Canberra in Lockdown and from Africa to Australia..

Ken the local gardener extraordinaire has made this garden (called 5 ways)

Canberra has been in Lockdown for over two months now and there are just one or two highlights every day that keep us afloat. We are allowed a daily walk, and fortunately there are many paths and bush trails near us…

This huge dead Eucalyptus tree remains to provide habitat for birds who nest in hollows.

and lots of gardens to look at along the way.

Even in the middle of winter, it is lovely to get outside and walk around. Another daily highlight is buying a take-away coffee at our local cafĂ©. It’s the small pleasures that count.

The Brindabella Mountains around us are a deep blue hue in winter and early spring. Even with our mandatory masks on, the clear mountain air is a tonic.

Almost everyone I know has become a bit more reflective in Lockdown, we all appreciate family, friends and neighbours now that we cannot spend time with them. People need people!

During this time I have been putting together some of my family history. ..and not for the first time I’m reminded of my family’s good fortune in emigrating to Australia.

It has taken three generations for my family to find a place to call home, and how lucky we are to live in Australia.

My father was born in Scotland of Irish parents…amongst his many stories he talked about hiking in the mountains of Scotland ….

Hiking in Scotland 1937

I’m sure he would have loved to spend his life in the wide open spaces, which he always loved, but earning a living was the most important thing to do and he applied for and got an apprenticeship on the Clyde River in Glasgow.

My father and his brother decided to emigrate to Africa, for work, and in my father’s case, for adventure. As they boarded the ship, my grandmother stood on the dock, and said

“I wish you were all wee again”.

It was only when I was a mother myself that I realised the poignancy of that remark, he thought he was off for an adventure, but she knew the truth. Both her sons left for a better life and she never saw them again.

My mother was born in Ireland, and brought up in South Africa.

Her father and mother left Belfast and ”the troubles” only to find life in their new continent just as difficult.

My mother became a nurse, and she and my father moved to what was then Northern Rhodesia, and is now Zambia.

My mother (left) was never happier than when she was nursing .( 1941)

Although my parents had excellent skills to survive in a new country, my father had always wanted to be a farmer, and so they accepted a job of farming and care-taking a farm in a remote part of Zambia called Abercorn. In the way of new migrants, my aunt and uncle came to stay on the farm as well, and all their skills together, kept them afloat.

My mother sitting in the front with my two brothers and my cousin and uncle. My father on the top step on the left. My aunt and my cousin leaning over the balcony.

My older brothers and my parents loved this time of their lives, despite the trials and tribulations. The stories they told were wonderful, and I feel I missed out on something special.

However, the remote farm was a precarious long term prospect, and my father and my uncle were able to get work in one of a cluster of copper mines in Zambia.

I was born in the small mining town of Mufulira. My brothers and I had a happy childhood in this town, but, over time, there were tensions as Zambia struggled for independence. It was our temporary home.

The Malcolm Watson Hospital in Mufulira, where I was born.

Eventually, at the difficult age of 55, my parents made the decision and we left Africa for Australia. I was eighteen and my brothers were in their early twenties. We had a clean slate and a future full of possibilities in Australia.

My brother and I on the ferry enjoying Sydney Harbour. The Opera House only half built!

It was more difficult for my parents. They left behind relatives and friends, people who had the same experiences and interests as themselves. Just as many migrant children have done, we became the bridge between our parents and the new country. At an age when we were leaving the family home, we were helping them make a home. We worried about them, often without realising how resilient they were.

My mother and father and I getting to know the coastline around Sydney Harbour.

When I married, it was to a 5th generation Australian. (although Paul’s ancestors are Irish too!) I was glad to know that my children had ancestors, not only from all over the world, but also in the country of their birth. Our daughters have a natural sense of belonging in Australia, they wear their nationality with ease.

What could be more Australian than going to the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in the summer holidays?

The initial struggle to live in a new country was successful for my parents. They came to love Australia, and over the years they appreciated the landscape, the Australian humour, and the uncomplicated way of life.

This photo was taken not long before they died. They were very proud of their home and garden .

They loved their big garden, and filled it with mango, avocado and many failed attempts at pawpaw trees. Many years later, although the house and garden have long been sold, the avocado trees survive…. which just goes to show, you can’t keep a good avocado tree down!

Brindabella Mountains

Lockdown is almost over in Canberra, and we will, very tentatively, begin moving around, and seeing family and friends again.

Best wishes to everyone and stay safe and sensible!

Sydney and Canberra Lockdown walks, Reid’s Tiny Farm and spring is in the air…

My brother, Neil lives in Sydney and every morning, regardless of the weather, he walks with a small group of like-minded guys who are up early…usually a bit before dawn.

