Nature

The whole place was looking quite magical yesterday and I took the car up to the forest and walked to find some berries and grasses for my big jug and it looks rather nice. Also saw an extraordinary fungi – bright orange just like some orange-peel stuck to a bit of wood.

I still feel pangs of envy when I get letters from friends who have decided to stay in England, as it is coming on autumn. Autumn and spring were my favourite seasons, partly because they were so colourful and partly because things happen so quickly in them. There is little sudden change in seasons here – things happen gradually so that one season merges into another almost imperceptibly.

I can swim out to the reef to snorkel (or ‘goggle’ as they very aptly call it here.) We are right on the beach and recently I have been watching for hatching turtles. Came across some early this morning who were being attacked by ants. (That’s a problem in our butterfly rearing too.)

I am sorry I am so bad about hygiene. Fleas and ticks are, alas, part of our way of life, but they vary with the time of year, and I’m afraid you hit a bad patch. The only ones that really upset me are cockroaches and spiders.

I saw a green thing walk past as if it owned the place. It was quite large (about 30 cm) lizard, with a pointy nose and tail. … If it’s a feral lizard, I might have to try to trap it and have it removed. It’s sleek and healthy looking – a fine specimen of lizardhood. I would prefer it to be native, as then it could continue to keep the slug and snail population down for me.

the green visitor

Gardening

I have decided on Going Native, and all of the native garden plant books use only botanical names. Common names exist as an appendix at the back. Some of the common names are quite fascinating. Who wouldn’t want a Running Postman (do these occur in Europe?), or a Wonga Vine or a Twiggy Wili-Wili, or a Geebung? … I have discovered that, really, the list for small to tall shrubs of slender habit which will grow in heavy clay, in a Mediterranean climate, in either full or part hot shade, with flowers of either red or white, and are not rampant growers, or drain cloggers, or branch droppers, is quite small. Makes things so much simpler.

Did I tell you the sheep got into my vegs and scoffed the lot – the day we went into X for the wedding. Now a fortnight later things are not so bad – carrots etc. have grown new tops – but the runner beans seem unlikely to come to anything.

I was amazed at the variety I got from the garden. Picked forget-me-nots, yellow freesias, forsythia, winter jasmine, whitebells (no blue ones out yet) and grape hyacinths and one pale pink winter rose. My lily of the valley is about to come out and has really established itself in the rose bed. The widened path looks far less mean – I told the second brickie that I didn’t like having to walk in single file and he promptly put his arm round my shoulders and said, ‘You like to be nice and friendly?’ Last year’s anemones have come out at last too which add a good splash of colour. I’ve just put in my second lot of sweet peas – v. late. Did I tell you I fell for a rhododendron too – pale yellow, and a daphne – but have been careful to leave gaps for some dahlias next month. I’ve dug up the acanthus and put it in a vast and expensive pot at the end of our paving and will move the hibiscus to a bed so X won’t have to mow round it. Our puriri tree is out and we’ve got two visiting bush pigeons.

I put far too many noisy cinerarias in the rose bed and had to move them to a bare place instead, beautiful colours but very strong.

noisy cinerarias

 

Hellybellys coming up in a nasty bit of ground, which is clever of them and I hope I can encourage them to grow on and survive. Sorry I can’t think of their official name at the moment but you gave me the seeds and they do begin ‘hel’ something or other.

The various bushes look wonderful – especially the one outside the bathroom window and the little one near the gate! Very shape-full and pleasing to the eye. I still haven’t done the last bit of sickling to remove the rest of the long grass patches but there are fewer weeds than there were and the strawberries have been re-organised and set out ready for next year.

I’m growing my own wheat – guess what! More in my next.

