Creative Food Growing

It has been many months since I posted on my blog. Ellie and I have been busy catching up on all the things that we were unable to get done during Melbourne’s endless lockdowns last year. Since my last post, in late July Ellie broke her leg and required emergency surgery, so life became really complicated for a time. Further plans for fixing up our garden were put on hold until she had fully recovered. After so much disruption from health problems and the pandemic, over the last six months we have finally been getting our garden in order and have recently started to grow more of our own food.

The 2022 floods in New South Wales and Queensland have caused a shortage of fruit and vegetables that, together with the plummeting value of the Australian dollar, has seen an increase in the cost of living in Melbourne. At local supermarkets leafy green veggies have increased in price, with some varieties difficult to find, which means a salad is now an expensive item on the menu. More than ever in Australia it is a great time to get into food gardening to save money and always have fresh food on hand.

Unlike many people who managed to create vegetable gardens during lockdown, this was not an option for us after Ellie’s accident. However our garden was not completely unproductive. We have always had a lemon and a walnut tree and herbs and chives growing in beds and in pots. Early last year we bought a blueberry bush for a large, ceramic pot and now it is covered with flowers and our Monsteria Deliciosa  or Fruit Salad plants have produced enormous fruit this year. Finally, over the last month, we have been able to create a system for growing vegetables that works for us and might provide helpful ideas for others with similar issues.

Several times in the past we have grown organic summer vegetables, in either garden beds or containers and made many mistakes, which made the process difficult. We knew a change of method was required to grow vegetables in our garden all year round with good results. Firstly the system needed to be moveable to make optimal use of the limited winter sun available in our back garden. Secondly the method must reduce bending over and stressing our backs and legs so high planters were preferable. Thirdly and crucially, the vegetables must be protected from hungry possums; bugs; slugs and snails; vermin and birds. All these creatures can do considerable damage and reduce the productivity of a garden. Worst of all, our two dogs, like their predecessors, love eating lettuces and other leafy greens and will climb into large pots, as well as trample anything small in garden beds. Luckily they are not interested in herbs or chives and these are left alone.

We did not want to get rid of our lawn to plant vegetables because the dogs love to run around this space and play ball. We also did not want to remove any of our established garden foliage, which provides a wonderful microclimate that mitigates the heat of summer and provides shelter and food for many birds and small creatures. Gardens are an endangered species with all the over development in our area and need to be preserved. This left the concrete drive as the sunniest area in the garden which benefits from the northerly sun during the colder months. It is good to green this environmentally unfriendly space. Last February we had a row of clumping bamboo planted along the fence line to screen the neighbours new two-story, monster house and this has reduced the blinding reflections from their windows and made the drive more hospitable. We could not have a fixed, raised bed in this area because our car needs to be parked in this space and the only suitable spot near the house is shaded in winter.

Luckily Ellie found a wonderful solution in the Australian designed Vegepod (we are not sponsored by this or any company, just love the products, which can be purchased in many countries https://vegepod.com.au). We bought two 1 m x 1 m Vegepods, plus the waist high stands with wheels. The hinged hoods protect the vegetables from bugs, critters and the weather, with three types of removable covers available: white mesh, clear plastic and shade cloth. There is a built in watering sprinkler system in the covers frame and the bases use a wicking system to draw up water for the vegetables. The Vegepods came flat packed and there are easy assembly videos available on Youtube. These were a considerable investment, but solved all of our problems, so it was worth the money. 

We filled them with potting mix from our local nursery combined with the Vegepod perlite brand to aerate the mixture. Initially we got some mixed lettuces, two types of spinach, silver beet (Swiss chard) and rocket seedlings from the nursery to put in the pods so that we had something to grow immediately. We have decided to only grow vegetables we like and concentrate on those that are expensive to buy, are best picked fresh from the garden or have a short shelf life. 

It is cheaper to grow vegetables from seeds and Ellie joined the Digger’s Club, based at Heronswood on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria (again not sponsored). They produce seeds from heritage vegetables and give discounts with membership, which includes a quarterly magazine. Seeds and gardening products are available from their online store (https://www.diggers.com.au). I’m sure that most countries have similar seed saving services for you to get started.

