Monthly Archives: September 2015

Spring courtyard gardens at Parliament House

A magpie warbling is such a wonderful spring call, and I know the warble is supposed to be territorial, but I choose to believe this little magpie is warbling away out of the sheer joy of being alive….IMG_0233 (640x480)and because he had hit the jackpot in places to live…he has found the inner courtyard gardens of Parliament House in Canberra.

New Parliament House has 17 hidden courtyards, only open to the public during spring celebrations.

IMG_4740 (640x450)In 1988, Joan Child (the Speaker of the House) suggested some gardens be made in these courtyards, to create peaceful areas for Parliamentarians and staff to take time out and rest during busy sitting sessions of Parliament. Many of the courtyard gardens reflect Joan Child’s love of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias.

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The courtyards, in spring, are an explosion of colour against the white walls. Garden beds of azaleas and Canterbury bells, backed by rhododendrons, behind weeping cherry trees and silver birches.

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The dogwood blossoms are a stunning view from the corridors of Parliament House, and the Mt Fuji flowering cherry blossoms are a gift from Japan.

 

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Despite the severe frosts in Canberra, the courtyards provide a micro-climate enabling black birch trees, a golden rain tree, and Jacarandas to survive.

It would be a treat to see all the trees during the changing sessions.There are Coral Bark Japanese Maples, a scented Magnolia, two Linden trees, some Chinese Elms, a Honey Locust trees, some Red Maples from Canada…

 

Most of the gardens are designed for simplicity and functionality. For example, when the division bells rings, members can move through the courtyards quickly without having to go around too many garden beds.

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Japanese box hedge and sea scape grass

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gum trees on the outer edges of Parliament House, being trimmed.

Birds and moths love the abundance of food the courtyard gardens create. As I have mentioned in my post ”The Bogong moths bring down the lights at Parliament House” these moths arrive in huge groups in the spring time, and are very attractive food for the bete noir of all birds…the currawong!

A few years ago the gardeners planted Heuchera ”Chocolate Ruffles” as ground covers in various parts of the gardens. They are known to be low maintenance and suitable for Canberra’s harsh climate.

Unfortunately the Bogong moths love to settle in the plants and were soon spotted by the cunning and ever present currawongs. One currawong would fly down onto the Heuchera bushes, and the disturbed moths then fly up as a squadron of currawongs fly down to feast on the Bogong moths…..the plants in the process, are badly damaged.

This gives me a chance to end with my favourite photo, care of William Betts (c) 2015Birdlife Australia….. the boys are back in town…… and they are at Parliament House.

Grey Currawong (C) William Betts 2015 www.birdlife.org.au

Canberra’s spring festival, the Japanese Embassy…sushi and gardens…

As part of the spring celebrations in Canberra, many of the Embassies open their doors and gardens to the public. The Japanese Embassy is a favourite for Canberrans, and their sushi making and open gardens tours were booked out within 10 minutes of being on offer!

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cherry blossoms surrounding the Japanese Embassy

Unfortunately it was not a sunny day for photos, but nonetheless, it is easy to see how lovely these Cherry trees are!

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As we were lining up for the tour, we noticed a very cute family of ducks crossing a busy road between the Embassies. The parents were shepherding the ducklings very carefully and soon disappeared under a little gap in the fence of the Japanese Embassy….they knew they were safely home!

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The tour began with sushi making. The husband and wife team, Mr Sadanori Noda and Mrs Tamami Noda are the chefs working at the Japanese Embassy in Canberra. They were owners of a well known restaurant in Japan, and have travelled all over the world, teaching and cooking.

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Mr Sadanori Noda..demonstrating authentic making authentic sushi

Mr Sadanori said that when he was a child sushi was a special treat and he was pleased that it has now become so widely available. However, this was a chance to show authentic Japanese-style sushi. He gave a clear demonstration using seaweed wrapping, sticky rice (special non-stick gloves…new to me) and filling of avocado and smoked salmon.

 

 

Mrs Tamami Noda showed us how to make a simple egg sushi, using a lightly pan-fried egg which was then used to wrap some tasty sushi fillings. It looked very simple and easy, especially in the hands of professionals!

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We had a chance to practise with our chopsticks, and to perfect the art of holding them properly. Before starting to eat our own sushi, we had to move the small white beans from one container to another…..no pressure though! My excuse for coming (almost) last was…I had to take a photo of it !!

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the challenge…..picking up the small white beans and putting them into the larger dish with chopsticks

 

 

 

 

 

 

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two types of sushi, some pickled ginger and kuzu mocha (a sweet summer dessert) and an individual container of soy sauce.

