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, 27 February 2015

an acacia story and a spider story

The leaves on Acacias are not really leaves at all. They're called phyllodes, and they're actually flattened leaf stalks that function like leaves. At the base of the phyllode is a gland, a raised bump that is a source of nectar all the year round. For this reason Acacias are superb habitat plants for the garden. I often see ants and flies moving around on the trees.

Indigenous Acacias that I recently planted are A. implexa, or Lightwood. The immature specimens have indented fern-like leaves. As the plant matures the divisions close up and become single long, curved phyllodes.

Most gardeners I know don't like it when insects or other wildlife chew the leaves of their garden specimens. They think it spoils the look. I feel happy when I see holes in leaves, happy that I have helped provide food and shelter for a few of the the fascinating non human creatures with which we share this planet. I just wish I could watch them more often while they feed.

This photo is blurry, but if you look closely you can see the back legs of an ant feeding on nectar, and you can see little drops of nectar at the end of the branch.

These leaves offer not only food but a place to lay eggs.

One day an intriguing small hole appeared near a step leading from the house to the garden. When I photographed it I glimpsed something with red legs inside. The photo is unclear, but clear enough to enable me to identify the inhabitant of the hole as a Spotted Ground Spider.

It's far from an exact id. According to the Museum of Victoria website  Spotted ground spiders Habronestes and Storena are two genera of spiders in the family Zodariidae. Within these genera there are 60 species of spiders. So this spider is one of 60 species!

Photographer: S Humphreys © Australian Museum

Spotted ground spiders hunt ground dwelling insects. They don't build webs like some other spiders do. Male spiders are found in leaf litter, under logs or rocks or even inside houses, hunting for insects and female Spotted Ground Spiders. The female is rarely found far from the nest, so I think this spider is probably female. In this case, the hole is the entrance to the nest, where there will be an egg sac with 50 eggs inside. I wish the spiderlings well and hope they make themselves at home in the garden.

Like many spiders, little is known about the biology of Spotted ground spiders. They vary in size from 6 to 20 mm long.  At ground level the hole is about 5mm in diameter. How large it is underground, and what it looks like from the inside can only be imagined. I remember reading somewhere that we know more about the deepest seas than we do about the world under our feet.

I'm linking this post to the Lessons Learned meme in the blog, Plant Postings. There's heaps to learn about the flora and fauna in the garden, and this post shares some of the information I am learning. Botany and Zoology lessons! If you check out Beth's blog you'll find lots of other lessons gardeners have learned in the last three months.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

why I love grasses

I love grasses because ...

... they sway gracefully in the breeze,

... they provide vertical contrast in the garden picture,

... when the light shines through, or onto the leaves, they make great photos,

... they come in all sizes, colours and shapes,

... they come in indigenous and exotic species,

... you don't have to mow them, and

...  they provide food, shelter and habitat for wildlife.

The main grasses I grow in my garden include Poa, Lomandra and Dianella species - all native to Australia, and Blue Fescue, a native of Southern France.

Monday, 9 February 2015

too hot to garden

As far as gardening is concerned, our hot summers must be like winters in cold places. In cold places, there's too much snow to dig.  And who feels like gardening when it's very hot? When it's sweltering, I tend to go swimming or just stay inside with the blinds down to shade out the sun.  I only go into the garden to make sure there's clean water in the birdbaths.

Rainbow Fern - Calochlaena dubia - does well as long as it's out of direct sun
The garden's been loved and mulched. Now it's up to the plants to survive or not. I watch them, sometimes with anxiety, often with dispassionate curiosity. If they survive day after day of temperatures well over 30 degrees ( that's the 90s in fahrenheit) that's great. If they don't survive, or if they fail to thrive on the searing heat and lack of supplementary water, then they'll go to compost heaven. And that means a gap and an opportunity for a new garden look.

Euphorbia martinii, gone to seed
But now I can relax, because I won't do much until well into autumn when the hot weather's finished.
I've learned the hard way that pruning, even just cutting off dead bits, can cause a plant to die when the weather's hot.

