Bright spots

Rainbows always make me smile; no corporation has found a way to despoil them yet, or to capture and sell them.

In less-than-bright times, with less-than-visionary (!) leaders, I need all the bright spots Nature can offer to keep my spirits up.

And then I realised the rainbow had a second fainter image, a pale double of itself. I choose to to take that as an arc of hope: next time Australia will vote for action on climate change, and not be fooled by the spin.

It is winter at last and still very dry here but a few plants like that, and are giving me great pleasure from their abundant blooms. This beauty has been moving with me though various homes and stages of my life for over 50 years!

These orchids came from one large overgrown clump, a gift from my cousin Kerrie, who has many varieties, about five years ago,. They made six pots, and right when I most need colour and beauty in life, their graceful arching stems are offering both.

And while not at all colourful, as so perfectly camouflaged in their casuarina tree, these two Tawny Frogmouths make me smile every time I see them. Not every day, not always in the same fork, and not always as a pair, although lately they have been. I think they are beautiful.

But a bright spot in my day — and my life — whenever they choose to inhabit my place.

Shades of purple

I am fortunate to have Jacaranda trees outside my house, splashing my skies and carpeting my road with purple. I call it purple, but is it really somewhere in between lilac and purple?

In fact, my Spring garden has many variations on a theme of purple, like the ubiquitous but still lovely Agapanthus plants, which were here.

I grew to dislike them due to municipal overuse, but that is similar to disliking Greensleeves because of Mr Whippy’s appropriation of it…

The nearby large and beautifully drooping branches of what I think is Duranta repens, commonly called Geisha Girl or Golden Dewdrop, was here, and its flowers are dark enough to be called purple.

The Plumbago I planted is much paler, not even aiming for purple and having trouble making lilac.

The Buddleia or Butterfly Bush is only slightly darker lilac, but deepens in the buds along its arching spires.

A pretty sight, although I am still waiting for the butterflies to find it!

One year’s promise

Having now been in this new home for a year, I am seeing the first Spring of my plantings, a promise of what my envisaged garden will be like.

Planting citrus trees was a priority, given that I grew up on an orange orchard and I still find the scent of orange blossom the most heavenly of all. I have eight little trees in; nine if you count the Kaffir Lime.

For any fruiting plant to survive the winter and burst forth with the buds that herald the fruit to come is great; the perfume of citrus is a bonus.

The most exciting for me is the spiny Native Fingerlime, absolutely covered in buds. I am sure they won’t all become those bliss bombs of limes, but surely many will?

Other flowers, like this shallot, are the first of my vegie crops to begin their next cycle of flowering, seeding and new plants appearing where they fall.

Having carried cuttings with me of favourite plants from the Mountain, like my Glory Vine, I love seeing those tiny sticks reshoot here in their first spring. By next year my verandah railings will hopefully be as bedecked in green through to Autumn pinks and reds.

The Glory Vine and the Mandevilla Laxa will mingle with my old Mountain favourite, a Crepuscule Rose.

My town Crepuscule Rose is not from a cutting, but newly bought here — because I miss it! — and looking happy. It is flanked by baby Mandevilla seedlings.

When Crepuscule gets going, as here at my Mountain cabin, it’s a wonder of recurrent ragged apricot blooms. I can’t wait.

Other newbies here having their first flowering is this ‘blue’ Solanum, in planters, growing up a trellis erected to urgently mask a most unaesthetic garage at the end of my verandah. It grew and climbed very swiftly, but it really wants to keep heading skywards, so it was perhaps not the best choice. Nevertheless, its delicate flowers, albeit unscented, are a welcome sight.

In fact, anything shooting after dormancy is welcome! Nature is so clever — and generous.

Winter exotica

Plants from cuttings and broken-off bits, of unknown future flowerings, all find a home with me. This beauty came from a community fundraiser where bits from very old plants in the Wingham courthouse garden were propagated for sale.

What a bold and beautiful and very contemporary blooming it turned out to be harbouring!

My cousin Kerrie gave me a large overgrown lump of strappy leaves and roots a few years ago, an orchid that needed dividing.