Sydney and Canberra are in Lockdown, and residents are allowed two hours of exercise (close to home) every day in both cities. Bondi beach, and the cliffs beyond make for ever changing views of the city and the beach, especially at dawn. How very lucky they are to have these views, at any time, but especially during a Lockdown period.

One of the walkers, Tim Read, regularly takes photos with various cameras, and has kindly allowed me to show these two. Many thanks Tim.

Bondi Beach and the Tidal Pool (Photos by Tim Read: All Rights Reserved)

Although Sydney is only a four hour drive away from Canberra, our climates are very different . I often envy my brother his walks as I sit shivering in my study in Canberra in winter and spring. However, our compensation is spring!

This year we had a long cold and rainy winter, and it was lovely to see the blossoms finally arrive on the plum tree..

and the almond tree..

The Wattle trees Paul planted a few years ago are enthusiastically flowering in the new garden.

We have become philosophical about the amount of blossoms lost to the birds…

In fact the King Parrot feeds on blossoms just above us, as we sit on the deck having coffee, blossoms raining down like confetti.

The Galahs look like Australian State Premiers trying to decide on a pathway out of this pandemic.

Canberra’s suburbs are surrounded by paths and bushland, and during these Lockdown periods many Canberrans have joined the Facebook Wildlife photography group, and are publishing a wide range of colourful parrots and birds.

A Crimson Rosella in a Eucalyptus tree

We live in one of the outer suburbs of Canberra, and McQuoids Hill, a nature park nearby, has become a very popular walking destination since Lockdown.

This landscape is very similar to the landscape of my childhood and that of my brothers, in Central Africa.

Paul in the distance walking down McQuoit Hill

We have only seen kangaroos on walks in this area, but people regularly take photos of Wallaroos (a cross between a wallaby and a kangaroo) so I’ll try to get a photos of them.

Kangaroos must be curious as to the increased human traffic on these paths.
Sulphur Crested Cockatoos are everywhere..

During winter we read an inspiring local story about Dimity May who has started a small business growing local organic seedlings tailored to our Canberra market. She called it Reid Tiny Farm. (Dimity was born and raised in Reid, a suburb of Canberra.)

Dimity May with some of her organic seedlings and vegetables..(Photo: Canberra Times)

Dimity had always been passionate about organic products, and has a Permaculture Design Certificate at Allsun Farm at Gundaroo. Later she completed a market gardener masterclass developed by a renowned farmer and regenerative agricultural advocate Jean Martin, based in Quebec. (an online course mainly for professional growers)

seedling -raising cocoon tunnel from Active Vista Tasmania (Photo Canberra Times)

She’s had a challenging start to her business, with baking hot days last year, followed by torrential rain this year. However she has moved her business to Pialligo’s Garden Lots, and now has a seedling-raising cocoon tunnel purchased from Active Vista in Tasmania. Dimity’s father built the frames for the seedlings. The whole family is involved in her business, and hopefully they can continue to help her during this Lockdown.

At the start of 2020 Dimity began growing seedlings organically and has gradually developed her business. Now a subscriber can get a small or large box of seasonal seedlings four times a year.

We had subscribed to Dimity’s project during winter, and when she emailed to say our spring seedlings were ready, we were thrilled… it was just in time to start planting new seedlings and, chance to get out of the house!

Unfortunately it was teeming down with rain the morning we went to get our seedings, so I haven’t yet taken any photos of Dimity and her surroundings, or the polytunnel.

However, here is our bounty! We chose to buy a small box of seedlings (4 boxes a year, one for every season) and this spring the seedlings we have are; beetroot, radish, broccoli, cos lettuce, red butterhead lettuce, English spinach, cabbage and pak choi. (some we have given to neighbours.)

Our seedlings look very healthy and happy, and in between the seedlings we have some small plastic white butterflies to chase away real white cabbage moth/butterflies.

Dimity has, on her website, a quote by Martin Fortier (a farmer educator and award winning author) and this quote seems just right for Dimity’s business.

What we need is food grown with care by and for people who care.

reidtinyfarm.com.au

Thank you for visiting my blog today, and I hope everyone can enjoy a bit of sunshine and small pleasures during these uncertain times.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Birds, Ouma’s Cookery Book, Raymond Blanc with Covid: are we changing?

We are back in Lockdown here in Canberra, as are many states of Australia. The Delta variant is a tough one, and Paul and I thank our lucky stars we are vaccinated.

