December 2021 View Online

Dear Fellow Gardener

Welcome to the December 2021 newsletter from Sophie's Patch in the Adelaide Hills, SA. Each month I share what has been happening in and around my patch of garden in the Adelaide Hills, as well as some of my adventures further afield.  I hope you enjoy reading it. Sophie Thomson.

The garden looks lovely despite absolute neglect due to my busy schedule, and while on one hand I do feel guilty about this, I know that over summer holidays I will have some time to get stuck into it and hopefully catch up.

In this Newsletter

Around The Patch

The most pressing job on my to do list is to thin the fruits on the trees in my orchard and pull out the weeds which are growing in there including marshmallow and red flowered mallow, both of which harbor my nemesis - harlequin bugs. These sap suckers cause problems on many fruits and vegetables and are already in abundance in my garden, presumably due to the fact that these weeds have yet again got a head start on me. 

Fruit Thinning 

The reason I try to thin the fruits on my apples and pears is to get larger, better quality fruits, get consistent crops every year and reduce the chance of broken limbs when they get weighed down by too many fruits. The basic principle is that the fewer fruits the tree has to grow, the bigger the fruits will grow, while the more fruits, the smaller they will be. Allowing fruit trees to crop heavily one year can also lead to biennial cropping (a heavy crop one year with a lean crop the next) and I am keen to manage this in my orchard so I can get regular crops. Ideally this should be done anytime between when the trees flower and the fruits get to marble size. Running late as always, my fruits are definitely bigger than this, but I figure ‘better late than never’. 
Trees like apples can produce up to nine or ten flowers per apple spur and this needs to be thinned to just two or three fruits, while pears spurs can be thinned to just two fruits. Last year however many of my apples still over cropped, giving me a lean fruiting year this year, and limbs broke with just three fruits per spur, so this year I will try to thin to one or two fruits per spur and space the fruits on spurs along the stem. 
Last year I didn’t bother to thin the plums as I thought they would naturally shed excess fruits, but they didn’t, and some trees even collapsed and smashed under the weight of so many fruits. So, this year I will try to prevent this by thinning the fruits, so they are 7-10cm apart for Japanese varieties, but closer for European type plums.

Peach and Nectarine Woes

Leaf Curl

The wet humid spring has resulted in leaf curl on the nectarines and peaches in the orchard. This is a common fungal disease which affects peaches and nectarines, infecting young leaves in early spring and causing severe puckering, thickened and curled leaves, sometimes with a pinkish colouring. These distorted leaves drop off the tree and if the tree is healthy and happy it will simply produce a new crop of leaves. If however, the tree is weakened due to being hungry or in poor health, it can weaken the tree and the fruit crop may suffer.
Many people choose to spray stone fruits such as peaches and nectarines with a copper-based fungicide for leaf curl however for this spray to be effective, the correct timing is essential. The time to spray is at ‘pink bud’ as the buds just start to show colour. The window to spray is short and often only one week or less, so if weather conditions during this time are wet and rainy, spraying may not be possible. Once the flowers are in full bloom, the fungus will already have entered the leaves and fungicide spray will not work. 
When I first planned my orchard ten years ago, I decided that I would not spray my trees for leaf curl as the long-term use of copper is not good for worms and soil microbes. Instead, I planned to focus on soil health in my orchard so that my trees are healthy, and even if they do get curl leaf, the affected leaves will either drop or I can pick them off, and the tree will put on a second batch of leaves without it being a problem. 

This year has tested my resolve more than any other, as due to the humidity my trees have been badly affected and almost defoliated, with significantly reduced crops. To be honest, reduced cropping is also due to over cropping last year which I could have managed better if I had done fruit thinning on these trees as well as the apples, pears and plums. Ideally there would be 15-20cm between fruits on each branch. Overcropping last year meant there was quite a bit of damage due to branches snapping under heavy loads of fruit. 
Fortunately, I have been too busy to fuss over these trees, apart from to feed them so that they had the energy to put a second crop of leaves on. And just as I have always said, because the soil is healthy, the trees have dropped their affected leaves and are starting to put on fresh new foliage. 

