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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National Tree Day.

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It's National Tree Day in Australia today, a day when folk are encouraged to plant a tree. We have planted 19 trees on our suburban block to add to the five we inherited, so although we won't be planting a tree today, I think we've managed to add something to Australia's tree count.

The special day for trees causes me to reflect on trees I've known in my life and one stands out above the others, pun intended. The tree I have in mind is an Angophora floribunda or Rough Barked Apple Gum. As trees go, it isn't particularly special nor sought-after and in fact, is somewhat decried as being as poor firewood material and a 'widow-maker' owing to its propensity to drop branches without warning.

On our previous property, our little olive farm, we had a number of these trees, but the one near the house was huge and served as a bird hotel, harbouring a varied collection of our beautiful birds at different times: rosellas, galahs, butcher birds, honeyeaters, magpies, cuckoo-shrikes and bower birds, to name just a few. It was something of a bystander in the garden, that tree: when I looked through old photos, I found very few where it wasn't tucked to the side or the background of the photo, and yet it was the only tree near the house when we first built on our old sheep paddock.

A friend estimated that it was about 150 years old. I loved its sinuous branches and its massive fissured trunk. I delighted in its thousands of flowers in December and the thrumming of bees who loved it too. It was wonderful to sit under on the hottest summer day, when the temperature was degrees cooler in its shade. It was a magnificent tree, a tree to be treasured and remembered.

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Disaster and Delight: SoS July, 28

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After two weeks away, I was anxious to get back to the garden to see how everything had coped with the cold weather that has been occurring in Mudgee. I knew that there had been many frosty mornings, and in fact, two of those mornings had been around -7.5C, which is decidedly chilly. As far as the garden is concerned it was a somewhat dispiriting homecoming. A lot of it was looking much the worse for wear, with some plants leaving me to wonder if they will revive when the warmer weather arrives and quite a few seeming  to have disappeared altogether.

Here are my six for this week; not all disasters, though.

 

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ONE: My Aeonium arboreum 'Schwarzkopf' is looking very miserable indeed, even though it's under cover, and has managed in this postion in previous winters. It will recover, I'm sure, and I'll use the opportunity to trim it back into a better shape.

 

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Two: A sadder story belongs to  Coprosma repens 'Ignite' which was looking quite splendid, and is now but a shadow of its former self.  I fear there's no coming back from this sorry state.  Its leaves and stems have obviously been frozen and are squishy to touch.  Perhaps there will be some new shoots right down at ground level.  Who knows?  I thought this was a really hardy plant.

Unfortunately, the flowers of the beautiful Hakea that I posted about in SoS on July 7 are now completely dry, grey and brittle, but the plant is fine. My lovely Geranium 'Rozanne' is a small pile of soft brown leaves prompting me to worry that she won't reawaken,  and many of the other plants I thought would survive through the winter have been blitzed.

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Three:  No more sad stories now.  Some bulbs are making an appearance: tulips, narcissi, aliums and crocuses are pushing their first green spears above the mulch.   I know this as a jonquil and it's a lovely pop of colour in the winter sun; one of the first bulbs to flower.

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Four: I don't grow a lot of vegetables, but here there are cabbages, beetroot, broccoli and broad beans, and they're doing really well, even though they didn't get watered for two weeks.  Sweet peas (with weeds) are climbing up the frame.

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Five: This succulent of no particular ID has thumbed its nose at the frost and is pretty in pink, as opposed to its usual grey: an improvement, in my opinion.

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Six:  Red rumped parrots, slightly fluffed up against the cold, are sunning themselves  in the branches of the silver birches.  In the photo below, an Eastern Rosella is remonstrating with them: perhaps they invaded his territory.

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And that's my six for this week. To see what other gardeners from all over the world are doing in their plots, don't hesitate to pop over to The Propagator's site and join the fun.

Rain is forecast here today, and everyone has their fingers crossed.  It's so dry that kangaroos have moved into the showground to feed on the grass in the big oval.

Happy gardening, everyone.

Into the Outback

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Following our March road journey to Melbourne and back, and encouraged by the enjoyment we experienced on that occasion, we set out  just over two weeks ago to South Australia, a trip that covered 4500km, and provided us with many wonderful experiences,  from strikingly diverse scenery to dining on delicious seafood and much else in between.

I’ve long wanted to visit Broken Hill, the outback city almost on the border between New South Wales and South Australia. Approximately 900km away from where we live, this city is, for us, a two day car trip through semi-arid country on a long grey ribbon of road.

Broken Hill is Australia’s only heritage listed city. In addition to its long mining history, there are many old buildings of significant interest (including twenty pubs), houses built of corrugated iron or local stone and mining apparatus all set in a vast landscape. Visible from anywhere in the centre of the city is a hulking hill of tailings called the Line of Lode, from the top of which the visitor can see the city,  the mines and the surrounding semi-arid countryside.

View from the Line of Lode, Broken Hill
View from the Line of Lode, Broken Hill

Silver, lead and zinc are mined here, and have been for more than 130 years but the supply is running out and the population dwindling. There were 35 000 people living in Broken Hill in the 1950s: now there are 17 800. Once there were 70 pubs: probably most of them are still there, but many of them are empty, idle buildings. They still have their charm though, with their wide verandahs stretching out over the footpaths and their intricate lace balconies. Below is the Palace Hotel (still very much patronised) which featured prominently in the movie  'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'.

 

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This the old convent, where we stayed.
This the old convent, where we stayed.
View of the city from the Line of Lode
View of the city from the Line of Lode

One of the most amazing things about Broken Hill is that after driving just a few minutes in the car in any direction, it’s possible to be out in the sere countryside,  and from the top of the Line of Lode mullock (or tailings) mound the view is boundless: red earth and  harsh scrubby country with an overarching blue sky in every direction. Dramatically crowning the mound is the Miners’ Memorial. Constructed from steel, its rusty colour echoes that of the surrounding landscape and commemorates every miner who lost his life working here: just over 800 of them.

The Miners' Memorial. Broken Hill
The Miners' Memorial. Broken Hill
A rose for every miner.
A rose for every miner.
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The photo above illustrates just how close the city is to the bush.  This emu has dropped into the suburbs to see if it can find something to eat!

So far this year, Broken Hill has had 18.4 ml of rain.  Less than one inch, in seven months.  The reliable eucalypts go on doing their thing, but a  majority of houses lack any kind of  garden and definitely have no lawn, merely bare dirt in front of the house.  However,  it is possible to garden in this climate- more about that in another post.

A typical Broken Hill cottage
A typical Broken Hill cottage

Broken Hill is a fascinating city: for its rawness, the tenacity of its people (and many of them are doing it hard) its architecture, its industry and its remote position in the almost-desert countryside.  Although there is a lot more to see there and I could easily have stayed longer,  I'd satisfied my curiosity up to a point,  and it was worth the long drive.  But we had to move on.  We had more ahead of us!

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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.