Thursday, 24 March 2016

An Avian Cirque du Soleil and a Little Chamomile Path

For 20 years the old stone seat has sat, nicely, just within the garden, but without a good path to reach it. Last year a nephew asked for advice choosing groundcovers that can be walked on - to some extent - between old pavers and I finally chose some appropriate groundcovers (many the same as his) to pop between stones to step to my seat, too. (Why do I need this impetus? Last year it was looking at clematis catalogues with my sister to make me choose and order mine; and last week we went to the Melbourne Garden Show to look at tulip bulbs together - loads of fun! (Yes, it's actually the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Sorry, I just can't get interested in vases of flowers (yes, I know they're more than that), not at all, gardens are a thousand times more interesting; and why, why are the display gardens up so high his year - so high that a woman of 5'2" (158cm) can barely see the top of the water features?)

I'd known of chamomile lawns since the 1980's when they were popular, but now learnt that there were 2 kinds of chamomile plants: flowering (too tall) and lawn (lower). I bought 2 plants of the latter and some creeping (very low) thyme to replace the culinary thyme that had been spreading prettily here - but a single step breaks the woody stems of the edible garnish; not a good lawn alternative or path plant. Mostly I chose plants that release a nice scent when brushed or trodden on, another pleasant effect.
There's just a touch too much shade in summer from my weeping white wisteria tree (Robinia pseudoacacia hybrid) hovering above - wonderful for sitting beneath its gentle canopy - for the thyme to really flourish but the chamomile are fantastic: green, luscious, growing to meet each other; add this to the fact that they are growing in a fairly unwatered garden after a drought and I feel like they need applauding.
On the seat, at one end, is the bowl I love, made by clever mother-in-law, a pottery teacher. We fill it with water frequently and it's a haven for the birds...including, I realised last week, Mr Blackbird from Britain, he who scratches all day long, moving my mulch downhill, burying the lower plants and exposing those at the top. My solution? The largest of those hanging-basket baskets (bought to protect plants when wallabies roamed the garden (17 months free now - yay! Plants are growing at last (and wallabies have all the bushland to eat in and a large dam to drink from)), upturned over the birdbaths. J and I watched anxiously from the kitchen window: would my baskets put off the small birds?

It may be the big dry, it might be just as they're migrating through, it might be coincidence - but within a day of placing a fairly finely wired basket over the bowl, we found flocks of, at times, 20 little birds congregating where over 10 years we've only seen perhaps 6 at most at the bowl at any one time. The activity, the excitement has, it seems, drawn in more birds and we've even had a red-headed honeyeater visit; a bird we've never - in 24 years - seen here before.

The sweet feathered visitors dangle from the wire like acrobats; some slurp upside down; perhaps they think it's a really useful sort of branch. Despite the dome it's less Mad Max Thunderdome and more Cirque du Soleil. 
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 (