Category Archives: garden

Let It Snow…

I snuggled under my down quilt last night, listening to the wind buffeting the house and snapping the shade cloth over the breeze-way like a spinnaker on a yacht.  Through the open curtains I could spy the trees whipping back and forth in a hazy, dark blue world, and I was glad of the cuddly warmth of my bed and the fireplace on the other side of the wall, making sure our bedroom was nice and cosy.

It was still dark when I struggled out of bed, but the view from the window had already been transformed into a magical winter scene, sparkling in the light thrown onto the snow covered garden from our room.

In that instant, I, too, was transformed.  Excitement thrilled through me, and I hurried through my chores so that I could wrap up warmly and head outside with my camera to capture some of the beauty of a snow swept morning at SeventySevenAcres.

Winter had arrived…

Snowy leaves and an open gate

Come for a walk with me, beyond the garden gate…

Snow covered trees beside the track

…to see snow covered trees beside the track…

Morning light tinges the snow on the Hill across the Valley a soft, rosy pink

…morning light tingeing the snow on the Hill across the Valley with a soft, rosy pink…

Snow on the little dam above the house

…snow on the little dam above the house….

across the Valley from the top of SeventySevenAcres

…one of my favourite views, across the Valley from the top of SeventySevenAcres…

The Hill seen from further down the track

….The Hill seen from further down the property…

Walking down the track towards the road

….as we walk down the track towards the road…

Down the Valley from the track... not quite so snowy

…to look at the view up the Valley from down near the road (not quite so snowy to the North)…

Walking back up the track, with sunlight just peeking over the mountain and through the trees

…then walking back up the track, with sunlight just peeking over the mountain and through the trees…

 the hardenburgia is buried under a blanket of snow

…to the side gate, where the hardenburgia is buried under a blanket of snow…

over the Valley

…to glance back over the Valley…

... and back to the house

… and then up to the house, where a warm fire is burning in the grate.

… precious as autumn sunshine…

autumn sunshine

autumn sunshine

Today, the sun is shining, a soft wind is brushing through the autumn foliage, and it is far too lovely outside to hide away in my study.

From where I am sitting underneath the pergola, I look across my garden and know that deep sense of peacefulness and joy that being outside on a beautiful autumn day can bring.

What could be better… a quiet time to myself, dappled sunshine over my shoulder, the breeze rustling through the trees, a cuppa, and my keyboard.  This is my workspace today.

my workspace

my workspace

I love being in my garden, and I enjoy gardening, but I have to admit that I am not very good at it.  Spending my early years travelling from place to place with my adventurous family meant that we rarely had time to set up a garden, although we often bought homes with beautiful gardens attached to them.  But I didn’t learn the joys of gardening at my parents’ feet.

My first attempts at gardening were when we lived in a village in Shropshire.  Our family had bought a fairly modern house, by the standards of the village, only about twenty or so years old, and it had a glorious garden that disappeared way down behind the back gardens of the houses of the next road along, under some ancient woodland trees,  and over a narrow brook to a post-and-rail fence that edged a lane way up to the farmhouse on whose land our estate had been built.

Whilst the front garden of the house was filled with roses and lilacs (oh, the summer scents!), the back garden was rampant with a forest of raspberry vines, acres of potatoes and rhubarb (almost literally), and hidden patches of overgrown cabbage and peas and all sorts of scrumptious vegetables.

We moved in at the beginning of the Spring, following a dreadfully cold winter that had seen us relinquish residency in a gorgeous, but freezing cold and impossible to heat sixteenth century farm house on the other side of town.  I was sad to leave the old farm house — which I still remember with incredible fondness (I didn’t notice the cold, and had adored being snowed in)– but fell in love with this amazing garden.

Always an outdoor child, I lost myself in the depths of this garden, climbing trees, dabbling in the brook, struggling through the undergrowth to pick wild growing raspberries and peas, and wriggling new potatoes from under the rich, pliable earth.  It was heaven, and even more so when I was given some precious seeds to plant for myself: some carrots and lettuce.

