Thursday, December 30, 2010

hello from hiatus!

I worked in television long enough to know that a hello from hiatus is somewhat of an oxymoron. But as I am also celebrating New Year's Eve at home, alone and sober, I feel such contradictions are totally permissible. If only there was a Gilmore Girls marathon on... oh my not-so-secret shame!

Since last I wrote, it's fair to say the world has changed and then changed again. And it's made me slightly melancholy, which it shouldn't because everything and everyone is on the up. So in an effort to get to take emotional charge, I'm getting all Pollyanna on myself and I'm making a list. I'm calling it my "All kinds of Awesomeness" list, I want to remind myself of 2010's highlights.

1: Bringing home our new baby from hospital...twice. The first time, she was 3 days old and I couldn't wait to welcome her into our space. I'm pleased to report that the divine Miss E is doll baby one moment and then, old man, alien face the next - a most beguiling mix with very low monkey factor. She is just perfect and I feel quite bewitched.

2: The second involved a frightening bout of viral meningitis over Christmas and I'm so glad she's alive for us to tell the tale. It's this episode that has me so reflective.

3: Introducing our newly minted big sister to her baby sister. Being a big sister myself, I was very keen for this to go well. Husbando and I invested a lot of time telling Miss C how the baby couldn't wait to meet it's big sister, how much it loved her already, how much fun they're going to have and whilst the transition hasn't been seamless, I don't know that it could have gone much better. Husbando has already been banished to the end of the bed with the (male) cat as "this is the girl boat, Daddy!"

4: Seeing the divine Miss C dance to Phoenix's Too Young. This track would feature prominently on the soundtrack of my life. Watching your 3yr old discover her inner ballerina to it, counts as one of 2010's great laughs. Truly hysterical, one of those moments that makes you wish you were part cyborg, recording and downloading any data that you'd like to revisit whenever the desire takes you.

5: Driving with my darling Husbando. We've been lucky enough to have a couple of weekends away this year without Miss C and silly as it sounds, being together on the way to wherever, has been just a nice as when we got to our destination. There's something about the anticipation, in being in the car together, without having to keep a small person entertained, that has been a lovely reminder of who we
are. I don't want to look at Husbando and see only my children's father, nor for him to only see me as a mother.

6: Starting this blog and committing to it...and slowly telling people it exsists. In the new year, I'm going to get braver with my writing and more assertive again. I need to show more discipline if I want to make this happen.

7: Through the success of BookClub/Ladies who drink and dine, I have made some fabulous new friends this year and cemented some old ones. I feel really lucky to have such a wonderful group of women in my life. Thank-you ladies! And to my darlings who don't live so close, let's just keep those phone dates coming...friday night with a glass of wine in hand, it's almost as good...not quite!

8: I do not see nearly as much music as I used to but I like to think that now I cherry pick the gigs...this year I finally saw the Polyphonic Spree (I cried) and also Florence and the Machine. All kinds of awesome, indeed! And for Christmas, I got tickets to see Cat Power at the Opera House at the end of the month. Lucky me!

9: That despite my grief over garlic, some bulbs have sprouted! There's a tomato ripening on the vine! Hydrangeas have been uncovered! Magic Garden has taken more of a back seat than I would have liked this year, partly due to pregnancy and partly because that was part of the plan. I now have a better understanding of the garden's composition and more of an idea as to Magic Garden's future. Stay tuned in 2011!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hula Lady at Sunset

Big day today! The baby is due, in theory, the divine Miss C is off with her grandparents and so there are few better things to do other than potter in Magic Garden. Roses aplenty to deadhead and I've planted out some yellow pear seedlings, courtesy of the lovely Kellie. Am off to my favourite cafe for lunch with 2 of my favourite ladies and then it's home for a sleep. I am blooming with possiblity and the rose above is a reminder of that process...yes, I think the hypnobirthing affirmations are taking root. In time, I intend to get all Magnun PI with the nomenclature but today's not really the day. In the meantime, I call her Hula Lady at Sunset and remember good times.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Purple Sage, Purple Haze

With apologies to His Royal Highness, Hendrix and the Artist formerly known as Prince, this post celebrates the very purpleness of certain parts of Magic Garden. It's kinda happened by accident and when I pointed this out to my Mum, she said how lovely it was to see just how many different shades there were in the one place. Stupidly, I'd been beating myself up abit for not "considering" my planting scheme, when in truth, there was no plan at all. Mum's call has made me see the beauty in this situation. There's five different shades of purple in this picture, the sage, lavender, chives, catmint and sweetpeas but what I really love is that this shot shows just how much my Hills Hoist garden has grown since my first post. I do need to think of some way to break up the purple haze. I'm feeling blue, simply because spring has revealed Magic Garden's very garish heart and the front yard already has the opposing purple/yellow nexus covered. These questions of colouration remind me that I've been meaning to post about the concept of the "fashionable" in garden design. What happens when your garden is so well established that such notions are irrelevant? And more to the point, is the true nature of gardening beyond such frivolous concerns? Fashion is defined by its seasonality and infers a sense of the replaceable whereas a garden must transcend the 4 seasons and continue to evolve in spite of them. As with any good design, a successful garden will invoke a sense of timelessness, I guess but then what does this really mean? All this and more, I shall discuss in a future post...