We still had small plastic pots, seed trays, with and without cells, from our previous vegetable growing attempts, but small plastic yoghurt containers and egg cartons would be a cheap alternative. To save more money we used plastic meat trays we have collected and clear storage containers to create small indoor hot houses for the seeds. Clear meat trays can be clamped on as lids. As the number of these started to mount up we repurposed a metal Ikea TV stand to hold the containers and placed this near the family room glass doors for more light. When the seedlings become large enough the leafy vegetables will be replanted in the Vegepods. Our seeds include winter varieties of broccoli; cos and oak leafed lettuces; Japanese Tatsoi; silver beet/chard; spring onions/scallions; dwarf snow peas; spinach and rocket. We also bought some cucumber seeds and Ford hook spinach for the spring, as well as the flowering companion plants, calendula and nasturtiums.

Because garlic costs an arm and a leg at the moment, we ordered some organic garlic from Diggers. We originally planned to put these in our herb garden bed because the dogs don’t go for members of the onion family, but realised that this spot does not get enough hours of winter sun. The sunny drive is more suitable. Also the extra silver beet and snow peas will take up a lot of room in the Vegepods, so more growing space would be desirable.  Most of our large pots have been filled with other perennials and herbs, so we needed another portable solution. 

The Mother’s Day sales provided us with an answer, as we found discounted large, woven grow bags with handles from aussiegardener.com.au (not sponsored) for the garlic, as well as for the spring onions. The round, enclosed Vegebags made by Vegepod were also on sale and we bought three. These use the same growing system and protect leafy veggies from bad weather. Any large pot or container covered with netting would work equally well, but the advantage of grow bags is that you can fold them up when not in use to save storage space. 

The garlic and silver beet are now planted in these bags. Nothing can get into Vegebags and the silver beet, nestled in pea straw, is looking good. The dogs don’t like the onion family but to stop them getting into the open grow bags we put bamboo stakes around the the edges, tied with white plastic packaging tape that came with a delivery. As for the self-pollinating snow peas, these were planted in a woven grow bag fitted with arches made from old plastic drainage pipe placed over bamboo poles. This was covered with white bird netting, pegged and tied on to keep out possums, dogs and other pests. Plastic trellis attached to bamboo stakes inside the structure will be a climbing frame for the peas. The spring onions are still tiny seedlings, but as soon as they become large enough, we will plant them in woven grow bags, like the garlic.

All of our vegetables are in portable containers that are easily moved into the sun and are accessible for harvesting of the crops. We are already enjoying the lettuces and the spinach, both baby and perpetual. The silver beet is growing fast and the garlic is beginning to shoot. Our other small seedlings are also coming along so we will have fresh greens this winter and look forward to the garlic harvest in spring, when we will plant the cucumbers, and other spring vegetables in the bags. 

Sometimes it does pay to spend some money in order to save money in the future and it is wise to buy discounted items whenever possible. We would not be able to effectively grow a decent number of vegetables with our existing garden layout without implementing these changes. Now we have established a system that we can use for years, will save us money and give us a continuous supply of healthy food to eat. 

In todays’s world of uncertain food security due to climate change (there are still floods in Queensland) we need to use urban areas for food production. If you have a garden, access to a community garden, a sunny balcony, courtyard or rooftop, it makes sense to grow some fruit or vegetables. Even a concrete drive like ours can be used. There are all kinds of growing methods to try, whether you do it yourself or buy easy to assemble kits. You just need to find the method that suits your situation and like us, you may need to use more than one. Just think creatively.

Happy planting, Kat.

For excellent advice on growing fruit and vegetables in your home environment visit:

Aussie Youtube channel Self Sufficient Me (https://www.youtube.com/c/Selfsufficientme). Mark is so helpful and very entertaining.

View the extensive information from the team at Gardening Australia (https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/how-to-eat-from-your-garden-vegetable-patch-all-year/11096242.)