When we moved on, I was sad to lose my paradise (although the new village offered new lanes to explore on my bike, an old quarry where iridescent dragonflies flitted over a blue lake, and the ruins of an old abbey to clamber around).

Fast forward many years, to my first house in suburban Melbourne on the other side of the world, and a pocket handkerchief garden which we planted out with a wilderness of native plants and a tiny veggie patch.  And the most brilliant lemon tree ever.

Later, in Canberra, we repeated the exercise, adding a duck pond and some suitable garden fowl (sadly, meeting their demise at the hands – or teeth — of a neighbour’s visitor’s dogs)… and eventually moving to Seventy Seven Acres, a dream come true, but a gardening nightmare.

Hence I say that  I’m not very good at gardening.  We have a short growing season, wedged between cold and frosty winters and hot, dry summers (bar this year, where it was cool and rainy), and thin, rocky soil.

Our raised beds, inherited from the previous owners, grow weeds better than anything else, and this year in particular, were quick to bolt.  I’m learning as I go, however, and this year we enjoyed an abundance of strawberries, our first raspberries, asparagus, lemons and a variety of herbs.

Always keen to learn from those who know, I have a myriad of gardening books that I have been collecting over the years — several shelves worth of them, I have to admit, because books are my weakness!  The first was given to me by a family friend all those years ago in Melbourne… the most recent a pristine publication picked up whilst looking for something else entirely.

a selection of my books... and these are just the veggie ones!

a selection of my books… and these are just the veggie ones!

One day, I’ll get it right.  Although I do have plans for creating a large natural stone walled garden filled with everything we can grow that we like to eat, for now I’m working on my little veggie patch, and just enjoying what I can until I can find a knowledgeable local to teach me a thing or two in return for my labour in their garden… or find that elusive book with all the wisdom I seek…

...my first and much used gardeing book... still a firm favourite...

…my first and much used gardening book… still a firm favourite…

Will these provide the answer to the knowledge I seek?

Will these provide the answer to the knowledge I seek?

Or, perhaps this one will...

Or, perhaps this one will…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week the title quote is from Nathaniel Hawthorne:

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.
So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.

Season of Mists…

mistAutumn is my favourite time of year, as the weather cools but you still have warm, sunny days to enjoy outside. Nights can be chill, but there is nothing quite like snuggling under your quilt, which I find much more conducive to a good night’s rest. I am not a fan of those hot, sleepless, summer nights.

We are already starting to wake up to misty mornings, and it is definitely not getting light until quite late, which makes fitting my morning walk in before heading off to school a bit tricky.

mist over the valley

Matt seems to be finding plenty to do outside during the day, and high on his list is getting our woodpile built up again before the cold weather does hit, but he is also hoping to find a day when he can complete some repairs on our drinking water header tank which is leaking a bit.

Not today. Too windy.

Which also means that it is not a great day for trying to tidy up some of the garden beds with a bit of paper over the weeds and mulch on top of that… I tried pulling weeds, but the little darlings just regrew before I had a chance to cover up the bare earth with something ‘not weeds’.

The circular bed at the front of the house – where we planted our anniversary roses a couple of years ago – seems to be scarily short of soil over the tree roots after my zealous attempt to pull out copious quantities of grass and clover. I don’t want to import soil, but our rocky ground doesn’t have a lot to spare. I’m thinking of cutting the clover that has regrown and simply digging it back in (gently) as a ‘green manure’ and mulching over the top with dried poa grass.
Rose

The veggie patch is also in dire need of some tidying up. After a season where nearly everything either bolted or just refused to grow at all, nothing in between, the biggest success seems to be our asparagus babies which are just plodding on, and a whole pile of carrots that have self seeded everywhere!

I’m thinking that a scythe and a sheet of black plastic spread over the top of each bed is the way to go, to let it all compost over winter, ready for a bit of work come spring. I also want to work on building a better enclosure, something that surrounds the area as a whole rather than each individual bed. It has proved too difficult to work with the mini-enclosures, although they have been relatively effective in keeping wallabies, possums and goats at bay.

