Category Archives: Canberra’s Public Gardens

”I love a sunburnt country” ….

This was going to be a post about sculptures at the National Arboretum in Canberra ….but I digress…..

As you drive up to the Arboretum there is a most imposing sculpture along the ridge of the hill.

The metal words in cursive, say..

wide brown land….

These three scripted words were taken from the diary of an Australian poet, Dorothea McKellar. Her poem is called My Country .

I didn’t know until  recently that Dorothea was only 22 years old when she wrote that poem. She was living in England and missing her home country.

I was 19 years old when I came to Australia (from Africa)

…and I was 22 when I came back from a holiday in England and realised that Australia was my home, a place I love.

Perhaps we need to leave to learn how we feel about our place in the world.

I have always loved Dorothea McKellar’s poem, and here are the words of one of the verses that lend themselves to some photos I have taken over the last few years……

My country

I love a sunburnt country

A Land of sweeping plains,

..of ragged mountain ranges

Of droughts…and flooding rains…

I love her far horizons..

I love her jewel sea

Her beauty and her terror..

The wide brown land for me..

I feel very lucky to have a place in the world….what is your favourite place?

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rose gardens at Old Parliament House

If you love sunshine and roses….then a visit to the Old Parliament House Rose gardens in spring time is a must.

These photos were taken in November, during a gloriously wet spring.

In 1927 Canberra became the new capital of Australia.

The bush capital…. so beautiful today, was, in those days, a cluster of buildings on windswept limestone plains….

Empire Parliamentary Association tree planting ceremony in front of Parliament House 1926 (Mildenhall’s Canberra National Archives)

Just look at this old photo of a group of people trying to do some tree planting as they huddle together out in that windswept limestone plain ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

The newly formed capital of Australia was a compromise….neither of the two large cities in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne, wished the other to be the capital.

Old Parliament House, now the Museum of Australian Democracy

Therefore Canberra, geographically between the two cities, was chosen as the site to be a new capital.

It became the responsibility of parliamentary officer Robert Broinowski to build some gardens around the Old Parliament House and bring some relief to the new buildings.

The gardens included tennis courts, and a bowling green… much needed in those days when homes and families were so far away, and travel was long and hard.

I’m sure those early politicians  could not imagine how lovely the grounds of Old Parliament House look today.

The gardens, on either side of the Old Parliament House, consist of four rose gardens. Each garden was originally designed and laid out in a simple quadrant design, with roses in two quadrants.

This photo was taken in early summer, when the beautiful lilac and white wisteria on the white pillars had turned to green..

In this post I am writing about the House of Representative Gardens, which has two gardens.

The first is the Macarthur Rose Garden which is filled with one hundred red ”Etoile de Hollande” and shot silk roses donated by the great grand daughter of John and Elizabeth Macarthur. This gift marked the major contribution by John and Elizabeth Macarthur, to the early settlement of Australia in the breeding of Merino sheep at Parramatta and Camden. Many large farms from settlement to today, have lovely gardens and include roses.

The decision was made to plant roses in all the gardens. They provided colour to the unrelenting browns and greys of the Australian landscape, they reminded politicians of homes in the Northern Hemisphere, and lastly and most importantly, they were cheap to grow and very hardy.

Fortunately Broinowski was a passionate gardener, and, even during the Depression he kept up  the project of designing and planting by searching for donations far and wide.

He asked the wives of politicians to support the second garden, known appropriately as the Ladies Rose garden, and started gathering donations of one shilling and four pence per rose.

This garden has Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses which were very popular at the time, and are an absolute delight to look at on a spring day….here are just a few..

 

Just Joey

 

Playboy

 

 

 

Lavender Pinocchio

 

Perfume Perfection

 

 

 

 

Hot chocolate

Gold bunny

 

Madam President

 

Peace

Once you start looking at these lovely roses, you are hooked, and there is no known cure!

