Category Archives: Garden

#71 Research Weather Vanes

Browsing through the back pages of a gardening magazine recently, I came across a dazzling and tempting advertisement for weather vanes.

Now over my lifetime, these roof/garden accessories have never really occupied my thoughts. They’re nowhere near as vital as, say, a capacious water tank, nor as obsessively absorbing as a rain gauge.

But due to the power of advertising, I looked longingly at these beautiful fripperies and began to hanker after a weather vane for my own little pitched roof.

And so began the journey to

#71 Research Weather Vanes

This activity has thrown up so many questions.

  • How long have weather vanes been around?
  • Who purchases them?
  • Are they in any way useful?
  • Now I’m wandering the streets around home looking for them, how many have I missed over the years? (In short, every one of them)
  • Why are there so many roosters on weather vanes?

This little cutie’s just a block away from home, and yet I’d NEVER spotted it!

Also known as wind vanes (which is a more logical title, bearing in mind the point of the arrow can only tell you where the wind’s coming from) it’s claImed they were invented over 2000 years ago by the Chinese and the Greeks, who independently arrived at the idea.

The Greeks love to say that their design was first, but I’d give bragging rights to the Chinese, as theirs was documented in 139 BC, a full 89 years ahead of the bronze Triton built atop the Tower of the Winds in Athens.

And despite it being the wealthy Greeks and Romans who adorned their homes with wind vanes in the shape of ancient gods, the term ‘vane’ is not a variant of ‘vain’ at all, but comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘fane’ meaning wind.

It does seem that they have little functional purpose for most domestic homes, but now I’m on the hunt for them, they’re the prettiest, most eye catching little adornments on a roof you’ll ever see. If you actually notice them.

Another one I’ve blindly walked past numerous times over 27 years

This brings me to the rooster question. I’m beginning to spot so many of these birds that I’ve lost my child-like excitement at finding another vane and feel disappointed if it’s a boring old rooster cut from the same template.

There are two theories for the prevalence of roosters. The first is that in the 9th century, Pope Nicholas 1 ordered their image be placed on every church steeple to remind the congregation of Peter’s thrice betrayal of Jesus (before the cock crowed). The second theory is that the tail is the perfect shape to catch the wind.

I have a third theory. If you’ve ever owned a rooster, you’ll know that they think their rightful place is on top.

It was pleasing to come across another vane nearby that didn’t bother with the rooster theme, though…

Yes. Another one close by that I’ve never noticed before [sigh].


Then I spotted a weather vane on our city’s railway station tower as I was hurtling along the Sydney to Melbourne freeway.  It’s a big one, befitting such a building and I wish I had a camera with a telephoto lens to better see the design.

Almost the cause of a multi-car pile up on the M31

This led to a friend telling me that our Post Office tower also has one. As I first moved to Albury in 1978, this would make it, oh, 40 years during which I’ve managed to not notice it. D’oh.

The ball on top is simple, but the N-S-E-W takes the prize for artistry


One of the problems with weather vanes is that because they’re on the roof, they aren’t convenient to watch. It’d be just as easy to step outside and rotate your face through 360º to feel which way the wind is blowing.

Enter my Bunnings buddy, a peerless innovator and inventor, who’s designed the cleverest system to see the direction of the wind while the family sits in the living room.

With a wire and lever rig that’s way beyond my intellect to understand, let alone explain, he’s connected his roof’s weather vane down through the wall cavity into the living room so that a lever moves every time the vane does:

Here are three positions photographed to show how the lever moves. 

But there’s more genius to this device. The lever has been cleverly attached to the back of a 3-D bird on a water colour painting of his property (done by the very talented estate cartographer, @catherineo’neilldesign) hanging on the wall, such that as the lever moves with the wind on the rooftop weather vane, so does the bird in the painting. 

Can you believe this …?

It’s breathtaking in its beauty and cleverness. But quite scary the first time you visit my Bunnings buddy’s home.  Seeing the bird move out the corner of your eye is akin to being in a haunted house where the eyes of an Old Master’s portrait flick about … watching, watching.

And the weather vane to which this marvellous device and painting is attached?

