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How does my garden grow?

How does my garden grow?

It’s quite a while since I have done a gardening post. But before I get to that, let me wish each of you the best for 2019. I hope it is a calm and healthy year for you. We can certainly do with both.

In my last post I spoke about my lack of New Year celebrations. Well, this year I did see some fireworks. The Fella and I walked to Footscray Park and watched them on the bridge over the Maribyrnong River, then walked home! Fireworks always make me smile.

The walk home was good too, because all the families were leaving the celebrations, and I could see how diverse my community is. We had all come together for this. That made me smile too.

Now on to the garden….with a slight detour to talk about the weather, like all good Melbournians love to do. It does affect the garden, so there is some connection.

Many parts of Australia, including my favourite arid inland place, Menindee, have been experiencing prolonged hot conditions, with many days well over 40 degrees C. Our Summer has been pretty mild. Then we copped the blast of heat yesterday.

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But we were really lucky because the cool change came through mid-afternoon and the temperature plummeted, 10 or so degrees in about 20 minutes.

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Melbourne can be like that. My Fella says “Melbourne doesn’t have weather, it has samples”. ūüėČ

Today it is 18 degrees, with a misty rain, which my garden will be loving. Nice way to bring it back to the garden. But a little more weather…..Our Winter was dry, but we had some good Spring rains. I mention that because the garden loved the rain and flourished.

The garden has been something of a work in progress, as gardens usually are. Over the last couple of years some plants have gone and some planted. Then, in the lead up to my Open Studio, the Fella and I had a Big Clean Up. It helped that it was the annual council  hard rubbish collection. We got rid of buckets of unknown garden stuff ~ potting mix? worm castings? ash? We cleaned and cleared and weeded and swept. Very satisfying.

The other difference was the garden hose we bought this time last year. I have no connection to the company, but I am quite happy to spruik my Hoselink hose. It wasn’t the cheapest on the market, but it works wonderfully. It is a relief to not battle old bits of hose snaking the way through the garden. It retracts like a dream.

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The fitting is brass, not plastic that breaks up in the sun. It has so many settings and a great feature that allows me to adjust the flow without having to go anywhere near the tap. That’s the yellow lever three quarters of the way down. My only slight criticism is that it is heavy, and might be an issue for someone with arthritis.

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Now, let me show you some pretty pictures of how my garden is growing…..

The roses are abundant. I love salvias and this one is a stunner ~ dark blue and black. It looks great with the nasturtiums that are taking over. Nasturtiums make me smile!

Many of the plants have flourished with the Spring rains and repotting.

These plants (I forget what they are called) cause me grief, as they want to take over the garden. However, they fill in the area under the maple and I enjoy their flowers, and the bees love them. I am ruthless whenever I see a seedling trying to escape the strict boundaries I have set for it.

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Our vine has featured in posts before. We don’t have air-conditioning, instead use the vine to shade the house. The pesky possums are still eating the new tips and slowing the growth. That makes the vine more determined to grow, and it is getting up over the supporting wires. In fact, I can see further growth when I compare these photos of a week ago to today. It might be there next time the really hot weather hits. Yay vine!

The front yard, where we grow the veggies is doing okay too. We have corn and beans powering along. The strawberries continue to be lush and have started to produce for the Summer.

[You will just have to imagine these photos, because the gremlins are in my WordPress photos and not allowing me to upload. Anyone else having problems?]

The marjoram is something else that the bees love. You wouldn’t think these flowers would be a bee magnet, would you? So it stays, even though it does get droopy (but then, don’t we all!)

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While I haven’t been blogging much of late, I have been creating. I’m sewing more pumpkins¬†(scroll down the page in the link to see a previous one) and creating landscape trees¬†(again, scroll down). My Letter From the Studio will start up again for the new year soon. So, if you would like to keep in touch with my art work, sign up for the letter, or leave me a note in the comments and I can add your email address to the list.

