Archive | August 2018

Mintaro: a step back in time.

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When travelling on a touring holiday, it's a good idea to take note of those brown signposts that point to tourist attractions, and it's exactly what we did when driving through the Clare Valley area of South Australia recently. Having already passed a sign to the historic town of Mintaro before we realised what we'd missed, we were pleased to see another and quickly turned off the main road.

We had no idea what to expect, and so were delighted to arrive in this sweet, almost untouched-by-modern-times village. After parking the car, we wrapped up (it was a bit nippy) and wandered along the main street admiring Mintaro's old buildings, trees and gardens.

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Mintaro, present population 188, dates from about 1849. It was once a staging post on the journey from Burra Mines to Port Wakefield.  At Burra, copper had been discovered, and it was carried by bullock teams to the port for shipment overseas.  Mintaro enjoyed prosperity until it was decided that the copper should be taken to port by a different route.  I wonder if the Ficus tree in the photo above dates from that time: it certainly seems big enough!

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In later years, Mintaro became better known for its slate.  Mintaro Slate Quarry is thought to be the oldest continuously operated quarry in South Australia, possibly in the whole of Australia.  As well, the countryside around this area is famous for wineries and farming.  The rolling hills were luxuriantly green when we were there, the vineyards with their neatly tiered rows looked prosperous and little Mintaro was a charming break on our journey south.

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The photos, by the way, were taken by Mr MG, who's a better photographer than I am. He takes arty shots.

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And closeups.

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We enjoyed a coffee and a chat at Reilley's Restaurant where there was a jolly group of locals who knew we were not from anywhere nearby.  'You're not pronouncing the name correctly,' said one man.  'It's Mint-air-o.'  Who would have thought?

 

SoS: August 18

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It has been quite an miserable day here in the Central Tablelands of NSW.  There was a -3 degree frost to start with.  I have to admit that it was very pleasant early this morning sitting in the sun at the Growers' market sipping excellent coffee, eating a bacon and egg roll and chatting with friends. Soon after however, the day clouded over,  a cold wind got up and a sprinkling of raindrops was hurled across the dry brown lawn, and over the frost-bitten garden.  We are in for a wintry week with very low morning temperatures and winds being blown north straight off the Southern Alps.  I ventured out again this afternoon to find a six for today and it was a very short sortie indeed.

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TOne: I think this is Ipheion uniflorum which provides a nice spot of colour in late winter.  It will end up being a nuisance I'm sure,  as it multiplies very rapidly, but in the meantime I'm enjoying its blue blooms.

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Two:  No ID jonquil.  I think it's gorgeous: such a lovely creamy colour with that tinge of yellow in the centre.

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Three:  Prunus blireana is just coming into flower: flowers that could well be dislodged by tomorrow's gales.

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Four:  Last week's iris has produced more blooms.

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Five:  Tulipa 'Double Margarita'.  The stem of this tulip is very short and the buds appeared at ground level.  Is this normal, I wonder, or is it to do with a lack of rain?  I expected these blooms to be swaying voluptuously on svelte stalks, but instead they're vertically challenged blobs.

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Six:  Acacia baileyana or Cootamundra wattle.  I'm cheating a bit here as this isn't in the garden, but it's nearby!  In fact, it's everywhere, self-seeding very readily,  and because of that it's suggested by environmental groups that other wattles should be grown instead.  However, a sure sign that spring is on its way, is when Cootamundra wattle begins to flower.

 

And that's my six for this week.  Under the guidance of our illustrious leader the Propagator, other gardeners  are showing wonderful things going on in their gardens.  Do take a look.

Fit for the Climate

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In the very south of South Australia, at the bottom of the Eyre Peninsula, we spent a couple of  days in Port Lincoln. The climate there is a so-called Mediterranean climate, so rain falls in the winter and the summers are very hot and dry.  We were astounded at how green everything was after the severe drought conditions further north in South Australia and in New South Wales.  This doesn't mean drought doesn't occur here; it does, but at the time of our visit, the countryside was looking lush, with huge paddocks- broadacre farming at its broadest -given over to crops.

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On a day trip to Coffin Bay, and anticipating the seafood platter that would await us there, we came to a sudden halt at the sight of this delightful private garden.

