Saturday, February 27, 2010

The last weekend of summer!

Can you believe it?  After waiting to get into the garden for weeks and weeks over the summer  ... last weekend was a triumph!  Almost two glorious days gardening ... only interrupted by a heavy shower or two of rain.

So roll on this weekend ...  the last weekend of our summer!  I was so looking forward to getting out there again ... especially after working so hard in the greenhouse garden last weekend ... BUT then the heavens opened once more!!  It might be the end of summer ... but not the end of the 'wet' season!
There was absolutely no chance of finishing off the potting up out in the courtyard garden ....

and no chance of getting out into the greenhouse garden to sow more seedlings!

It was time to take a comfy seat out on the verandah ....

gaze out at the wattles in bloom ....
... appreciate the last of the Lagerstroemia flowers  ....

... drool over some gardening magazines and catalogues ....
and then ???? .... what does a frustrated gardener do when she's had to shelve yet another weekend's worth of work in the garden?   .... cook!     Apple crumble anyone?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wildlife on Wednesday ... the Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)

There is a family of Laughing Kookaburras that live in and around the little valley in the foothills here and they are regular visitors to my property.

These birds are the largest of the kingfishers, but unlike other kingfishers, they inhabit the same territory all year round.

The Laughing Kookaburra is instantly recognisable with its' white belly, whitish head, dark brown eye-stripes ...

.... brown wings and a brown back.

It has a huge bill that is black on the top and tan on the lower mandible ... very useful for handling the food it likes to eat!

It feeds mostly on insects like the Elephant Beetle in the photo above, and also worms and crustaceans.  Although it also likes to dine on the occasional small snake, mammals, frogs and birds. 

The method of hunting is a 'Perch and Pounce" approach.  The kookaburra will sit motionless on a vantage point ... like a tree branch or a railing! ... and stare fixedly at the ground below.

When it sights prey, it will flutter down on to it, seize it in the bill, and fly back to a perch to eat it.  Small prey is usually eaten whole, but larger prey is killed by bashing it against the ground or a tree branch.

That's exactly what this kookaburra was doing right before I got this shot ...  it was bashing the large Elephant Beetle against the rock to kill it.  I've also seen a kookaburra bashing a large snail against a rock in order to smash the shell first.

These birds are called the 'Laughing Kookaburra' as they have a loud, raucous call that sounds very much like a laugh ... the "koo-koo-koo-ka-ka-ka" echoes up and down the valley beside my home every morning, most evenings and sometimes during the day as well.

Here's a little snippet of the Laughing Kookaburra's song.  Whilst the little fellow in the video didn't join in the chorus, he was surrounded by family members in fine voice.  (Try to ignore the Cicada song in the background.  There was a bit of competition going on!)

Over here they are sometimes referred to as "the Bushman's clock" because they call just before dawn every morning!  They are my alarm clock ... I don't really need the other sort at all!

Of course, according to an Aboriginal legend, the kookaburra's famous chorus of laughter every morning is a signal for the sky people to light the great fire that illuminates and warms the earth by day.  It's actually more to do with marking territory ... but I love this story!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wildlife on Wednesday ... the Eastern Grey Kangaroo.

I was asked last week what is the difference between wallabies and kangaroos.  Well ... wallabies are included in the animal group called 'kangaroos'.  Kangaroos are part of the family Macropodidae, a group of marsupial mammals with huge hind feet. They range in size from tiny wallabies to enormous kangaroos, all with the same general body form.

The most obvious difference between a wallaby and a kangaroo is their size.  As a rule, the kangaroo is generally much larger than the wallaby ... it has more height between its ankles and knees.  The kangaroo's legs are built for speed on open terrain ... while the wallaby's more compact legs are built for agility in wooded areas. 

Another difference between the two is their colouring.  A wallaby's coat is usually brighter with two or three differing colours, whilst the kangaroo's is far less spalshy and they tend to be all one colour .... like grey or brown.

If you want to be scientific about telling the difference, you'd have to get them to open up their mouths ... and look at their molars.  They eat their meals in different habitats ... so their teeth have evolved to suit their specific meal choices! 

So following on from last Wednesday's post, I will show you the Eastern Grey Kangaroo which is a kangaroo quite common around north-eastern Queensland.  While I don't see them around my place here in the foothills, they can be seen roaming free in our city's animal sanctuary.

