Having moved to the coast, I expected warmer climes, tempered by the nearness to the sea…
But in this recent cold snap, apparently experienced in many places unused to such low temperatures, I find myself needing to rug up at night and early mornings as much I ever did at the Mountain.
In 2007 I did this illustration for The Woman on the Mountain (the publishers didn’t use illustrations in the end) and apart from the ‘primitive’ desktop Mac instead of my present Mac laptop, I am wearing much the same now!
But I am near the coast so I took my new/old/2006 VW 4motion camper to Hat Head National Park recently to briefly test it out. I learnt it needs a lot of work to make it suitable for my off-grid type of camping…
While there we did part of the Connors Walking Track, along a stunning coastline where kangaroo-mown lawns slope down to dark craggy cliffs and an endlessly rippling sea.
It is always hard for me to lift my gaze from the ground, especially on an exposed headland like this, where treasures will be small and shy
Also, as I do not cope well with heights, I stay well back from cliff edges and admire the views from afar.
Up close, I could see hundreds of native yellow paper daisies, snuggled amongst the cropped grass and growing low to avoid the wind.
There were few rocks to afford extra shelter, but plants took advantage of those, with bright pigface and greener grass savouring the lesser evaporation.
Making it as far as Third Beach, I focused on the rocks there, black and round boulders, lichen-painted and dotted, multi-formed and -coloured as they were.
Yet again I wished I knew more of geology to understand how so many disparate shapes and patterns came to be together.
The tide had receded, leaving lines of tiny earth offerings… including hundreds of tiny bits of plastic, most too small for my camera to pick up. Plastic bottle tops were many and obvious, but it was these small bits that appalled me.
So it was a relief to see bird tracks large and small… although would their crops be full of such tiny plastic particles?
As we left the beach, I spotted an isolated clump of Pandanus/Breadfruit trees, propped on their sticklike legs amongst the rocks edging the sand. I am always amazed at the way small pockets of different ecosystems find their perfect niches.
And after the flood and the move, I found I’d needed that brief break as a reminder of the whole natural world of wonders out there awaiting me…
One year since the total burning of the Crowdy Head National Park in last summer’s bushfires, I drove – inched?–over potholes and washouts and corrugations and roadside drain overflows. The coast here has had a month of daily rain.
I was worried my old AWD Subaru was not adequate, as I met bigger, higher, real 4WDS. You can never tell how deep a hole is until you are in it…
The taller forests were blackened trunks, many with new shoots, but not all. As you can see on the higher land, where the trees are still a fringe of skeletons. Too depressing for a photo…
So hope for 2021 only came to me on the heathland, where colour other than green was bravely proclaiming summer.
I have never been able to choose between the ‘real’ dramatic sunsets of a western sky and its reflected eastern sky glories, less often seen.
This golden cumulus cluster just on dark was a rare treat, just when I needed something to lift my spirits as the Trump rampage through what was once a great democracy continued on its mad way… and our heads-in-the-sand government goes for gas instead of the zero emissions way forward we need…
After untamed Nature, my garden has always been my next source of solace, where living things sometimes thrive under my care. This Crepuscule rose seemed to hold and reflect that fabulous sunset, further cheering me.
And then came the news of Jacinda Ardern’s re-election, a beacon of sanity and compassion, giving me heart and hope in an increasingly dark world.
Her victory did lift my spirits, and they were further buoyed as my Lamarque rose seemed to suddenly burst into the most profuse flowering of its short life. Not golden, but purest white.
Maybe in honour of the integrity and genuine empathy that we can only envy from across the ditch: Yay for Jacinda!
I can no longer keep up my griping about Spring being a harbinger of Summer… the blooms are too beautiful. I can gripe about a Spring day of 30 degrees, as we had yesterday!
My Wisteria had been threatening to bring down the carport with its vigour, but a severe winter pruning has removed risk and delivered these dainty droops of lilac.
My purple Eriostemon shrub is the current native performer.
But mostly it is the English cottage garden stalwarts that are responding to Spring, albeit confusedly.
