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

 

Do cockatoos seek revenge? Bulbs, blossoms and birds..

Cockatoos are frequent visitors to our garden, especially when the almond tree flowers and the almonds grow and drop onto the ground.

They spend a lot of time collecting the almonds from the ground, cracking open shells, and eating almonds on the carport roof, while socialising…

They are pretty good at putting on a show for the camera too..

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The almond tree has beautiful flowers and is much loved by many birds.

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The Wattle birds enjoying the almond flower nectar..

However, there is seldom harmony amongst birds and gardeners in spring.

Recently a couple of the cockatoos hopped onto the almond tree and started shredding the leaves and the flowers. Earlier this year, they had successfully shredded our flowering Eucalyptus tree of many of its smaller branches, so we hoped this wasn’t going to start a new trend…

Paul waved the broom at them and politely said ”shoo!”

Well! We’ve never heard that tone before!

For our resident cockatoos, even implied criticism is hard to take…they collected their almonds and flew off to the neighbouring telephone wires….

and turned their backs on us!

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….. and if you think you are going to get a photo opportunity from us…you can go sing for your supper…

They disappeared for a few days, but, sadly, the plot thickens.

Last year, I took most of these perfectly good tulips out of the front garden and put them in pots on the deck in the back garden.

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Cockatoos frequently fly over the deck to get to the almond tree, and very occasionally they behead a daffodil or two along the way, usually the ones that have the temerity to flower early.

However, sometime after our falling out with the cockatoos, we came home one evening to find some of the early flowering tulips, and some crocus had been pulled out of their pots, and half eaten…. what a mess, what destruction!

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The culprits had very large beaks…

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Cockatoos are known to be curious and intelligent birds…so, were they sampling new bulbs for taste or bearing a grudge?

As my neighbour said, perhaps….”Revenge is a dish best served cold”

The cockatoos did not come visiting for a while, but we enjoyed seeing some of the other springtime youngsters…

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Young kookaburras ”Oh did you hear what they did? We would never do that!”

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Baby Eastern Rosellas…

 

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I was wondering if I could come down and have a drink?

 

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Baby galah…or Elvis impersonator..

Recently we went to Sydney for a wedding, and this time I hid my (remaining) flowering bulbs behind the camellia on the deck…better safe than sorry…

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All quiet on the home front when we got home…

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At least we have a few surviving tulips for the deck, so all is not lost.

There is not much chance to enjoy anything in the garden at the moment, because the rain has been tumbling down all week.

Except of course if you are a cockatoo. Word is out that the almond shells are lovely and soft, and have been lying around on the ground for some time now.

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Well, okay you’re forgiven. We’ll just sit here in the rain and enjoy the bounty ….

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I guess every gardener has some challenges, and at least ours are mighty big personalities!

Since I started blogging and reading gardening blogs, I’ve learnt all about a the hazards of nearby  rabbits, possums, deer, squirrels and other invaders in the garden…do you have yours?

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved

 

Cairns, sunshine and green spaces all the way to the Botanical gardens…

In early August we flew out of Canberra in our coats (minus 2 degrees) and arrived in Cairns, Far North Queensland, at midday…I took this photo as we had some coffee in the 27 degree sunshine….now the secret is out..

Cairns is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but the city council should also be congratulated on their town planning and green spaces.

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In Cairns is it possible to walk from the centre of the city all the way along the Harbour to the Botanical Gardens on the edge of the city….all that land preserved for the public.

The Esplanade has a collection of wonderful shallow pools for children to play and swim. Further along the boardwalk are playgrounds and spaces for older teenagers and young adults to play games such as volley ball.

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The path is wide enough for pedestrians to walk either way….and, there is a separate wide path for cyclists….

These sorts of green spaces give a whole community a sense of wellbeing and belonging.

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We took a leisurely stroll into Cairns in the evening…

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…and then a leisurely stroll back towards the Botanical gardens…

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Unfortunately we missed our booked guided tour of the Botanical Gardens due to rain…but here are a few photos of the gardens and the plants ….

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….so very different from our plants in the south..

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Acanthaceae Justicia Carnea Jacobinia

 

 

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Leguminosae Brownea grandiceps

 

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Ground orchid

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Waeszewiczia Coccinea

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heliconia

The plant below was my  absolute favourite, called Bumpy Satinash…The sign on this tree says,

it has aromatic flowers that attract many animals and insects, including possums, lorikeets and fruit bats to feed on the copious nectar,

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It looked wonderful growing beside the magnificent Paperbark Melaleuca tree ..

