Spring stunners

My second masked venture into sunshine and Spring, this time at coastal Kattang Nature Reserve. And look at this surprise!

Never seen before, and the only one visible to me on the walk.  It did look a bit like a grass tree or Xanthorrhoea, but the flower spike was too fluffy and there was no trunk. There are none of the common Xanthorrhoeas in the reserve, or none that I have seen.

But I am told by the always amazing Facebook group for NSW Plant Identification that this is Xanthorrhoea macronema, or bottlebrush grass plant, and the trunk is below the ground.

What a special solo Spring surprise!

Also new to me was this shrub, where the yellow flowers cluster at the ends of the branches, many with a green cone above their modestly folded golden skirts. The Facebook boffins tell me it’s Phyllota phylicoides, or Common Phyllota. Only it’s not common here, and amongst the thousands of other different yellow-pea-flowering bushes here, its other common name of Yellow Peabush has me laughing aloud.

Another less common shrub here, with most un-pea-like flowers, was partly familiar, as I could see it was an Isopogon, but which one? Could be anemonilfolius or petiolaris, the experts say. With so little information, I am always surprised any identification is possible.

Of course there were many other flowers out, as well as the masses of yellow pea shrubs like Dillwynias, but it seemed that whatever other shy flowers apeared, a pink boronia was nearby.

Their vivid deep pinks were in such profusion amongst all the greys of fallen timber and dead bracken that it was almost an embarrassment of boronias. Such beauty, freely offered…

Several clumps of our dainty Native Iris or Flag, a Patersonia, seemed to be preferring the sunnier open track edges, serenely showing their yellow centres from each three-petalled purple bloom.

And a boronia not far away…

Glory days

Having finally got out in the bush to catch up on Spring (nose duly covered by a mask), I have been treated to a glorious shower of yellow flowering shrubs, from lemon to orange-tinged.

This pale beauty is aptly named the Golden Glory Pea, or Gompholobium latifolia.

It grows on the prettiest arching shrub, very different from the stiffer majority.

And now that the wattles are done, the job of carrying the gold throughout this coastal bushland is being borne by a variety of pea-flowering shrubs, too many for me to suss out, like Dilwynias.

In lesser numbers, the Hop Bushes or Dodoneas are flaunting their bunches of soft green flowers.

But the winner for dominance is a shrub or small tree called Satinwood (Nematolepis squamea), whose starry white flowers formally stud its branches throughout the bush, at all different heights.

Spring hits

Confined as I am to my place, unable to see what is flowering in the bush, it is a great treat to have Spring come to me.

Some of these plants are having their first Spring as residents, so I am glad to see them not only survive their potted lives, but burst into bloom!

This is a native, Philoteca myoporoides, flowering above the Bacopa ground cover.

Planted at the same time last year, this Ruby Belle variant on the native climber, Pandorea pandorana, quickly climbed right up the lattice to the top floor and has proved really too vigorous for comfortable control, but it is pretty foliage anyway, so I won’t be pulling it out. These are the first flowers I have had on it.

In the back garden strip, inherited pots of orchids were put to shelter under a tree fern. Their current starry flowers are a surprise gift!

Not a flower, but green at least, and a symbol of why I am not out bushwalking. My personal mask has been my daily companion/jailor during my month’s radiation treatment, and I now have it at home.

I am told some people grow strawberries in theirs! But I will keep it as a sculptural memento of the time: of fighting down panic as it is placed over your face and clamped down firmly to the table beneath you.

I know it is so the radiation is targeting precisely the right spots on my nose/face each time, and I appreciate that.

But as your nostrils are plugged with wet cotton wool, you must breathe through your mouth. And stay calm…

The team at Port Macquarie Cancer Unit are great and do their very best to help, but it is a fact that radiation burns the good cells as well as the cancerous ones, so my burnt face must now undergo about 10 days of escalating side effects before it can begin to heal.

I only hope it has done the intended job, as that cannot be determined.

But the lesson I learnt there was that, as my Dad used to say, ‘There are always others worse off then you, Sha!’.

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.

