In Melbourne, the month of May means late autumn when much of nature is starting to shut down and winter plants are awakening. With the chilly mornings and shorter periods of sunshine it is good to make the most of any opportunities to spend time outdoors. Walking around our garden I noticed some small details that I thought showed the seasonal changes and delights of the colder weather and decided to record them with my camera.
Autumn has often been seen as a season devoted to loss, remembrance and regret. Memorial services for war casualties are held in the Autumn months. It has also inspired many creative works of art and literature such as O. Henry’s short story, The Last Leaf (1907), Emily Bronte’s poem Fall, Leaf, Fall and the classic jazz song Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma/Johnny Mercer). I particularly like Eva Cassidy’s version. There is so much that is beautiful about this time of year that it is not hard to find inspiration in nature.
In Autumn you never know when a mushroom will suddenly appear. I saw some small mushrooms (probably toxic) coming up between the concrete and the lawn. I was surprised that they had survived because of our dog’s tendency to flatten anything. The next day they had fully opened and were showing signs of damage and by the third they were withered and black. This cycle gives a good lesson in living life to the fullest before you exit like a dried up mushroom.
More plants are displaying the wonderful colour of autumn leaves. Rather than looking at the whole shrub I focused in on one segment of wisteria leaves, with the golden colour spreading into the green. Soon the whole plant will be yellow and the leaves will quickly fall and cover the surrounding ground. Once bare the twisting structure of the trunk will be revealed.
I photographed a curly leafed variety of Nandina (sacred bamboo) in early April. Now the other Japanese Nandinas bear lots of red foliage as well as some small red berries. The nandina does not lose all its leaves and fruits in autumn, but the old leaves turn red before they fall. Interestingly the berries and leaves are highly poisonous, except to some birds. The delicate red leaves and shiny berries look very dramatic in close-up, especially against green foliage, complementary colours that stand out in the soft light of autumn.
The weaker sunshine highlights the wonderful texture of a tree-fern trunk. The stumps of the pruned dead fronds create a sculptural pattern that is not always noticed when hidden under the shade cloth needed for summer sun protection. During the colder months trees may be stripped bare but you can enjoy details that are exposed when dense foliage disappears.
While some plants are starting to go dormant others are blooming. An interesting lily popped up in a neglected corner of our garden. We did not plant it so it must have come from a neighbor’s place. It is now has a white flower with a green tip that looks like it has been painted on with a small brush. We used to have some pure white Arum lilies and it is another variety. Lilies are often used as symbols of death so it is an appropriate that it flowers at this time of the year. I think that they are poisonous as well and this may be one of the reasons for their somber associations.
Along our drive is a hardy creeping plant that has tiny pink flowers (Polygonum Capitatum, Pinkhead Knotweed). It came from our grand parents garden. Looking closely the ball-shaped flowers are actually made up of multiple delicate flowers. They maybe small but the flowers are prolific. Nothing will kill this plant. It has tenacity and even spreads over the concrete if there is a small amount of soil. Apparently it is a Himalayan plant. No wonder it is a hardy survivor.
The glamour plant of our garden in the cold months is the camellia. We have several in the front garden although there have been some losses due to drought over the years. Only the hardy ones have survived. Most of the camellias now have buds but the first to flower are the sasanqua varieties. I zoomed in on a lovely pink flower with yellow stamens. The flamboyant camellia is to winter what the rose is to summer. Full of the colour and energy of life despite the darker days.
This energy can be also seen in the activity of the bees while they collect pollen from our Japanese Aralia flowers. These are white and grow in groups (umbrels). The bees love these autumn flowers and many are attracted to them. It drives our dogs crazy and while I was taking the photos, they jumped up and tried to catch the bees. Not a great idea if you don’t want to be stung. I managed to get some close-ups of the industrious insects, who always manage to find some type of pollen bearing plant in the autumn. We should be like bees. No matter how bleak we may feel there is always something that will generate our creativity.
Life is still all around us in autumn. Sometimes you will see it in the life cycle of a mushroom or the activity of a bee. At others it is a splashy bright camellia flower. Plants that are losing their leaves are just having a respite. Nature makes the most of this time and so should we to recharge our batteries. It is a good time to be contemplative and concentrate on creative projects when there are no distractions from summer activities. There is still plenty to keep you active, motivated and inspired as the days grow shorter and remember, spring is only four months away.
I wanted to include a song about May in Australia and remembered local legend and singer/songwriter Paul Kelly’s Leaps and Bounds (1986). This song has become something of an anthem for Melbourne. It mentions two iconic buildings. The most famous is the M.C.G (Melbourne Cricket ground) with its “fly swatter” lighting towers, venue for the 56 Olympics, Aussie Rules football and local and international cricket. He also sings about the “the clock on the silo” which is the neon light clock on the old Nylex factory that can be seen from the Punt Road hill on the other side of the Yarra River. The video shows Kelly and his band playing on top of the silos in 1986. Pay attention to the skyline of the city, the lone Arts Centre spire and the surroundings.
In the following short video the same area of Melbourne was filmed by a drone last year. A lot has changed in 30 years. (The Nylex factory is to be converted into apartments and there was a fight to preserve the silos and the clock after the developer was going to destroy them. After a lot of protest, assisted by the video of this song, it was announced in March this year that the silos and the clock will be incorporated into the design).