Despite my best intentions, this Sunday morning saw me up (and dressed) by 6am. The plan was to sleep in, have a lazy breakfast in bed and read my book for a while. But the sleep fairy scampered off at the usual time, leaving me wide awake – so it was clearly tea o’clock, followed by an attempt at blog o’clock, despite being rather low on inspiration.

Returning to (almost) full-time work this week has stretched me in numerous ways, not the least of which has been the impact of daily interaction with large numbers of people and the need to present a happy-smiley-helpful face to them all. Every day. After a year of semi-hermiting, this required some internal adjustment and quite a few early nights to recharge.

Glyde-In Community Learning Centre

There are upsides, of course, ranging from increased income for a few weeks (always useful) to the delightful work environment and the extraordinary community spirit I encounter on-site daily. It really is a lovely place to work.

But, whilst it’s all good fun, the daily rush has reduced my contemplation time to the drive to and from Fremantle each day. Since the 20 minute commute each way is mostly spent either mentally preparing for work or recovering from it, I completely failed to come up with a blog-topic. A cool, quiet house and a cup of tea in the early hours of this morning made me introspective, however, and my mind started to fill up with various things from the past week – so I’ll share those.

  • Being a grandparent can be an emotional rollercoaster. My grandies are fur-babies: two adorable Ocicats, Cloud and George, and their very cute (pure black) companion-kitty, Corvy.  They’re usually a source of endless entertainment, amusing stories and cuddles, but last week was rather different. Over the space of four days we all went from anticipation to worry, dismay to serious concern, followed by relief, elation and – finally – crushing disappointment. and sorrow. I can only guess what Daughter Dearest and K went through as they assisted Cloud to give birth to one kitten, which came out backwards and didn’t survive. As if that wasn’t enough, after an extended labor they then rushed her off to the vet, where a second kit was delivered by caesarean. That little girl only survived for two days. *Much sad* Cloud’s recovering well and her parents are bouncing back slowly, but it’s been a rough week for them. *All the hugs*

  • I love the rain, particularly when its accompanied by cool weather. But this time of year is usually very hot and dry, with average highs of 31.7 and lows  of 18.3 degrees. Despite bracing myself for it, I generally find the unrelenting heat (particularly at night) oppressive. So the local impact of a tropical low over the western Pilbara provided a very welcome respite this week, delivering record rainfalls and the coldest February day on record. Hurrah! Of course it helped that flood waters weren’t an issue locally, for which I’m grateful – but it was good to see some people able to make the most of things!

  • Compost bins are a combination of ghastly-eek and great satisfaction. The eek is the occasional wriggly or scuttley thing, along with the somewhat squishy texture of some of the compost. Rubber gloves are the answer to all that and reduce the aargh-factor substantially. The satisfying part is filling six big bags with compost – and using four of them when planting out our fig tree and transplanting our rose bushes later in the day.

  • Flying trees are rather exciting! It was pretty amazing to see just how efficiently two people could dig up our 3.6 metre Ugly Tree (aka Dragon Tree / Dracaena Draco) and remove it. We’d advertised it as ‘bring your own crane for removal’ – and they did! We were happy to bid the Ugly Tree a fond farewell and will be planting a Persimmon in its place – along with some more of our home-grown compost 🙂

  • Finally, I stepped up and  joined a newly formed writing group at the local library this weekend. My objective is to challenge myself to write different things and in different ways. As a warm-up exercise, we each chose a writing prompt from a set of cards (provided). My prompt was Open your mind to new ideas – which was rather amusing under the circumstances. Our homework assignment for next time is to write a short piece, focusing on a specific word. In this instance the word is decayand it’ll be interesting to see what responses emerge.

There were other things (it was a busy week), but these are the ones that floated to the top. How was your week?

