Creative Garden: Signs Of Early Spring

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It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine can do. We had a sunny morning and it was the first day I have felt like pottering around in the garden for a while. It’s still winter but the plants in our garden are starting to wake up. I can see that I will have to do a lot of weeding when the weather warms up but will also have more energy for creative activities.

With spring just weeks away it feels like coming out of hibernation. I just hope that the winter does not hang around like it did last year. We may not have Groundhog Day in Australia, but the rare and endangered Mountain Pygmy-possums (the only marsupials to hibernate) will also come out of their nests to breed in the spring. But as they are nocturnal you are unlikely to see their shadows.

For those unfamiliar with Australian possums, they are marsupials like Kangaroos and Koalas and have a pouch. They are really cute. The ones that inhabit urban areas can be destructive to plants but it is very hard to resist those eyes when you see them in a tree and they are easy to forgive. Wind chimes, bells or bright lights seem to be the best deterrent to stop them eating plants. For those of you who have never seen these little creatures, here are a couple of videos, one of a mountain pygmy-possum and another of a  Common Ringtail Possum that has come down from the trees to accept a drink on a very hot day.

While some plants are about to display new growth, others are on the decline in our garden and need to be replaced. The grapefruit tree has not survived the dry cold weather as it had some kind of disease. It also took a big knock and never recovered when the tree limb from next door crashed on top of it a couple of years ago and destroyed its middle branches. We will need to put in another evergreen tree in its place. Preferably something the possums can’t eat.

Sometimes you do something in the garden that is not intended to be a permanent fixture but end up keeping it anyway. We stuck a lily plant in an old rusty wheelbarrow to move it from a spot where we wanted to plant something else. It has sat in that wheelbarrow now for years because we could never decide where to put it. It keeps regenerating in winter and does not require lots of water and will have pink flowers around late December. Actually it is quite convenient being in a moveable container and has been placed in various locations depending on the sun. Sometime random acts can work out quite well.

A plant that flowers in the winter and is still going strong is our zygocactus. The pendulous pink flowers look wonderful in the dull light when nothing else is flowering. These plants use smart tactics to attract desperate insects when there is no competition in the cold months. The Arum lilies that started flowing in the autumn are still hanging around and attract other creatures.

At this time of the year everything looks really green and fresh. It is good to see the ground cover plants before they are singed by summer heat. I love the tiny purple violets and the unusual striped Cobra lilies that come up under our lemon tree. The Cobra lilies look like they are about to pounce onto the violet flowers. The violets delicate scent is the smell of early spring. Both these flowers will be gone when it heats up so I try to enjoy them while they last.

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The plant that seems to be bursting with life despite the low temperatures and wind chill that we have been experiencing lately is the Japanese Aralia. It has masses of fruiting umbrels. More than I have seen in a while. They turn purple as they ripen. The colour scheme of the garden seems to be in synch. In autumn there will be lots of flowers for the bees to enjoy.

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There are many signs that spring is not far away. Nature is about to get very creative and it is always good to follow its example. Time to enjoy the sunshine.

Kat

To complete this post here’s a catchy song, Sunshine by the New Zealand band Dragon from 1977, featuring the late, great Marc Hunter on vocals. They were filmed on the Australian TV music show, Countdown. Dragon are legends of the NZ/Australian music scene and are remembered for some great hits from the 1970s and 80s.

 

Ecstatic about Eggs

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I love all types of decorative eggs.  You could say I’m eggstatic about them just like “Egghead” from Batman (aka Vincent Price) with all his bad puns.  Ellie and I have a small collection.  None of our eggs cost very much and many of them were gifts, as well as some being family heirlooms.  I have also decorated some and created one from scratch.

For many people the egg is a major symbol of Easter, of spring fertility and rebirth.  For kids it is about chocolate.  In many cultures it is also the cosmic egg in creation myths.  The egg is the ultimate symbol of creativity and has inspired many artist’s and crafts people to create beautiful objects.

A collection usually begins with one object.  My parents had a Austrian poker work egg brought back from an overseas trip.  It opens up to form two egg cups and has matching napkins rings.  I was always fascinated by it’s decoration and shape so when I saw other interesting eggs on holiday or in op shops I would snap them up.

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Austrian poker work egg and Swiss tin eggs

Some of our eggs have been brought back by family members from holidays overseas as gifts.  Our aunt gave us some cloisonné eggs from China and they came with little wooden stands.  I also had some old ones from a relative that are good for displaying eggs.  On a trip to Japan several years ago we also found some lovely decoupage eggs when visiting an exhibition at the Tokyo Museum that depict images from some medieval narrative scrolls.

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Chinese cloisonné eggs (back row),  Chinese painted real egg (centre),  Japanese decoupage eggs (left and right centre row) Chinese painted wooden eggs (front row).

Because Australia is so close to Asia it is easy to get Chinese eggs here.  Locally we found some real eggs that were painted with the Animals of the Chinese zodiac, like the horse and monkey.  These are quite fragile and need to be stored carefully.

There are also some Asian plant fibre eggs but I have forgotten where they come from as they were a gift.  Shows you should write things down at the time.

Old egg cups are good for displaying eggs.   We have a couple of vintage majolica ones from Italy: a turkey and a duck, as well as a later goose, all found at op shops.  These are quite fun and painted wooden eggs look great in them.

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Polish wooden eggs and Russian painted egg at back

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Russian wooden eggs

Old napkin rings are also good for displaying eggs.  They come in all sorts of shapes and materials and make an interesting collection of their own.  I also find large vintage buttons good for stopping eggs from rolling around.

Eggs come in so many different materials and can be an example of various crafts.  You can find interesting ones at local craft markets or specialist craft stores.