Winter’s Autumn

Autumn didn’t quite get its act together here before the end of May. But come the first really cold days (relatively, in this  climate at least) the season got the signal and the grapevine leaves really came into their colours. It’s not called ‘Glory Vine’ for nothing.

I relish the changes in deciduous vines like this, more spectacularly bright when backlit, but the external deeper reds and burgundies of the living curtain are also a visual pleasure.

Then came wintry cold winds and most of the glory ended up on the verandah, swept into the garden as a pink carpet.

But now the Crepe Myrtles have the idea and are colouring up for me in turn. These are almost as pretty as a Persimmon tree in Autumn … and given I don’t like Persimmons, smarter for me to plant.

The two varieties (white and mauve flowering) are offering me different tones and variegations, as well as rates of colouring. Position, perhaps?

No matter how much I love our native plants, I am also allowed to love these introduced showoffs, even if they are somewhat confused by the seasons. After all, in this warming world, the seasons themselves are confused. 

So are humans, given what and who are masquerading as leaders in too many countries.

It’s wise for me to focus on the natural world instead…

Autumn ‘B’ treats

As the days remain cool and the nights even more so, I am beginning to trust that Autumn is here to stay. No more bursts of  summer heat to wilt or scorch seedlings with unexpected ferocity.

It also means I can justify lighting my Thermalux wood heater/stove… and I can bake bread the way I used to at the Mountain. My loaves are heavy with oats and rye, maize and spelt flours, mixed and kneaded Tassajara-style, crunchy with millet, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds. They are satisfying on so many levels, including the visual, so Bread is my first Autumn photographic treat to share.

The next has to be Birds.

Apart from my Frogmouth couple, I have an indoor trio that give me pleasure every day, especially of an afternoon when they are sunlit. This is a particularly Autumn treat because only now is the sunshine welcome rather than to be shunned, curtained out.

The biggest is a perfectly balanced rocking bird from a woodworker’s gallery in Fish Creek, Victoria; its small adoring friend is a piece of driftwood I have had for decades, and the gay little lead light wren perched in an antique wick surround was made by my clever and creative sister Colleen.

Not that I have forgotten the outside Birds; I visit daily to see how they are, but as the nights have grown colder they huddle so closely and fluff up their feathers so fatly and fully that their heads are hidden. Their tree sways in these Autumn winds but they remain unmoved, asleep and snugly side-by-side.

The third B was a surprise. As the Buddleia and most of the salvias are finishing their flowering, I see less butterflies. But after visiting the Frogmouths I spotted this sole Butterfly on the Geisha Girl blossoms. It was fluttering and flitting too fast and frequently to photograph it, but then it flew onto the verandah and simply settled on the leaves. Unmoving. Resting?

I think it is an Australian Gull (Cepra perimale scyllara) although I fail to see the gull likeness that may have caused it to be so named. Can you?

Corona colours

As we are well into Autumn, I’d expect to be celebrating those ‘autumnal’ tones, but really only scattered parts of the Virginia Creeper are showing them. The warm weather is keeping most of it green.

It is the same with the Glory Vine that has given me such wonderful green summer shade… and still is, although I no longer want or need it.

While I wait for real Autumn, in my Corona home isolation I have been harvesting, using and preserving Summer. These colours are more in the autumn palette…

The last of my non-acidic yellow tomatoes slowly ripen on my kitchen window sill, while below them my sauerkraut quietly ferments.

Bean pods dry to brown and rattle with seeds for next summer’s crop.

My crop of about 60 Butternut Pumpkins was always within the colour range but my choko vine has produced its vivid green fruits in abundance, despite the season.

I make do with these indoor colours in a time of Corona and queer seasons. I will look for other colours outdoors to symbolise this time… 

Early black beauties

Alerted to look up from my desk by whirling aerial activity outside, I saw about six Welcome Swallows flying round and round the back yard airspace.  It looked as frenetic as when the young first fly, but I haven’t noticed any nests on my verandahs or eaves.

There seemed to be other birds in the mix.

