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?

All the leaves are brown….

And the sky is grey… well, I did go for a walk as the song suggests, on a not-so-winter’s day. The sky may not be very grey but winter is just around the corner. The autumnal garden changes so rapidly that I thought I’d better take a walk and show you around the garden and its variant colours.

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This weeping cherry puts on a very different display in autumn. Gone are the pinks of spring and the greens of summer, now replaced by gold and russet.

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The red hues of the Japanese Maple carpet the ground.

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This maple will soon lose its red hues…

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There will be much time spent raking leaves during the month of May.

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Currently there are many interested Japanese tourists in our area admiring the seasonal changes. These wonderful colours shed a final luminescence before the barren, grey of winter sets in.

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The golden elm resplendent in its regal colours!

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This particular dogwood could glow in the dark!

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Gone are the ornamental apricots on this weeper….

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The cats joined me on the garden tour.
What ever the season in your part of the world, I wish you happy gardening in nature’s truly amazing playground! Thanks for following and may all your days be garden days!

So Envious!

You all know my passion for gardens – any gardens, any where. So when a friend and in-law Margaret invited me to see her Community Garden project I was intrigued. The first time I saw the garden was last November in the pouring rain. More recently, it was brilliant sunshine and a respectable 30 degrees C.

A Community Garden is indeed a suitable launching place for many great ideas. Each resident gardener pays a nominal fee to tend their plot. The restrictions are simple: no large trees, no weeds, and no pilfering! Otherwise, the horticultural creativity is set free to produce wondrous vegetables, fruits and herbs. In addition, community interaction is guaranteed.

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Why am I envious? It is envy of the admirable kind – for plants that we cannot grow here in the Mount. Giant golden vegetables, black, shiny grapes, fragrant basil and sun trapped red tomatoes.

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Check out this man’s giant climbing zucchini!

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Tall sunflowers and harvested corn.

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Therefore, last weekend when we visited again, it was for the launch of Margaret’s historical book which tracks the history of the garden suburb where she lives. The estate was designed by Walter Burley Griffin, Canberra’s famous town planner. The book also chronicles the history of the indigenous people of the area; the discovery of gold in the 1850’s; the first families who purchased land in the estate complete with general specifications of a typical 1950’s home; through to the time when “the frontier spirit [had] dissipated as we moved into the seventies” (p85).

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The Community Garden stands on “an internal reserve … designed in the late 1920’s” (which for a long stretch of time was a forgotten and derelict triangle of land). It now provides a sustainable and renewable facility. It is though, much more than a commodity, it is a safe, productive haven for the Tuppal Reserve gardeners and their families. Indeed it is a most enviable achievement – full of delight, determination and distinction.

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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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The House of Rock

Out little blue chook house has finally opened for business. It has take us a little longer than anticipated to lodge the girls (and a couple of boys!) in the new structure. Constantly looking for improvements, Colin decided to put in a ramp to connect the old enclosure to the new blue house.

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Then there was the matter of enticing the chickens up the ramp! A little bit of hands on coaxing was needed. The Plymouth Rock youngsters were the first to find their way in and establish their places. The old Isa browns had to be helped up into the loft but once there were as happy as “chickens in a loft”.
On the other hand, the older Plymouth Rock girls are the most reticent and sceptical of the lot. Colin needed to show them where to perch after finding a nice two metre branch to wedge in place in the house. For the last three nights he had to bring them into the blue house and position them on the perch. On a positive note they are placid and do not peck the little chooks.

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Meanwhile, there was still the problem of how to protect the old wooden floor of the house. We eventually decided to lay a rubberised matting to offer some barrier between the wood and the inevitable droppings. Sarge, our old cat always needs to inspect for quality assurance!

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After some research, I decided to make my own special blend of litter. I mixed equal parts of straw, dried leaf litter and sterilised wood shavings and spread it evenly on the floor. The images speak for themselves.

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Now, after enclosing their run in heavy duty rabbit fencing – we have had a number of fox attacks recently – we can finally breath a sigh of relief that they are all safe, warm and happy. The little blue chicken house has been dubbed the House of Rock – Plymouth Rock, that is.

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Enjoy your chickens, they are wonderfully independent and entertaining pets.

