A catch-up in my garden

How about this…two posts in one week! It may be an indication that life is returning to some sort of normality. Fingers crossed.

In my last post I wrote about an issue with my computer, explaining that I had to leave it at the shop for a few days, a few internet-free days. Did I miss Facebook? No way, especially as that is where the hacked message came from. However, I did miss this blogging world. I missed finding out what you were up to, catching up on the news.

I think it is a special place we have nurtured, a warm and welcoming space. We have built friendships across the globe. While we may never meet in person, we are friends. Dr Snail posted recently about the loss of her blogging friend Patricia. It is a loss that touches all of us who may have read Patricia’s wise posts.

So, come my friends and sit with me in my Spring garden. Let’s forget about droughts and fires and the insanity of the world for a little. We will have tea, or coffee, or even a glass of wine, and cake and natter about whatever comes to mind! We will find a little space in our lives to just sit and enjoy.

For my garden is now in a fit state to have visitors. The weeds have gone. I have moaned about them before and some got to be about a metre high.

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The compost bins were being engulfed.

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And then my brother came and like a whirlwind uprooted them all.

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Thanks to his hard work I have weed free spaces and can easily find the compost bins.

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I am delighted by the flowers that have not only survived the neglect, but seem to have thrived on it.

 

 

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Sit with me and enjoy the foxgloves that I planted last year and are coming into their own this Spring. Admire the three different coloured irises ~ you can see one of them behind the foxgloves. The aran lilies are past their best, but the salvias are thriving, and it seems to be a glorious year for roses. (Remember how pruning the roses was the only thing I did in the garden over Winter? I am reaping the reward of finding that small pocket of time!)

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Let’s admire the complexity and beauty of the foxglove spires. Can’t you just imagine the little fox paws inside these?

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It is still rather weedy out the front, but let’s ignore them and admire the poppies that are exploding into flower.

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I must show you the seed heads of the salsify. I am not sure that the neighbours love these seed blowing in the wind, but I think they are wondrous.

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I managed to get the tomatoes in before Cup Day ~ that’s the marker for the right time to plant tomatoes in Melbourne. (And yes, we do get a public holiday for a horse race. We get another for the grand final of the Australian Football League. That’s how obsessed with sport many Melbournians tend to be ~ the rest of us just enjoy the day off!) There are strawberries to be harvested too.

Thank you for sitting and strolling with me, for taking some deep breaths and enjoying what the botanical world has to show. Your company is very special to me and I thank you for that too. Here’s to friendship, and foxgloves!

 

 

Time to stop and prune the roses

My original intention was to write a post with a very different tone. I was halfway through it when I was called away. That gave me time to reflect on what, and how, I had been thinking. The original was to be of the ‘poor me’ type, the ‘give me a break’ type. I had even written an opening disclaimer telling you to flee without reading more!

As you know my Fella, aka Terry, and my Mum, aka Mum, have been in hospital. Mum’s discharge date was put back a number of times. I was the sibling to pick her up, so my plans had to change as well. (Fingers crossed that she is on her way home as I write.) Then, the other night Terry woke me as he needed to go to Emergency ~ thankfully not heart issues, the reason for his earlier hospital stay, but a very badly infected toe.

I fully expected them to dress the wound, give him antibiotics and send him home…..but no. He has been admitted while they investigate the circulation in his feet and legs. It was that news that made me start the original post.

You see, I like to be in control of my time, I like to be organised. While I am content to make Terry and Mum my priorities I get frustrated. Both are within the Hospital System which has to work at its own pace, with the best interest of the patients in mind. So with each visit there will be different news, or maybe no definite news, leading to changes of plans. And my plans have to change too.

While I was walking home from yet another hospital visit (different ward, different view!) I suddenly thought “I have no control over this, let’s just roll with it.” There’s a quote along the lines of Life happens while you are busy making other plans. Life can just do its own thing and I will give up trying to wrest it into my shape for a little while.

However, there is a collorary thought ~ make the most of the pockets of time.

That brings me to the roses of the title of the post. I had a pocket of time when I came back from the hospital, and the roses were calling, as August is almost too late to prune them in Melbourne. I could have mooched around, pretending to tidy up, or I could have blobbed on the couch. Neither would have given me back a little bit of control. So I grabbed the secateurs and braved the garden.

