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.

Sunkisses

This is an extract from Chapter 16, ‘Let the sun shine’ in The Woman on the Mountain. It was also included as a stand-alone piece in an anthology by Catchfire Press called Stories for a Long Summer (2006).

Summer once meant glorious, golden sunshine, for outdoor playing and swimming, from sunup to sundown if we could wangle it. Painful sunburn and peeling skin was inevitable, every year, for everyone except those with foreign, that is, not English, Irish or Scottish, skin. We soothed the burns by dabbing with vinegar or cut tomatoes, picked at the dry skin as it peeled, and drew satisfaction from extra long strips removed. Noses and shoulders were always the worst and most frequently burnt. As new freckles appeared we joked about ‘sunkisses’. I could count mine then.

By my fifteenth year it was all about sunbaking in bikinis, a race to ‘get a tan’ quickest, grilling our bodies like skinny sausages, assisted by a coconut oil baste. This ritual was interrupted only by an occasional stroll to the water, mainly to see and be seen by the unattainable golden boys with their goods on show in Speedos. As our costumes shrank to four brief triangles, soft and virginal bands of flesh burnt so badly the pink turned livid, yellowish, and school uniforms and seats could hardly be borne on Mondays. But we persevered, for white skin had the connotation of slugs, not porcelain. Not that I’d ever have the choice again, having by now acquired a permanent shawl of sunkisses.

Fifteen years later, summer meant the annual angst in front of unfriendly mirrors and lying saleswomen over whether we could still get away with wearing a two-piece costume. It was spent supervising sandcastles and shell collections, soggy towels and gritty kids, with hardly a minute to ourselves for sunbaking. As we still did, with suntan lotion overall, zinc cream or sunscreen only applied to acknowledged vulnerable bits. We did wear hats.

These days summer brings danger. Sunbaking, suntanning, sunkisses – such antiquated words, such tragic innocence. Forget sunscreen; with the hole we’ve made in the ozone layer, we need sunblock. Slip, slop, slap. Kids are growing up with sunblock as their second skin, they swim in neck-to-knee lycra and aren’t allowed to play outside at school without a hat. They are taught to be as afraid of our once-beneficent sun as of strangers. It’s like science fiction come horribly true. I dread the announcement that constant exposure to sunscreen has been found to be carcinogenic, but I won’t be surprised.

My swimsuit mostly functions as a relic of my past, to be found scrunched in the back of a drawer along with lace handkerchiefs, suspender belts, French knickers and tired G-strings. Summer glare and heat are too savage for me to want to be outdoors at all. Instead of exposing winter flesh, I cover up more, never leaving my verandah without throwing on my sunfaded Akubra hat and the longsleeved cotton shirt, usually a man’s work shirt, second-hand, that will be hanging there.

Too many threatening spots and lumps have already been removed, after hiding amongst the thousands of freckles of my inappropriate Celtic skin. I go to my skin cancer clinic every six months for a checkup. The doctor, genetically brown-skinned and unfreckle-able, shakes his head at the mottled map of my youth each time I take off my shirt.

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

Winter blooms

Kind of creepily flesh-like, with its pairs of pointy-toed pink ‘legs’ and that gaping orifice;  kind of disgustingly gooey, with those red wet lumps, which yet are almost like the secretions of raw wounds.

The pink fleshy stems add to the plant or animal dilemma (hence the ‘phalloid’ species). But the ‘yuck’ factor increases at this stage of its life, as its spore-slime glistens in the centres, like faecal flowers.

And indeed, from a distance, these fungi do look like red flowers scattered amongst the grass in the paddock. But flies, not bees, are attracted to that brown goo by the ‘rotting meat odour’ of this stinkhorn fungi, Asero? rubra,  commonly called Red Starfish, for obvious reasons. The flies obligingly carry away some spores on their feet to deposit elsewhere and spread the species.

Interestingly, this was the first fungus recorded for Australia, collected by Labillardière in 1792 beside Recherche Bay in Tasmania. He named it for its stellar shape, so why not Astero?? Typo?

The paddock is also blooming with lilac, or mauve if you prefer, in the brief beauty of this fungus before it fades to beige.

It is also plentiful.

My winter wildflower meadow is a wild fungi paddock.

Winter warmth

I am sorry to see the last of the Glory Vine’s red leaves preparing to drop and join the colourful drifts along the verandah edges.

But the little maple trees are taking up the Autumn baton from them.

At my last home, the Liquid Ambers were the light sources of dull winter days, but here does not seem cold enough for them to really glow.

Instead the Maples, not even as tall as me yet, are showing off vivid vermillion stems flushing into their buttery leaves.