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And back at our hotel…..it is goodnight from the resident Kookaburra…

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and in the dawn chorus of kookaburras, here is Junior Kookaburra just enjoying some early morning sun, and learning the ropes..

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I hope you are enjoying your green spaces, where ever you live…..and that you have many paths to choose from…

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.

 

Secret gardens of Venice

We had a wonderful holiday in Italy in May, and in my eternal quest to find green spaces where ever we go, here is my favourite place in Venice……the magical island of Guidecca.

 

Guidecca is a pencil thin island not far across the water from St Mark’s Cathedral. As we arrived on the vaparetto, the rain stopped, the sun came out, the coffee shops opened and the touches of greenery could be seen along the canal.

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We were lucky enough to meet up with Tudy Sammartini, a long time resident of Venice, a designer and passionate gardener, and author to three books; Secret Gardens of Venice, Floors of Venice and the Bell Towers of Venice. Tudy was our guide, and had an intimate knowledge of all the gardens we visited in Guidecca.

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In the 16th Century Guidecca was the centre of trade and horticultural discovery. The whole region was very fertile, and full of orchids, vineyards and gardens of rare exotics.

The two gardens of Guidecca we visited are part of the Hotel Bauer, and Hotel Cipriani.

The first garden had been restored to its former glory by Francesca Bortolotto Possati, the owner of the Hotel Bauer on the island.

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A very old olive tree still thrives in the grounds of the hotel, testimony to its historic past.

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Historic documents record orchards and vineyards too, and fruit trees can be seen around the gardens today.

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The lawns are cut at three different heights, the first is closely trimmed for visitors to walk along, the second is slightly higher, and the third is left to grow wild as a meadow.

IMG_2577 (1024x808)There are over 200  different kinds of ancient roses throughout the garden, and together with all the other blossoms on this sunny spring day, the birds and the bees were enjoying this garden as much as we were.

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There is a pergola with Isabella grapes and roses. At the base is lavender, and the rest of the garden is full of  Iris, catnip, columbine roses, and grasses.

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Small herb gardens surround the pergola.

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Here is another ”room” to the gardens. The tall trees and greenery make this a place  of peace and reflection.

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Nearby is the Hotel Cipriani where the wife of the CXVIII Doge designed her Renaissance garden.

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The vineyard of ‘Refosco’ Merlot and Cabernet grapes still thrives in the rear garden of the hotel, and the grapes  provide plenty of wine for the hotel cellars.

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Casanova was said to have courted the young novice Caterina Capretta in this very vineyard.  Imagine Casanova today……… the tweet goes out, and millions of followers would know his whereabouts in two minutes!

The vegetable and herb gardens of this hotel were well looked after……here is a member of the kitchen staff snipping herbs for the lunch time menu…. impossible to get much fresher than that!

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Around the pond is a statue of the young Sea God Triton, on his sea horse, looking out onto the waters of Venice.

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And so ended our tour of the gardens of Guidecca.

Here is a last glimpse of the island as we crossed the bridge to wait for the vaparetto.

This was a day to be remembered.

IMG_2461 (1024x799)Our warmest thanks go to Tudy Sammartini, her affection and passion for the Guidecca gardens was obvious.

Salute Tudy!

And just as I write this, all those in Italy affected by the earthquake this week, are very much in our thoughts.

Farewell to a wonderful country, and salute to the people, the places, the food, and of course….the green spaces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sicilian Garden from a Golden Age

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Before Canberra bursts into spring, I have a couple of posts to show of our trip to Italy in May……so welcome to Villa Giulia, the first public park in Palermo, opened in 1778.

On a warm morning, after a long walk through the city, we decided to stroll around this inviting shady park rather than go to the Botanical Gardens, right next door. Botanical gardens need stamina, and more time than we had that day.

Sicily was first settled by the Phoenicans in the 8th century, then conquered by the Romans, the Arabs and the Normans. The buildings and gardens reflect this rich history.

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The wide avenues and tall palms made this park seem cool, inviting and exotic, full of flowers and shrubs reminiscent of my childhood in Central Africa, where the climate is equally hot in summer.

I loved the Lantana Cultivar, the blaze of orange flowers making a a colourful hedge. Some red Hibiscus flowers are growing between the palms, and in the background the seemingly ever flowering purple Bougainvillea.

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Parks in the 1700s were considered a reflection of the city’s wealth and prosperity, and were designed by artists, architects, scholars and dreamers of a golden age.

