In an Australian country garden …

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Beau guarding a large Echeveria (he’s afraid of birds and butterflies so no worries there).

I have the amazing opportunity to create a garden from scratch.  Before we bought this house, I have always had to work with the garden I’ve been given… on more than one occasion I’ve lived in a rental house and my main aim has been to keep the garden alive for the next owner inspection.  When I last owned my own home I knew next to nothing about which plants to choose, how to keep them alive or even what I really liked.

Over the years of tending these gardens and killing more plants than I care to admit, I have learned a few things, I’m glad to say.  During those years, I experimented with plants in pots in lieu of my own garden so I planted bulbs and watched what would grow where; I planted a lot of succulents and absolutely fell in love with them.  Who can’t love a plant that replicates itself?!  Echeverias and Sempervivums  and other succulents create little clones of themselves and so you can create whole gardens from just a few plants and a bit of patience.  After a bit of investigation, I learnt that in some countries Sempervivums are called ‘Hens and Chickens’ because of this habit of replicating their own little baby plants.  In other countries they are called ‘house leaks’ as they are used in some countries to grow on the roofs of houses to little plug leaks. I love that!.

Australian natives plants offer an amazing range of subtle, hardy and in many cases, very beautiful plants that can be chosen to suit your local environment.  There are many varieties like the gorgeous Grevilleas. So while many of us still choose to plant up our gardens with roses and other ‘exotics’, Australian native plants are becoming increasingly popular not least because of their tolerance of our extreme weather and low rainfall.

If you’ve read earlier posts, you’ll know i love Australian birdlife and a native garden is a great way to attract native birds.  They need all the help they can get as their natural habitats are disappearing.  Many Australian birds are very small and need protection from large predators like our very large aggressive ravens, butcherbirds and magpies. Suburban cats are an absolute menace. So planting ground cover for little birds is essential if they are to find hiding places away from predators.

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Australian Fairy Wren

So in beginning to plan my own garden, I can start with a few of these lessons:

  1. I love Australian native plants
  2. I love succulents
  3. These two broad plant types for the most part go very well together as they require little attention and not a lot of water – both useful things for an amateur (read uneducated) gardener in a state where rainfall is intermittent.
  4. I love Australian birdlife and want to attract them so that I can enjoy them and photograph them and give then a little haven in an inner city suburb

This all means I want to create an Australian native garden in my very own backyard.

Over the next few months (and years as gardens are a lifetime commitment), I will be changing my 60sqm of dirt into a native Australian garden.

The garden I have to work with was, until a few weeks ago, covered by a huge aircraft-hanger construction that was supposed to be a pergola.  Made of thick pine planks, many struts, brackets, screws and nails, this construction was not only incredibly ugly in my opinion, it took up 3/4 of the garden leaving me just room for a patch of scrawny grass with a few paving stones leading to a small and inefficient shed.

 

 

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This is all gone… including half of the cedar deck which covered most of the garden. The decking was repurposed to create a new deck to host our spa.

Now that the pergola has gone, the spa has been repositioned, the shed has been dismantled and redistributed and the essential water tank has been rotated so it’s in a more practical location, we are ready to start to build the garden.

Actually.we are ready to start planning to build the garden.  I really couldn’t envisage what I had to work with until the space was cleared.  What I’m left with is a rather big hole… ! When I reduced the deck I realised the ground beneath it was more than 30cms below the deck. We’re going to need a serious amount of topsoil before we can even think about putting in a plant.

I am entering that wonderful design stage… I can see what I have to work with and I know roughly what I want to create. Next step is to get some professional advice (we used professionals to dismantle the aircraft hanger and move the deck and water tank around – couldn’t have done it without help).  Possibly I wont plant much until next winter/spring as in Melbourne we are entering the end of spring and beginning of summer and many young plants wont enjoy the 42 degree days we’ll get in the summer.  But I will wait to see what my gardener advises.  Until then. Stay tuned.

 ‘Planet Earth is blue …’ so ‘Let’s Dance!’


1997_earthling_cvr_fix_800sqDavid Bowie RIP

It seems there are quite a few things to be sad about lately.  There is so much beauty amongst so much hideousness. I don’t know whether I’m crying tears of joy, rage or sorrow at those moments when the world gives me such random, completely unexpected experiences.