Black Peach Aphid

Not only did the trees get leaf curl, they also have had a bad case of black peach aphid which affects new growth and results in twisted deformed leaves. The week before my open garden I had not seen any sign of the natural predators or parasitoids of these pests, like ladybirds, their larvae or parasitic wasps. I started thinking I would need to intervene and spray with a low toxic insecticide like Eco-Oil to knock their numbers down until these garden guardians did arrive, yet fortunately I was too busy to act and just one week later there are lots of ladybird larvae crawling around and evidence of parasite wasps which leave shiny aphid ‘mummies’. 
Ladybird larvae & signs of parasitic wasp 'mummies'

Open Garden Wrap Up

Already three weeks ago, Spring Open Garden at Sophie’s Patch was delightful on every level. The weather was so kind to us in so many ways. Spring has been amazing, with lots of rain and I genuinely think the garden looks the best it ever has. Timing for our open garden was perfect with flowers everywhere and whereas we would usually have had some really hot harsh weather prior to our open garden, this year we haven’t. Even though the forecast predictions for the weekend were a bit wild and woolly, in the end we only had about five minutes of rain which didn’t put anyone off and was greatly appreciated freshening the garden up. 
Visitors seemed to delight in the garden and it was great to meet lots of ‘first timers’ who hadn’t been to Sophie’s Patch before, as well as lots of young people and young families, which is very exciting as these guys are the future of our planet, and if they are gardeners, we are in good hands.

If you came along you may find yourself in these pictures, and if you didn't manage to come they will give you a real taste of the garden.
The whole event ran very smoothly which was due to my amazing team of volunteers. They were wearing brightly coloured aprons and greeted people with a smile and a fabulous attitude. Whether at the gate where visitors entered, serving the food, giving information in the garden, or anywhere else, they really make our events … and we have a lot of fun together! You can see more of them on this facebook post.


One of the delights as I look back on photos of all our open gardens is seeing children play on Luscious, our house dragon. It reminds me how important it is to have fun elements in a garden. Many simply don’t engage kids and create the delight as they should. Kids are young for such a short time. So, whether it’s for your kids, grand kids or even friends’ kids, make sure to include some fun and whimsical elements in your garden. 
Luscious lies in wait on our front lawn, greeting us every time we walk out the front door, and also when we return home. She is the heart of our property, like an ancient guardian. She was born in the January of 2012 in the year of the dragon and ironically while we were making her, the sky came over dark and grey - definitely dragon weather! She was built as a working bee with friends under the careful direction of our dear friend, sculptor and artist Irene Stone-Pearce. You may know Irene from her amazing garden called Tickle Tank which has been featured many times on TV and in magazines. Here is one of the segments I have filmed there
My kids were young when we built Luscious and we have spent many fun times with her – playing on her, lounging on her, enjoying morning or afternoon tea or take away on her. Even though the kids have grown, we love her as much as we ever did. Here are some of gorgeous photos of kids playing on her from recent years…

How to build a dragon!

For those who want to know more about her technically, from a structural point of view, here is the column I wrote for the Gardening Australia magazine back in January 2013 and subsequently Sophie’s Patch The Book.

Pop Up Shop

Saturday 11 December 10am - 12noon

One week ago we had a POP UP shop at Sophie’s Patch so people could purchase our unique metal garden art as Christmas presents. We will be having one more here on Saturday 11th December from 10am till noon. We will have our orange butterflies, geese, bees, frogs and a few poppies and ladybirds. As we have very limited quantities, it will be first come best dressed………… 
We will also have signed copies ‘Sophie’s Patch’ books available for purchase for Christmas gift giving. If you want a copy of ‘Sophie’s Patch’ signed and personalised for the recipient, order the books online via and mark it for pickup rather than post and we will have it ready for you. 
There will be gardening gloves, succulent picture frames (for you to plant up yourself) and limited stocks of dwarf alstroemerias, my favorite long lasting cut flower. 
I will also have poinsettias available for sale, as nothing else brings as  much Christmas cheer. I love to have them in my home and also give them as gifts. 
We will also have some of Rose’s New Guinea bean seedlings and seeds and her swan plants (caterpillar food for Monarch butterflies).  

Sorry, personal shoppers only as we have very limited quantities at this stage. 

Where: Sophie’s Patch, 394 Springs Road, Mount Barker. 

When:  Saturday 11 November 10am - 12 noon.

