As a new landcarer, every day is a learning experience for me. Today a group of us got stuck into some weeding down at our local park. It was a chilly morning but we were soon stripping off our layers when the autumn sun broke through the trees. There was so much to see and hear. It was wondrous and fun.
I’ve recently spoken to several park users who have noticed an increase in the number of butterflies and birds since our woodland began its transformation from mowed urban open space to wildlife sanctuary. Today’s high point was when my True Love encountered two native bees that we hadn’t seen before in the park – the blue-banded bee (Amegilla sp.) and the chequered cuckoo bee (Thyreus caeruleopunctatus). Of course, we have blue-banded bees in our own home garden because they love salvia, but I’ve never seen one at the park where thankfully there is no weedy escapee salvia in sight! Awesome. Then to top off the day, the discovery of not one, but two, chequered cuckoo bees was a delightful surprise because neither my TL or I had seen that species before. And they were all together. How cosy! Let’s have a look at them.
The BBBs are solitary bees. The female makes a burrow in soft soil (eg. earth bank) or sometimes soft mortar to lay her eggs (or maybe it is just one egg. I’m not sure). The cuckoo bee parasitises the nest of the BBB. Apparently, it is unusual for the BBBs to roost with cuckoo bees. Anyway, here they are just chilling out together on a a blade of grass as the day warms. I have it on reliable authority (thanks Canberra Nature Mapper experts) that the BBB in this photo is a male.
Bee your kindest self. I must remember that now that I’ve chopped off the less flattering part of this park care story.
What a little cutie. I’m referring to the Australian blue-banded bee. They’re always so welcome in our garden. However, to my horror, I discovered that they have a ferocious bite, especially when it latches on to the delicate skin between your toes. Unlike European bees, our native blue banded bees don’t die after they sting. Technically they don’t sting – they bite, and they can bite multiple times. Honestly, I thought I must have been bitten by a redback spider. It bloody hurt. Not that I have ever been bitten by a redback. I’ve been bitten by a young funnel web spider. Apparently funnel webs are less venomous when they are young, but don’t quote me on that. That bite wasn’t nearly as painful.
Anyway, it must have been horrifying for the little bee as well, finding itself lodged between the toes of some great lump. I ignored the initial discomfort at first but then it started to hurt like hell. I kicked off my sandal to investigate and saw something tumble into the grass. As I hunched down to try to ID it, on the off-chance I might have to call an ambulance, it rose before my eyes from the grass like a chopper from a James Bond movie, buzzing angrily in astonishment. “How dare you!”, it seemed to say. I am pretty deaf but that buzz rang loudly in my ears. No mistaking the message. Poor thing. I was so sorry for it and also very sorry for myself.
Is a nondescript plant unworthy of the lingering gaze? Must the ugly duckling metamorphise into that beautiful swan? Does a light shine with none to see it, invisible when eyes are closed?
The winter woodland keeps its secrets. Echo chambers climb from forest floor until – tendril – summer’s fertile heat provides the desiccant, the bluffer and ephemera of nature’s final call.
I read a recent disparaging comment about the lovely Australian native climber, Clematis microphylla. Perhaps you are yet to discover it or if you have, perhaps you have been underwhelmed? Be patient, dear Readers, and look again.
By popular request (ie. again only one person), I return to the new verge garden which is in summer stasis. In other words, I haven’t had time to tend it. However, I have been taking note. I have a much better sense of the water, sun and soil requirements of particular plants. On the whole, I have chosen wisely, except perhaps for some rescue plants, which have died almost the moment they were planted.
The aim of this garden is to create a grassy woodland in miniature, using local flora. Or at least that is the aim now so we might come across plants that don’t quite fit that objective. Let’s get on with it.
On the subject of kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra), I have learnt that it is slow to get going compared to other native grasses. I am impatient for the grasses to fill out and provide protection for the small forbs that I planted between them. By then, we shall no doubt be in drought again.
Meanwhile, the seed heads of the wallaby grasses (Rytidosperma carphoides and bipartitum) jiggle freely, unrepressed, in the drying summer breeze.
The dusty daisy bush (Olearia phlogopappa) flowered prolifically this year. Perhaps reflecting an increase in the insect population on the verge (certainly the ants work diligently every day), there appeared to be a 100% success rate in the number of flowers that were pollinated. The seed heads formed delicate tufts on the bush that were even prettier than the flowers themselves. This particular bush is normally found in forests at higher elevations. I didn’t know this when I bought this plant. In fact, I didn’t know much at all. When I discovered its preferred habitat, I consoled myself with the fact that I live in a frost hollow so perhaps it would do well. This got me thinking about micro-climates and saving our endangered species.
