Tuckeroo stone garden

I am slowly exploring this Camden Haven area of the NSW mid north coast, taking any turn-offs that catch my fancy. ‘Tuckeroo car park’ in Kattang Nature Reserve was one such. The word intrigued first, then the tree itself that invited me to the green tunnel ahead.

A large specimen with wrinkly elephantine bark, it was loaded with bunches of creamy-lemon blossoms, buzzing with bees.

It is properly called Cupaniopsis anacardioides, and also commonly known as Beach Tamarind, or Carrotwood. Birds love it too, because those flowers are followed by orange-red fleshy berries containing showy orange seeds.

The surprising reward at the end of the short walk was a rocky headland, the northern end of the long unbroken Dunbogan Beach.

I gravitate to small coves and clumps of rocks like this, but what was surprising here were the forms the rocks had taken…

Iron-rimmed geometric shapes, infilled with millions of pebbles…  what gardener had been at work here?

Some still held seawater; at a certain point of tide change the higher rocky rims would be stepped moats.

Other rocks ran in parallel like railroad tracks, or formed crosses in this pebble-crater’s garden.

Others formed backbones for arching ribs…

Or enclosed miniature sea lettuce pools and waterfalls, with small oyster-like shellfish…

Brooding over the stone garden was this ancient wrinkled giant lizard, its smooth head lifted, on alert for any misdemeanours — or for dinner?

Welcome resident reptile

I love my little skinks but I was delighted to realise that this very big and handsome skink, an Eastern Bluetongue (Tiliqua scincoides), has taken up residence in my yard.

Over several weeks I have seen it in three different places, but was still surprised to spot it by my back steps. These can grow up to 60cm long, but often only the head will be seen, protruding from a drainpipe or other shelter.

You would usually only see its blue tongue when it is in defensive mode, puffing up its body and holding its mouth open to scare the perceived intruder. This one seems used to me and does not scurry away as it did at first.

I am in awe of the intricate arrangement of its head scales… and a little in love with its cute little feet…!

Stump host

This Silky Oak, long ago self-sown in the wrong place, had to be taken down. But its twintrunked stump is still giving life.

One rainforest tree seed has found its way in between those trunks and is somehow thriving.

But someone seems to have cleaned their paintbrush on its bark.  No, it’s my old friends, the slime moulds, this time a smoother variety of the family, one I had not yet met.

On the other side, a different slime mould resembles, not paint, but sawdust, scattered down the bark and coating the fungi which like this stump too.

I never cease to wonder at the many forms this can take. And to think I once did not know of the existence of slime moulds…

But have a look at this breathtaking video from Australian photographer Stephen Axford:

Lichen decor

On my morning walk, this unusual decorative wall drew me across the road for a closer look. It looked intentional, with the defined cut-off line at the top.

But in fact it was not made by man, but by Nature. It proved to a most painterly smattering of lichens, opportunistically taking over a stretch of black shadecloth.

Up close, the lichen was both pretty and delicately varied, the shadecloth host giving it the effect of paint on canvas.

Further along the road, different lichen had ‘painted’ just four of a whole fence of timber palings. What did they have that the others didn’t?

Of course we are most used to seeing lichen on trees, as here on the south side of a palm tree in that same street.

Lichen is not a parasite, so it does not harm the trees.

Lichens are formed from a symbiotic relationship between two organisms — fungus and algae. The fungus grows on the tree and can collect moisture, which the algae needs. The algae, in return, can create food from the energy of the sun, which feeds the fungus.

How clever is that?!

Smart spit?

Any odd spots of inappropriate colour on a plant always catch my eye.

These two white blobs on the old casuarina outside my gate drew my attention.

There were only the two, but I knew what these were because my sister had a larger version in one of her garden trees not long ago and we had both searched for the identity. (A Slime Mould had been my first guess.)

It has many names, including Snakespit, Frogspit and Cuckoospit. In fact, it’s not spit at all, but the secretions of the Spittlebug.

Spittlebugs are not actually bugs, but the nymphs of true bugs called froghoppers… because they hop.

They feed on the xylem of plants, the water-conducting tubes from roots to leaves. A spittlebug has to pump up a great deal of this fluid to survive… up to 300 times its weight in an hour!

