Friday, 20 October 2017

A Garden Visitor 11

The beautifully-coloured Pale-headed Rosella is a bird we don't often see in our garden here. The occasional sighting would have us all rushing to the nearest window or doorway in hopes of observing the occasional one who dropped by. This year though, beginning during the very dry months of Winter, we have seen more of these pretty parrots (and many other birds) than ever before. They have been coming in to feast on the grevillea flowers, particularly the tall, red-flowering variety just outside our bedroom doors.

I have been trying for days to capture a decent photo but they are very flighty, taking off at the slightest sound or inkling of another presence. These are the clearest  photos of them in our grevillea that I managed to snap:

 Pretty black flecks, beautiful blue and a pale head.
Brighter colours on a more sunshiny day.

 Can you see the little patch of red feathers just under its tail?

Next week, from the 23rd to the 29th October, our family will be joining in with the Aussie Backyard Bird Count.   We'll be tallying up the number of different birds we see in our garden and sending in the totals to Birdlife Australia, the bird conservation organisation behind the count. Our numbers, put together with numbers recorded in lots of other backyards around Australia, helps to provide information about birds that live where we live and the health of their populations. 

In our backyard we are sure there will be kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies, currowongs, crows, cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets to count. I think there might be a few Pale-headed Rosellas as well this year.

If you love watching the birds in your garden, and you live in Australia, perhaps you might like to join in with the Aussie Backyard Bird Count too.


Monday, 16 October 2017

Wrapping without Paper: Very Simple Furoshiki

We haven't bought a roll of wrapping paper for a long time now! Instead, we've wrapped presents in the paintings that have come home from kindy, in the pretty papers we've reused from the gifts we have received and in the printed wrapping paper we've made ourselves from recycled brown paper. From time to time, I also make drawstring gift bags out of the calico bags I sometimes buy my flours in. 

Over the weekend, we celebrated a very happy birthday with one of my son's lovely friends. With the days of kindy paintings and cookie cutter printing long gone now, and no suitable salvaged wrapping paper in our stash, we decided to wrap our gift, furoshiki style, in fabric instead. Here's how it turned out:

Ready for giving!

From the very soft cotton of an old pillowcase, that I bought at a market for small change, I cut out this piece of printed fabric. I think the dolphins are lovely!

 Repurposing the soft cotton of an old pillowcase for the furoshiki wrap.

As the instructions said to begin with a square, I then trimmed the fabric down to the required shape. I made sure the dolphins were in the centre of that square! I used pinking shears to do the cutting so the fabric will not fray and can be more easily reused by the recipient.  The excess fabric I trimmed from the edges will make great garden ties too. (No waste!)

These dolphins added a little touch of nature.

Wrapping up our gift, with a few easy folds and a finishing knot to hold it together, was very easy. I just followed the few very simple steps from this You-Tube tutorial. It wasn't tricky at all!


There are lots of ways you can jazz up a Furoshiki wrap with trims and ribbons and such but, as we were giving a little collection of art supplies, I decided to push two graphite pencils through the knot at the top. The birthday boy will be able to use these for drawing so they tied in well with the gift inside our furoshiki wrap as well!

Have you ever tried furoshiki? 


Friday, 13 October 2017

Here & Now 16

It is October and the beautiful Jacaranda trees are in bloom now. Their distinctive seasonal flowering, a soft lavender purple, is synonymous with Spring in our sub-tropical city. In our oldest parks and public gardens and along many streets, these majestic trees put on their Spring display. Here, in my little suburb, there are many jacarandas, their spreading branches covered in masses of their beautiful blossoms. These blossoms fall in a swirl of purple that covers the grass and footpaths below in a soft and flowery carpet. I love to walk beneath them ...

Masses of jacaranda flowers 

A carpet of fallen flowers covers the path.

Soft & beautiful purple blossoms.

An almost-silhouette against a greying sky.

Loving //   Jacarandas in bloom, like purple punctuation marks along our streets.

Eating //  Little chocolate chip cookies made with chick peas and peanut butter. 
                     (Back to school biscuits!)

Drinking //  Cold water with a few lemon juice ice cubes for zing!

Feeling //  So very tired. 

Making //  A set of Melissa's red and white peace doves for Christmas giving.

Thinking //  That Christmas gets earlier every year ... 
Dreaming //  Of this distant, but not too distant, shore. It's only seven short weeks away!

I'm not sure what's blooming in your own Here & Now but if you'd like to share, or to peek into the October of others, you can pop over to Sarah at her beautiful blog, Say Little Hen. A visit there will brighten your day!


Monday, 9 October 2017

Tricky Areas in my Garden

I think there must be tricky areas in every garden. Places where the soil is too moist or too dry, where soil is too shallow or barren, where there's too much sun or too much shade, where the land slopes considerably so the rain just runs off and areas under the cover of decks or verandahs that no rainfall can reach. So it is in my garden!

