SoS, July 7: Small Bright Spots.

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Although some bulbs are making an appearance, much of the garden is having its Winter rest, so this week's post is more about small spots of colour rather than any overall abundance of the kind that Spring will hopefully produce. Most  plants need to rest at some time of the year, so I'm grateful to those that  do their flowering in the coldest months of the year, bringing pleasure and brightness to cold dreary days.

Here are some of my spots of colour this week.

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One: Violas are good value plants that pop up in many places,  happily flowering in these cold temperatures.  I don't know the names of these as I planted them before I realised it was helpful to know more about plants than their common names.

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Two:  This is Grevillea 'Lady O' who flowers for most of the year.  The spidery flowers are quite small for a Grevillea, but they are a haven for  honeyeaters like the Eastern Spinebill which frequently visits our garden and enjoys the nectar and the closely packed leaves.

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Three:  Our dwarf Calamondin x citrofortunella microcarpa is having its first fruit and they are joyous spots of colour in a wintry garden.  Most people would find the compact fruit  impossible to eat straight off the tree but it makes the most delicious marmalade.

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Four: Banksia blechnifolia.  I've posted about this Western Australian banksia before, but now it really seems to be growing some flowers.  It's quite an odd plant with its moth-feeler stems,  and I'm waiting to see if the fuzzy protuberances turn into flowers.  More soon.

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Five: A small success story.  This is Hakea 'Burrendong Beauty' which is a native to this area, having been discovered in the Burrendong Arboretum in the 1980s.  It's believed to be a hybrid which occurred naturally there.  I picked a small cutting from a garden nearby a couple of years ago, managed  to strike it and it has been quietly growing since.  This winter, for the first time,  it has burst forth into flower along the length of its branches. At first the stamens are like elbows or hairpins, but they unbend to become feeler-like as the flower completes its bloom.

 

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Six: Finally, something with very little colour.  A photo of part of the garden which shows how hard you have to look for colour at this time of the year. I hope that bulbs will spring up under those silver birches before too long.  Flora, with her cornucopia of Echeveria, is keeping a close eye on things.

If you would like to see what is happening in other gardens on a Saturday, pop over to the Propagator's blog and take a look.

Weather today:  What a mixed bag.  -0.5 to 11 C, frost, then sunny and windy, then rain.  The top was 11, but only for about half an hour.  Most of the day it hovered around single digit numbers.  Brrrr!

SoS, June 30. Winter colour

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We're in the throes of Winter now and the cold mornings seemed to arrive earlier than they usually do. I think perhaps this was due to a long dry period and lack of moisture in the atmosphere. Last Sunday  we had a low of -4.5, a white lawn and a birdbath with a thick layer of ice. After the frost, the days are glorious: clear skies full of sunshine and warm enough to be out in the garden in shirt sleeves. Later in the week we had a Rain Event which was most welcome. I have been busy cutting back my perennials for their Winter rest, working my way around the back garden.

Each Saturday, keen gardeners select six things from their garden to share with others from around the world. The Six on Saturday crowd is growing under the leadership of Mr P, and if you're interested in seeing fascinating plants and interesting ideas from all corners, do pop over to his blog here.

Here are my Six:

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One: Just coming into bloom and bringing some brightness into the garden is Leptospermum scoparium ‘Nanum Rubrum’. I think of Twiggy or a kewpie doll -if you're old enough to remember either of those- when I look at these flowers. Big round eyes and spiky eyelashes. Leptospermums are amongst my favourite natives.  They flower prolifically  for ages and at a time when much of the garden is hibernating, and bees love them.

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Two:  Coprosma repens 'Ignite' whose foliage is colourful all year round but even more so in Winter, is also creating a bright spot in the garden.  This one doesn't spread as much as some of the other Coprosmas which can behave quite thuggishly.  I like a plant I can control.

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Three:  Osteospermum.  I thought there was too much pink and blue in the front garden, so I decided, Monet like,  to add a touch of yellow, a sparkling highlight, and chose this Osteospermum, whose name I have since lost.  Most plants are finished for now, but the light shines on,  shimmering steadfastly.

