Garden variety

You may have heard the odd expression, ‘the common or garden variety’.

It’s used pejoratively, meaning nothing special.

I find this odd because my small vegetable and herb garden produces some of my most beautiful flowers in the course of their ‘common or garden’ duties of feeding me.

Like the Roi de Carouby snow pea, who drapes my netting fence with softly spotted green leaves and suspends stunning two-toned blooms in pink and burgundy, which turn into large and deliciously crisp peas.

They almost never make it to my table because I eat them as I see them, reluctantly leaving a few to grow fatly podded for seed for next season.

Or how about the borage plants, with their exquisitely shaped and detailed flowers — blue and burgundy petals and purplish-black stamens.

The flowers hang like space age lanterns below their clusters of exotic hairy buds.

The crinkled borage leaves are hairy too, and both flowers and leaves smell like cucumber.

I use the flower petals in salads and add just a few leaves to juices, as a tonic, but many claims are made for this herb, such as increasing milk flow in nursing mothers, or to give courage in battle. I could use the latter at times!

But I wouldn’t care if it was good for nothing but beauty, as I never plant annual flowers and the generous borage self-sows every year.

Tree decorations

When a tree dies it becomes something else here: a home, for birds if big enough, and for insects, fungi and lichens.

Some seem more appealing to the latter than others, like this fantastically decorated tree.

It stood out amongst the tree trunks of the forest, even in the mist. And this was on north-western side of the trunk, not the south, as I’ve always been told they prefer.

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Wary wood ducks

Walking inside a cloud makes for mystery, not clarity. At 3000 feet up, I get a lot of cloud visits.

My large double dam, slowly being throttled by reeds, was floating in the filtered light of thin cloud as I walked around it.

Through the reeds I spotted a pair of wood ducks. I crept towards them, but as usual they sensed me coming, and headed off into the mist.

This shy and very elegant native duck is my most common water visitor.

The male has less patterning on his body and a chestnut brown head, and if you look carefully at the peek shot of them amongst the reeds, you can see the black strip of mane at the back of his head – he is sometimes called a Maned Wood Duck.

The female is a softly spotted grey, with white stripes across her brown head, although you can’t see that in these misty pics.

Until they are grown up, the young ones of both sexes look like their mum.

New Voices in Eltham

This month I’m heading back down to the cultural haven of Eltham in Victoria.

The Eltham Bookshop is presenting their annual New Voices Festival and I’ve been invited to take part.

My panel session, ‘A cat among the pigeons,’ chaired by Professor Catherine Cole of RMIT’s School of Creative Media, is at 1.30-3.00 pm on Sunday 20th July.

Bookings essential: email the Eltham Bookshop or download the full programme here: new-voices-2008

I’ll also be speaking at Belgrave Library at 12.30 on Thursday 24th.

Frilly fungi

I never cease to be amazed by the apparently infinite variety of fungi here. I keep discovering ones that I’ve never seen before, like this colony of banded and frilly bonnets in Indian red and brown.

Mostly quite small, about 35mm diameter, they were growing on a dead branch on a live stringybark tree, almost spiralling up its length.

Yes, I’ve looked them up and no, I couldn’t find out just what they are.

I’m hoping one of my website visitors will tell me their name, but I guess the fungi experts keep discovering new ones too.

Rock god

As I walk through my mountain forests I often come across impressive examples of the past power of geological events. I also often see things that I can’t explain.

This mighty rock rests upright, halfway up the sides of one of my spring gullies. It is too imperious to be ‘decorated’ with moss as lesser rocks are, mainly restricting it to its feet.

But how did that small separate rock get up there on its top? And stay there?

It has sat there, like a wren on an elephant’s head, for the thirty years I’ve been here.


Whenever I fluke a morning sky like this, my day starts well.

No wonder artists are inspired by nature!

Even if, like me, you’re not a fan of the colour pink on handbags or cars or bedroom walls, when you see the absolute delicacy of the pink hues in a sunrise sky — you’d have to agree our colourists have gone wrong in their translation from the original.

Season of moss and lichen

After being cabinbound for a week, when a morning came with no rain threatening, I seized the camera, donned gumboots and went a-walking.

Most blatantly rainloving of all were the mosses, drab in dry times, at their party best now.

On rocks in the gullies they glowed like textured velvet in a rich range of shades of green, with shapes and heights varying as the best of garden designers would recommend.

Set off by the splotches and splatters of the hardy lichens, decorated with an occasional fallen leaf or wallaby scat, my moss gardens are at their best.

On the rocks of the drier ridges, I find the plumped-up mosses glowing less in rainforest brights than in sage and thyme blues, honey browns. Here the lichens stand up amongst it like vivid corals – the flowers in this garden.

Remarkable women

Recently my publisher, Exisle, arranged a few joint talks at libraries, by myself and two other of their female authors. One talk was accompanied by supper, the other by a high morning tea. All very civilised.

They titled the talks, ‘True stories of remarkable women’. We were all as different as our stories.

Cheryl Koenig had written the very personal Paper Cranes, a journey of renewal and courage as she and her husband helped her son Jonathan recover from a serious car accident and brain damage.

Jane Mundy had told of her impulsive leap into adventure and romance as she travelled around Bolivia with a newly met potential partner. Cholas in Bowlers is funny and informative.

And me, well, I just spoke about my mountain life as usual.

Spring or autumn or?

Some of my garden shrubs are exhibiting extremely strange behaviour this autumn. Like the May bush, the Banksia rose, and the honeysuckle that smothers the outdoor loo.

It would seem they aren’t sure what season it is. When they ought to be winding down and closing up shop for the winter, they are putting out just one or two isolated sprays of blossom!

Totally out of season, but the plants, like the animals, have been so confused by the strange weather this last year that they seem to be having a bet each way.

Just in case this autumn is spring, and the other spring doesn’t come, their genes have told them to bloom, but only tentatively.

Moonset morning

There is something absolutely pure about the white orb of a full moon, even though I know it’s a great lump of pitted rock and dust.

I’m not sure that I wanted to know or that the knowledge has done mankind any good. I think the money for the space projects would have been better spent down here on poor old earth.

But when I wake up and see that perfect globe still hanging up there above my pink-flushed morning skyline, I can imagine it still holds all the mystery and magical powers that it used to.