out for murraya, star jasmine and gardenias and in the cooler zones Lilacs.  October brings a sea of blue flowers with Agapanthus, Evolvulus, Convolvulus, Plumbago and Jacarandas.

WHAT TO DO 

Feed your plants. All that growing is making your garden hungry, so give it a boost with an organic fertiliser such as cow or chicken manure which breaks down slowly. Make sure not to buy fresh as the acidity will burn your garden. The bags from the nursery have been broken down enough that they can be directly applied to your garden.

If you have potted citrus trees give them extra tender loving care while they are coming into flower. Use a liquid citrus fertiliser.

WHAT TO PLANT

In Spring, you can almost plant anything. The weather is warmer, chances are frosts are fading. If you would like edible plants then see my story on growing tomatoes from August.

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Convolvulus has an abundance of gorgeous purple flowers!

 

Northern Hemisphere 

By October – the autumn is definitely here for real, and it feels colder. It’s a beautiful time of year, with the trees changing colour. Sometimes it may seem pointless raking, when the wind blows even more leaves onto the lawn, but just think of all the lovely leafmould you can make! It’s also time to start preparing for early frosts.

– Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly

-Cut back perennials that have died down

– Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns

– Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse

– Plant out spring cabbages

– Harvest apples, pears, grapes and nuts

– Prune climbing roses

– Order seeds for next year

– Last chance to mow lawns and trim hedges in mild areas

– Renovate old lawns or create new grass areas by laying turf

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Photo taken by myself on a recent walk

 

Autumn photos

To end September, i am going to share some photos from all my hiking this month. I have been doing a lot of hiking and trying to get fit before winter sets in!!

It has been beautiful, but you certainly have to make the most of the sunshine while its here because its not here often!

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All about turf

Choosing the right grass for your garden can be really difficult! There are a lot of varieties out there which makes it very confusing! So i am going to share with you a list of great varieties for your garden….i will have varieties for sun, shade, high traffic areas and more.

Obviously i am writing this about turf varieties that i know in Australia. That is where i studied and worked so therefore my knowledge of turf comes from Australia. If you have any questions about particular turf varieties in your area though, please let me know!

I won’t be posting any photos with this particular blog, because its very difficult to get an idea of what each turf looks like from a picture!

Sapphire Soft leaf Buffalo

  • Great shade and full sun tolerance
  • Soft under foot
  • Low maintenance
  • Excellent year round colour
  • Fast to recover from wear and tear
  • The perfect all round lawn variety
 Well suited to residential lawns, commercial parks and buildings.

Sapphire Soft Leaf Buffalo Grass has performance as good as any other buffalo turf, with the added benefit of fine texture.A Sapphire Soft Leaf Buffalo Lawn grows quickly across the ground, providing quick recovery from wear, has excellent winter colour, and has a deep root system.A Sapphire Soft Leaf Buffalo Lawn has a colour that is truly amazing, its deep green colour will make your home lawn “the envy of the street”. Sapphire Soft Leaf Buffalo Grass has a super fine texture. So if you want a buffalo lawn, but dont like a coarse looking leaf, then a Sapphire Soft Leaf Buffalo Lawn is for you. Other great performing buffalo lawns have a much coarser looking texture compared to Sapphire Soft leaf Buffalo Grass.

Palmetto Soft leaf Buffalo 

  • Low mowing maintenance
  • Great shade and full sun tolerance
  • Maintains good colour in winter
  • Soft under foot
  • The World’s # 1 selling proprietary buffalo grass
   Well suited to residential lawns, commercial parks and buildings.

Palmetto Buffalo Grass is a tough, soft leaf Buffalo.  This turf provides a lawn grass that has excellent winter colour, and can generally out compete weeds when established. Palmetto Buffalo Grass generally requires less watering and less mowing than most other turf varieties available.

Empire Zoysia turf 

  • Low maintenance
  • Hard wearing
  • Reasonable shade tolerance
  • Fine to medium textured grass
  • Soft to touch and play on

Well suited to household lawns, golf courses, playing fields and commercial areas.

