Perfect pods

The small details of the plant world often make me wish I’d become a botanist. In my day, if they were ‘going on’ after high school, girls did nursing or teaching — to tide them over until they got married.

I have been unable to decide whether, had I been born later, I’d have studied botany or industrial design. I see similarities between the two – functionality and beauty.

The young indigenous Native Frangipani trees (Hymenosporum flavum) that I have raised and planted are themselves seeding now. A new generation. The pods look like green four-lobed fruit until they brown, split in two, and fan out their channels of round, rimmed seeds like decks of cards, or stacks of coins.

These delicate and quaint beauties made me think of Leunig’s Mr Curly cartoons, of swans, of shy creatures unknown.

I couldn’t draw a more exquisitely curving line than they each have. The seed pods are woody but feather-light, carrying one black seed each in a shapely niche.

The shrub they are from, a hakea, is not indigenous and to my shame I have forgotten what it is called, but it had creamy fountains of flowers and the butterflies loved it.

I usually note down everything I plant, so if someone can please enlighten me, I will remedy that omission!

Forest fires

Many early colonists thought the Australian bush a drab monotone of greyish green, blinded as they still were by the vivid lime greens and emeralds of their European trees and mist-made lawns.

I hope closer acquaintance taught them to see more clearly – if they hadn’t cleared all the bush around them.

At present my forest’s greens of a million hues are lit by fiery reds and hot pinks as new spring growth announces its presence.

These small ferns (left) prefer the shadier side of the mountain but are particularly beautiful when backlit, set alight by sunshine striking into a clearing. I stopped on the muddy track to capture the moment as their individual tongues of fire flamed amongst the grass.

The sunny side of the forest holds its fires high, blazing in bunches through the dense older growth and across the sky. We may not get autumn colour, but I challenge anyone to say that our eucalypts are drab or lacking seasonal variety. These gum tips are downright pretty!

Welcome wisteria

For sixteen years the wisteria on my verandah has done a great job as a living shade cloth — but it has never flowered. It was given to me in a pot, grown from a cutting of a white wisteria, so the giver assured me.  I didn’t mind that it didn’t flower, given how lovely were the shape and shade of the leaves.

I bought a normal mauve flowering wisteria and planted it by the laundry.

So when the first leaf bud opened this Spring I rushed to take a photo — and then was stopped short by the odd bump to the right. A bud, a flower bud!! After thinking about it for sixteen years.

In a few days there were more, and as they opened I could see that the flowers were not white, but pale lilac.  Very pretty, subtler than its more uniform mauve cousin. They both have a lick of yellow at their throats.

The other pea-shaped flower in those shades in the garden is the Roi de Carouby snow pea’s magenta and pink, now reaching above the netting and bearing many peas daily.

Far and near

Far treats here are the changing interactions of mountain and sky.

After the rain I watch from my dripping verandah as Omo-white clouds boil and steam in and out of the nips and tucks of the densely forested southern slopes. Wisps linger to lick the gullies clean before joining the rising mass above.

Closer to me, the sun makes the leaves of the trees sparkle to show just how clean they are.

Near treats can be unexpected, novel. The remarkable could easily go unremarked in the bush; I have to be really on the lookout for a flash of different texture or colour.

Because this is not a garden, I never know when birds or animals have gifted a new plant to our forest. I can only hope they are native ones!

This vine was swinging from a sapling by the track to my dam. I have driven by here plenty of times yet have never seen this before.
It was suggested it could be a Supplejack, Ripogonum album perhaps.

But I’m not sure if its fruits bunch like this, whereas they seem to in the alternative, Smilax australis. Any thoughts?

Look out! Triffids!

My favourite tool is my hoe. After 30 years of loyal service it needed a new handle, which I’d loosely put on just before heading off for the weekend.

The bright new handle showed up how poorly I’d treated the hoe head and I vowed to give it a good sand and oil before it went back out on duty.

I left it leaning aginst a chair on the verandah, to remind myself to do so.

In those two days the Chilean Jasmine sent up a tendril between the boards, found the hoe and claimed it, looping around the handle and heading for the sky.

You’d swear it had an intelligence to do so: as always, I think of John Wyndham’s triffids.

Kikuyu punishment

kikuyu grass stops mower

A month away from the mountain is a long time. The bush itself requires no attention from me, but my domesticated area does, and the 350mm of rain in February has effected a great deal of green growth. Not all is welcome.

I continually apologise to the environment for my ignorant crime of introducing kikuyu grass here thirty years ago. As punishment, its runners are the scourge of my garden, but until lately the horses kept its main expanse munched very short, its patches the first thing they headed for whenever I let them into the house yard.