Charles Weston had originally designed and planted Eucalyptus trees around the grounds of Parliament House, and these, and dense hedges keep the roses safe from hot dry winds.

This would not be a post about Canberra if I didn’t include some of our resident Sulphur Crested Cockatoos…….a number of them spend time around Parliament House, no doubt using the Eucalyptus trees for nesting, and the acorn trees for food.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos eating on the grass around Old Parliament House in autumn.

I haven’t check with the gardeners, but I suspect the Cockatoos have a penchant for loping the stems of tender colourful plants, like roses,  and  may be a mixed blessing here.

….. but there is something endearingly Australian about having recalcitrant Cockatoos in residence so close to the seat of government.

 

Friends of Old Parliament House Rose Gardens

www.fophrg.au

Copyright Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season’s greetings and blogging in the Bush Capital

Season’s greeting from the bush capital of Australia.

I began blogging about 18 months ago, to write a low key kind of diary about our garden.

Before long I realised that the blog was really about my place in the world: Canberra, the bush capital of Australia.

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The National Arboretum in Canberra….. 100 trees in 100 forests

The word Canberra is often used to explain the workings of government….”Canberra raised taxes this year…”

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Parliament House Canberra

But of course, behind the workings of Parliament there is a city of people who call Canberra home.

Since I began blogging about green spaces in Canberra, I have met many gardeners, volunteers and ordinary Canberrans who are very knowledgeable and proud of their place in the world.

 

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Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. National Library Australia copyright

The gods were smiling on this lovely part of the world when Chicagoan Walter Burley Griffin won the competition to design Canberra, and his wife Marion Mahony created the beautiful drawings of his design.

He dreamed of a city in green spaces, and that is what we have today… a city in a big bush garden.

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Lake Burley Griffin and Parliament House

The land around the lake is reserved for all people to enjoy..

 

This kangaroo was photographed five minutes away from our house, on the edge of Mt Taylor. Not long after we moved to Canberra, 30 years ago, a kangaroo from Mt Taylor hopped down our suburban road. A great introduction to life in Canberra for our family!

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a young kangaroo on Mt Taylor

I’ve shared the blog with some big personalities

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A Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

and some colourful ones ….

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King Parrots

 

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A Crimson Rosella

 

and some that are just plain cute.

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young Kookaburras

I’ve had the pleasure of following many blogs, in UK, US, Canada, Italy, France and of course, Australia and New Zealand. The Northern Hemisphere seasons, especially the autumn and spring are a delight to see. As an armchair traveller, I also enjoy the breath-taking snowy winter photos….happy in the knowledge that I won’t have to go and shovel snow at any time!

Thank you very much to the all the people who have visited and followed Canberra’s Green Spaces, over the past 18 months, I appreciate every visit, and every comment.

Geraldine Mackey: Copyright All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mount Taylor, a summer walk..

Summer is coming slowly to the Brindabella Mountains, a lovely blue and green tinge lingering from spring.

This is the view of the mountains from our street.

 

This region is Ngunnawal country, and it was an important meeting place and significant to many Aboriginal groups.

The mountains and hills were used as markers and were excellent vantage points for keeping an eye on enemy clans, and signalling friendly clans.

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This is a glimpse of Mt Taylor from our back garden….a backdrop behind our  almond and  plum trees.

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Mt Taylor is part of a green belt between the satellite cities of Woden and Tuggeranong. This was all part of Walter Burley Griffin’s plan for green spaces between town centres

Last month, the end of spring, we enjoyed an early morning walk, up Mt Taylor.

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It was still cool, and the kangaroos were waking up slowly…

Amongst the grasses there were some wild flowers.

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Golden Everlasting

 

 

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St John’s Wort

Today, we did this walk again…..the signs of summer are everywhere…

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The kangaroos are alert and looking for greener grasses..

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Some wild flowers are still blooming…the grasses are drying off..