I have a fantastic pumpkin plant which sowed itself in a strip allocated to cauliflowers and has now spread in a sort of L-shape about fifteen feet in each direction, threatening to engulf altogether most of my parsnips, carrots and sweet corn, as well as the poor cauliflowers (which weren’t coming to much anyway – they are the most difficult things to grow satisfactorily). The celery has rust, but we can eat bits of it… and my beefsteak tomatoes have blight – but there again, parts of them are excellent as the curate’s egg. The apples are far more afflicted with codling moth than last year… The strawberries are over, the sweet corn looks splendid, and the leeks have done better than usual for me. My main onion crop consists of only about two dozen, but some of them are four inches across… The grapes look good too… I planted three zucchini-type marrows but we didn’t get many zucchinis off them – they grew so fast! Eventually I carted four of them up to fourteen inches long off to church to go in the charity box, and dug up the plants which were covered in a revolting grey mildew by then.

 

Adult learning

At last I have found a good class to go to. My  85 yr old tutor finally gave up, so this was a relief, as none of us liked to stop going. The teacher I now have is full of enthusiasm and telling us to try every type of medium and painting with cloth, sticks, fingers etc., gouache, that I’d never tried before. Quite a change from my ‘primp-sy’ watercolours.

I have not been to many dancing classes very much at all this year. It has been too much what with everything else. I think I have been rather stressed. The last class for the year should be tomorrow night, so I will go to that, and give myself the idea that this is what I am to do next year. I do enjoy going really, and it is nice to see the others who go, so I must make the effort.

I’ve managed to find time to do a wild flower course one evening a week, mainly because a friend wanted to do it and I went to keep her company. Most of it was far too technical for me (memories of school biology lessons flooded back!) but I enjoyed seeing all the slides the lecturer showed us, and the field trips were good. One beautiful summer’s evening, we went to see a preserved wild flower meadow. After about an hour of being told all the Latin names of everything we were seeing, my brain just seized up! So while all these really enthusiastic botanists were crawling around on their hands and knees examining every last petal and leaf, I just sat and admired the wonderful views.

day-dreamer

We all keep on gardening

My B&B business is still thriving, nearly all the proceeds of which go into the upkeep of the garden. However hard I try to be abstemious, I always end up spending a fortune on seeds and plants each year, and then wondering why I have to spend so much time watering when the weather is hot and dry! … some things did extremely well, such as roses, peas, garlic, onions and autumn raspberries, while others failed quite spectacularly, in particular, summer raspberries, most tree fruit and broad beans. All my tomatoes and peppers were very late producing anything edible, due to the lack of sun in early summer, but there wasn’t a sign of the usual infestation of whitefly. There’s no pleasing gardeners, is there!

I had a lad who helped with the mowing for most of the summer. Very useful but he did it so badly that it nearly drove me to drink!

The ground is squelchy with wet after last night’s downpour and there won’t be very much more I can usefully do in the garden until it dries up a bit! The poor little seedlings do look bedraggled after it and I might earth them up a bit I suppose, but it seems rather fiddly and pointless to mess with them. Actually the slugs will finish them off in one more night if I leave them I expect – they have devoured a line of carrots, the first line of kale and sprouts and all the dwarf beans to date so there isn’t much hope I feel!

There is quite a large backyard which has an orange tree and some vegetables which I planted. However it mainly looks very run down as nothing has been done to it for years. I expect I will have to battle for several more years to rid it of noxious grasses which just take over if not kept constantly in check. Come autumn I will have planned it (I hope) and can plant some shrubs and ground cover which should improve it greatly. I have things in the front garden now – some cooking herbs, a climbing rose (to hide the iron fence), a white and ordinary coloured lavender, a rosemary bush, and two daisies both of which have a fungus and will have to be destroyed.

…if you’re against strong poisons on weeds and have only a small area, a drop of petrol will go down to the roots in no time, useful for between paving.

water creature

 

For my birthday in July everyone generously gave me money so I could put a water feature in the garden or, as X calls it, my water creature.

 

The garden has been lovely, always something new… I got quite a lot of strawberries last year, made lots of my strawberry syrup and bottled it. We shall use most of our homemade jams in the tearoom, muffins & jam etc. I may do marmalade and lemon curd for sale as one can make them any time. We have a good fig tree too, some citrus and mulberries besides plenty of pawpaws. We may do things like homemade bread & pate for lunches, and fruit salad. Youngberries and blackberries are growing well. Hazel nut trees have taken and one sweet chestnut tree, one blackcurrant (one small shoot survived the new gardener!) [Green with envy re this list!]