There has been much general discussion about the need to adapt to the changing climate and planting more species that normally grow in hotter, drier regions. That makes intuitive sense but logic tells me there is a difference between climate and weather. Global average temperatures are trending up but we can also expect more extreme weather, both hot and cold, so we shouldn’t write-off our plants that live on the margins just yet. Perhaps many more of our precious, endangered ecological communities can thrive if we restore them to health and ensure the micro-climate we establish around them supports their continuing existence, Our cities and our gardens must play their part. Well, that’s my opinion, but like I said, I know nothing.
Not everything is in stasis on the verge. It is now time for the blue devils (Erygium ovinum) to shine. It is definitely their year, with Canberra’s nature reserves awash with dramatic metallic blue.
I can’t get enough of them so I have planted them liberally on my verge.
I’ve also planted some less conspicuous woodland plants, including this climbing saltbush (Einadia nutans). Its red berries are miniscule. Apparently, they flower in autumn and fruit from December to March. We occasionally see them at our park but they never seem to be vigorous or fruit profusely. I guess that reflects the mowing regimes for urban spaces. A shame really.
The lemon beauty heads (Calocephalus citreus) are another verge experiment. They look so vigorous and appealing in photos on the internet. So I planted a few and watered them in. And kept watering them. As you do. But they didn’t do well. Just in the nick of time, I learnt that I had to stop watering them. I am hopeful they will now do well in this hot part of the verge.
Since we have a dry forest side of our verge garden, we decided to plant a small shrub that typically grows in the eucalypt forest on the slopes of Canberra’s Black Mountain. Room was made for it when I removed an impulse purchase. I am much happier with this lovely slender riceflower (Pimelea linifolia).
Finally, let’s take a moment to visit the garden bed of death which forms the front boundary of my property. It is called the garden bed of death because nothing grew there until I stuck a few tough native grevilleas and grasses there. I also planted this lovely violet plant. Not that I’ve seen it for years as it was hidden by an exotic that I recently dug out. I got such a lovely surprise when I uncovered it this year. I think it is a kunzea, but not one that is native to Canberra. What do you think? Suggestions welcome.
Well, I will stop there lest it be winter before I actually publish this bloomin’ post.
A part of our small, grassy-woodland urban park is being allowed to regenerate. For the humans participating in the project, this mostly involves assiduous weeding and a small amount of replanting, but most of the hard work is being done by the land itself. The birds and other wild creatures (ie. two skinks and some butterflies) are embracing the changes.
I like my spear grasses straight off the plant. From paddock to plate – Fast food – So fresh, so nutritious, so grand.
This is my place. This is my home. From this watchtower, I behold you on your knees, creating a space for us to live together and apart. My retreat from mankind’s constant intrusions.
Peace and quiet, ladies and gentlemen, peace and quiet.
It’s official, ladies and gentlemen, I am now a landcarer. I join over 100,000 volunteers across Australia working on landcare projects that are focused on sustainable land management practices and environmental conservation. I’m also a newbie Canberra nature mapper. Better late than never, I guess. Over the last six months, I’ve teamed up with some of my neighbours to form a registered group to look after our community park. It is lucky that we had our own resident ecologist because, with his assistance, we identified something that needed protection. Even our ecologist was surprised.
My family has known for years that areas of the park had some lovely native grass – spear grasses (Austrostipa sp.) and kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) – as well as some native grassland plants, clinging to the edges, or under, trees. We also had an inkling that if the native grasses were allowed to grow rather than be mown, they might out compete some of the weedy, exotic grasses. But who would believe us? Nothing to see here, right?
When the drought broke, the resident ecologist discovered more and more native woodland and grassland plants at the park, and I started to incorporate these plants into my verge garden. My neighbour had also seen many interesting looking plants popping up down the park and she talked to me about starting a park care group. So our little adventure began and soon we were joined on this journey by some other enthusiastic neighbours. We embarked on months of self-initiated environmental assessments, community engagement and government liaison.
It is fair to say that not everyone is on the same page. Myths of snakes in long grass, experience of devastating bushfires and differences in aesthetics, beget many different reactions. I certainly get it because that was me. Of course, I am “passionate” about conservation, as was pointed out to me, but it is knowledge, not passion, that motivates me, ladies and gentlemen. As a team, we did our homework (ie. the biodiversity surveys, etc) and the park woodland did the rest.
And the result? A small patch of the park has now been officially recognised as critically endangered box-gum grassy woodland. This is both horrifying and exciting. It is horrifying because there is so little box-gum grassy woodland left in eastern Australia due to urban development and unsympathetic agricultural practices. It is exciting because we now have the chance to work together – both government and local landcare volunteers – to ensure that this precious ecological community is cared for appropriately. Well, that’s my view anyway. I can’t speak for the government or the broader community.
So we’ve planted a few plants, not many, to shelter the small birds. We have also been weeding, weeding, weeding. It’s been wet so there are many weeds. Weeding has been a learning exercise in itself because we are no experts on what is and isn’t a weed. Thankfully there are a lot of resources, including the resident ecologist, to help us make those distinctions.