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Liebster Award Nominations

Although I have only been blogging since September, I have found it one of the most rewarding outlets for my writing and thoughts on gardening, travel, pets and the every day happenings of life. So it was with much amazement that our blog has been nominated for the Liebster Award. As a newcomer, I have been buoyed by the feedback and kind words of my regular followers and visitors. My nominator was Nitty Gritty Dirt Man, whose blog I follow from the other side of the world, and one which never ceases to inspire with its heartfelt, entertaining and socially aware commentary – danke schoen to you Kevin!

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A Very Hot Day

The weather bureau has forecast a day of extreme fire danger today. The thermometer is due to rise to around 40 degrees C. Such are our summers on the mountain and indeed in the southern quarter of Australia. The risk of a bush fire is a real possibility in the months of January and February. We have been very fortunate the last few summers with lots of rain both prior and during the summer months. Not so this season. No rain has fallen for nearly four weeks and this is cause for concern. Having spent many days watering to give the garden a head start, the heat is now upon us.

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As we are due to go away for our anniversary all of next week and with more hot weather to come we have made a decision to transport the baby chickies and our adult girls to a safer location just in case, about thirty kilometres to caring relatives.

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This will have a twofold purpose. Firstly, it will allow the young Plymouth Rocks to assimilate with their older sisters. I actually saw them “kissing” through the wire cage the other day.Secondly, it will relieve my neighbours from their very generous offers to feed them each day in our absence. Given the extremes in weather at the moment, I will be comforted that at least I will not need to worry about the chickens while we are away.

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The sun room has now been dubbed the hot house inferno!

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Much to their disgust, the brown chooks now have to share their lodgings with Psycho, the rooster.

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Thankfully, we had this nifty chicken carrier to make the job easier. All we have to do now is pray for rain and relieve us of this scorching heat.

Love / Hate Relationship

It’s been a gruelling few days. My arms ache, my legs ache and when I close my eyes I see WEEDS, WEEDS and more weeds. Our garden is quite large and the recent heavy rain and heat has encouraged everything to grow a trillion times over. But what has really made my job arduous is the ivy.
I HATE IVY. Now you will never, ever read that I hate anything – I am quite accepting, especially when it comes to nature. However, over the last ten days since I returned from the sub tropics I have given myself the task of working the garden for at least two hours a day. As I can never stop myself I often spend five or six hours out there with the cats and chickens and, yes of course, the ivy. Here is what I have to contend with…..

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A little climbing ivy!

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A variegated variety!

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Some pretty ivy…

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And then there’s the ground cover ivy….

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So, it’s this type of ground covering ivy that I am tackling – and really, to no avail. So, I have decided to not despise it but look at ways go admire and embrace its potential. Just like many things in life which are beyond our control, the ivy now for me represents steadfastness, determination and survival. It is more than just an out of control aspect of the garden. Delving into historical representations of ivy I found that it was a symbol of royalty, often woven as crowns for gods in Greek and Roman mythology. Bacchus wore a crown of ivy and of course Yuletide decorations included English Ivy in and around country households – fireplaces, candles, wreaths and, of course, to decorate the Yule log itself. In matters of love, ivy is symbolic of fidelity and constancy.

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I guess then I am looking at ivy for its potential – what it can give back to us. Yesterday, while we attended a Christmas function at the historic 1850’s homestead in Eynesbury, I couldn’t help but notice the controlled ivy feature…

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Yes, now I see its beauty and potential – sometimes we have to look at challenges in other ways. In the greater scheme of things, the ivy is part of the garden – tame it or tolerate it – but I now choose to turn it into an asset – with a little guiding hand, of course. Do I now love ivy? Let’s say, I have chosen to use it to my advantage. Have you ever had to look at challenges in creative ways? Enjoy the Yuletide preparations.

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Inside The New Chicken House

Today we are close to completing the interior of the little blue, chicken house. I can now stand inside and look out of the three little windows which are lined with fly screening. The chicken house is nestled under large trees and therefore is really cool inside given that today’s temperature has just reached 36 degrees! The little house is what I imagine a Virginian cabin in the woods would seem like – will have to revisit “The Waltons”!

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Colin decided to create multi storied levels for the girls including an attic. They really love to climb upwards. The orange chicken tubs are secured in place on a ledge. Houdini chicken has already tried them out – maybe she likes the colour! We still have a few more things to do like lay some rubberised matting on the wood floor and some straw for the nesting boxes and find a way for them to climb up to the attic – maybe a walkway to the roosting area. I welcome you thoughts and any ideas we might be able to incorporate. Let’s hope we can finish it for Christmas!

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