The good news is, spring is on its way, and with it, come the birds. I took this photo of the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo from my study while I was typing. He/she has decided to walk along the road rather than fly. It could be that the roads are so quiet now, but as regular readers of this blog know, Cockatoos are a law unto themselves, and he is on a mission.

There is something endearing and reassuring about birds arriving in the garden during spring….. life goes on in the usual way, regardless of Lockdowns.

This Juvenile Kookaburra is a very welcome visitor, especially as a family of Kookaburras come to our garden every year in August, they are not regulars. I would like to think it is to show off the new baby, but in reality it is probably because we have plenty of birdbaths and veggie beds with worms in them.

The parent Kookaburra is taking his time at the blue birdbath.

Just before Lockdown began, we started moving all our books from a shelf near the kitchen. I pulled out a very old copy of my mother’s book, called Ouma’s Cookery Book. The first edition was published in 1940, in Pretoria, South Africa. My mother bought the seventh edition of this book in 1958. My sister-in-law has a recent edition. A publisher’s dream!

The book was compiled originally from recipes donated by women in South Africa between the first and second world wars. The first editions featured war-time recipes and gradually more recipes were added with each new edition. It is much more than just a recipe book, it has practical information on how to make do and feed a household, when times were tough. It is also full of quotes and comments and interesting social history, more relevant today with our current pandemic.

My mother, who’s own mother died when she was young, no doubt learnt all she needed to know from this book, especially when she and my father lived on a farm in a remote part of central Africa.

It is lovely to see Mum’s handwriting, she has hastily written her Lemon Delicious Pudding recipe, very popular with the whole family

Sadly it has been many years since I have used a recipe from this book, and it is only now that we are in Lockdown that I have time to go through it, and enjoy all the quotes, and perhaps try a recipe or two. (If I’m successful I’ll let you know)

I have also been reading an article in the British Edition of Country Living called To the Manor Reborn. It is the story of Raymond Blanc, a Michelin star chef and restaurant owner in London, who is recovering from Covid. He has had to work very hard to recover, and says during his recovery he thought of food and gardens, and remembered his childhood near Besancon in eastern France, where the family lived off homegrown vegetables and the odd rabbit.

The experience of Covid has changed his ideas of food.

‘I think the environment is going to define very much what we eat from now on, post-pandemic we’ll be all looking for local produce, there will be a re-discovery of lost skill. My mother created the full foundation of my food philosophy. She taught me about the soil, the environment, about joy, about sharing, about teaching.”

Since being interviewed, Raymond’s elderly mother died, and he has written a book called Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home. The book is dedicated to his mother.

It will be interesting to see how this pandemic changes us. I think there is already a rising interest in locally grown food, and we plan to increase our own garden beds with more of our produce in mind.

No matter how you get your food, the pandemic has shown me that sharing that food with friends and families is surely one of the most enjoyable experience in life. The recipe I distinctly remember as a child from Ouma’s cookery book was Koeksisters, a kind of doughy plait, exploding with syrup. Not the most healthy dish in the world, but a lovely plate to share with friends and family. South Africans are famous for their coffee, and I’m sure these Koeksisters are meant to accompany coffee or a Rooibos tea.

Koeksisters Recipe: photo by Introducing South Africa

Thank you for reading my blog today, and best wishes to everyone. May your garden, and your food and family and friends, sustain you during these Covid days.

Baby boom for birds amongst their favourite trees, scones and cream and a tree kangaroo

Crimson Rosellas in the shade of a Eucalyptus tree.

International Tree Day is coming up on Sunday 1st August. Time to celebrate all our beautiful trees in Australia. and the wonderful array of birds that rely on these trees.

The states surrounding Canberra (ACT), are either in Lockdown or just coming out of Lockdown, and everything is very wintery and quiet..

Despite a few blue skies you may see in some of today’s photos, don’t believe it…. Canberra is having a cold, rainy, windy winter.

The brightest colour in the garden this week was the cockatoo’s yellow crest.

Fortunately birds are still visiting the garden and we are also going for bush walks around Canberra, when the rain stopped. While we were walking along Coolamen Ridge, on a rare sunny day, we noticed the juvenile Kookaburra below calling for his family..

Why are we seeing juvenile birds in the middle of winter? Perhaps, as a result of the rain, there is an abundance of food… Paul suggested a bird baby boom. Well that would be something positive in these Covid times.

Two juvenile Rainbow Lorikeets exploring near the hollow in the tree…there’s always a daredevil isn’t there?

These magnificent Eucalyptus trees are providing a haven for the birds to feed on and nest in hollows. Imagine how safe and warm they would be on windy rainy days.