Erratic Creativity and Shaking off the Winter Slump

It is the middle of winter in Melbourne and July is the coldest month of the year with lower levels of sunlight. This is the time when many people have difficulty with their creative flow. Unlike during the warmer months when my energy is high, now it is very erratic and this inhibits my ability to focus on one thing for long. I find it much less stressful to switch between different creative activities, depending on my mood and energy level. When this is low, if something else sparks my interest, I embrace such experiences to restore my sense of joy in dull and grey weather. These strategies can help anyone who is in a creative slump, especially during the winter.

When I am feeling overwhelmed my spirits have been lifted by watching live Youtube streams from places where it is now summer. There is nothing like the power of the Icelandic volcanic eruption and the antics of Danish and German Wildlife to realise that the world is still a wonderful place. Here are some links to these livestreams for your enjoyment.

It is good to know that beautiful places and amazing events are still out there even though we cannot visit at the moment. Watching the live sporting broadcasts of the Tour de France has brought back the heat. It is entertaining to view the cycling action and spectacular scenery of the French countryside. This really puts a smile on your face when it is cold and it has been very inspiring to see the achievements of these talented riders. It is good motivation to get on the exercise bike.

Being in nature is beneficial for your health and sanity even during the colder months, so it is wonderful to have a garden. Our local parks can be crowded with joggers, dog walkers etc whenever there is fine weather and it is lovely to have such a peaceful place to enjoy by just walking out the back door. During  Melbourne’s repeated lockdowns there were millions of people wishing to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine in public parks at the same time. With all the development and destruction of established gardens in our area, I hope that people finally realise how important it is to preserve these personal outdoor spaces.

If you have any outside space, whether a balcony or small courtyard, make the most of it and try to create some shelter from winter winds with screening plants and appropriate seating. Use your imagination and be creative. In the summer Ellie and I fixed up our run down terrace, by adding more paving and painted the old garden furniture so that it is more pleasant to sit outside in fine weather. Plants were added to make the adjacent fernery appear lush and tropical with leafy, evergreen plants that can survive Melbourne’s cold, windy winters.  Here are some before and after photos.

Here we saved money by planting several shade loving Clivias that Ellie propagated from one pot plant. We found some Canna and Arum Lillys and Bleeding Heart trees, that had spontaneously grown in the empty bed next to the new fence. These have been potted for future deployment in the front garden. Also tomato and pumpkin plants popped up from the compost which was spread in our herb garden, along with lots of nasturtiums which grew from last year’s seeding. Our single wormwood shrub has also provided new plants from cuttings that will be added to the herb garden. Green and variegated spider plants, birds nest ferns and aralia plants easily reproduce in our garden and we have a plentiful supply in pots. It is wonderful when a garden self regenerates. 

When your creativity levels take a dive it makes a real difference to see growth and life in the garden. We are lucky in Melbourne because our winters do not produce snow and there is always an abundance of greenery and citrus fruits during the coldest months. If you are in a snowy region you can also benefit from the watching the continual growth of indoor plants. It is harder to feel down in the dumps when these are bursting with green energy which is restorative.

Plant life can provide creative impetus. Our garden is a constant source of inspiration and has given me ideas for artworks. There is always something new to see during winter. Even when not in the mood for drawing and painting, I have photographed any seasonal changes in our garden for use in future work. These have already inspired me to practice new techniques and try various art materials. 

During periods of low creative energy don’t worry if you are not producing masterpieces. Some artworks are just for learning purposes and not to create great works of art. I have a watercolour sketchbook and a fun collage journal where I do things that make me happy. Some things work, others don’t. I’m not always happy with the results, but I don’t need to show anyone because they are for my benefit alone. It’s Ok to keep some artworks to yourself. These a just a step in your journey to making art that you want to display in public.

However sometimes it pays to ignore your own advice and to go with your instincts. Yesterday I did show one of my practice art journals to someone I trust and they commissioned me to do a small painting as a gift for a relative. So just playing around in a sketchbook for fun when you are trying to lift your mood is never a waste of time. It might just lead you down a more creative path.

Winter might not be the most creative season for everyone but there are many ways to give yourself a boost. This is also the time when there is never more than three months until the arrival of spring and all the renewed energy that comes with sunnier days.

