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!

Moving Dad’s place

When this was built at the Mountain, I never imagined it would have to be moved. But it has, twice.

There was no way I was leaving it behind anywhere, but the last time was too much for it.

The beach pebble chimney survived its cracking, staying vertical and attached.

But I had to patch the ferro-cement roof– and pretty rough it is.

I am waiting for it to weather grey and gather lichen, to fit in.

But on the south side the roof has fitted in here beautifully, with the moss as thick and velvety green as ever.

Here the little cabin is placed right opposite my side steps, so I can sit and look at it, say hello as I pass…

This extract from The Woman on the Mountain, of the original construction and site, will show you why:

Dad’s place
It’s a pretty good place, with a view across the dam to the bush, terrific sunsets, and a couple of wattles just in front.

Now how does that song go?… ‘It’s Ju-ly and the winter sun is shining, and the Cootamundra wattle is my friend… All at once my childhood never left me, ‘cause wattle blossom brings it back again.’

Yeah. And I got plenty of time for memories now.

My daughter often drops by for a chat, and my granddaughter brings my great-granddaughter to see me every few weeks. A right little card, she is, picks me fresh flowers every time she visits!

Much better than bein’ cooped up in one of them boxes, side-by-side with all the others, even if they do have landscapin’ and rose gardens. Give me this horse-cropped pasture any day.

We’d decided to build a cabin on my block for Dad. No reason why we three women couldn’t do it, if I kept the plan and method simple. My sisters had no building experience, but Dad wouldn’t care about rough edges and wonky lines.

As he’d been a carpenter by trade, I thought it best not to use timber; might make the mistakes too obvious, be an irritant, even for an easy-going bloke like Dad. Considering bushfires, and what was handy, a stone cabin seemed best.

I’d chosen a spot by the wattles, near some big rocks that would make perfect beer-o’clock sitting spots. My sisters arrived, and approved the site. We set to work. Citybased Sister One looked so funny in my spare gum boots and old felt hat that I wished Dad was here to see. She was to pass materials to me, while Sister Three was assigned to mixing cement.

We levelled the site, and boxed in for the slab. Our arms were aching by the time we’d mixed and trowelled and smoothed, but satisfyingly so. Sister Three went to make tea for smoko while Sister One and I watered and covered the setting concrete.

Next day we started the walls, leaving enough of the slab exposed for an all-round verandah. He’d want that to enjoy the view. It was a small cabin, but we fitted in a window on the eastern wall, for morning sun, and another on the northern wall, beside the door.

Dad loved an open fire, but Mum had put her foot down and insisted it be replaced by a less messy closed-in one, of a nasty shiny brown with a mean little mica window behind which the fire struggled for identity. It did warm the room, but not our hearts; it wasn’t even worth looking at, couldn’t conjure up a single flickering image or inspire a dreamy thought train…

So we made a big chimney on the west, where we could imagine him in front of a fine blaze, cooking his snags on it if he wanted. And making forbidden messes! Narrowing to a freestanding column, that chimney was a challenge, but ended up only slightly askew.

On the last evening of my sisters’ visit we drank to Dad as we admired our work, joking about what he’d think of it. He’d surely laugh at us girls as builders, especially Sister One who never went anywhere without makeup, and for whom a broken nail was a disaster. But for him she’d worked au natural and got dirty without complaint.

They had to return home, leaving the roof to me. Cutting tin was too hard, so I was using ferro-cement over chickenwire and hessian. Dad would shake his head at this unconventional method, but it would make a good watertight roof.

Now came the hard part. All the roofing materials ready, I went to get Dad. He had to move in now, because neither the door nor the windows of this cabin would open; my roof would close it forever.

As I carried the grey plastic sealed box I could hear small shifting gritty sounds that made me tremble; these were more than ashes.
He fitted snugly in his cabin.

I draped the hessian over the wire. He’s gone.

I hate doing this.

‘Sorry!’ I sobbed, as I worked the cement in.

Interment is… so… final.

It’s done.

Relief films over the hole in my heart.

Rest in peace, Dad.

I’ll be down for a beer tomorrow at 5.00. OK?

You can buy The Woman on the Mountain and my other books here.

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.

Turtle Doves

Ever since I moved here I have seen this pair of doves in my back yard, always together, never alone. Sometimes they are very close, as in sharing the top of a gate post.

They fly up and off quickly if they see me, so without the motivation of a photo, I hadn’t looked them up in bird books.

Finally I did get a few shots, from my back deck. Now I know they are Turtle Doves, of almost mythical pairdom and ‘lovey-dovey’ fame.

These are actually Spotted Turtle Doves (Streptopelia chinensis), introduced from India in the 1860s. They have spread pretty much all up the east coast now.

They coo gently, and the sexes look the same. Lovely soft-looking and soft-sounding birds, nice to have about, but apparently they are replacing native doves in some areas.

Then today I spotted a small group of four out the front, near a quite busy road.

I rushed to the back to see if ‘my’ Turtle Doves were there; no sign of them. So were they two of this four and were the others family members just visiting?? They all look the same!

Wood blooms

On stumps of felled or fallen trees and logs from such, this last week of rain has brought forth a cornucopia of fungi blooms of the strangest shapes. These ones look more like tiny shells and amber bluebottles.

Others have the more expected ‘ear’ shape, when not being bubbles, so I can only assume that they are Auricularia Sp. 1; definitely one of the ‘jelly’ fungi.