One of the adult Rainbow Lorikeets is the ”scout” and she has a good vantage point.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens is a wonderful place for wildlife because there are so many Eucalyptus trees.

This Crimson Rosella has returned to a hollow in a Eucalyptus tree at the gardens
Gang Gang Cockatoos are quiet and elusive and never far from the protection of Eucalyptus trees

Australia has a wide variety of bird and animal life, and while we are on the topic of trees, there is a unique marsupial very much connected to trees, called the Tree Kangaroo.

While visiting my cousin in the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland in 2017 we stopped off at the Nerada Tea farm. This is the largest supplier of Australian grown tea, and not only do they have a lovely shop with lots of interesting teas and specially selected imported teas,

they also have a tea room with very inviting scones and cream.

As this is dairy farming country the lashings of cream on warm scones was delicious but messy!

After visiting the shop, we noticed a furry animal in one of the trees….a tree kangaroo! Very difficult to take photos of these shy animals, as it is very hard to see them. They look a bit like furry teddy bears with long tails. This was the first time for all three of us to see one in the wild.

Tree Kangaroos are kangaroos that live in trees. They have small ears and shorter legs and arms, their feet have curved claws for gripping and climbing. They are marsupials and are the largest tree-dwelling mammals in Australia. The Lumholtz Tree Kangaroos is the smallest of the species, and are found in the rainforest patches on the Atherton Tablelands.

Tree kangaroos feed on leaves and foliage and fruit and flowers of native trees in the rainforest.

This Tree kangaroo had a baby in its pouch.
A Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo: Photo National Zoo and Aquarium

Fortunately I was able to get a photo of a Tree Kangaroo from our own National Zoo. I must say this tree kangaroo is looking very well groomed and smart.

On this wild and wet day we stopped off at small cafes and shops selling delicious foods, specialist food products and coffee. A very satisfying day indeed.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my blog post today. With so many people in Lockdown or quarantine, or just being careful during these Covid times, I noticed a Zulu saying (undoubtedly meant for hunting) but true for us today ..

”To be clever is to be still”

Go well.

Geraldine Mackey: Copyright All Rights Reserved.

Canberra’s winter photos…. those that didn’t make the cut.

Well here we are in the middle of winter in Canberra, and I have left my camera in Melbourne.

Canberra, with its beautiful clear autumn and winter light, lends itself to photography. My Iphone is fine for family photos, but my camera is better for landscapes.

However, I do have many, many folders of photos that have not been used. I wonder how many bloggers are the same? I am better at de-cluttering the house than getting rid of photos. You just never know when you will need them.

So here are a few photos from these folders of my favourite places to walk, take photos, and have coffee in Canberra. Some photos have been used in previous posts, but many have been hiding in all those folders.

Ann Moyal, a writer, and an academic, had to say….

“I have been in love with Canberra for over sixty years. Its parched landscape, its ring of deep blue mountains etched against an iridescent sky. Its light and calming beauty…

Canberra’s suburbs are full of birds all year round, but in autumn and winter we start to notice some our most colourful visitors…the King Parrots.

T

The male Australian King Parrot is the only Australian parrot with a completely red head. The female King parrot has a green head and neck.

Australian National Botanic Gardens

The Rainbow Lorikeet is a beautiful splash of colour against the Eucalyptus tree in autumn.

Lake Burley Griffin

Early morning walkers and bike riders are dedicated…they are relaxing around the lake in every season ..even winter.

The National Library of Australia

This is my favourite building, one of the best places for coffee, and so warm and comfortable too!

The National Art Gallery of Australia sculpture: Floating Figure by Gaston Lachaise

I always enjoy the native gardens in Art Gallery gardens, and the sculptures change with every season.

The National Art Gallery of Australia sculpture: Cones by Bert Flugelman

Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is not far from the city centre, and is full of wildlife..

I have many photos of kangaroos as a result of our visits during spring. However, for some reason this photo never makes the cut.

An Emu at Tidbinbilla.

When we first came to Canberra we went to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve at Easter time with our two young children (after our Easter hunt back home). We found a picnic table and sat down to have our picnic and Easter eggs. Some Emus appeared out of nowhere and two of them snipped up the Easter eggs, and off they went into the bushes! Our daughters have had a very cautious approach to Emus every since.

One of my absolute favourite places for a walk in autumn and winter is around the suburb of Yarralumla.

Government House Yarralumla

This is the house where the Governor General resides, and has a wonderful view across the lake. There lines in the water are for rowing boats.

In summer time I sometimes meet friends at a coffee shop near here, and the mature shady gardens are a wonderful place to sit on a warm day.

