Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Gardener Goes Away (7): Ingleden Park and Beyond

On our way home from Mildura, we stayed at another farm: Ingleden Park, just outside Griffith. When we reached it, the sun was low.

These pansies welcomed us to our cottage.

The farm is run by Gerardine and Trevor Hill, who kindly took us over it that evening. Water shortages and fluctuating weather have led the Hills to diversify. They run Border-Leicester Merino crosses and South African Meat Merinos, dual-purpose animals that produce wool and are later sold for meat. The Hills also grow a range of cereal crops and canola. They have been laser-grading the farm to improve water management, and explained how this is done and how useful it is. Laser-graded fields can be built to precise dimensions and allow beautifully even irrigation, minimising water use. The old-style farm dams have been filled in; the Hills have installed water tanks which reduce evaporation to zero and ensure the animals' water is always clean.

I had the distinct impression that some ignorant person had told them that it was Really Wrong to grow rice! It turns out that rice gives a substantially better return (figured in dollars per megalitre) than wheat, though wheat uses rather less water. However, when a rice crop is followed by wheat, the residual soil moisture from the rice lowers the water cost of the wheat substantially. Trevor told us of the difficulties of growing rice: cold weather when the rice is flowering induces "flat head", ie, poor fertilisation and therefore heads with no grain inside. And even in good conditions, there is a 30% flat head rate anyway! I was surprised the figure was so high.

The Hills are also keen to preserve the native flora on their farm. They are caretakers of an ancient, endangered Rosewood Tree, a species which seems impossible to propagate from seed (I think it is Alectryon oleifolius; a number of Australian species are called rosewoods). They are planning to apply again for a biosequestration grant for their rocky hill, and are planting more marginal land with indigenous plants. The mob of kangaroos which frequent the hill (and weren't our boys thrilled to see them!) enjoy the extra cover.

This handsome fellow is Jackman, the Murray Grey bull. The other handsome fellows belong to me.

The cottage gardens are full of treasures to admire.

Gerardine has an eye for restful colour combinations, apparent in the interior decorating as well as the cottage gardens. The pots and the chair pick up the different colours on the two New Zealand flax:

An artistic hand has softened the outlines of this shed.

We were fortunate enough to see these sheep being yarded the next morning. They were starting their journey to the supermarket...

We were sorry to leave Ingleden Park, but we were heading for Canberra and home. On our way we stopped to admire Grong Grong station and the silos to the east.

Looking westward you can see a lovely purple haze. This beautiful colour is a common sight in western NSW but unfortunately it is our worst pasture weed, Paterson's Curse, which has no natural predators here. European readers may know this plant as Purple Bugloss (Echium plantagineum). The Hills told us that CSIRO has introduced a beetle that is having a noticeable effect in their area. When the weed isn't controlled, it forms a dense monoculture, as you can see below.

We had a quick look at Junee Station, and I loved this nearby cottage, despite its privet hedge. Another weed!

This is where my digital photos end. There are a few more from our friends' garden in Canberra, but I'm waiting for them to be developed. Time to return to Chookie's Back Yard!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Gardener Goes Away (6): The Australian Inland Botanic Gardens

For some reason, my husband and children didn't feel inclined to join me in my tour of the Australian Inland Botanic Gardens, because they preferred the prospect of the Snakes'n'Ladders fun-park, the weirdos! So I was able to be a serious plant geek all by myself. There was only one problem. I discovered too late (that is, when the car had disappeared from sight) that the cafe was not open -- it doesn't seem to have fixed hours. The signs for "Grinders coffee" and "Raisin toast" taunted my rumbling tummy. And it was hot. And the bore water in the taps isn't potable: there is a single rainwater tank up by the cafe. By chance I happened to have a child's water bottle tucked into my bag, otherwise my afternoon would have been quite unpleasant. Lacking physical sustenance, I nonetheless had a botanical feast...

The first plant I noticed was this Halgania andromedifolia, with thumbnail-sized stars on a 1m shrub.

All hakeas have interesting seed-pods. I caught this Needlewood (Hakea leucoptera) with the seed still attached.

This pretty flower is from an Emu-bush (Eremophila). They all have the same structure, and the flowers are 3-5cm long, depending on species. They are becoming more popular in gardens because they flower well.

A look inside the Spotted Fuchsia, E maculata.

This would have to be my favourite, the Pearl Blue-Bush (Maireana sedifolia). It is a very small shrub to 30cm. I can imagine it used as a border or very low hedge in dry areas, in place of that boring box.

Imagine my joy when I discovered its dainty flower on another plant!

I was rather startled to find a formal rose garden, but it turns out there is a separate section for exotic plants that can cope with the dryland climate. I don't particularly admire this rose, but I love bees.

I did, however, admire the hoop-and-post arrangement for the collection of climbing roses. Most roses were only just coming into flower; this is 'Maria Callas'.

This showy flower is an Alyogyne huegelii alba, I think. A tall but leggy shrub, good at the back of a garden bed. The flowers only last a day, but they keep coming.

Couldn't find a tag on this presumed Rice-flower from WA. The 30cm Pimelea was almost covered in hot-pink blooms. To be truthful, they clashed with the red soil.

Lastly, another plant I fell in love with while walking in Mildura. The Willow-leafed Wattle, Acacia iteaphylla, has wonderful foliage and striking seed-pods, which give the impression of a silvery cascade. Here it has been underplanted with Convolvulus cneorum.

While the garden is still in development, it is already a wonderful resource if you are interested in the flora of this part of Australia. Just remember to carry your own supplies!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Gardener Goes Away (5)

We had a great time in Mildura, visiting relatives. All the Geek's relatives are lovely people -- we've been truly blessed!

We took a drive up to Wentworth, to see the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers. The lighter-coloured water in the foreground is the Darling, which runs for 1390 km, draining southern Queensland and western NSW before it joins the Murray here. The 2575-km-long Murray River arises in the Australian Alps. It and its tributaries drain much of NSW.

Magnificent colours on the bole of a River Red Gum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, 3m across. This is the dominant species along inland waterways.

We took a trip on the PS Melbourne, and spotted these swallow-nests under a river-cliff. I love the colour-contrasts.

Walking in Mildura is a great way to see beautiful gardens and street trees. This bottle-brush is just huge, and a great climbing tree too, our boys told us. The canopy is about 8m across and the tree is at least that height. I can't tell you exactly what it is, but I assume it is a type of Callistemon viminalis.

Around the corner is this extraordinary Queensland Bottle Tree, Brachychiton rupestris. Quite a number of these trees were planted in Mildura in earlier times, but not all have flourished like this one.

A close-up of the distinctive trunk:

But we also discovered a terrible secret lurking in a quiet back street...

You saw it here first: in the next series, Dr Who will have to save Australia from Daleks! Stone the crows!

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Gardener Goes Away (4)

A few more photos of the Corynnia Station garden, showing Julie Armstrong's preferred palette:

The art of the stroll garden--giving a sense of different areas to explore:

In contrast, Bruce's Nissen hut-cum-workshop has the rugged charm of a piece of masculine history.

I'd recommend Corynnia Station to anyone, especially if you like gardening and being able to see the stars at night. The price alone is competitive with a motel, but it's far more enjoyable. I wished we could stay longer, but all too soon we had to farewell Wal the dog and all his family. Btu Wal was too busy to say goodbye...