about this blog

This blog tracks the ongoing changes of my garden, and the wildlife I try to attract to it. It's a nature blog. It contains my thoughts and musings about anything and everything to do with nature - gardening, book reviews, philosophy, travel, science, history, art, design, politics.
Catmint is my signature plant because it has all the qualities I value in a plant: resilience, beauty and the capacity to spread prolifically . Unfortunately it's not indigenous. If I was starting again I'd probably choose an indigenous plant.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

imagined gardens: gardens in literature

I'm fascinated by how differently fiction writers use gardens and nature in their stories. In this post I'll write about four wildly different novels that have gardens in them.

In The Secret Garden and Tom's Midnight Garden, the garden plays a prominent part in the plot. But the gardens are different. Tom's garden no longer exists in the present. It belongs to a less urbanized past, when people were closer to nature.  Tom's Midnight Garden is a complex story about time travel. The Secret Garden was first published in 1911,  a story about the healing power of nature and gardens.

But these books are not just about gardens and gardening. They are about the relationships between the characters and the gardens, and how the garden influences and affects them. It is as if the ever changing gardens mirror the development of the characters, who also grow and change. In this sense the gardens represent the childhood that inevitably comes to an end. Tom wishes he could stay in the garden forever, playing with Hatty. He tries to understand and control time, but that is impossible.

" 'And then I knew, Tom, that the garden was changing all the time, because nothing stands still, except in our memory.' "

In The Secret Garden, Mary starts off as a spoiled little girl, out of touch with nature, hating and fearing it. She tells Martha, the young housemaid, that she hates the moor, but Martha knows that Mary will change in time.

" 'Tha' thinks it's too big an' bare now. But tha' will love it.... I just love it. It's none bare. It's covered wi' growin' things as smells sweet. It's fair lovely in spring an' summer when th' gorse an' broom an' heather's in flower. It smells of honey an' there's such a lot o' fresh air - an' th' sky looks so high an' th' bees an' skylarks makes such a nice noise hummin' an' singing'. Eh! I wouldn't live away from th' moor for anythin'.'"

Martha understands the therapeutic potential of nature and gardens to heal troubled minds and sick bodies too.

In the case of News From Berlin and Embassytown, the references to nature and gardens are secondary, incidental to the plot. Sometimes references to nature or gardens in a novel serves as a device for grounding the plot, providing a specific context for the story. In News from Berlin, the peaceful suburban gardens provide a contrast to a Europe torn apart by war.

"Their house stood in a web of green lanes. There was no wind, and all was tranquil. From close by came the reassuring sound of a hedge being clipped, while next door's dog dug a hole in the gravel with audible enthusiasm. Germany was mobilised to its furthest corners, but standing here you would never have thought it."

In another scene, Kate realizes it is not going to work out with the young man she cares about so deeply, so passionately. The mood outside the house parallels the angst and terrible grief inside the house.

"Gulls circled the small park, their shrieks echoing in the room."

China Mieville writes science fiction and fantasy. Nature and gardens in his books are weird and wonderful, and conform to  different and unfamiliar laws of nature. They provide detail in building a picture of life in a distant galaxy, an alien world. On the world where Embassytown is located, the natural world has been so radically modified by technology that you can't distinguish between the natural and built environment.

"Plateaus and cultivation and simple massive rocks, fractured, their fractures filled with black weedstuff. Meadows crossed with tracks and punctuated by habitations. More grown architecture: rooms suspended by gas-sacs watched us as we flew, with simple eyes...

Orchards of lichen were crisscrossed with the gut-pipework that spanned out from the city...  A long way off were steppes where herds of semiwild factories ran, which twice each long year Ariekene scientist-gauchos would corral...

We landed and from the hillside came the distress call of grass, as our vehicles began to graze.