The early strawberries were great, but I suspect the late end of the season was too wet. That, and a cheeky burrawang who uses the wallaby- and possum- deterrent fence as a perch to spot young strawberries to thieve! At first I thought he was chasing insects and snails, but I’ve seen him fly away with a beak full of not-quite-ripe fruit several times now.

Our new raspberry plant provided a few pieces of luscious fruit, over which we all drooled as we shared out the meagre pickings. Enough to persuade me that we need to work on building up our supply of canes for next year.

The big project – a tiered garden bed above the dam – is still waiting for us to afford the tractor or ‘dozer to do the hard work of terracing the rocky hillside, but each year my vision for that changes a little and I am now imagining a quarry garden, sheltered and sunny like our front garden, lined with a vine covered glasshouse across the back and semi wild beds surrounded by a small mixed orchard.

Or, as Matt says, dream on!

 dreams of a quarry garden for our veggies, similar to the lovely shletered area atthe front of the house

In the meantime, the title quote comes from a poem (a favourite of mine) by John Keats:

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

…autumn flowers

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI know it’s winter, now (believe me, I know), but I took these pictures a couple of weeks ago, and most of these flowers are still flourishing, so I feel justified in posting them, but I’ve been truly busy these last few weeks, writing reports for the children at school.  It takes a lot of time — gathering and analysing the the data, finding the right words.

I reached the stage where I was also feeling locked inside my head… and, while the garden and the great outdoors were calling, I just didn’t have time.  I was on a deadline.

I kept seeing Matt outside — wandering past the study window with a wheelbarrow full of something, or rearranging the hoses for winter, or chopping wood.

I wanted to be outside, too.  We have had beautiful autumn days here at Seventy Seven Acres.  Crisp mornings, sunny days and star bright evenings.  Oh, how inviting it all looked.

Eventually I had to give in.  I needed some head space.  I needed some fresh air.  So, promising myself that a few minutes investigating the garden wouldn’t take too much time away from work, I grabbed my jacket and headed out with my camera in hand.  I’m glad I did, because I found these little gems in my garden to brighten my day…

 KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA... these brave little daisies lift their faces to the sun all year round...

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

…plus I went back to writing reports feeling refreshed, and probably did a much better job as a result.  Moral of the story?… there is always time to take a walk in the garden and stop to enjoy the sheer beauty and wonder of nature.

Camping and Cockatoos

My first encounter with the enigmatic Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo was early one morning when a small flock flew overhead and scattered amongst the trees at a camp site up on the edge of the Brindabellas.  I was there as a young teacher with a group of intrepid Year 5s, and a select group of us were collecting wood to make the fire to cook our breakfast.

It was cold and we were stamping about to keep warm, looking forward to Toad in the Hole (Aussie camping style)* and hot tea.  I guess we were a bit preoccupied, and the first thing we knew about the cockatoos was the sound of their eerie cries echoing through the forest.

At first I thought that perhaps seagulls had been blown inland, but the sound wasn’t quite right.  And there were too many answering calls for it to be eagles or hawks.

My confusion was quickly abated as the willowy, black shadows weaved their way through the trees and into sight.  It was breathtaking, and they have ever since remained a firm favourite for me amongst the cockatoo family.

We occasionally hear their haunting cries or catch a glimpse of them here at Seventy Seven Acres.  They are beautiful, elegant birds, and so solemn and graceful compared to their louder cousins: the familiar, white, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

Perhaps you can imagine my delight this morning, then, when a pair came to rest in one of our Brittle Gums by the back gate.  I slipped outside as quietly as I could, for these birds are shy creatures, and quickly took a photo before they went on their way.  They only hung around for a few moments, and one very purposefully hid behind a large branch, but the other remained calmly aloof with his back to me, long enough for me to snap my pic.

A beautiful Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo taking a moment to rest in our garden.

A beautiful Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo taking a moment to rest in our garden.

The Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoo is reasonably common in South Eastern Australia, although I’m given to understand that numbers have declined as old growth forest has been logged.  Apparently they need large, old, hollow trees for nesting and breeding, so loss of these trees from their habitat has impacted on their ability to retain the larger flocks that were reported in earlier times.

These days they are more likely to be seen as pairs or in family groups of up to about 10 or 12 birds, although they may still form large flocks in winter.  They are semi-migratory, ranging to find food through the changing seasons.  Predominantly seed eaters, preferring casuarina, eucalypt, hakea, banksia and xanthorrhea, they will also search out and eat wood boring insects and bugs in a variety of trees.  As with most of the cockatoo family, they have taken a liking to the introduced pine species, and will happily pry the seeds out of the cones or rip the bark away to find bugs.

At about 60cms they are the one of the largest of the cockatoos, but with their streamlined shape and long wings, they look smaller than the Sulphur Crested White Cockatoo – and are certainly less raucous!

(Includes information from Michael Morcombe’s Field Guide to Australian Birds – a fabulous resource.)

Aussie Toad in the Hole (camping variety)

This is one of those amazing meals that just isn’t the same if you try it at home… I think you have to be cold, tired after a sleepless night in a tent, and truly hungry for it to work properly, and it is definitely best cooked over a smoky, wood fired barbecue.  Luckily it is also very simple and quick to make.  Warning: this bears only a minimal resemblance to the classic English recipe containing sausages and batter.

Ingredients:  Sliced bread, egg, butter, salt and pepper to taste (per serving).

Method:  First cut or tear a hole in your slice of bread (a circular cookie cutter works well if you have remembered to bring one) and melt a large dob* of butter on a the hot BBQ plate, using the tip of a knife to spread it around.  Drop your bread on top of the butter and immediately crack an egg into the hole.  Cook until the first side is done then flip over to cook other side (time varies depending on how well-done you like your egg – generally, it is not recommended to have your egg too runny unless you are happy to wear it on your clothes for the day).  Season with salt and pepper to taste and eat while piping hot. Totally delicious! ( a real shame that I can’t eat bread any more)

*dob – in this context, ‘dob’ is a technical term meaning an amount of butter large enough to grease the hot plate, but not so large that the food is swimming in it.

…when the bough breaks

There is always something that needs doing around the property.

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

The remains of the pump house down by the main dam!

This little project has been waiting for a while, but really needs to be sorted out, sooner rather than later, to protect the pump that makes sure the garden water tank is always full.

In the background is the large tree that fell on it, another ‘little project’ that we are still working on clearing up.

There is some nice wood in the old tree, so we aren’t too keen on relegating it directly to firewood.  Matt thinks he can do some rough planks to make a bench and possible picnic table if we can be patient enough to let it dry out properly.

In the meantime, the tarpaulin that we threw over the top of the old pump house to keep the weather out keeps getting blown off, and when I went out to measure the concrete pad it sits on this morning, I really couldn’t be sure what might be lurking amongst the alluring blue folds.

I maintain a healthy respect for some of the more slithery brands of wildlife that we share our home with.  The tarpaulin has to go.

We haven’t been able to source a replacement shed of the same size at a reasonable price, but Matt found some fairly cheap prefab sheds at the local hardware store.  The one he snapped up looks like it might be too small to fit the pump and all its bits and pieces inside, as well the power point, but, it’s okay, he already has alternative plans for that shed and has his eye on another ‘bargain’ in a slightly larger size.

While the original pump house was just tall enough to fit the pump, the new shed will be able to house some tools as well so that we can leave a few things down near the dam.  We have plans to build a garden on the north facing slope that runs down to the water – maybe a small orchard or some grape vines , or possibly even an extended veggie patch.

Whatever we decide on, the first job will be to erect some kind of enclosure to keep ‘the wallaby’ out.  He doesn’t just eat the fruit, he eats the entire plant, as we have found to our detriment with a cherry tree, an apple, a green gage, and our pear tree (which was doing so well) in our back garden.  I chased him off the peach tree the other day, but some of the lower branches are looking a bit sad.