In 2012 we decide to remove 20 pencil pines from around our pool. The trees had provided a very effective barrier for many years, screening us from both an unsightly wall and our neighbour’s garden. But their day was done. The narrow garden beds couldn’t contain them any longer; they were overcrowded, sections were dying off and a lot of leaf litter was ending up in the pool.

My plan was to replace them with a range of less messy plants, including  citrus and rosemary one one side and an evergreen screen of passionfruit vines on the other (to hide the ugly wall). To this end, we recruited help, removed the trees and created an enormous amount of pine mulch – to be used at a later date. It was an epic task spread over a few weekends and the food bribes in no way compensated for all the hard work. Thanks again, everyone 🙂

pencilpineremoval_2012

In due course we planted three citrus trees (dwarf orange, calamondin, sunrise lime), along with some rosemary and various fillers. Himself then built some outstanding fan-shaped supports for the proposed passionfruit vines. They were perfect – and by Christmas that year we had three hardy little vines starting to creep up the trellising.

Our Nellie Kelly  flowered abundantly and produced prolifically – an excellent choice for WA gardens. The Panama Gold vines we planted on each side were also very productive, but the fruit didn’t go the purple colour I associated with ripe passionfruit. You’d think the name would have been a clue, but… I chucked half our first crop when they fell of the vines because I thought they were green and the rats had been at them.  I only figured it out when our dog found a small pile of the fruit I’d put aside to throw away. She tossed one around like a ball until the skin broke open – much to her surprise. Even more so for me when I saw the ripe pulp in it – and in all the others I then checked! Oops 😛

passionfruit oopsTo be fair, rats do love passionfruit and will eat through sections of the skins to lick out the contents – even if the fruit isn’t ripe. We’d found enough empty fruit casings under the vines for my leap of assumption to be at least plausible – however misguided 😛

What I recently discovered about passionfruit vines is that they really do need regular pruning in spring. Cutting back the denser growth allows for better air circulation and fruit development. It also keeps them from getting overgrown and heavy. Sadly I only realised this once the wooden trellises had collapsed behind the vines, crushing many of the major stems.

In order to repair or replace the trellises, the  (mostly dead) vines have had to be removed – probably several years earlier than was strictly necessary, since it turns out that passionfruit can produce reliably for about six years. So this weekend we got the last of the vines out and now it’s time to re-evaluate what we want to do to screen that ugly wall. We look at it from the kitchen windows every day, a constant reminder and prompt that something will need to be done. New trellises and more vines… or some other option, like an epic mosaic project? The debate continues.

ugly wall reveal

Yesterday I roasted the last of our sweet potato harvest to enjoy with our mid-winter feast. When we all sat down to consume vast quantities of vegetable soup, Moroccan lamb tagine, chicken in white wine sauce – and sweet potato, I was intrigued to discover that whilst most people there enjoy eating sweet potato, not many knew just how easy it is to grow.

To be honest, I didn’t either until relatively recently – but since then we’ve grown and harvested two very successful crops and haven’t looked back. As simple gardening goes, this is a real winner.

In short, sweet potato is easy to grow, provides an attractive ground cover relatively quickly, and makes a great substitute for potato and/or pumpkin for household consumption. The runners produce edible leaves, very tasty roots and, as a member of the morning glory family, also graces your garden with lovely blossoms.

450px-Ipomoea_batatas_002The plants grow best in a sunny position, but I’ve had reasonable success in semi-shade as well – so don’t let that put you off. There’s plenty of detailed information available on how and where to grow sweet potato, but it’s not even slightly tricky: cut the end off a sweet potato – plant it – water it – watch to see the shoots come up and spread – it’s like magic. Once you have established plants, you can take cuttings from those and plant them directly into the ground and watch them grow – more magic  🙂

We have a whole new crop planted in our verge garden and are looking forward to future garden bounty.

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:
File:Ipomoea batatas 002.JPG

I have a weakness for garden centres. I can lose hours to browsing, reading plant information and discussing the pros and cons of various shrubs with staff members. It’s a rare occassion that I come away empty-handed, which is something of a hazard in that our suburban block is already knee-deep in plant life!