In between, I shall be making up a batch of this very delicious Pumpkin, Sage & Ricotta Lasagne. It was the cover recipe from the ABC's delicious magazine from July 2007, so that should give you some indication as to how long I've been perfecting this rather decadent dish. For entertaining the non-vegan of your vegetarian friends, it is an absolute lifesaver and very well received by meat eaters alike. It freezes really well so make 2 batches and freeze one to be popped in the oven at a later date. Serve with a fresh green salad and maybe some crusty bread, if you feel like carb loading. Also, very tasty as leftovers the next day.

To serve 4, you'll need:
1.2kg butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2cm pieces
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes*
1 tbs chopped fresh sage, plus 12 leaves to garnish
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
350g ricotta
1 egg
1 cup grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
8 lasagne sheets
100g unsalted butter
2 tbs chopped walnuts or pinenuts

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

Place pumpkin on a baking tray, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with chilli flakes & season with seas salt & freshly ground pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 25minutes until the pumpkin is tender. Allow to cool slightly then puree in a food processor, with the sage and nutmeg or mash by hand. Set aside.

Combine ricotta, egg & parmesan and season with salt & pepper.

Lightly grease a 24cm square baking pan, lay 2 lasagne sheets and spread with half the pumpkin puree. Then lay another 2 sheets and spread with half the ricotta. Repeat and then sprinkle the final layer of ricotta with the grated parmesan.

Lay a sheet of baking paper over the surface, cover with foil and bake for 35mins. Uncover and bake for a further 15mins or until golden. Stand for 5mins and in the meantime, heat the butter, nuts & sage until the butter begins to foam. Remove from the heat, drizzle over the rested lasagne and finally, artfully scatter with the additional parmesan.

*Please note, I tend to the cavalier when it comes to measuring and in this instance, the dried chilli can really pack a punch once it's mixed with the sage, so be a bit careful unless you're confident you & your guests like it HOT.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, November 1, 2010

John, the Rabbit!

It's been one of those days but somewhere along the way, the divine Miss C and I came across this gorgeous clip by Elizabeth made me smile, enjoy!

Apologies that the clip is cropped by my template set-up...even if it hadn't been one of those days, I'm not sure I could've fixed it. I'm just not that savy and you still get the general cuteness, I reckon!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Garlic and the Grocer

Traditionally, the first cicada sighting of the season heralds summer's arrival...however 2 days after this beautiful Green Grocer smacked into my arm (with such force, I was looking around for a bird), it was snowing! Crazy spring weather in these here parts but alas, there's no photographic record from me as I was sunning it up in Kilcare. Apart from some massive branches down from the tulip tree, by the time we returned, you wouldn't have known there'd been any freak weather conditions at all.

Funnily enough, my sister and I had been trying to remember all the names for the different types of cicada just the day before. We're talking strictly schoolyard colloquiallism, from the time when it was the height of fashion to arrange a dried shell on your uniform. Green grocers were the most common, followed by the infamous, Dark Prince...I know there were others (rudolph with his nose so bright? a cherry ripe?) but to be honest, I've never seen them and they have become mythological creatures, their names lost in the past.

But I'm hoping the cold snap has an upside. Just before my encounter with the Grocer, I'd planted the lovely cloves you can see above. Depending on where you live, planting should usually be done in the autumn...however, colder regions can also plant in the spring. After Saturday's little episode, surely the mountains count but the Dept. of Primary Industries fact sheet has me worried! Planting this late in the year will probably result in smaller bulbs. C'est la vie, I'll just plant more in the autumn and we can all look forward to my compare & contrast post.

In keeping with companion planting principles, I've placed the cloves between the roses that encircle our standardised cherry. When we first moved in, I planted chives next to a rather sad rose under the Hills Hoist and one season on, both are absolutely thriving. Enough proof for this lady gardener that the relationship is mutually beneficial. Other members of the Alliaceae family include, onions, shallots and leeks, so any of these would be happy enough in your rose beds. However, to have any chance of sucess with a garlic crop, you must buy certified organic as non-organic product is sprayed to increase its shelf life and keep it from sprouting, this renders it infertile. How very appealling!