They filled five pots, and this year three have arching flower spears. How tropical they look on my mid-winter Wingham deck!

A long look into the heart of one fills me with admiration at the restrained yet jungle-wild patterning, the carefully balanced shapes.

My Chain-of-Hearts plant has accompanied me on each house/garden move for. It likes the situation here and is thriving.

But I don’t recall it having an autumnal colour event, where each leaf tries on a different shade. No matter, I am most appreciative… and grateful.

Inland rocks

In the Nymboida-Binderay National Park, the water’s power is strong; visitors are warned of it. White-water kayakers take off from here at Platypus Flat. I stay on shore — deal with a flat tyre — and simply enjoy the sound of the water.

The current-combed trees show the force of the Nymboida at times, but not now, as the whole area is in drought, even the Dorrigo Plateau where these waters arise. The rocks bear witness, with the white line showing where the water level used to be for so long.

In the Cathedral Rocks National Park, at about 1200–1500 metres, there is no rushing water, the rocks are still and quiet… and awe-inspiring. I stay at Native Dog Camp.

On the nearby short walk to Warrigal (aka Dingo/Native Dog) Rocks I see enough rocks to lift my spirits. Balanced or brooding, they are always decorated with their dependent lichens and mosses, varied according to degree of shelter and sun exposure.

It can snow here — there are snow gums and snow grass. Rocks rule more than trees.

They lead to an upland swamp and tiny creek… where the dingoes come to drink … before circling back through more mighty boulders (tors) stacked or slumbering.

Dare I walk between these two? Might it decide to back up just a wee bit more as I do?

Next day I choose to walk to the more distant and far higher pile called Woolpack Rocks, an 8 kilometre round trip.

Again I cross a totally different world of swamp and low vegetation. In this climate plants protect their precious moisture with thin, spiky or leathery leaves. The occasional flash of gold from a tall skinny wattle or the threaded circles of juvenile leaves on a eucalypt are almost a lush surprise.

Then the path leads uphill, past the prehistoric shapes and wonders of banksias short and tall, and bushes of the rare and threatened Styphelia perileuca, unique to a small area here in the Cathedral Rocks National Park.

I pass even more fantastically and seemingly precariously arranged rocks. I am quiet; what might wake this mother whale and her baby?

The track winds up through taller trees and around to a deep green southern gully of tree ferns and rock orchids before reaching the dizzy heights of the destination rock pile.

Whoever named the collection up here had no imagination. Very few look like wool packs… and I am truly not even sure if they are inanimate. I have probably read too many Patricia Wrightson’s magical children’s books, like ‘The Nargun and the Stars’, which have strong affiliations with Aboriginal stories.

As at Hanging Rock, one could lose the narrow sandy path between these monsters. It is not our world up here.

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Casuarina honey

For about a week I have had a constant hum in my ears. Given I was recently diagnosed with moderate hearing loss, nothing would surprise me.

But then a visitor heard it too, and sensibly wondered where the bees were. Not many plants are flowering right now, so I was at a loss.

Until I really listened to where the humming was coming from — the large Casuarina on the bank behind the house. Too high for me to see its flowers without the camera’s magnification; and they don’t look much like flowers anyway. The tree just looked a bit rusty from afar.

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But on going closer, this big She-oak is covered in golden flowers, its branches visibly vibrating with hundreds of busy bees. I would not have imagined these tiny flowers to be so bee-beloved.

I am always grateful that such a majestic tree survives within my watching area.

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Black Cockatoos love its nuts/seeds, all the bigger birds love to perch in its branches and sing, and now I know that bees love it too. Somewhere there is a hive full of Casuarina honey.

Sandstone surprises

Visiting the Brisbane Water National Park on the NSW Central Coast, I was struck by the determination of trees to survive.

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The acrobatic and colourful trunks of Angophora Costata (Sydney Blue Gum) caught my eye most, forcing their way out between slabs of sandstone and twisting their way upwards as needed — or fancied.

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I was surprised to see some wildflowers out, but they couldn’t compete with the spectacular Banksias, glowing amber in their rugged trees like lit lanterns, fringed with shining burgundy.

