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.

 

 

 

Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine….as far away from a Canberra winter as it gets..

 

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During the very cold winter we are having in Canberra, we are visiting North Queensland…guaranteed to be warmer!

North Queensland is known for the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef, and the Wet Tropics rainforests.

Most people head for the Barrier Reef and beaches between Cairns and Port Douglas, but we often begin with a visit to the Atherton Tableland. My cousin, Theresa, has been living and working in the Tablelands for many years, and through her we have been introduced to all the wonders of this area.

The Atherton Tablelands is an amazing contrast of rolling hills, farmland, rugged bushland, tropical waterfalls, and volcanic lakes.

Last week we returned to one of the first places we ever visited in the Tablelands, the volcanic lakes Eacham and Barrine.

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Lake Eacham..where the forest meets the sea

One of my favourite books for children is  “Where the Forest Meets the Sea”…… here we are at a place where the rainforest meets the lakes.

A Ngadjonji legend tells of young hunters striking a sacred tree, which angered the rainbow serpent. The earth roared like thunder and winds blew like a cyclone. The ground twisted and cracked and red clouds rose in the sky that had never been seen before.

Scientists believe volcanos were active here until almost 12 000 years ago.

The day we walked around the lake it was hard to imagine the turbulent and violent past that created these lakes. Now they sit, still, deep and quiet.

Paul took some amazing photos which show just how peaceful, calm, and full of food the pelican and cormorants were!

 

A very contented pelican and cormorants .. Copyright Paul Mackey

Much of the original rainforest in the Tablelands has been cleared, but several small fragments remain…

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copyright Paul Mackey

….as it says in the guidebooks..

”green fragile jewels in a sea of farmland’

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Copyright Paul Mackey

It was only when Paul had taken this photo that we realised a baby turtle was in front of the mother… blending into the fallen branch and totally unseen by the naked eye.

We were happy to see the contented bird life and turtles, but this area is also home to some of the most primitive plant and animal species, such as the Musky Rat Kangaroo and the ancient Cycads.

Standing under the magnificent trees in the forests, looking down on the reflections of fallen trees in these deep lakes, was like travelling back in time… snatching a glimpse of the evolution of plant life on the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Currawongs…..The boys are back in town….

The boys are back in town with smart black suits and beaks to match….

I love this first line of a poem called, Currawong, written by Bill Chestnut and displayed in his Tasmanian garden.

Canberra is full of birdlife, and as our garden is close to Mt Taylor, we have our share and more. Most of the birds are welcome, interesting to watch, and some, like the magpies, are part of our every day life in the garden.

However, the currawongs….. regular visitors from Mt Taylor, are the least likeable of all the birds. They fly into the gum trees in our street like jet pilots, aerodynamically perfect, and with a confidence to match.

This grey currawong, photographed and found in Western Australia, is not native to our area, However, I could not resist using this shot as the photographer has captured that menacing look …….

 

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

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

 

Here is the Pied Currawong, the type found in our region, more frequently than we would ever want..(despite their beautiful song)

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Pied-Currawong-C-Harry-Charalambous-2014-www.birdlife.org_.au_.jpg

When the Currawongs arrive ..all the other birds in the garden disappear; no more wattle birds, parrots and honey-eaters taking turns at the birdbaths, no more parrots softly chattering in the trees as they feed.

Needless to say, the Currawongs are not welcome in our garden, and when Mr Greenspaces (Gardener No 1) is around, they fly off pretty quickly. I am known by birdlife and animals in general to be a bit of a pushover.

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In the interests of this blog, I have tried, many times to get a photo of a currawong…with no luck.

I had given up on the currawong, but the lovely Eastern Spinebill spent most of the autumn feeding in our Peppermint Sage plant, right near the kitchen window. I had the camera ready for this beautiful little bird, and then I noticed the Currawong land on the railing of the deck, not very far from the Peppermint Sage. A very bold move on the part of the Currawong because the deck is definitely out of bounds for them, and they know it.

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Eastern-Spinebill-C-Ian-Wilson-2015-www.birdlife.org_.au_.jpg

A photo of the elusive Currawong was tempting.  I fiddled with the camera, hardly noticing the Currawong  getting closer and closer to the Peppermint Sage. There was a flurry and the Currawong flew away…..the Peppermint Sage leaves waved and the Eastern Spinebill was nowhere to be seen.

I had a moment of paralysing Irish guilt…had the Currawong left with our Eastern Spinebill in its beak?

Fortunately for me, not long afterwards, I heard the reassuring shrill call of the Eastern-Spinebill..it had survived to continue feeding for another day.

Here are is my photo of the Currawong on the deck…certainly not good enough to risk an Eastern-Spinebill. Next time I’ll be paying attention…..when the boys are back in town……

 

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A cottage garden in the inner city

gardenpathEighty bags of manure a year, plenty of mulching, slow release fertilizer, a couple of water tanks, an artistic sister, a sense of humour, and a whole lot of love for gardening….that is all you need to have a garden like Christine Fernon’s.

 

In February this year I visited this wonderful cottage garden in the inner city of Canberra. Christine bought the property ten years ago, and although it is hard to believe now, the garden was completely overrun, and she began from scratch to re-build it. Now the garden is crammed full of plants, flowers and vegetables. In a space smaller than many Canberra gardens, she has four vegetable beds, and another area where she grows rhubarb, strawberries and chives.

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There is espaliered fruit along the driveway with almond, feijoa, crab apples and quince trees.

The rest of the garden is packed full of colourful flowers and shrubs. Her sister has taught her ceramics and the garden is dotted with ceramic figures, pots and whimsical garden labels.