Now I have to warn you that while I have done nothing in the garden for at least 6 weeks, the plants, especially the weeds have been very busy. The following photos show the garden warts weeds and all. You may have some fun identifying many of the different weed species!

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I am being positive, enjoying the contrast of the silver succulent with the green weeds!

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So, one rose bush before pruning.

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And after. That’s better.

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Hidden between the mallows and the winter grass and the nettles are some treasures, doing their own thing. Some are a little munched around the edges, but look how many flowers are on the blue berry bush! (That’s the last photo.) You can also tell that I have recently discovered the ‘selective focus’ function on my phone camera. It blurs the backgrounds, making the weeds look rather attractive, as though I grow them specially to be background plants!

Yesterday I grabbed another pocket of time and went up to Kyneton to see my exhibition for the first time. I was so proud to see my work hanging there! I will write a post and show you photos. However, if you can’t wait, make sure you are on my newsletter list, as I will be showing off there very soon. To add your name, click here. (No spammy stuff, I promise.)

My heart is heavy

Australia voted yesterday. There are two parties that could expect to form government ~ the right-wing Liberal Party and the more moderate Labor Party. The Liberals have been in government for quite a few years, and what a chaotic, mean spirited and clueless Government it was. The Labor Party was consistently ahead in the polls, although the leader, Bill Shorten, who happens to be my Member of Parliament, was always behind Scott Morrison.

So, I was quietly confident, and quietly excited, because the Labor Party was talking about policies that would give some hope to the issues we face. They talked about closing tax loop holes that would free up money to be spent on cancer care; the Liberals called it a Retirement Tax. Labor had policies and ideas to do something about climate change. The Liberals, who have a rotten record on climate change, wanted to know where the money was coming from; Shorten rightly pointed out that we couldn’t afford not to act.

And so it went on. Labor proposed ideas, the Liberals harped on about high taxes and ‘you can’t trust Bill’.

Watching the count last night was a shock. Not only did the Liberals return to government, but with a bigger majority. They won seats. Morrison is hailed as the Miracle Worker, winning the unwinable election.

Meeks has more detail on her blog Meeka’s Mind.

To add to my woes of the last 24 hours, there was no Democracy Sausage at my Polling Booth 😳 and our teapot had an accident (yes, I am looking at you my Lovely Fella!).

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I had a restless night last night, despairing over what this says about us as Australians and as world citizens.

This election has been a choice, and I feel that voters have chosen self-interest rather than a better future for us all. The Liberals are no friends of the environment. Malcolm Turnbull was dumped as Prime Minister because of the climate skeptics in his party. The huge Adani coal mine will go ahead and the nonsense of ‘clean coal’ will be investigated. The talk about ‘future generations’ is simply talk.

My mind spun last night, and then got stuck on one thought ~ I felt powerless, without control. So, I need to take control of the things I can, starting with my garden.

Why the garden?

  • It brings me joy, digging and planting brings me peace, and I need that.
  • There’s exercise too, well known for regulating mood.
  • In my little patch I can encourage pollinators and microorganisms and birds and butterflies. The world needs havens for these.
  • It helps me monitor seasonal changes and moon cycles.
  • My veggie garden is in the front yard, getting maximum sun, encouraging others to see that even a little bit of soil can grow something. Many vegetables are very easy to grow.
  • Because it is in the front yard the Fella and I can do a little to help foster community. We often have conversations with people walking past. Indeed just yesterday I had a chat with a neighbour originally from Lebanon about rosemary. She told me that it made a very soothing tea for colds. Last time I wrote about my garden I told you that we have a system with another neighbour ~ her veggie scraps for our excess produce.

Fired up, today I went to the local nursery and bought:

  • pea straw for compost (organic, but in a plastic wrapper ~ go figure that one)
  • Zoopoo ~ compost from animals’ waste at the zoo!
  • Red mustard seedlings

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  • Seed potoates
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I don’t plant them very deep, and then cover them with mulch
  • Spring onion seedlings
  • Garlic
  • Seed packets of turnips, pal choy and swedes

Already growing are the peas, an earlier sowing of garlic and silver beet.

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We are heading into Winter, even though the weather is still warm and dry, but things are still flowering in the backyard.

Nerines

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a corn flower

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a foxglove (yep, that’s a bath at the back of it….don’t ask….)