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Four:  Anigozanthos, or Kangaroo Paw.  I don't have much luck with these, and after a discussion with another Sixer, Nat from depressionfreegarden, over in Western Australia, I've decided that my soil isn't sandy enough.  This is the only Kangaroo Paw that has lasted more than one season for me. More than anything, these two flowers remind me of a couple of haughty cockerels giving each other the cold shoulder. The one on the right has a much more impressive comb and is behaving quite snootily.

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Five:  Gargantua has been out.  Snorting and roaring,  our resident monster has chomped up the cuttings and turned them into usable mulch which either goes straight on the garden or is composted.

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Six:  Thanks to Kris, from Late to the Garden Party, I have recently learnt about fasciation.  I have noticed that these echeverias have developed strange mutations, sending out shoots that divide into small florets and I wonder if this is an example of fasciation.  What do you think? I've a lot of these plants forming a border and this strange phenomenon is only present in one small section.

And that's my six for this week.  Happy gardening!

Weather today: -1 to 14 degrees C, fog then sunny.

Rain Tumbled Down

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Rain fell today. We had 27ml of steady rain, not the sudden over-in-a-minute kind, but the sort that sinks into the garden and refreshes. It was a proper Event. The hills behind our house were enshrouded with mist, as sombre as the grey sky, and the rain tumbled down for most of the day.

In town people were jubilant, exclaiming about the wet weather to complete strangers, stepping happily around puddles and enjoying using an umbrella for the first time in ages. There was a perceptible feeling of positivity in the air. It's always like that when there's a good fall.

By the afternoon the clouds were clearing, the last tendrils of mist were creeping up the hills and the sun was making an effort to break through. Remnant raindrops clinging to leaves were glittering jewel-like in watery beams.
I won’t have to worry about watering the garden now for some time as the weather isn't hot enough to dry it out the way it does in the Summer.

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Six on Saturday, June 16.

Here we are! It's Saturday again, and I'm joining in with the Six on Saturday crowd to see what's happening in gardens near and far. If you also have a hankering to see what's going on in other gardens,  do visit The Propagator's blog where you can also join in if you wish. It's worth it. While we, in the Southern Hemisphere head towards the coldest time of the year, in the Northern Hemisphere gardens have burst forth into glorious bloom, and  SoS pages are full of wonderful flowers, some familiar and some not so.

Here are my six for this week.

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One: Rescued from an orphans'  table somewhere recently, this Gaillardia 'Mesa Red' is growing well.  I'm not keen on the yellow ones, but I rather like this one with its bewhiskered centre and scarlet petals.

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Two:  Seeds purchased from Lambley Gardens and Nursery: Cerinthe major purpurascens, Nigella 'Miss Jeckyll Alba, Nigella orientalis 'Transformer' and  Wallflower Sunset Series 'Apricot'.  These are intended to be space fillers in the garden.  In the small packet I have Exochorda macrantha 'The Bride'. I saw Exochorda on a blog earlier this year and not surprisingly decided I had to have one. I’ve not found any online anywhere, but managed to source some seeds. I'll pot them up soon and hopefully have some seedlings before too long.

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Three: Here I have two cuttings of Grevillea 'Sooper Dooper' which has a terrible name, but is an excellent plant which flowers ALL year, and remains compact, making it especially suitable for small gardens.  In the red, there is a cutting which I think is going to fail, but in the yellow is one that has new shoots on it already.  Below is a photo of the flowers on the one that is already established in the front garden.

Grevillea 'Soopa Doopa'
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Four: Some purchases made on my trip home from Sydney earlier this week: a pretty Erica colorans 'White Delight' (flowers below) , a Pittosporum  to fill a hole in a hedge and two dwarf Rhaphiolepis to put in the spot vacated by the bay trees which were moved a week or so ago.  New larger  pots have been purchased and I hope the Rhaphiolepis don't outgrow them too quickly.  They were chosen for their toughness as the position they're going to be in is challenging indeed.