Firstly, I removed the most papery of the skin, leaving alittle of that closest to the clove. Then, I gave the soil a good turn over. Garlic likes a high level of organic matter and having treated the roses to some blood and bone (which is chockful of nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium) earlier in the month, plus the sugar cane mulch I'd dug in at the same time, I reckon this patch is pretty rich in this respect. I plan to keep feeding the bed with blood and bone until the plants start to set bulbs. Apparently too much nitrogen based product produces bulbs with shorter shelf lives. More of a concern for the commercial operation but still, good to know.

I popped my cloves in at 15cm intervals, 5cm deep then covered my ring between the roses with a light layer of mulch to keep weedy competition at bay. According to the DPI paper, garlic benefits best from light, yet frequent watering. As the shoots brown off or the necks softten, restrain your watering cans as this indicates the bulbs are nearly ready to be harvested and too much water at this time could cause your treasures to rot.

There's not much else to do...except await the autumn and plant more and then wait 'til this time next year so I can test the small bulb prophecy.
This is just one of the videos I watched, there are stacks (honestly, what can't you learn on youtube?) but I post this one for its funky lenny kravitz ripoff intro!

Monday, October 11, 2010

This is the first shot of the Ginko's return. Perhaps it's too early to call it triumphant but I gotta say, I'm feeling pretty damn relieved! Down in the glade, a pre-dawn chorus is singing HALLELUJAH! And I'm talking Handel's full-on choral extravaganza - not pissy Jeff Buckley. In the background, you can see yet more rhododendron love; I think it's a very pretty moment in time when blooms are yet to unsheathe and delicate new foliage is just unfurling...this awareness is at the very heart of my gardening love, these tiny progressions truly warm my heart.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Neighbourhood Watch

These massive beauties make me laugh and until Jeff Koons hits town and shapes some of his iconic puppies out of them, my artistic aspirations will have to be satisfied by cake decorating; these particular blooms are the exact shade of Allen's 'Ripe Rasberries.' I almost feel like sending in a suggestion for the Women's Weekly Birthday Cake book! You can tell I'm still reeling from Miss C's birthday extravaganza...

At this time of year, every shade of Rhodo is ubiquitious and yet completely unique. They are seriously showy and have always struck me as azaleas on steroids. In my little bit of research, it seems this is precisely the case both in flower and stature; the main difference is one of size. This shot demonstartes it perfectly - you'll never see an azalea even vaguely comparing to a telegraph pole!

Additionally, most azalea blooms occur individually; that is one flower to one stem, whereas the rhodo's blossoms occur en masse. At Magic Garden, I have one pink specimen that is so heavy with flower, half the plant has bowed under the weight and there's a gaping hole between top and bottom. This has provided a neat window to an azalea behind but it does make me wonder about whether a rather severe prune is needed. Thanks to the good folk at wikipedia*, I've also learnt that whilst the word Rhododendron comes from the Greek: ροδον, rodon, meaning "rose", and δενδρον, dendron, meaning "tree", it cannot lay claim to its own alcoholic beverage. Next time you're in Korea, keep an eye out for Tugyonju, "azalea grape wine," and please, do post your thoughts.

As mentioned in my last post, the crab apple will always have a special place in my heart. I think they are just delightful, a tart intrusion upon the landscape and a more robust blossom than most. I am amazed that Magic Garden hasn't one hidden away and it saddens me greatly. Plus, OMG is so very well established, it's not like I can just pop one in willy-nilly - there's literally no room and even if I was to shoehorn one in, it wouldn't be fair as there's so much competition, it wouldn't thrive...which would disappoint me doubly. Until I can work out a more equitable arrangement for all, I am taking solance in my lovely neighbour's delighful specimen.

Positioned in the front yard, it is hidden behind a rather high hedge and you really only notice it from the side gate. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that its neighbour is this very fetching Magnolia, another favourite whose close proximity I had been lamenting. I love its languid branches and between these two beautifully compatible bedfellows, the canopy they create is a haven of cool shade. All that's missing is a hammock, a good book and me...maybe a houseboy on hand with a fresh pitcher of homemade lemonade.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Spring has sprung?

Confession time: the first of September came and went and I missed it! I am quite happy to blame baby brain because I'd planned a celebratory 'Spring is sprung' post and I got to last Friday and realised I'd missed the boat. That's what happens when you're 30 weeks pregnant. I keep telling myself, just because the calendar says it is so, doesn't mean the weather is listening and up here mountainside, we are definitely a good month behind our warmer coastal cousins.* So despite the jaw dropping display of blossoms that are just everywhere, I am no closer to returning to my most beloved barefoot summer self. A painted toenail self, buoyant on warm waves of salt water and summer sun. A bikini figures prominently (this is how we know this is fantasy land!) and daylight savings is as permanent a fixture as my healthy, glowing tan.** What I have worked out is that now that I know the calendar has turned, mentally my brain is telling me it should be getting warmer...with the exception of last Wednesday, it's just NOT!