Kat

Death of a Palm Tree

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Melbourne is again in lockdown due to a surge in Covid-19 cases. This is a very serious situation for our city and I wish those who are affected a speedy recovery. Disturbing times make you want to stick to the familiar, the things that you can count on, so when something negative happens in your immediate environment it can really get to you. Today the view from my studio window has changed forever and not in a good way and I’m upset.

Hearing the sound of chainsaws usually does not bode well when there is so much development going on in our once quiet suburb. I hoped that a neighbour was just having their trees pruned, but when I looked out of our family room window I saw a man cutting the top from the tall palm tree next door. My first thoughts were “tree murderer” which I shouted towards the culprit. Double glazing makes you brave. Then I became emotional and ran upstairs to the studio to write this piece with the sounds of the chainsaw jangling my nerves.

Palm trees are iconic in our bayside suburb and are found all around Port Phillip Bay. They remind us of the origins of our beach side areas which were established as places for seaside recreation in the 19th century. Some of these palms are very old and contribute to the character of Melbourne.

The Palm next door was not one of the very old ones but it gave a tropical feel to our view even in the midst of winter. Some people just don’t appreciate the beauty of the natural world and want to destroy anything that does not fit with their bleak, narrow vision. I will miss its constant presence as it made our view more attractive, especially with all the ugliness of the building that is going on next door and the starkness of the new construction on the other side. Unfortunately when the new fence was built between our properties the vines that shielded this eyesore completely fell down. As an antidote to this negative action we plan to plant beautiful clumping bamboo along our fence line that will grow tall and thick enough to hide the concrete horror that is to be built.

I  have selected some photos that show the tree through different seasons, times of day and weather patterns which are shared below.

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Goodbye old friend. You gave me pleasure and were a symbol of strength through storms and heatwaves. I’m sorry that you did not get to live out your life span in peace, but you will live on in my memories.

If something like this happens in your part of the world, do something positive that can make a difference to your environment, such as growing plants or vegetables. The world needs all the creativity, beauty and oxygen it can get.

Stay well, safe and creative.

Kat

Blogging and Real Life

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In Melbourne we are in the middle of a beautiful spring and everything is being renewed including myself. I know other bloggers have been wondering why I have disappeared from the Blogiverse for over six months. Thank you for the concerned emails. I had been pushing myself to keep busy after my mother’s death last year and eventually things become too much, especially while my sister and I sorted out our late mother’s affairs. Her death made me take stock of my priorities.

Blogging enabled me to stay creative, contribute something to the wider world and keep my sanity while mum was ill, but eventually I was putting too much pressure on myself trying to post regularly and to keep up with everyone else’s blogs. Don’t get me wrong. So many of you have wonderful blogs. I have enjoyed reading them and I am thankful for all those who have followed my blog, but there are only so many hours in a day and I was not having enough time for my own creative pursuits. Let’s face it life is just too short and you can’t do everything.

Getting out and engaging with others in the real world plus working on your own projects should take precedence. In the last months I have been doing more with the ukulele group I help to run, performing at open mikes and we recently played at a local community festival, which was a great success.  All our practice is paying off and we are sounding more professional. There are so many fantastic and creative things to do when you get away from screens.

There is that true saying that you must do something for 10,000 hours before you become highly proficient.  I guess I am one of those who need to concentrate on one thing at a time to do it justice. It is impossible to do all creative pursuits exceptionally well and it can take a lot of discipline and self-examination to make a choice.

For some of us it is better to be an occasional blogger. I’m not primarily a writer so being on the computer all the time keeps me away from playing my ukulele and working on my own songs or my artwork.  I will try to blog when I have something to share about creativity that would be of interest to others but I can’t promise to post to a schedule.  Don’t expect me to take part in any blogging activities. While I appreciate the honor of being asked, I find it too time-consuming and stressful. Blogging should enhance your life, not get in the way so that it becomes a trap.

Never be afraid to take a break from blogging or to cut back on the number of your posts and go out and experience the real world. You should always do what you think is best for your creativity and wellbeing. It might be just what you need to become more energised.

