Archive | January 2018

Garden Visitors 2

“Fig jam this year,” I thought last week, as I surveyed the figs developing on my fig tree. I have to admit that I’ve been quite proud of this three-year-old fig as I grew it from a cutting given to me by a friend, but  I haven’t been able to identify it. This year it has more figs than ever before and they are ripening much earlier, I’m guessing due to the very hot dry weather we’ve been having.

A few nights ago, when we were on the back verandah enjoying the coolness brought by a miniscule one ml of rain that arrived late in the evening, something quite large and heavy landed in the top of one of our silver birch trees. It soon set off again, leaving us to guess what it was. Trevor surmised that it was a flying fox, but I wasn’t so sure.

Next morning there was damage to the figs, several of them torn from the tree and others half eaten, and although I hadn’t ascertained who the culprit was, I made hasty visit to the local hardware to buy netting. Soon the tree was wrapped up like a hot air balloon readying for take-off. That night we clearly saw bats winging across the night sky and even swooping down into the garden to inspect the tree, their leathery wings sounding like umbrellas being flapped to remove raindrops. “It will be fine,” I thought, “we have the net now.”

Not so. More damage this morning, and the outermost figs eaten right through the netting. There wasn’t much more I could do, except secure the net more tightly and hope for the best. I picked some of the fruit, but then the insidious thought: what if the bats have contaminated the fruit somehow?

A visit to NSW Health   http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/factsheets/Pages/flying-foxes.aspx   provides the answer: as long as the skin is not broken, a thorough washing prior to consumption is all that is needed.  Bats can carry diseases, but you are more likely to catch something if you are scratched or bitten,  so they are creatures to be cautious around. I’m not planning to be around them, if I can help it.

I lurked in the dark garden for quite some time  to try to get a photo, but it was very difficult, and I don’t have enough patience to stay out there for hours. Rather surprisingly there were far fewer bats than the previous night. I managed to get one photo, but it isn’t clear enough to identify the flying fox correctly.

The Environment NSWwebsite http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/native-animal-facts/flying-foxes  seems to indicate that the flying fox most usually found west of the Blue Mountains is the Little Red Flying Fox, although it didn’t look little to me.

Fascinating though these creatures are, they  are not welcome in my garden, but I have no say in the matter.  I’m still hoping there will be enough figs to make jam!

Garden Visitors

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We are very fortunate to have two Australian Magpies as visitors to our garden. In a recent poll taken by The Guardian (Australia) newspaper, the magpie was voted Australia's most popular bird. This was in spite of the fact that a magpie can swoop on an unsuspecting passer-by and inflict serious damage. To an Australian, the carolling sound of the magpie's call is as evocative as the scent of gum leaves or the sound of breakers crashing onto the beach.

Magpies are found all over Australia, although some people would be surprised to know that their numbers are in decline. The usual suspects seem to be responsible for this sorry state: overuse of pesticides, feral animals, loss of habitat and competition from other aggressive birds.

When magpies find a choice piece of real estate, they are quick to make it their home, and it will remain their home for many, many years. It doesn't even have to be a spread: a small garden will do, as long as there are insects and grubs there for the taking. If you also happen to inhabit that place, your new residents will quickly learn to recognise you and will have very little fear of you, allowing you to approach them or feed them.

It's true, magpies can swoop upon people who venture into their territory during nesting time, but your tenants should not swoop you, because they know you. Fear of 'swoopage' has led to sights such as cyclists with plastic spikes glued to their helmets, and it was once thought that a plastic ice cream bucket with a pair of eyes painted on the back was also an effective deterrent. I haven't tried this one myself.

The ornithologoical name for the magpie is Gymnorhina tibicen. The tibicen part means 'flautist' and refers to the magpie's renowned singing, called carolling. The song is very beautiful, and some people tell of hearing magpies imitate other birds as well. How versatile!

I'm looking forward to becoming friendly with our pair. I love to see them in the garden, their heads to one side listening for breakfast in the lawn and to hear them up on the roof warbling in the mornings. It's a very joyous, uplifting  sound.

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Challenging Weather

We are having a brutal summer. In Australia we have a tendency to think we have a monopoly on hot weather, and of course, we don't, but just now I'm feeling a bit put-upon in the garden. We've had a string of days in the high 30s and only 9.5 mm of rain in January so far. Today the temperature is forecast to reach 38 degrees and an uncompromising breeze is gusting, bringing with it a tang of smoke from the Pilliga, we're told, over 300 kilometres away, where a huge bushfire is raging. Around us there are storms, but you have to be lucky to snag one, and just now the clouds seem to be intent on wandering off to rain elsewhere.

Despite the water we've put on our garden (always thinking of the water bills), many plants are struggling in the unrelentingly sweltering days, even the toughest ones like the oleander, the echeverias and the salvias. I've only had this garden for just over three years, so the trees I've planted (some of them are mistakes: why did I plant silver birches in this climate?) are not tall enough to provide shade yet.

I know it will rain again eventually. In the meantime, mulch is the order of the day. And more water, I guess, while we wait and hope for a storm.

