Free diamonds

After showers, if the air is still enough, for a very brief period before the sun soaks up the raindrops — I am given diamonds.

Every tiny leaf holds a trembling drop of water that catches the sunlight to sparkle and shimmer. The magic only works while the light is at a certain angle, so I always know to cherish the moment and run for the camera!
Even my hodge-podge of a vegetable garden fence is transformed; for a few minutes its strips of netting new and old, large and small, cobbled together as a snake barrier, become a thing of beauty.

Nashi robbers

Usually the parrots and I share the crop from my two large Nashi pear trees. I get hundreds of fruit from the lower branches and they take even more hundreds from the higher ones.

Nashis ripen well off the tree so I can pick them when big enough, but not quite ripe, and layer them in foam boxes indoors. If I get a large wheelbarrow full from each tree I am happy. Last year I had so many I made Nashi pear wine, or Perry.

They are different varieties, as is needed for cross-pollination: Hosui, with grainy brown skin, and Nijisseiki, a smooth greenish-yellow. Their texture and taste are different too, and the Hosui ripens to a honey sweetness that is foreign to anyone who has only tried Nashis straight from a supermarket.

But this year there is not a single fruit left on either tree. The entire crop has been eaten or knocked to the ground, along with a great many leaves, now turning black amid the mushed fruit. As you can see, they haven’t left me any salvageable scraps.
Crimson Rosellas like this one are a major culprit but so are the red and green King Parrots, who are more elusive — or guilty.

A damp end to 2009

Christmas is over and it’s been raining steadily on the mountain since Christmas night. Welcome gentle rain falling from cloud cover that is allowing a pale warm light through as well –and probably putting a light charge into the solar batteries as well.

I have moved the car out of the carport so it can have the dust washed from its once-bright red duco.

Everything green is even greener; I try not to watch the grass growing or think of the mowing ahead of me when it stops and dries out. But that’s next week.

This week I have a good excuse to stay inside tapping away on the computer, working on my next book.
Beyond occasional emergency dashes I am confined within the cabin and the verandah’s dripping edges.

From here I can see the little dam rainspotted and filling back up to its reedy edges, and a young kangaroo mother and child grazing beyond the fence, their fur much darker in the rain. They seem unbothered by the weather; I assume they are warm and dry beneath their bedraggled coats.

I know we’d both prefer this to heat and fire-danger.

Native garden

Without the need to sow or prune or feed, native plants appear, thrive and flower on my yard, where and as they choose.

One of the most common and obvious flowering plants is the Twining Guinea Flower (Hibbertia scandens), whose bright clear yellow blooms are easy to spot. I have been told it is also called Snake Bush because, when not climbing, apparently its broad leaves make a good hiding place for snakes.

A better climber that takes advantage of any stalk or stem is the daintier Wombat Berry (Eustrephus latifolius var. angustifolius) to the left, with narrow leaves and clusters of pale pink flowers that develop into bright orange berries. Don’t ask me what wombats have to do with it!

On looking closer at this little pocket of my self-sown garden, I saw it had an inhabitant – a green and pink and hairy caterpillar, which I cannot identify.

Toona baby

toona-1My little Red Cedar (Toona australis) trees are putting forth new leaves. These are of bronzed burgundy red, although the trees are not named for that, but for the rich red of the timber when cut.

Two-by-two, one pair above the last, on opposite sides of the stem, they raise themselves higher.

 
 
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I walk closer to feel the new growth, expecting softness, fragility. As I put my finger gently underneath the newest arrival, it seems to curve firmly around my finger, its strength as surprising as a new baby’s reflex — and as charming.

Orchid fruit

orchid-fruit-1The spectacular flower spikes of my King Orchids are long devoid of their blossoms, studded with only the tiny gold memories of where they were once attached.

But last week I noticed that three of the spikes bore ribbed green lumps at their ends. One had twins!
orchid-fruit-2Up close they are elegantly sculpted, puffed and blown up like gooseberry paper cases, but no delicacy there; firm and fleshy, with a gold stripe down each rib, smart as the Tin Soldier’s trousers.

A new orchid

potato-orchidThe forest here never ceases to surprise me with the apparently infinite number of plants or fungi that I have never seen before.
This tall orchid has appeared right beside the grey gum which is right beside the outdoor loo. I walk past here daily — did I miss it yesterday or has it come overnight, encouraged by the damp weather?

It is a total stranger to me — and there is a whole little family of them shooting up through the fallen leaves and bark. At first glance, the shorter ones, unopened, looked like they could be fungi.

My orchid book says it is a Potato Orchid, and I can see why, for the knobbly brown buds. But the opened flowers are prettier than potatoes — their shyly flared frills are fresh and white against the café au lait of their bells. (There is another orchid with the same common name and it looks nothing at all like a potato!)

The botanical name is Gastrodia sesamoides — meaning like sesame seeds — but how? If they are going to name the flower for the bud I’d say peanut rather than either potato or sesame.

I simply cannot call it a Potato Orchid.

When the possum’s away…

crepuscule-1The cycle of boss tenants around here changes so often I hardly have time to adjust.  

