Tag Archives: flowers

Far North Queensland, Melaleuca Trees in Palm Cove

On a cold June morning, we flew out of  Canberra, and four hours later we landed in a very different Australian city, Cairns, in Far North Queensland.

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree Forests, part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area.

Despite its international airport and city status, Cairns has lost none of its original laid-back Queensland character.

view of the cane fields and the mountain range as we drive from Cairns airport to Palm Cove

Driving from the airport there are cane farms on either side of the road, and some original old Queensland houses dotted around the countryside.

We are heading just a short distance away to our favourite spot, Palm Cove…where the winter temperatures at this time of the year are around 14 degrees to 26 degrees.

…let’s just keep that a secret…

We have been visiting Palm Cove with our family for about twenty years.

When our children were young, you could take camel rides along the beach, and an old hippie had a little wooden stand where you could have a foot massage…..those were the days!

In  the colder southern states of Australia, the gardens and parks have died back for the winter, so it is almost like sensory overload seeing the glorious colourful flowers and shrubs that seem to grow anywhere and everywhere…

 

 

 

 

However, Palm Cove’s signature for me, are the most incredible Paperbark Melaleuca trees.

The trunk of the tree is layered with papery bark, which is in a continuous process of peeling and replacing. In a monsoonal tropical climate like Palm Cove, this discourages parasites from getting a hold on the tree.

(It is also very hard to pass a tree and resist peeling a fine layer of bark as you go.)

Tea tree oil is distilled from the fresh leaves and twigs of the Melaleuca, and come to think of it, this is probably what the hippie used, all those years ago, for his foot massages.

These distinctive Melaleucas were here when Captain James Cook sailed his ship, the Endeavour, within three leagues of the Palm Cove foreshore on 10 June 1770….some of the species are reported to be over 400 years old.

It is said that Captain Cook tried using the oil from the leaves to make tea, as a possible way of preventing scurvy.

The beauty of the Paperbark Melaleucas in Palm Cove is the seamless way the buildings, paths and people fit around the trees.

I have read that the local council regulated, many years ago, that buildings in Palm Cove could not be built higher than the Melaleucas…what a visionary decision!

Palm Cove will never be one of the many beaches lined by generic high rise buildings, all looking exactly the same.

Rainbow lorikeets, the busy noisy local parrots in this area, are regular visitors to the trees, as are honey eaters, sunbirds, fruit bats, native bees and many other species that feed on the Paperbark trees.

My apologies, I couldn’t find a Rainbow Lorikeet in Palm Cove the day of taking photos, so  I had to borrow a busy Lorikeet from a trip we did to Sydney’s Centennial Park. This Lorikeet is feeding on equally striking flowers from a tree called Cape Tulip Red, originally from Africa, but also very common in the warmer parts of Australia.

The camels and hippies have gone, but, thank goodness some things stay the same, Pete’s Place, with the best fish and chips in Palm Cove.

Barramundi is a locally caught fish here, and is absolutely out of this world….may it never change.  I haven’t got a photo of any of our fish and chip meals because they were eaten so fast!

….and, I need never feel too far away from home, because one of the noisiest cockatoos I’ve ever heard, is nesting just across the way from our balcony

…well, if you can’t find an almond tree in Canberra, then a Paperbark Melaleuca tree is a pretty good second…

Not even a cockatoo winging in like a Boeing 747 could ruin an evening walk on Palm Cove beach.

I hope you are enjoying your good fortune if it is summer in your part of the world, and if you are in the middle of winter, as Monty Don says, make it a restorative time.

In my next post Paul and I will go on a bird watching tour in Port Douglas…

 

Copyright:Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A desert in the heart of Canberra..

The city of Canberra is by no means a desert, however, at the National Botanic gardens, the stunning Sturt Desert Pea is flowering..

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I’m visiting the National Botanic gardens on a very hot day in February, to look at the amazing Red Centre garden, and then stroll down to the Fern Gully…to cool off..

IMG_0531 (1024x698)The Red Centre garden is designed to showcase the dramatic landscapes, sand dunes and rocky escarpments of central Australia, known as The Red Centre. The soil in the Red Centre is rich with iron oxide which gives it this distinctive colour.

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Central Meeting Place features Indigenous artist Teresa Pula McKeeman’s artwork and evokes Northern Territory women’s ceremonial dancing.

Canberra often has frosty, temperamental weather, so to design and plant a desert garden is, ”a well considered experiment” according to David Taylor, curator of the Botanic Gardens Living Collections.

Desert plants can be seen here that belong in the desert….many thousand kilometres away from Canberra in Central Australia. An area of research in the Gardens is using micrografting techniques to help plants survive in a different climate….. for example the Sturt Desert Pea uses New Zealand’s Clianthus Puniceus as stock….as a result it can survive the Canberra winter.

IMG_0692 (1024x627)David says ”this garden is as much about the landscape and the colours, the textures and the forms of Central Australia as it is about the plants.’

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On this hot day I am very drawn to this beautiful desert pea, what a symbol of life and hope for desert people and travellers.

