Yep sprinter is definitely here! I’m a firm believer in Tim Entwisle’s re-definition of Australian seasons. We are not quite finished with winter but the garden is well into spring, never mind the calendar.

I may not have heard the Bronze Cuckoos yet, but the Spotted Pardalote’s are actively inspecting our compost heap and drilling test nest burrows and the magpie’s are mating on our neighbour’s lawn (don’t look Gladys!).

The female Spotted Pardalote sitting just above the nesting hole
The male Spotted Pardalote waits near the nest

Elsewhere in the garden I am seeing the first flowering of the hellebore plant’s that our friend J and neighbour V, gave to me two year’s ago. Unfortunately my plan for a woodland vignette has descended into a replica of a miltary redoubt, surrounded by wire and posts to keep the marauding chickens out.

Hellebore under siege

Never believe anyone who tells you that chickens and your garden can cohabit happily. For along with all those tasty insects, they will devour your favourite plants. Our chickens appear to have inherited the palates of dissipated Roman emperors. Nothing is beyond their capability to eat, should they desire it. So far they have demolished both the leaves of my waterlily and the known toxic Small Leafed Nardoo, (Marselia angustifolia), toxic to humans that is, but obviously not to chickens. I placed both of these plants in my stone water trough, thinking that they might help oxygenate the water, but once the chickens found them they were decimated in days.

Meanwhile in the front garden my Blue Veronica (Veronica perfoliata) has put on several flower shoots and the yellow-flowered Bulbine Lily (Bulbinopsis bulbine) is thrusting out of the ground bearing fattening buds.

Veronica perfoliata with flower shoots
Bulbinopsis bulbosa, the yellow flowering Bulbine Lily

The flowers of the only Australian ground orchid in my garden, the Blunt Greenhood orchid (Pterostylis curta), have pushed up above the rosettes of leaves filling their terracotta pot. I have also sunk a pot of these orchids into the front garden. I will soon plant them out properly as I see that they have managed to survive the winter frosts (so far).

Buds of the Blunt Greenhood orchid, Pterostylis curta

We have taken advantage of this wonderfully sunny day to plant out lots of Native Bluebell’s (Wahlenbergia sp.) that my partner has a real knack for propagating. I’ve also committed three Eremophila and a Correa, grown from cuttings to the ‘mercies’ of the real garden, death by being ignored in a pot being the alternative.

Alas the weeds have also registered the upswing in the season. At least I can feed them to those marauding imperial chickens!

Here comes the sun

The hot weather has set in and we are still technically not even into summer yet. Although we are well into sprummer – the new word coined by Tim Entwisle, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, for southern Australia’s late spring / early summer season.

I got up early yesterday so I could get some planting done before the day really started hotting up.

It's Sprummer! getting ready for the gardening day.
It’s Sprummer! getting ready for the gardening day.

In fact I’d started preparation for this morning’s work, the evening before. I was planning on planting out my corn seedlings, Sweetcorn Honey Bicolour (oh the shame, we’ve had to buy seedlings in this year) and I knew the soil in the front bed is very water repellant. I spent quite a bit of time with my garden hose and a 3 pronged hoe watering and turning the top soil to get the water actually soaking in. In the end I put a fine layer of mulch over the top to help retain the soil moisture, banking on this to help the moisture spread evenly through the soil overnight.

Corn seedlings under a fine mulch with protective milk carton collars.
Corn seedlings under a fine mulch with protective milk carton collars.

It worked to a good degree, although I did see that the water still hadn’t penetrated below the top 20 cms below the surface. You can see that after planting I also put a milk carton collar around each seedling. This creates a micro climate for the plant and in this case helps channel water right down to the plant’s roots. Once the plant has grown these can be easily torn off from the base of the plant.

In the back garden I was planting the tomato seedlings that our friend M got started on before we went on holidays and which were kept alive by our house sitter. I still had to add some compost into the bed and get it watered in, but I was able to use our tank water to gravity feed the sprinkler just enough so it worked. (We have sprinkler use restrictions in the ACT as part of our permanent water restrictions).