Here, within the boundary of our suburban home, there have been many challenges to overcome in the garden. First and foremost was the soil. Shale atop clay and rock was all we had to work with on our denuded, empty block when we bought it. The topsoil had been scraped away by the developer so there was no soil of any depth to sink a spade into. (In fact, we were lucky if we could sink half a spade in!)

The beginnings of our home on our suburban block.

The solution to this lack of deep, fertile soil continues as a work in progress. All the garden beds were constructed with "soil" carted in from the local landscaping supplier. Had I known then what I know now, I would've done a lot more to that "dirt" before I planted a single thing in it. (Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing!) 

Compost = better soil!

The ongoing solution to this poor starting base has been to add as much organic matter to the soil as possible and to keep on building it up! Compost, castings and tea from our worm farm, seaweed solution, manures, rock minerals and mulches. Our soil is improving and so now more grows here. 

Mandarins, rocket, calendula, lavender and leek!

Another challenge here has been the south-westerly facing front yard. Many of the original plants I put in out the front, before I really knew much about gardening at all beyond the flowers I liked, shrivelled up in Summer heat. Gradually, native shrubs have replaced those plants that were unsuited to those hot, dry conditions. Now, whenever I see our gorgeous grevilleas in bloom, in reds and pinks and golds, I am reminded of all that I've learned about choosing the right plant for the position you are going to plant it in. The native birds are happy too!

Native Grevilleas replaced the standardised Gardenias in this garden bed. 
(Can you see the struggling Magnolia Little Gem between them?)

The pretty pink flowers on these Grevilleas.

The slope of our land has also presented challenges. Garden beds in the higher areas dry out much more quickly. I've tried to choose plants, like salvias, that don't mind these drier conditions once they are established in the garden beds at the 'top' of my garden. They are colourful, hardy and bring in the bees. Another slope was created when our block was "cut" to create the level pad for where the house was built. The solution for this long, narrow and rocky slope, that runs down to our Eastern boundary, was to plant a creeper that would cover it. Bauhinia corymbosa or the butterfly vine is fast-growing, hardy and has the most pretty pink flowers. 

The creeper that covers little rocky slope.
(The leaves from neighbouring trees fall, decompose & nourish the plants.)

It's beautiful pink flowers.

Along part of the back boundary, our neighbour planted a lillipilly hedge very close to the fence. The roots of this hedge have spread over into the garden bed we made on our side of the fence. They take up a lot of the moisture and nutrients from that soil making it very difficult to grow much in this area.

My wonderful wicking barrels.

My solution was to plant above the existing soil in wicking barrels. It only took me the better part of a decade to figure this out!! The lillipilly hedge provides some shade for these barrels in the hottest months of the year. When the neighbours cut the hedge back in Autumn, more light reaches the barrels in the cooler months. 

Each time I replenish the topmost layer of soil in these barrels, I spread out the "leftovers" on the garden bed around them. I've worked compost into this each time and over the past year a few things have started to spring up in between the barrels, namely self-seeded pumpkins and lettuce. (Can you see the little pumpkin plants in the photo above?) This year, I've sprinkled some Zinnia seeds in between the barrels too and am watching to see if they'll germinate. If they do,  they will add lots of colour to this area but also provide more Summer food for my little native bees who love to forage in Zinnia flowers.

I can now grow food & flowers in this area.

We are very lucky to have a long verandah that wraps around most of our home plus a wider rotunda that extends our living area outside. The garden beds underneath presented a real challenge though because they receive no rainfall. The soil can dry out very quickly in these sheltered garden beds.

Tough native gingers growing under our front verandah.

Both of these areas needed really tough plants. Under the front verandah, native gingers are growing. They tolerate the drier soil and hot Summer sun. They have lovely green strappy leaves and a flower spike covered in little white flowers. After the flowers, blue berries form that are very popular with native birds. They are also a bush tucker plant. 

Under the rotunda, and after much frustrating trial and error, I planted spider plantsThey are gradually multiplying in this area and slowly filling it in. They have strappy variegated foliage, like to dry out between waterings and are easily propagated by division.  Although a common houseplant, they can also be grown outside. I am also testing out other "free" plants, like Agapanthus, as I divide them from existing garden plantings. It's cheaper that way!

 Spider plants growing  in the garden under our rotunda.

So, these have been the major challenges in our garden and the solutions we've arrived at ... some after much trial and error. What challenges has your garden presented and how have you overcome them?


Friday, 6 October 2017

A Little Bit of Beauty

Over the coming weekend, I hope you will find a little bit of beauty in the world. Something that brings a smile, that softens the harder edges, that slows your footsteps or turns your head, that gladdens your heart.

A little bit of beauty blooms in my garden.

Have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A Short Walk around our Streets

Each and every day, Sir Steve dog and I set off for a short walk around our streets.  Sir Steve is an elderly statesman now, a rescued Labrador about 9years old (that's 63 in dog years) who is happy trundling along, slower than many of the young "pups" we meet along the way but content all the same to amble along at his own pace. While we walk, he stops to sniffle and snuffle at anything and everything he finds of interest along the way. I don't hurry him and he, in turn, is very patient with me if I stop to take photos. Unless he spots a brush turkey that is ... then he forget his years and attempts to give chase! Here's what we found on one of our walks recently:

Trundling along a local path.