With the horses gone, that munching is much missed now after my month’s absence. Mowing is the only answer, and with these dewy autumn mornings that has to wait until the sun is hotter than I like for outdoor work.

Thick and tall kikuyu is a hard task for a mower and when wet it is an impossible one, a sudden choked capital green full stop.

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Kikuyu mist


Just before the heatwave ended, I noticed a patch of the dreaded kikuyu grass seemed to be dying off, becoming pale and yellowish and oddly ‘misted’.

The native grass parts of the ‘lawn’ were browning off but usually the kikuyu is the last to go brown in hot and dry times. Its runners extend so far underground and it is such a determined survivor that it is a supremely equipped invader.

Originally from east Africa, it is a particular scourge on the coast where good rainfall allows it to mount fences and swamp sheds under a bright green tide if left ungrazed. 

I curse the day I bought it here, on the advice of the then Soil Conservation Department, to hold the soil on freshly made banks and dam walls. Fortunately it does not do very well here where it can be grazed by the native animals, so it’s mostly only inside my house yard.


There are no horses here now  to be let in to eat my grass, and I haven’t got around to mowing yet.  When I  took a closer look at the odd patch of kikuyu it seemed to have very fine spiderwebs over the whole widening arc. But they were nowhere else.

Having never seen this before, I wondered why it should be connected to the lack of grazing or mowing. I began to  wonder if this wasn’t some sort of slime mould, as they can take the most extraordinary forms.


But when I searched the net I discovered that it is a rare event: the flowering of the kikuyu.

Why it should be happening in only a small patch, I don’t know, but apparently ‘the pollen sacs, or anthers, extend above the grass on slender white filaments and give the area a whitish cast’.

Another site said that it flowers infrequently and that when it does, the area may seem ‘covered in spidery threads of white filaments’.
Without  a doubt this is what I was seeing.

Pennisetum clandestinum is the botanical name for kikuyu … and ‘clandestine’ is most appropriate for its strange and secret flowering. Yet another example of the amazing ways of nature!

Living walls


Each summer my verandah grows its own walls on the west and north-west.

Although the ornamental grape and the wisteria have been pruned right back to leafless woody stems, come spring they begin to reach out for each other and interwine.

By Christmas they have made dense, multi-layered walls of greenery that keep my verandah shaded, cool and dry.


Just like man-made walls, they incorporate a window and a door, although if I am away for more than few days I return to catch them trying to fill in the gaps, tendrils searching across thin air for the other side.

Apart from their practical function, unlike shadecloth for example, they are beautiful and varied in colour and form.

And they’re free!

Forest fruit

rosewood thicket
rosewood fruit
rosewood seedsMy forest does not have much understorey but in the damper dips and gullies there are always pockets of a small tree—scentless rosewood, Synoum glandulosum.

It has made its presence very evident lately because of its profusion of clusters of pinkish red fruit.

Unfortunately for me they are not as succulent and appetising as they look, being really only fleshy seed capsules.

They remind me of mini-pomegranates—but only visually.

These are now splitting open into three sections to reveal orange-red seeds, which birds seem to like.

A rainforest pioneer, it is one of the few I do not need to raise and plant as, with help from the birds, it has looked after its own future very satisfactorily.

Lily pad life





water insects

dragonfliesOn my small dam the waterlilies are blooming, their large circular leaves so abundant that they are overlapping, curling up at their edges.

There are two green floating islands of them, one bearing pale pink lotus-like cups, the other such a pale lemon as to seem white.

Since these aquatic plants had all but disappeared in the drought, I went down to have a closer look at their new burst of life.

Life indeed, for the waterlily rafts are hosting a multitude of fauna.

Two tiny tortoises slipped back into the water as I approached.

The dozens of tadpoles apparently hanging from the water surface soon proved to be hundreds, of several types, and all fat and healthy.

Some of the smaller ones already had legs sprouting from their translucent brown sides.

In the middle of the lily pads I spotted a tiny jewel of a green frog.

‘Water boatmen’ rowed their skinny insect selves across the surface.

Delicate blue and red jointed sticks with gauze wings perched rigidly solo, or curved in what I presumed to be copulating pairs, on lily leaves and reed stems — mayflies, dragonflies?

Beetles and other strange insects busied themselves on the pads.

I came home to refer to my old pond life book, to be able to tell you with authority what these dam inhabitants are, but like so many other books — I must have lent it out long ago and forgotten to whom.

So nameless but beautiful they remain.