This turf provides a lawn grass that has excellent winter colour, and can out compete weeds when established. Nara generally requires less watering and less mowing than most other turf varieties available in Instant turf rolls or slabs.

Nara native turf is a great all purpose turf that can handle many conditions. It is the only general native turf. The only other native turf is Dryarna, but it is only grown for drainage channels because it only survives in or next to shallow water. Unlike Nara, Dryarna is not suitable for general turf areas. Nara is the perfect compliment for any native garden or landscape.

Kenda Kikuyu Turf

  • Fast establishing
  • Hard wearing
  • Drought tolerant
  • Excellent winter colour
  • Soft to touch and play on

Well suited to household lawns, golf courses, playing fields and commercial areas.

Kenda Kikuyu is a fast establishing form of Kikuyu turf with great drought and wear tolerance. If you have a large dog or kids, or a footy team to keep happy, Kenda is a good high wear tolerance option. Kenda Kikuyu is excellent value, especially when you consider how much better it’s winter colour is compared to any other warm season turf, including Buffalo, Couch, or other Kikuyu types.

For Commercial use. Sporting fields, parks, golf courses, race courses, and other amenity areas. Kenda Kikuyu has greatly improved wear tolerance because it has four times as many rhizomes, and more vigorous stolons. It’s far more winter active, which is important as that’s when sporting lawns are prone to most damage.

Queensland Blue Couch

  • Produces a nice blue-green leaf
  • Can tolerate acid soils – ph equal and lower than 5.5
  • Excellent heat tolerance
  • Moderate to good wear tolerance
  • Moderate tolerance to cool environments
  • Cost effective

QLD Blue Couch is a common turf variety used for domestic and commercial lawns.

Like other blue couches QLD Blue has an attractive blue green colour. It produces minimal seed heads compared to standard couch varieties meaning an easier to mow lawn for the home owner or commercial maintenance person.

QLD Blue is known for its low growing lush coverage, which not only gives the end user a strong, weed resistant lawn but also provides a nice soft feel. Compared to standard couch varieties (like Wintergreen) QLD Blue Couch doesn’t have the wear capabilities but it will recover quickly if damaged. It has good drought tolerance once its roots have grown deeply, however it can turn slightly purple during the Queensland winter.

 

Plant of the month – Dahlia

After my visit to Mainau Island, i was so impressed with the Dahlia display that i decided to make it my plant of the month.

Dahlias have actually always been one of my favourite flowers. During my childhood my parents had Italian neighbours for many years who grew Dahlias. They would have so many and would bring them into my Mum all the time. From there i think they kind of stuck with me.

Dahlias are invaluable for the summer border, in patio containers or as cut flowers, often flowering until the first frosts. With many excellent recent introductions, they offer a wide range of flower types, often with very showy, double forms in warm vibrant colours. Dahlias are enjoying a much deserved return to popularity.

Dahlias are easy to grow but do need winter protection in most parts of Europe. They are tolerant of a wide range of soil types and situations but best planted in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun when danger of frost is over.

  • Incorporate plenty of organic matter (one or two buckets per sq m/sq yd) such as well-rotted manure into the soil prior to planting and use a general purpose fertilizer, according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Plant tubers in their flowering position. Tubers should be planted 10-15cm (4-6in) deep
  • Stake as required and pinch out shoots to promote bushiness (see pruning and training below)
  • Keep well watered and once flowers appear feed with a high potash liquid feed every two weeks from July to early September

Lifting and storage 

– Cut down foliage and use a fork to carefully prise plants out of the soil.

– Dry off naturally and then clean away any soil clinging to the tubers. Trim stems to 15-20cm. If the tubers have been washed, position them upside down in a cool place for a few weeks to dry off.

– Trim off any fine roots.

– Place tubers in shallow wooden boxes or open trays and pack with a peat-free compost or dry sand, just covering the tubers but leaving the crown exposed.

– Store in a dry, cool, frost-free place. If stored in a garden shed cover with newspaper if a hard frost is predicted.

– Inspect tubers regularly during winter for rotting and discard any that are unhealthy.

Pruning and training Dahlias

– Insert canes on planting and tie in as growth develops.

– Pinch out growing tips once plants reach a height of about 40cm (16in) to encourage branching.

– For giant blooms restrict the number of flowering stems to three to five per plant; for smaller blooms allow seven to 10 flowering stems per plant.

– To produce a long-flowering display and strong stems, remove the two pairs of flower buds developing in the leaf axils below the terminal bud.

– Deadhead as flowers fade.

– Bedding dahlias need no staking or disbudding; just pinch out the growing tip to encourage bushiness and deadhead regularly.

For more Dahlia images you can refer to my blog on Mainau Island here: 

https://grndoordesign.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/mainau-island-germany/

https://grndoordesign.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/mainau-island-germany-part-2/

Dahlias i picked up at the market last week

Dahlias i picked up at the market last week

Stuffed portobello mushrooms

I have been attempting to cook more seasonally recently. You really notice the change in food just as much as you notice it in the weather.

Mushrooms are not difficult to get here, but the range is small. We usually have swiss brown, oyster and button varieties. But in the last few weeks, there has been an abundance of mushrooms in the stores….portobello, chanterelles, shitake and many more.

I am a huge lover of mushrooms. Everytime i see them i think of my Dad and how much he hates mushrooms…..he thinks its weird to eat a fungus! But I’m quite excited by the thought of some new varieties around and of course trying some new recipes.

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This dish is simply delicious, its so easy and even if you’re not a vegetarian then these would match well with a piece of steak!

I would love to know how your stuffed portobello mushrooms turn out!

Serves 1

Ingredients

50g baby spinach (more if you can fit it in the mushroom)

1/2 tspn dried chilli

1 tsp garlic, finely chopped

2 large portobello mushrooms

50g low fat mozzarella, torn

2 tspns parmesan

fresh thyme leaves

salad leaves to serve

Method 

Preheat grill to 200 degrees celcius. (Unfortunately i don’t have a temperature control on my grill, so i heated mine to medium)

Mix spinach, chilli and garlic in a bowl and fill the cap of the mushroom.

Place mushrooms on the grill and top with mozzarella, scatter with parmesan and thyme leaves, season with salt and pepper and grill for 7-10 minutes, or until cheese has melted and mushrooms are cooked but still firm.

Serve with a handful of salad leaves.

(Mine had a little excess liquid in the caps when i took them out, which i just drained and then served)

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The range of mushrooms at the supermarket

 

Mainau Island – Germany. Part 2

Continuing from my post from Sunday, i thought i would fill you in a little more about Mainau Island.

Mainau lies just off the shores of Lake Constance in the far south-west of Germany. It has 45 hectares of an extraordinary range of flowers, trees and shrubs.

Favourites with the public include the palm house, with its collection of 1,200 orchids, and the largest butterfly house in Germany, which contains 1,000 examples of exotic species. Other attractions on Mainau island include the palace church of St. Mary, a gem of the south-German baroque, and the Italian rose garden, laid out in 1871 for Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden. From June to August around 9,000 roses of nearly 400 varieties blossom into flower here.

In 1930, Prince Wilhelm (then the island’s owner) turned the administration of Mainau over to his son, the Swedish Prince Lennart Bernadotte II. The prince, who had renounced his Swedish royal lineage after marrying a commoner, devoted the rest of his life to turning the island into a privately-operated park. Mainau is now maintained in perpetuity by a foundation that the prince and his second wife established, and the island’s manager is their daughter, Countess Bettina Bernadotte. Their son, Count Björn Bernadotte, manages the foundation.

Mainau was a truly beautiful island, and who doesn’t love an island filled with plants!! The displays were well thought and out and well designed. I loved the combinations of planting they used for every display.

I am thinking that it would be a great idea to head back in the Spring time!

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Mainau Island – Germany

I finally got to Mainau Island in Germany after talking about it for 2 years! Of course winter time is not a good time to go, and because the winter time can be quite long here it only gives you a short window in which to visit.

I timed it perfectly because i knew the Dahlia display would be on.