Categories
How does my garden grow? Odds and Ends Plants

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¬†~ 36¬ļ 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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Categories
How does my garden grow? Plants

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

Categories
Uncategorized

How does my garden grow?

Before I show you my garden, I just want to remind you of my tree painting giveaway. If you would like to be in the draw to win it, head to my last post to leave a comment. Hugs to those of you who have already entered.

Last year my veggie patch in the front yard looked like this

with the tomatoes still in their pots and the seeds in their packets.

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The tomatoes did okay, but the volunteer plants were much more prolific. Both varieties have given us rich red tomatoes, our best for quite a few years. I think a consistent amount of water was the key.

In the back patch near the rosemary hedge I planted Kipfler potatoes. They grew well. The potatoes are small, but tasty. Despite not planting them very deep, potatoes hide in the soil and reappear the next season. So, as well as the Kipflers we also harvested purple spuds that came up elsewhere.

The corn came up strong and tall. The cobs weren’t as good as last year. It may have been a different variety or maybe too much competition. Around it I planted silverbeet and beans, and the volunteer tomatoes flourished in amongst the corn. The silverbeet certainly suffered. Who knew that it wouldn’t flourish in all possible situations?!

I deliberately planted the beans at the base of the corn, hoping that the beans would curl up the stalk, giving back nitrogen for the corn to use. The beans loved climbing up the corn, but didn’t know what to do when they¬†reached the top!

To solve the problem I have untangled the runners from the tomatoes, silverbeet and corn and let them ramble on the Aframe that the Fella made for me quite a few years ago.

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Yesterday I had one of those extremely satisfying gardening days. I pulled out the parsley plants that had gone to seed, the old tomato bushes, dug up volunteer potatoes and sweet potatoes and dug over a bed.

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As well I took time out to watch the bees in the oregano flowers. It is difficult to cut the flower heads because there are always bees there, sometimes butterflies too. Anything that brings in the bees and insects is welcome in my garden!

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I also harvested and cooked.

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Slow roasted tomatoes are my favourite at the moment. Pop the tomatoes into a dish (cut them or not, as you like), add some oil, balsamic vinegar, parsley or any other herb you fancy, salt and paper, and some garlic cloves. Put into a slow oven 150 degrees or so until they are cooked to your liking. Mine stayed in for about an hour. I will use them tonight, with slow roasted eggplant and peppers, bought today at a farmers’ market, as the basis of a pasta sauce. ~Sigh~

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Remember to head over to Time for a tree giveaway to enter my giveaway. This is the tree painting you could win.

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Copyright: Anne Lawson 2017
Categories
Artists

Planting one more seed.

As you know I love sketchbooks and I love gardening. You can imagine how this delightful little book made me smile. It made my Mum smile. I hope it makes you smile too.

Categories
How does my garden grow?

Sustainable watering

Lately I have been very busy with my job at the holiday programme. I had forgotten how tiring it is to get up with an alarm at 6:00 and then work the day. I know that most of you do it every week day for much of the year, but it is a few years since I have done it full time, and I enjoy my leisurely mornings. I enjoy my holiday programme work too and it is a great way to keep a connection to kids. We do fun things. Last Friday we had Butterfly Adventures come to visit. The kids were able to feed monarch butterflies and see them close up.

I was able to find out something about monarch butterflies that had been niggling away in my mind. Were they the same species as the monarchs in North America? Apparently they are. Sam, the Butterfly Man, told me that in the 1800’s individuals were blown across the Pacific during huge storms, and colonised here in Australia. Of course this would have been happening over the millennia. The difference was that Australia had recently¬†been colonised by the British who also brought plants that¬†the monarchs need to feed on. So when they were blown across in the 1800’s they had food sources and multiplied here. As they ¬†haven’t adapted to feed from native plants, they have not displaced native butterflies. [Do you know any more? Have I got this right? Happy to discuss with you.]

When I haven’t been at work or recovering, I have been busy with new ink feather drawings in my Etsy shop, and then all the attendant social media that goes with it. (Sorry that I haven’t been dropping by your blog to see what you have been up to.)