The Eastern Grey Kangaroo has uniform woolly grey-brown fur ... the fur is slightly darker on shoulders and in the middle of the back. The tail is tipped with black.

This is one of the younger Eastern Greys at the Sanctuary.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mosaic Monday - Vibrant Verbenas.

As the 'wet' season is drawing to a close, it's time to make a start on this year's potted annual display.  I've already started planting seeds ... in the next few weeks I'll also start making regular visits to my favourite nurseries for trays of seedlings.

Here at my place I can't plant annuals in a flower bed, so I have lots of potted annuals on display out on my courtyard garden.  I'm rather lucky in that my potted annuals will keep on flowering for anything up to nine months from Autumn right through to the beginning of summer.

One of my favourites are these verbenas that I grow every year and this collage shows some from last year's display.  The seeds for this year's collection are already planted.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Summer's almost over ... and the 'wet' season is coming to its end.

Our great country envelopes your soul,
From the bush, rainforest, desert or shoal.
Wet season, dry, cyclones, deep blue sky,
Breathtaking beauty that makes you cry.

('Our New Mates' by Dave Delaney)

I love this first verse from Dave Delaney's poem ... if truth be told it's the only verse I know by heart!  But this simple yet somehow evocative string of words clearly paints a picture of what we live with .... particularly here in my corner of this vast country.  

Here I'm surrounded by the bush .... the shoals are not far away ... the rainforest is a day trip away and to see the desert we would only have to travel for a few days.  

But it's those next few words that articulates what it's like for me as a gardener living in this place and living with the worst and the best of our climate:  Wet season, dry, cyclones, deep blue sky ...

There are only two distinct seasons here:  
  • the 'dry' which is a long period of warm temperatures, at least 300 days of sunshine, fresh breezes, low humidity and almost no rain (March to November).  This is the time when the area surrounding my home looks dry and brown ...

  • the 'wet' which is a short period of intense tropical downpours, possible flooding, high levels of humidity, overcast skies, the occasional dramatic electrical storm, thunderstorms, and possibly cyclones (December to February).  It's also known as the 'green season' as everything looks refreshed, lush and alive.

To garden successfully in these conditions means you must nurture many drought hardy, heat hardy, sun hardy and humidity hardy plants through a very long 'dry' and then cross your fingers and hope that they all survive the days without the usual sunshine and the torrential monsoonal rainfall that can last anything up to a month.

Well it's almost the end of 'wet' right now and as it draws to a close, it's time to take stock and get ready for the approaching 'dry'.  As a few of my January/February posts indicated, we had monsoonal rainfall and flooding, storms and monsoonal troughs but the cyclones didn't visit our area ... and I did lose plants again.  It happens every year without fail ... but I'm learning as I go and the losses are not as bad as last year.

So right now it's time to begin planting my seeds .... for my potted annual display ... 
the fertilizing is done ... now that it won't all just get washed away ...
and the re-potting is done ... out with the old and dead and in with the still alive and kicking!  

But still one more h..u..g..e job left ... I've just gotta get into the greenhouse garden and start trimming back some of that jungle ... now that's one part of my garden that loves the 'wet'!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wildlife on Wednesday ... the Agile Wallaby.

Because we live outside a city in the foothills of the surrounding ranges and in the midst of bushland, we get to see some varied and fabulous wildlife ... so I thought I would highlight some of these amazing creatures every Wednesday.

For my first post on wildlife I'd love to share some photos of one of our garden visitors that we get to see almost every day of the year .... the Agile Wallaby - Macropus agilis.  I lovingly refer to them as 'my lawnmowers' because they spend a lot of time grazing around my property.  My granddaughter always calls them the 'Agile Wobblies!' ... much cuter!


The Agile Wallaby is a medium sized wallaby.  They are a common sight down the east coast of Queensland.
They have light sandy brown hair with paler hair underneath, a pale cheek stripe and light stripe on the thigh. The edges of the ears are black. 

They live in small social groups and can often be seen feeding out in the open in the late afternoon or early morning.

We see a lot of mother Agile wallabies with their joeys...

and the little ones are just adorable!  They usually stay with their mother for the first twelve months of their lives.