A bespoke masterpiece he designed, of course:


Now that I’ve returned to the gardening magazine ads that set me on this adventure, I’ve realised that vanes featuring icons like a cockerel, a ball or a bird are way too prosaic.

I’m going to have to design a vane that befits my home and my life.

Perhaps something like this one I mocked up on the computer …?

 

 

#70 Commission a Bespoke Design for the Garden Shed

About five years ago, I snapped up a small garden shed at Aldi’s during the two-and-a-half day window they allow you to grab any must-have-item-you-didn’t-know-you-needed before they move on to their next set of specials and you’ve lost your chance.

(Aldi’s specials are so reminiscent of the rotating magical land at the top of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. You never know if you’ll find the Land of Goodies, replete with tins of biscuits and chocolates, or Dame Slap’s School where bins spill over with lycra, gym equipment and barbells.)

Anyway, when this particular Land of Desirable Garden Equipment arrived, I was seduced by the kit shed and phrases written on the box like ‘easily assembled’ and ‘few tools required’, so I brought it home to put together over an afternoon.

Three gruelling days over Easter later, and after calling in a friend who’d once built the ‘Taj Mahal’ for his chickens, four of us actually followed the instruction sheets …

(… a stunning achievement on its own)

… and completed the task. Most satisfying.

                                                                    A sturdy little fellow

But despite loving it for the last few years for being so useful, I wasn’t able to get rid of the feeling that it was a little … plain?

So last year, when an artistic friend came to visit for a few days, we made a deal.

I’d

#70 Commission a Bespoke Design for the Garden Shed 

which she’d plan and execute, and in return I’d cook all her favourite meals for the duration.

                                                                      Preparing the templates

I messed up badly, though. Against her advice (artists must DESPAIR of some of their clients), I chose bright blue, water soluble paint for the background, thinking it would look like the sky on a hot summer’s day. But after cleaning and prepping and masking the shed, then applying the first coat, it was obvious this particular blue was more reminiscent of the eye-watering gaudiness of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Luckily, before we progressed any further, it began to rain, the water-soluble paint sloughed off and so the idea was shelved for another day, another season.

I slowly stripped it back, before repainting it with a dark green oil-based paint ready for its proper makeover, some day in the future.

                                                                 Looking better already 

Recently, when my talented visitor returned, she made good on her promise.

Watching the evolution of a work of art is inspiring, from first seeing it look like Banksy was indulging in some artistic graffiti using the pre-prepared templates …

… to the meticulous application of the paint…

…to the final masterpiece, and the knowledge that I now have the best bespoke-designed little garden shed in the village!

Five years in the making, but don’t all great things take time?

Thank you so much @province_

 

#65 Fulfil Youthful Desires

Driving to a friend’s property recently, jolting over gravel roads and rutted country tracks, I recalled his youthful desire to ‘live in a house at the end of a long dirt track, at the end of a long dirt road’.

Good for him, I thought. Because although his choice wouldn’t be mine, he’d managed to satisfy a decades-old, primal urge and achieve his dream. It’s not a bad idea to decide what you really want in life and go for it.

#65 Fulfil Youthful Desires

Of course, reality and the compromises of adulthood means these desires sometimes have to be achieved in less straightforward ways, and often take longer than planned.


I grew up, as many of us probably did, thinking that if we could just sneak back into our bedrooms quietly enough, we’d discover our toys had sprung to life and were all playing together. Not unlike Andy’s assorted pals in Toy Story.

I remember desperately wanting my beloved Teddy, in particular, to come to life.

but alas, my footfall must have been too heavy 

Even today, Teddy sits next to my sister’s bear for company in the hope that, one day when my back is turned….

But it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties, that I discovered the next best thing to teddy bears.

Dogs.

They really are like your favourite soft toy come to life.

First there was Molly, the black spaniel, who I inherited accidentally. She seemed to love me instantly, but had no time for anyone else, apart from my mother. When we discovered in her latter years that she had shotgun pellets scattered throughout her body, her general lack of trust and dislike of men in particular, made complete sense.