So there you have it: four examples of imagined gardens and natural environments. The garden in the Secret Garden is a familiar old fashioned English garden.  The garden in Tom's Midnight Garden exists in the past and is only accessible to a time traveller. The gardens in News from Berlin are familiar, mundane and peaceful, unchanged in a sinister, dangerous and violent political climate. The last one, in Embassytown, is truly strange, and gives a vision of a potential future where technology is half living, and the distinctions we make between wild and natural have lost their meaning.

Otto de Kat

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

marine environment matters

I call this blog a nature blog, but this is the first post about the marine environment.

Visiting the Melbourne Aquarium is always a wonderful experience.  Like Melbourne Zoo, its aim is to help conserve animals in the natural environment, not just to be an arc for animals extinct in the wild.

I hope my grandsons will be able to see fish, coral and other sea creatures in the wild when they grow up.

Global warming, government policies privileging business over conservation and a plague of plastic bags that kill birds and sea creatures like turtles, are among the risks.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (ACMS) is dedicated to protecting ocean wildlife and their homes. It's the organization to work with if you want to play a role in advocating for sea creatures.

One recent campaign was to protect 'local' great white, tiger and bull sharks from being killed in Western Australia. The ostensible goal of this policy was to protect swimmers. But sharks are migratory animals, and do not frequent particular beaches. This policy threatened some of our most vulnerable wildlife. Sharks are apex predators, and play a vital role in keeping the seas healthy by keeping other species in balance.

The Western Australia government drew back from this appalling policy of culling sharks using baited drum lines because of public opposition. But the ACMS is still keeping a close eye on the government to make sure it doesn't implement a shark cull by stealth. The policy still allows for large sharks swimming past the Western Australian coast to be killed on sight as they are deemed to be a 'risk to human safety'.

Another campaign is to do something about the rubbish polluting our streets, rivers and seas. Comedian Frank Woodley has made a quirky video about this topic, called Give Frank a Break.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

spring garden, and musing about possible future dilemma

Spring has returned to the garden, restoring the lush colourful wildness I missed for months. In the warm sunshine creatures fly, creep, crawl, hover, flutter and dart. The warm stone path is a highway for ants, beetles and millipedes.

I even saw a solitary ladybird feasting on the aphids feasting on the roses. Then I didn't see it any more. Maybe it died of indigestion. Too many aphids for one ladybird.

Recently a nearby property was sold for a ridiculously high price, a result of the demand for property in this neighbourhood by cashed up people. We have no immediate plans to sell and leave, but I don't imagine living here till I die. One day we will move. And what then? Probably a developer will buy it, pull down the house and destroy the garden. And he or she will make a killing - in flora, fauna and finances. If we were to develop it, we would make the killing. That would be a terrible, soul-searing dilemma. In the meantime, I continue to protect the patch and the wildlife I share it with, as best I can.

Lately I haven't blogged much, and I've been very unsociable in the blogosphere. To make up for it a bit, I'm linking this post to Carol's popular meme Gardener Blogger's Bloom Day. It's in her blog May Dreams Gardens, and worth checking out to find out what going on in people's gardens all over the world.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

awesome land of gorgeous gorges

They call it the outback, and it's a long way from the city. It took two days travelling to get to the Flinders Ranges. One day by train from Melbourne to Adelaide, half a day to Port Augusta by bus, then another four hours driving to reach our destination.

For a nature buff there's lots to see and experience - wildlife, rocks, gorges, sky, trees, shrubs and flowers.

The easiest animals to see are the large mammals. They're generally shy though, and you have to be quick or lucky with the camera.

Euro, Emu

Friday, 22 August 2014

the earth will survive us

With so many terrible things happening in the world, it feels important to share something optimistic yet realistic, from a guy who really knows what he's talking about, having seen the Earth from another perspective ...

"The world is immensely stable and ancient and self regenerating. It's withstood far worse things than us." 

So said Chris Hadfield recently.  Chris was the Canadian commander of the International Space Station.

 Let's hope he's right.

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