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The Five: I'm looking for help with this one.  I picked this cutting from someone's front garden, but I don't know what it is.  It had a blue flower and I'm wondering if it's borage.  It has struck very easily and quickly. Any suggestions?

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Six: Continuing the unsung hero/heroine series, this little pansy has self-seeded and is flowering happily in the cold and frost. Pansies grow well here in the winter, but as soon as hot weather arrives they throw in the towel. Fortunately they proliferate quite well and reappear when they are ready.

 

That's my six for this Saturday.  Happy gardening everyone.

Weather today: -1 to 13 degrees C; windy, cloudy and cold.

Singing Saul

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This week I’m departing from the topic of gardening because I’ve just had a wonderful weekend during which I had the privilege of singing, along with 599 other people, in the Sydney Opera House.

Each year, for the last thirteen years, Chorus Oz has provided enthusiastic choristers with the opportunity to take part in a massed choral performance of an oratorio. This year, Handel’s ‘Saul’ was performed.

In case readers get the wrong idea, no particular expertise is necessary, apart from being able to sing in tune, and being prepared to pay a fee. There is no audition.  Prospective choristers are sent a score and a CD with the the voice part (in my case soprano) on it. The rest is up to the participant: practise the part at home until you know it well, and then present yourself in Sydney on the long weekend in June, prepared to take part in a workshop, a rehearsal and a performance in the Sydney Opera House! It’s not a small undertaking really if like me, your music reading skills are fairly rudimentary. There’s certainly a challenge and also a great sense of achievement when you realise you’ve mastered those trills and high notes and learnt the eighteen choruses.

On Saturday, expectant choristers met together at the rehearsal venue for a full day workshop with our musical director, Brett Weymark. In he bounded, leaping up on to the rostrum, flinging his arms in the air and carolling, ‘Hello-o-o!”, his fingers fluttering like five-winged dragonflies. A one man song, dance and comedy band who soon had us all in his palm like ants to a sugar cube. We found ourselves doing faintly ridiculous warm-ups like pretending to chew steak while singing scales. Try it! The day flew by as we sang our hearts out, laughed and were entertained by this multi-talented person. Oh yes, and we worked very hard too.

The whole of Sunday was spent at the Opera House: just the choir in the morning, polishing and re-polishing, getting the correct intonation, diction and volume, and practising our sits and stands. No one wants the choir leaping up to sing at the wrong moment! In the afternoon the orchestra and the soloists arrived, and we rehearsed with them. It was an amazing achievement: none of these groups had rehearsed together before this day, and it all came together almost without a hitch.

Finally, assembled before an audience in the huge, vaulted Concert Hall, there we all were: a 600 strong choir, soloists and an orchestra complete with harpsichord and carillon. It was an electrifying performance and thrilling to be part of a huge musical enterprise as we swayed and sang, and even marched on the spot and sang. Swaying and marching don't usually happen in an oratorio, and I'm sure our actions added spectacle to music that is already full of drama.

I didn’t have much of a voice left at the end of it all, but I was uplifted and inspired by the experience and am already looking forward to next year's performance of Beethoven.

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Taking photos during a performance is quite rightly, not allowed at the Opera House, and most of the photos I took with my phone during rehearsal were blurry. I must have been too excited to hold my phone still. The photo above was taken during our rehearsal with the orchestra.   The photo below, however, was taken just before the start, by my daughter who, with my son, attended the performance.

 

 

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Did I manage to fit in a trip to a nursery on my trip to and from Sydney I hear you ask?  Of course!  Two, in fact.

Six on Saturday, 2 June: Winter is here

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Winter has arrived! During the week we had some longed-for rain and on that day, the top temperature was only 13 degrees. Let's not become over-excited though, the rain gauge measured only 14 ml, but we were very grateful. Nothing refreshes the garden like the water that comes from the sky, and the recent rainfall means I won't have to water the garden beds for some time. A well mulched garden will stay damp for a while when the daily maximums are so much lower.