Then there was Topsy, the short-haired border collie. She became so famous that my sister penned an ode about her, that began,

Topsy is our border collie
Chasing cars her greatest folly
Once she caught a pickup truck
A stroke of unexpected luck…

And now I have my quiet, somewhat independent whippet who scored an entire blog posting last October. All of them wonderful in their own better-than-a-teddy-bear way.


What impressionable child didn’t long for a Secret Garden after reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel of the same name? A walled-in, hidden garden known only to a robin (swoon), locked for years by a father with a broken heart (double swoon) that eventually unlocks the secret to good health and happiness for all who labour there.

Several years ago, when my house-block gained an extra little wing (like an upside down L), my green-thumbed neighbour, Anna, had a very clever idea.

Neglected and a bit bleak before Anna saw its potential.

Why not create a garden of fruit trees, and vegetables, and flowers for bees, hidden between the back of our houses? In an area so secret, it was visible and accessible to no-one but us.

While Anna has moved on to bigger and better gardens, her legacy remains.

And without a doubt, my secret garden opens the gates to contentment.

Glimpsing tranquility


When I first visited the city I now live in, nearly forty years ago, I fell in love with its autumn colours and in particular, a tree whose leaves were of such vibrant intensity that they seemed to be on fire.

‘That’s the tree I’m going to plant one day,’ I promised myself, ‘when I have a garden of my own’.

So different to the colours of the city of my childhood, with its grey pall, bitter winds and horizontal rain. (Think Narnia, but without the charm of snow)

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 3.38.42 pm

…the tree of my dreams, the rhus

Fast forward twenty years when I finally had my own home with the ability to plant anything, anywhere.

But in the intervening period, the desired tree of younger years had turned into the devil incarnate:

Thwarted, I meekly gave up.

Then someone mentioned that the crab apple tree had wonderful blossoms and great autumn colours, so I planted one and waited excitedly for the first year’s display. It was deeply disappointing, with leaves much more akin to pale yellow flames than a roaring furnace.

Next came the persimmon tree …  

Attractive, yes, and definitely warmer than the crab apple, but still it didn’t meet the remembered beauty of the forever-out-of-reach rhus tree.

Until …

Why not plant a Japanese Maple, reputed to have flaming red foliage in autumn?

And lo! It came to pass that in the autumn of 2018, my long held desire sprang to life.

Take that, rhus tree!

 

 

 

 

 

#56 Try and Grow a Dead-Straight Carrot

Many a home gardener will tell you that producing a normal-looking carrot in the back yard patch is not as easy as those bags of soldier-straight, perfectly symmetrical, evenly sized, deeply oranged carrots readily available in every supermarket would have you believe.

In fact, even the odd looking “Crazy bunch’ carrots they promote in stores in an attempt to wean us off perfection are pretty impressive with their depth of colour and generous girth.

So I’ve come to believe that the perfect carrot you see everywhere is about as natural as a Stepford wife or a Venezuelan beauty queen.

Quite a challenge then to

#56 Try and Grow a Dead-Straight Carrot

I’ve attempted carrot farming a few times over the years, but the bitter disappointment of waiting months, only to harvest yellowing, mangled, bifid runts has meant that the allure of planting them every year has now waned into oblivion.

Of course, I thought I was following all the rules:

  • Soil: Rich, dense and well composted
  • Seedlings: Healthy looking ones in punnets from a reputable nursery
  • Feed: Regularly, with a high quality nitrogen-containing fertiliser
  • Water: Frequently and generously

Then I watched a gardening show on television about growing carrots and realised every single rule I’d followed was, literally, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG & WRONG.

So, um, starting again…

  • Soil: Rich, dense and well composted?

Ha! Don’t be silly.

Collect sand from the beach and mix it with so-so soil you have that’s a bit deficient in nutrients. Especially deficient in nitrogen.

Just make sure it’s light and fluffy and sort of trickly between your fingers.


  • Seedlings: Healthy looking ones in punnets from a reputable nursery?

Why do they even sell them?

Nope. Never grow carrots from seedlings. Doomed to fail apparently.

 Planting from seeds is the only way to go…


  • Feed:  Regularly with a hIgh quality nitrogen-containing fertiliser?

