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.

Friday, 29 April 2011

autumn leaves

The leaves on the plane trees in the street turn gold before they dry out and  softly, floatily, drop to the ground.

 

They are there for the taking - piles of leaves on the street, on nature strips and on footpaths. If we gardeners won't take them, the Council will.

So I rake up some of the leaves into a pile and put them in a large plastic bag.

I empty the bag into the compost. Now the compost heaps are piled high with dried out leaves. 
Behind the compost heap is an old brick wall. The wall was here when we moved in. It was built for safety purposes, a non flammable surface behind the incinerator. During the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and even the 1980s, all gardens had incinerators to burn rubbish. Leaves were regarded as rubbish then and smoky fires were  common in autumn.
How things have changed.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

long time growing

We moved in in 1979. Only two plants from that garden remain today, in the same position now as they were then. They are situated next to each other, between the side fence and the path that goes along the side of the house, just outside the kitchen window.

One of these loyal survivors is a Camellia shrub with a red flower, the other is Coprosma repens, aka Mirror bush or Looking glass bush. Both have survived extreme heat and drought, as well as having their roots mangled when a new fence was erected. They have been cut back, shaped and mis-shaped on numerous occasions. But they have always grown back, sturdy as ever.

Mirror Bush
Camellia
Soon after starting the garden, a loquat seed from the mature loquat tree next door penetrated in the newly turned and weeded soil at the bottom of the back garden. I let it grow there for a while, then decided I didn't want a deciduous tree there, so moved it to another position in the back garden, nearer to the house. And there it has stayed. It is a favourite night time hangout (or clingto?) for possums and I often find their poo on the stone path at the foot of the shrub. Last year they ate many of the leaves but they all grew back later.

Loquat Tree
I love crab apple trees, and one winter in the early 1980s I bought one. Before it found its home in its present position in the middle of the back garden it must have been moved at least 4 times. It was in front of my son's window for a while until I realized how large it would grow. It graced the front garden too for a while. It has grown slowly, partly on account of its nomadic status but also because of the lack of watering. But this year, the wettest by far since the beginning of the garden, it has fruited for the first time.
Crab Apple
The tree below is an Agonis flexuosa. It is an Australian native, aka Peppermint tree or Willow myrtle. It is without doubt the jewel in the crown of the garden. I think I didn't realize how large it would grow when I took it home in the back of the car. It didn't look so wonderful until it matured. Now it has nesting boxes for an owl and a possum family.

Agonis flexuosa
The trees below are an assortment of eucalypts and tea trees. I planted them when I was a complete novice gardener, and now they tower over the garden and attract and provide shelter for lots of birds.

Eucalypts and Leptospermums (Tea Trees)

I planted this Magnolia stellata at the side of the house many years ago and it's still here today.

Magnolia stellata
Finally -  the olive tree in the front garden. It was planted when I made the front garden and has not moved since. It has really been getting too big lately, so a few weeks ago I tried to cut it back. Since then it looks dreadful and I realize I need help with dealing with large trees and shrubs. For my protection and theirs.
Olive Tree



Monday, 18 April 2011

catmint garden stats: origins of plant species

My garden can be seen as a collection of plants. A collection that wasn't  planned.  It just evolved over  30 years as I experimented, worked out what I liked, what went with what, and - most importantly - what would survive. 

Contrary to what I wrote a few posts ago, the garden isn't finished, it's still evolving. Since writing that post I have changed my mind, done a back flip worthy of a politician. 

The total number of species in the database is 129 (today).  Where do they come from?  Most come from Australia - 42. Next largest group is from Europe - 32. Most of the other species are divided fairly evenly between Asia, North America, South Africa and the Mediterranean region - about 11 from each area.  Finally, 3 species come from New Zealand and 3 from the Canary Islands (located off the coast of northwest Africa).

Yarrow comes from the Northern hemisphere
 The climate over the whole of Australia is so varied that unless you plant purely local plants there doesn't seem to be much point in being restricted to Australian indigenous plants. Besides, I have enjoyed experimenting to see what works well here. Answer: Plants from Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean, South Africa, North America, New Zealand and the Canary Islands.

Hellebores come from Eurasia
I guess it is not surprising that so many plants originated in Europe.  I grew up in an Australia that largely identified with England (the 'mother country') and Europe instead of neighbouring Asia. When I got into gardening I saw myself making a cottage garden. My garden influences were Vita Sackville West, Gertrude Jekyll, Edna Walling (who had been influenced by Gertrude Jekyll) and the paintings of Monet and his garden in Giverny.  I was also influenced by William Robinson who was Irish and pioneered the paradoxical, exciting and appealing idea of a wild garden.

