Friday, 18 December 2015

Bird Bath Activity

Checking the CFA fire danger ratings it's our first `Extreme' fire danger day of the summer season so we've checked our hens and watered the vegie patch and left early for the safety of the suburbs.

But not before filling up the bird baths. It's been so hot and dry, and today will be windy, and the little birds need the water.

They say to have shallow water that's not too deep for the little birds that I love so much - do they think they will drown when they drink or bathe? - but a wonderful pottery bowl I have in the garden, made by my mother-in-law when she was a pottery teacher, is rendered shallow by the placement of a central large stone. The little birds love it: blue fairy wrens, scrub wrens, Willie wagtails. Occasionally silver-eyes and tree creepers. Yellow robins splashing as they take a bath early in the morning.
Before the wallaby-proof fence gave me my garden: Ms wallaby supped from this bowl too; now, heavy with joey (so appropriate, one feels, in the week before Christmas) she must detour to the dam and drink there.
As the lawn browns off, quickly, the last of the grass seed is taken by re-browed finches moving through the lawn while the fairy blue wren couple still (!) are constantly admiring themselves in the window (not like the fighting of years ago); how do they find time to forage for food?
Honeyeaters seem to be in an endless quest for nectar, darting from flower to flower; salvias in particular. I'm not sure if many native plants are blooming for them just now - other than the lovely tree, Victorian Christmas Bush (Prostanthera lasianthos); but a lovely lemon Phygelius planted by the rusty treble clef `statue' brings in these birds and - luxury - they can perch on the structure as they sip the flowers; planted, by chance, outside a window so I see the shenanigans.
I'd assumed - wrongly - that I lived amongst this wealth of bird life because I live outside Melbourne and I am lucky enough to live amid a couple of hectares of bushland. But chatting to - I hope - new friends at a party last weekend - residents of Melbourne - has disabused me of this notion. We chatted about this and that bird that we were lucky enough to have visit our gardens; kindred spirits. (And she like frogs, too.) Then she mentioned feeding magpies - those larger birds of great character - with mince meat. Turning to J: `we can't do that can we?'; rhetorical; we're vegetarian. `Cheese works' we were told and while I love the idea there's problems. Apart from the arguments about feeding wild creatures (and the problems they face when you go away) J points out something very obvious about upsetting our present, pleasant balance: don't encourage big birds which will scare away (or eat) all the sweet little birds I love so much.
And we do see big ones, actually, sometimes: goshawks and eagles in the sky, tawny frogmouths in the gum trees, ducks visiting the dam, powerful owl hooting some nights.
So I won't feed the magpies but I rather wish they'd come down and pounce on the blackbirds - imported from Britain - scratching mulch from one end of the garden to the other.
And the hens? They have virtual air-conditioning. We have 2 baths (yes, baths) of raspberry plants in their run, well-watered, and underneath them is a very cool spot for our girls to sit the hot hours out. But please, girls, when laying, please don't get clucky today.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Clematis, Iris and Metal Wigwams

The roses may be nearly over but Japanese iris - purple ones near the purple gate (a happy accident) - and clematis are flowering profusely.

Some of the clematis I bought last year were in 20cm (8-inch) pots and they romped up their supports like there was no tomorrow. I'm delighted with these supports: 2 metal wigwams, each placed centrally in a cut-flower bed, with a very simple design to link to the rough teatree tripods within the adjacent edible patch. Something fancy would have looked out of place.

Some of the clematis are C. viticella hybrids: dainty, sweet.
Nearby, I've added a Clematis viticella cultivar, a pale one, to my chicken run, too, to give my girls some summer shade, and discovered something 25 years late. I worked in a retail plant nursery a life time ago for nearly a year and well-remember tying up climbers: I was taught not to trim them, but to loop them and tie them up. Well, I've finally bought one just like this, unravelled the vine carefully and dang me, I've got a 2m high climber already (that's taller than me!) and while a lot of the vine is woody, to my surprise I didn't harm it when I untangled it; no, I have a healthy, instantly tall plant. All those years of doubt...answered. Now to remove the last of the woody, dead and oh so enormous kiwi plant (not my choice) which blankets the run - now a skeleton, it waves metres above the run.
As usual the clematis plants in the cut-flower beds were carefully chosen for colour: pink and whites on one hexapod (amid pink and white cut flowers - white Narcissus and pink and white lilies etc), and blues and white for the other (amid bluebells, yellow Narcissus, white belladonna lilies).

To complete it, there's a row of huge, silver-leaf plants of globe artichokes behind each bed; I love the look of these when they're in full leaf. My problem is I like even my cut flower beds to look good all the time - it's a tall order, isn't it? 

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (