Sunday, 23 March 2008

Easter daisies

One of the curious things about the different hemispheres of the world is that certain events on the calendar, Easter for instance, occur at the same time around the world, but the seasons are reversed. And thus, what northerners call Michaelmas daisies, or fall asters, become Easter daisies here in Australia.
I've been watching the expanding clump on the corner of our house, guessing from the stem and leaf structure that they might be asters, and wondering what colour they were going to be. As it turns out, a lovely pale sky blue. They remind me quite a lot of one I grew in Canada, acquired from Free Spirit Nursery and named 'Poolicht'. Not a pretty name in English, but it translates as "polar light" which is apt and shows more imagination than the names of many cultivars.
My clump is large enough that I will divide it after flowering and put a matching clump at the other end of the front fence. In the meantime, they give me a chance to experiment with the macro function on my new camera.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Newnes river caves

It was a bright, sunny day for our group's hike to the Newnes river caves yesterday. We had been warned that we would have to wade through water, possibly waist-high, and to dress appropriately and bring extra footwear for wearing in the water. Fortunately, the deepest pool came only to mid-thigh so most people were fine in their shorts. I ended up with wet pantlegs, which I preferred to scratched legs from the bushes lining the track. The sun quickly dried me off as we made our way back to our starting point at the top of the plateau.

It was dark and cool at the bottom of the chasm, although not as dark as my photos make it appear. Where sunlight penetrated the gloom, opportunistic seedlings had sprouted.

The spots on the lens are from droplets of water seeping from ledges above us.

Between the pools, the water had to find a path among massive boulders.

Tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) thrive in the cool, moist conditions at the bottom of the canyon.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Another bird

As I was heading down to the laundry, rounding the corner of the house, I was startled by a raucous squawk at my feet. I had almost stepped on a small bird, squatting on the path. It was obviously not inclined to move, but didn't seem hurt. By the time I had gone for my camera and returned, it had moved out onto an area we had recently cleared for a garden bed, and I was able to take this photo before it flew rather unsteadily off into the ravine. During the time we were having our encounter, other similar birds, most likely its parents, were flitting through the surrounding trees, calling constantly.
It is a bower bird, either a female or a youngster of either sex. The bright blue eye is a characteristic feature. Mature males have plumage of a deep, iridescent purple.(And if I may have a feminist grumble: it took me a while to identify this bird because all the images in my bird books show the mature male only. And even if we ignore the sexist bias, it takes up to seven years for males to acquire their purple plumage so most of the birds one is likely to see in the wild are going to look like the one in my photo.)
These are common birds of the Blue Mountains, their name a recognition of the seraglio the males construct and adorn with sparkling objects, preferably blue, in order to attract the females.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Natural Beauty

Pulpit Rock lookout is on the edge of a sheer drop to the floor of the Grose Valley. Descending the last set of stairs, or ladder really, to the edge of the precipice is a challenge if you have even a vestige of vertigo.

We also admired the native vegetation alongside the trail back to where we had parked the car. Little more than a year ago, this area was swept by one of the worst bushfires in its history. While the blackened silhouettes of trees and shrubs are still clearly visible, many are already leafing out again. The most spectacular are the grass trees (Xanthorrhoea media), which regenerate fast after fire. My photos show the shiny brown seed capsules on the tall (up to 3-metre) stems.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Not the pet pictures!

Sorry, but yes.
Here's George compressed:

And here's George expanded:
(believe it or not, this is one of his preferred sleeping positions)

Friday, 7 March 2008

Prized plant

Some weeks ago, when I bought Dianella 'White Tiger', it wasn't in bloom. I was attracted by its name and even more by its striking foliage, perfect for our grey-themed rock garden along the side lane.

Now it has surprised me by blooming suddenly, and although the flowers are short-lived, they are an unexpectedly dramatic bonus , and will be worth waiting for every year.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Bathurst show

Bathurst is a town about 100km away, lying at the western foot of the Blue Mountains and hence the gateway to the vast western plains. Its show draws exhibitors from the surrounding agricultural areas. We went primarily to check out the animals but ended up doing more people-watching, as entries were sparse in the livestock competitions, perhaps a result of the decade-long drought that has seen many smaller holdings go bankrupt. Although the drought is now officially over, after the wettest summer since 1953, it has devastated rural communities and turned more than a few outback centres into virtual ghost towns.
Michael has a good selection of photos on his website, whereas I only took three: a large man and his small granddaughter taking the dodgem cars very seriously; one of the rides, patronised only by little girls -clearly too sedate for any of the boys; and the winner of the best cake. No really!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Sydney Gardens

On Friday, February 29, I went to see three public gardens in Sydney, taking my sister with me for companionship.
The first stop, and in some ways the best, was Lisgar Gardens in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby. The sign at the entrance explains its origins:

It is a tribute to the local council that this garden, a skilful blend of formal and informal, is so beautiful and well-maintained. It is also one of Hornsby's best-kept secrets. We saw no-one in the hour we spent exploring its many paths.

Garden two was the Swain Garden at Killara, another north shore suburb. Although roughly the same size, it was a quite different experience. The bones were there, but so too was an air of neglect. This garden was donated to Kuringai Council by its owner, a Sydney bookseller, and is cared for (if I may use the term loosely) by various clubs. What this appears to mean is that it's nobody's child. Signs designate which club - Soroptimists, Rotary, RSL - is responsible for which area, so you know who's letting down the side. At least the birds are appreciative: a large family of kookaburras and a pair of king parrots were in residence. Once again, we seemed to be the only human visitors.

The last garden we visited was Kuringai Wildflower Garden. By far the largest at 124 hectares, it is more accurately a bushland reserve threaded with walking trails of varying length and difficulty. There's a large hall adjoining the parking lot where assorted bits of information are posted on the walls, and someone does an informative display with samples of plants that are currently in flower. These are identified with both common and botanical names, but there's no indication of where one might find them in the landscape. The place looks as though it might be staffed, but was eerily silent both times we found ourselves there.
Partly because it seemed so deserted, partly because the Australian bush does not readily reveal its attractions, I found myself losing enthusiasm. But once we set off on one of the trails, we soon became absorbed by the remarkable plants native to this country. Rusty gold candles of Banksia serrata and chubby green brushes on Banksia marginata glowed in the sunlight.

Scribbly gums showed off their colourful bark with its characteristic etching.

We saw a little wallaby cruising along the edge of a picnic area.

And admired this grass tree near the parking lot.

The weather was beautiful, sunny with a hint of autumn chill in the shade: a perfect day for our outing. Granted it was a working day for many, but I found it strange that there were no tourists, retirees, or mums with young children enjoying these public places, all of them free and within easy reach of the city.