When some peeled off to perch, I spotted a Willy Wagtail, who typically did not stop still long enough to be more than a blur.

Then I gasped at this unmistakable fishtail shape.

A Spangled Drongo!

I know; in Australia it sounds like a joke…

I have only seen this bird twice before. It is the only Australian species of drongo, and it is most handsome, with its iridescent feathers, blueish spangle, and bright red eyes.

Today there were two, so I hope they will nest nearby.

Like swallows, they can catch insects on the wing.

However, my bird book says they are migratory, ‘arriving in October and leaving in March’.  We are still in August. Like the fire season, is August the new October?

One of the other dapper black-feathered birds in the yard at the same time was an Australian Magpie-Lark, female I think.

I have usually called them Pee-Wees (after their call) and berated them for attacking my windows, but now I have hung feathers in corks outside, they do not bother with those reflected birds.

As they mostly catch their insects on the ground, they were not competing with the flying food frenzy above. So they are back ready to nest too; theirs is of mud, and has been in the Jacaranda tree in the past. Hmm; but will they find some mud in this drought?

I will keep an eye out for all nesting activity.

Winter or?

I was waiting for the last Autumn leaves to fall from my ornamental grapevine before pruning it, as I have always done.

But this crazily warm Winter weather has confused the vine into sending forth new Spring growth shoots of leaves and flowers.

All along its length the bright green new leaves have lost patience with the old brown clingers, saying  ‘Don’t you know it’s Spring?’

Only it’s not.

I check in the yard: the Mulberry tree, properly wintry bare two days ago, has lost the plot too. Good luck, I think.

The small Native Finger Lime tree is covered in tiny buds and blossoms, but this is the right time for it.

Will there be ‘right times’ ahead for deciduous plants to awake?

How would they know to stay asleep until after the last frosts of winter?

When people in T-shirts at mid-day in mid-winter’s July say ‘What a lovely day!’, I can’t agree.

‘Actually, no, I find it scary that’s it’s so warm.’

Because this is wrong, out-of-kilter; I’m a human who can put clothes on or off, buy food out of season.

Plants and insects and birds and animals are inter-dependent; species are being thrown into not just confusion, but extinction.

Now, on 1st August, I read that:

‘Tinder-dry conditions in NSW have forced the Rural Fire Service to bring forward its bushfire danger period for parts of the state’s east coast and Northern Tablelands.
Twelve areas — Armidale, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Glen Innes Severn, Inverell, Kempsey, Mid Coast, Nambucca, Port Macquarie Hastings, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha — will all start their bushfire danger period from August 1, the RFS announced on Thursday.’

Traditionally, the official start to the danger period is October 1.’

Mid Coast: that’s me. Yep, scary.

Bright spots

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.

Colour chemistry

Here on the coast, we lack the crispness to create stunning avenues of Autumn colour as in the Southern Highlands or Canberra.

But my Glory Vine, or Ornamental Grape, does its best. It has been moving with me via cuttings from the Mountain original. It colours differently here, but then our Autumns are not the same under global warming. Mid-day is still too warm here.

Despite the stunning cyclamen pinks and burgundies of leaves up close, surprisingly, overall it creates a more orange effect, as the still green leaves mingle with their fellows further along towards their deciduously bare winter fate.

Here’s an explanation of the colour change process from the ’www.sciencemadesimple.com’ site: 

‘During winter, there is not enough light or water for photosynthesis. The trees will rest, and live off the food they stored during the summer. They begin to shut down their food-making factories. The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves.

‘As the bright green fades away, we begin to see yellow and orange colors. Small amounts of these colors have been in the leaves all along. We just can’t see them in the summer, because they are covered up by the green chlorophyll.

‘The bright reds and purples we see in leaves are made mostly in the fall. In some trees, like maples, glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves turn this glucose into a red color.

‘The brown color of trees like oaks is made from wastes left in the leaves.’

Veins of green chlorophyll amongst mottlings of the other pigments like the carotenoids, responsible for the oranges, with the subclass xanthophyll responsible for the yellows and the sugar-making anthocyanin favouring the reds.

A chemical riot!