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I’ve just (almost) stopped tearing up over the Paris attacks which affected me and many others so deeply. I stood in Federation Square in Melbourne with so many others and there was a tangible sense of loss and confusion in the air as strangers hugged each other.

bowie singing wild is the wind

Bowie singing Wild is the Wind

Last week I was recovering, like most of us who were teenagers in the 70’s, from the death of David Bowie. Such a loss to the world at a time when we so need love, creativity and a real sense of wonder.  Perhaps that’s why we’ve responded the way we have: European church bells tolling out ‘A Space Oddity‘; Chris Hadfield singing a tribute to Bowie from the Space Station; Scratch artists scratching out ‘Let’s Dance’ in honour of the Thin White Duke. Every one of these brought me to tears and made me wonder why the world can’t demonstrate such amazing outpourings of love and respect more often.

When beautiful people like Bowie leave the world, I feel like we have lost not just a great artist but somehow one of the guardians at the gate. Who will take their place?  So I suppose I am laughing and crying for the loss of Bowie, for the risks to the world that I know.

Grey Fantail

Grey Fantail

And there are times when the world is enchanting. Last night, my  husband & I went out for a sunset walk and a bit of birdwatching at our local reserve.   A pair of young Grey Fantails chose to take as much interest in us as we did in them.  We spotted them in a tree just ahead of us and on seeing us, they flew straight over, flying around out heads, fanning their tails and looking cockeyed at us. They sang to each other and continued like this for 5 or 10 minutes while we stood quietly, happy to be the subject of such delightful avian attention. I was a little choked.

250px-Golden-headed_Cisticola94Later, while I watched a tiny and rare bird, a Golden-Headed Cisticola sing to the setting sun from its grass stalk, I really was moved to tears.  Because there is so much uncertainty in the world and I know that Australia is a bubble of stability in an increasingly turbulent, troubled and most of all chaotic world and it worries me how all that chaos can end.  And I don’t want my world as I know and love it to end. So I cry with happiness for the Cisticola but with fear and worry that all the other chaos can all only end in the saddest of tears.

So let’s take up the Bowie charge… let’s dance, let’s sing to the sunset and the let the tears dry as we move towards a new world without some of the heroes we’ve looked to for inspiration for so long. We’ll need to find some new ones. We can be heroes.

Go star man.

1976: David Bowie poses for an RCA publicity shot in 1976. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

1976: David Bowie poses for an RCA publicity shot in 1976. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

 

New Year Resolves…Good New Things

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Sacred Kingfisher

It’s another January 1 and the New Year sits before us.. untouched waiting for us to decide what to do with it.

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Cheeky Currawong

A Good Thing

You can choose to make no resolutions about the NY. Many do (or is that don’t).  While I understand it feels like a waste of time if you don’t follow through, at least you had a goal to aim for.  Is it better to have no goals at all and take what comes?

So this year my resolution is specifically vague.  I’ve resolved to do something new (and positive) every day. That is, something I’ve never done before.  So that’s specific. And the vagueness is that I’m not going to plan what that ‘new good thing‘ is. I’m just making a commitment to do something new every day.  It doesn’t have to be incredibly dangerous, exciting or mind-bending, it just needs to be new.

So. January 1.  I kayaked down the Goulburn River to birdwatch and enjoy the gorgeous scenery.  Well not all of the GR but a nice, friendly non-rapid bit with my husband and a friend who showed us the way, let us use his kayaks and drove us back and forth! That is friendship, I’m sure.  In return, I pointed out the birds I recognised… a few Darters, lots of Little Corellas, 2 wonderful, delighting Kingfishers, lots of ducks, a Currawong singing in the trees, lots of noisy Cockatoos.

As we were visiting friends in a beautiful part of the Victorian farming region, perhaps it was easier to find something to do that I’d never done before. The more difficult thing will be to discover something different just as part of my normal everyday routine when I’m at home with the cat and wondering why I can’t watch foxtel for another hour.  Let’s see.

Happy New Year. And may many unexpected, happy, healthy and magical experiences come to you whether you resolved it that way or not!  PS Thanks BirdLife for the photos … I was too busy trying to stay in the Kayak to take photos! 🙂

Birdlife – all sorted for Christmas

A little addendum to my last post. BirdLife has just put out their formal Christmas campaign and given how much I like birds and want to protect them, I’m giving them an extra plug.   They have some really lovely bird-related products in their online store.  And who can resist a baby bird in a santa hat?!