NO!
Not unless you’re after copious greenery on top and rubbish carrots underneath.
NO NITROGEN FEEDING


  • Water: Frequently and generously?
    …if you want to DESTROY them.
    So water when you think of it.
    Sometimes.
    If the mood takes you.
    Whatever.

Then there are a heap of other tips you need to follow:

Cover the newly-planted seeds to keep them warm, cosy and protected until they sprout:


Cull a number of the sprouted seeds early to reduce crowding:

Then discard the seedlings removed…

No…oo. My babies…


Cull again a few weeks later when growth is lush and magnificent.
Yes, again.

Carrot growth lush

And discard again…

This is doing my head in…


Until finally, weeks and weeks later, when a small orange blip is seen breaching the soil and you believe it’s time to harvest, you hope against hope that you’ve managed to grow a dead-straight carrot.

Perfect carrot

YES!!!

 

 

 

#53 Encourage Native Birds into the Garden

Who doesn’t have fond memories of the Rosella logo on the ubiquitous bottle of tomato sauce that was a staple of growing up in Australia?

It was the only brand my mother ever entertained using. In her case, it was for the taste: in mine, for the gorgeous crimson Rosella on the front.

So since childhood, I’ve cherished my tiny, brightly-coloured enamel rosella pin which the company used as a promotion back in the day when children didn’t expect their favourite toys to be endlessly interactive or need batteries or gigabytes to function properly.

Rosella Pin close up

And what a marketing ploy. More than fifty years on
and I still balk at using any other brand
!

But imagine if these pretty birds could be enticed to come into your garden every day. There’s a challenge:

#53 Encourage Native Birds into the Garden

So there I was recently, sitting on my front verandah drinking a mug of hot chocolate, when who should flutter by for a quick drink but this little beauty. 

Sorry, starling, but I don’t mean you…

One brief glimpse was not enough though. I wanted him to visit regularly, and I figured that the best way to do this was with food.

Mind you, an article published in The Conversation last Spring suggests that the jury is still out on the virtues or otherwise of feeding and watering wild birds. Do they become dependent on our largesse, resented in the bird-working world as seed-bludgers, expecting handouts on a platter? And does the bird population implode due to a lack of resilience should you go away leaving them with no food and water for a time?

Notwithstanding this debate, I raced out to my favourite hardware store and purchased a small bird feeder, filled it with wild bird seed and placed it close to the backyard bird bath. There was a lot of fluttering around it, but no takers. Was it because the treats weren’t being served on a platter for easy access?

No worries. There’s a waterproof material that can be cut to shape, spray painted and rimmed with clear plastic tubing to keep the seeds from falling off. Good old corflute.

Enter bird feeder Mark II and a lot of interested birds, first watching and hovering…

…before landing and enjoying:

It’s a magnet for sparrows, starlings and spotted doves who empty the feeder in no time.

Based on this early success, I bought a second feeder for the front garden this time, which is where I’d spotted the young beauty in the first place.

A kind friend made a real wooden base for it before I perched it on an upturned pot and waited for the flurry of activity and the return of my lovely rosella….

…and waited

and waited…

It’s been filled with wild bird seeds for over two weeks now, but not one taker. In fact, no interested party has gone so far as to land and inspect it.

What’s going on?

It is too wooden? The wrong colour? Too square? Not far enough off the ground? Does the fact that the seed is Homebrand® offend the birds’ sensibilities?

What must I do to entice you back, gorgeous Rosella?

I don’t want to sound needy, but I’ll do anything, buy anything, make any changes you desire.

But please come back.

 

#42 Contribute to the Greening of Winter

Winter’s a tough time for many amateur gardeners, especially the less robust among us.

It’s too cold and too wet to spend much time outside, and even for those prepared to toughen up and bring out the woollies, macs and gumboots, the rewards are few. Nothing much wants to grow.

Sure, there are jobs to do – we can prune and compost, rake and prepare garden beds for spring, but wouldn’t it be better if instead, we could:

#42 Contribute to the Greening of Winter

Sadly, it seems that almost anything you plant this time of the year withholds its rewards until Spring.

