What a winter, but what a wonder…

Ten years on the Mount and what a winter we’ve had. Last weekend we tried to burn our ever increasing pile of winter debris, to no avail. Instead we set about trimming the abundant camellias – one of which shot over the roof of the house! I salvaged its ruby blooms.

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What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness. (John Steinbeck)

It’s been a winter of mists, fogs and log fires. Nothing new here really, but this year every weekend brought with it the wonder of winter! In early August, I raced up to the Mount when I heard there was “snow on them there hills”! I have done this a handful of times over the years, much to the bemusement of friends and family. The last time we had snow on the back deck was August, 2008 but each year, the Mount, at elevation 1013m, is dusted with the soft, white ice. We are 750 metres, so often we just get sleet.

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One weekend we ventured to our favourite country town, only to be confronted with thick lunchtime fog!

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Daylesford on a not so clear day…

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Brrrrrrr, I can hear you exclaim! Yes indeed, it is quite chilly.

Top five mountain garden tips for winter
1. Weed, weed and then weed again
2. Rake those leaves and clear those paths
3. Watch the bulbs emerge
4. Visit the camellias or pay homage to any floral friend – they love to be admired!
5. Smell the clean, intoxicating air
But there’s one more
Head for that log fire at the end of the day!

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Emerging camellias

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The beauty of winter can be seen in every turn. The sparsity of foliage is countered by the abundance of those beacons of colour; those buds and blooms that wink at us around each corner of the garden. We can only be in awe.
Thy knowest, winter tames, man, woman and beast. William Shakespeare’s, The Taming of the Shrew.

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As we prepare for a few more chilly days, wear our coats, scarves and gloves, may the wonder of winter be kind to us!

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Today’s view from the back yard deck. How is your winter (or summer) experience?

Deep Winter Blooms

Up here on the Mount, winters are very interesting indeed. While the rest of the surrounding area is bathed in sunlight, here we wallow in mist and cloud cover. It’s not so bad really. I love the cold and especially the distinctive half-light of the mountain. Ten years ago it was during July when we first saw this house and garden. It was the the shimmering droplets of rain on the trees and winding pathways which attracted us the most.

However, the mountain is ever changing. Just when we think it cannot get any greyer, the garden invites us to admire its unexpected colour. In deep winter, bursts of colour illuminate the low light.

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This little begonia has been flowering for months. However, apart from this. The natural cycle from dormancy to delight begins.

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The weeping apricot which we see from our lounge rooms window has begun to transform itself.

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Further down the path, this giant, pink camellia has burst into bloom.

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Yes, it’s all pinks at the moment!
Hellebores are coming to life. They are the true winter rose!

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More pink camellias.

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But wait – I spot a red one!

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Tulip bulbs are ready of go!

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The view from the back yard deck in winter.

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Despite the lack of sun shine, the vegetable patch seems to be thriving, albeit it, slowly.

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To our northern hemisphere readers, enjoy your wonderful summer. As we keep the heaters running and the wood chopped here on Mount, we can glimpse the preludes to Spring.

How’s your summer or winter experience?

The Rains Came

After ten weeks of no rain, suddenly the heavens opened up and we received a welcome downpour. Summer here on the mountain can be a mixed blessing. Most of the the time we indulge in sheltered, lush greenery, going about our business of watering, potting, raking or contemplating! However, when the north winds blow, dry our soil and scatter bark and branches about and the risk of grass or bush fires permeate our waking, and sometimes, sleeping thoughts, that’s when we become obsessed by the CFA (Country Fire Authority) website. Their current APP tells us how far the nearest fire is to our property. As a matter of course, we then have the cat boxes and chicken cages at the ready should we need to leave on a total fire ban day. Such is life on the Mount – a balancing act of mind over nature!

Therefore, you can easily gauge our relief when the rains eventually come. No, not like the monsoonal rains in the 1939 film with Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power – The Rains Came nor the other flooding and earth quaking 1955 The Rains of Ranchipur with Lana Turner and Richard Burton, but the soaking, refreshing and cooling rains which hopefully snuff out any lingering or smouldering embers. Both these films, you might know, are versions of Louis Bromfield’s novel set in India. As we live up here surrounded by trees we are the envy of Melburnian’s who often have to swelter while we enjoy a cooler five degrees. Further up the mountain, grand residences such as Darjeeling and Tieve Tara conjure up a romantic past as we experience what is known as a late summer or Indian Summer.

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Summer here is the least colourful of the seasons. There are few flowering plants in our garden right now. The obligatory blue agapanthus, the well-watered hydrangeas, many pots, some begonias, a few geraniums and silent hellebores are amongst the limited colours.

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Then, when least expected, a great spiny arch entangled in the camellias or rhododendrons looks you in the face. You recoil only to be greeted with tiny deep purple orbs. Your hand reaches toward the irresistible cluster.

20130217-220849.jpg The scratches and the curses of the previous encounters with this enemy are forgotten – one of the little joys of summer – blackberries! They live for another day – but only just!

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Meanwhile, we wait and pray for a little more rain, please. I might have to watch these films again! What’s it like in your part of the world right now?