The natural bush colours of summer; grey, yellow and brown are everywhere to be seen.

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This is a Noisy Friar bird. He looks a little pre-historic, but his beak is very useful for feeding off Eucalyptus trees and wild flowers

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What a joy to see these flowering Eucalyptus trees…the flowers and supple branches are often used in Christmas wreaths, and always remind me of summer holidays..

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Here are two Wattle birds…like many Australian wild birds…quite bossy!

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The magpie calls a friendly hello from his feeding spot in the grasses and wildflowers

This cockatoo has landed with a deafening screech on a tree near us, and climbed to the top spot…

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The Corellas (cousins of the Cockatoos) are all feeding on some wattle bushes near the road…

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I wonder if that magnificent yellow crest increases self esteem for Cockatoos?

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As we walk back home I can’t help taking photos of two lovely flowers, one growing almost wild in a corner of someone’s garden. I’m not sure of its name, but one of the Protea family I think.

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Protea: Rocket pincushion

and the other, a striking Bottle brush, flowering quietly in the shade along the back track. (officially known as the Fire trail)

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And back home to our garden. Paul has spent a few heavy lifting days putting mulch down all over the garden, to keep the plants cool for summer.

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Here in the front garden we are planting for birds and bees…salvias, daisies, Grevilleas, and the lovely Chinese Tallow tree.

May you enjoy your green spaces, where ever you are in the world, and if you are in the depth of a northern hemisphere winter, then I hope you are planning for your spring!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canberra Nara Peace Park and the bird we share with Japan

This is the story of Canberra Nara Peace park, celebrating friendship, harmony and trade between Japan and Australia…….and a mighty little bird, the Latham Snipe, that flies between our two countries every year.

The park is set in the Lennox gardens on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin. Even at the end of winter there is a stark beauty to the gardens..

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Canberra Nara Peace Park opened in 1999, is a symbol of the friendship between the sister cities of Canberra, built as the National Capital of Australia in the 20th century, and Nara, the first capital city of Japan in the 8th century.

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This lovely little park is a joy to visit in any season, but especially in spring.

The dry stream bed is lit up once a year for the Nara Candle festival. We missed this wonderful festival this year, so I’ll keep that story for another spring.

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The young magpie in the photo is Canberra’s most well known bird. She is probably looking for insects, but magpies are also very curious birds,  so she could be just  ”having a stickybeak” as Australians would say…

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The park has a gazebo surrounded by Japanese maples and cherry trees.

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A relatively new addition to the park is a sculpture, Toku, commissioned to celebrate the1300th anniversary of Japan’s ancient city Nara.

The five storied pagoda form represents Canberra

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a floating stone represents Nara…

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and the lovely little sculptured bird represents a Latham’s Snipe.

This is a species of shorebird that migrates annually between Japan and Canberra.

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Latham Snipe arriving in Canberra for summer. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Dabb

The Latham Snipe, weighing only 200 grams, spends half the year in Japan and then flies south to the warmth of Canberra and other parts of south-east Australia for the spring and summer.

Japan and Australia are working together to find out more about these mighty little birds.

On the foreshores of a wetland in Hokkaido in Japan, five birds were skilfully fitted with trackers, before they began their amazing voyage.

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Early data showed the birds travelling more than 5500 kilometres in six days of continuous flight from Hokkaido in Japan to Papua New Guinea at an average speed of 40 km/hr.

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The Latham Snipe. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Dabb

The visiting birds are starting to arrive in the south east of Australia, to settle in for the spring and summer.

During the summer four more birds will be fitted with trackers to observe their movements here in Australia, and their long return flight.

I’ll never complain about the long flight back to Australia again!

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The Nara Peace park is full of colourful trees and blossoms in spring, and shady peaceful places to sit in the hot summer months.

If you are wandering around the park, or just sitting and contemplating the beauty of spring, give a respectful nod to the symbol of the tiny bird near the top of the sculpture, Toku.