The same can be said about our reinvigorated spring garden after a long cold winter. Now the garden has some spring color and green foliage. Here are some photos displaying the new plants that replaced those which did not survive the dry conditions plaguing Melbourne over recent months.

Kat

In Blogger Limbo

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I’m sure many of you know the feeling. You start writing for your blog and everything you do just doesn’t seem to work. You start again, write a few paragraphs and then scrap the idea. Then pick some photos from your library or download some from Pixabay only to dump them in the trash. I’ve had one of those weeks in blogger limbo. Often it is something unrelated to your creative work that is causing the problem and you need to deal with this before it becomes a major creative block.

In my case I realized what was wrong. I’ve been pushing myself lately with creative papermaking and other things and have not let myself have enough chill out time since our mother died. You should never underestimate the impact of a death of a close family member. It is said that the death of a parent is one of the most traumatic events in anyone’s life. In my case I suddenly feel anxious, really tired and lose the ability to focus on one thing.

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The weather has not helped because it has been hot and windy and there have been some terrible bushfires in our state, which are very unsettling. On Saturday night we could smell the smoke of the fires, which is always unpleasant as it makes you think of all those at risk. Yesterday extreme winds shook our house and there were gusts of up to 96 kilometres per hour, the kind that brings trees down. The side fence was violently rocking and in danger of blowing over. There is still a vacant block next door (who knows what’s happening there) with no structures to slow the wind. Ellie braced the fence with some old metal pipes to prevent it from collapsing. It seemed to work.

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All this has added to my feelings of unease and have been finding it difficult to think creatively. It is depressing to get bogged down with a creative work and just go through the motions when you are not really sparking. Not wanting to wallow in gloom, as this is not productive or uplifting, I have started reading fiction books and watching some decent television series and films. My song writing has also suffered lately so I’ve been playing some favourite songs on my ukulele and learning new ones until I get some inspiration. Music can elevate your mood and allows you to let go of your emotions.

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Probably the most important thing is to talk to people when you are feeling down and not bottle everything up. By this I don’t mean unleashing all your troubles on your friends, but just talking about things that matter to each other. You often find that they also want a sympathetic ear as well and usually you end up laughing with them. Through all the difficulties of losing mum, Ellie and I have kept getting together with our local ukulele group and this has kept us sane.

It is great to socialize and get out with others but you also need moments of solitude and relaxation to recharge the batteries. I find that pulling up weeds and doing a something in the garden makes me feel better. There is also nothing like a good cup of tea or coffee and a comfy chair while you read a book to escape from your worries.

Animals can make a world of difference as well. My dog always knows when I’m feeling sad and will get on my lap and lick me. Dogs will also tell you that it is time for some action and won’t let you wallow. It is hard not to smile when a Fox Terrier is pulling at you pant legs and trying to get you to play with him. My sister’s dog will jump on you lap and start barking at you until you give her what she wants.

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There are times when you need to look after yourself, especially when you’ve experienced a traumatic event. If you don’t feel like being creative all the time, it is ok and perfectly normal to want a break. I know that my ideas will flow freely again so I’m not going to put all kinds of pressure on myself.

Last night after the wind had died there was the sound of a cricket from somewhere in the kitchen. It was soothing after so much noise from the wind. When life becomes difficult we all need some restorative peace and time to heal.

Kat

(Unless specified theartistschild.com, photos are from pixabay.com)

Here’s a beautiful and classic song from the sixties, Catch the Wind,  by Donovan, performed as a duet with Crystal Gayle in 1981. Perfect as we go into Autumn in Australia.

Wildlife Close Encounters and Other Garden Ponderings

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After having a several close encounters with some of Australia’s native creatures in our garden over recent days, it has made me realize just how important such oases are for the preservation of wildlife. Another house and established garden is about to be demolished in our street and a habitat for native birds and animals will disappear. Our place is fast becoming an island of greenery and haven for small creatures.

A week ago on a morning with a forecast of 42°C (107.6°F) I noticed a little Marbled Gecko had hidden inside one of our garden umbrellas. He had to be moved or he would not have survived the expected heat so I carefully maneuvered the umbrella so that he climbed into the foliage of our fernery where he could hide in a cool, moist place. Stupidly I did not take a photo of him so here is a video of one in the bush. These geckos are native to South Eastern Australia.

