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.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

extraordinary must-read picture book

The Duck and the Darklings is an extraordinary, unusual and special picture book, highly recommended for all ages. It's simply the best picture book I have ever seen. It takes place in a post-Apocalyptic, ruined world where people live underground and children go to the surface searching for things that may be of use. 

Grandpapa's eyes shine when he remembers the beauty of the world, and Peterboy wants to find something wonderful to light up Grandpapa's eyes and keep the light there. He finds a duck, Idaduck, broken and wounded, and Grandpapa mends her from top to tail.

This sounds grim and depressing, and it's true that the story is tinged with sadness and loss. But it is also a story of hope, love and family.  And it has a happy ending. Over time the world heals itself, and the beauty of flowers and forests return.

The illustrations are perfect, but I especially love reading and re-reading this book because of the language. Poetic, gentle, evocative words...

The Duck and the Darklings reminds me of another picture book - Death, Duck and the Tulip. Both books cover complex themes in a simple yet authentic way and both books defy categorization. And, interestingly, both stories have ducks in them. What is it about ducks? Leunig also features a duck in lots of his cartoons.

In The Duck and the Darklings, the duck plays a similar role to the dove in Noah's Ark. Healed, refreshed and renewed, she flies away and discovers a world that is also healed, fresh and renewed.

The Duck and the Darklings, by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King, was published in 2014 by Allen & Unwin.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

a long tortuous garden journey

I've been making the garden for thirty-five years. Actually that's not quite true. I've been making and remaking the garden for thirty-five years.

The garden evolved and it's still evolving. I used to be proud that the garden evolved. Other people might pay garden designers to plan and implement a design. Not me. I did it all from scratch myself, moving from total to partial ignorance, learning as I went.

Nesting box for microbats
Having to work out what goes where is tiring, even exhausting at times. Without an integrated plan for the whole garden, I continually need to be working out how to fit pieces of the puzzle together. It is a real challenge to create a picture that is harmonious and natural looking.

Society Garlic flowers
Trouble is ... I kept changing my vision, and I kept changing the garden, chasing a dream.

Garlic chive flowers
The first vision was of an English cottage garden. This vision was modified as I learned to appreciate the subtle beauty of the Australian bush. Later still, I started to see the garden as habitat.

Tea tree flowers
The latest vision is of an indigenous garden, teeming with wildlife. This vision will probably, hopefully ... be realized within my lifetime, but it definitely needs more time for the immature shrubs and trees to fill empty spaces and gain height.

In the meantime, depending on my changing mood, I either see the garden as wondrous, potentially wondrous or a chaotic uninspired mess.

immature, small Banksia marginata trees
If only I would have made a plan for the whole garden, and stuck with it ... but I guess that was never going to be my garden journey. I wanted unpredictability, change and the risk that goes with it, and that was what I got. We are what we are, and our gardens reflect our nature.

Friday, 27 February 2015

an acacia story and a spider story

The leaves on Acacias are not really leaves at all. They're called phyllodes, and they're actually flattened leaf stalks that function like leaves. At the base of the phyllode is a gland, a raised bump that is a source of nectar all the year round. For this reason Acacias are superb habitat plants for the garden. I often see ants and flies moving around on the trees.

Indigenous Acacias that I recently planted are A. implexa, or Lightwood. The immature specimens have indented fern-like leaves. As the plant matures the divisions close up and become single long, curved phyllodes.

Most gardeners I know don't like it when insects or other wildlife chew the leaves of their garden specimens. They think it spoils the look. I feel happy when I see holes in leaves, happy that I have helped provide food and shelter for a few of the the fascinating non human creatures with which we share this planet. I just wish I could watch them more often while they feed.

This photo is blurry, but if you look closely you can see the back legs of an ant feeding on nectar, and you can see little drops of nectar at the end of the branch.

These leaves offer not only food but a place to lay eggs.

One day an intriguing small hole appeared near a step leading from the house to the garden. When I photographed it I glimpsed something with red legs inside. The photo is unclear, but clear enough to enable me to identify the inhabitant of the hole as a Spotted Ground Spider.

It's far from an exact id. According to the Museum of Victoria website  Spotted ground spiders Habronestes and Storena are two genera of spiders in the family Zodariidae. Within these genera there are 60 species of spiders. So this spider is one of 60 species!

Photographer: S Humphreys © Australian Museum

Spotted ground spiders hunt ground dwelling insects. They don't build webs like some other spiders do. Male spiders are found in leaf litter, under logs or rocks or even inside houses, hunting for insects and female Spotted Ground Spiders. The female is rarely found far from the nest, so I think this spider is probably female. In this case, the hole is the entrance to the nest, where there will be an egg sac with 50 eggs inside. I wish the spiderlings well and hope they make themselves at home in the garden.

Like many spiders, little is known about the biology of Spotted ground spiders. They vary in size from 6 to 20 mm long.  At ground level the hole is about 5mm in diameter. How large it is underground, and what it looks like from the inside can only be imagined. I remember reading somewhere that we know more about the deepest seas than we do about the world under our feet.

I'm linking this post to the Lessons Learned meme in the blog, Plant Postings. There's heaps to learn about the flora and fauna in the garden, and this post shares some of the information I am learning. Botany and Zoology lessons! If you check out Beth's blog you'll find lots of other lessons gardeners have learned in the last three months.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

why I love grasses

I love grasses because ...

... they sway gracefully in the breeze,

... they provide vertical contrast in the garden picture,

... when the light shines through, or onto the leaves, they make great photos,

... they come in all sizes, colours and shapes,

... they come in indigenous and exotic species,

... you don't have to mow them, and

...  they provide food, shelter and habitat for wildlife.

The main grasses I grow in my garden include Poa, Lomandra and Dianella species - all native to Australia, and Blue Fescue, a native of Southern France.

Monday, 9 February 2015

too hot to garden

As far as gardening is concerned, our hot summers must be like winters in cold places. In cold places, there's too much snow to dig.  And who feels like gardening when it's very hot? When it's sweltering, I tend to go swimming or just stay inside with the blinds down to shade out the sun.  I only go into the garden to make sure there's clean water in the birdbaths.

Rainbow Fern - Calochlaena dubia - does well as long as it's out of direct sun
The garden's been loved and mulched. Now it's up to the plants to survive or not. I watch them, sometimes with anxiety, often with dispassionate curiosity. If they survive day after day of temperatures well over 30 degrees ( that's the 90s in fahrenheit) that's great. If they don't survive, or if they fail to thrive on the searing heat and lack of supplementary water, then they'll go to compost heaven. And that means a gap and an opportunity for a new garden look.

Euphorbia martinii, gone to seed
But now I can relax, because I won't do much until well into autumn when the hot weather's finished.
I've learned the hard way that pruning, even just cutting off dead bits, can cause a plant to die when the weather's hot.

Salvia spp. It's surviving, but not very happy with the heat. 
My main summer job is to cautiously trim the plants overgrowing the paths, sweep the paths and chuck the mulch onto the garden or into the compost. There aren't many weeds at this time of the year. Come autumn, I'll review the situation, and resume my pattern of weeding, mulching, pruning, planting and transplanting.

Broad Leaved Sage, Salvia berggarten - great plant for dry garden
The aim is to grow plants that are happy without supplementary watering, and happy to withstand searing heat - a sustainable, dry garden.  Silver plants tend to do well, but you can't have a garden with just silver plants because it would be too boring - oh, the delicious challenge of it all ...

Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber, gone to seed
Euphorbia rigida 
Banksia marginata - small but growing
Wallflower, Erysimum cheiri - ragged but surviving

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