The weather here in Sydney is gradually getting warmer as spring turns into summer. The trees and shrubs are all in bloom so the City looks great. The Jacaranda trees have been stunning. I went on a garden excursion recently – to see some private gardens in the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately it rained all day and it really rains hard here. Anyway we had to spend a lot more time on refreshments than viewing.

The varieties of potatoes have me intrigued. One of the ‘house’ type magazines I bought had a feature on potatoes: it was really quite an education. One rather intriguing one is Purple Congo which is quite small and dark purple. I t mashes quite well apparently, to a beautiful lavender shade reminiscent of a colour some elderly ladies used to like their blouses. A bit off-putting, so I haven’t tried it, even though the writer of the article did promise it was very tasty. I am not going to have any vegetables other than a few herbs in pots. I cannot get enough sun at the right time for them to grow properly. I don’t want to put them in the front, although many home gardeners of Mediterranean origin do. You see these beautifully staked beans and tomatoes in beds next to the roses, which may have garlic or onions growing under them. … I sort of run out of steam when planting the front, as I came to the foundations of the original house in just that strip where I could plant. So it was digging and prising small stones from between very much larger and heavier ones, and chipping off the sopping old mortar. I couldn’t get out the largest: they were just too heavy, apart from being at a depth of from just above my knees down. I would see people drive and walk slowly past me trying to peer inconspicuously to see what I was doing, knee-deep in my own front garden.

Exotic adventures

“We were invited to a Malay wedding. The bride and groom wore beautiful costumes of cotton and gold thread woven. This was called songket. They looked lovely. The whole ceremony took place without the bride! And they only came together after all the vows were taken! And yesterday I went hiking in the forest. I saw lots of weird and wonderful insects and animals.”

“Have just spent a delightful week in Israel – but so busy sightseeing that I got no cards written. This church [on postcard] is relatively modern, but very beautiful. Beneath is the (possible) court of the High Priest with a prison alongside, and in the garden beyond is a street which definitely dates back to the time of Christ. But interesting as Jerusalem is, I found the countryside even more memorable. This year the spring has been wet, and everywhere is carpeted with wild flowers, tiny and delicate – even on the bare rock of the desert. Quite amazing!”

“Up in the Pyrenees – croissants and local apricot jam breakfast – hot sun just over mountains. Taking little local train higher up today.”

croissants & apricot jam

“Inside a pyramid at Cairo was not exactly inspiring, nor was Jesus’ birth place in Bethlehem, but I am glad to have had the experience all the same!”

“So far, so good – in spite of the aborted coup. Now that Gorbachev is back, the Muscovites seem happier. We are leaving on our way to Siberia, 4 nights on the trans-Siberian train. A few of my ‘comrades’ play Scrabble so it should be a very pleasant journey.”

[Ebeltoft] “This is the perfect place for a holiday – delightfully quaint little town bordered by beaches and sheltered by tree covered hills full of flowers – if only they could get the weather right too! It’s wet, windy and cold!”

[Meeru Island, Maldives] “This is certainly a beautiful place (coups apart!). The water is so warm and clear azure blue, perfect for snorkelling with amazing range of coral and fish. The accommodation is fairly basic in bungalows on the beach but it’s very clean.”

[Alghero, Sardinia]So far, so good but today some undesired clouds are lurking here and there. / Have played a few games of Scrabble but concentration is difficult after a pasta meal and plenty of wine, or with the Med. lapping gently at ones feet./ And I, sober, still managed to lose, but consoled myself with plenty of gelati which are grand!/ We went to the hills by coach for a Shepherds’ Picnic consisting of lamb stew, fresh curd cheese, sucking [sic] pig and all the red wine we could drink./ Drank two glasses of unadulterated wine so no complaint, real achievement! On the whole people are helpful as to our pigeon [sic] Italian.”

[Arizona] “I love this [Hopi] pottery, wish I could buy some of the Kachinas too. Never mind – better not to acquire too many material possessions. The Hopi and especially the Navajo weaving is so beautiful that I could buy up all the blankets. They are incredibly expensive though – so no hope.”