Look for us in #GROWUP 

Out and About

Kangaroo Island

I headed over to Kangaroo Island the week after our open garden and did some talks and Q & A sessions at the Junction Kingscote Community Centre and at the Parndana Show which was lots of fun.
Jo Symons' garden with roses
Rose accompanied me and we took the opportunity to check out parts of the island I hadn’t been to before, as well as checking out the Parndana Community garden to see how it was going ( ) and visiting some private gardens. One was the garden of Jo Symons which was burnt out in the bushfire. It was amazing to see plants which were totally burnt yet recovered, including camellias, hydrangeas, Brunsfelsia (Yesterday, today and tomorrow), Alstroemerias, avocados, rhubarb and more.
Recovering avocado tree
It was also wonderful to see roses donated by Wagner’s Rose Nursery as bare rooted specimens at the end of the season last August flowering and looking fabulous. Some of this same batch of rose donations were exhibited by bushfire affected gardeners in the Parndana Show and won prizes! 
Donated fruit trees
Since I was heading over, I took the opportunity to deliver more fruit trees for fire affected gardeners on the island. This time it was mainly avocados, as well as some more citrus and passionfruit purchased at wholesale prices with funds generously donated by open Gardens SA I also took over a huge donation of Hortico lawn seed from Yates. Check out this time lapse which shows Anne Morrison and husband Bill helping me unload my van load.
Anne, Sophie and Bill unloading fruit trees
Anne is president of the Kangaroo Island Garden Club and does an amazing job of organising the distribution of everything we get donated for the fire affected gardeners.
The wildflowers on the Island were amazing and as we drove around, I wanted to stop everywhere to take photos, as even the sides of the road were breathtaking. If you haven’t been back to Kangaroo Island for a while, or you have never been, plan to get there as it really is a remarkable place.

City of Charles Sturt

Recently I was involved with the presentation night for the City of Charles Sturt’s Garden Awards for 2021. It was a fabulous night and there were a record number of entrants across the twelve categories which include great garden citizen, habitat hero, and coolest (not groovy) garden, as well as school garden and community garden, presumably as more people have come to gardening or rediscovered gardening since COVID19. Mayor Angela Evans who is one of the judges talked about comments she heard from the entrants such as: 
“The garden is my happy place” 

“It allows me to be my kind of creative”

“The garden is a place to … relax… heal…. zone out… think … be at peace… exercise patience, faith and persistence”  

“The garden is where memories are preserved and retrieved”

Angela also talked about 'council being more than just about ‘roads, rates and rubbish’…it’s about relationships', which I found very inspiring. 
My talk that evening was on lessons learned from the garden in 2020 and 2021 and if you haven’t read what I have written about this before, check it out at

Gardening Australia

We have had several fun days filming for Gardening Australia, some at Sophie’s Patch and some elsewhere.  One fascinating story was about pollen and was filmed at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens with Research Botanist Dr Andrew Thornhill.
Another was about fruit fly and filmed at Sophie’s Patch with Nick Secomb who heads up South Australia’s Fruit Fly Biosecurity Team. While South Australia and Tasmania are the only states in Australia without established fruit fly populations, outbreaks do occur, and we need to be vigilant. 
Nick Seacomb from PIRSA filming
There was one day filming a couple of stories at Sophie's Patch including one about refreshing summer drinks in which I made elderflower cordial, sparking rhubarb drink and edible flower ice cubes. In the end it felt like a cooking show and there was mess and chaos from one end of my kitchen to the other. Think I am best sticking with gardening! However, whatever the story, it is always fun working with my ABC crew and we have lots of laughs along the way. 

Coming Up 

Members of the Friends of the Arid Lands Botanical Garden 
As this newsletter comes out, I am over on Eyre Peninsula for gardening and wellbeing talks supported by Australian Red Cross. Saturday I was at Cowell, today Cleve, and tomorrow Monday 6th I will be speaking at Kimba. As I often do when working in the country, I take a day or so extra at each end of the trip to check out places on the way or places nearby. On Friday I called into the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens at Port Augusta. To me this is the real Australian Botanic Garden, representing the outback arid Australia - harsh and rugged, yet stunningly beautiful. Two thirds of our nation is classified as arid, receiving less than 250mm rain per year, with arid regions in every state and territory of Australia, except Tasmania. Port Augusta sits at the top of Spencer Gulf, and it is a natural landscape of extremes, from desert to mangroves. Sometimes described as the crossroads to Australia, Port Augusta is often a drive through for those heading north to Alice Springs and Darwin or those heading west to Perth, yet this town is itself worth a visit, just to see my favourite botanic garden. 
Set in a desert, with a desert rainfall of less than 250mm per year, this 250 hectare garden has no lush lawns nor large shady exotic trees, but instead gives a true representation of the southern arid zone of desert Australia. It is the only Botanic Garden in Australia where you could stand on the Matthew Flinders Redcliffs Lookout, looking out into the far distance at the Flinders Ranges, down into the waters of the Gulf below and see mangroves, a dolphin swimming, and have a goanna scuttle past your feet. The vistas everywhere you look are breathtaking but if your yen is for lush green, please enter with an open heart as such lush green is not sustainable in this harsh environment.

Check out my Facebook post about my visit at
Stay tuned to my calendar for other events closer to the time.

Newsletter Prize

One lucky newsletter reader will will a Sophie's Patch set of a mummy goose and three goslings garden art.  The winner will be notified this week by email and will have three days to reply before we will offer it to another reader.  This will allow someone to receive it in time for Christmas!
Happy gardening!



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