Soaking the bed prior to planting.
Soaking the bed prior to planting.

Again the plants were lightly mulched and collared prior to watering in.

Tomato seedlings off to a good start.
Tomato seedlings off to a good start.

By the time I’d finished TB had come out and planted some eggplants and zucchini. It was very obvious that the temperature was going to be quite high so I used a piece of shade cloth to cast some protective shade for the day.

Shading the tomatoes.
Shading the tomatoes.

The chickens are also feeling the heat. Indeed it’s too hot to lay in their boxes so one of the girls has taken to laying her eggs in the grass in their wider free-ranging area.

Free-range laying in the garden.
Free-range laying in the garden.


In the end the temperature rose to 39 C. Thankfully today the temperature is much lower and we are having some very welcome showers of rain.


Losing it

Decortication – I love that word particularly when it relates my gum tree shedding its bark. At this time of year the gums do their big shed of leaves and bark, another one of those local seasonal markers I’m interested in. I had barely started raking up under the two Eucalyptus mannifera on our nature strip when a passing junk mail deliverer felt the need to express the opionion that gum trees are so messy! It wasn’t too much longer before a neighbour came over to share the same view (as well as wishing us a Happy New Year).

Why is it that cleaning up after a gum tree is seen as inherently more difficult/time consuming than raking up after an oak tree? I’ve done both and really can’t see any difference unless it is not slipping on the acorns.

So the magpie, who enjoyed having someone else turning over the leaf litter for him to find some grubs and I will just get on with the job.


Stranger in a strange land

Howling gales are blowing up the Tuggeranong Valley.
The wattles are starting to show the first signs of yellow on their buds.
The local magpie has started attacking the postman as he delivers mail on his motorbike.

These are the signs I know that indicate a change of seasons in my local area. The howling gales in particular stick in my mind because they were blowing just as strongly when I bought Chez Fork in August all those years ago.

And yes, I am deliberately ignoring such obvious signs of my tulip and daffodil bulbs springing up in the garden and the budding of cherry trees, because while these are signs of seasonal change they are not signs that truly belong to this country.

Last weekend Message Stick showed a program featuring Frances Bodkin, a 76 year old D’harawal woman from the south of Sydney. While she is known to many as “Aunty Fran” she is known to me as the author of the Encyclopaedia Botanica which was, at the time it was published, the largest single-authored, single-illustrated book published in Australia. The program focussed on her close observation of the land and what this could say about local climatic conditions and seasons. The basis of her knowledge is traditional D’harawal knowledge that was given to her by her mother and which she also examined through her university studies (she has degrees in Climatology, Geomorphology, and Environmental Science). It was obvious, even though she could only give the small number of examples during the program, that by comparison most Australians have bugger all knowledge of our local seasonal signs.

Thankfully there is hope that the knowledge of people like Aunty Fran will become more widely known. The Bureau of Meteorology is running the Indigenous Weather Knowledge project . The project is still in its early stages, as can be seen by the seven somewhat lonely dots, spread across the map of the continent. But exchanges of knowledge with indigenous groups and research is ongoing. In the south east of the country there are just two dots. One is that of the D’harawal in Sydney and the other is from the Brambuk people from the Hall’s Gap region.

Looking at the Brambuk 6 seasonal calendar I can see that it seems to have some relationship to what we are currently experiencing in Canberra. The detailed matrix of signs  indicates that we are in the ‘pre-spring’ period (late July to August) when we can expect the wettest months, dramatic weather changes (six seasons in one day) and rivers running high. Sounds familiar! I will now also be looking out for other signs such as the Wedge-tailed eagles fledging their young. I’ll be checking out over the next month whether the eagles living on the Waniassa Hills Nature Reserve have young flying with them.

I no longer want to be a stranger in my own land.