“Have seen trees so big you can drive through the middle and even a hollow one where 23 horses were stabled by US Army!”

“… a very hairy drive of about 15km over riverbed stones – the road wove back and forth over the bed, and in a couple of places had water (v. shallow). The map had a thick dotted red line for this section, where it should have been thin – then I never would have attempted it. However we all survived – 2 women + 1 car. Was too preoccupied to even think of photos.”

“As usual I find the beauty of the little chapel overwhelming. We managed to enjoy a minute of peace before a flood of huge Americans in shorts invaded the tranquillity.” [Oh dear – even postcards can be non-PC!]

“One day I went on the big tour that went to the Blue Mountains and some caves… we saw the B. Mts, very beautiful but no time to go on an overhead trolley thing as we had to get on to the caves, like temples. I now know I’ve done caves, they all look the same to me, except these after we’d been in them 10 minutes and gone up 80 steps, and there were some 200 more to come, I felt quite faint, and thought it would be easier to get out now than an hour later…”

The birds, bees and flowers

“We opened the Tea Garden… We get tourist lunches, old folk from Britain once a week which is great fun and they love coming here – last time a snake obliged by nearly climbing onto the veranda from the bougainvillea! and the sun birds are a treat, not to mention the hoopoes nesting in the corner of the roof (instead of a tree!)”

“Now in South of India, tropical flowers, spices and rain. We are in Hill Station of Ooty and we have a fire.”

[The James Iredell House, North Carolina] “Wish you were here to see the wonderful gardens – magnolia plantation had 900 species of azaleas and a wealth of other flowers… We spent 3 days in Charleston.”

“This has been an interesting day-tour into the rain-forest. There have also been beautiful blue and red parrots and birds called whip birds because of their call. They made me think of you.” [I wonder why???!]

“First time I have seen this tree. It is a frassino tree and grows only in Sicily or Calabria. The manna is used in the trade as a laxative and also for other medical purposes???”

“Wow! I have just seen an enormous wasp type thing about 1.5 inches – HUGE. We got attacked by monkeys yesterday! I was holding a banana – I suddenly became surrounded by monkeys. They looked as if they would climb all over me – so I hid the banana down my top and they went away!” [Lucky the monkeys weren’t too determined…]

whiskery fish
whiskery fish

“The garden was all palms and wild orchids and lovely plants with green and pink leaves! And a demented cockerel and a bunch of scatty hens… We went snorkelling about 5 times. We saw amazing blue starfish – their fingers were all sausage-fat and bright blue. And angel-fish and other stripey ones and an amazing thing called a half-beak – almost transparent from the side except for its eye which is halfway along its 2-3 foot body. When you looked down on them they were coloured though. We didn’t see many shoals of fish, which made the one of about 300 we saw on the last day all the more surprising! They were white and whiskery with a yellow streak down the side.”

“X related how they’d had a real gorilla in her youth in S. Africa – its mother had been shot – and they looked after the baby and played with it – until one day her sister teased it and it bit her – it was huge by then, about 5 – and their father said it had to go to the zoo. When they left it, it had tears running down its cheeks – as they all had, including her father – sad.”

“The countryside is so beautiful and all the orange cacci [persimmon] on the trees everywhere. They look like primitive paintings.”

The fleas that tease

Too little time for everything today. Found more beautiful postcards.

“I enjoyed the camping in the forest watching lemurs and catching insects [in Madagascar]… I like the bats but the 8 inch spiders are a bit off-putting… The zoological interest in the capital is the fleas which I tend to attract more than other people. Soon going to Morondava in the west to collect mosquitoes…”

“The weather has been intermittently good [Loch Tummel] – the only trouble is when the sun comes out so do the midges…”

“We left Bali in dreadful rain on 3rd June [sailing]. One man got sick so we had to get out the navigation instruments to find our way to Cocos and get him off. I like the beach we’re staying on. Coconuts everywhere but also lots of – [illegible: what could it be? maybe ‘ants’] unfortunately.”