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the white correa

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and who can resist a dandelion?

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The pots are doing well (can you see my new Japanese fish kite?)

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and the worms seem happy in their little worm farm. (This photo looks a little strange….the washing is hanging on the line a couple of metres behind the worm farm, not dangling in it!)

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There are other ways to help the world too, but my little patch of healthy garden is an important start for me. Let me leave you with this quote, where Leonard Woolf, husband of Virginia Woolf is speaking:

I will end… with a little scene that took place in the last months of peace. They were the most terrible months of my life, for, helplessly and hopelessly, one watched the inevitable approach of war. One of the most horrible things at that time was to listen on the wireless to the speeches of Hitler—the savage and insane ravings of a vindictive underdog who suddenly saw himself to be all-powerful. We were in Rodmell during the late summer of 1939, and I used to listen to those ranting, raving speeches. One afternoon I was planting in the orchard under an apple-tree iris reticulata, those lovely violet flowers… Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: “Hitler is making a speech.” I shouted back, “I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.” Last March, twenty-one years after Hitler committed suicide in the bunker, a few of those violet flowers still flowered under the apple-tree in the orchard. Leonard Woolf, “Downhill all the way: An autobiography of the years 1919 to 1939” 

How does my garden grow?

We are having very stable Autumn weather at the moment. It’s my favourite time of the year, especially to garden. The soil is still warm enough to plant things in (although very dry) but the cooler nights are turning the leaves into glorious reds and yellows.

But it is dry ~ our driest start to a year on record. That’s a scary stat, because we are well used to dry conditions. So, let’s hope for the rains to come soon.

Let’s turn our eyes away from that for a little while, and look to what is happening in the garden, because I have been trying to get things under control.

As you know the front yard is our veggie patch. The corn, beans and tomatoes are finished, and I cleared away all that debris. We left the corn roots to rot down into the soil ~ it’s not just laziness!

At the moment there is nothing to see, except the spread compost. If you had x-ray eyes you would see the pea seeds and snow peas seeds beginning to germinate under the soil.

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Nothing to see here!

The bees have been very active over the last couple of months. At the moment the rosemary bush is one of the few food sources for them. It looks scraggly, but the bees are loving it. And I have been delighted to see a native blue banded bee. It is a beautiful bee, with quite a loud buzz. They are solitary bees and you can find out more about them here. The backyard bird bath is too deep for bees, so I set up their own water station  in a shallow bowl and stones under the rosemary. I will say that I’ve never seen them use it!

The other thing to show you before we head down the back is the containers ready for my neighbour to collect. Dagmar lives in a flat, with no chance for her own garden. Like all of us, she hates wasting her food scraps, so we have set up a system where she leaves her scraps and coffee grinds. We put them into the compost or worm farm and return the washed container. The drop off point is the blue stone block near the tap.

Chillies are the only produce to share with her at the moment.

The backyard is looking more under control too (well, parts of it).

The salvia is growing so well I have planted two more.

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A helebore made it through years of neglect, so I figure they grow well in the garden too. Two more have gone in.

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The tatty one on the right is the older plant. One of the new plants is at the back, behind the foxgloves.

Mum gave me a punnet of corn flowers. They are doing well, growing at the base of the sedum.

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The poor fuchsia isn’t doing so well. It may need more sun. And a repot.

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The pelargonium is flowering well, but something gets in and munches the flowers before the bud opens. Any thoughts?

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But the begonias are thriving on neglect

While our vine is looking rather tatty, and there are so many leaves to sweep…

I am lucky to be able to enjoy the neighbour’s tree from my back door. Autumn is a magical season.

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Back in Menindee

Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project is happening again in Menindee, outback New South Wales. This is my seventh time up here, so many of you are familiar with the story. But just in case you don’t know, here is the short version. (For the longer version you can jump to our website Beckler’s Botanical Bounty. Sorry, can’t do a hyperlink.)

In 1860 the Bourke and Wills Expedition set up their supply camp in Menindee, a small town on the Darling River. The Expedition was to be the first crossing of the continent from Melbourne in the south to north at the Gulf of Carpentaria. While Bourke and three others made it there, the Expedition was a disaster.

However, our project is connected to Hermann Beckler, the doctor on the Expedition. He remained in Menindee, where he had resigned in furious disagreement with Bourke. Beckler was fascinated by Australian plants and collected widely in the area. His friendship with Ferdinand Mueller at the Melbourne Botanical Gardens meant that the specimens collected by Beckler became part of the collection in the Herbarium.

