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.
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…!
Strolling through Wingham Brush Reserve on the slightly elevated walkway, looking from side to side, I spotted a reptile in the leaf litter.
This was the first time I have ever seen a critter other than bats, brush turkeys and an occasional small bird there. It’s the massive strangler fig trees and the dim dry rainforest world around them that most attract me.
So was this a bluetongue lizard? There was something odd about the shape, the scales… and the head.
Moving to see the head more closely, I decided it wasn’t. But what was it? It was remaining absolutely still, despite our voices and footsteps… and a fly hanging around its face.
I was very excited to look it up and see it is a Land Mullet (Egernia major), one of our largest skinks, reaching up to 60cm. I had only ever seen one once before, at my Mountain.
It is called a Land Mullet because of its large shiny fish-like scales and because when it moves, it does look like a mullet swimming.
Preferring rainforest or nearby, it apparently often lives in burrows, so I was lucky to see it out sunning itself, unblinking, unswimming.
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!
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!
Hearing a new bird call, I searched the trees in my back yard. The call was familiar, yet not one I’d heard for some time.
It was a monotonous repeated call, the sort that might drive you crazy.
I located its maker, a lone Koel, unmistakable visually even if I’d momentarily forgotten which bird makes that sound: ‘koo-eel, koo-eel’ ad nauseam.
Its blue-black plumage, long shapely tail and red eyes mark it as a male Koel. And its arrival means the borders are open, as this migratory bird comes south from New Guinea from September onwards. It likes our humid coastal areas and rainforest fringes.
Part of the Cuckoo family, it shares the typical ‘parasitic’ habit of getting other birds to raise their Koel young by placing their eggs in a host’s nest.
So the Koel need not build its own nest, and has time to perch in people’s yards and announce that Spring is here and the borders are open!
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.
Every morning I go out to check on my Frogmouth residents. They were not there the last two days and I fretted that they had left me. But no, they are back today, and not cuddled together as was usual. Is it warmer?
As I greeted them, one fixed me with its golden eye while its mate began assuming the broken branch pose. ‘I am not here’.
‘Don’t worry’, I assured them. ‘You are safe here, so please don’t go elsewhere for good!’
On my early mornings checks of the yard, I often see the intact wonders of overnight webweaving. I think this quite raggedy one on the Native Finger Lime may have its weaver at the centre? Better eyesight than mine must decide.
The maker of this more symmetrical circular web on the Acacia perangusta must be hiding amongst its leaves and blossoms.
Not having as much wildlife as I had at the Mountain, I treasure each and every creature… great and small.
This garden bed may look like one big mess, when in fact it is a cornucopia of gifts that ensure I will have ongoing vegetables and herbs to pick and eat.
All I have to do is allow the plants to live their full life span, to get long and leggy, flower and go to seed. Like the beautiful blue borage, ringed by new plants, like toddlers around their mother’s skirts. These I will dig up and plant as a border elsewhere.
My favourite salad green is rocket, (left) so I depend on these tall and healthy plants providing next summer’s crop.
Last summer’s lettuce (right) was allowed to be so straggly it fell over, but not before scattering its tiny seeds. So here are its progeny, to be picked as thinnings as they grow.
I could not eat enough of the Asian greens I planted, so most will have to be dug in as green manure, but a few will grace the garden with their yellow posies until I am sure of the next crop being bestowed on my garden, wherever their seeds choose to fall.
The Cos lettuce flowers are not showy, but the sole surviving plant, a veritable Leaning Tower of Cos, is cherished for its anticipated contribution to my table.
And this mass of Continental Parsley is the result of just one seeding plant last year. I should have thinned them, but instead I revel in the lushness, harvest them in great handfuls and treat them as a green vegetable. You can’t have enough parsley!
At least I can’t.
And all free… you just have to not mind a lack of order, of straight rows of plants.