Saturday, 20 February 2016

Flora and Fauna

It's pretty special when there's a furry antechinus zooming around the well-watered pots by the front and back doors.  As carnivores, they are munching  the slugs with glee (or is that emotion just mine?) but are they annoying the plentiful brown tree frogs too?
One little frog leapt as high as the washing and may have been regretful when the clothes dried, and I certainly got quite a (pleasant) surprise as I brought in the washing yesterday - `that's a heavy brown leaf on my chest - oh, it's hopping up towards my neck...hmmm.' Over to the cool white lace-cap hydrangeas on the east side of the house, where some cool, woodland perennials are sitting in pots underneath, awaiting the autumn rains (`when are we going to get there?'!) and I brush my new little friend gently onto a leaf where, in the sunny morning warmth, it sits a little while before deciding where to go (down to another pot I imagine.)
My friend, artist, gardener Kay Craig introduced me to `bog pots' (pots with no drainage holes) and my version - stay with me! - a plastic pot inside a plastic bag (carefully pushed down to be unseen) inside an attractive pot of similar size (one that suits all the others) is a way - at last! - of keeping alive primulas, of keeping happy so many of my beloved woodland perennials in these cruel dry summers, and these attract frogs wonderfully. If I move a pot, I need to be very careful not to injure a frog, or 2, or more rarely, three.
Are we alone in not spraying for spiders? Yes, the cobwebs are unsightly here and there under the veranda but they have spiders and catch it seems that every 10 minutes or so a scrub wren (and other birds) will scuttle along just outside our floor-length windows and look for and catch insects. (And in spring the cobwebs are used in nests.) Our friends who spray (and clean) say that the cobwebs come back immediately so I can be both smugly organic (a mis-used word to mean no chemicals) and lazy.
Meanwhile J bought me a water garden for Christmas. At last I can buy a waterlily, a long-held dream (and a white, deliciously petite one at that); we are watching our flower bud grow to the surface with great anticipation. We've placed the huge bowl near the outdoor table and chairs where we can enjoy the ambience and hopefully wildlife, placing an elegant, curving stick on it to provide a way out for clambering frogs; but it meant removal of the too-nearby birdbath. This sandstone-coloured birdbath was lugged to the herb garden under the dwarf peach outside the kitchen window, under a useful twiggy perch, and the little wild birds discovered it, and started to use it within a day or two. So I'm in the kitchen and I see red-browed scrub-wrens bathing 2m away (I've only seen them in flocks moving through the lawn, eating the grass seed) and oh, at last, I can see what they really look like! Wow! It makes up for the bird bath looking plonked there; the nearby oregano and golden oregano needs to grow around it, badly, and soften that base soon. Maybe a few culinary sage bushes around it will anchor it better.

Domestic fauna - hens - have been pretty interesting too.
Treacle is definitely an emo. Does Treacle miss her old sparring partner Toffee? She mopes; there's no joie de vivre , `no one loves (or notices) me', no laying, `I'm not eating that boring crap', a hunched over apart-ness; surely she'd wear black if she could. An elderly teenager?
Freddie thinks she's a blackbird, sprinting like The Dressmaker's unstoppable Mr Almanac, but forever scratching and seeking food and stopping only to assert dominance.
Gerri is neurotic, jumping at her own shadow, a henny penny if you will. (`J's carrying a ladder - panic - now!', `there's a goshawk! - oh, OK, maybe a leaf flapped particularly strongly', and so on. She's like the other light Sussex girls, with an unfortunate whingey call and bad eyesight, having trouble hopping up her perch if she leaves it too late. Our other pretty bantams are golden and silver wyandottes - as bantams they have very small eggs - and are clucky quite often but don't whine...unless they were brought up amongst the flock; the youngest wyandottes learnt a whining-sounding call from their aunts.
Yesterday I popped into the hen run with a bowl of food scraps, only to find 2 nests filled up with 3 optimistic girls. Two immediately came out but in the interests of fairness I waited for Gerri; and waited. I stuck my head into the henhouse and showed her the full bowl to show her that I was still waiting - politely - for her. And there was Gerri squeezing out an egg tout de suite, poor girl, then waiting to be sure she didn't harm it. Then she flaps out to join the party (`Wait for me...').
Wyadotte after wyandotte tries to hatch the sterile eggs. Sometimes though, I think it's the appeal of a nice looking boudoir, even egg-less beds are attractive; they need time away from their sisters, time out, away from power games and politics. So then the mean old food lady comes along and tosses them out before real broodiness sets in. No hens are going on hunger strike on my watch. 
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 (

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