My day started quite early with a train from Zurich to Konstanz, which is just over the border of Switzerland in Germany. From there it is a short 15 minute bus ride to Mainau. There is the alternative of taking a ferry but it takes over an hour. If you are not pushed for time or the weather is nice, then this might be a nice option.

We arrived around 10am and as we paid we took a map of the island. Its not a huge island, so we were able to see everything in a few hours. The weather was beautiful and we wandered and admired all the flower displays.

The gardens are perfectly manicured, yet i didnt see one gardener….im wondering if they work during the night .-)

I am going to be posting a second part to Mainau Island later next week. I have so many more photos to share!

Let me know if you have ever been to Mainau and what you thought!?

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What to do in the garden this month – September

Southern Hemisphere

I know the weather is warming up in Australia so hopefully it will be a beautiful Spring!

Spring is my favourite time of year. Not only because everything is starting to wake up after months of cold weather, but because its actually the best time to get out into your garden and prepare it before the Summer arrives. As we all know, Summer is not a good time to garden. Especially in Australia!

Plant now

1. Capsicum – Along with zucchini and eggplant, you’ll be able to harvest these all summer long. Its best to grow the seedlings in pun nets and then transplant them into the garden bed.

2. Rockmelon – Perfect to plant now the frost is gone. Make sure the soil is prepared with organic fertiliser before sewing. Harvest when stem pulls away easily, then let ripen for a couple of days.

3. Watermelon – Plant seeds in well fertilised soil. Allow plenty of light and space as possible. Harvest when the underside turns yellow and sounds hollow when tapped.

 

What to do 

1. Attack weeds – Unfortunately the warmer weather brings lots of problems too. Weeds and bugs can spread quickly unless you deal with them promptly. Annual weeds should not have gone to seed yet, so you break their lifestyle by removing them now. Bulbous weeds, such as onion weed, oxtails and onion grass take up poisons best when they are actively growing. Round up is most effective when applied in Spring.

 2. Patrol aphids – Watch out for aphids on the new growth of plants (particularly roses and maples) Organic sprays are available, but i prefer to use Pest Oil or even soapy water works fantastically!

3. Fertilise citrus – If you have potted citrus, give them some extra TLC now that they are coming into flower by dosing them up with a liquid fertiliser. Mulch around the base with chopped sugar cane (be careful not to contact the trunk with the lunch)

4. Prune climbers – Spring also means some of our best loved climbers are in full swing. Jasmine, Wisteria and Clematis to name a few are bursting with flowers and bees.

 

What to plant 

As soon as frosts are finished, think about planting petunia, phlox and salvia seedlings. Likewise, many frost tender vegetables and trailing ground cover fruits can be planted now as seeds. Plant eggplant, capsicum, zucchini.

Fill in the lawn. Now is a great time to either sow seed or lay turf s it takes root ready for backyard summer cricket! Look for varieties that suit your climate. You can ask your local garden centre for advise.

I will also be posting about turf and available varieties later this month.

 

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Northern Hemisphere 

September is generally a cooler month than August and the days are noticeably shorter. While there’s not as much to do in the ornamental garden at this time of the year, if you have a fruit or vegetable patch, you’ll be busy reaping the rewards of harvest. It’s also time to get out and start planting spring-flowering bulbs for next year and you can collect seeds for next summer’s colour too. Make the most of the remaining warmth while you can!

What to do 

1. It is important to remove perennial weeds from your lawn, as these will be difficult to control until the lawn is established. Unfortunately i think the best way to remove weeds is to pull them out by hand. Unless you have a huge lawn, then spraying with something like Glyphosate is necessary.

2. Deadheading of roses should be done regularly, and flowers trimmed just above the top of the stem.

3. The runners of new strawberry plants should be secured of compost or soil allowing them to root.

4. Plant spring flowering bulbs now.

5. Sow sweet peas in the greenhouse.

6. Sow other hardy annuals (e.g. CalendulaCentaurea and poppies)

7. Mow less frequently, and raise the height of cut as the growth rate of the grass slows down.

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