The only other reptile residents of our garden are tiny Garden Skinks. These small lizards hide between rocks or in woodpiles. If the dogs see the little lizards they go crazy trying to catch them. They are harmless and quite shy so you are lucky to glimpse them at all. The following video shows one found in a You Tuber’s back yard.

Our two citrus trees attract the largest butterfly found in Victoria, the Orchard Swallow Tail. All summer I have been seeing these flitting around our garden. As many butterflies are becoming less common, gardens without trees will not do their numbers any good. Just to show how beautiful these butterflies are here is another video that feature the both the dark male and lighter female.

A few nights ago we were putting out the rubbish and there was a large Garden Orb Weaver Spider making a web attached to large shrubs across the driveway. I rushed to get my camera to photograph the process. Ellie focused a torch (flashlight) on the spider but even then the shutter speed was very slow and as the Orb was moving really fast, the photos were quite blurry, but you can get the gist. These webs when completed are quite large and the spider will sit in the middle waiting for its prey. Ellie said she had seen this spider for a few nights in this spot. Unfortunately we had to detach one side of the web to put out the bins, but I’m sure the spider rebuilt it after we had left. They are very persistent creatures.

This morning I came inside from the garden and felt a tickle on my arm and there was a green Preying Mantis. I love these insects and they do a lot of good in the garden. I flicked him off, but rather than having him eaten by the dogs, quickly got him onto a piece of paper, took him outside and deposited him on a leaf. I managed to take some photos but he was moving quite quickly so they were slightly out of focus. I wish I had a good DSLR camera to be able to take good close-ups of small creatures but this is the best I could do.

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Our garden always has resident native birds. The Little Wattlebirds are constantly chattering and singing as they fly around or look for nectar in flowers. Their song ranges from squawks to beautiful chortles. In spring I often see them feeding their young. They are quite aggressive birds and will chase off food competitors, especially parrots like Rainbow Lorikeets, making a lot of noise in the process. Here is one enjoying some Banksia nectar in someone’s garden.

The only birds that the Wattlebirds don’t mess with are the native Little Ravens, a misnomer because they are quite large birds. Unlike Ravens in the Northern Hemisphere, which have black eyes, all Australian Raven and Crow species have white eyes. They are very handsome birds and a group of them visit our garden often in the spring making themselves at home in the large tree next door. Because they move so quickly and perch high up in the trees, I have never been able to photograph them successfully but I found a great video of a Little Raven taking a bath in country South Australia.

Where will city’s the native birds, animals, reptiles and insects live when their garden habitat is destroyed? So many people are building houses that take up most of the block and replacing established gardens with the minimalist designs favored by local developers. These don’t allow for the native wild life’s need for places to hide from predators, the hot summer sun and the winter cold, as well as abundant food sources.

It’s unfortunate that many homeowners value lifestyle over wild life. At the rate Melbourne’s established gardens are disappearing, future generations won’t have all these beautiful native creatures on their doorsteps for their children to learn about nature and will have to travel miles for such an experience.

If you do have a garden make the most of it and it’s wild inhabitants while you can and never take it for granted.

Kat

The Heat is On

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While the east coast of North America freezes Victoria is melting. Today in Melbourne it’s expected that the temperature will reach 42°C and in the north of the state up to 45°C. In our house we have an old air conditioner and several fans so we do not suffer from the heat too much, but the garden is a different story. At these high temperatures plants will burn, so it is important to find some way to protect them from the hot sun. This often requires all kinds of creative solutions.

In 2009 when Melbourne reached 46° we threw old sheets over many of the camellia shrubs and this worked quite well. If it was going to be this hot I would probably do the same but 42 is not as fierce. One of the easiest ways to protect plants from the sun is to use umbrellas. This morning, before it became too hot, we put every sun umbrella we own, including market, beach, some of which are really old, over vulnerable plants. As the wind is picking up we tied these to a branch or structure so that they won’t fly away.