This particular day of spring's beginning is the divine Miss C's birthday. She is three and oh so fabulous, oh so hilarious. Amazing that between Husbando and I, we have managed to keep this tiny creature alive, that she's articulate and thriving, funny and kind. The next year is going to be massive for her, she's off to pre-school and perhaps more importantly, about to become a big sister. After her party today, she was a little miffed that no-one had brought her Pooh Bear a present, as it is his birthday too... who can blame them, it hadn't occurred to me either! But I think it's a telling aspect of her personality, she didn't let it get in the way of her opening her own presents and she didn't bring it up until we were getting ready to have a much needed nap. I like to think this reveals her good manners. When I suggested she'd just have to share her gifts with Pooh Bear, she took it in her stride and he wore her new tiara out for dinner tonight. So even if he is inanimate, she knows how to share and I'm taking this as proof Husbando and I are doing something right.

In the weeks before I gave birth to Miss C, our Magnolia had come into flower and much like myself, the Cherry Blossom was ripening. Up on Armstrong St, the neighbourhood's best Crab Apple, (malus floribunda, I can, in fact remember some things) was a confection of pink and white, the tartness of new green leaves slowly upstaging the sweet. It's one of my favourite things, the dominant, showy blossom giving way to the fresh leaves. Reminds me of a very sickly lolly, the toffee apple and I don't mean a real apple dipped in toffee!*** Part of the bittersweet beauty of life can be marked by memories of what plants are in bloom. The spring of my childhood was always synonymous with the massed Azaleas that spelt out Lane Cove on Epping Rd, until one of my Mum's oldest friends told me she couldn't see them without remembering when her father died. Not many remain now because of the Gore Hill freeway and the bus interchange. And the Lane Cove tunnel means that unless, you're driving to Lane Cove specifically, you'd not have reason to pass and recall the fact that once upon a time, during a spring time traffic jam, that particular part of the world was that little more lovely and that someone very much loved was lost but not forgotten.

*Please forgive, sometimes I can get a tad city mouse, country mouse...I keep it in check most of the time because I really do enjoy the best of both worlds.

**Not that I in any way advocate solariums or unsafe tanning practise. However, I have become a little more aware of Vitamin D of late, in terms of the important role it plays in helping the body process calcium. No matter how sunny and inviting the day might seem, living where I do, going out with bare skin exposed for 10 minutes in 10 degree C temperatures is going to feel like lunacy! Confession number two, I guess, I do fantasise about getting tan.

***Which, for the record, I've always found rather overrated. Mostly, I guess you usually find them at fetes or fruit and veg shops and the apples used always seem to be horrid and floury. Makes me wonder if a little tart bonanza or sundowner might shift the balance...note to self, get Mum to teach me the art of toffee making.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blossom Magic

Here's the promised won't see me writing that too often!

At the top is Coryopsis Spicata, aka Contorted Witchhazel. After enjoying the twisted limbs so exposed throughout the winter, I am just entranced by its chandelier-like catkins. Down below is the blossom tree mentioned in my last post. I know it isn't a cherry and the blossoms aren't the same as the apricot tree close by but according to some, it is the finest blossom tree in the neighbourhood and that's good enough for me. I wish I'd thought to take a shot a day as the blossoms began to emerge and then I could've cut together a cute little psuedo time lapse totally tech would that have been! Coulda, woulda, shoulda, well it'll have to wait 'til next year. I just love the pink against the blue sky and with the winds we've been experiencing, it's a little like confetti at an Indian wedding.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The distance between 2 points...

Spring is making its way up the hill and our Magic Garden is just starting to put on a show - I promise my next entry will be all blossom shots, total garden porn in this part of the world. My right-hand-next-door-neighbour told me yesterday that she considers one of my trees to be the finest blossom tree in the neighbourhood and although all I did was buy the house that had the tree, I am still hugging these words close to my chest!

On both sides, we have the most lovely neighbours who are in different ways, rather expert gardeners. This is honestly rather intimidating, which explains I guess why the comment above has gone straight to the pool room. The shot above however, is on the left-hand-next-door neighbours side and it shows the one gaping hole in a fairly private boundary. On the right, there is the amazing white Camellia you can see from the kitchen window and on the left, a jumble of Rhodo, Camellia and some other horribly invasive green thing which shan't last the summer. The hammock you can see behind the Cotoneastor highlights the problem; it looks like such a delighful place to relax but it looks right into the main area off the back of our house. And to be honest, whilst I am thrilled with both sets of neighbours, I don't want to feel like we have to constantly acknowledge each other, or worse, not use the space when the other is enjoying their own backyard. After much deliberation, it was concluded that a hedge is the only solution...