Now this garden obviously belongs to people who are completely in tune with their climate.  No frilly unsuitable flowers for them.  Don't misunderstand me, I'm all for frilly and unsuitable and fall into that trap frequently, but these gardeners must have a plan and appear to have followed it unwaveringly.  Not only are the plants carefully chosen, but the garden is beautifully shaped into sinuous curves and garden rooms.

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Judging by some of the plants that can be seen, including what is, perhaps a banana palm towards the back, I'm guessing that frost isn't a serious problem in this area. The red agave makes a wonderful strong statement, as do the grey leafed cotyledons, and santolinas- or are they artemisia? It wasn't easy to tell from a distance.  There is an interesting variety of heights and shapes from ground covers to trees. We stood, hoping we didn't look suspicious,  and admired the beauty of this garden for a short time before resuming our journey.

There's a lot to recommend the idea of planting entirely to suit the climate of your garden.  Is that what you do? Or are you like I am sometimes,  trying to grow something when you know deep down, that you're doomed to failure.

Arid Botanics

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As you might guess, the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden in Port Augusta, South Australia,  is devoted entirely to plants that grow in the driest parts of this continent. To the casual observer, the arid areas might seem dull and lifeless, but there's plenty to see: discovery requires careful observation.

The Botanical garden was established in 1993 to encourage a wider appreciation of the flora that grows in the arid zones. The 250 hectare garden is located in a stunning setting with views over the Upper Spencer Gulf to the Flinders Ranges. The visitor can wander along one (or more) of the walks within the park and enjoy the plants, birds and reptiles that make this area their home.

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There are sculptures scattered about the garden, including this one, which is near the entrance, and is reflective of the tortured appearance  of some native Australian plants. Or maybe it’s some kind of demented Triffid bent on mischief. Fortunately it’s firmly bolted to its plinth.

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Eremophilas, also known as emu bush, native fuchsia or turkey bush, belong to a large group of around 200 named plants and many of them grow in the Botanical Garden.  As it is Winter, not all were flowering at their best at the time of our visit, but these two were quite lovely. The garden is home to a large selection of these plants.

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There are many species of eucalypts in the garden, some considered rare, perhaps because their habitats have been compromised in some way:  logging, aggressive clearing of land for farming or encroachment by human habitation. This Eucalyptus youngiana or Ooldea Mallee had the most amazing gumnuts.  New buttons for your cardigan, anyone?  Unfortunately it wasn't the right time to see them but its flowers are very large, as you can imagine, and a strawberry jam pink.

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Grass trees, or Xanthorrhoea, are unique native plants and are extremely tough, withstanding fire and drought.  The brown flower spike has gone to seed now, but birds love them when they are fully in flower and they probably love the seeds too.  Just look at the uncompromising position of this grass tree.  You would be forgiven for wondering if any plant would survive in that environment.

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This Wattle is just beginning to bloom.  September 1st is Wattle Day in Australia, but I am sure on any given day; rain, hail, sun, drought, or  fire, a wattle will be flowering somewhere in the country. Those jaunty yellow pom-poms are very attractive to bees.

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We were lucky to see this.  Somewhat out of season, this Swainsona formosa, or Sturt's Desert Pea, the  floral emblem of South Australia, was doing its best to bloom, but only putting out a couple of flowers. But what flowers they were!  They come in several shades of pink and red, some without the black centre or ‘boss’, and more commonly with an even darker boss than the one above. They can even be white! In their natural habitat, Sturt’s Desert Pea plants spread out in a large mat, and I imagine they would be a wonderful sight to see. They are protected: it’s forbidden to even take a seed from a plant. Seeds can be purchased though, and I am going to try growing some this summer.

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Another feature of this botanical garden is the area displaying ideas for the home gardener to try, using native plants instead of more water-hungry exotics.

When we visited, there had been very little rain in this part of South Australia for a long time, and to be truthful,  some plants, even though drought hardy,  were showing signs of stress.  Generally speaking though, it's just amazing how resilient our natives are in this climate.

If you would like to read more about The Australian Arid Lands Botanical Garden, you can find some more information  here.

I like the idea of a Botanical Garden catering for a specific climate.  Do you know of any gardens like this?

