Monday, 27 August 2012

Sunshine bathes the garden and the ground is slowly, slowly warming. In the edible patch the heart of broad beans has germinated at last (the flanking 2 `J’s not so successfully – yet) and the broccoli seedlings are growing.
On tall tree branches near the dam (no coincidence surely) male wood ducks are calling to entice the females, while at night tawny frogmouths have become, it seems, tame overnight. On our road, one allowed me to within a bare metre before glaring, muttering darkly to itself and slowly, in unwieldy mode, flapping off in disgust; we were hardly going to run it over without first trying to shoo it off the road.
Apart from the quiet – a few occasional chainsaws notwithstanding – (dare I say Serenity?) we moved here for the nature: forest and wild life. It’s intensely pleasurable when native birds and animals are thrust at you (other than garden-munching wallabies, which are, however, welcome in the bushland) overriding music, feeding hens or daydreaming, forced into the rather busy human consciousness.
Meanwhile the garden has a giant shot of gold with daffodils flowering in almost every sunny spot available and tiny ones appearing in old pots; one is from seed sown in August 2002, a gem flowering a decade on, but forgotten most of the year. I’m fortunate that some bulbs are so giving and forgiving.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Double snowdrops and the mysterious shrinking house

Early spring has arrived, the season of gold daffodils, petite iris, the last of the snowdrops and the first of the shell-pink Cyclamen, tiny windflowers (Anemone heldreitchii left) and precocious Scilla of smoky cobalt blue.

A burst of warmth has thrust the forest into a new season: the bright lemon and bold yellow of Silver Wattles has spread to others - Golden Wattle, little Myrtle wattle and my favourite, elegant weeping Cinnamon Wattle.  

Venture out in the cool morning and there is something new each day. I love this time of promise to come, the garden full of buds rather than flowers, nothing yet blown over into sad brownness by hot winds.  It’s the best season of them all.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Happy 1st Birthday to our flock of five bantams hens.

Happy Birthday to our flock of five bantams – one year old.
Toffee and darker Treacle (Golden Wyandottes), Debbie and Harry (Light Sussex `Blondies’) and mercurial in name and colour but not nature, our star Freddy (a Silver Wyandotte) – the tamest hen I’ve been lucky enough to have since, well, Chirpy the Rooster. A rooster? Yes, my teenage sisters were unimpressed but I was besotted. Chirpy was around when I was 10 and tolerated being held on the swing amongst other indignities.
Whenever I dig in the veg garden, yellow robins dart around my feet; fearless. Friendly or just quickly agile? Freddy is similarly fearless under the feet but less safely so; she thinks we won’t harm her and not only must I walk slowly – not my natural pace – but if it’s dark I mustn’t (again) thrust my hand into a nesting box (she was broody) and virtually punch her. (Oops.)

We’ve had pretty Isa Brown girls; then a couple of years ago, 2 handsome black Australorp crosses (Jade and Scarlet, with feathers darkly gleaming red and green). A black crow became more resident than visitor, sitting on top of the large caged hen-run, crowing his presence. He’s infatuated with Scarlet, I said, and seriously, she moped when he left…OK, a few less eggs can be expected when winter arrives. I missed Claude, anyhow.
And more hopeless anthropomorphism: Our pretty Light Sussex hens are just not laying (their rock’n’roll cousins started months ago); do they sense that we are vegetarian and consequently feel too safe? It’s farcical, like in `The Good Life’; would waving a gun near them scare them into laying? Fortunately that scenario remains strictly for television at Possum Creek.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Winter Roses (Helleborus)