Happily, this necessitated a trip to one of my favourite places, Windy Hill Nursery on the outskirts of Bathurst. I'm not sure whether I am kidding myself or not but for buying in bulk, I feel sure that Windy Hill is the most reasonably priced nursery in the area. Hopefully, their prices do actually offset the amount of petrol used to get there! My main criteria for the hedging plants was that they should be fast growing and not be Photinas or Pittosporum. I would have loved to go with a row of Gardenia but there are temperamental little darlings and I really need more vigour in this instance. So I have chosen, the Escallonia Macrantha Rubra, chiefly because it states it is "fast growing" and is "frost tolerant". Also, I like the fact that the scale of the foliage and flower heads are quite different to the plants on other side.

Apparently, the Escallonia should reach heights between 3 and 4 metres. This seems laughable now, considering just how tiny they are. But at $12 bucks a pop, more instant gratification would have been vastly more expensive and when I do break the buying embargo, I need to be on my best behaviour. Plus, if I am going to lash out, I want it to be on a statement piece that I really can't live without...whether it's plants or fashion, the same principles of investment buying apply!

We have a long way to go...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Afternoon Delight

Yesterday, I spent a very pleasant afternoon pottering around Magic Garden and in the process, picked this lovely bunch of daffodils. Apologies, as the shot is truly appalling but they are definately brightening up a dark corner of my living room and I just wanted to share!

Part of the reason I am so chuffed, is that it was the day after an annual knees up, hosted by some very dear friends and if I wasn't with child, I'd have almost certainly been feeling very sorry for myself indeed. Instead, I was tucked up in bed at a very civillised hour and awoke to enjoy a child free day, tidying up all sorts of loose ends and feeling very self congratulatory in the sunshine...until I discovered that insult has been added to the injury my citrus has already suffered. The dreaded Citrus Wasp has taken up residence below the graft and I've been so consumed by frost guilt that I hadn't looked closely enough to notice this horror. Oh Joseph Conrad, the horror! After I'd scraped off the gall, I could clearly see the heart of darkness and then to add insult to injury, the wasp larvae poked its head out. And for some reason, I couldn't quite bring myself to yank the bastard out. What was I worried about? Hurting it? Jesus, toughen up, lady gardener!

But to end on a bright note, a big hullo to my 3 followers out there in the've remade my day, thank you X k

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Views from my kitchen...

Our Magic Garden is a riot of rhododendrons, azaleas and all 3 species of camellia. Just outside my kitchen window, I have been watching some sasanquas and eagerly awaiting the buds to pop into bloom. Here is the very first! A lovely cream with rippling, blushes of pink. Its bush is somewhat straggly and though my probation continues, I am itching for all danger of frost to clear so I can get into shaping it better. These plants are right on the fence line and have the potential to be rather magnificent screening elements. However, the bush behind the letter F is in fabulous shape and it amazes how different 2 plants in such close proximity can be... why is it so?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A visit from Jack

Image courtesy of Gardening Australia*

When my family first moved back from Indonesia, it was mid-winter and freezing. I started year one and was introduced to the mythical character of Jack Frost. After especially cold nights, our teacher would exclaim that Jack Frost had been out again. Jakarta had been all about balmy humidity broken up by ferocious thunder storms so I had absolutely no concept of frost and it took me a rather long time to work out who and what Jack Frost was. As the new girl at school, I was too self-conscious to ask! As far as inhibitions go, I am so glad I've gotten over the the fear of asking the seemingly silly question. A quick check with all things Wiki, reveals that as you'd imagine, Jack Frost hails from English/Germanic folklore and is said to personify the crisp, still conditions that can devastate one's garden.

Having been fluttering about in Maui over the last couple of weeks - it's hard not to act like a tropical butterfly in that part of the world, this frost flashback was prompted by the very rude (though not unexpected) conditions that awaited upon our return. The worst frost in 60years, the headlines trumpeted! And though I got out about, hose in hand watering off the worst of it, sadly, I have a horrible casualty on my hands. The Clementine my sister gave my daughter for her first Christmas is downright decimated and I'm not sure I can pull it back from the edge.

In looking into the situation, I've realised that I've already done the wrong thing: my first instinct was to give the plant a light prune. However, the very act of pruning stimulates new growth, so I really should have waited until Jack had well and truly left the building so as not to jeopardise that process. Additionally, I've now removed any protection the dead wood was affording the fledgling green shoots beneath. Curse my itch to fix! I really should be placed on pruning probation. But prune in haste, repent with the weather! Hopefully spring will bring some healthy green nodes and I can make it up to the patient with a new pot and some potent new soil. In the meantime, the Clementine has been placed in the most sheltered spot I can find and I am trying to tempt her with cocktails of worm juice.