Like the May bush (Spirea), arching gracefully over my fence with masses of blossoms of the purest of white. In its northern hemisphere home, it would flower in May of course.
One native that would not look amiss in a cottage garden is the bountiful Seaside Daisy (Erigeron). Its happy little faces and its generous spillovers always make me smile.
As do the raggedy blooms of this Crépuscule rose that I am training to grow along my verandah railings; their sunny buds of deep apricot to egg yolk yellow, and paler simple flowers with their golden centres give me joy throughout much of the year. An 1864 variety, it is evergreen, fragrant, uncomplicated and honest!
I am not in the right climate for roses, but to have my old favourites around me, I will persevere.
As the orchids have been flowering over winter, they do not fill me with foreboding. Especially when bedecked with post-rain diamonds, I love seeing them outside my study window.
Not so the too-early signs of Spring, like the Ornamental Grape Vine, shooting and blossoming already. For after Spring comes Summer. Both are associated for me — and for many others — with heat and bushfires.
I love the fragrance of Freesias. I try not to regret their ephemeral nature or their harbinger of Summer status and wish hard that they naturalise here. In general bulbs do not seem to flourish in this sub-tropical climate, whereas at the Mountain they were my annual treat, great clumps of them coming up all through the lawn, untouched by the wallabies.
The little Cumquat trees offer both a visual and taste treat; I pick one bright globe and eat it every morning after I visit my Frogmouth friends. This Nagami variety has a sweet skin and tart flesh, so you get both sensations as you bite into it.
The lavender too cannot be blamed for blooming so profusely, and the bees love it for doing so in a winter short of flowers.
Who can resist sweet-smelling Freesias and Lavender? I quash my forebodings… begone doom and gloom, for the moment… and enjoy small vases of them about the house. Inhale. Smile.
I have been consciously searching for my alternative Corona time colour, given we do not seem to be having Autumn. I have decided the colour will be purple, as more plants are flaunting that than any other colour. As ‘Corona’ means crown, it is quite fitting that the royal colour of purple be the symbolic colour of this time.
But purple is a borderline colour: when does it cross the line to blue, as many of my bee-buzzed Salvias do?
And how nuanced must the purple shade be, as in these beautiful Acacia baileyana purpurea trees, with each branch of sage green leaves ending in a pale purplish haze?
But while I was searching for my colour, I noticed two dark blobs high up in the densely leaved bottlebrush tree out front — nests?
To my great delight, the blobs are two Tawny Frogmouths! Almost impossible to get a clear photo as the leaves and branches criss-cross most successfully to hide them.
Not colourful, but the kind of unique beauty I can never have enough of.
I am seldom out in this part of the garden as it is next to the road, so were I not looking so hard for my Corona colour emblem, I may not have seen these hidden gems.
I planted this lilac Buddleia (aka Butterfly Bush) for obvious reasons – its flowers are beautiful and butterflies love them.
It is attracting at least four varieties that I have seen, the most stunning being the Blue Triangle (Graphium sarpedon choredon).
One of the Swallowtail family (Papilionidae), it keeps its wings up and continually vibrates them when feeding on the flowers. This habit, plus the fact that it also flits fast and frequently from one branch of blossoms to another branch, makes it very hard to capture by photograph.
Like the White-headed Pigeons, these butterflies have adapted to favour the introduced and extremely rampant Camphor Laurel trees.
The butterflies visit singly but the fungi have not got the social distancing message yet. Dozens of tiny brown ones have boldly squeezed up in clusters this morning. I know they will turn black and ‘dissolve’ by tomorrow.
I can relate to that: pop up, take a look at the crazy world we are in, and say ‘No thanks!’
And speaking of bold overcrowding and defiance of restrictions for their own good, those small cinnamon-dusted drumsticks of last week are now full-blown.
As they fight for space, they push into and on top of each other, breaking bits off and distorting their smooth umbrella tops.
When they too disappear, what new surprises will await me on my morning garden forays?
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.
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.