Grey skies all around
Grey skies all around
The fig tree is struggling
The fig tree is struggling

In Praise of Perennials

I love all plants, really, but the ones I love most of all are the herbaceous perennials.  They seem to be the plants that are best equipped to deal with the climate here on the western edge of the New South Wales Central Tablelands where the temperatures can reach forty  degrees plus in the summer, and descend to minus seven in the winter.  Many perennials are also quite drought hardy as well, so cope with our lengthy dry spells without demanding too much precious water.

As our long chilly winter comes to a close and slowly the sun creeps higher in the sky each day, something almost magical occurs in my rather dreary  frost-hammered garden.  Small sharp bulb leaves make their appearance followed quite quickly by buds and soon the first flowers of spring appear.

Not long afterwards other shoots emerge from dry uninteresting-looking clumps and become rather larger leaves, rapidly developing into loose shrubby plants . These are herbaceous perennials, those undemanding obliging plants that lie dormant during winter and suddenly come to life as the weather warms up, developing their flowers and putting on a show that lasts all the way through to the next autumn.  What amazing plants they are.  They will fill any corner of the garden in any kind of soil, and are often drought hardy as well.  I have seen them droop on a 36 degree day, but after a night's rest, they are sprightly and ready to face the new day. There are hundreds of different perennials.  A feature of many of the perennials is that they will grow from a cutting with the most amazing ease and so it's often only necessary to buy one plant which can then be made into many.  

I have stocked my garden with salvias, ranging in colour from pure white through yellow to pink and many shades of blue; the excellent agastache, a relative of mint; Russian sage (perovskia atriplicifolia), agapanthus, california tree poppy (romneya), echinops, day lilies, eryngium, Shasta daisies and society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea). I’m also very fond of the allium species which multiply and appear year after year. These plants all grow happily here, flowering from October until at least the end of March, slowly dying back as the first frosts come.  I give them a vigorous trim in January as they have a tendency to become straggly, and in no time they are in full flower again.

In July, I cut my perennials right down to the ground, as the owners of Hillandale do, mentioned in an earlier post Hillandale, and this allows room for bulbs to emerge, and when the bulbs have finished, like magic, the perennials start their growing spell again, ready for another summer blooming.

I have some favourites:

Romneya Coulteri
Allium 'drumstick'
Agastche 'Sweet Lili' with Salvia 'Indigo Spires' in the background
Echinops
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Left to right, from top to bottom:

Romneya Coulteri;  Allium 'Drumstick'; Agastache 'Sweet Lili' with Salvia 'Indigo Spires behind; Echinops; Russian sage with white salvia in foreground; Salvia 'Amistad' .

Hillandale

Driving anywhere from Mudgee (I'm including Gulgong and Rylstone in 'Mudgee')  is a reasonably lengthy business.  We're slightly isolated here and it's at least an hour and a half of driving before we reach anywhere else. This is nothing, I know, compared to the distances people all over Australia drive, but it sometimes seems a chore to have to do it. On this last day of 2017, however, it was a trip well worth making.  After a couple of tiffs with our GPS, and a pleasant diversion through Portland, we found ourselves at the gates of Hillandale Garden and Nursery in Yetholme, about 20km from Bathurst.

A long winding drive took us downhill to the property, which is so aptly named.  A short walk past a dam found us  at the start of a light-speckled path through stands of mature trees, natives and exotics, which then opens out onto a long vista over hummocky mounds and dales.

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A short walk across the garden over handmade stone bridges and past the dam (rather low in this long dry period)  brings the visitor to the pièce de résistance: the herbaceous perennial border.

This border is 100 metres long, and 7 metres wide.  Yes, really!  It has a softly mulched path meandering though the centre, and meander we did, admiring a luxuriance of plants in an array of colours worthy of M. Monet's palette. It's an absolute explosion of colour, seemingly without plan, and yet the natural juxtaposition of colours, textures and shapes work together to create a decidedly pleasing pastiche.  Along the way we caught glimpses of the old farmhouse and its attractive outhouses (potting shed, glasshouse, ex-packing shed: the property was once an orchard) gently reposing amongst the flower beds and grassy knolls.  There are hundreds of different perennials in this border, and at this time of the year, they are resplendently abloom.   Adding interesting height in the border are shrubs and small trees such as buddleias in various colours, strappy grasses and smoke bushes.

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At the top of the border we reached  the various outbuildings where we met Sarah and Andrew, the extremely hard-working owners of the property, and spent some time having a pleasant chat with them.  Sarah explained to me that each winter the border, with the exception of trees and shrubs, is mowed to the ground, the clippings left as mulch and straw laid on top.  All ready for next Spring when perennials, as they are wont to do, explode out of the ground ready for the next season.

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A walk on the south side of the house led us through massed shade-loving plantings to a grassy glen where in rainier times there would be a streamlet running....not much more than a trickle now. I was surprised to see tree ferns growing happily here and looking outstandingly healthy in a climate that is perhaps a little outside their comfort zone. And there we reached the end of our visit.  What an inspiration it was to visit this beautiful place: I think another visit in a different season would be in order

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