So, it was great to do something completely different on Saturday. The Fella and I went to a sustainable watering workshop.

I am lucky because my local council takes sustainability seriously. It supports a programme aimed at gardeners who want to grow their own food, create water wise gardens and attract wild life. I found out about the workshop through their My Smart Garden Programme website.

The Workshop¬†was held at the Avondale Heights Community Garden. Avondale Heights is a suburb about 20 minutes from me, and is perched on the edge of the Maribrynong River. Apparently the area was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and his intention was to have community spaces, where the houses faced inward to these reserves. Unfortunately this didn’t happen and the houses were built to face outward to the road. However behind some of the back fences are open spaces, including the one that the community gardeners use. It is a lively space, with¬†a number of flourishing garden beds.

After an introduction we were spit into two groups. One went with Karen to see a hands on demonstration of setting up a drip watering system. She was using piping that had holes along it in 30 cm intervals. Apparently this product doesn’t clog up with dirt, and you don’t have to physically punch the holes. It does mean that plants need to be planted close to the holes. Each hole allows 2 litres of water though in an hour. That is a good amount for most vegetables. You would need a longer time for fruit trees.

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The second group was with Scott, a passionate permaculturalist, who uses many permaculture principles in his garden. He was talking to us about using ‘free water’, such as the water that usually runs off drives when it rains or the overflow from the air conditioner. He advocated creating swales. A swale is a mound created to slow down the movement of water. Usually it is a mound of earth, but can also be branches or small rocks. The idea is that as the water is held behind the swale¬†it soaks into the ground. It is stored there where you want¬†it, rather than racing off into the storm water. They can be as simple or¬†as complicated as you need. Suburban backyards probably only need simple designs. The trick is to understand where and how the water flows on your land.

A large soak was created at the end of the reserve. Scott explained how the depression and reed bed absorbed the water that would have run off down the drain behind. It had been planted it with plants indigenous to the area.

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I left with lots of information and lots to think about, especially how to preserve as much water as we can on our property. Grey water is something to consider. However there are health and safety issues involved with using this water, both for humans and the soil. While not the only issue for humans, it is important to remember to keep children and pets away from grey water. This link to lanfax labs has a lot of information.

Also it reminded me of watery habits I learnt and did during our long drought. There is still a need for those habits, such as using a bucket under taps for catching second hand water. We still do this in the kitchen to catch rinsing water, water from cooking vegetables etc. However I had stopped doing it in the shower. There is a good amount to catch while the water warms up.

What do you do to help keep your water on your property? Let the rest of us know in the comments.

Not only did we have two interesting speakers who willingly shared their knowledge and expertise, but we also got morning tea, with home made biscuits (!) and a BBQ at the end. As well we got a showbag to take home. Look at the goodies that were in the bag….

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Categories
How does my garden grow? Kindness

How does my garden grow?

It is quite a while since I have talked to you about my garden (aside from reblogging an earlier post about the jacarandas in my street). That’s partly because I have had so many other things to write about, and partly because when I got home from the Flinders Ranges it was an overgrown jungle. How could there be so many weeds in such a small space?

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
How many weeds could there be? (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

Let me remind you that my vegetable patch is actually in my front yard, because that is the part of my garden that gets the most sun. It is a good size, about 3 x 2 metre. I have built up 4 beds and do my version¬†of crop rotation. One of the advantages of veggies in the front yard is that you have all sorts of interesting conversations with the neighbours and people walking past. It makes it very easy to give away vegetables. I thrust broad beans on anyone who stopped for 2 seconds! ūüôā And we have had some generous donations in return, as you will see if you read on.

Once I conquered some of the weeds I found that I had a silver beet tower and a glut of  broad beans. I was forced to be inventive when cooking them, and wrote about some of the recipes here.

