Saturday, March 29, 2008

Back to Work...

Well, perhaps not for a few minutes. I am listening to one of my favourite pieces of music: Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending. (I've never heard a lark, of course, though I believe there are some in Victoria.) The music makes me think of wide grassy spaces and vast blue skies, gentle temperatures and pleasant breezes. Do other people have gardening music too?

We have been away at Katoomba Easter Convention over the Easter break, enjoying both the Bible teaching and the Blue Mountains scenery. Since then, I've been trying to catch up on a number of fronts!

Today, I am a free woman for a while. I still need to do some housework, but I will fit in some gardening. Here are some of my plans:
  • Move the chook dome and use glyphosate on any remaining grass.
  • Decide where to plant my new spring bulbs.
  • Fertilise my native garden bed.
  • Add more vegie seedlings to the most recent guild area.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Two Open Gardens

We spent last Saturday visiting two Open Gardens. We drove up Old Windsor Road, and I still find it confronting to see the wasteland of bloated eaveless houses where there were cows and chooks twenty years ago! The Twig noted how difficult it would be to play anything more than handball in the teensy back yards. Families are thus forced to drive their kids to the nearest oval for exercise on the weekends, and so you can see that buying a house here means buying a luxurious lifestyle, one that is expensive of money, time, the environment, relationships... which takes us back to my Thoughts on Simple Living. Once you've moved into one of these spectacular homes, you are suddenly locked in to a whole lot of other practices which might not have crossed your mind when you signed the contract. It was a relief to drive down Annangrove Road and see bits of the old Hills District still surviving. This part of Sydney was used for orchards for many years, then market gardens, small dairy farms and egg production, and was mostly five-acre blocks in my youth. Now, the powers-that-be are shoving 32 prestige homes onto every acre.

Boongala is a young native garden that will get better every time we visit, I'm sure. It's interesting geographically, as the western part of the block is the clay-over-shale soil of Western Sydney, while the eastern end of the block is a gully that exposes the underlying sandstone. That means there is a spot for any plant from the Sydney basin. The upper garden is a stroll garden with large curving beds of mixed shrubs, small trees and ground covers. The owners are sticking to common species and well-known cultivars, and it is good to see that you don't have to grow rare species to create a lovely native garden. The textures were a joy to behold; I hope they come out in the photos The Geek took. I noticed quite a few 'weeping' standard forms of well-known ground covers like Grevillea 'Bronze Rambler' and the prostrate Acacia baileyana (Cootamundra Wattle). I was attracted to the blues of the Dampiera and Scaevola species, loved the mass plantings of Eucalyptus 'Summer Red', and was filled with jealousy at the number of waratahs in bloom. We spotted a trail of hairy processionary caterpillars off on their travels, and the owners also showed us two nests of native stingless bees.

After a picnic lunch, we toured the gully. Down here, the focus is on gradually ringbarking and removing the mature privet-trees and replacing them with rainforest species, including bush-tucker plants (I got to see a fruit on a Davidson's Plum!) and orchids. The only plant choice that puzzled me was the addition of a Stinging Tree. I just don't think these are a practical garden specimen, even as a curio. From what I've heard, you can't even walk under a Stinging Tree without itching. We'll see how long it lasts.

The owners of Boongala looked vaguely familiar. I felt a bit silly to discover that they were the retired owners of Annangrove Grevilleas, a homey native nursery which I used to visit at least once a year! They had a small number of plants for sale. I have brought home a Grevillea 'Sylvia', which is like 'Moonlight' in general appearance but with fuchsia-pink blooms. I think it will provide a good background to my scribbly gum.

After a brief stop at Swane's for afternoon tea (I was very restrained there!), we headed off to Elegans. Now a five-acre garden with mature trees, paths everywhere, and four ponds as well, sounds paradisaical, doesn't it? But somehow, the spark was missing. The Geek felt it too. After pondering, I've come to the conclusion that Elegans suffered from being, as advertised, a plantsman's garden.There were lots of intriguing specimens to look at, but the result was a collection of plants, not a garden. Not only that, but some parts of the garden have 'got away' from the owner, and the results are not attractive. Some shrubs and creepers can overgrow and still look pretty; others just become a mess.