The nymph is usually upside-down, and pumping so much fluid means it excretes a lot of waste from its anus. As it does, it also secretes a sticky substance from its abdominal glands, whips air into the mix and creates the froth. This covers the nymph, hiding it from predators. The froth also makes a nice humid ‘house’ and shields the bug from rain.

Clever, eh?

Rainy day life

In between showers and heavy downpours I nipped out to check the mail box and found this bright creature held fast to the front of it by a small spider web. After taking a photo, I freed its legs and sent it on its way.

Next step of course was to find out what it was.

Turns out it is quite historic, being the first insect to be described from Australia, after Cook’s first visit.

It is Chrysopolus spectabilis, or far less appropriately called Botany Bay Weevil.

‘Diamond’ and ‘sapphire’ feature in other less used names, but ‘weevil’ persists. For me that is unfortunate, as it  carries baggage of unpleasant connotations of bulk flour ruined by weevils. But they never looked like this!

In fact, this insect feeds on wattles, on acacias, and I have several varieties planted nearby.

My front verandah is partly protected from the rain by the Ornamental Grape vine. It seems it offers protection to certain wildlife as well, for the amount of dark pellets dotting the railing and decking has grown very large.

Naturally any creatures are sheltering on the undersides of the large leaves, so shaded and not great for photos.

The culprit is the Hungry Green Caterpillar, common enough, with ‘horns’ and a faint yellow stripe, and after wading through hundreds of Caterpillar I.D. shots, I am no longer sure just what sort of moth or butterfly it will be. Any suggestions?

The older ones have turned brown and seem stiffened and bent… perhaps no longer eating or depositing small balls!

Also sheltering from the weather was this charming Green Tree Frog. They are also a widespread and common type, but this one is the first I have seen here, and very welcome!

I see this one has chosen a spot with a view out from beneath the leaf roof! Handsome and clever…

Xmas dressing

Not much is flowering in the garden. Nor is my Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum), but it looks like it is, and these bracts that follow the small cream flowers are its main claim to fame. Mine aren’t as red as some, but people still stop and ask may they cut some for Christmas.

Its starry pinkness stands out against the darker trees around it, and does look a little festive.

But while that tree is dressing up, another in my yard is undressing for the summer season. The Queensland invader, the Cadaghi tree (Corymbia torelliana), is shedding its bark in showy patches to reveal its pale green skin.

Handsome, but dangerously successful as a feral plant, I find it hard to mind it as a tree, except when its millions of seed pods rain down like ball bearings on my deck.

Yet the shameless way it is stripping off its old bark right now is a visual treat. Wish I could do the same with my old bark…!

Rain gifts

A few days of rain has the garden happy and vegetable plants tripling in size. All welcome results, but here I’m celebrating the more ephemeral gifts of rain.

Like the Casuarinas sparkling with diamonds in the early morning…

And the tiny crystal balls bedecking the Native Finger Lime…

Later that day another transient gift of the rain was this Long-necked Tortoise, apparently trying to dig itself backwards into the soft wet ground. I have had one visit a few times, as there are ponds nearby.

And then I saw that this time there were two visiting Tortoises, one slightly bigger than the other.

The one on the right disappeared within ten minutes — where to, I could not see — but the burrowing one remained just like that for over an hour. Did its mate — or was it its mother? — abandon it to scarper back to the ponds? Would it know the way on its own? Would it have the courage to try?

Next morning my yard was tortoise-less again, so hopefully all is well with both my wet weather visitors!

Uplifts

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. 

If only…

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!

Mini jewel

Seizing a break in showers to finally get around to pruning my tangled standard Iceberg roses, I nearly clipped the perch from under this little gem.

Only about 4 cm long, I think it has to be an Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog (Litoria fallax). These tiny jewels are my favourite frog, and although small, they have a very loud voice: ‘wr-eek, wr-eek!’

I will be listening for them now.

It has more brown on its back than I have seen: a chocolate coated variety? If anyone can identify this small inhabitant of my rose bed more precisely, I’d be grateful.

Showtime

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.

Unwelcome Spring?

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.