I thought we¬†would have a break from silver beet…until a thoughtful¬†¬†neighbour brought me some more seedlings. They could not be abandoned, so they have gone in, and are doing well.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

I had some strawberry crowns that were past their best. So I dug them up and replanted them on the street front, where the non-existent fence is, as well as along the path to the front door. They are doing very well. I love strawberries so much that I bought 2 more plants, one is ‘Red Gauntlet’ and the other is ‘Bonnie’, a white strawberry. Such sweet little flowers and delicious fruit — if we can get to them¬†before the snails!

The neighbour who gave me the silver beet also gave me lots of tomato seedlings which are powering along. In the photo you may see a pumpkin leaf or two. It has come up out of the compost. Pumpkins tend to take over, so¬†if it wants to stay it must be well behaved. There are also photos of potatoes. Would you believe me if I said that they were free too? When I went to the nursery to buy seed potatoes they told me it was past the time to plant them. However, I could help myself to the bags over there, for no charge. I had nothing to loose if they didn’t come up, so I planted them out. They all sprouted¬†and are growing very well.

Next time I will tell you how to plant potatoes the easy way. And remind me to tell you about the sweet potato too.

I love the flowers of the Solanaceae family — tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants. They look like very fancy turbans, and are great fun to draw!

So, from mayhem to order, with a little help from the compost bin and worm farm and a lot of help from the Under Gardener (aka My Fella ūüėČ )

Categories
How does my garden grow? Plants

How does my garden grow…….in late Autumn?

We have had some glorious weather over the last few days. After some rain the sun has been shining, encouraging quite a bit of growth. Gardening has been a pleasure, well, except for the weeds. But more of them later. Firstly, some of the pretty parts.

Like the crepe myrtle. It grows down in the back corner. I love it for its flowers in Spring and leaves in Autumn, as well as it’s bark and the shape of its branches. It really is a stunning tree through all the seasons. And it has needed nothing but admiration from me.

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The correas are in flower.

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The sedum has flowered and now the seed heads add an extra dimension to the garden beds.

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Is it time for orchids to flower? Apparently it is in my garden!20140517-202004.jpg

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And now for the weeds….
There is the old adage “A weed is just a plant in the wrong place”. That’s true, but they are also opportunistic plants. While they certainly grow in my garden beds, with regular maintenance I am able to keep them under control. However I have areas that are not beds, sort of biggish pathways, I guess. The weeds love to grow here, especially at the moment.

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I don’t want them growing there but I recognise that they have been able to harvest nutrients from the soil in these parts. This is especially true of stinging nettles. They have deep roots which are able to draw up minerals from deeper down than other weeds. I want to recycle those nutrients back to the plants I want to grow.

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Composting is not really an option and poison is definitely not one. I use a cold composting system rather than hot. This means that while the matter decays, the seeds are not necessarily destroyed. Spreading more weed seeds around the garden is not my idea! I could just chuck them into the green bin and have the council take them away. Then the nutrients are taken away too.

My solution is to put the weeds into an old style rubbish bin and cover with water. (Remember those small, round plastic rubbish bins with lids!) The weeds will rot down, giving me some lovely Weed Tea to use as liquid fertiliser. The rotted material can then be put into the compost, without fear of seed germination.

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What do you do with your weeds?

Categories
How does my garden grow? Plants

How does my garden grow….in early Autumn? (Part 1)

Today is dull and rainy, perfect for staying inside to tell you about my Autumn garden.

We had a run of¬†very hot days over Summer ~ 40 plus degrees. That knocked the garden around. In Spring last year I planted out a bed with annuals and over the Summer I learnt what survived and what didn’t. The lobelias didn’t make it through. The pansies were a mix. The first ones I put in as small seedlings in Spring limped along ~ a couple of plants have survived. Later in Summer I put in some larger pansies to add quick colour to the bed. (I was hosting a family BBQ.) They have done well. The wallflowers are now flourishing and the aquilegias have a second burst of leafy growth. They didn’t flower this year. Any thoughts on why?

Backyard

This photo is a long shot of the garden, down to the shed and the back fence. The annuals are to the left ~ you can just see the pansies and wallflowers. The verbena, at the bottom left corner, also did very well over Summer. The bush in the centre is a correa and you can just pick out its long red and cream flowers.