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These are exedra, and they were intended for musical performances. The colours and the mosiacs have no doubt been restored, but it still withstands the test of time, and looks wonderful.IMG_3355 (1024x693)The site is near the seafront and the park is based on a square, geometrically designed. The Dodecahedron fountain is at the heart of the garden, and the marble clock created by mathematician Lorenzo Federici – each face of the dodecahedron featuring a sundial.

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The statue of Atlas is set in the centre of a circular fountain. Atlas was the god of endurance and astronomy.

Imagine an astronomer and a mathematican being consulted on the design of a park today!

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Over time some of the plants have been renewed and the trees lining this path below look quite young and healthy.  They are known as Judas trees, and  can also be found in the National Arboretum in Canberra. The name possibly came from the French common name, Arbre de Judee, meaning the tree of Judea, the region where the tree is commonly grown, on stony arid slopes.

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The flat ripening pods turn from green to bright red, giving extra colour to the park.

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On the left hand-side of this path is the Italian pine (pino domestic) which is very common in Palermo and gives welcome shade in the summer.

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Villa Giulia is an oasis in the teeming city of Palermo, and a lasting legacy to the enlightened times of its Golden Age.

…and, as we leave, another tree to remind me of Africa and Australia…

Who could resist stopping to take a photo of a flowering Jacaranda tree?

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Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved

 

 

 

Venice markets and a food tour..

The band is playing, the seagull is watching……it must be market day in Venice!

 

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In May we spent a month in Italy, and I’ve finally sorted most of the photos ready for a few posts on Italian gardens, and some markets.

Paul and I are interested in growing food, and we enjoy seeing food at local markets when we are travelling.

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The markets are behind the stairs.

The Rialto markets of Venice (a fish market and a produce market) were built long before the Rialto Bridge was in place.

These Markets keep up the tradition of all good markets; that food is much better grown locally, and eaten fresh and in season.

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The fruit and vegetables are carefully displayed and clearly marked, a perfect opportunity to learn the names of vegetables in Italian, at the same time as buying the produce!

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Much of the fresh food is grown on the island of Sant’Erasmo…look at the amazing white Bassano asparagus.

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The purple Sant ‘Erasmo artichokes are very popular too.

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Our guide, Francesca, explains that only the white inner part of this artichoke is used for cooking.

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This happy market worker is cutting the artichokes up, and putting the white part into water, for later sales.

There are not many Venetians still living in Venice itself, and so locals all seem to know each other. In the Italian way, there is plenty of talk and laughter and good humour. Francesca has lived in Venice most of her life and considers herself very lucky. As she says, she can walk everywhere and never has a traffic jam going to work! (she says she knows how to dodge the crowds)

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The Piscaria (fish market) was re-built in 1907, and we had heard that sustainable fishing is an old tradition in Venice. The marble plaques show regulations set centuries ago for minimum allowed size for lagoon fish.

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The fish is glistening with sea water it is so fresh..

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Mackerel

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This was our first food tour in Italy, and Francesca guided us towards a tiny bar, full of delicious cicheti (small snacks like mini Panini), and of course, a glass of Prosecco.

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I had some small artichoke balls, seen on the top of the counter, and they were delicious!

At our next stop we were offered Panini with some traditional serving of Baccala ( a dried salted cod mixture) and a variety of meats, artichoke, olives, anchovy, chilli, mixed vegetables, and beans.

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The shop window had an intriguing array of herbs and spices, all artistically arranged on the plates.

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We went to a restaurant for lunch and had black pasta made with the ink from squid.

It is testimony to the lovely food and good company on the tour, that I was too busy eating and talking to take photos of this!

The charm of Venice is not just the water and canals, but the small tempting restaurants, often tucked down alleyways, away from the crowds.

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One thing we learnt quickly in Italy, Italians love to eat, socialise, and celebrate life…

….salute to that!

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved

 

 

 

Reflection on last summer’s garden….sometimes you just get lucky…

July is a very dreary winter month in Canberra, and it seems a perfect time to look back at photos of the garden over the spring and summer months of 2015/2016. This might give some inspiration for the coming spring…

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In Canberra sweet peas need to be planted around my birthday, mid-March. My father-in-law was an enthusiastic gardener and he always reminded me to plant them.

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Sweet peas also remind me of my Mum who loved all flowers and growing things, but sweet peas were one of her favourites.

I think of them both in a companionable way when I am in the garden…

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During the summer I read a little book called ”Six Square Metres” by Margaret Simons. Margaret is a journalist and gardening enthusiast, and some years ago, she wrote a thoughtful, often humorous, gardening column in The Australian newspaper.

