I have been feeling a tad too boring to be blogging lately. Digging weeds day after day makes for pretty dull conversation. Also, somehow I had gotten it into my head that the quiet byways that I used to frequent were now inundated by crowds of people enjoying “nature” and therefore to be avoided. How selfish of me, but as per usual, it was nothing like I thought.
Anyway, I went out today. I saw less than a handful of people. I even said hello. It didn’t kill me. It was actually kind of nice. I had forgotten about the autumn light. Better make the most of it – the light, the time, the quiet.
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.
During the week about a dozen yellow-tailed black cockatoos visited our park. They were having a field day, chewing on branches and pulling out borers. My True Love snapped these photos. One of the young ones got caught up in a branch that it was chewing and it tumbled to the ground when the branch finally gave way. The youngster was unfazed by this. Check ’em out.
I thought I might do some garden posts since, well, it cheers me up. Today I am making my second ever contribution to Six on Saturday, a weekly gardening get-together hosted by The Propagator. It has been a long time since my first post in May!
My new verge garden is looking a mess at the moment. Attractive features include rubble we dug out of the mud, mud splattered plants, and the bird cage and plastic containers protecting the vanilla lilies (Arthropodium milleflorum) from the marauding cockatoos. I understand that the tuber of the vanilla lily is a traditional bushtucker food. Aha! This got me thinking that perhaps I should go foraging for onion weed (Asphodelusfistulosus) which is another favourite of the cockatoos. They seem to know what is good eating. I discovered that yes, onion weed is edible. But I digress.
More pleasingly, the billy buttons (Craspedia variabilis) and the bulbine lilies (Bulbine glauca) are flowering ever so cheerily despite the spring rain.
Next we have the egg and bacon plant (Eutaxia obovata) and tucked in along side it is Craspedia variabilis once again. The former is a West Australian shrub but doing quite well in sunny (just joking) Canberra on the opposite side of the country. The colours are best described as garish but the insects like them.
I have also included hoary sunray (Leucochrysum albicans) seedlings in the verge plantings. All are recent plantings except for two that I nursed through winter trying not to OVER WATER them! They are water-wise plants and don’t like to be waterlogged. The hoary sunray is a threatened grassland species local to our area. They look spectacular en masse but even a single plant is enough to brighten your day. Aussies, do make sure you get seedlings from a reputable plant nursery. All native plants on public land in Canberra are protected.
Come with me while I nip into the backyard. Our Tumut grevillea (Grevillea wilkinsonii) is flowering. The Eastern spinebills have already been into it despite it being a tad mouldy. Apparently, the flowers smell like mice urine. The geographic distribution of this species is restricted to a few small populations near Tumut in the western foothills of the Snowy Mountains, and unsurprisingly, it too is an endangered species. It is now being cultivated commercially and it does well in Canberra which has a not too dissimilar climate to Tumut. Anyway, I thought it deserved a photo just in case it doesn’t survive this extended wet spell.
Finally, let’s take a brief stroll to the local park. Because it is normally much drier, we don’t often get to see common woodruff (Asperula conferta) spreading in such delightful abandon. A small area of ecological significance has been fenced off and we are excited to see what else might pop up in that area over time.
You have probably guessed that it has been wet, wet, wet here in Canberra, Australia. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yes, we need a song because it is just that sweet little mystery that makes us try, try, try, try. Sing it with me, ladies and gentlemen.
Inspired by lens artists across the world, I have joined a botanical photography group. How weird (for me) is that? In order to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, I have chosen photos that I have taken for that group to share with you.
Here are some busy little birds – firstly, a busy photo of a silvereye getting a dusting of wattle pollen, and secondly, a speckled warbler in a more serene green. We also have a front and back view as an added contrast.
Sticking with the busy bird theme because it is spring in Australia, here is another busy photo, this time of a New Holland honeyeater. It was quick but I was quicker snapping its photo in this native mistletoe (probably Amyema miquelii, but I am no expert). Mr Magpie is always good for a photo. “Hope you’ve got my best side,” he says. It is a harmonious contrast, don’t you think?
Moving on to all things botanical, a beautiful sheoak (possibly Allocasuarina verticillata) caught and held my attention. The coppery flowers stood out in the fading light. Bucolic, eh? Contrast the woodland veiled in copper with a single stem of this nodding blue lily (Stypandra glauca) set in silver. Pure harmony in opposites.
That’s my lot for this week, ladies and gentlemen.
I’ll leave you with this quote by yours truly, “Stay calm, stay strong and negotiate.” That’s pretty good. Someone must have said that before.
Kind Regards. Tracy.
PS. They are all my photos. I have to be a grown-up and take my own photos, rather than my True Love’s photos, to the photography group.
The highlight of our week so far was seeing a pair of dark morph Little Eagles (Hieraaetus morphnoides). Little eagles are listed as vulnerable in Canberra.
We have only ever glimpsed them flying high above us. We were therefore particularly excited to see two (!!) together in a tree. They looked very cute and fluffy so we thought they must be fledglings but information online indicates they don’t start breeding until the end of August in our area. Perhaps then, the two are a breeding pair? It was hard to tell because it was another overcast day and once again the light was fading fast (story of our lives).
So with much Photoshop ado, here are the lovely pair.
They did not take their eyes off us. The first photo was taken by my True Love and the second by me. A truly excellent day for all its gloominess.