This flower is named after the explorer Captain Charles Sturt and he is quoted as saying”one of the greatest ornaments of the desert regions of the interior of Australia.”

All flowers are something of a miracle in this desert country

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desert hibiscus

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Gossypium sturtianum Malvaceae

 

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A model of a Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus)

Here is a very life-like desert dragon on the children’s trail… (I can’t help thinking many of my younger students would surely have been terrified of this guy..)

However, this lizard, found in the desert, is perfectly designed to survive the harsh conditions. A system of tiny grooves between its scales channels water from all over its body to the mouth of the lizard. It can drink by just standing in the rain or from dew that settles on its body overnight.

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A water dragon

Here is a much more low-key real life water dragon, very well camouflaged on the rock.

I’m leaving the Red Centre as the temperature climbs to 35 C and going where it is wonderfully green and cool. The fern gully is one of the most popular places in the National Botanic  Gardens on a hot day, and I can see why…this fern gully is rich with stories for another time…

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A bee hotel and a stroll through The National Botanic Gardens in summer

 

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Canberra has quite a few hotels, but this is special…..a timber bee hotel at the National Botanic Gardens, especially made to attract many of the native bees in the area.

(it reminds me of my neighbour’s neat and organised quilting cupboard!)

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To attract a variety of bees the hotel features many different room decors, including hardwood logs and mud bricks drilled with holes, plant stems, fern fronds, and hotel ”rooms” made from cardboard tubes which are packed tight with paper drinking straws, the perfect size for a native bee nest.

The hotel is in a shady spot at the Botanic Gardens, and surrounded by flowers, mostly of the daisy species.

 

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I arrived early in the morning to see the new bee hotel, but I’m also here to join a group who do a garden stroll through the Botanic Gardens every week. One of the first things we do is look at what is in flower….how about this Banksia Victoriae Proteaceae?

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Near the entrance to the gardens is a bust of Joseph Banks, a British naturalist and botanist, who took part in Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia and New Zealand.

He was fascinated with Australian plants, and the plant genus Banksia is named after him.

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The bust of Joesph Banks is surrounded by Banksias, and therefore we are also surrounded by birds.

A Wattlebird is feeding on the Banksia flowers, in branches just above us…..the food must be tasty! Unfortunately, the one thing the Wattlebird objected to was my camera, so no photo…..sadly.

Considering this is mid summer I am surprised at how much is flowering….

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Corymbia filicifolia

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Pandorea jasminoides

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Rhododendron Viriosum Ericaceae

Here is a Lemon Myrtle tree flowering gloriously in the summer sun… when you crush the leaves there is a wonderful scent of lemon…

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Lemon Myrtle white blossom

It is thought that Aboriginal people have always used the leaves for flavouring in food, and this tradition  continues today. The leaves are used in cooking,  to make tea, and are also added to  soaps and used as herbal remedies.

These gardens are a paradise for birds…this lovely Crimson Rosella is busy preening his long blue tail and wishing I would just go away..

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Crimson Rosella

We are back at the entrance of the National Botanic gardens, what a cool and beautiful spot to spend the morning… I have no doubt that bee hotel will be booked out in no time!

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Canberra’s spring festival…..the South African Embassy

As part of the spring festival in Canberra, many Embassies have opened their doors and gardens to the public, and South Africa is one of those Embassies.

IMG_5145 (640x367)The South African Embassy is one of the oldest in the diplomatic circle in Canberra. The beautiful Cape Dutch building was established in 1956, and the gardens were designed at this time. The elegant buildings and grounds reflect the era in which it was built.

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It is surprising these lovely long lawns have survived the drought. Nowadays many embassies, including this one, have very large water tanks to store rain water. Some years ago, Canberra suffered 10 years of drought, and since then there have been permanent water restrictions for watering gardens.

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However, this year we have had plenty of winter rainfall and everything is looking very green and lush.

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The Galahs have found some tasty seeds in the lawns of the Embassy, and, a Magpie is making a nest in one of the many trees nearby.IMG_5154 (640x480)IMG_5150 (640x368)During nesting times, Magpies become very territorial, and I’m watching her, watching me…..

In the front of the building is a wonderful bush full of proteas, the emblem for South Africa. My mother spent her childhood in South Africa, and she felt homesick every time she saw a protea…(or a Red Hot Poker, or Flame Lily)

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The plants in the garden are a mix of those that grow well in Canberra and those that represent South Africa..

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colourful, frost tolerant salvias..

 

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Loropetalum

 

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African daisy

and some flowers that seem to have strayed in from Monet’s garden…

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We visited South Africa a few years ago and enjoyed the markets, the colourful fruit and vegetables and the lovely fresh food served in restaurants…….IMG_5050 (634x640)

As one of the South African waiters said to me…when I mentioned that she had given me a very large serving….

“‘ What are you worrying about?……you can go on a diet when you get home….”

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I’m using this logic today at the Embassy cupcake stall…even though home isn’t very far away.

 

 

 

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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