Elegans lacked contrast. Much of the garden was in deep shade: there needed to be places where one could move or look from light into shade and vice-versa. The planting was too dense for long views: you could only look at the plants directly around you. It's also occurred to me that the many paths lacked purpose. They were there so you could see the plants on either side, not to take you anywhere interesting. It was notable that most people congregated on the main lawn, the only sunny open place with a longer view of water. I'm generally a conservationist and this was the first time I've ever felt that a garden might benefit from a good chainsawing.

Speaking of water, the enclosed paths and thick planting made it a bit difficult for us: we didn't know when The Twig or The Sprig might suddenly find a pond, so we had to keep them close by us most of the time. It was a relief for them and for us when they discovered the fun of rolling down the sloping lawn!

While visiting Elegans wasn't quite what I'd expected, it was certainly educational. And I did enjoy the choice of plants, when I could get a good look at them. I have made a mental note to find a Salvia 'Hot Lips' to add to my front garden, too. The flowers look like little pairs of red slippers all over the plant.

Have you visited any gardens that educated you?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thoughts on Simple Living

A recent post at the contentment-filled Down to Earth has given me mixed feelings, and I'm trying to sort them out. I am wondering if Simple Living is as simple as all that!

It is very easy to move from contentment with a simple life to smugness about it. Hardly conducive to moving other people forward, though. I also think it's often a bit simplistic. Often a decision early in life sets a trajectory which is very difficult to shift. As a positive example: The Geek is a computer programmer -- it's all he has ever wanted to be. Now in Australia, there are only two cities where you can get the kind of job he wants: Sydney and Melbourne. We're Sydneysiders. As it happens, the parts of Sydney with computing jobs in them are all at major transport hubs, except for one. The Geek has always walked and/or used public transport to and from work. But if he were in the building trades, the story would be quite different. The Geek's apparent eco-friendliness is a result of his career choice, rather than a transport choice.

We can't always see how our previous choices will affect the options open to us later, and for some people, the usual prescriptions for starting Simple Living are close to insurmountable. How do you cook from scratch, for example, if you have never been taught much cooking and all your family have a firmly-set taste for processed foods? (Don't look at me for the answer: I chose a family which could cook!) Perhaps more entry points to the simple lifestyle need to be shared around?

That's my first feeling: that sometimes simplifying one's life is quite complex! And in particular, that if you have more money to start with, you have more ability to live simply.

On the other hand, sometimes I feel that more medium-level articles are what I need. The Geek commented the other night that the usual items in Make Your House Greener articles are things we have already done -- we're now heading for the expensive-and-daunting end of the spectrum, where the photovoltaics and grey-water treatment kits live. Surely there is something in the middle, between $200 and $20,000?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Pruning Mania!

Now that the sun is no longer so hot, and the shade no longer so important to my house and plants, I've pruned the plants along my front yard's western boundary. The Parramatta Wattle has lost some of its more awkward lower limbs, and the 'Moonlight' grevilleas have been cut back to half their size. Does this sound extreme?

In general, Australian natives from dry sclerophyll areas cope well with hard pruning, because they are used to losing their leaves and twigs every year to bushfire. When left unpruned, they tend to become gangling and graceless. It's like having a garden full of sulky teenagers.

My 'Moonlights' form a loose hedge, and the pruning will encourage them to bush out more near the ground. It also brings the creamy flowers down to viewing height. I'm looking forward to the next flush, though I will have to wait a while!

I've also tried an experiment on a gnarled and senescent rosemary. It's never looked very well, probably not helped by my hesitance to cut it back. The difficulty is that rosemary, like lavender, doesn't like being cut back to old wood, but this plant has only sparse foliage. I've cut each branch back to the lowest growing branchlet, as well as removing the dead wood. If it dies, you'll all know not to try this at home!