The impromptu chicken wire fences around the existing garden beds have done their job at keeping young Wally, the possum(s), and the goats at bay, but, sadly, were unable to repel the late frosts that killed off our tomato plants and seriously stunted everything else, or the hot, dry days over summer that took their toll on our veggies.

I’d like to spend more time in the garden, bringing on more edibles by preference, but when school is in, time is regrettably short, so the garden just isn’t looking all that bright at the moment

If nothing else, there’s a lot of weeding to get done.  Not Matt’s favourite job, so it generally comes down to me.  That, and putting up scrappy looking chicken wire fences (that sag, so the possums don’t feel confident climbing over them).  Still, the roses are starting to recover inside their wire-y prison, so I can’t complain too much.

a couple of brave roses putting on a show...

a couple of brave roses putting on a show…

I’ll let you know how the shed project goes.

…away with the birds

Every day brings something new at Seventy Seven Acres.  This morning brought us some unexpected visitors to the garden.  Two.  Well three, really.  A pair of gang-gang cockatoos and a king-parrot.

... the gang-gangs, so close that I could have reached out and touched them

… the gang-gangs, so close that I could have reached out and touched them.

I had already supplemented my favourite burrawangs’ breakfast with a handful of meat scraps from last night’s dinner, and was standing at the kitchen window watching them squabble with a magpie family over who got what.  This is a daily ritual with varying results.  Sometimes Dusty (one of the burrawangs –  a story all unto himself) outwits the magpies, and sometimes the magpies win.  Occasionally the choughs arrive, outnumbering the burrawangs and magpies alike with the sheer size of their large and noisy family.  And even more occasionally a large crow or two will shoulder in on the action.

Not today, though.

Dusty had tricked the magpies into thinking there was a tasty treat in the mulch pile (which there probably was – wood-roaches, caterpillars and centipedes abound) and was filling up with enough of our last night’s leftovers to take back to the nest.

I was watching, as I said, at the kitchen window, when a small grey shadow flew over garden and alighted in a large black wattle just by our back gate.  This small grey shadow was soon joined by another, this one with a brightly plumed red head.

The gang-gangs had arrived.

It didn’t take long to fetch my camera, and I was soon sneaking warily across the back garden hoping to get a good shot without frightening them away.  They were watching me as I focused the camera, zooming in a little, and I was watching them.  Which is why I nearly jumped out of my skin when something flashed right past me at head height, missing me by a hair’s breadth!  Not, as I first assumed, one of the magpies, upset by having breakfast disturbed, but by a cheeky king-parrot who settled on our pergola and blithely cleaned his beak at me as I hastily tried to get a picture of him.

Then I turned back to the project in hand, only to discover the gang-gangs had gone.

Darn.

Except… they were now in the tree right beside me, and I had to un-zoom (a highly technical photographic term) in order to take their picture.

Not to be outdone, the king-parrot turned up on an even closer branch, demanding attention.

I don’t know if they thought I was going to feed them or something, but the two sets of visitors seemed to be vying with each other. I snapped a few quick shots, wondering just how close they would actually get!

With the photo shoot over I slipped away guiltily, wondering what I had in my pantry that might provide a prize for their friendly behaviour.  I’m hoping that the slivers of over-ripe banana that I tossed out for them were what they had in mind.

…the male gang-gang, keeping an eye on what I’m doing

Both gang-gangs and king-parrots are usually seed eaters, and I’m pretty certain that this is what the gang-gangs had been doing in the wattle tree before I turned up on the scene with my camera.  They are gorgeous looking birds,  smaller than the familiar white cockatoo, but with a croaky call a bit like a rusty hinge which is much quieter than their well-know cousin!

Of course, the king parrot is somewhat showier, and quite large in comparison to the gang-gangs.  My field guide tells me that they are generally shy and easily put to flight.  I don’t think this one had read the book.

...the cheeky king-parrot.  I wasn't sure he wasn't actually going to land on me!

…the cheeky king-parrot. I wasn’t sure he wasn’t actually going to land on me!