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.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Survival Day and 'Caring for country'

Australia Day, 26 January, commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, when Governor Phillip raised the British flag, and New South Wales became a British colony. This has a different significance for Aboriginal people, who call it Survival Day. This year's theme for Survival Day is Caring for Country.

Not only did the arrival of the white settlers change the lives of the Aboriginal inhabitants forever, the landscape, flora and fauna were also changed. For the worse. Since 1788 there has been a crisis of plant and animal extinctions.  To make themselves feel at home in such an alien environment, the white settlers set about clearing the bush, killing trees on a massive scale. They simply didn't understand Aboriginal culture, their attitude towards the land or their practices.

An important idea in indigenous Australian culture is that people don't own the land - the land owns them. The land has deep spiritual significance, and holds the memories and voices of their ancestors. The land is sacred and must be cared for.

Here's how Lisa Roeger, facilitator at Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation puts it -

'Caring for country' means so much more than labouring over projects, erecting fences or counting feral animals. It means ensuring country remembers the people who live on it, have sung for it, danced for it, and been connected to it for time immemorial. People can connect to country merely by sitting, quietly observing and feeling the land.

Photos taken in the Flinders Ranges.

Friday, 16 January 2015


I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by Amy Crumbs, who blogs at Crumbs.

The Liebster Award is a fun thing, but it has a serious side and is worth supporting. Blogging is about community, and this is a good way to get to know more bloggers and make more cyberfriends.

The first step is to answer 11 questions...

1. Why do I blog? I started blogging in 2008 as a way of keeping a record of my passionate, longterm garden project, that is a source of joy (often) and frustration (often). I periodically ask myself the same question: Why do I blog? I sometimes think about stopping, but it has become a way of life now, and I'd miss the chance to express myself and I'd miss my cyberfriends if I stopped.

Yarra Bend Park - the largest area of bushland near Melbourne

2. Do I have any pets? Well, I suppose you'd call Potter a pet. She is my fur child, she is a Poodle - Bichon cross, she is 13, and has never forgiven me for getting rid of all the soft grass and replacing it with greenery and scratchy mulch.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

guinea fowl - real and steel

I saw the guinea fowl sculptures in a nursery and it was love at first sight.  I knew guinea fowl came from Africa, and that kangaroos made from recycled steel would be more appropriate. Too bad. Emotion over-ruled logic.  I bought them, and they've lived happily in the front garden for over ten years now.

I've since learned that guinea fowl live in lots of other gardens in Australia. An organic gardener living in a rural area, told me they keep a large flock of guinea fowl because they are so useful.

Guinea fowl kill snakes, insect pests and rodents. They are valued for their eggs and their meat. Their eggs are smaller and heavier than hens' eggs, have a hard shell and taste slightly gamey. They lay them all over the place.

There aren't any snakes in my garden, but I wish my guinea fowl would eat the rats.

guinea fowl in organic garden near Ballarat

Monday, 22 December 2014

Phillip Johnson: book review - and DVD giveaways

Sometimes I wish I had used a proper, professional garden designer instead of the painful, stumbling process of learning as I go. If I did go the professional way, there would only be two possible candidates. As far as I know, there have only ever been two outstandingly creative, important, original, innovative, inspiring, thoughtful and ethical garden designers. One of them is Edna Walling, who died in 1973. The other is Phillip Johnson, whose stellar career culminated in winning the Chelsea Garden Show last year.

Philip's signature curved boardwalk slicing through the natural pool
(from the book)
 Edna Walling's influence stemmed from her writing as well her garden creations. In this new book, Connected: the Sustainable Landscapes of Phillip Johnson, the garden designer lays out the ideas, ideals and philosophy underpinning his garden design work.

Phillip's philosophy and aim is to connect with nature in a sustainable way. This means creating chemical free environments, sustainable water management practices and thriving habitats for indigenous plants and animals, thoughtfully connecting the landscape to the home.

He writes about his early influences - as a child digging in the dirt in his grandparent's garden, as a boy climbing rocks and hanging out in the Grampians, as an adult buying a bush block in Olinda and using it to develop his ideas. In Olinda, he created a natural swimming pool, complete with waterfall, all looking as natural as if it had always been there.

play of light and reflection in billabong
(from the book)
Phillip Johnson's gardens, like natural landscapes, are based around rocks and water. All his gardens contain billabongs - water features that are not filled from mains water and often don't even need a pump. They are filled by rainfall collected from the roof. Even if they dry out they are still beautiful features in the garden, as dry creek beds.

These gardens belong in a hot, dry climate, designed to conserve our precious water resources. They are meant for humans to live in, but they are also habitat for frogs, birds and all wildlife.

Ideas are one thing but putting them into practice is another. One of Phillip's ideals is to bring nature back to the city and suburbs. The book contains stunning photos to show what can be done in an ordinary suburban garden, and includes plant lists and plans to help as well.

the Chelsea Garden Show exhibit
(taken from the book)
Now to the giveaways ...  a documentary that follows the work of Phillip Johnson and his team around the winning exhibit at Chelsea. It took years of dedication and planning to transform a bare flat block in an urban park in London into a multi layered slice of the Australian bush. Apparently Her Majesty the Queen of England was particularly taken with the frogs, that in actuality were recorded sounds placed discreetly in the garden!

DVD front cover
If you would like to be in the draw for winning one of the 10 DVDs on offer, let me know either in comment to this post or via email.  Winners will be drawn on January 26th - Australia Day - and notified by email. Unfortunately the competition is only for people in Australia. Everyone who put up their hands for this will be notified of the result.

Connected: the sustainable landscapes of Phillip Johnson
Publisher: Murdoch Books
Photography by Claire Takacs
Publication: November 2014
RRP: $59.99 (Aus)

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.

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