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The Darling River (copyright: AnneLawson 2018)

Fast forward 150 years to 2010, when the Project began as a celebration of the 150 anniversary of the Expedition. We have been collecting the same species Beckler collected, and then painting these plants.

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My Cullen paintings at our Beckler exhibition in Ballarat earlier this year.

There were 120 plants on Beckler’s List. This year we have only 38 more to find!

However, I doubt that we will find any plants to collect and paint this year. (Warning: from here on in I am writing about the effects of drought, and I am feeling angry about the state of affairs.)

The drought has been on the news lately, mainly showing politicians in Akubra hats pontinficating about their ‘generosity’ with belated funding. Up here it hits you in the face.

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It is so dry, unbelievably dry. It’s an environment that always looks ragged, but we have always found things growing, often carpets of daisies, things twining through the salt bushes or flashes of colour on the sandy banks.

This year there is so little; no annuals at all. No daisies, not even the fried eggs one that has been so common. No pimeleas dancing in the breeze. No Cullens, the plants I have been painting, not even Cullen discolor a prostrate version and has been growing abundantly on the golf course in past years. (I have found one plant, growing in the nature strip in town!) Not even very much onion weed, that has always grown everywhere.

Even the perennials are stressed. Much of the saltbush looks dead. I say “looks” because a local has told us that with the first rains it will grow again from the centre. But to see a bare landscape, with even the saltbush dead or struggling is heartbreaking.

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The mighty river red gums are holding their own down on the banks of the Darling River, but the leaf and bark litter and fallen limbs tell of their stress. Beneath them are Swainsonia greyana ready to burst into purple flower and is the only species that looks to be flourishing. The sennas are holding their own too, providing a burst of yellow in a sere landscape.

There is no moisture in the soil, and there are no roots of the annuals to bind it. So the soil just flies away. The Fella and I drove into Broken Hill on the day of high wind, and we could see the dust storm carrying away the soil.

And it’s not Summer yet.

It is distressing. I admire the resilience and courage of those that live here, building communities and lives.

I know that drought has been a part of the Australian landscape. I find a glimmer of reassurance knowing that the native plants are adapted to these periods of drought. However, I also know that we humans are affecting the climate and that we must reduce our CO2 emissions. Instead we have a government that refuses to set any emission targets, preferring coal over green energy. Some on the government benches refuse to acknowledge that climate change is influenced by human action.

Last month we changed prime ministers, not through a general vote and not over policy, but because some members thought Malcolm Turnbull would loose seats in the next election. These Climate Change Deniers have that sort of influence.

Meanwhile our environment, and the people living in it are suffering.

I know that the plants here have evolved with drought, and when the next rains come there will be a blossoming of life. It’s important to know. But climate change is putting unnecessary stresses on them, and it is that that we must do something about. And that requires serious, concerted political action, and that is what we are not getting.

I was going to leave you with a sunrise photo, help you understand the beauty of this place, but internet connection is so frustrating. (This post has taken nearly a day to write.) I will post more when I get home next week, and show you more than the drought.

Pesky possums*

* Warning: alliteration ahead!

Pesky possums have been a part of life in Melbourne for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a house next to a park, so we always had possums playing. They loved to chase each other around the roof, sounding like marauding hordes. Then there is the unholy scream they make, enough to chill your bones.

I well remember one time when we were woken by our dog, Galahad barking on the front verandah. We had long ago dropped the “Sir” from his name, as he did not live up to his gentle, ethereal namesake. So image our surprise to find that a baby possum had ousted Galahad from the door mat and was keeping this big dog at bay. I felt sorry for this wee, frightened creature and went to pick it up. My reward was a bite on my finger, and later a tetanus injection that hurt more than the bite! From memory the possum scampered off, and probably grew up to be one of the marauding hordes on the roof.

Then I moved to my own house and I would listen smugly to gardening shows where there were inevitably complaints about possums.

“The possums have eaten all my rosebuds. What can I do?”

“The possums eat the rind off the lemons and leave the fruit to rot. What can I do?”

“The possums…..” “The possums….”