Lots of ducks in the park.

Bright red bottlebrush in bloom. 

Clusters of pretty pink flowers. 

 Tiny and delicate purple flowers.

Silvery grey foliage on dark grey concrete. 

Spiky leaves of hardy roadside plantings.

 Possum scratches on local trees.

 A white picket fence.

Citrus blossoms on an old lemon tree.

New red-tipped growth on shrubs. 

Back home again!

As we walk through the familiar gates of home,  Sir Steve gets a bit of an extra spring in his step. He trots into the back yard, does a few four-legged pirouettes then flops promptly down on the grass ... exhausted! He really is a most endearing fellow and the best walking companion there is!

What would you find if you went for a short walk around your streets?


Monday, 2 October 2017

Wonderful Wombok Salad

A fresh Chinese cabbage, crunchy ingredients and a peanut-y dressing make a wonderful, fresh and light salad. Perfect for warm Spring days!

Fresh ingredients for a delicious, crunchy salad.

Wombok forms the leafy basis of this delicious salad. It is an oval-shaped Chinese cabbage with distinctive lighter-green, crinkly leaves. Finely shredded and then tossed with other fresh, raw veggies like capsicum, spring onion, carrot and celery, sprinkled with toasty slivered almonds and sesame seeds and finished off with a generous drizzle of a tangy, peanut butter dressing. So good...  and so good for you!  (Please note that it's not suitable for those with nut allergies.)

As soon as I spotted the wombok, grown just to the North of our city on the Sunshine Coast, and available in our little local organic market shop, I knew I could put it together with the  crunchy celery from my garden to make this salad.  Here's how it came together in my kitchen:

Wash, dry and finely shred leaves of the wombok. 

Chop spring onion, celery, capsicum and grate carrot. 

Toss prepared salad vegetables together in a bowl.

Sprinkle with toasted slivered almonds & sesame seeds.
(Toss again to incorporate throughout the salad.)

This is a very versatile salad. I don't work off exact quantities for the salad because you can add as much as you like of the extra veggies to the shredded wombok. It really doesn't matter if you use one carrot or two, half a capsicum or a whole one.  You could add some chunks of de-seeded cucumber, some fresh bean sprouts or some fried Chinese noodles for extra crunch.  Shredded chicken is nice if you want to add a meat to the salad.

There are many different kinds of dressings that you could use with this salad. I chose to make this peanut-buttery dressing that I found over at the Laughing Spatula website.  I whisked up the dressing separately and then drizzled it over the top of each serve rather than adding it to the salad bowl. Leftovers of both went separately into the fridge ready for lunch the next day. (No soggy salad that way!)

This is a really lovely salad. It's fresh, it's crunchy and it's totally delicious. Enjoy!


Friday, 29 September 2017

Stitching in Zinnia Colours

Last year, I grew a lovely drift of bright and happy zinnias. Their pink, yellow, orange, red and cream petals coloured-in the garden. When trying to decide on a little stitching project, after feeling inspired by several embroidery books from the library, I kept coming back to the zinnia-coloured threads in my stash and so I began ...

Little zinnias on linen.

Simple little flowers, made with tiny french knots for centres and what I think of as a not-so-neat satin stitch for petals, are beginning to scatter themselves across the linen inside my embroidery hoop. Randomly placed, repeated as many times as I wish, tiny and some even a little smaller than that, imperfect and so soothing to stitch.

Brightly coloured & freely-formed flowers.

I'm not sure what I'll do with this little square of embroidered linen once it's done. Perhaps another small project bag, a pocket on a simple skirt, a central and flower-y panel on a reusable tote bag ... what would you suggest?

Last year's colourful zinnias.

Whatever it becomes, it was lovely to be reminded of the zinnias I grew in last Summer's garden. Stitching happiness!

Have a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

On the Fringe

A short drive out to visit friends last week had us exploring the semi-rural western fringe of our city. Depending on rainfall patterns, this area is either lush and green or it's dry and myriad shades of brown among the gum trees. With hot daytime temperatures and no significant rain for a long while now, the landscape seemed hazy and parched. The grass crunched and crackled under our feet and the dust billowed up behind the car as we bounced our way down the rocky and rutted driveway to our destination. This is what we found just fifteen minutes from home ...

A hand-painted sign looking after the local wildlife.
(No sign of these spiky creatures though!)

 Rusting farm machinery by the roadside.

Long local driveways.

A silvery log in a paddock.

Low water levels in property dams.

Gorgeous grevilleas in flower.

 Chooks scratching for tasty morsels and ...

... geese, cockatoos, kookaburras and rosellas.

Busy honeybees at the entrance to a hive!

The distinctive seed cones on native Banksia.

The hazy view from the top of a hilly road.

As we were leaving for home, the distinctive call of sulphur-crested cockatoos rang out over the hills and paddocks. A late afternoon farewell.