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?!

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.

crested tern

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 …

Twitch away!

Blackwinged StiltFebruary 5th, 2012

I am rather taken with birdwatching at the moment and as such I have turned into a ‘twitcher’. The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘twitcher’ as …. well, ‘someone who twitches’ (not that helpful I would have thought if you went to the dictionary to find out what the word ‘twitch’ meant!) I didn’t really understand why that moniker was used for bird-watchers until I became one and started to ‘twitch’ my head in the general direction of any movement in a bush or shrub that might turn out to be a species of bird that I havent seen before. Hence the Oxford Dictionary’s second definition: ‘British informal: a birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds.’ That’s me.
Of course, becoming a bird watcher is a relatively simple thing as there are birds around us all the time. Most are very common and not particularly exciting to view such as Indian Miners or pigeons. But others are so glorious that I want to tell everyone I meet after I’ve had such an encounter about what they missed by not being with me at the time. This does not normally have the expected effect. In fact, mostly once people realise that the ‘rare sighting’ I am describing does not involve the latest celebrity or at the very least some random footballer, their eyes glaze over and they mutter the words ‘twitcher’ (or at least I think that’s what they’re say, it could of course be ‘twit’. but I choose the former).
Australian birds are fascinating. I particularly like the raucous calls of wattlebirds outside my window in the morning. Add to that they are aeronautical wonders able to catch their prey (moths, flies, butterflies) on the wing with some amazing manuevers. I have two regular visitors to my garden. A red wattlebird (red wattles under his chin and a yellowish lower breast) and a little wattlebird and sometimes they’re out there at the same time.
Magpies warbling are a joy to listen to. I really wonder what they are saying to each other.
Honeyeaters of all kinds enthrall me and seeing a spinebill honeyeater or a new holland honeyeater, makes my day.
Red Wattlebird FeedingOf course, becoming a bird watcher inevitably turns you into something else. An amateur photographer. Because no-one believes you’ve seen your wonder unless you can show them a picture. Sad but true. The wild albino fairy wren at Werribee Open Range Zoo is like a mystical creamy coloured fairy that NO-ONE but those who have seen it believe in. I have seen it and my blobby, blurred photo proved nothing (the average fairy wren is only about 3″ high and I was photographing it from about 15 metres without a tripod… and with my shaky hands (excitement!) no chance!) So in order to gain greater pleasure from my hobby I must collect proof. Not in the way of actual birds or eggs or even feathers: but photos. So I’m an amateur photographer and birdo. Add that to keeping my blog up to date and having a social life, one wonders when I have time to work….? I’m wondering about that too 🙂 Royal Spoonbill

The Cycle of Change

I’m an infrequent but enthusiastic bike rider and I tend to take my bike out to combine two of my other interests: photography and bird watching so I was pleased to see two ideas to help the world of cycling and its riders and those of us who stop along the ride to take photos of the scenery, interesting birds or just general randomness!
If you like to buy biking accessories – you know who you are you lycra-clad enthusiast you – you may be interested in the Rider+ loyalty programme created just for bikers. I havent used it but its being promoted by Bicycle Victoria and looks like a good idea. Rider+ is a joint initiative of the Bicycle Network which is a network of premium bike stores. Of even more interest to me is the Tripod Bike! Yanko Designs describe it as being inspired by the camera tripod, and provides a unique solution for custom fitting a bike to individual users. The bike features a camera mount located between the handle bars! So all your photo-cyclists, visit www.yankodesign.com for more info. If you’d like to find out about Rider+ visit www.riderplus.org for more info.