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Another useful item that can be quickly employed to protect the garden and house in a heat wave is shade cloth. We have pegged lengths of this to a clothesline to protect the fernery, put it over the pergola to shield our family room, and have draped it over some moveable trellis to shade some of our herbs. It may look strange but if it does the job, who cares.

We watered the garden really well this morning so we hope that the plants don’t get too stressed. The forecast predicts that from 6 to 7 pm there will be a gusty cool change with 90 km winds and the temperature should drop about 15° in minutes. Typical Melbourne weather, but really dangerous in these hot conditions if there are any bushfires. Let’s hope that there aren’t any.

It is a day of Total Fire ban for the whole state. This means that no one can light a fire in the open or use any equipment that might cause a spark. Fire restrictions seem to be something that is unique to Australia because when I Googled the subject the only results referred to our country. Living with the threat of bushfires has been a reality for generations of Australians and fire restrictions are an accepted part of life. This morning Ellie saw one of the Sky Cranes (water tanker helicopter) flying past that Victoria hires from North America every summer to work with our water bomber aircraft. One is called Elvis. The pilots are legends here and have saved many properties (and lives) by dumping huge volumes of water in the nick of time. It’s great that they are here but I hope they don’t have a lot to do!

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When the weather is this hot it is best to avoid activities outside, so it’s a great time to get on with creative interests indoors. Ellie and I have been cutting up old clothes to use from making paper. We are still waiting for the kit to arrive but when it does we will have enough material ready to start making rag paper. It is easy to long strips into small pieces while watching TV. I also find it quite meditative process, although you need to take breaks to avoid getting cramped hands from the repetitive action.

Whether you are experiencing extreme cold or heat it is good to come up with creative solutions for coping with the weather and protecting your garden. These extremes of temperatures also are a great excuse to get on with your indoor creative activities.

I hope that wherever you are in the world you can find your comfort zone to be creative.

Kat

Here’s the song that inspired the title of this post, The Heat is On by Glenn Frey.

Relighting the Creative Fire

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Often at the end of the year you can feel a bit jaded after the craziness of the silly season and need of a break. It is good to use the holiday period to refresh yourself so that you can begin the New Year feeling inspired again. That creative fire needs to be rekindled.

We are lucky in Australia that our New Year holidays occur in summertime and can get outside in the fresh air and enjoy nature. It is a time to try to unwind, read some good books, do some easy exercises and enjoy great food. Once you are sufficiently chilled out it is easier to let the juices start flowing again and come up with plans and ideas for future projects.

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Over the break Ellie and I have been doing just that, clearing our heads and discussing creative ideas. As we have a lot of old cotton clothing that is only suitable for rags we decided to have a go at rag paper making so that we have some interesting paper for art and craft projects. Paper can be really expensive, especially acid free and interesting textured paper. It is also a good way to recycle old cotton and linen.

You don’t require lots of equipment for making paper and can do this in the laundry or any wet area with a sink and bench. You just need a deckle (wire screen) and a larger mold (frame) to fit tightly around this. You could make these yourselves (click here for “how to” instructions) or find an inexpensive kit online. We have gone with the latter option and are waiting on delivery.

An old blender will turn small pieces of rag into pulp. Also you would need a large plastic basin in which to mix the rag pulp then dip the deckle to capture the fibres, which form the paper sheets. Pieces of plywood are good to use as a paper press either weighted down by heavy books or feet and any flat surface can be used to dry the sheets. Here is a good website which shows the basics of papermaking with all kinds of suggestions for equipment and materials (click here).

I can’t wait for the kit to arrive and to start experimenting will different textures and types of pulp. Then there is the creative joy of using the finished paper in an art project. I hope to share the process in this blog when we have something to show.

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We had a lovely New Year’s Eve out in the garden. Because it was a cool night and everything was green from recent rain we lit a fire in the metal fire pit, as well as some candles. The dogs were fascinated by the sparklers and barked and tried to bite these as soon as you stuck them in the ground. It was a very noisy process. They did not seem phased by the large booms coming from the city fireworks because they were with us. I took some photos of their antics. Some of them were in focus!