…. and wish the Latham Snipe well for summer in Canberra.

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To follow the flight progress of these fearless little birds visit the Jerrabomberra Wetlands site and look for the Latham Snipe project.

I hope you are enjoying your season and birdlife where ever you are!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve …fire, rain, water and new life…

This is Tucker, the first koala to be born at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve for a long time.

He is looking hale and hearty, and living up to his name, (Tucker is an Aussie slang word for food.)

Tucker, oblivious of his local fame, is munching his way through branches of Eucalyptus leaves with gusto!

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Tidbinbilla, set in a beautiful valley about 30 minutes drive from Canberra’s CBD, is part of the Namadgi National Park. It has been a Nature Reserve for 80 years.

This year we are having record breaking spring rainfall and the countryside has never looked so green.

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The very last of the snow in early August

Brett McNamara, the Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation said this is the first year he has ever seen the remarkable occurrence of snow on the Brindabella Mountains……

and a flooded river below.

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In 2003 Canberra and the surrounding region, including the Namadgi National Park,  suffered devastating bushfires.

Those of us living on the southern side of Canberra remember the surrounding mountain fires raging for days afterwards. Wildlife and vegetation was decimated. One koala survived in the Tidbinbilla Reserve and his name became Lucky.

Although the photo below was not taken during the Canberra bushfire, it is, sadly, as poignant  as many images we saw during that time around Canberra.

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While fighting a fire in the neighbouring state of Victoria, this firefighter noticed an extremely distressed koala, and spontaneously offered him a drink from his water bottle.

I kept this photo in my classroom for a few years after the fires…a great discussion starter on many topics, especially how interconnected we are with all that happens in our world.

Now, many years later, such are the vagaries of weather, in spring 2016 here we are driving  over the bridge near Tidbinbilla and heeding warning signs for flooding! This is the Murrumbidgee river, and  the name is derived from the Aboriginal word for ”big water”.

img_6201-1024x740So much rain, so much water….it is a frequent talking point in Canberra this spring. Our annual rainfall is approx. 620 mls (around 25 inches) annually.

This year we have had more rain than usual….and the dams are at 100% capacity.

We’ve come to Tidbinbilla today to enjoy the beginning of spring….and to look for the second star attraction at Tidbinbilla…another baby koala!

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Hardenbergia (Happy wanderer)

 

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Early Nancy (Wurmbea dioica) It gets its name Early Nancy from its early flowering in winter (between July to Oct)

New foliage and new life everywhere!

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Paul took two great shots of a kangaroo and her joey. Isn’t that an efficient way of managing a baby while teaching him how to eat!

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We were standing a good distance away, … but this is a lovely moment of a curious baby being pushed back into the pouch for safety. This sensible young kangaroo is ready to hop away …. Look at those powerful legs, tail and feet!

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Early morning in the bush, and this kookaburra is enjoying a slow start in a shaft of warm spring sunshine.

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Here is a brush-tailed Rock Wallaby. I have read that they survived the fires by hiding in rock crevices.

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This is the plaque for the only koala to survive the fires. . Since Lucky died in 2008 there have been no koalas at Tidbinbilla, until in 2013 when the state of Victoria donated some koalas of breeding age to the Reserve…..

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….along came Tucker in early spring, and now here is the second baby koala.

The Reserve held a competition in the local paper (The Chronicle) for the naming of this little fellow. Two families won the competition because they entered the same name…suggested by the children in both families…

The winning suggestion was  Ghanbi which is an local Aboriginal name for fire.

Best wishes to Ghanbi and Tucker, and the future koala population of Tidbinbilla.

In the words of Walter Burley Griffin designer of Canberra,

The shadows of the clouds and mists as they cross the mountains are very beautiful indeed. As I have said before, it is a grand site for a city.”