Some stay far too long ... this little one was almost the same size as its mother and looked like a bit of a burden to carry!  The wonders of a mother's love!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mosaic Monday - It's a bunch of Bracteantha bracteata!

 One of my favourites ... I just love these everlasting daisies.  I have only recently started growing them in my garden and I have been so impressed by their colours and their crackly texture!  It's such a great sight to see the bracts slowly opening to reveal all the tiny yellow florets inside ... it's a bit like unwrapping a pretty present.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Finally able to get out into the courtyard garden!

After weeks of lovely showers and then a fortnight of torrential downpours, there was a break in the weather today!  ...  and I had an early wake-up call, so I decided to make the most of it.
(click on all the photos to enlarge)

As there were no rainclouds looming this morning I made up my mind to do something about the courtyard garden ... it was a hot, humid and horrid morning but that still didn't stop me ... I was determined to do somsummer cleaning in at least one part of my garden!

My courtyard garden is at the rear of my house and is bordered at the back by a very large garden bed that screens off the driveway behind it ... and bordered on one side by the pond area under a huge pergola.  The house forms a U-shape around the courtyard ... so the whole area is rather sheltered from the high winds we get here and is shaded by some very large corymbias and gums.  It's a real haven ... and usually looks great!

Here's a view of it in early December ... all set up for an early Xmas party.

Over the last year I've slowly been filling it up with lots and lots of potted plants ... trying to add some much needed colour to balance all the surrounding green!
But of course the summer heat, the humidity and then the torrential rain wrecks havoc with the poor potted plants.   While I so look forward to the rain during our 'wet' season, the heavy downpours have a huge impact on many of my drought tolerant plants!

On top of all that the grasshoppers moved in and had a banquet and there was an infestation of those dreaded mealy bugs. I lost quite a few plants ... my pelargoniums x domesticum, my salvias, the last of my petunias, my calibrachoas, my beautiful lavender!  ... and the most heartbreaking of all ... I lost this fabulous coleus!  I just couldn't look out at the courtyard without feeling rather down.

So, this morning out I went ... threw out all the dead plants ... re-potted some rather sick looking plants, potted up a couple of new plants that I'd grown from cuttings.  Then I started moving things around ... a few plants were definitely in the wrong places and suffering from over-exposure to the full sun or from too much shade.  It's looking so much brighter and happier!

Here are some of the survivors ...
... and very soon it will be time to pot up all the lovely annuals for their autumn - spring show!  Just can't wait.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A week of high temps. and harsh humidity!

We crave a decent 'wet' season here in my corner of north-eastern Australia ... as we have a very, very long dry spell which lasts for many months of each year.  When we see those dark rain clouds looming during summertime, we literally jump for joy.  Rainy, overcast days are an absolute pleasure!

But, of course, there's a downside!  The build-up is excruciating and the after-effects are stifling - we have to endure blinding daytime temperatures up around 35 degrees C and we swelter as our levels of humidity just rise and rise ... sometimes as high as 90% ... and to top it all off, we sometimes receive torrential monsoonal rainfall. 

Of course the plants are experiencing the same problems ... they are lashed by heavy downpours of rainfall and then suffer the muggy conditions created by extreme temperatures and humidity.  This really tests the resilience of the plants around here.

A striking beauty that stands up to everything the 'wet' throws at it and then carries on brilliantly well all during the 'dry' is the Cordyline ... and what a beauty it is!  This is one of my favourites - the 'Red Wing.'

 Another of my favourite resilient tropic plants is the Torenia ... I'm such a big, big fan of these gorgeous things.

 And finally ... a plant that comes through the 'wet' year after year ... tolerates the 'dry' ... and blooms almost unceasingly throughout the year is the Crossandra hero!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mosaic Monday - It's Torenias!

Thought I'd join in the Monday Mosaic posts.  Mine won't be as artistic as many I've seen ... and they'll probably show just the plants I grow ... on top of all this,  I don't know how to link this with anyone else's blog .... but I'm going to have fun having a go!

One of my all-time favourite potted plants for my courtyard garden is the Torenia.  They have such a beautiful flower - if you look closely, you will see the 'wishbone' in the throat of the bloom.  Torenias are sometimes called the Wishbone Flower.

Please click on the mosaic to have a closer look.

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