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I hope you are also fired up to do more creative projects in 2018 and feel reinvigorated from the holiday season.

Kat

Here’s the wonderful Pointer Sisters doing Fire

Seasons Greetings

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Today is really sunny and I’m sure lot’s of Melburnians will be outside for their Christmas Holiday celebrations. December has been both very wet and warm this year in Melbourne and our garden has benefited. Everything is green.

Due to all the rain the Christmas Lilies came early and suffered a bit from the humidity but the Japanese Irises have gone berserk. Here are some photos.

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We did not put any presents under our tree for obvious reasons.

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Wishing everyone a very happy holiday where ever you may be.

Kat and Ellie

When Everything Comes to a Stop

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Sometimes life deals you a blow and you are forced to drop everything to get through a difficult time. The past three weeks Ellie and I have been dealing with the death of our mother after a long illness. I don’t want to go into all the details but I will say that our creativity has helped us get through this distressing period. Ellie and I did all the planning for the ceremony and wake ourselves and if it wasn’t for all the creative organizational skills that we have learnt over the years, I doubt that we would have coped.

We decided to have a wake at our place and got on with the preparations. In this type of situation it is extremely comforting to separate yourself from everyday life. I did not want to talk to too many people because explaining what had happened became exhausting. Instead I practiced some songs Ellie and I wanted to play at the ceremony. This was very soothing and made us feel a lot more relaxed.

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The wake was to be held in the late afternoon and to limit the amount of work and stress we outsourced many of the necessary tasks. We ordered sandwiches, party pies and quiches from a local cake shop in advance and ordered wine from a local supermarket that also supplied the glasses for free. As we were having this in our home cleaning the house and moving around furniture kept us busy without being mentally or emotionally taxing and we put out some of our mother’s crockery and a tablecloth as a reminder of happier times.

As the front Japanese garden was in a bit of a state we had a gardener do all the weeding and pruning. Luckily I had done most of the back garden so it only needed a bit of spruce up and some quick fixes that did not require a lot of effort on our part. We put some tan bark mulch over the bare area that needs to be paved and shoved some pots of herbs where the garden surrounding our lemon tree had been destroyed by the dogs. We covered the old outdoor furniture with tablecloths and cushions to make it more inviting for those who wished to go outside.

Writing the eulogy and gathering photos for a slide show at the wake was very cathartic and gave us both something to focus on as well as bringing back a lot of happy memories of our mother. This was where my love of writing really helped. It was good to remember some of the amusing or unusual episodes of her life, as well as her achievements. I would have found it much harder to write the eulogy if I had not been writing regularly.

It also made a big difference having had performance experience with the ukulele. I was not nervous about the public speaking or singing aspect of the ceremony. This would have terrified me in the past but when it came to the day Ellie and I were both able to stand up and honor our mother’s memory without falling apart.

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You never know when you will have to hold an event under stressful circumstances so if you have creative and organisational skills it makes a big difference and reduces panic. For such an occasion things don’t need to be perfect and a lot of what we did was smoke and mirrors, with the mulch, pot plants, the textiles and lots of flowers inside (most were sympathy gifts).

At such times it’s funny how you notice the little things. I heard this beautiful bird song and looked out the window. A Song Thrush was singing in a Manchurian Pear tree outside. I had not seen one of these in years. It was glorious and uplifting to hear.

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When you feel sad it is good to go outside. Melbourne has been having a long hot spell and the sun has been shining nearly every day. The foliage looks green from recent rain and it is wonderful to enjoy the outdoors before it gets too hot. On the way to see our solicitor we had time to spare so stopped outside the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. Ellie and I sat on a park bench near a huge Moreton Bay Fig tree. These are one of my favorite trees, which I always wanted to climb as a child.

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We did not have enough time to walk around the gardens but sitting under the trees outside was pleasant. Butterflies were flitting over some Agapanthus plants nearby and it was very peaceful, even with lunchtime joggers passing by every few minutes. After about a quarter of an hour we headed off to the city to deal with the more mundane aspects of life and death, but I kept that tree in my mind. Strong and full of life no matter what happens as the days and years pass.

Kat