Something Stirred. SoS August 4

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Winter is not over yet. Although the days are becoming noticeably longer, it's still very chilly overnight, and I know from experience that it's quite possible for us to be faced with frost well into September before we can say for sure that the cold weather has finished for this year.

A large percentage of New South Wales is in severe drought, having received in some areas, less than half the average yearly rainfall to date, and the outlook for rain is grim. The State Government drought assistance package is now over $1 billion in an effort to bring drought relief to those on the land, and people from the city and the country have been donating money for feed. On our recent trip, we saw massive loads of hay bales being trucked from as far away as South Australia to needy farmers further north. The situation is dire.

Despite the cold and lack of decent rain, there are some signs of Spring and my post this Saturday is about those early stirrings in the garden beds.

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One: Yellow Iris, given to me by a friend.  I don't know its name, but I'm sure someone will be able to identify it.  It isn't tall. Is it Iris lutescens? That's the closest I could find on Google.

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Two:  Two years ago, while visiting an open garden, I purchased a Galanthus (possibly nivali, I'm not sure) and two years later, this is how far it has grown. I bought only one (which is something I nearly always do with plant purchases) as I wasn't sure how it would cope in my garden, especially in the heat and dryness of summer, but I planted it under the silver birches, and whilst it couldn't be said that it has galloped away, it seems to be holding its own, albeit in a less than exuberant fashion.

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Three:  Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' is coming into flower.  What a stayer this perennial wallflower is.  It blooms for a very long time and although the shrub has a shortish life, it is easily propagated from cuttings.

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Four: Scilla peruviana which, despite its name, comes from the Mediterranean area.  I have never grown these before, so I'm looking forward to seeing the flowers emerge.

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Five:  Iberis sempervirens aka Candytuft.  Another unpretentious and reliable early flowering plant. It isn’t fully out yet but in week or so it will be a mass of white flowers.

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Six:  These plants are much happier growing in our climate than Galanthus.  They're Leucojum or snowflakes which are often confused with snowdrops.  They're not nearly as desirable, but grow willingly and put on a good show.  They're just appearing now.

And that's my rather humble, wintry six for this week.  As always, more sixes are to be found on the Propagator's blog.  Do drop over and have a look at what other people are doing in their gardens.

Weather here today: 4-16 C, partly sunny.

Silverton

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Only 26 km from Broken Hill is the historic almost-ghost town of Silverton. Its origins also lie in the silver mining industry and in fact, silver was discovered there first.  In 1885, 3000 people lived there. Now there are 50, mostly artists and people who cater to the tourist trade.

When the mines became established at Broken Hill, Silverton slowly fell into decline, and indeed, some of its houses were moved to the larger town by train or teams of donkeys, camels or bullocks. Those that remained fell into disrepair, so that now there’s a cluster of only the most tenacious left.

It’s an interesting place to wander around, and there are some quirky characters living there. The streets, or what’s left of them are extremely wide, and an occasional vehicle disturbs the dust which billows around in eddies and whorls. A couple of stray donkeys slowly amble along looking for a handout, but they won’t let you pat them, eyeing you suspiciously as they keep just one step ahead. The riverbed is completely dry with powdery red dirt imprinted with the easily recognisable marks of passing kangaroos, and bluebush plains stretch as far as the eye can see. In the winter, the season of our visit,  a keen wind wraps itself around sightseers.

 

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The visitor to Silverton can enter any of several galleries or the local cafe, or simply ramble around the streets.  St Carthage Catholic church is now privately owned by artists and is  in remarkably good condition, and the old Silverton Gaol contains a museum full of memorabilia.

 

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And look, there’s a garden! The café owner tells me how difficult it is to have a garden here, even though they’re on town water (from Broken Hill) and how she carries water from the shower or the washing up to give a small amount to her plants, just enough to keep them going. She has planted only things that are particularly hardy and they look as though they’re doing well. There are a lot of eccentric additions and a barking dog to keep people from getting too close. Manicured lawns won’t survive here, nor frothy flowers or clipped hedges..

 

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The hub of the town is the Silverton Hotel which was used in the making of the movie ‘Mad Max’. In fact, quite a lot of movies have been made in Silverton: ‘Wake in Fright’, ‘A Town Like Alice’ and ‘Razorback’, to name a few. We had a beer there, just to say we had.

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