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She  has three slimline water tanks, two aerobin compost bins, plus a worm farm. The water tanks are mainly for the veggies and potted plants, and no pesticides are used in the garden.

 

But I’m sure the key to this lush and healthy looking garden is the end of winter ”energy drink” of cow manure/mushroom compost/blood and bone, and slow release seaweed solution and mulching during summer. …….very hard to sustain that kind of dedication!

Every bit of the garden is inspiring and needless to say the bees and birds abound. Christine has 6 birdbaths in all; one show-off magpie was taking his daily constitutional despite all the Open Garden busy-bodies in his garden.

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Christine has included a birdbath on the nature strip in the front of her property and it is used in summer for the kangaroos who stop off at night-time for a drink….so very close to the Parliamentary Triangle.

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Australian National Botanical Gardens…one story at a time…

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Writing this blog is all about stories, and the Australian National Botanical Gardens is exploding with plants, wildlife and stories…

The gardens are tucked away in the lower slopes of Black Mountain, and it is hard to believe that this lush green space was once, in the 1950s, a cleared dairy farm.

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Now the gardens are home 70 000 plants, representing over 5 000 species from all over the country. These gardens were one of the first botanical gardens in the world to adopt the study and display of indigenous species, and many plants grown here have never been cultivated before.

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The active volunteer ANBG community provide guided tours every day…and I was lucky enough to have a guide all to myself on a cool but clear day in June. We walked, and talked, through paths that led us on a journey of plant life from all over Australia. If you want to see diverse Australian flora and fauna without travelling around Australia, you can do it in day at the Australian National Botanical gardens.

The first story of the day…

The Ghosts of Burke and Wills

In the rock gardens, we found some tiny plants growing beside the rocks…the leaf looked just like a four-leafed clover. I recognized these in our own garden, growing near our crop of garlic….an annoying weed for us, springing up all over the place.

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My guide, Harley Dadswell, commented that this tiny plant called Nardoo played quite a part in Australian history, in the story of the explorers, Burke and Wills.

Burke and Wills had run out of rations due to the deaths of their camels. The Cooper Creek Aborigines, the Yandruwandha people helped them by giving them fish, beans called padlu, and a kind of dough made from the ground nodules of the Nardoo plant. Once the Yandruwandha people had moved on, Burke and Wills, it seems, tried to prepare the dough themselves, but didn’t wash/soak the seeds prior to grinding in order to remove the enzyme thiaminase, which depletes the body of vitamin B.

As a result it is likely that the deaths of Burke and Wills, was in part due to the vitamin deficiency disease called Beriberi.

Wills’ last journal entry included the following..

 

…….starvation on nardoo is by no means very unpleasant, but for the weakness one feels, and the utter inability to move oneself, for as far as appetite is concerned, it gives me the greatest satisfaction. Certainly, fat and sugar would be more to one’s taste, in fact, those seem to me to be the great stand by for one in this extraordinary continent; not that I mean to depreciate the farinacious food, but the want of sugar and fat in all substances obtainable here is so great that they become almost valueless to us as articles of food, without the addition of anything else.”

I will look on that weed in our garden with new eyes from now on…

 

 

The Brindabella Ranges…Mount Taylor and a garden

 

The BrindabellasWe live on the south side of the city, in a quiet suburban street with a view of the Brindabella mountains.

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Our street is on a gentle slope leading up to Mt Taylor. My father, coming from Scotland, always corrected me when I called Mt Taylor a mountain, because he definitely thought of Mt Taylor as a hill. Whichever way you look at it, Mt Taylor is a good climb, with a fantastic view of the Brindabella mountains when you get to the top. Even my Scottish Dad conceded that the Brindabellas are indeed mountains, and very fine ones at that.

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Our garden has gone through many changes in thirty years, and is always a work in progress. Children, dogs and chooks have been replaced by vegetables, flowers and bird-bath antics to keep us amused.

Occasionally (not often enough) we just stop, sit down and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the garden, the hill, and the mountains.

The Arboretum….100 trees in 100 forests

 

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In 2003, devastating bushfires swept through Canberra. I’m sure I speak for most Canberrans when I say this was the most frightening, and challenging experience of my life.  For a long time afterwards, Canberra was a place of charred black earth, withered trees and the smell of smoke and charcoal.

It is hard to believe that from such devastation could come a place of such sweeping beauty, the new National Arboretum Canberra.

Walter Burley Griffin, the designer of this city always envised an Aboretum in the planning of Canberra. However, by the time Griffin arrived in Australia in 1914 Thomas Charles Weston had been appointed as afforestation officer, and he and Griffin differed on tree species selection and planting priorities. Later, Griffin, faced with continual opposition from bureaucrats, resigned from his government position in December 1920.

However, Arboreta, as part of Griffin’s design was gradually developed, beginning with the early plantings at Westbourne Woods and Weston Park. In the mid 1950s a substantial arboretum at the western end of the lake was established, and in 2001 was named Lindsay Pryor National Arboretum. However, the 2003 bushfires stripped the neighbouring hills of pine plantations and, the ACT government, took this opportunity to develop what has become the National Arboretum Canberra. This was a centenary gift to the city by the ACT government. We now have an Arboretum from the lake to the hills, with urban forests, woodlands, open grassland and formal parks.

More than 48 000 trees have been planted in the 100 forests on the 250 hectare site, many rare and endangered. The Arboretum was offically opened in 2013…10 years after the bushfires. Now we have a mosiac of fledgling forests, a venue for outdoor performances, an education and research centre..not to mention an amazing playground. In the words of Katy Gallagher, the chief minister officially opening the Arboretum..

this site has emerged from the ashes of the catastrophic bushfires to be transformed into a place of beauty, tranquility, recreation, research and learning.”