Once we had finished our delicious sushi, we were taken on a tour of the garden. Our guide asked everyone to be very careful of the duck family who have chosen to bring up their ducklings in the Japanese Embassy pond… a lovely addition to the tranquil surrounds.

The gardens were created by the famed Japanese landscape designer, Juki lida, (he also created the Seattle Japanese Gardens) and they took nine years to complete. Fifty tonnes of rocks and boulders were brought from Japan and distributed around the garden. A pond and teahouse were built amongst the boulders, shrubs and rocks. The teahouse is used for traditional tea ceremonies and special Embassy events during the year.

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The duck family in hiding in the bushes around the pond.

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A stream runs through the gardens with rocks on either side….Irises and Mondo grass framing the borders of the stream.

 

 

 

 

 

Juki lida’s design was to create a 3-D effect, hedges and shrubs are cut at different levels to give balance to the garden.

 

 

 

The colours and different types of shrubs are spread throughout the garden so that, even in winter there is a never a bare or stark area within sight.

Below is a Photinia bush, grown frequently in Canberra  because it is extremely hardy, drought and frost resistant.  For many years we have grown them in our garden as screening or shade bushes/hedges, and I have always regarded them as ”the pack horses” of the garden…they do all the hard work, but with very little attention. I was interested to see this one clipped so skilfully, and under planted with azaleas. Perhaps it is time to take the secateurs to our Photinias…

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A wonderful hour was spent learning new cooking skills and being inspired by the garden, thanks to our gracious hosts from the Japanese Embassy.

…..and I’m coming back on a sunny day to get some more photos of those beautiful Cherry trees!

 

 

 

 

 

Canberra’s spring feast of garden festivals…

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Lake Burley Griffin is at the heart centre of Canberra, and it comes alive in spring……the warmth, the flowering trees, shimmering lake and most of all….on behalf of all Canberrans….good morning sunshine!

I hope you will follow me through the next few months of gardens and festivals in Canberrra, including  Floriade, some Embassy gardens, Parliament House courtyard gardens and some productive suburban gardens.

Every year, Commonwealth Park, on the northern bank of Lake Burley Griffin, hosts the biggest horticultural event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere…a spring festival, Floriade.

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An amazing one million bulbs and annual seedlings are ordered before Christmas. There are, typically more than 70 varieties of tulips, and a range of daffodils, hyacinths, ranunculus, Dutch Iris, interspersed with pansies, violas, poppies, and a variety of daisies.

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There is an almost year round preparation for this event. The Floriade theme for the year is decided about 18 months beforehand. This year the theme is Reflections, a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli.

Andrew Forster, the head gardener says this theme is very close to his heart, as his grandfather’s two brothers were at Gallipoli.

 

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Preparation begins in earnest in February, the areas are marked out and the paths made around the beds. Agricultural pipe is used for drainage under the beds, and a base of organic soil is spread about 15 cm deep over the growing areas. This is levelled, then patterns are marked out with pegs.

In March the planting of one million bulbs begins! They are placed on the soil and covered with an additional 12cm of soil mix. This mix has a fertilizer added to enhance growth. The annuals are then planted on top…..in total about 2700 cubic metres of soil mix is used to create the beds.

During the month long festival not all the bulbs come out at the same time, but annuals are planted between the bulbs to keep the  colour and design clear and vibrant.

I noticed the gardeners have planted some parsley in between the hyacinths and the pansies ….what better plant to keep a rich green colour all month long and it is totally unaffected by wind and frosts.

In fact in this photo the parsley seems to be better behaved than some of those renegade bulbs nearby…

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An automatic irrigation system with a diluted liquid fertiliser is pumped over the gardens every three weeks, and all the beds have secure netting and fencing to protect them from wildlife.

Although Commonwealth park is five minutes away from the city,  the gardeners have to look out for ever present rabbits and possums, not to mention bats and birds…….what a job!

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winter photo of the Floriade beds covered with netting

Fortunately we only found this elegant kangaroo nearby…

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Two weeks before the event begins, the barriers are removed and the team of gardeners weed and tidy the beds. I wonder if the gardeners do round the clock watching for pests during those two weeks ?   ….I hope they don’t come across the cockatoo who flies through my garden lopping new shoots from roses…just for the fun of it.

This festival is a great tribute to Andrew Forster and his team of fantastic gardeners.

 

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Mareeba wetlands, birds, pythons and a hitch-hiking quoll…

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Our holiday in Queensland has, sadly, come to an end, and I’m sitting, all rugged up, back here in Canberra, while I write a little more about that lovely part of the the world…. the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland.

The Tablelands are part of a Wet Tropic World Heritage region, which is home to about 50% of Australia’s bird species.