California poppy: Californa has a Mediteranean climate
Most of the plants originating in Asia came from China or Japan. Such as Japanese anemones, magnolia stellata  and mondo grass.  I have visited China and was entranced by the parks and gardens, and even by simple roadside plantings.  I haven't been to Japan but admire the aesthetics and philosophy of Japanese gardens.

Ivy is native to Eurasia
The Mediterranean  region covers parts of 3 continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. The Mediterranean climate includes parts of California, Australia, Chile, South Africa and Central Asia. Plants from these places have done well in my garden and been pretty drought resistant.  Examples are Californian poppies, yarrow, ivy, honeysuckle and mint.

Honeysuckle comes from the Northern hemisphere

Friday, 8 April 2011

johnny jumps up in my garden


The botanical name of this plant is Viola tricolor. This wildflower has naturalized in my garden, and just looking at it makes me feel happy. I notice its absence in autumn and winter and miss its smiley cheeky face.

Viola tricolor is a wild pansy, associated with magic, love and romance for centuries before the round-petalled, cultivated pansy became popular in England around 1810.  The wild pansy is known by many names - Heartsease, Love-in-Idleness, Johnny Jump Up, Love-Lies-Bleeding, Stepmother and others. The name Pansy derives from the French pensees, meaning thoughts.

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream Puck, assistant to Oberon,  King of the Fairies, squeezes the juice of Love-In-Idleness into the eyes of sleeping Titania, so she will fall in love with the first creature she sees when she wakes.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

a few persistent unwelcome plants in my garden

I don't know if I would  call them weeds. They certainly don't feature on official lists of plants most feared and hated. Other plants have lived in my garden for a while,  and have accepted that they are no longer wanted, allowing themselves to be dug up and go to compost or other people's gardens. But these plants keep returning. What is it with them? They just don't get the message: Go away!  Digging them up doesn't work. Glysophate weedspray doesn't deter them. So I just keep them in check the best I can, in a kind of uneasy truce.

There was a time when wisteria covered the deck. For a few weeks a year it was divine. Lovely perfume wafting, long purple flowers hanging down. But if I wasn't vigilant it would grow into the roof and start lifting the tiles. I was an inexperienced gardener and found it scary. Then the deck started to rot and needed to be replaced so it was a chance to get rid of it and replace it with something more benign and useful - a grape vine. I cut the wisteria right back and painted it with the poison. That would have been maybe 10 years ago, and it's still coming back. Minus the flowers. I can't dig it up. Sometimes I poison it, sometimes I prune it back. More and more often lately I just leave it.  I have to accept the wisteria will still be in the garden when I have left it.
Wisteria climbing on the deck
 The acanthus story is similar. In front of the kiwi vine-covered screen acanthus thrived in the shade of the large tree next door. But the kiwifruit didn't do well without being watered and in time the screen was removed. Garden change happened.  In many respects the changes were planned and managed. Except the acanthus rebelled. They are joined deep underground so digging them up doesn't work. The chemical solution is only short term. I do love them - in moderation - so I might abandon the power struggle and aim for influence instead of control.

Acanthus keeps returning
It was a special birthday, 20 years ago, and M. gave me a bridal veil creeper in a pot. I kept it in the pot for years and loved its delicate dark green foliage and small white flowers. Then it escaped into the garden. It's easy to pull up but you never get it all, and it too will outlive me in the garden.

Bridal Veil Creeper creeping and lurking in the undergrowth
Then there's ivy. It's lovely, reminds me of old houses in England. I knew it was rampant, so only grew it in a pot - where it stayed.  Over time the couple next door grew old and died. Their house was sold, pulled down and a modern swish-er house built. My neighbours decided to grow a kind of ivy on their side of the fence. Which they are entitled to do but surprise, surprise ... the ivy doesn't stay on the other side of the fence. So now I continually pull out little ivy seedlings. If I stop doing this I will have a garden of ivy. Could be nice, but it's not really what I have in mind.
Ivy on the fence
The last unwanted plant is infuriatingly cunning and clever. I don't know what it's called and hope someone can identify it for me. Its leaves and habit look exactly like a forget me not except that it never flowers.  It's only when I have pulled it out that I know for sure which one it is because the roots are different.  Forget me not roots are long and thin and not clingy, unlike this mystery plant, which has many strong wiry fine roots.

Forget Me Nots with possible imitators nearby

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