Six on Saturday is the forum where gardeners share six things from their garden with other enthusiasts from all over the world.  If you would like to see what other people have growing, do pay a visit to the Propagator to find out.

Here are six things of note in my garden this week:

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One:  The rosemary hedge has been needing a trim for a long time, but it has been flowering for about two months and the bees love the flowers.  Each day the hedge is full of a variety of humming bees going about their business while the hedge grows more spiky and disreputable. Rosmarinus officianalis 'Tuscan Blue' is the rosemary I use for my hedge because of its upright growth habit: it has a much stronger colour than this early morning photo shows.

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Two: Bay trees.  Despite warnings from a couple of concerned sixers, Mr MG (Trevor)  and I went ahead and released the two bay trees from their imprisonment.  The hole-digging exercise was tiring in the extreme as although the ground had been dampened, it was still of a concrete consistency, requiring a crowbar and back breaking stints on the business end of the shovel.  The plan is to keep these bays trimmed and not too tall.  I may live to regret this decision.  Time will tell.

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Three: Iris cretensis 'Starkers Pink' purchased from Lambley Nursery has its first flower.  I have to confess that I'm a little disappointed with the slightly pallid colour, but if it has quite a few flowers out at once (when it gets a bit more established), I'm prepared to forgive it.  It's supposed to a very hardy plant that can deal with extended dry periods.  You wouldn't think so to look at that dainty flower, would you?

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Four: Viola tricolor also known as Johnny Jump Up, amongst other names.  There are little seedlings emerging in many places in the garden, but this is the first flower to appear.  Soon these will be flowering everywhere and will make a splash of colour during the wintry days. I think I should call this one another unsung hero.

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Five:  A garden view with the last of the Autumn leaves. The weeping silver birch behind the seat was attacked by borer early in its life. It lost a leading branch on a very windy day, and has refused to grow any taller. It’s a striking colour just now, but may be living on borrowed time.

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Six:  Two Eastern (white cheeked ) Rosellas have found the last of the seeds on the Crepe Myrtle.  It's such a privilege to have these colourful birds visiting the garden, and I never tire of seeing them.

The outcrops in the photo at the top of this post are quite typical of rock formations around our local area.  Large,  smooth boulders, some of them quite monolithic, jut out in paddocks and create lumbering shadows and intriguing shapes. You can see how dry it's been- there should be green grass where that grey ground is.

Weather today: 1 degree to 16 degrees C; frost and then cloudy.

 

Happy gardening!

Tropical Glasshouse

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Recently, whilst enjoying the Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne, we visited the Tropical Glasshouse. I've thought long and hard about writing a post about the glasshouse, because what I know about tropical plants would fit on - I was going to say a tropical plant leaf, but they seem to have quite large leaves, so it would have to be another kind of leaf: a salvia leaf, perhaps. However, the visit was absorbing and the plants unusual to me, and  I thought I would share it.

The building of the glasshouse began in the early 1900s but it has been added to twice since then.  It is heated by natural gas.  The minimum temperature is 16 degrees C (obviously this climbs higher during the day),  and humidity is about 70% or more.  We certainly noticed the difference when we entered it on a grey Melbourne day.

All the plants are in pots, so repotting is an ongoing business.

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There were many different Bromeliads, so fascinating with their varied leaf designs: zig-zaggy stripes, green splotchy dots on purple, greyish-green with shocking pink tips and white pinstripes.  Bromeliads always have a little water tank in their centre which needs to be flushed out periodically.  Mosquitoes can breed in them which also makes it a good idea to do the flushing. These plants are epiphytes and don't need to be in a lot of  soil. I've learnt that they do just as well in orchid mix or sphagnum moss.  Unfortunately there were no flowers on the bromeliads when we visited.