For the amateur meterologists out there (professionals, please feel free to weigh in!), frosts occur when the temperature drops below zero and the sky is clear of clouds. If there is no wind, any water in the air will expand and become ice on contact with cold surfaces. On a celluar level what this means is that whole structures rupture and so the plant itself struggles to survive, especially if the conditions are repeated and some idiot has given you an unflattering haircut.

I can't even c'est la vie myself out of this one.

*My frost photos really sucked!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Blousy Beauty

Recriminations aside, I never meant to leave it this long...AGAIN! But life is what happens when your busy making other plans, especially when life includes a sick child, another on the way and much longed for rain. Not that I'm complaining on the weather front but after a good week's worth, a general malaise did set in. However, in an all too brief sunny spot, I took this very happy snap. This fragrant lady does look alittle tired and the buds are yet to open, but I can't believe that I still have blooms coming into flower. True, this particular rose garden is in full sun and I have been religiously deadheading and pruning after each flourish but their tenacity amazes me. As with almost all roses, I have no idea of her name and make an earnest vow to find it out. Until then I christen the old dame my 'Rose of the Day.'

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

So horrified right now...

As winter is fast setting in, it's getting easier to stick to my original, grand plan - which was to work from front to back; giving myself the time to learn the garden and get to know its nuances throughout the year. One thing I have learnt is just how sad the decimation of a Ginko tree can be and how thorough the remorse when you realise that you should have been seriously more proactive in halting the march of a very, hungry caterpillar*. On the left is the culprit and on the right is what my Ginko should look like...and I am so horrified right now...

...and this is what my Ginko does look like.

It is a hard image to publish because my shame is great and right now, my Ginko should be a towering column of gold. But in the interests of public education (ha!) and further self- flagellation, I post this as a reminder to self that there's no excuse for such a cavalier approach to the health of my garden. Ginkos are known as living fossils and some in China are over 50m tall, though mine would be pushing 5m at best. It think this small stature can be linked to a shaded, overcrowded position. I have recently snipped off a basal chi chi or lignotuber; I think the former sounds more fun which is ridiculous of me, as these shoots from the base of the plant indicates some degree of stress in the tree which is not in the least bit funny. Especially when your Ginko has barely survived the summer and now may not have absorbed enough chlorophyll to last through the winter.

You can see the leaves that have struggled valiantly against the invasion and it is not an over-exaggeration to say that perhaps only 5% of the leaves remained by the end of summer. Caterpillars have nibbled down to the stalk of each leaf, taking the fresh new growth but leaving what I imagine must be the tougher, less palatable stalks. Ginkos are meant to have extremely pest resistant bark, perhaps this makes the leaves especially tasty! For a long time, I dithered as to what could be the cause of this problem. I couldn't see any possum poo (and they do like to shit where they eat), I knew the cockatoos were busy in the Beech and I still I didn't do anything. And then one day I saw a lone caterpillar and then I did what I should have done all along, I marched up to the Nursery and started asking questions. I came home armed with a packet of Dipell, which is a bio-insecticide, meaning that is based on natural, low-toxic and organic ingredients. I am against pesticides in general and I'm not really sure how this differs (definitely a topic for me to research more fully) but I really can't take any more chances with my Ginko. It was probably too late to apply this season, but I've done it anyway and now all there is to do, is wait...and do it all over again next spring.

My first encounter with a Ginko in all its glory was at Frank Lloyd Wright's Oak Park Home and Studio in Chicago, Illinois. The windy city was freezing, though it was still officially autumn and in the courtyard between the two buildings was this magnificent specimen of a prehistoric plant. When plans leave paper and the steel wool trees of the model are left behind, I think it's fascinating to see what types of natural forms architects are prepared to commit to, in their own backyards. But who knows whether Lloyd Wright picked out a Ginko in particular or whether it happened to be in situ already, he chose to leave it they regardless and this can only be because there are such striking trees. With new leaf on board, there are a luminous green - I think it's best described as kermit green, not kelly or grass but the colour of Kermit the Frog's felted body. In the autumn, they become a true golden yellow and it's hard to decide when they look best. Their leaves are a unique fan shape that lend themselves to perfect fluttering and when the leaves decide to leave, it'll happen almost overnight. For my Ginko, that will probably take the best part of 5minutes.

*With apologies to Eric Carlye, whose book(s) I do very much like.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

oh my dahlink !

Still on the subject of bulbs, I came across these dahlias out the front of a small fruit & veg store in Kirrabilli last week. This is one of my favourite ways to purchase cut flowers - straight from the markets & almost always cheap as chips, you can buy an armful without breaking the bank. There is something so very decadent about a massive bouquet that you've bought yourself. Only gathering up a bunch fresh from your own garden is more satisfying and Magic Garden has certainly provided quite the bounty since we moved in. Early on, I collected up the most gorgeous posy of peonies* for friends with a new baby and throughout the summer, roses have been a constant presence in the house. But alas dahlias haven't just popped up in some sun drenched corner & seeing the above made me think of all the flowers I'd like to have at my disposal. Hydrangeas are another, more gardenias, vibrant sedums & butterfly plants. Ah well, if wishes were horses...the embargo continues.