A close friend of mine who’s dipping her toes into the waters of green thumbed-ness this season (pardon the mixed metaphor) by experimenting with bulbs for the first time is coming to realise that something she planted way back in April may barely be sighted again until September, despite lavishing attention on it and providing it with a gorgeous hand painted designer pot.

Bulbs

miles to go before I bloom…

The pace of growth in winter can only be described as glacial.

The glorious crimson and scarlet leaves that floated off the persimmon tree a few weeks ago –

Scarlet leaves 2 – have now shrivelled and dried to this:

Shrivelled leaves

yes, it’s still us (sob)…really

The green lawn is balding, too …

Dried lawn

ageing, patchy and way past its prime 

Honestly if it weren’t for the camellias and the mandarin trees, bless their little hearts,

Mandarinswinter might have to be rebadged. Just as the North Americans call autumn ‘fall’ in honour of what they see happening around them, so we might consider renaming winter ‘brown’.

But all is not lost. Notice the line “almost anything you plant this time of the year withholds its rewards until Spring”?

I’ve managed to find a project for winter that will deliver plenty of green:Grow Wheat Grass

You know wheat grass – the ludicrously expensive additive that’s cut from a tray of living green blades of grass sitting on the bench at hipster cafés. The stuff that’s thrown into smoothies and juices to persuade you it’ll counteract the fructose and glucose from the added banana and maple syrup.

Here’s how the wheat grass project goes:

Begin with a cup of wheat bought from your local produce store:

Wheat Day 0

Soak it in lukewarm water for 24–48 hours until it’s swollen and just beginning to sprout:

Wheat sprouting

Then layer these grains over some potting mix in a well drained tray, cover with damp newspaper, spray with water regularly and keep in the dark.

Within a couple of days (I kid you not) you’ll have real mid-winter growth:

Wheat Grass D 2

And after another couple of days of watering and covering with newspaper, it’ll look like this:

Wheat grass D 4

Now it’s time to throw off the coverings and let in the light.

Go away for the long weekend and when you return, you’ll come home to the real deal:

Wheat grass D 7

…the wire cage was to keep the blades upright, but believe it or not,
mother nature knows where the light is!

No wonder sprouting wheat seeds was such a popular pastime in primary school.

It’s ‘instant horticultural gratification’.

All that’s left to do is cut off a small clump of this vitamin- and mineral- enriched goodness, throw it into your next smoothie and charge yourself a fortune.

But if you find drinking the stuff is about as exciting as eating grass and if it spoils the flavour of the yummy banana and maple syrup, don’t panic.

Just gift it to someone who’ll be more appreciative:

Wheat Grass D 10

#33 Welcome back Spring!

Has anyone else felt that Australia’s been in the grip of a rather miserable winter for two long years? A Narnia-esque feeling that we’ve been under the control of someone or something wanting to keep us cold and afraid?

Until suddenly, on the evening of September 14th, it all changed and the country sprang to life again. So it’s time to celebrate and…

#33 Welcome back Spring!

Hallelujah! No more doom and gloom.
Ring the bells…

Bells and chickens

 …because there’s a snowflake‘s chance in hell of continuing to scare us now .

And give Tough Border Protection a new meaning as you work out the best way to stop those sneaky chickens from making it over the border and into the spinach bed…

Spinach barrier


Worried about bombs in Syria?  Put your mind at rest in the knowledge that you can have rockets in the kitchen instead.

Rocket

And rather than fretting about ‘Death Cults’, watch the streets come alive with blossoms:

Vicotira street blossoms


If you’re tired of meaningless three-word slogans, create your own, better ones.

Like Magnolias in Bloom… 

Magnolia

or how about Asparagus for Lunch?

Asparagus bedFinding these in the garden each morning is equivalent to an Easter egg hunt –  for grown-ups

We all know that climate change isn’t crap, that the Bureau of Meteorology didn’t fudge their temperature readings, that another hot, dry Summer’s just around the corner.
And we realise that we’ll forget these heady, exciting days of Spring soon enough, but isn’t it great that even for a few, brief weeks, colour has returned to our lives with a vengeance?

Red camelia

So thank you Aslan …or Malcolm …or whichever lion-hearted creature brought this about.

.