During one of my visits, a very organised lady arrived with her greyhound and small dog. I asked if she would like me to keep an eye on them while she ordered her coffee. She thanked me, but said the little dog was the boss, and even with her restricted collar, she would not let the greyhound move away.

I could believe it!

Just as I write this today, Australia has experienced a spike in COVID cases in Sydney, and short Lockdowns have begun. This is a timely reminder to get vaccinated. Paul and I have had our first vaccine with no side effects and will have the second dose in August.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog today, and may your garden, your home and family be happy and safe, where ever you are in the world.

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Autumn in Canberra: The National Arboretum, garden flowers and birdlife.

The poet Mary Oliver liked to go out walking early in the morning. Although her landscape in the USA is undoubtedly different to mine, her poem has universal appeal to all who go out early in the morning.

Softest of mornings hello. And what will you do today, I wonder with my heart…

The National Arboretum of Canberra is a wonderful place to see the sun rise on a soft autumn morning.

Autumn is a very busy time for us, and we are trying get as much planting and tidying done in our garden, before we go and visit other gardens.

So here are just a few photos of our autumn garden…. and of course, the birds that come to visit…

A King Parrot feeding a young chick
Easter daisies are a welcome addition to the autumn garden, the flowers are still attracting the bees
The Chinese Lantern loves an abundance of rain, and has flowered all through the autumn
Charlie cooling down amongst the Japanese anemones
The Crimson Rosella is checking up on the last of our almonds
Our granddaughter loves putting water in the apron of this little statue…
The Pineapple Sage almost covering the window!

The tiny Eastern Spinebill is a regular visitor, feeding on the Pineapple Sage, which has almost taken over this part of the garden.

It is a most elusive little bird, but Paul just managed to get a photo of him with his phone.

My neighbour’s beautiful Banksia shines at us every morning
It is amazing that cockatoos do not electrocute themselves!
Job done!

Thank you for visiting Canberra’s Green Spaces today, and I hope your autumn or spring days are bright and sunny, where ever you are in the world.

Geraldine Mackey Copyright: All Rights Reserved

A gardener can be sometimes pleased………but never satisfied

Are you ever satisfied with your garden?

I’d say, occasionally I feel satisfied, but most of the time I end the day with a new list of jobs.

Our front garden is a challenge because it faces west….so it receives hot weather most of the day in summer, hot winds, and then frost in winter. We looked for drought resistant plants and decided to grow Agapanthus praecox orientalis. They grew tall with beautiful blue flowers in summer, and they persisted regardless of weather conditions.

Some time later I saw some Agapanthus with white flowers in a neighbouring garden and thought it would be lovely to have white and blue. So now we have both. Am I happy about this? Sometimes, but I’m now concerned that the blue ones will multiple and take over the white ones.

Fortunately I recently read a comment made by the wisest of all gardeners, Monty Don. (his book is called My Garden World – the Natural World ) and he said

The whole point about gardening is not to learn how to garden, but is to find solace, to be happy, to make beauty, to have a spiritual connection, to have fun, to muck about..

I decided to take Monty’s advice, so I’m just relaxing in the garden and paying attention to what I can see; there is so much colour and beauty in the garden, even during our hot summer days.

this lovely Dahlia is growing well, and loving the rain we have had this year. The Dahlia is tied to a stake, and heavily guarded against Cockatoos, who love to nip the stems of flowers.
Agapanthus Silver Baby

This is my new favourite, miniature Agapanthus, Silver Baby. A long flowering pretty white shrub with blue fringes.

Agapanthus Snowball

We put this Agapanthus Snowball in a pot outside our bedroom, so we can see it in the morning and evening light.. it is a delight!

A Grevillea called Crackles flowering earlier in summer.
By the way, there is a blue soaker hose running through this part of the garden, it is not an exotic snake!

Here is a Crimson Rosella checking for the very last of the Crackles Grevillea flowers. Grevilleas are very popular with native birds, and vital food source especially as they flower from autumn through to the beginning of summer.

The flowering cherry tree is only three years old, and is taking over a corner of the garden. It has small cherries, very tart to eat, but delicious! I must look up some recipes for next year.

The flowering cherry tree , providing shade and fruit…mostly for the birds.

One afternoon, while sitting quietly in the garden with Charlie (who is seldom sitting quietly) I noticed a Blackbird in the cherry tree. He scurried along the branch and picked off cherry. He struggled to eat it, but finally got it down! The Blackbird has not visited our garden for a while…too many noisy cockatoos and then a dog… lucky me to be sitting still for a while to catch the elusive Blackbird feeding. A first for me.