I say smugly because I didn’t have pesky possums. My roses and lemon tree had many other problems, but not possum problems. However, the Gardening Gods do not like smug gardeners…….and you know where I am going with this……..

Yep, I have possums, pesky possums.

My pesky possums are not pilfering the roses or the lemons (and that is not smugness ~ just give them time!). No they are plundering the vine.  And this is a problem because it is one of our main forms of summer cooling.

You may remember me talking about the vine before. We have ceiling fans rather than air conditioning, and rely on the vine to cover and shade the eastern side of the house. It’s been a great system as the morning sun doesn’t get a chance to beat into the house. But now the possums have come to play, and they just love to nibble the new shoots of the vine down to little nubs.

The weather has been hot this November ~ 36º today. We seem to have gone straight from the cold of Winter to the heat of Summer, without Spring in between. We are missing the covering of the vine.

So, I am trying to out-fox the pesky possums. Surely with some human ingenuity and the rampant growth of the vine I can get the tendrils up the wires. My thoughts are that if I can overwhelm the possums with young shoots some of them will sneak past and take hold. Armed with a ball of string and a rake I have been tying and training, trying to keep the young shoots away from places where the possums can reach out to take a nibble.

This is the state of the vine:

If you look hard you can see the string amongst the tangle of tendrils.

At the moment I think it is nil all, but it’s only half-time! And a long hot Summer ahead of us. I will let you know the final score!

Other gardening news….

It is time for the jacarandas to flower. Again I have written about them before.

I have had a delightful volunteer in the front garden, in among the onions!

A red poppy was a delightful surprise, and I wonder where she came from.

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Autumn

Autumn may be my favourite season but it’s like picking a favourite book. However, I do love Autumn. I love how it encourages us to wind down from the heat of summer, to enjoy the rain and the chilly nights, to see the world changing.

It is also a good time to garden. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold, and there is enough rain to encourage you to believe that the plants will settle in okay. The soil still has some Summer warmth, and our Winters are mild enough to let plants burble along until the burst of Spring.

I cleaned out the summer vegetables, and prepared the soil for a winter crop. This was mainly compost and warm castings.

 

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Cabbages and brussel sprouts, with onions in the background. Over by the fence is the currant bush.

Now the cabbages are starting to look like cabbages. I spent time yesterday rubbing the eggs of the cabbage moth from the back of the leaves.

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We chopped back the rosemary bush and offered sprigs to the neighbourhood.

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The spring onions, pak choi and spinach are all holding their own.

The seeds for the pak choi and spinach were a gift from Hanna and Al, to thank us for coming to their wedding. If you know Hanna you will not be surprised to hear that these little tags were all hand-created by her, with some input from Al, I am sure!

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The silver beet (chard) is begining to flourish now that it has come out from under the beans. (Who knew there was any way to slow down the growth of silver beet?!)

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Work has gone on in the very neglected back yard. For a few years now it has been left to its own devices, it is time to wrench back a bit of control. I have been planting beside the fence…..a grevillia (Robyn Gordon) and a little eremophilia vernicosa. This is described as a delightful small shrub with pink flowers in spring, drought tolerant and good for heavy soils. What more could I ask for?

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The tiny leaves of the eremophila

Also planted is a ground cover, Helichrysum argyrophyllum. It has lovely everlasting daisies from early Summer to Autumn. Behind it is a small tea tree, Leptospermum scoparium. It sounds quite spectacular with pink flowers that cascade from Spring to Autumn, with narrow leaves that provide a dramatic backdrop. (Well, that’s what the label says!)

 

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Next to them are two roses, ‘Red intuition’ and a white Iceberg. The Iceberg is very special as it was grown from a cutting for me by my sister

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There is more work to do in the back. I have a big bush to remove and more plants to plant. They won’t get in the ground now, so will have to wait until the soil warms up in Spring.

I want to leave my Autumn theme with a little poem, or a blessing. It is by one of Australia’s unique treasures, Michael Leunig, from his little book “When I talk to you”:

Autumn

We give thanks for the harvest of the heart’s work;

Seeds of faith planted with faith;

Love nurtured by love;

Courage strengthened by courage;

We give thanks for the fruits of the struggling soul,

The bitter and the sweet;

For that which has grown in adversity

And for that which has flourished in warmth and grace;

For the radiance of the spirit in autumn

And for that which must now fade and die’

We are blessed and give thanks.

Amen