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Mango Trees and Monkees

It is always with mixed feelings that I return to my hometown in the sub-tropics. Queensland is a vast and varied State. The length of its coastline is nearly 7000 km and it is a place of great contrasts. From the densely populated South East corner to the Outback and the Tropical North, it can be both beautiful and treacherous. Growing up in the decade which spanned the end of 1960’s and start of the 1970’s was like this too – filled with exciting new music coupled with the treachery of so many lives sacrificed to a war in another tropical place. For me, the twelve year old, it was indeed time spent swinging from the mango tree listening to The Monkees (pardon the pun) – not for any deep and meaningful reason but simply to be swept up in the mass hysteria that new wave American music was to produce.

Now, forty years later the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel “My Little Town” resonate with me when I come back here. I really did grow up “believing God kept his eye on us all” or was it simply “daydream believing”. The mango tree is gone and so too is Davey Jones but the heat, humidity, bougainvilleas, frangipanis and the little house on the hilly road are still going strong.

20121122-220017.jpg Imagine walking up this hill to school! It’s not called Red Hill for nothing. Check out the handrail!

20121124-171204.jpg My week here has been very pleasant indeed catching up with family and friends and experiencing some cathartic moments – which will be best kept for another time and place. But you know what – there really is “no place like home”. For me that place is now – a mountain home – I can feel a John Denver song coming on! I hope you will forgive me the clichés.

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20121124-171756.jpg An unexpected heliconia.

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Today’s front yard view comes to you from deep suburbia. See you back home.

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New Chicken House Update

Chickens all around the world will be green with envy when they spot this blue and yellow chicken house on stumps. Thanks to our fantastic neighbours, family and friends, the roof finally went on with much shoving and pushing. Despite the fact that we had to unexpectedly chainsaw a large overhanging tree, the house went into place quite readily.

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20121119-173516.jpg In fact, it looks like it’s always been there nestled under the trees. It was commented that it looked like a gingerbread house in the woods; someone else said we should decorate it for Christmas – no, let’s keep it simple, please.

20121119-175008.jpg If you are interested in Christmas thoughts and musings may I recommend
http://nittygrittydirtman.wordpress.com
and his marvellous writings on the subject along with thoughts of gardens, life, community and simplicity.

We have really lost the simple pleasures of life. Indeed this little house has given us so much delight in its rustic existence; in its basic tin-tacks symbolism of a simpler time. I know that it will house chickens and that in fact it is quite grand for that purpose but it has been salvaged and given a second life – isn’t that what recycling is all about? In fact, just today I bumped into the little house’s previous owner and proclaimed its salvation. She was so pleased that she told me it had actually been their cubby house when they were little kids. They would bring their dolls and tea sets and play for hours on its blue wooden floor. Such simple pleasures remembered and revered and now, hopefully, preserved. I hope kids today still do this – perhaps they do it in a virtual world. I hope they can balance these two worlds; I hope they can sit on earth, on grass, on leaves and feel the textures and look at the sky and imagine themselves as important and have picnics, real or imaginary. That’s what life is really about, I think – simple tasks, simple times.

20121120-204159.jpg Now that the door is on, all it needs is a little coat of paint. My next post will be from the sub- tropics as I visit family and friends – watch out for frangipanis, my own childhood memories and the house in which I grew up. Here is today’s back yard deck view. Ciao.

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A Funny Place To Lay An Egg

I thought I was seeing things this morning. We were sure we had locked up all the chickens yesterday afternoon. We do have a renegade brown hen, she is always late and always the last to go in. So why could I hear her outside the kitchen window and why was she on the back deck at 9 o’clock? At this point I raced out to check on the others. Miss brown chicken eagerly followed me. She went in. A quick check confirmed that all the others were present. On returning back upstairs something caught my eye. Was that two brown eggs nestled on the stoney landing just under the kitchen window?

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20121116-204538.jpg That means she had escaped twice – chicken Houdini! It seems that the construction of the new chicken house had dislodged some of the netting and she simply jumped up onto the 6′ fence and out!

20121116-205208.jpg Two friends on the back deck.

20121116-205259.jpg The whole gang out today.

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20121116-205847.jpg This evening’s back deck view – 19’C down to 6’C at night – still cool.

The Lilac Tree

In deepest darkest winter I often look out of our back windows and try to remember the lilac tree in spring. Now that it is in full bloom, it is most certainly a place of great serenity. A garden, even though it is hard work, is a place to find that peace and tranquility which is often lacking in our busy lives. As school teachers, we find the garden conducive to thoughts and ideas as well as a place of welcoming for our neighbours.

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20121112-211447.jpg The back deck overlooks this great tree.

20121112-211839.jpg We had the great privilege of meeting the woman who planted this stunning specimen. Susan was a nurse with four little children and doing it on her own without any formal horticultural experience. It was her elaborate combination of colours, scents and shapes which we tend. We are then custodians of her vision and her carefully orchestrated plan to create a place of calm.

20121112-212458.jpg I truly believe that we must devote time to nature, admiring each and every change in the garden.

20121112-212833.jpg This afternoon I spent time admiring the lilac tree from beneath its arching branches. It gave me a different perspective from each angle; it engaged all senses – it’s wonderful colour, its delightful distinctive perfume, even the currawong flew in to sing its distinctive song among its flowers!

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20121112-214035.jpg I hope you can find your own place to contemplate, even for a short time, leaving the hectic pace and place, for a moment in a garden, whether it be your own or a communal one. I leave you with today’s warming back deck sunset!

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