Speaking of Cockatoos, here is one in our neighbour’s apple tree…

When I took his photo, he flew over to the wires (between the gardens). I have read that male cockatoos have black eyes, so I think he is young male, with just a hint of apple left on his beak.

Recently a small group of cockatoos have moved into an enormous eucalyptus tree in the neighbouring garden ( a mixed blessing). This enormous tree provides food and shelter for many different species of birds, and hopefully the smaller birds will not retreat!

The best part of summer for me, is having breakfast on the deck, watching birds in the garden, and in the surrounding neighbourhood trees.

Another part of summer I always look forward to, is eating the fruits of my childhood.. (I was brought up in Zambia, Central Africa). I love, mangoes, pawpaw, and corn. The taste of each of these, takes me right back to my childhood…

The deck now has a child proof gate, a very tricky one to open, even for those who are not children.

This recipe ( Bruleed mango pavlova) can be found on the Delicious website. There is some disagreement as to whether Pavlova originated from New Zealand, or Australia…or elsewhere.

Pavlova is an almost fool proof and delicious summer dessert. But for me, just the taste of a ripe mango, will do.

Bruleed mango pavlova

Paul and I have always enjoyed gardening, however, during this last turbulent year, the garden has been an incredibly important part of our lives. (especially when we were quarantining)

Now during our hot summer, we are relaxing in the garden, and I think, for once I am satisfied!

Many thanks for visiting, and happy gardening, and/or ordering seeds for planting time if you are in the northern hemisphere.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Koalas, Christmas, and Cockatoos in Canberra

At last, something to smile about in 2020!

Recently a family living in the Adelaide Hills had an unexpected visitor to their Christmas tree. There are many trees in the area where they live, and seeing koalas in the trees is not uncommon. However, a curious koala had made it’s way into Amanda McCormick’s house

and climbed up the Christmas tree! The story went viral when her daughter posted these photos on FB. The koala was gently removed, (the Wildlife Rescue Team thinking this was a hoax at first) and the koala was taken back to her natural habitat. Fortunately she had not managed to eat decorations or green plastic leaves!

Amanda McCormick said, ”After a bad year, it was nice to have that

2020 has been a year like no other. A year of changing our routines and habits, feeling a degree of fear and anxiety as the pandemic spread, and spending more time at home than ever before.

Looking back over my photos of the year, I feel as if we have lived three years in one year! Was it really only in January that we did a trip to Melbourne Botanic gardens? Wasn’t that a life time ago?

Botanical Gardens Melbourne.
Bottle trees in the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne
Botanical Gardens Melbourne in January… before long we would be avoiding people and crowds….who knew?

Lockdown began in Canberra in March and we realised it was time to cancel our long planned trip to the UK in May. The light slowly dawned on us all that travel to another country was definitely not going to happen any time in the near future, and travel to other states within Australia became increasingly difficult too.

By August and September, when the state of Victoria had the worst number of Covid cases in Australia and therefore the hardest lockdown, travel to another suburb within Melbourne was banned for three months. During this time, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, our daughter, living in Melbourne, gave birth to a baby boy.

Despite all the hurdles of tight hospital rules and general anxiety in the community, this bonny baby was born in September and he smiles all the time….the best of 2020.

relaxing under the trees in November

During this Lockdown year, most Australians have been able to go for walks, around suburbs and within slightly wider boundaries.

As good luck would have it , the La Nina had begun, bringing plenty of rain to Australia.

Eastern Rosella
Crimson Rosella
Galahs

Now there is less chance of drought and bushfires in summer…not to mention beautiful healthy green growth, food for all the birds and animals around Canberra.

Commonwealth Park in April
The kangaroos in Commonwealth Park are having a slow start on this chilly April morning.
Museum of Sydney has an exhibition about The Griffins called Paradise on Earth, until April 18th 2021

If the Chicagoan architects and planners of this city, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony could see Canberra now (well, most parts of it anyway) …..so much greenery, bushland and space, at a time when it is most needed. Many thanks to them.

I have read that during this pandemic, dog ownership has become remarkably popular, in Australia and elsewhere. This is not surprising considering how many people have been working from home…dogs provide both companionship and a reason to exercise!

Our daughter bought a puppy, named Charlie, during this year, and he has been a great Covid year companion, and we look forward to his visits. He is very very cute!

He looks as if he auditioning for a Disney movie, and gets lots of attention from children.

Last summer I wrote about a gardener in our suburb, named Ken, who had begun to grow plants on the verge outside his home and garden.