The next 3 photos are of the grapevine being cut back. We don’t have air conditioning in our house so our back living area relies on the cool shade of this vine. It works remarkably well. Come Autumn though, it needs to be cut back. Now the sunlight streams through the windows.

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There is a lot of green waste. We filled up our green bin, as well as the neighbours’.¬†The bins are collected fortnightly. The waste is used composted and used on Council garden beds. It is good to know that if we can’t use it it is not going to landfill.

I also added leaves to the worm farm and the compost.

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I am always fascinated with the small things in the garden. These pelargonium seed pods intrigued me.

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Lastly, for this post, is the beautiful nerine that is in flower at the moment. Tough as old boots, but always comes up trumps.

I have been working in the front yard, and will show you what I have been up to next time.

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Categories
Books of the Month

February Books — a classic, a mapmaker and some gardeners

Firstly, the classic

The Chrysalids ~ John Wyndham

I first read this when I was a teenager. I had always had a longing to be telepathic, so this book resonated with me. I reread it quite a few years later and while I still enjoyed the telepathy aspect, I was fascinated with the post-nuclear society that Wyndham creates. But let me tell you about the plot, before I go on about what I enjoyed reading in it this time.

David, the narrator, is a teenager, growing up in a post~apocalypse world. The devastating event happened hundreds of years ago, so the rigid society David lives in has developed strong laws about deviations away from the norm. The norm is based upon the Bible, the only book to have survived. (Why is it always the Bible? Why not The Origin of the Species or an Agatha Christie novel?! ūüôā ¬†) Deviant crops are burnt ¬†and animals slaughtered. Babies are checked at birth. Any deviations and the baby is sent to the Fringes, an area between the ‘civilised’ world and the Badlands.

David has first hand experience of this when, as a young boy, he makes friends with Sophie. Sophie has grown up with her parents, away from mainstream society. She has six toes. Events happen that cause the family to flee to the Fringes and David sees how dangerous deviations can be.

Because while his physical body is normal, he is a telepath, able to send mind pictures to a group of others in the area. The group was safe until the birth of David’s sister, Petra. She was a very powerful sender, which lead to their unmasking as well as their rescue.

The copy I read this time had an introduction (sorry, I have forgotten who wrote it). The Chrysalids was written in Britain in the 1950s and this introduction placed the story into the social context of that time. There were still resonances in Britain from the Second World War ~ effects of rationing, the destruction of industries, the loss of the empire. It was interesting to reread it with that in mind.

However the most potent influence on Wyndham seems to have been the nuclear issue. The atom bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing outrage and concern about a nuclear future. Fears were heightened by the impact of the Cold War. It became the dominating theme in The Chrysalids.

As for the writing….It must be a difficult task to write in the first person, especially when describing a new world. The narrator can only tell what he/she knows. Wyndham is able to build up our understanding of the society David lives in with a lightness of touch.

For example, David overhears a conversation between his mother and her sister. The sister has given birth to a baby with a defect, and is asking for help from David’s mother. The defect is not spelt out. From this incident we learn about how babies with deformities, and their mothers (but of course not fathers) are dealt with. David’s mother and father are fleshed out and it allows David’s compassion and growing concern to come through.

However, Wyndham’s writing does become more ponderous when he fills the reader in on the Badlands, a world that David could not know about. David’s sympathetic uncle has been a sailor, and travelled past these areas, with all their grotesque plants and devastation. He tells David what these areas are like, but it comes across more as a lecture than a conversation.

And the ending is literally the God-In-The-Machine technique, which was sort of annoying. But it did give the novel hope, which, given the horror of the world that Wyndham created, was a relief.

The Cartographer ~ Peter Twohig

This is also narrated by a young boy of about 11, who is growing up in the 1950s in the working class Melbourne suburb of Richmond. We never know his name. The only clue is that it starts with T. He assumes different personas, the Outlaw, the Train driver but mostly, the Cartographer.

