Sydney turns on the charm at Strickland House

This year we spent the Christmas break with family and friends in this most beguiling of cities, Sydney. A perfect time to look at some of Sydney’s  green spaces.

IMG_7805 (1024x623)My brother suggested we visit one of Sydney’s best kept secrets, Strickland House, Vaucluse.

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This house was designed and built in the 1850s, with a looped carriage entrance, pathways and a backdrop of wonderful mature trees. It was originally called ”Carrara”‘IMG_7641 (1024x660)
Some of the trees include Himalayan chir pine, stone pines from the Mediterranean, hoop pines, Port Jackson (or rusty fig), a giant bamboo, African Olives, a large mature tuckeroo, a Canary Island date palm and on site is a Tipu tree from Bolivia.

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These trees now provide a wonderful buffer against the outside world.

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Strickland House was originally the home of John Hosking, Sydney’s second mayor. It is a Victorian Italianate mansion, made from three storeys of sandstone and featuring verandahs with Doric columns.

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There are two trees on the right hand side of the building, and the smaller one (slightly hidden) is an evergreen magnolia from the Southern USA…flowering gloriously while we were there.

From 1879 to 1888 the owner of the house, Hon Henry Moore MLC had 12 children, and the youngest son, Verner, said they were invited on board ships anchored in the bay and would return the hospitality by having people visit them in Strickland House.

The long lawns of the property  take us down to the bay and a small beach. (Milk beach)

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In 1914 the Foreshores Resumption scheme in New South Wales bought back land along the foreshore of Sydney for public use.

Oh how wonderfully enlightened they were!

IMG_7647 (1024x601)To the left of Milk Beach is the harbour walk to Rose Bay.

However, today we are taking the path to the right of Milk Beach to Nielson park.

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IMG_7744 (1024x802)With sandstone stairs and magnificent rock formations on one side, and wonderful views of the harbour on the other.

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A short pleasant walk and we are at Nielson ParkIMG_7784 (1024x737)

This beautiful little beach is at Nielson Park. It is early in the morning, and swimmers are enjoying the soft white sand and gentle sunlight before the crowds get here.

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Paul has a swim and then we sit under the shade of the Port Jackson fig tree and sip some coffee as we watch the harbour slowly waking up.

The busy Manly ferry goes by taking people into the city, many returning to work after the Christmas break.

We feel slightly as if we have died and gone to heaven…

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On the edge of Nielson Park is another historic home, Greycliffe House, also built in the 1850s, looking splendid in Rustic Gothic style.

We take a small local road back to our car, amazing trees and shrubs to the left of us, and unparalled views of Sydney Harbour to the right.

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An early morning  yacht sailing past Shark Island.

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IMG_7637 (1024x610)Not far from Strickland House we take another look at this unbelievable view on such a wonderful day. The gardens and the grounds of the Strickland House site make one of the finest habourside parks in Sydney.

It makes sobering reading to see how many times Strickland House and grounds have almost been sold off by successive state governments….congratulations to the Woollahra Council and the communities who have fought to have this historic home and grounds remain public for all to enjoy.

 

 

Tumbarumba’s garden festival

Tumbarumba sounds like a Mexican hat dance…. in fact it is a lovely little town, on the western edges of the Snowy Mountains about three hours drive from Canberra.

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With a population of about 2 000 people,  the cold climate gardens in this little town would do a Chelsea garden show proud, and the hospitality of the people is to match.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the area around Tumbarumba has been Wiradjuri country for at least 20 000 years. The name Tumbarumba comes from the Wiradjuri language, and is thought to mean ”sounding ground”, or ”hollow ground”.

The first garden we visited, called Burraleigh, gave us some incidental history of the region.

In the 1850s gold was discovered in this district…

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Ned Kelly, a famous bushranger during the 1800s, was also found wandering in the garden, but in fact, the Tumbarumba region had its own fearsome bushranger called  Mad Dog Morgan.

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Now, in more peaceful times, this garden has been lovingly developed over 30 years, and has magnificent deciduous and evergreen trees overlooking themed gardens.

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More gardens, and Blueberry pancakes had been recommended at the Laurel Hill Berry Farm, just outside of the town, built on the historic Miners Arms Hotel.

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and the Coachman’s hut still remains, with netted blueberries behind it.

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In the tradition of spring in these parts, a young female magpie was very upset by all the people visiting the normally, quiet, berry farm. She was ruthlessly swooping everyone in sight, even though, we were told by the owner, the babies had almost grown….

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it was hard to concentrate on our delicious blueberry pancakes…

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but somehow we struggled through..

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Ann’s garden, amongst the rolling hills, began with this small back yard, and has grown and spread over 30 years. This design is typical of a bygone era of Australian gardens, with the hills hoist (clothes line) in the middle, and a very practical cement path leading to the clothes line and the gate.

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The garden had spread over time. Meandering paths lead to oaks, maples, hazelnuts and apple trees, and flowering shrubs

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Ann manages a thriving vegetable patch and some chooks to provide eggs and manure.I wondered about snakes coming over from the fields beyond, but I didn’t want to sound like a city wimp, so I kept quiet.

Further out of town is a beef farm, called Karbethon, with a stunning garden developed over fifty years. The garden is loving cared for by Colin and Diane Hardy, and was started by Colin’s mother.

IMG_1550 (1024x765)This property is more like a park, with mature trees, including Old English Oaks, Italian Alders, Canadian Maples, Chinese Tallow, Liquidamber and many more. On this hot day, I’m enjoying the shade of this tranquil place.

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We have a small Japanese Maple, and now we are wondering…will it reach this size?

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This is a wonderfully spreading Chinese Tallow tree…we have one of these in our front garden…when we bought it the label said ”small tree suitable for suburban gardens”

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Along the driveway, a splendid white shrub is flowering. It was planted by Colin’s mother and has not flowered for many years, but today is in glorious bloom…..just in time for the garden festival.

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Along the borders of the property are tall long-established grasses, no doubt providing wind breaks for the garden when it was first established. The original gum trees are spread around the property and on the edges of the driveway.

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Behind these tall grasses  is another long beautiful garden, and some of Colin’s unique sculptures..

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IMG_6665 (1024x847)Recently the family has constructed a Manchurian Pear walk which features attractive silhouettes, and on the first is engraved  Great Grandmother of Our Gardens. Walking through the path, there are silhouettes of each grandchild.

What a grand legacy this gardener has left behind.

(unfortunately the sun was too strong for a good photo.)

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This garden was a fitting end to our garden tour….we hope to be back to see the ones we missed next year..

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and on the way back we stopped to take a photo of this quiet, and very typical, country scene. Unfortunately the noise of one person getting out of the car and pointing a camera in their direction, sent the cows charging  off down the hill

….I really had forgotten how quiet it is in the country..

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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 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!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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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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.