I hope you are enjoying your green spaces in whatever part of the world you are living.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey :  All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring flowers at the National Botanic Gardens

October is the perfect time to visit the Botanic gardens in Canberra…

 

Canberra has had very good winter rainfall, and now, at last, all the plants have sprung into life.

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Recently we took a guided tour of the Gardens, called ”Breakfast with the birds”.

It was absolute magic to be able to stroll around the grounds of the Botanical Gardens in the warm early morning sunlight, before the gates were open to the public.

This was followed by a delicious breakfast in the café. A great way to start the day.

img_6337-956x1024Our guide said  Wattle Birds have to check each individual flower in the Grevilleas and usually only find some nectar in about one in ten flowers.

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No wonder they are such busy birds. In spring they whiz about our gardens like streaks of light…my neighbour says it is like being in a Star Wars movie sometimes.

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This Wattle Bird has a nest just above her head in the Banksia bush.

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The ever alert Currawong is in the same bush…waiting..

(I’m pleased to say two Wattle Birds chased it away a few seconds later)

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I love looking out for birds, but the colourful native plants were the scene stealers on this day..

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The Proteas (Waratahs) look wonderful alongside the ghostly white eucalyptus tree.

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And here are more Grevilleas and other spring flowers.

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Isopogon formosus

 

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Eastern Spinebill feeding on a Grevillea

 

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Grevillea Flexuosa Zig-Zag Grevillea

 

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I hope you are enjoying your plants, gardens and green spaces in whatever part of the world you call home…

I’d love to know if you have a favourite amongst your own plants.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey  All rights reserved

 

Yarralumla in spring; blossoms, birds and kangaroos….

Can the centre of government be fifteen minutes walk away from this bay?

I often think our grandchildren will hardly be able to comprehend this innocent time when Parliament House is surrounded by quiet suburbs like Yarralumla, where people walk dogs, ride bikes, and play golf.

Yarralumla is named after the Indigenous people’s term for the area, and means ”echo”.

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Yarralumla has lovely walking tracks with views of the Governor General’s residence.

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The Governor General’s House and the beautiful Brindabella Mountains as the backdrop…

This is a working property where heads of state, and royalty visit, and many events are hosted during the year.

Despite the grandeur, one of the challenges of the Governor General’s House and garden is the ongoing problem of  the resident cockatoos and kangaroos….

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These kangaroos are having a charmed life near the entrance to the Governor General’s House with all the lush greenery around …meanwhile a strange sounding hooter is attempting to frighten away the cockatoos from the main gardens….although I imagine it would take more than a hooter to frighten a determined cockatoo.

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Walter Burley Griffin, the talented architect from Chicago who designed this garden city, could not have imagined that kangaroos and cockatoos could be such a problem in the future!

Along the walking track at Yarralumla is the Royal Golf Club. A few years ago, this photo below made headlines  in many parts of the world……

Australian Open Interrupted by Kangaroos

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In 2013 golfer Karrie Webb waits for the kangaroos to clear the fairway during the Australian Open….

I believe someone kindly lifted some fencing for this mob to jump out of the limelight!

Meanwhile on this spring day in Yarralumla…

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Amongst  the great variety of trees we saw many birds feeding..

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The young Australian King Parrots almost disappearing into the oak leaves…

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The adults are watching over them from above….

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Crimson rosellas feasting on spring flowers..

We pass the Heritage Nursery…this is a place where plants just leap out to be bought,  but today I’m going to show restraint with plants (and chocolate!)

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…..and to end a lovely day’s walk.. here  is a view of Telstra Tower on Black Mountain..

This tower is disliked by many, but for me…and I know for others, when we are travelling back to Canberra after a long car trip…the sight of the Telstra Tower silhouetted against the sky means we are nearly home..

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and there is no place like home….

I hope this is true for you too.

Enjoy your home and green spaces where ever you are in the world…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Wattle Day and spring time in Canberra!

I’m a little bit late for this greeting…. Wattle Day in Australia is 1st September, the beginning of spring.