Looking around our garden on any given day, it certainly looks like we’ve reached capacity. There’s a very comprehensive array of trees/shrubs and we simply don’t have room for any more. Really.

Starting from the back corner, excluding the non-productive trees/shrubs (camelias, roses, dragon tree, vines, nasturtiums, dombeya, geraniums, hibuscus etc) and working round the house, our urban orchard includes: a semi-dwarf blood orange, calamondin, sunrise lime, three passionfruit vines, two grapevines (sultana and flame seedless), a ruby ruby blood plum, lime, pink grapefruit, olive, d’Agen prune, fig, trixzie miniature pear, hawaiian guava (still very small), bay tree, cherry, lillypilly, persimmon, another olive, cumquat, dragon fruit, strawberry guava and loquat.

We also have many (!) rosemary bushes, goji berries and boysenberries growing, and three raised garden beds for vegies/herbs. That’s a lot of shrubbery by anybody’s reckoning – and potentially an awful lot of produce! And yet here I am potentially on the hunt for another fruit tree…

My excuse is that our small back lawn (3×7 metres) simply isn’t draining very well. We dug it up 18 months ago to try to solve the same problem. The soil had compacted and become waterlogged, unable to withstand the combined pressure of poor drainage, inadequate sunlight across late winter and a dog with gastric problems. To quote a friend, it had turned into the eternal bog-of-stench. Delightful.
replacing the lawn_november2014

So we recruited some help to dig up with existing lawn, turn and aerate the soil, added new soil and replaced the struggling soft leafed buffalo turf (Sir Wallter) with another hardy, low maintenance grass that allegedly tolerates shade and is self-repairing and drought tolerant (Matilda). As an exercise it was jolly hard work and not a great deal of fun, but it had to be done. Yet here we are 18 months later and sections of our back lawn are boggy and muddy all the time. Again.

The grass isn’t coping with the part-sun it gets in the winter months and the self-repair aspect seems to have fallen by the wayside. The limited soil depth  in those areas isn’t helping with drainage either.

Himself has once again tried aerating the soil and adding soil wetter and we’ll see how that works out. It’s also been suggested that we put in one or two semi-shade tolerant trees that don’t mind having ‘damp feet’, as this will help probably. Tricky thing is to find the right tree. It needs to be deciduous, I’d prefer it to be productive, we don’t want anything that’s going to grow too big, and need it to be dog-safe (i.e. not poisonous). It’s a big ask and the front runners so fair are a moringa  (perhaps a bit big) or a white mulberry.

Drainage research continues. The grass remains soggy. The dogs remain muddy. And I’m definitely starting to hear the siren song of the garden centre…

Mr Lincoln in bloomIt seems I’m a bit of a traditionalist in some ways. This must be the case because, although I love roses in general, red roses are – and have always been – my favourite.

When we moved into this house (many) years ago, there were three standard white roses out the front of the house. All very Homes-and-Garden, really, and altogether to orderly for me. In due course they were salvaged by a friend and replanted in her garden, where they fitted in perfectly.

I’ve always meant to replace them with some not-at-all standard red rose bushes, but have never found just the right variety. Then, when I was in Tasmania last November, I came across Mr Lincoln – the perfect red rose for me. It’s a hybrid tea rose, produces beautifully fragrant long stemmed blooms, and grows to 1.8 metres of untidy rose garden beauty. Bellissima!

So towards the end of summer I went hunting for Mr Lincoln and found a bush that was perfect for one of the few remaining spaces in our garden. I was a little concerned as to how well it would do there, given that the spot is only part-sun, but it’s thriving. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been gifted with a few late autumn blooms and have revelled in finally having my very own red roses to enjoy – both in the garden and indoors, where they fill the air with essence of rose-happiness 🙂

Apparently I should prune the bush back by 70% this winter to ensure good growth for next season… eek?