Red Hot Pokers are the stars in summer.

This year, he has, with the permission of the local council, extended the area and he has planted, trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. (the vegetables are for any passer-by to pick)

These pathways are well used by the local community, and every time we walked past there are a whole range of new plants to admire.

Ken and his wife are very proud of their gardens and always have time for a chat. The big sandstone rocks provide seating and shade, and companionship to passers-by. Best of all, the birds love the extra trees and plant food.

I think this casual interaction between neighbours gives us a sense of community, and belonging, I’m not sure anyone had the time for chatting before 2020!

Red Hot Pokers

Yesterday, as we walked through these gardens and down the hill to get the morning paper, we came across some busy cockatoos.

The ABC Science show recently had an interesting talk on Sulphur Crested Cockatoos..

They often fly in flocks as big as 50 -100, (the noise they make is deafening) but spend their time sleeping and eating in small five square kilometre areas, with tight networks, going from 5-20 birds who seem to be best mates….as seen here.

This cockatoo is helpfully dropping bark down to the others.

They could be collecting the bark to look for bugs to eat, and/or perhaps sharpening their beaks at the same time. (I’m open to suggestions). They are such intelligent birds they could be just keeping busy.

These Cockatoos are perhaps the older members of the group, relaxing and doing a bit of much needed preening.

I always love to catch a glimpse of birdlife in Canberra, and to look over at the Brindabella Mountains….may they keep that blue/green hue all summer long.

Many thanks for visiting my blog this year. During a year of so much solitude, I have enjoyed reading blogs and keeping in touch with every day living in other parts of the world.

May you have a peaceful, happy and healthy Christmas and New Year.

Desiderata was my mother’s favourite verse, and it is very apt for today, despite it being written in 1692!

Desiderata

”…with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be careful Strive to be happy

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

Quarantining in Canberra and gardening for mental health..

At the end of two weeks of self-isolation in our home in Canberra, our neighbours sent us this lovely, and much appreciated card.

We recently visited our daughter and family in Melbourne, Victoria, during a time when Melbourne’s Covid numbers were on the rise. In order to do this we agreed to self-isolate in our own home for two weeks once we came back to Canberra. We had regular police visits during this time to check that we were doing just that. We also had a Covid test at the end of the fortnight.

All went well, but I’m glad we could open the gate at the end of a fortnight

The yellow Wattle bushes were flowering and the Manchurian Pear trees have pretty white buds. The pink almond blossoms can be seen in the distance.

Spring growth in the garden was just beginning when we left for Melbourne.

By the time we got home, thanks to the frequent rainfall this year, everything had grown and the garden was full of lush greens and yellows.

The tulips in the front garden were a lovely surprise, and even impressed the police who came to check on us. We couldn’t go into the front garden, but could view them from the window, and that was enough.

Unfortunately we missed the lovely apple tree blossoms, but here is a photo from last year…at almost the same time.

Canberra has an abundance of busy birds visiting gardens in spring, and our plum tree attracts various parrot families at this time of the year.. The plum tree is near the house, and so it is easy to take photos and watch them all day ……instead of looking up exercise programs, and/or de-cluttering the cabin.

The King Parrots eating in the plum tree
A Juvenile Crimson Rosella

On rainy days the cockatoos fly in to check on the almond tree….they love almonds, especially if the shells have been softened by rain.

I have read that cockatoos spread out their crests when they are happy, active, annoyed, or purposefully going somewhere. Perhaps active and happy in this photo.

While we were weeding all through the garden (Paul did 90% and I did 10%) I listened to a podcast on gardens, gardening and our mental health.

Geraldine Doogue on Radio National was interviewing Sue Stuart Smith, the author of a new book called The Well Gardened Mind. As a psychiatrist the author was interested in the connection between gardening and mental health. Her grandfather, Ted, had been a P.O.W. during the war, in a camp near Gallipoli. He returned home malnourished and shell-shocked.

His wife took great care of him on his return to England, but he still remained traumatised by his experiences. In 1920 he was able to enrol in a government program, a Horticultural Rehabilitation scheme in Hampshire. This program taught people the full range of horticultural skills, tending the soil, growing vegetables, seasonal changes. Ted became a keen gardener, and lived a long and full life, growing his own vegetables.

Sue Stuart Smith writes about cultivating the land, and the enormous benefit human beings have when connecting with the land. The gardener is drawn into the rhythm of the garden, the structure of the seasons is stabilizing, and we are pulled along by its growth.

The garden doesn’t let you procrastinate for too long, the seeds have to be sown in autumn or spring, the weeds have to be removed!