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This pitcher plant  (Nepenthes truncata: it had a label) has a leathery feel.  Those rolled rims around the top of the pitcher are slippery and insects, or sometimes even a mouse or a frog, slide down only to become trapped and digested in the enzymes at the bottom of the pitcher, providing food for the plant. The pitchers themselves look like quivers for Hobbits' arrows! If Hobbits had arrows.

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Anthuriums are also strange looking plants.  The brightly coloured waxy looking part is a spathe or modified leaf, and not ( as I had thought) a flower. The tiny flowers can be found on the fleshy spike or spadix.

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In the centre of the glasshouse is a trickling streamlet surrounded by many plants and rocks covered with  small ferns, mosses and other damp-loving growths.  I  thoroughly enjoyed examining these microcosms with their different organisms. They're like a rainforest in miniature.

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Finally, a view of the interior of the glasshouse.  I have discovered, too late, that there are two Titan Arums in there and can't believe we didn't see them. Obviously they weren't in flower, because I'm sure their putrid smell would have been noticeable.

Botanical gardens usually have a glasshouse for visitors to wander through.  Have you been to one you enjoyed?

SoS May 26: Autumn Colours

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This Autumn has been one of the most colourful I've seen here in the Central Tablelands of NSW. Russet, garnet, butterscotch and gold leaves bedeck trees in many gardens and lawns carry  mantles of colour. I wonder if the prolonged dry spell is the reason for all this glory.  The weather continues to be warm and sunny but distressingly dry. It's wonderful weather for being outside gardening.

Six on Saturday continues apace with gardeners showing what is happening in their plot.  If you would like to see what others are experiencing in their gardens, pop over to The Propagator's blog to take part.

Here are my six:

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  1. Following an inspirational post about geraniums from Ali over at The Mindful Gardener, I visited our local nursery and bought one.  It was the only one available, actually.  She's Geranium hybrid x wallichianum 'Rozanne' which is a long name for a tiny plant.  What an ethereal blue she is with her finely drawn darker veins. I've found a sheltered spot and hope Rozanne does well.
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2.  Unidentified Pelargonium.  I love the brilliant colour of this pelargonium which is much stronger in real life than in my photo.  When the frosts arrive, this plant will be badly affected, but is sheltered enough to survive the winter, its burnt and battered outer  leaves protecting those underneath.

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3.  I planted this Arum pictum last year having read that it is quite self-contained and sensible and won't spread wantonly.  However, it looks to me as though it's indulging in some sneaky thuggery.  You can see it's grown quite large in a short period of time and is about to lean on my Scilla peruviana which has been producing strong healthy leaves.  The flowers are interesting but the flowering period is very brief.  I wonder if anyone else has had experience with this plant?

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4. Verbena bonariensis.  Planted as an infant a  month ago, 75 cm tall and flowering already.

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5.  Late afternoon sun shining on standard Escallonia.  It has a terrible aphid infestation which seems to be common to these plants.

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6. In the front garden,  Pyrus nivalis the Snow Pear,  is clothed in leaves of gold.  This is the best colour I've seen it display since it was planted three years ago: again, perhaps the effect of our dry Autumn.

Weather today: 1.3 - 21 degrees C and sunny.

Six on Saturday, May 19th

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It's astonishing how quickly Saturdays seem to roll around. I've no sooner read everyone's Sixes than it's time to prepare another one of my own.

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator. Participants are invited to show six things from their garden: flowers or vegetables, trees or shrubs, paths or gardens, successes or failures. Six things. From a garden.

Don't forget to drop in to The Propagator's blog to catch up on what other gardeners are doing.

Since last week the weather here has been glorious. Cold in the mornings, yes, but the days have been full of sunshine. People are still wearing shorts! Wonderful weather for gardening.

Here are my six for this week:

  1. Leucodendron salignum.   The label describes it as 'Red Devil' but something tells me this plant is wrongly labelled! The second picture is a different view of an older flower on the same shrub.  Various websites tell me it must have plenty of sun or the flowers won't colour. Well, sun is something it's had in abundance, so my guess is an incorrect label.
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2. Last of the Iceberg roses. They will flower sporadically until they're pruned in July, but I'm not expecting too much more from them.