Winter Roses are really coming into their own, with buds opening throughout the garden. I bend down and look into their beautiful centres: spotted, veined, double, semi-double. Most are pink, magenta, and white while the Sun and Sky bed has some nice single flowers of acid yellow. And they are fashionable!
A visit to Post Office Farm Nursery near Woodend yielded some beauties: double Helleborus of lemon, white and buttery yellow. Peter Leigh has bred some extraordinarily handsome plants with flowers of pure hue, not muddied by green; neat doubles, not messy; and some plants have blooms that face outwards, not always dangling. Some are getting larger I think, but not overpoweringly so.
I brought home a lemon hellebore which has water lily-like flowers (above); arranged with some yellow and white plants near the front door, I look at them every day and purr. The almost gold one above is one of Peter’s plants and shows his advanced breeding; these are amongst the finest in the world.
I am trying to keep my yellow and pink hellebores separate; I imagine progeny might result in `apricot peach’ flowers and I’m not a fan of these.
Plant breeding can involve paint brushes to transfer pollen and careful labeling of each flower but I’m not patient enough for this. I get nice seedlings the old fashioned way, by putting 2 plants near each other, but not for the same reason. In the 19th century plant breeders did not want to play god but after putting the 2 plants near each other would hope bees would carry out the desired divine intervention; I’m just too lazy (and there’s some bees here on sunny days).
Hellebores can take dry shade but they do like some sunshine on these cold winter days. White flowering plants look wonderful in dark corners but I like some of the more subtle flowers too. Helleborus x sternii (below) has handsome serrated leaves of bottle-green overlaid with silvery veins. Helleborus argutifolius and H. lividus are its parents and I particularly like the forms with enough white mottling for the foliage to appear quite snowy.
I still have a few winter roses in the garden with flowers of messy shape or – more rarely – slightly muddy colours. I’m pretty fussy! So I’ll get out the spade soon and give a few to friends; sharing plants is undoubtedly one of the joys of gardening.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Orchid Road

Orchid Road was our meeting place, with friends; how appropriate I reflected after we had wandered through Baluk Willam Reserve and found about 6 kinds. Tiny Mayfly Orchids, tall and nodding lettuce-green to translucent Greenhoods, and little maroon Helmeted-orchids – new to me - hiding in the grass. Some of the flora here is found on our property too which gives both a sense of belonging and interest in a slightly (unjustified) proprietary way.
I was very useful: `What are these?’ I enquired of the small round heads of Helmeted-orchids nestled on the ground after our friends – who were seeking this species in particular – had passed them by. Bronze and green Cobra Greenhoods were also new to me. Muddy knees were a trivial result of seeking the perfect photo as we slowly traversed the path; was it worth standing up only to lie down again? Where was the Sherpa bearing cafĂ© au lait and croissants? And do I need a better camera? As usual, we pledged to visit again, soon.
Splashes of yellow wattles and pink or white heath (Epacris) bestowed strong colour to the bush while handsome leaves of sun-orchids and others give promise of interest to come. Seeing J discuss the local plants with such knowledge made me both proud and impressed; this reminds me of when we bought our property and mum (a botanist) identified so many plants for us. Here she is showing us a bearded orchid; later we found an albino form, amongst the 14 orchids we’ve found here – so far.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

A giant rainbow sliced through heavy clouds of anthracite yesterday; I was in Melbourne and I swear the pot of gold was resting in my garden in the hills. Like Magi we followed it home; like the myths, a present of gold had arrived. Midas has worked his alchemy on all the silver wattles (named for the gray leaves) in the foothills; they have exploded – early - in brightest lemon after unremarkable weather, not unseasonably warm.  Some wattles have flowers of pure gold in true Olympian spirit; underneath the guinea-gold of King Alfred daffodils, heads nodding in the gusts of wind, contrast with the surrounding winter green of the season. Across the valley from our cottage the forest trees are suddenly interspersed with tall wattles of bright yellow; they surprise me each year. But it’s early August! And the meteorologists are telling us that we are not having a particularly cold winter but rather a normal cold one, compared to last year’s warmer winter. Nevertheless, the wattles are very early; like other wildflowers; it’s a concern.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Recently a friend in Olinda explained how she’d chosen lots of winter-blooming shrubs as her first plantings in her now-impressive and beautiful garden around a classic `hills’ home, including fragrant Daphne; apple blossom-pink Viburnum farreri; bright lemon, perfumed Mahonia; buttery Rhododendron lutescens (below left); gold witch hazel; and cream, well-named Wintersweet (below right) with its dull-coloured flowers that powerfully exude a sweet fragrance unlike any other. (I have a poor sense of smell but wintersweet is up there with Gardenias and Daphne.) This wintersweet is a good form with deep yellow flowers; conversely this rhododendron has forms, sometimes, with blooms of gold.
Blue flowers and yellow make a pretty pairing. I walked outside today to find dwarf Iris reticulata `Alida’ flowering: delicious, deep china blue with deep amber and white markings; barely 13cm high. I’ve moved it near the lemon hoop petticoat daffodils of which I’ve 3 just now: all a little different, one quite short, all sweet.
It’s odd, I tend towards mauve, purple, blue and some pink in the garden; but these yellow flowers are incredibly cheering on the short cold days.