And most welcome of all in winter are my citrus fruit trees, especially the perfect miniature, ornamentally shaped and coloured and deliciously sweet (skin) and tart (flesh) all at once, my Nagami cumquat.

Shaped by land

It’s Autumn, so many locals are burning off their grasslands, or setting fire to their stacked bonfires of fallen branches and creek logjam clearings.

Being Autumn, it’s also a time of misty mornings and low-angled sunray surprises in this valley.

This particular morning I was treated to a combination of them both, as the sun’s warmth rekindled the night-dampened bonfire into smoke and released the paddock’s dew into rising mist. Only the smoke’s more blue colouring gave it away.

Autumn evenings bring early dark to the valley, while the far escarpment holds the last of the setting sun’s light.  It also often holds the gathered moisture of the day in a long rolling breath along the ridgeline, hugging the last of the land before becoming sky clouds.

Shading to infinity

My Glory Vine is wearing its Autumn garb; when the leaves turn red, right? They look red, as I come out to the verandah, with the morning light behind it.

But then I step outside and look back at it and the shade of the main leaves externally is so different that I have no name for it: but no ‘red’ I can think of will fit. I mentally go through my old paintbox tubes with all the evocative names of colours. As for the small ones, well, ‘salmon’ perhaps?

And yet, a few metres further along, they choose more burnished shades, with only red herringbone veins.

On the eastern side they are opting to hold on to green, to refuse to give in to one red shade, choose reds only in blotches, or restricted to edges.

Twining through the Glory Vine on this side is the Mandevilla Laxa, (right) whose slender pendulous leaves are showing gold and red shades for the first time, with clearly defined stages and veins. How odd that they are donning Autumn garb more here nearer the coast than they did not at 3,000 feet?

I miss the Wisteria’s golden contribution from those days so I am welcoming this… and all the subtle shades to infinity that Autumn can offer, even here in subtropical Australia.

Autumn visitor

The ornamental grapevine leaves are now red, so the little green tree snake who visited it in its summer green is no longer camouflaged.

The best it can do is mimic stems. Here it looks as if it has green frog fingers as well.

Although its head is teeny, thumbnail size, as you can see, its body is very long and fatter. Too fat to be a grapevine stem.

And way too active, although when it freezes in mid-air-curve, it could be a large tendril seeking a new hold.

I love the way it peeps out at me every now and then; or is it posing?

Post-deluge frogs

It’s autumn, and I welcome the cooler mornings, but we are also having daily deluges more like tropical summer storms.

In the first five days of March we had 124 mm — or six inches if you’re my age — and that’s on top of what we’d already received in 2017. 

By New Year it had become so dry that small native trees were dying, citrus were turning up their toes, my creek had stopped running and its isolated pools were becoming stagnant. 

But from January 2 we’ve now totted up nearly 15 inches!

These brief but astonishingly intense autumn rainbursts make a joke of my carefully planned drainage systems, with pop-up waterfalls taking much of my soil down to the creekflats below. 

They have filled and overfilled the ‘pond’ that has been bone dry for months.

Up close, they looked more like aquatic mini rats, with their pointy noses and long tails.

Next day they seemed to be less often swimming under the water than hanging from the surface vertically, blowing bubbles, opening and closing their mouths in air. 

Clearly not fish nor rats but growing amphibians… froglets, frogs, soon to be adding to the frog chorus here!

Incoming birds

It being Spring, the Willy Wagtail mum has been busily readying last year’s nest for the 2016 brood.
The nest had looked perfectly serviceable, as it was as neat and symmetrical as she had originally made it.

However she seemed driven to add another layer, which brings it alarmingly close to the verandah roof.
While this is insulated, I fear for the babies if we get more summer-like early heat. 

Mum is now on the nest more than off, so I assume she has laid eggs. Dad spends his time dive-bombing magpies to keep them away.

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The other new regular visitor is a King Parrot, solo and talkative.

He has been sitting on my vegie garden’s bamboo posts and — I swear — chattering to me.

I have taken to standing at my back door and chattering back.

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He does not fly off when I go to fetch the camera.

Next time I will dare to step closer than the verandah and get a sharper shot.

Finch flurries

Now that Spring is showing itself and the weeds amongst my ‘lawn’ are seeding, clouds of teeny grass finches are harvesting them.

The ones now visiting are gorgeous little birds — Red-browed Finches, native to Eastern Australia’s coastal edge, or at least east of the Dividing Range.

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They have a red rump, pink legs, a red brow and beak, with soft grey and olive green in between. They flutter up and resettle like consecutive musical keys, just a foot away from where they were when I startled them.

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Heads down feeding, with their olive backs as camouflage they are quite hard to spot from a distance. Only the frequent flurries give them away. I have a flock of about 10 delighting me at present.

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