The Mareeba Wetlands, is an inspired wildlife reserve, covering 5000 acres of savannas and wetland. It lies in the traditional Country of the Muluridji.

As the seasons change so does the wildlife, and at this reserve 221 species of birds have been identified at various time of the year.

Here is the viewing deck of the Mareeba Wetlands…we have arrived at a quiet time  as most of the birds have migrated for the winter (…if they think this is winter…I’ve got news for them..)

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but the elegant Egret poses for the camera, and the Darter dries his wings…

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………we just enjoy a warm and sunny cruise around the lake…thinking of our fellow Canberrans…

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…..and then our guide cheerfully tells us that he had to unwrap a python from around the engine that morning (because it was a cold night.. 4 degrees..the engine was a nice warm spot) and we remember that the reason we don’t live in  North Queensland is because we don’t know how to remove pythons from anything.

Living alongside wildlife in this area is very much a part of every day life. The manager of the Wildlife Reserve shop said  he had some difficulty closing the cash register one day and after pushing for some time, he discovered there was a baby quoll hiding at the back of the till …..but it escaped… with a bit of encouragement.

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Quolls are carnivorous marsupials found in North Queensland (I have never seen one)., and are the largest Queensland marsupial carnivore. The Northern Quoll is the smallest, weighing under a kilogram, and the spotted tailed quoll is the largest, weighing several kilograms and measuring almost one metre long from the nose to the tail tip.

Quolls are wide-roaming and attracted to suburban areas for food. The Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland encourages local people to report sighting of the quolls to keep track of the numbers and to preserve quoll populations.

One of the many stories of sightings is of the Quoll who was found under the bonnet of a car that had been driven 5 km to a Cairns garage for servicing.

It took 5 mechanics two hours to strip parts of the engine to get the quoll out. The quoll was okay, and the owner thanked  the barking dog for alerting the garage staff to the problem!

On our way out of the Wetlands reserve we looked in on the Gouldian Finch Reintroduction project. These Finches are one of the most beautiful in the outback region. In the early 20th century there were literally millions around Queensland and the Northern Territory, but as seed and grass eating birds, they are in competition with farming and land development. This project is aimed at protecting the species and reintroducing them into the wild.

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I have many stories about Queensland’s green spaces, and I’ll add a few more as we go along, but in the meanwhile, spring is here in Canberra, the busiest time of the year for all gardeners in this city…

A cool calm garden in the Atherton Tablelands

 

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Friarbird in the Grevilleas

 What I love about visiting other parts of Australia (and the world) is looking at gardens that always reflect the people and their place in the world. My cousin lives in one of the many small  towns dotted across the Atherton Tablelands, North Queensland.

Over the years, with the help of some gardening friends, Theresa has created a cool, tranquil garden full of birdsong.

Many birds visit our garden in Canberra, but there is a difference in quiet country areas….these birds seem to own the garden…here is a Honeyeater with a shrill call louder than that of most big birds.

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The many native shrubs and bird baths in this garden attract a wealth of birds…and some curious onlookers!!

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This handsome fellow has the unfortunate name of Drongo (an old Australian slang word for fool or idiot)….this bird is anything but….it is an amazing bird with a great story, …so more on that in another post.

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The Drongo bird

This garden has three sections, or garden rooms, each flowing from one to the other. The first ‘room’ opens onto a colourful space designed for quiet and contemplation.

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Through the archway the next room has a long stretch of lawn, with wide borders for herbs and vegetables, and  some lovely native plants, the Bottlebrush and the White Penda.

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White Penda bush (flowers in spring) and a Bottlebrush bush…a haven for birds

We were there in the winter, and Theresa had Italian parsley, ordinary parsley, 3 kinds of thyme, mint, basil, chillis, rosemary, spring onions, Italian spinach, tomatoes, passionfruit and pineapple…and hibernating is tumeric and ginger.

As we had just arrived from the frozen south, (Canberra) what a joy to be able to walk into the garden every day and pick fresh vegetables and herbs!

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Theresa’s attention to detail makes this a lovely garden to sit in quietly, or go back to and discover new small surprises in out of the way places.

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The third part of the garden has native plants and a wonderfully scented Gardenia beside the garden bench. It looks very healthy compared to the ones we have in our garden, I feel I should apologise to all Gardenias growing in Canberra, the cold winters do not suit them at all!

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This garden’s design and planting has been a labour of love over many years. It has survived the vagaries of North Queensland weather, rain hail, the tail end of cyclones and sunshine!  Today this calm, lush garden, with cool verandas and continual birdsong,  welcomes friends and family at any time of the year.