about this blog

This blog tracks the ongoing changes of my garden, and the wildlife I try to attract to it. It's a nature blog. It contains my thoughts and musings about anything and everything to do with nature - gardening, book reviews, philosophy, travel, science, history, art, design, politics.
Catmint is my signature plant because it has all the qualities I value in a plant: resilience, beauty and the capacity to spread prolifically . Unfortunately it's not indigenous. If I was starting again I'd probably choose an indigenous plant.

Friday, 31 July 2015

where are the microbats?

There are Australian Magpies that make themselves at home in the garden.


I'm not sure what animal has made a home in this nesting box.  I suspect it's a possum.


 There's a Pied Currawong that often pops in...


I put up this special nesting box for microbats. They may be inside but I haven't noticed any coming in or out, and I haven't noticed any in the garden.

This is what they would look like if they were inside their specially provided accommodation.

Australasian Bat Society - with permission
Bats are the only mammals that can fly.  

In Australia bats consist of large fruit-eating Flying Foxes and tiny insect-eating microbats. In Melbourne there are 17 different species of bats. All bats in Australia are native - none are introduced.
White Striped Freetail bat - photo by Robert Bender
Microbats are enormously beneficial for ecosystems. To get the energy they need to fly, they eat huge numbers of insects - up to three quarters of their body weight every night - including pests like mosquitos. And if there aren't many insects about, their metabolism slows down and they go into a state like hibernation.

Apparently microbats  are quite common in Melbourne and its suburbs, but hard to see because they are small, nocturnal, use ultrasonic calls that we can't hear and are concealed in roosts during the day.

I hope they are in my garden. If they are, I wish they'd give me a sign.

Friday, 24 July 2015

my mother loved my garden

When my mother was 100 I created a post for her using 100 garden and nature photos. That was nearly three years ago. She didn't make it to her 103rd birthday. 

My mother loved my garden but she didn't always love it. She didn't understand it. It didn't fit with her idea of a garden. It was messy. There were leaves on the garden beds. There was no symmetry. And maybe worst of all, there were insects, that she associated with dirt and danger.

One day I took her around the garden and explained my ideas and aims. I told her I was aiming to create garden pictures. Ideally, wherever you looked, from every side, I said, it was a pleasing picture. I explained the importance of mulching the soil, and how important insects and all wildlife were because a garden is also a habitat.

And she got it. She grew to love the garden, and appreciated it and how it was always changing. And I loved sharing it with her. Now all that is left are memories, precious memories.

In the acquarium in the Emergency Department
A flowering gum in the street near the hospital where I parked the car
The view at sunset from her hospital room
Orchid given to my mother in hospital
Saying goodbye, a few days before she died

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

the dog and the red back spider

This morning I shook out Potter's rug, as I often do. It is kept on an outdoor seat where the dog likes to sit and wait for us when we're out. I got a fright to see a highly poisonous female red back spider on the rug. If Potter sat on this spider, it would definitely bite her. If she was bitten, without anti venom she would almost certainly die.

The Red back spider, Lactrodectus hasseli, belongs to the Theridiidae family, found all over the world. Native to Australia, it is very common and found all over the continent. It is a close relative of the Black Widow spider.

There is no gender equality among Red backs. Females are larger than males, the red stripe is more dominant and they live longer, about two or three years compared to six or seven months.

Female Red backs build a cleverly designed nest, keeping the eggs and spiderlings safe at the top and using the bottom of the nest to trap prey. Males don't build nests.

Male Red backs rarely survive the mating process. To keep the female occupied during mating, they turn a somersault and offer their abdomen. The female sprays it with digestive juices and proceeds to eat its fleeting mate.

The female can store sperm for a couple of years, using it to lay several batches of eggs. She then produces sacs for the eggs. Each sac contains about 250 eggs, and she can lay eggs every couple of weeks.

I re-located this spider and reminded myself to wear gloves when gardening.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

how the garden's changed me

I've been making the garden for 36 years. In a sense you could say the garden's also been making me for 36 years. It's taught me so much over the years. When I started I thought you had to water gardens and you had to spray to get rid of insect pests. I didn't really like, or trust, insects then.

Gradually, through trial and error, research and talking to other gardeners, I started to have a sense of how plants grow and thrive. Whether to prune, and how much to take off. I learned which plants can grow in the tough - love environment that is my garden, and which can't.

I learned about design, how to form a garden picture in my mind, what to do to try to achieve it and then what to do when you realize it hasn't ended up as you imagined it would. Or maybe it has, but only for a short while, and then it doesn't look good any more.

It taught me about photography, to record the fleeting pictures before they change.

And it led me into the world of the blogosphere.

The latest changes are an increased sensitivity to the plants and wildlife in the house and garden.

I used to often move plants around, but now I hate uprooting plants. I hate the little tug they give as they try to resist the violation. And when they're out of the soil, I hate looking at the intricate pattern of the roots with its attached fungi (mycorrhizas)  -  showing how healthy and established the plant was before I destroyed it.

I hate killing insects. I remember years ago, stomping around the garden in rainy weather and squashing snails. Now I even hate killing cockroaches. Unless bugs appear in plague proportions, which rarely happens, peaceful co-existence is possible.

This post fits with the theme of Lessons Learned in a great blog called Plant Postings. Follow the link to read interesting posts about lessons gardeners all over the world have learned in the season just past.

Monday, 15 June 2015

unloved, uninvited and unwanted

I don't mind English violets covering the soil, even though I wish they were native violets. I don't mind Euphorbia characis popping up everywhere. If I don't want the Euphorbia plant in question, it accepts the compost heap. If I want to move it, it's compliant with that too.

Plumbago sucker among violets

Wisteria sinesis, Acanthus mollis and Plumbago auricula are a different story. They just do what they want, in spite of my efforts to get rid of them, or at least control their spread. After decades of struggle, it feels like war without end. I used to think I'd won the war, only to realize I'd won a minor battle not the war. Now I'm tired of fighting and wondering if I can work out some kind of truce.

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