Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Politics, Irony and a Rooster

Half a dozen croaky crows disturbed the Sunday morning quiet following the cold Belgrave Lantern Festival, a wonderful night-time solstice celebration. `Nadia’ followed up with more rooster-like behaviour:  calling the hens with that distinctive `food is here’ call, which worked, albeit rather desultorily.
The Who’s song chimes `I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but my Mum won’t admit it...’ and hums as we digest the inconvenient news and look with fresh eyes at our chesty, glossy bird with the handsome curved tail (but small comb).
(It reminds me of a friend who thought, for several months, that his son had a cold until his newly broken voice was pointed out; you can be too close to see the overall picture.)
`Chickie’ is still `his’ best name – usefully unisex as we adjust – but doesn’t reflect his civilised nature: crowing at 7.30 is not too early; it’s fine! Last night, to my sorrow, I watched as our first female Prime Minister was deposed for the Labor cause.
As I see it, the glass ceiling just got double glazing.

Clever Chickie sniffed the political winds and decided to crow again this morning – although at 8, still not at dawn, tempering the rashness. It feels, momentarily, ironic until I reflect that Chickie is lowest in the pecking order still, crowing and male chromosomes notwithstanding. That is what is – faintly - ironic.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Winter Solstice

Icy-white rimes leaves and grasses as the mercury drops below zero on the dawn of the winter solstice. But it’s a sunny, glorious day at odds with the weak moonlight-lemon of leaves – a fifth of the canopy – still hanging on somehow to neighbouring golden elms.

Slightly cooler still are the many interesting hoop petticoats (Narcissus bulbocodium varieties, this one intriguingly labelled `AGS [Alpine Garden Society] 1077 Galligaskins’; how could this flower from seed after 2 years? Is it a ring-in?)
The Alpine Garden Society is a great source of interesting seed and from my fellow members of the Victoria branch, great plants. Tomorrow I am giving them a small lecture titled French Gardens. Wish me well, s’il vous plait.
Meanwhile fast-growing Salvia `Icicle Pink’ has opened its rather icy-pink flower buds – so far, so good – into winter flowers (again, good) of soft candy pink, rather harsh and de trop (merde).

But back to the cold nights.
Minus Point Nine in the henhouse!

Of our 6 little hens, one Light Sussex (Debbie) has moulted and now looks almost sleek; her blondie sister (Harry) is now moulting appallingly and looks like a scarecrow: more scary than crow. Truly punk I guess. J may not approve but on these freezy nights I check on them stealthily, torch in hand, and sometimes rearrange matters. The pecking order is relatively immutable but the sleeping positions have every permutation and combination possible, disputed nightly. Tonight I’ve just plonked our poor scrappy girl next to her sister-white with lowly Freddy - living eiderdown - on her other side. Bunch up, girls! Dark mutterings (and that’s just in the henhouse) but take away the torch and they won’t dance about. Nearby, lower, is newest `Chicky’ (Nadia as a moniker wasn’t going to last, was it?) but while, at last, she is biggest, she sensibly recognizes the natural order of seniority in the house. For now.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Formal Lines

 This is not my garden! But I do yearn for some structure in the garden – just a little.
The informality that swept into Australian gardens at the same time that sexual freedom swept through much of society has been embraced with such fervour that many – like nature – abhor a straight line.
Our front path is 7m long and Euclid-straight  – to J’s dismay. (So many people, including those who love bushland, bar themselves from liking any formal lines in the garden at all – except sometimes in the edible patch. Similarly puzzling, some lovers of native plants do not admit exotics into their garden - unless they’re edible. (The plants, not the gardeners.) I can’t understand this – to me – double standard. Flowers (and berries, leaves…) are just as important as vegetables…or more so, depending on your focus.)
Along the front path are a double row of dwarf lillypillies, easy, `self-shaping’ balls for giving, long term, green structure to the beds of (otherwise) mainly perennials. And an edging of groundcovers too of course, bugle (Ajuga `Jungle Beauty’ the best) and cranesbills, when the wallabies let them expand.

My only other formal area is my circular lawn, 6m in diameter, which sets off the garden beds so beautifully. It’s never watered but soaks up the hot sunshine in summer, cooling the garden literally and spiritually (for want of a better word); besides, we can sit out here in spring sunshine and autumn; and play boulles here with friends. It’s winter now and those pretty garden beds are almost empty of green; just clove-brown iris stalks, biscuit rose bushes, chestnut mulch. Originally this was meant to be the winter garden! Epacris, hellebores, winter Crocus: all have been tried. Either El Nino dry or La Nina wet years have defeated them all. (Struggling winter roses with barely a flower yet are decidedly unimpressive.) So…a solution is the classic hedge, a dwarf one, to make it all seem deliberate and to hide the ugliness a bit; this is unquestionably `out’ where J is concerned; a pity, I would have had my roundel. But I think I’ve found a great compromise: a circle instead, of Corsican Winter Rose (Helleborus argutifolius) to give neat greenness all year with those handsome serrated leaves, grey-green, veined cucumber-green; above, those apple-green flowers almost winter-long, starting before all the others. Closely planted to create a lush continuous circle in slightly raised soil to aid drainage (our soil is wet, wet, wet every winter) adding a little bugle (Ajuga), perhaps, at the very edge of the lawn.

This is not enough, however, the beds require more! I love winter-blooming purple wallflowers (Erysimum), charmingly scented, so a few shall be added, and perhaps some early Viburnum too. (These plants are not chosen at random of course; they are not delicious to Ms Wallaby and scampering 45cm-high joey which nightly nibbles the best species cyclamen under the veranda.)
Winter flowers are precious but good structure in the garden – green, for me – is vital (not grey or brown which just depress; silver foliage should be used with care).  If my circle of green winter roses works (well fertilized to give height and lots of leaves) I will have structure of sorts, and it will never need trimming, an ideal situation for this lazy gardener.