I haven’t had time to swan around taking photos. I tried to combine my photography and land care interests at one point but I ended up leaving my camera in the grass when I got distracted by some weeds. Don’t worry, it was still there when I realised my error. I do, however, encourage swanning around with a camera because images (plus the expert narrative that goes along with them) tell a story and the story can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to action. So I haven’t completely given up.
Because the conservation patch is a grassy woodland, it has delivered, once left unmown, an outpouring of beautiful native grasses the likes of which I have never seen in our park. Let me show you.
Like the rest of Australia, Canberra has a growing multicultural population. Although my ancestors arrived here in 18th century, I include myself in that multicultural group. This multiculturalism extends to our weeds, gardens and pastures. Our nature reserves, and the indigenous species that depend on them, cannot withstand the onslaught of these “threatening processes” unless we do nature differently.
I’ve got lots of ideas about “ecologically sustainable development” and probably not very original ones. Improved community education about environmental conservation needs to reflect where we are as a community, so tailoring nature “education” to Australia’s increasingly multicultural population, through programs and materials in languages other than English, could be really helpful. I would also love to see even more community and government initiatives to re-wild and connect our urban green spaces. Canberrans, the latter is already happening and you can join in now. Contact Landcare or the ACT government to find out how you can get involved. The work is intellectual; it is physical; it is communal and I love it. Don’t wait until you are over 50, like me, before you get your A into G. There’s a job that suits all abilities.
In closing, I offer my best wishes to all who celebrate the coming festive season and to those of you who do not. My hope for the new year is that you too may have access to a resident ecologist and/or team up with likeminded friends to turn your dreams into reality.
Take care, everyone. Don’t be too naughty. Maybe I’ll stop for photos.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have been waiting with bated breath for the murnong (Microseris lanceolata) on my verge to bloom. I have been waiting much longer for a closed loop insulin delivery system that adjusts my insulin dose based on real time changes in my blood glucose level. Both have finally arrived.
I have only been using the new tech for one week but already I feel that I am living life less on the edge. The tech suffers from a few technical glitches, but I can envisage a day in the near future when I can free my mind from the hundreds of decisions that normally go into the day to day management of my Type 1 diabetes. It may even change my temperament – perhaps I’ll be less cranky. Life too may offer a few more possibilities, just like this murnong seedhead.
It’s still Saturday somewhere, right? I’m a little uncomfortable about chucking in an entry because the Six On Saturday gardening contributors are very friendly and chatty, and of course, I am too, but my blogging program is giving me all sorts of problems and hence my communications are sparse, which doesn’t seem fair. Apologies in advance. But I have a few shots of my current fancy which is my verge garden, and it was Saturday here just a few short hours ago, so here goes.
My bluebells (Wahlenbergia communis) have gone nuts this year. They are in their element here with other woodland and grassland plants. It helps that it has rained. A lot. There is a lot of yellow in the verge at this time of the year so the bluebells tone everything down.
I’ve been learning a lot about what is a local plant over the last year. For example, from my perspective (and it will be different for you depending on where you live), plants can be native to Australia, native to the broader region surrounding Canberra, local to Canberra and/or local to my part of Canberra. When I first bought these native leek lilies (Bulbine semibarbata), I wasn’t au fait with all these intricacies. These lilies are not native to Canberra but grow in the broader region. Still, they are doing okay. The flower is tiny and not in focus. I was in a hurry and was too distracted by the lovely hoary sunrays (native to my part of Canberra and elsewhere) behind them. The latter must be the cheeriest flower of all time.
As you can see, the other bulbine lilies have bigger flowers. I don’t know whether these are Bulbine bulbosa or Bulbine glauca. I have both and I swear I was going to remember which was which but now I can’t. The bulbosa likes moist conditions while the glauca is a bigger, tougher beast and can cope with dry woodland.
The clustered everlastings (Chrysocephalum semipapposum) have just started to flower. They look a bit spindly because this is their first year.
The verge is meant to be a miniature grassy woodland so grass is a big feature, or it will be when the grasses grow. For some reason, I got distracted again and bought a number of different grasses. I don’t know whether they will all mesh together but I will soon find out. Here is some wallaby grass (Rhytidosperma sp.). You never know what you might end up with when you buy a non-specified species, but I am really happy with these cuties. They are only about 30cm tall. I really like them.
It seems that I am one photo short on the verge so I will finish off with a photo of this beautiful nepenthes which lives in a pot on our laundry window. It is as big as it looks. It prefers dusty, cobwebbed windows. You wouldn’t clean your window if you had to move this plant, although looking at them up close now, I can see the window needs a good scrub.
Jim Stephens from Garden Ruminations is the new host of Six On Saturday, a weekly challenge of all (six) things gardening. Pop along to Jim’s blog to see what’s in bloom at his house and in the gardens of the other participants.
Anyway, I had better go to bed now as I am exhausted from working on a mystery project. Hint, hint, it is plant related.
Talk soon if I can get the comments and the likes working (that’s blog speak for the information of you, non-bloggers).