The Golden Wattle flower is our national floral emblem.

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Golden Wattle National Archives of Australia

It is colourful, full of hope, incredibly resilient, and regenerates easily after fire. The perfect Australian plant.

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There are more than 1000 species of wattle in Australia, and I am told, somewhere in Australia a Wattle plant is flowering every day of the year. How about that!

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Terry Fewtrell, the Wattle Day Association President says that wattles have been part of the Australian landscape for 30 million years,

“Wattles are like the great silent witness to the whole Australian story…”

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I walked around my suburb on Wattle Day, and some Wattles were flowering…

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Some parts were nearly finished…

and some were just starting to bloom..

IMG_5569 (1024x813)Flowering in the National Art Gallery spring garden is a more unusual Wattle, with  a cinnamon coloured flower. It is called Acacia Leprosa or Scarlet Blaze.

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No matter which Wattle plant you choose for your garden, Angus Stewart, from Gardening Australia, says you are onto a winner … (in a very expressive Aussie kind of way)

”because wattles literally grow on the sniff of an empty fertilizer bag”

I was having a very Australian bird kind of day on the first day of spring as I walked….

The Red Wattle bird is watching me from the garden.

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Our resident magpie is….looking alert. Magpies can be tricky in spring because they become very territorial and can swoop passers-by. I like to think I’ve built up some good karma by providing so many water bowls for them in summer, not to mention putting up with high maintenance babies.

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At the end of the day….a call from the two very cute new kookaburras who seem to have set up home in our area..

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And, as the sun is setting over the Brindabella Mountains, more rain is promised this week…

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What could be better for the first week of spring?

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I hope you are enjoying your green spaces wherever you are in the world.

 

Lanyon Homestead in Winter

When we left Canberra in May, the last month of autumn colour was still with us..

 

After an exciting month in Italy, we arrived back in Canberra at the beginning of June.

Winter cometh!

After some dreary rainy days (but we always need rain!) I have to remind myself that there is another side to Canberra winters…bright blue skies.

Last July we visited an historic homestead close to where we live in Canberra, the Lanyon homestead..

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The homestead is ringed by the Brindabella Mountains and sits at the heart of a natural bowl shaped valley. This scenery takes my breath away, no matter how many times I see it.

This land has layers of rich history from surviving Aboriginal heritage sites, through to unbroken pastoral use since European settlement.

The land was granted to James Wright and  John Lanyon in 1834. At that time the journey from Sydney took several weeks by bullock wagon over rough tracks. The farm land was so isolated that the farmers of the time had to be completely self-sufficient.

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Andrew and James Cunningham bought Lanyon in 1849 and built the homestead over time. The house remains almost completely unchanged since 1859.

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The original out-buildings around the homestead include a kitchen, cellar, laundry, worker’s barracks, a meat house and dairy stables, harness room and a blacksmith’s shop.

IMG_3376 (1024x768)Despite the green and blue hues of this land today, in 2003 Lanyon homestead was under real threat as wind and fire raged over these mountains. I have read that there was only one fire engine available for Lanyon as the fires were so widespread. Miraculously the property survived.

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Today the house is a museum and there are picnic areas and a café in the grounds.

Weddings, plant fairs, historical events and social activities go on all year in these lovely gardens.

The flower and vegetable gardens are a treat to see in spring and summer, indeed Lanyon homestead deserves to be seen in every season. (I’ll be back!)

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The Bunya Pine became fashionable and, as with many homesteads in Australia, there is one planted here, quite close to the house.

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And you won’t be surprised to know that when Mr Big Personality has finished stripping the flowers and branches off the Ironbark eucalypts in our street, he’ll be off to Lanyon to strip the Bunya Pine of its Bunya Nuts…..

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That is the ying and yang of living in a bush capital city!

Have a happy weekend, whether it be winter or summer in your part of the world.