For more infomation on all types of bulbs, check out:

*note to self: please research peony care pronto.

Friday, March 26, 2010

surprise me!

When I think bulbs, it used to be that daffodils, jonquils and freesias were the first to come to my mind. And gorgeous as they are, I realise now how little I knew of this amazing group, what a diverse array of colour and form they offer to our outdoor spaces. The lovelies above are part of the amazing autumn reveal that is taking place in Our Magic Garden right now and to be honest, I had no idea who or what they were. They both belong to the family of bulbs known as 'Nerine', the hot pink perfection on the right is 'Rosea' and the signal box red, 'Fothergillii Major'.

Rosea is the strappier of the two, more like curling ribbon and the Major, whilst not as delicate, is a short spiky hairdo of a bloom, a spunky offering that will brighten up any space. I'm not sure if it's because previous owners have moved dirt about willy-nilly but these bulbs are popping up in small patches throughout magic garden and I'm left to imagine what they might be like planted en masse, clashing red & pink together. Love it! Love it! Love it!

So tomorrow's plan with a sick toddler in tow, is to tie wool around each clump (preferrably colour coded with a name tag! thanks to my lovely neighbour for this suggestion!) and wait for them to die off completely both I can contemplate removal before the next spring's growing season begins. Even though, the dead folliage can be irksome and ugly, you simply must bear it out as it is a crucial part of the bulb's return the next year. By definition, a bulb is any plant that stores its entire life force in its fleshy, underground storage facility. As the leaves dies off, they are nourishing the plant below. If you can't live with the obviousness of this process, I suggest you plant your bulbs behind a lower form of hedge or barrier so when the brown hits town, it's neatly out of sight & out of mind... but I do suggest an attitude readjustment - this is the wonder of plants at their very finest!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

falling in love again...

In our neck of the woods, autumn has hit thick and fast - a very rude surprise for someone returning from a brief sojourn @ qualia on Hamilton Island! This abrupt change of season has revealed some absolute garden delights, like the white anenomes above, but it has made me realise I can hardly remember what Magic Garden was like when the spring was new and the ink on the settlement papers was barely dry. I thought it might be nice to remind myself of the richness that is dormant and fill this post with warmth and colour.

Without further ado, I proudly present our majestic copper beech. Standing over 15m tall, I am reliably informed that this beauty is perhaps one of the oldest in Australia and certainly one of the finest specimens still fertile, if the quantity of conkers is anything to go by. The divine Miss and I enjoyed hours of entertainment, watching punk cockatoos execute the most death-defying moves as they crushed the seed pods in one claw, hanging on with the other. Total daredevils and it makes me curious as to the role they play in the keeping the tree healthy, a very rough kind of pruning and they definately encourage the dead wood to fall. By now, the tree is looking slightly denuded and the foliage has lost its lustre, leaving the deep brown leaves to make their way to earth. The upside is that I've discovered that there's a possum or perhaps an owl box tucked way up in the old dame's branches and I can't wait to see who the inhabitant might be. Fingers X'd for owl!

This is the view from our bedroom window. You can see the two different rhododendrens, flame orange and a somewhat more subtle musk stick pink. Magic Garden really is a showcase for both the azalea and rhodendren families, I confess that I was totally blown away by the sheer variety of colours and I didn't know that some types had such gorgeous fragrances.

Lavender will always play a substantial role in my gardens and this is the monster that grows alongside the driveway. It is a classic example of how plants propagate through layering, which can be very useful if you want to create borders and hedging without huge expense. However, if your plant isn't exactly where you want more of the same, then with special care, you can easily divide the new plants from the parent and transplant them elsewhere. Have the transplant spot ready to go and then trim any dead wood and most of the extraneous foliage from the new plant. Then most gently, use your sectuers to seperate the two and even more gently, dig your new baby out. Plant in the usual tender fashion and voila, your thriftiness means you can spend your gardening dollar elsewhere. As the embargo against new plant buying continues here at Magic Garden, I'll be investing alot of time and energy in finding ways to keep my meagre budget intact.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It all comes out in the wash...part 2