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Nearer the ground the dainty bells of Correa and the pale sunlit puffs of Wattle caught my eye. Both had spiky hard leaves, as befits the tough rocky environment in which they grew.

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At the base of the gully a creek had sculpted the sandstone over eons, the damp shade fostering a whole other world of plants.

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Whether ghostly green with moss, sheltering ti-tree liquid gold, or striking white with lichen, lapping at the edges, the rocks were wonderful.

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Wet or dry, it was the details that drew me: the bright leaves trapped against the rock like flies in amber, or the bush-fire limned bark flakes of an old tree up the slope, badges of survival.

Melaleuca magic

On my new place, in typical farm fashion, trees have mostly only been left around the edges, but in the middle of the bare creekflat there are three big trees.

The kookaburras like them as good vantage points from which to spot their lunch. I like them because I can watch them from my verandah — and hence all the drama that attends bird life, such as Willy Wagtails divebombing Kookas to stop them coming any closer to their nest.

But also because I just like trees.

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Now the two large and arching Melaleucas (stypheloides, I think) are a mass of blossoms: tiny white bottle brushes held in place with little green stars.

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Bees like them too.

I hope this means they will set many seeds to raise many more Melaleucas to plant. Imagine a creekflat of these beauties!

Creekside beauties

There are many small birds here but they do NOT stay still for photos for me to share them with you. Swallows, Willy Wagtails, honeyeaters, finches… I will have to take to sitting outside and waiting, with camera poised. I think that’s called birdwatching.

Thankfully the flora here is slower moving.

Alongside the small creek is a narrow strip of beautiful remnant rainforest. Yes, there are too many weeds and invasive trees like Camphor Laurel, but looking up to admire one large indigenous tree, just look what I saw.

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When I returned to show friends, the orchid’s flowers had disappeared. So the flora may be slower than the birds, but I’ll have to be fast to catch their stages.

I’ve tried to identify this orchid, but I’m lost amongst the Dendrobiums; could it be Dendrobium monophyllum, also known as ‘Lily of the Valley’? The little finger petals seemed distinctive to me and closer to the drawings of this one than any other.

I have so much to learn about this new place and its inhabitants.

Of bulbs and birches

After a few days of welcome (if inconvenient for moving house) heavy rain, the bare trees are glistening in the morning sunlight, and the bulbs beneath them are struggling to lift their heads.

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I love winter birches: for their bark and the lichen it attracts, for their bobbles and fine branchlets and twigs and the raindrops they cherish.

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Some of the fat snowflake clumps are flattened…

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…the first shy daffodil heads are about to unfold, and the fallen autumn leaves escape the wind by huddling amongst new iris leaves.

Seeing beauty

As I pack and move out 36 years’ worth of my magpie collection, the cabin is far emptier than ever since it was built. I am appreciating the texture of the more revealed expanse of mud walls, freshly emphasised with the repainting (with natural paints of course).

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I am admiring each treasure before I pack it away, and loving the flowers that winter here gives me for brightening indoors.

Sometimes I’m almost too late to catch a fleeting beauty on offer…

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…like the last low rays of the sunset through my front door leadlight…

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…or the coloured glass window in front of my desk.

Who needs Spring?

Fortunately some of the most sweetly scented bulb blooms are at their best in Winter. Erlicheer are my favourite, on the plant and in a vase. They have naturalised and multiplied here, need no care, and the critters don’t eat them. In other words, a wonder plant!

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Next to my bird bath I planted this Lilli-Pilli to provide some cover for the sipping or bathing birds. The bonus for them — and me — is its abundant crop of pinkish-mauve berries. They make a great ‘flower’ arrangement indoors too, keeping their colour for weeks.

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But even the bare vines on my Winter verandah are beautiful in their shapes. The wisteria and the ornamental grape intertwine and twist around themselves and each other to provide a decorative lacework that’s better than any static iron verandah ‘lace’.

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I suspect it won’t be long before I lose that linear treat, as the wisteria seems about to bud. Hang on, there’s still a whole month of Winter to go.



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