Salvia spp. It's surviving, but not very happy with the heat. 
My main summer job is to cautiously trim the plants overgrowing the paths, sweep the paths and chuck the mulch onto the garden or into the compost. There aren't many weeds at this time of the year. Come autumn, I'll review the situation, and resume my pattern of weeding, mulching, pruning, planting and transplanting.

Broad Leaved Sage, Salvia berggarten - great plant for dry garden
The aim is to grow plants that are happy without supplementary watering, and happy to withstand searing heat - a sustainable, dry garden.  Silver plants tend to do well, but you can't have a garden with just silver plants because it would be too boring - oh, the delicious challenge of it all ...

Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber, gone to seed
Euphorbia rigida 
Banksia marginata - small but growing
Wallflower, Erysimum cheiri - ragged but surviving

Saturday, 31 January 2015

the garden as habitat

Sometimes the camera picks up what the eye doesn't notice. In this case, the bee harvesting pollen from a lavender flower is rolling the pollen into a ball and holding it between its lower legs.

Dragonflies inhabit the garden but are hard to photograph because of their size and shimmer. This photo, a bit hard to see, shows two dragonflies mating. They were there for about a quarter of an hour. You can see the so-called 'mating wheel' formed when the male dragonfly grasps the female's neck with his hisanal appendages, raises his abdomen and invites the female to bend her abdomen to join her genital organ with his copulating organ. 

This dragonfly conveniently posed for me, when the light was right. You can tell it's a dragonfly not a damselfly because at rest the wings are held apart, not together. Dragonflies are described as aquatic insects. I'm not sure how they manage in my garden without a pond, but they do.

Summer's here, and Magpies and other birds depend on the birdbath for their daily drink and wash. I have to remember to change the water every day and scrub it out so it's clean.

I spend quite a bit of time trying to photograph spider webs. It's difficult, so much depends on the light. Rain presented an opportunity, glistening drops highlighting the pattern. This huge web in the front garden was spun by a teeny tiny unidentified spider. The web is so strong, it sways in the strong wind but doesn't break. The tensile strength of a spider web is comparable to steel.

This magnificent small spider is a Garden Orb-weaving spider, aka Eriophora biapicata. I observed it in the back garden above a wallflower bush, aka Cheiranthus cheiri. The web is usually constructed in the evenings, designed to catch its prey of mostly flying insects. The lifespan of this spider is usually about a year. The eggs are laid by the female in late summer to autumn. They are encased in a sticky cocoon that sticks to foliage. I have noticed these eggs in the garden, and try not to disturb them.

While taking the photo of the spider, I noticed a dragonfly hanging off a branch of the C. cheiri bush. It is clearly a useful plant for providing habitat for insects and spiders. And it isn't even a native of Australia! It's European, but has made itself at home here, and survives hot dry summers with no extra water.

So, although I am still trying to use plants endemic to this area, I won't exclude plants like this Wallflower that grows well and provides habitat for wildlife.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Survival Day and 'Caring for country'

Australia Day, 26 January, commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, when Governor Phillip raised the British flag, and New South Wales became a British colony. This has a different significance for Aboriginal people, who call it Survival Day. This year's theme for Survival Day is Caring for Country.

Not only did the arrival of the white settlers change the lives of the Aboriginal inhabitants forever, the landscape, flora and fauna were also changed. For the worse. Since 1788 there has been a crisis of plant and animal extinctions.  To make themselves feel at home in such an alien environment, the white settlers set about clearing the bush, killing trees on a massive scale. They simply didn't understand Aboriginal culture, their attitude towards the land or their practices.

An important idea in indigenous Australian culture is that people don't own the land - the land owns them. The land has deep spiritual significance, and holds the memories and voices of their ancestors. The land is sacred and must be cared for.

Here's how Lisa Roeger, facilitator at Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation puts it -

'Caring for country' means so much more than labouring over projects, erecting fences or counting feral animals. It means ensuring country remembers the people who live on it, have sung for it, danced for it, and been connected to it for time immemorial. People can connect to country merely by sitting, quietly observing and feeling the land.

Photos taken in the Flinders Ranges.

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