‘Chairity’ starts at home…

Each year the sudden festooning of lampposts with Christmas decorations, mince pies in the supermarket and Christmas carols at my local cafe take me by surprise! “It’s Christmas!”, they yell! “Already?” I want to yell back!

This year is no exception .. perhaps because while I was visiting Sydney I was amazed to see – before Halloween was even over  –  some bright spark had already installed a 6.5 tonne Swarovski crystal-decorated tree in the Queen Victoria Buildings ! Now I think that’s really a bit early! It was very beautiful though.

It may sound it, but I’m not a cynic and I actually really like celebrating the end of the year, cooking Christmas cake, eating Christmas cake…

This prompted me to consider the various fundraising appeals and campaigns that are attempting to encourage us each to think about someone or something that needs the gift even more.

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Here are a few that caught my attention:

Chairity begins at home

Habitus Living – this glorious, glossy, envy-inspiring design magazine features the ‘Chairity Project‘ which, while not strictly for Christmas is happening around this time.

Chairity-Project-2015_Tracey-Deep_4-915x587Each beautifully designed chair will be auctioned off for chairity… sorry, charity… a great idea and a wonderful way to combine art, creativity and heartfelt innovation.  For more info visit Cult Design.

Very Berry Christmas!

jessicaIf you’ve already started shopping and perhaps like me you have a ‘gift drawer’ where you put things you’ve taken a fancy to but you’re not sure who they’re for (ok, that might just be me), how about buying a toy for a boy or girl you’ll probably never meet.    Berry Street is a wonderful children’s organisation which since 1877 has focused on the rights of children to have a safe and happy home. With their Christmas appeal, you can buy a gift on line, make a donation or get gift tags for your own choice of gift.  They only accept new toys and really need gifts for children aged 11-16+

Raining Cats and Dogs!

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If you have a cat, budgie, fish or a dog, give them an extra squeeze of affection (maybe not the fish) this festive season when so many cats and dogs are abandoned. Hard to believe I know but some owners find the cost of kennels or catteries to onerous and just leave their pets to fend for themselves.  And definitely please DO NOT give pets as gifts – these are often the unfortunate creatures that end up at lost dogs and cat shelters when their new owners find they cannot look after them. Consider this story in the Daily Telegraph last year but this sad story is the same every year.   If you’d like to support your favourite animal shelter, they often need blankets and financial donations are usually well received. Lort Smith had a great event ‘Pause for a cause‘ to raise money for the hospital, walking around Melbourne’s ‘Tan’ at the Botanical Gardens with over 100 dogs! What a great sight that would have been! Woof!

Cockatoos need you too!

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Let’s not forget our feathered friends this Christmas.  As a bird-lover I’m biased but it is easy to forget that we have so many beautiful native birds on the edge of extinction.  Visit BirdLife.org.au and see what you can do to help. You can become a BirdLife member for just $1.50 a week! Seems a small amount to help save beautiful birds like our waders, or the amazing Red Tailed Black Cockatoos.  What’s your favourite bird? Perhaps make a donation instead of a bought present for a friend.  I know they’d love it 🙂 (And keep your cat in at night, also a good gift to our feathered friends!)

Someone to watch over you

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Finally, this time of year can bring up a range of different and conflicting emotions. If you need someone to talk to, consider the Samaritans.  They have a help line for anyone needing a bit of support. Reach out if you need to. Or consider Lifeline who are there to help with many difficult situations.

Wishing you and your loved ones a safe and happy Festive Season. And if you think it’s too early to be saying this, blame Swarovski! 🙂

 

Another Australian adventure…

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I’ve always been interested in promoting ‘Australian-made’ and so for a long time I’ve looked for interesting ways to promote home grown innovation.

Of course, Australian food and wine have a deservedly excellent reputation so with this in mind, i’ve decided to start a ‘pop up online store’ to promote Aussie products by way of Christmas hampers. This brings together my love of Australiana, creating a new online alternative and …shopping! What a great combo!

Christmas hampers are mostly very traditional so I’d like to offer something a bit different.  With my pop up store, you can choose the traditional option but also one with a contemporary slant and a luxury alternative.