As I hung out my first load today, the playschool song, “wet washing hanging on the line, drying very quickly when the weather’s fine,” came into my head and it reminds me that not all the days of my childhood were sunny. There were weeks each year, often around Easter and before Christmas when it seemed to rain for weeks and our covered deck would became swamped in a tangle of damp, manky washing that my mum would refuse to put in the dryer. It would be so easy to paint her as an early environmentalist when it was much more like single mum with a watchful eye on the electricity bill. I got to my mid twenties without really understanding how to get the best out if your dryer. Then I moved mountainside and my love-hate relationship with the dryer began. There’s such satisfaction in getting your load on the line, the pleasure in bringing it down and the knowledge that just for today, you are the victor in your own personal climatic challenge. But when the weather rains on my parade, I’ll admit, I get shirty very quickly. If you can catch it just as the smell in the air begins to change, adrenalin will make your fingers fly and your load may survive. Vaguely damp washing can be saved by some quality (note: quality, not quantity) time in the dryer, though this is not optimal as it just smacks of double handling and I’m a do it once, do it properly kind of girl. But if you miss the window completely and your load is wetter than when it came out of the machine, you’re back to square one and you may as well have stayed in bed with your book.

Carbon footprints and climate change aside, it seems to me that the humble washing line is in retreat. People are so quick to rip out the ugly, rather than see that the beauty behind becomes amplified in response. Of course, I understand that increased density in housing means that space is at a premium and not everyone has room to swing a cat, let alone off a Hills Hoist. But that shouldn’t justify rejecting line drying; even the smallest yards can cope with a retractable wall mounted set-up. When a sense of environmental responsibility pervades everyday life, the Hills Hoist has never been more important. Whilst the perennial sore thumb for some and the most delightful juxtaposition for others, Lance Hill’s Rotary Hoist represents a unique contribution to the fabric of our communities. When we stay at a friend’s, we expect to do so on clean sheets. When our visit ends, we strip the bed and offer to put on a load. If I get run over by a bus, I do want to be wearing clean knickers. Just as we teach our children to brush their teeth and wash their hands before they eat, the very act of washing, folding* and wearing clean clothes is the equivalent of a box of Roses chocolates, it says that you care.** And the unexpected upside is that reaching up to peg is great for your bingo wings.

*For the record, I hate folding and don’t get me started on ironing. Not all domestic arts are created equal and this is meant to be a gardening blog...but c’est la vie, I love any excuse to say, “but I digress.”

**That I have finally come to this understanding proves that I’m a grown up now and I shudder at the thought of my twenty something self, wearing the same jeans and sleeping in the same bed linen for weeks, sometimes months on end. I wish I could tack “just jokes” onto the end of that sentence, but every word is alas, true and I still believe that jeans do get softer the dirtier they’s really just a question of resource management. You have to space it out and wear other clothes in between, this constitutes airing the offending denim without compromising the leg-feel.

It all comes out in the wash...

They’re built to last – a rare thing in this age of built-in obsolescence. Maybe that goes a little way in explaining the enduring romance of the Hills Hoist. There’s no finer example where form follows function but for me, their appeal lies far beyond the utilitarian, though I adore the fact that the Hills Hoist was invented by a man to make his wife’s life easier. Under full sail, a fresh flotilla of wash windward above the earth is the very essence of satisfaction, blue skies ahead and the knowledge of a wash done well. They’re ever present and a constant reminder of a time when swinging on the clothes line was the height of risqué behaviour, something only attempted when your parent’s line of sight was obscured. And as our mum had us believing she had eyes in the back of her head, we learnt to dismount at speed very quickly. I’m a bit surprised that none of us became gymnasts!

When Magic Garden was inspected and acquired in heart and not yet mortgage, the presence of the Hills Hoist was one of the things I was most excited about. Beside myself, to be more accurate. In 2200 square metres of established gardens, this small spot of brutalist hardware completely tickled my fancy. However, Husbando (where I’m coming over all Martha, secretly I know he’d like to be a Mexican wrestler), was not so enamoured. All he sees is the ugly, explosive spike and not the promise and persuasion of sun-dried my first official project was to clear out beneath my nostalgic folly, raise the bed and create an aromatic based kitchen garden. I retained the pale apricot rose bush and there’s now a ring of lavender that will fatten up around the central pole. I’ve put in tomatoes, interplanted with basil and flat leaf parsley one side, beans and rocket on the other. There are signs the dill is coming through. A rosemary cutting from my old garden nestles against some Turkish thyme and I purchased a new sage plant because I really couldn’t wait for seeds to sprout and you really can’t live without fresh sage. Much of this stuff will grow quite tall but I’m not worried in the slightest, it’s a joy to wind up the hoist and let the wind do its work and I love the idea that my washing will dry impregnated with these scents.

Postscript: since taking these shots, we've had so much rain and attendant humidity, I'm pleased to report that there's been steroid like growth beneath my clothesline - the lavender looks plush and the tomartoes are becoming such a serious hinderance, I may have to prune them to ensure ease of rotation!

For more infomation about a true Austalian success story, check this