I haven’t yet read the book, but everything Sue Stuart Smith said in the interview was interesting and so true.

While we were self-isolating we received regular messages from ACT Health to check on any Covid symptoms, but also on our mental health during this period of isolation.

Over the two week period we had a few friendly conversations with the police who visited daily. Each time they mentioned that most people self-isolating in Canberra, are returning from overseas, and have no choice but to quarantine in small rooms in hotels or motels, often with small children.

During our two week of quarantining we had enough living space in our house, and plenty of gardening jobs to fill four weeks rather than two.

One of the young policemen said ”well you’ve got your garden…you’re okay!”

I bet he comes from a family of gardeners!

Ixias ..another spring surprise

As well as the garden, the cockatoos provided a bit of every day humour to our lives. This cockatoo doesn’t look impressed with his pick of the crop…

I’d trade this for an almond any day

Our garden was very important during this period of isolation, along with the birds, family, friends and neighbours. I will definitely buy Sue Stuart Smith’s book to read further on this interesting topic.

Here is a lovely quote from her interview:

When we sow a seed, it is an action of hope”

Thank you for taking the time to read my post, and may you have a few rays of hope in your garden today.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Canberra in August, the joys and hazards of spring…unless you have a Muesli Bar

Winter in Canberra becomes dreary and seemingly endless by late July.

This year has been a particularly damp winter, and while we always welcome rain in Canberra, grey skies and drizzling rain can dampen the spirits during a pandemic!

Just when spring was around the corner, we had freezing temperatures, and snow on the mountains….

Michael McCoy, in Gardening Australia writes that winter is bleak in his patch,

‘but then, sometime in August it’s as if someone flicks on a dimmer switch preset at its lowest setting and starts to turn up the dial.”

Almond tree blossoms
Manchurian Pears beginning to flower, flowering Almond tree nearby, and the beautiful yellow Snowy River Wattle bush

Not only does the light change in August, but bird songs change too…..during winter and early spring, we hear the territorial call of the raucous Wattle Bird, who seems to be telling us off every time we go into the garden.

The Wattle Bird has been feeding steadily from the Grevillea bush (Wee Jasper) all through the winter.

Now we hear the early morning magpies warbling melodiously, and during the longer spring evenings the blackbirds start to sing…… a joy to hear.

Magpies are one of the most common birds in Canberra, known and loved for their friendly visits to suburban gardens. Most of the year they are affable birds, companions in the garden, without causing too much damage. They not only have a beautiful morning call, but are also skilled mimics, and are known to imitate barking dogs, sheep, chain-saws, and during the bushfires they very quickly learnt how to imitate fire engine sirens.

However, once spring starts, some Magpies become territorial, and the swooping season is upon us! As Canberra has so much bushland between suburbs, the magpies are naturally nesting close to suburban houses. Traditionally magpies swoop as a means to protect their patch while they care for their young.

Magpies are a protected species of bird in Australia, and so there are plenty of warning signs for people, walkers and cyclists especially, to be alerted to swooping magpies.

Bike riders and and people on small motorbikes are particularly targeted, perhaps because they are moving rapidly across the bird’s territory.

Spare a thought for all the people who work outside during spring.

Surviving as a postman/woman in Canberra has always been quite a challenge during spring…. a helmet and a waving yellow flag might help, but a territorial magpie can be very persistent.

In 2017 this young postman won local fame by trying a new technique.

” I get some pretty good quality Muesli bars specifically to feed the birds. You have to develop a relationship with the birds, that is the way to do it in spring”

However, times have changed. The magpies in this postman’s area are, no doubt very disappointed because Canberra now have new electric bikes for delivers of mail.

The new high-tech electric Australia Post vehicles have been adapted from the Swiss Post Model. These bikes are energy efficient, and more stable than a motor bike. They are also so quiet no one notices when their mail is being delivered.

They have the capacity to carry many more parcels, and with increased online shopping parcel deliveries now outweigh letter deliveries.

There are some definite downsides to the vehicles, but they are here to stay, and I think all posties will be glad of protection against rain, wind and heat in summer.

The roof of the vehicle gives 100 percent UV protection and an added consideration……. protection from swooping magpies in spring!

Our local postie was very enthusiastic about her new vehicle, and when I asked if the new model was keeping swooping magpies away she said

”well, yes, so far……. but they’ll find a way!”

I’ d be interested to know how other readers are receiving their mail these days.

I hope the sun is shining and your garden is growing where ever you are in the world today. In these uncertain times the garden, city parks, country walks, bush trails are a wonderful distraction.

Stay safe and sane!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.