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Australian painted real eggs and Philippines embroidered fabric eggs

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Hand blown glass eggs

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African stone eggs, two painted and hand engraved and a black wooden ebony egg

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Taiwanese Sodalite egg (left), orange simulated marble egg (centre back), Italian marble egg (right), my talc stone egg (front).

I had a go at sculpting my own talc stone egg.  This caused a great deal of dust and took a lot of sand paper to get the right shape.  I now appreciate how much effort it must take to shape and polish very hard stones.

One year I decided to paint some eggs as table decorations.  The most difficult part was blowing out the white and yolks.  Because I thought I would run out of breath, I used an air brush compressor with a syringe needle attached to the end of the tube.  With too much pressure the egg exploded so it was very tricky and messy.  The blown eggs were then coated with layers of acrylic paint and stippled with another colour to make a textured effect.  I added some gold dust left over from gold leaf that someone had given me and applied it with the varnish.  I think that the aqua ones look like real eggs.  The layers of paint has made them less fragile.

I have a real ostrich egg that I bought at the Melbourne Zoo shop ages ago.  There must have been an excess of eggs in their breeding programs.  Wonder if they made huge omelets.  There were holes in each end of the egg where they had blown out the innards.  These were rather large and not very attractive so I glued in some enamel flower earrings that I did not wear.  This is probably the closest I will get to anything like a Faberge enamel egg and the ostrich did most of the work.  It has such a beautiful creamy shell and is quite heavy.

The following black egg is made from Australian post ice age river red gum found buried in the flood plains of the Murray River.  It is very much like Irish bog oak.  These ancient trees stopped growing about 5,000 years ago and the ancestors of todays indigenous Australians would have been around to see them growing.  This was a gift from a friend who knows the maker.

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The oldest manufactured egg in the collection is tiny.  It is a novelty made in Germany and sold in Melbourne in the late part of the 19th century.  The egg contains the “smallest doll in the world,” a little peg wooden doll that we inherited from a relative.  Unfortunately some long ago child had broken one of the arms because these are movable.  The limb was long gone.  I had to give it an arm transplant using a tiny piece of matchstick and glue (click on the pictures for detailed close ups).  This was really fiddly and I nearly glued it to my finger.  The doll looks a lot happier.

That’s our egg collection.  It is amazing how many creative ways there are to make decorative eggs and these are only a small sample.  It seems appropriate that a major symbol for creation should inspire all sorts of creative, eggceptional ideas.  Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Kat

Autumn in the Garden

Daylight saving has just ended and we have turned back our clocks, but nature does things to its own schedule.  Our garden is in transition.  It is still quite green but the autumn colours and flowers, fruit and seeds are becoming more prominent as the temperature cools.  Today I took some photos because I wanted to record the seasonal changes.

The Japanese Nandina is now a lovely shade of red.  This came from our grandparents and we have had it in a pot for years.  It is a slow grower and has remained this size for ages.  Maybe it is now like a bonsai because the roots have nowhere to go.

We have two varieties of Plumbago, blue and white, and the flowers are still hanging in there.  They are very delicate and have a sweet nectar.  Because the flowers are so sticky the sometimes get all over the dogs, over your pants and sleeves and anything else that comes in contact.

There is a last bud on the Iceberg rose.  These hardy white roses do well in pots.  Unfortunately there is no fragrance.  Our Elephant Ears are looking very lush and have spread to other parts of the garden.  As long as it is shady they survive the summer.  Because we have a mild climate they usually don’t completely die down in winter and bring a bit of the tropics down south.

The Clivia now has wonderful red seed pods (photo left).  We need to watch that our young dog does not eat these.  Ellie planted some in pots so it will be interesting to see if these shoot.

The Chinese walnut tree is also covered in green walnuts (photo right).  When they start to split and the nuts fall to the ground it is a battle to see who gets to them first.  The dogs love to crack open the hard shells and make a mess inside.  I’m constantly yelling at them to go “outside” with the nuts.  Last year the dogs ate more nuts than were saved to dry.

I love the spiky red flowers on the bromeliads.  I think that they look like some creature from another planet.  You can almost imagine that they will suddenly extend from the plant and try to whack you like a type of creepy carnivorous plant.  These flowers last for a long time.

Although Aralia plants are evergreen (photo top left), in autumn some leaves turn a bright yellow then to brown before they fall.  You can see the seasonal transitions on one plant.

Because we do not often get frosts, a long time ago we put our potted Maranta (prayer plant) outside in a very sheltered spot behind some large pots (above photos bottom).  It has thrived although sometimes the purple spots fade in the brighter light of summer.

We also have a Wollemi pine in a large terracotta pot (photo top right).  It is one of the most ancient species of evergreen trees on the planet.  It a pine that also has characteristics of a fern.  We call ours “Wolly” because it is so special.  We plan to plant it in the ground so that it will reach its full height and will be protected by a large Melaleuca tree.  At the moment the tree has bent a bit so will need to put a stake to straighten the trunk.

After I took these photos the sun disappeared and it is now quite gloomy.  I think there is rain on the way and it really feels like autumn.  I’m glad that I made the most of the sun while it lasted, something that we should always remember.

Kat

The Christmas Lilies are in Bloom Again

It is a hot, blustery Christmas Eve in Melbourne.  As we are about to have several hot days in a row, I thought I would photograph the lilies in our garden before they wilt.

Our white Christmas Lilies, also known as Day Lilies, are looking lovely at the moment.  It is quite windy and I had wait for lulls in between the gusts to avoid blurry photos.

Also some of the pink Calla Lilies are out, although not as many as last year, but they give a bit of colour.

It is going to be hot on Christmas day tomorrow.  35 degrees celsius is expected.  I hope that the Lilies survive a bit longer because they bring lushness to the garden in summer.

Enjoy the season, whether it is summer or winter.

Kat