With the quoll absent I’d grown used to having all my roses eaten by the possum. When I found the dead possum in the yard I didn’t assume it was the only one, but perhaps its territory – verandah, shed and yard – hasn’t been advertised as vacant yet.

My roses are now covered in leaves and buds and blossoms; some of the varieties I haven’t seen in bloom for several years and I can’t quite accept that they won’t be munched off any night now, so I am rushing about and photographing them.

Maybe this verandah climber, the Crepuscule, doesn’t believe it either, as it’s having a most flamboyant flush, high and low and hanging in between.
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While the woman’s away…

vines-1Spring is a really risky time to leave the property for any length of time. And it’s not only that the animals think they can step in and lay claim to my apparently unoccupied place.

This time it was the verandah vines, the wisteria and the ornamental grape — which had decided to join forces and extend their tentacles to block my entry.

vines-2Even when I’d got past those on guard at the top of the steps, it was clear that those on the verandah proper had already reached halfway towards the door.

They had claimed the table and chairs as the interim prop and were looping around each other for strength to continue their horizontal attack. I dare say they were most frustrated, after all that effort, at my insistence on re-looping them back to the railing edges.

They can confine their adventurous tendencies to heading for the roof – where they’ll get a shock because I’ve removed the guttering. What will they block now?

Garden invader

fence-1My vegie garden has been so variously girded and further girded that I felt it was a fortress.

It has fine aviary wire netting dug in at the base – against small mammals like bush rats; a moat of gravel against the kikuyu; is swathed to head height in floppy chicken wire for horses (originally) and for possums; and has an added aviary wire overlay to varying heights from about 700mm to 1metre – for the snakes.

I had been at ease in there for weeks as I weeded and planted for Spring, as I could see that no critters were lurking in there. After having been away during the wild dust storms lately, the spring growth in there was looking sad and dirty. I went to hose it.

As I touched the garden gate I saw my red-bellied black snake stretched out comfortably on the earth of my vegie garden, threaded amongst the self-sown rocket seedlings in front of my garlic.

How had it got in — and could it get out? It surely could not have got through the aviary wire??!! (which you can’t see here but is on the outside of these layers of netting.)
blacksnake-1As I watched it slither in and out of my once harmless young vegie rows, erratically rearing up to poke at the netting, I indulged in a longish bout of teary despair. Fearing it was trapped, I phoned a snake-wise friend who said my aviary wire was nowhere near high enough and yes, the snake could have climbed up the netting until it reached the larger holes. I hadn’t imagined it would make such an effort — why would it bother??

I was advised to open the gate and watch until it went out. But when I returned I couldn’t see it; nor could I on each half-hourly check that afternoon. It must have got out.

Next day I saw it on the grass elsewhere in the yard — but I am still unable to go into the garden until I can afford to add a new higher layer of fine netting.

But how to be sure the invader is outside the fortress when I do?

Over-the-top orchids

orchids-1Drivng back from the Gloucester district a few weeks ago, I passed above the very steep and narrow, very special gully near Dungog where a remnant rainforest of giant trees like figs and stinging trees and white cedars stand tall and proud amidst a dense jungle of vines competing for the light.

I am always freshly struck by the sight of this small pocket of grandeur, a reminder of how so much of the country around here must have been like once.

This time, however, my eye caught unusual splashes of white high up in a native fig. It was some distance downhill before I could pull over and walk back.
orchids-2Thanks to the magic of my zoom lens, I could be sure that they were King Orchids (Dendrobium speciosum, var. hillii) Hundreds of feet up, several fat clumps of them had colonised in forks of the trunk, clinging on with their fleshy fingers as they climbed along the broad branches. A staghorn shared their treehouse.

These spectacular sprays of white were even more so because they were here in this special, natural place – no gardener had placed them there.
orchids-3At the time, my orphaned clumps of the same orchid had been still in bud, my place being so much higher in altitude.
Now, their turn has come.

Grounded, they are closer to me and I can see their colour range from cream to white, the dab of yellow in each throat, and the tiny maroon ‘freckles’ that lead to it. And I can smell them —  honeysweet like wattle, but with an edge of musk.

They are part of the view from my outdoor loo, which will tell you partly why it was designed deliberately door-less. 
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Blessing the blossoms

blossoms-1I have two of these shrubs planted in my yard. They are native, although not indigenous to the area, but  this is my garden after all. I think they are Melaleuca ericiflolia, or Swamp Paperbark. This Spring everything seems blessed with an abundance of blossoms, in excess of years past.

This butterfly is taking full advantage of the bounty; I think it’s a Plain Tiger or Lesser Wanderer (Danaus chrysippus), thanks to Martin Purvis. Please tell me, anyone, if I’m wrong.

The bees were enjoying the yellow-tipped cream brushes too. Bees must be run off their little feet right now, as the garden is such a riot of blossom.
blossoms-2My two huge nashi pear trees are decked out in bridal white — so pure and pretty that it hurts my heart to see it.

Nashis do very well here, giving me and the parrots and the bower birds more fruit than we can eat. The beauty of nashis is that they will ripen off the tree, and to an astonishing honey sweetness.

I feel sorry for people who have only tried supermarket nashis, which are always unripe.