The Ginger family stole my brain!

On the face of it, it seems implausible, I know.  But if mimosa plants have long term memories corn calls out for help, beans search for a supportive pole and tomatoes are flesh eaters, it is possible that my free will has been stolen by the extended ginger family.

When we moved into our place, it was a ginger-rich environment.  The front yard had a two metre perimeter wall of shell ginger, the perfect height to conceal the neighbours and our decaying garden fence without blocking the light (or should I say, any more of the light).  Its flowers are a homage to Georgia O’Keefe: I feel faintly prurient just looking at these close-ups.

Meanwhile, lingering in the backyard was a much more nefarious member of the family – kahili ginger (aka ginger lily) – producing tall red and yellow blooms and strapping leaves even deep shade and impoverished Hawkesbury soil.

According to the Queensland government, this one lives for 70 years and is “known to invade rainforests, montane forests, agricultural areas, coastland, disturbed areas, natural forests, planted forests, range/grasslands, riparian corridors, scrub/shrublands, urban areas and wetlands.”  I’m struggling to think of a habitat not listed there.  It may possibly fail to flourish if planted directly on a glacier, but given its origins in Nepal that might be risky too.

You know a weed’s a baddie when official websites entreat you, in red block capitals, to call them immediately if you even suspect you’ve seen it (local rates Australia wide). This one’s in the global “hottest 100” thanks to bird dispersal of seeds and a capacity to survive in deep shade.  There’s none left to photograph in my backyard, needless to say – it wasn’t too hard to excavate, given time and a sharp spade, although the NSW Primary Industries reckons it can develop a layer of rhizomes a metre deep.

But I still feel like a criminal: so far I haven’t dobbed in my local primary school to the NSW Invasive Plants and Animals hotline, or the suburban house on my walk to work which displays this Category 3 weed proudly out by its front drive.

Strangely, after all the time I spent removing weedy gingers from the yard, I now find more and more members of the Zingiberacae family appearing, as if by delivered by some unknown hand, around the back door.

First it was tumeric and galangal, “for their edible roots“.  Yet curiously, three years down the track, I’ve yet to dig up a single rhizome.  They’re just too pretty.  Is that me, or my Ginger Overlords talking?

Suddenly, leaving no conscious memory of the deployment of a credit card, Atherton ginger, the good-looking redback kind, started appearing all over the place.  It’s okay, I tell myself, it’s edible and a native too – with tart but tasty fruits and ginger-flavoured leaves to wrap your tucker in for an extra zing.  Not that I’ve laid a hand on a single, lovely leaf, for snack-wrapping or any other purpose.  Funny that.

And now, not a week goes by when I don’t find another relative of the ginger family loitering in the undergrowth. Alpinia caerula, the local variety.  Cardamom ginger… smelling more suppurating than spicy.  Zingiber officianale, good old-fashioned definitive ginger ginger, lurking under the bananas and the monstera deliciosa, a dessert just waiting to happen.

To the best of my knowledge (at least in my waking hours) I haven’t yet planted anything you can get arrested for supplying to a garden centre.  But it’s possible one of these days I’ll be found stumbling around under the tamarillo tree in my nightie, raving about the marvellous yellow flowers of Hedychium flavescens and cursing the shallow minds of Australia’s biosecurity fascists with their inability to appreciate the full glory of the gingers.

And when that happens, you know the number to call: NSW Invasive Plants & Animals Enquiry Line 1800 680 244.  Or email

Of snakes and snakebeans

This sight out the window as I stumbled into the kitchen for the first cup of tea of a Monday morning made the caffeine hit mostly redundant.   Snakey the diamond python’s back in town.

Last time we saw her was early spring a year ago. I looked up from the computer, wondering about the din the little wattlebirds were making, and there she was, stretching up for a sunny rooftop.

I’m worried about the timing of Snakey’s visit.  After a good five years of prevaricating, we finally decided to use rat poison near the house. You can predict and even understand when the vermin demolish your nearly ripe corn-on-the-cob – it’s almost obligatory for your quasi-rural pest population.  But when they won’t leave your broccolini alone it’s all gone too far.

Leaving the house on a late-night mid-winter drive, I saw a tawny frogmouth flash out of the dark.  Another evening a surprised visitor landed on the balustrade of the back deck, only to realise three humans, stock still with beers half-raised to their lips, were unexpected keeping the rodents away.  And we’ve seen Snakey wait, poised for hours, then suddenly strike a rat on a twilight mission for chookhouse grain.  A glorious sight.  But pythons might only eat one a fortnight – it’s that low energy lifestyle.  Sadly there’s no sign of such dietary modesty in the case of the sweet potato munching rattus rattus.

We tried humane traps too.  But what do you do with the terrified beasts, usually the littler, stupider ones, after their night in a cage?  Counsel them?  Release them in the nearest industrial estate?  Figure out some new, psychologically gruelling way of killing them, all the while deluding yourself that it might be somehow be painless?

So not so long ago we reluctantly, guiltily, laid down baits in inaccessible places and endured our penance, the smell of death.

So over my cup of Earl Grey, I anxiously inspected Snakey’s features for signs of toxicity.  She’d chosen her spot judiciously, beside our neighbour’s chicken shed and right above the rat run down to ours.   She looked torpid: had she taken a poisoned rat, one dying slowly and easier to catch than the others?  Wasn’t her jaw somehow slack and asymmetrical, her pose ungainly…?  All I can say is, don’t try phrenology or poker with snakes.  They are danged hard to read.

By the time I got home from work she was gone.  I must confess, in the subsequent days, I have become slightly more cautious with my footing as I head down to peg the washing on the line.

Snakey seems to have brought the subtropical summer with its run-to-the-washing-line storms.  I was that nervous commuter, glancing up at the looming alien mother-ship and hoping I’d get home before all hell broke loose.  Then, same thing, same time, next day. And the next. A regular 4 o’clock Apocalyse.

It’s like the Nile River Delta out back.  As you can see from the flood-art-installation above, every item a child or lazy BBQ tender has carelessly discarded in the backyard now has its own rich pile of alluvium.

The subtropical plants are glowing.  The tumeric has reappeared in the understory as just suddenly as the snake has in the vines.  It dies right down over the winter, and come early December, just when you think it’s a goner, the leaves start nudging through the soil.  Given my dodgy record with propagation, I’m specially pleased to see the this year’s young ‘uns.  Instead of wimping out and buying plants from the ever reliable Daleys, I buried some fresh rhizomes from my weekly organic veggie box and crossed my fingers.

Inspired the marvellous Sri Lankan cooking of my clever sister in law and her mum, I’m trying to grow the ingredients for my favourite mid-week meal of 2014, snake bean curry.  I probably don’t have the stamina to harvest and process my own tumeric powder, but thanks to the big rain, the “Red Dragon” yard long beans are leaping out of the ground, and my baby curry leaf plant – in a pot near the house where I can nip off its weedy berries and quash any suckers – seems to be doing well so far, despite attentions from a nearby lebanese cucumber.  Now, if only I could keep my coriander from bolting for more than 15 minutes I’d be ready to hit the kitchen.  With luck, I’ll still be under the steady supervising eye of Snakey.