One of her quotes sums up a season of gardening….(and our year of gardening)

Sometimes you reap what you sow.

We certainly did that last summer, this pea crop went on for months, above and beyond the call of duty…

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Sometimes you reap what other people sowed..

We bought this tomato as a sapling at the markets in spring. It is called ”Mortgage Lifter” and the tomatoes grow to an enormous size. Every few weeks Paul and I would put more stakes in for reinforcement as the plant grew bigger and the tomatoes grew wider. The beauty of this tomato is that it is very juicy, with a wonderfully rich flavour. I made tomato puree with the left over tomatoes in February, and now we add them to soups and stews. A taste from our own summer garden in winter.

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Sometimes you haven’t got a clue what you are sowing.

….at the markets in spring I thought I was buying a new kind of chard with lovely purple stalks…and it was beetroot! I can’t believe I’m admitting to this….

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and sometimes you just get lucky.

….this Gardenia really does not like the Canberra climate, especially the cold weather. This year we nursed it through the winter and then gave it plenty of fertilizer in spring and summer, and now some beautiful, perfectly formed scented flowers…

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We were very lucky to have an abundance of tomatoes, and the best garlic in three years of trying to get it right..

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or unlucky….

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Much as I love the cockatoos, they sometimes just come by to pick the top off a rose stem, very very annoying…….. ”Who me?”

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All these things are true of life, as of gardening…

I hope this year has been a lucky one for you and your garden…

 

 

 

Birds in a winter Canberra garden…

 

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It is always a delight to see birds like the Eastern Spinebill in the garden. They are the smallest of the Honeyeaters in Australia and a treat to watch.

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We have planted more and more Pineapple Sage near the deck in our back garden, and this year the flowers lasted well into winter.

Now we can hear the strong call of the Eastern Spinebills on a winter morning…they are very welcome!

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The Canberra Ornithologists Group has a useful and easy to read book called ”Birds of Canberra Gardens”. It has beautiful photos of all the birds in this area.

IMG_4293 (1024x834)The bird on the front cover is a Gang Gang Cockatoo, and it is my dream to get a photo of one of these parrots one day!

Paul took this lovely photo of our resident male Superb Fairy Wren….. isn’t he a charmer?

The Superb Fairy Wren is a local species of Fairy Wren, and has adapted well to Canberra conditions.

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The Pied Currawong is also very common in the Canberra region. They are magnificent flyers, and can fly across the garden in a few graceful sweeps and land on a tiny branch or wire.

Pied Currawong (C) Harry Charalambous 2014 www.birdlife.org.au

Pied Currawong (C) Harry Charalambous 2014 www.birdlife.org.au

They are efficient and intelligent predators for the little birds gathering in our garden. Over time, Paul and the currawongs have reached a truce;  they have strictly flying rights only over the garden…no settling into bushes and on wires to watch and hunt little birds. We live near Mt Taylor where they can hunt in their natural environment.

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

However, while we were on holiday the Currawongs enjoyed the lack of supervision, and had a touch of Oppositional Defiance Disorder when we got home. This is a well used photo I know, but so expressive!

The Crested Pigeons are found in most gardens in Canberra….they seem to love sitting on the overhead wires of gardens, huddled together in winter

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Baby its cold outside..

….are they on the alert for predators? Not in Canberra I suspect..

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The description of the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo in the Birds of Canberra book begins

..”they are very conspicuous, noisy and gregarious birds commonly seen in Canberra gardens…. ”

What a perfect description of these birds!

One of our resident Cockatoos was sitting on the carport roof waiting to greet us when we got back from Italy.

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”Oh Hi! You’re back…..just let me finish eating the almonds and I’ll show you what we’ve done in the front garden

”We’ve stripped the Iron Bark Eucalypt of almost all its flowers….the nectar was nice..”

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and the whole street is littered with small branches…it looks as if a shredding machine has been through the street….

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Canberra’s suburban streets are lined with corridors of natural bushland and so the Cockatoos and other wild birds have a choice of homes

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This hollow has been a nesting place for young cockatoos over the years…

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Australian Magpies are described as;

”boldly marked, confiding and abundant, one of Australia’s best known birds. They feed on  insects and other invertebrates on lawns and open ground, and may become tame if fed.

Here is one of our local Magpies….the water baby, regardless of the weather!

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Look at this industrious Magpie…is she collecting bits for a nest already? In mid-July?

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In spring I hope to bring you more photos of some of the many birds in Canberra gardens.

…… in the meanwhile, enjoy the birds in your neighbourhood where ever you live.

Copyright Geraldine  Mackey. All rights reserved