So what would go into a ‘true blue’ Aussie Christmas hamper? My thoughts are some of the regulars – like Tim Tams. While not a ‘just for Christmas’ item, who doesn’t eat packets of them over the festive Aussie summer season? Then there’s wine. We have some fantastic Shiraz… just right for that family get together. And I’m even learning to love Chardonnay… the less oaken varieties have won me over so they would need to be well represented.  Living as I do in Victoria, I would need to have in my basket some of our fantastic cheeses and relishes possibly from the Yarra Valley. My mouth is watering at the idea. Perhaps a bottle of sparkling wine of the Domaine Chandon variety or something equally gorgeous to accompany that cheese platter? A Botrytis Riesling from the Yarrawood Vineyard? Or a classic Rose from Dominique Portet also of the Yarra Valley. So many choices!

show-your-work-cover1Now normally I wouldn’t share this with you so soon but I’m taking a tip from Austin Kleon and his book ‘Show your Work’ and while this isn’t about my art (as his book refers) but to a new ideas I’m developing, I still thought it a good idea to start getting things out into the world and worry less about waiting til it’s absolutely ‘ready’. It may also generate some great ideas or even some Australian producers who’d be interested in collaborating with me.  Therefore: I’ll be opening my ‘store’ in just a few weeks in time for Christmas orders.  Look forward to sharing some Aussie delights with you.  I’d love to hear what you’d like to find in your Australian Christmas Hamper? Do tell me!

 

 

Wild Williamstown

Happy New Year! I hope like me you had a chance to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors over the holidays. As Christmas falls at the start of summer in Australia, we have no excuse (apart from current unseasonably cool weather) to stay indoors.

We have a wonderful nature reserve not far from our our home in Victoria, Australia and we walk there regularly. So I thought I’d share with you some of the wonderful wildlife that lives at the Jawbone Reserve.  It used to be a rifle range… glad it has been saved for other purposes now! I’m a keen birdwatcher (if you haven’t noticed already!) and so I’ll share with you some of our fabulous feathered friends. Some you may be familiar with but others may be new and exciting:

IMGP3648Sooty Oystercatcher: an amazing looking coal-black bird with bright red eyes as well as legs and beak so it really stands out! Occasionally we see its cousin, the Pied Oystercatcher (Black and white rather than all black) and it’s just as stunning to see.

pelican pelicansAustralian Pelican The Australian Pelican is a large waterbird of the family Pelecanidae, widespread on the inland and coastal waters of Australia and New Guinea, also in Fiji, parts of Indonesia and as a vagrant to New Zealand.Wikipedia I love watching them land … those big feet come down and you wonder if they’ll crash land but they never do. Flying over you in formation, they are like bomber squadrons 🙂

 

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Little Pied Cormorant – or Little Shag… whence comes the term, “like a Shag on a rock” (which means when you are left on your own to fend for yourself)

DSCF5354The Little Pied Cormorant’s cousin, The Little BlackCormorant drying his wings in the sun after a morning dip

little honeyeaterOne of my favourites, Little Wattlebird also known as the Brush Wattlebird is a honeyeater; a cousin of the Red Wattle Bird below

Red WattlebirdRed Wattlebird – these are big honeyeaters which regularly visit my garden and surrounding area; they are territorial and fantastic aerial hunters – watching them chase after and almost always catch a fast moving moth or bug is a sight to behold as they turn almost 360 degrees in mid flight. I’ve never managed to catch it on video… I’ll keep trying. They are particularly active at dusk when their aerial displays can keep me amused for a long time.

white fronted chatWhite-fronted Chat – I rarely see these cheeky little guys possibly as they feed on the ground chasing insects though I often hear them. I managed to get just some blurry photos of them recently so this pic was sourced from BirdLife Australia.

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Crested Terns are sea birds with attitude. Check out that hair (well, feathers but you get the idea). They will fly over the sea, looking around for a tasty fish and then dive into the water at break-neck speed. It’s amazing to watch. Here’s a short Youtube clip as an example from RedJered.

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These little seabirds are difficult to identify … so many different breeds look similar! So after some research, I’m suggesting that this is a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. If you know better, please let me know!

IMGP3663Around at the same time is this little guy (in fact there were quite a few of these and a large group of Sandpipers). I’ve identified them as Red-Necked Stints (non breeding colours).  They are smaller than the Sandpipers with all white breasts and shorter bills.  Again, if you can enlighten me happy to hear from you 🙂

I hope you’ve been inspired to visit a local shoreline, park or patch of green somewhere near you. You never know what you might see.  Happy 2014. May your skies be full of happy (rather than Angry) birds …