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3. A garden view.  The two poor bay trees on each side of the steps have been in those pots for at least five years.  They are very sulky, and who would blame them?  They're going to be released from their misery next week, all going according to plan, and planted  in the ground.

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4.  An iris flowered! It was the only one, and who could possibly guess that this would happen?  Its time with us was fleeting: in two days it was finished.  There will be more of course, but not for a while.

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5.  Crepe Myrtle.  Unlike last week's crepe myrtle, this one is a shrub which was given to us as a house-warming present.  I don't know its name as it began as a cutting from the friend's garden.  It's looking rather autumnal with its tiara of berries.

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6.  This week's unsung heroine is Alyssum,  (it was Lobelia last week, you may remember),  another flower that will brighten our garden during winter with splashes of pink, mauve, apricot, purple and white. There’s even a yellow one, although I have never seen it. Alyssum self seeds readily, filling small spaces in a very obliging manner.

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Weather today:  0 -19 degrees C and sunny.  Of course!

Happy gardening everyone.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

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It was a dull day in April when we visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, but our enthusiasm was not dampened by the louring clouds as we wandered around the 38 hectare site with its Autumn leaf-covered lawns, its lofty trees and waterways.

The RBG was founded in 1846 and is an idyllic oasis in the middle of Melbourne only a short walk from the skyscrapers which can occasionally be seen above the trees. Like most botanical gardens,  it's divided into areas such as the Australian Forest Walk, the Tropical Glasshouse, the Southern African collection and the Perennial Border to name only a few.

Because it's a big site, it isn't possible to see everything in one visit, but although we missed quite a lot, we were well satisfied with our morning's meanderings.

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Banksias and chubby-trunked Boabs greeted us near the entrance to the gardens. I think these Boabs are youngish because I read that there's one in Western Australia that has a girth of 14.7 metres! It's thought to be 1 500 years old.

 

 

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We first wandered along the Australian Forest Walk, photos above.  Here native trees majestically imposed themselves on the landscape: Corkwood, Hard Corkwood (which is apparently  different  from not-so-hard corkwood), Cabbage Tree Palms and Queensland Kauri jostled for space amongst the Eucalypts,  Corymbia, and Angophoras (which look like 'gum' trees with typical gum-type leaves), and they in turn sheltered the ferns, Dracaenas and Queensland Firewheel Trees.

Firewheel trees-'Stenocarpus sinatus'- have spectacular flowers that really are in the shape of a wheel, unfortunately not depicted very well in my photo on the right.

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In another part of the gardens, known as the Oak Lawn people were occupied with enjoying the day even though the sky was grey and threatening. Schoolchildren played organised games or completed projects set by their teachers.

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In the ‘Camellia Collection’  blooms in many shades of pink could be seen.  Autumn is the best time to see Camellia Sasanquas flowering in Australia.

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A Wattlebird sipped nectar from a Floss Silk tree, Black Swans, native to Australia, swam in the lake, and an Eastern Spinebill (so difficult to photograph) found his lunch in the Echeverias.  Can you just see him there on the right?  He has a very long slender beak.  I'm happy to say I have Spinebills in my own garden, although I haven't been able to photograph one yet.

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A wander through the rainforest provided us with an idea of what it would be like to be in a real rainforest.  This area is kept damp with frequent waterings and there are tall sprayers placed frequently but unobtrusively throughout.  It's full of huge ficus trees with buttressed roots, epiphytes, ferns, and a wide variety of palms. A delightful stream runs through, wending its way down the slope, finding its way under roots and finally into one of the lakes on the lower level of the gardens.

 

Finally, with our feet aching and the sky threatening rain, we headed off back to the city, anticipating a delicious lunch at the highly recommended 'Chin Chin' restaurant.  I had to take one last photo which wasn't strictly in the gardens, but I couldn't resist this unusual combination of colours.

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Do you have a favourite public garden that you like to visit?