Yet others are so discoloured and distorted that they look like something regurgitated.

On a similar log in my mini rainforest these more ‘ordinary’ white fungi are what caught my distant eye in the first place.

They are tough and solid, with tiny pores underneath, and also appear to have bubble babies. However, I wasn’t able to identify what they are called.

Not on wood but in the leaf litter was this cute little glistening orange cup, that I think is Amanita xanthocephala.

I find it astonishing that my village backyard just keeps producing surprise treats for the observant eye.

Plant surprises

A Colorbond garage wall is not the most inviting surface for a climbing plant. I was sceptical when my nursery lady said she thought Virginia Creeper would be able to cling to it.

Never having grown one – but always wanting to – I gave it a go.

The plant had tendrils which it clearly would like to wind around something, so I began trying to attach wires for it, groaning at the effort this was going to be for such a high shed.

But lo, it didn’t need more wires, as, failing supports, it puts out little sticky feet to help it up the wall.

Another evidence of plant resilience was spotted on the stump of the Silky Oak I had to have removed.

It would seem that the adjoining rainforest is moving in, with what looks like a Sandpaper Fig artfully planted there by a passing bird.

And then, on my fence line, a tree just come into flower drew me closer. Not sure what it is, perhaps type of Pittosporum, not the Undulatum I am used to.

But it was the trunk that fascinated me, with tiny leaflets growing directly out of the highly decorative and lichen-festooned bark. It even has stitched up sections!

Moisture marvels

We’ve had lovely rain, which caused my garden plantings to literally lift up their heads in gratitude — and to visibly grow, instead of barely surviving.

In between actual wet days, we’ve had damply humid ones, where rain promises/threatens, but remains undelivered. The perfect warm moist weather for fungi.

I love these very visible clumps of fleshy ‘cappuccino’ fungi, so generously clumping through my backyard grass.

But I am delighted to also find this solitary umbrella, minute and almost translucent, nestled amongst some dry thyme stems.

The grass is long, but it’s been too wet to mow. My first fungi have disappeared, and the sun is out, so I mow. Next day I spot three of these caramel crusted drumsticks defiantly claiming pride of place in the shorter grass.

Far less showy are these shy little fungi, soft blobs of cream hiding in the leaf litter.

I welcome them all, these marvels of moisture that seem to come out of nowhere to surprise the observant eye.

It’s nature, it’s life!

Soil surprises

Somewhat disgusting? Totally amazing!

The first slime mould sighting in my new place.

Filaments and networks forming a weird yellowish mass on the woodchip pile.

The colour caught my eye, but only after I’d been stopped by another more familiar slime mould nearby.

I think this is what is often called the Dog’s Vomit slime mould.

Slime Moulds are an extraordinary group of organisms called Myxomycetes — neither plant nor animal nor fungi. There are more than 1000 species of these ‘intelligent slime’ identified.

Apparently they suddenly get together in a mass of protoplasm and ooze along very, very, very slowly, feeding until ready to start producing spore.

The species are all different, but all equally incredible. Nature at its most strange.

If you’ve never come across these ephemeral ‘creatures’, take a look here and here at my Mountain posts when I first met them, where there is more information and links.

And then I spotted these.

Tiny orange fungi, sticks like popsicles with chocolate coated tops, albeit slimy ones.
Around them were dried-up versions of the same, so it seems they do not transform or open out.

I’ve been so focused on what’s in the trees here that I’d forgotten the secret surprises that can arise from the soil.

Reclusive visitor

We’ve had rain, and the rocks in my back yard path are a bit slippery. But not slimy with weed, so this rock caught my eye.

And then I saw that it had back legs. A tortoise; but was it digging in or out? Right next to a cement slab didn’t seem a smart choice either way.

Of course I ran for the camera, hoping it would still be there. I tiptoed around the front of it and knelt down. The small head with that distinctive pointy nose turned slightly towards me and one bright beady eye summed me up.

‘Better retreat’ was the decision. Not wanting to disturb its plans, I left it alone, but it was nowhere to be seen later. From the weed on its shell I suspect it had walked up from the wetlands below the yard.

I hope it found a suitable spot in my yard… and felt safe. Maybe I need a sign ‘All wildlife welcome’?

The water word is out

After the White-faced Heron staking a claim on my pond, the word seems to have got out to other water birds that the pond is here and the surrounding lawn is soggy enough to easily poke a long waterbird beak into.

A small troupe of iridescent Straw-necked Ibis were here the other day, strutting and poking happily, until the Magpies sent all but one packing.

Then it too took off, recognising, as do most birds, that maggies rule.

I am keen to see what other waterbirds visit, now the word is out.

 Pond tenant

I have never had a waterbird on my shed roof, yet a few days ago this solitary White-faced Heron was using it as a lookout post.

A common enough heron apparently, but not here, not yet, to me.

The only water nearby is my rather pathetic pond-cum-drainage attempt. Could that be what had attracted him?

Yes. He floated down with those effortless large wings and began the inspection of possible premises.

As he strutted along the perimeter of the ‘moat’, I had the chance to see what my bird book calls ‘the long grey nuptial plumes’ on the back.

Then he hopped in and I could just see the head bobbing along, disappearing now and then as he poked that long beak into the shallow water. Scoffing tadpoles?

I was so pleased that a waterbird had found my pond, but assumed it was a fleeting visit.

Not so. Each day since, he has appeared somewhere in the yard, then perched on my verandah roof and sailed above my head down to the pond and its surrounds.

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