He is still reeling from the accidental death of his twin brother Tom. The underlying story in the novel is the narrator coming to terms with his guilt; he tried to help, but could not save Tom. He reinvents himself as a superhero, who would have been able to rescue his brother.

He takes on the persona of the Cartographer as he makes a map of his journeys around Richmond. The map is meant to protect him from dangerous¬†places, such as the playground where Tom died. It doesn’t work, because he finds danger everywhere he goes. But then he goes into some pretty amazing places. Backyards and lane ways are only some of them. Down drains, along train tunnels, into houses, even ending up in the cellars underneath Government House.

In the early chapters he climbs a ladder and witnesses a murder in the upstairs room. He confronts a kidnapper down one tunnel and, while creeping through a house, watches an ugly confrontation between a mother and child.

It sounds rather grim, and you watch the boy with amazement as he dives down another drain or investigates another house. But somehow it is quite a funny novel. The boy’s relationship with his dog, Biscuit, is gently amusing. He has a great relationship with his grandfather, a shady character who knows which horse will win and when something will fall off the back of a truck. His grandfather is one of the few stable influences in the boy’s life and Grandad¬†helps to sort out some of the mayhem that coalesces around him.

The boy is an engaging character. He doesn’t quite take himself seriously. He is resilient, ¬†intelligent and such a risk taker that you worry for him. There were times when I thought “Oh no, not another drain”. But then who knew that there were so many dodgy characters down in that subterranean world! It reminded me of Extremely loud and incredibly close by Jonathan Safran Foer although this book is less sentimental and not as quirky.

And now to the gardeners:

The brother gardeners: Botany, empire and the birth of an obsession ~ Andrea Wulf

This fabulously researched book explores the identities of the men who “made Britain a nation of gardeners and the epicentre of horticultural and botanical expertise.” Wulf wanted to answer the question of why the English garden had its roots in America. While her book talks about a number of interesting characters, such as Daniel Solander, Linnaeus’ apprentice who later worked with Joseph Banks, it is Peter Collinson and John Bartram who are the central characters.

In the mid 1700s Collinson was a wealthy English merchant who had a passion for gardening. Collinson asked his overseas contacts to send him seeds and cuttings for his garden, but it was his developing friendship with Bartram that would be the most productive. Bartram was an American farmer who went on extensive seed collecting trips through the still wild parts of America. He sent Collinson the seeds and cuttings he had collected. Over time many boxes of seeds were sent to Collinson and his friends. They were paid for by subscription. Collison sent back books on botany and natural history so that Bartram could build up his library.

American plants had become very fashionable after Mark Catesby’s return from Virginia and Carolina. He published a book of engravings of his plant paintings and the British fell in love with his magnolias, wisteria and callicarpa. Bartram’s seeds would eventually allow grand landscapes to be planted with native birches, American sycamores, ¬†rhododendrons and many more.

Until Bartram began sending his boxes, autumn in England had been a fairly lacklustre affair. Now the falling of leaves was preceded by an extraordinary show. At Thorndon scarlet oak and white ash competed with the bloodied foliage of tupelo, and the glowing reds and oranges of the large fluttering maple leaves with the aubergine of liquidambar.

It is a fascinating time in history. There was an explosion of unknown plants and animals coming into European consciousness. Many of these new discoveries were to the detriment of the native peoples around the world and often fuelled imperialist desires. However,¬†scientific theory was also expanding to make sense of all the new knowledge. Carl Linnaeus, for example, created the binomial nomenclature to enable uniform species identification. Wulf’s book has some interesting insights into the cranky arrogance of Linnaeus.

It was a good read, fleshing out aspects of that time. I had read about Bartram’s expeditions, especially those with his son. However I didn’t know of his importance to modern gardens, and I was interested to read about the British gardeners.

What have you been reading? Anything that you think I might like? As you can see, my tastes are very broad.¬†Let me know. ¬†ūüėÄ