Saturday, January 29, 2011

Japanese January is closing.

Only 3 days to go of my focus on the Japanese garden in January. This area was fairly well established with just a few tasks to complete, a couple of desirables and a few challenging problems to solve.
I know I am not going to get everything done. I have found that in decorating, and gardening, some problems are best solved in a more organic way and with serendipity in play. However, it has kept me more focussed than usual, got me researching and pushed me to get things done.

Next month I will focus on the mediterranean area near the washing line.

These were the tasks for this area of the garden-

1. Get some water features into the garden, as this is a crucial part of Japanese gardens.

I have moved my granite looking water feature to the Japanese garden, got power connected, a suitable pump and put in black pebbles. This is done I now have to blend it in a bit with some plants and a bamboo screen. I think I will move some azaleas to pots to add a bit of colour to the granite.

I have also bought a rectangular, fibreglass pot to use as a pond. I am heading out this afternoon to get some water plants, hopefully pinch some water lillies from my sister's garden. I will get some fish to live there on Monday (last day).

How I want it to look as seen and inspired in a garden centre

2. Find something arty but practical to put on the bare wall and on the table.

For the moment I have some banners (which I will waterproof), got these from the markets this morning. A bit corny but I like them. I read that Japanese tea houses have scrolls with messages on them so this will do for now. I'd really like a Japanese garden scene for this wall but the exact right thing hasn't turned up yet. I will also get a bonsai plant for the table this afternoon and I hope it will survive as it is fairly protected in that spot.

3. Put black mulch down.

I have already found this great black mulch 'forever black' which I put down to tidy everything up and give effect. It makes the plant foliage really stand out. It looks lovely when wet.

4. Find a plant to fill the pot that holds up the bamboo screen that hides the gas bottles. Also find a dramatic red plant to fill the gap infront of the screen.

I am thinking a big camellia with red flowers for the space or a rhododendrum or even a magnolia with burgundy flowers. I am hoping the right thing will jump out at me.

For the pot I am looking for something dramatic and special like a conifer but I will probably have to settle for bamboo.

5. Varnish the bamboo screens with marine varnish.

The books say the Japanese like things natural and weathered in their gardens but I think the screens will look and age better with a good lick of varnish. I am waiting for it to be a bit shadier to get in there and do this job.

6. Create the outer garden.

I have been reading how Japanese tea gardens often have an outer waiting room before visitors go through a low gate, past a lantern and water bowl, along a path by a natural woodland and to the tea house. I have the perfect area for this outside the gate to my Japanese garden. At the moment it is a dead space, next to a verandah. So I plan to improve the soil and structure of this area and create an extra area. I will keep adding good stuff to the soil before planting at the end of February. Keep you up to date.

7. Structures

Some other things just have to be put on the back burner for a while as well. I'd love to make a simple bamboo entrance at the far end and have researched one. Building has to wait until we get rid of some concrete sitting in the way and until it is cooler for digging holes. A letter box red one I think.

I also want to grow some wisteria or clematis to hide the ugly garden shed but have to wait until cooler weather and my husband has time to help me build a strong frame. I'd like to paint the shed wall black but I need to negotiate that one. From past experience wisteria are worth it but you have to contain their enthusiasm and vigour with a tough love approach.

8. Ground cover

Finally I think I will head over to my $2 plan shop to get some mossy looking baby's tears or native violets to fill in the little pockets between and next to the rocks.

Then I am looking forward to a deep breath and a cup of tea.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bounty of flowers

Finally getting to spend a half hour in the garden paid off. The rose bushes look so much better and I got a little bounty to brighten up the inside of the house.

I had forgotten how many different coloured roses I had and how nice many of them smelt. I plan to put in even more this year, they are so low maintenance compared to what they give in return.

This weekend I scored some blooms from a very unexpected source. My bachelor, brother in law who is a dyed in the wool, brown thumb, has no interest in gardening what so ever. He moved into his house at least ten years ago and I was curious if the hydrangeas that had lived around the side of his house still existed. Well guess what!  With no extra watering, cutting back or feeding they were still thriving. I had tried hydrangeas last year several times with no success- maybe I had been too kind. These are the flowers from his neglected plant and there were alot more flowers on the bush.

If only my brother in law had known the plant was still alive and blooming all of that time. He could have saved himself a lot of money on his summer florist bill - not having to buy flowers for his many girlfriends over the years.

Friday, January 21, 2011

View from the window

Its a good thing that I gave some thought to what my garden would look like standing inside, looking through a window-because thats all I have managed to do this week. This has been a week filled with lots of bariers all beginning with 'B' e.g. dealing with books (for highschool),  braces (my daughter's new mouthful), completing boring, business bookwork and bloomin' hot weather. I have only managed to briefly read blogs, not write and have only got in the garden to pick up dog droppings and hang washing. Very frustrating.
From the study window.

Meerrkats & other animals keep guard over Sophie's view.

Out of the bedroom window.

I felt a bit like a combination of Darcey and Fudge the Italian Greyhounds and Lilly the cat when they are desperate to get outside. Darcey leaps about a metre of the ground, up at the glass sliding door and spins around and around in circles. Fudge just sits forlornly whining and looking at me with those big, brown eyes. Lilly just stares at the door handle like he  has special powers and as if it is going to magically open -strangely it always does.

 I read about someone spending a whole day in the garden and some one else who got into their garden everyday. I was very jealous and it seems the weekend is not looking any better for me. I need my garden fix.

The terrible trio not looking to go outside right now and not happy to be disturbed either.

Oh well, some weeks are like that, I will have to make do with the views from the window and stealing half an hour right now. I am off now to cut the last of the roses back so I can look forward to seeing the next blooms from my window.

Monday, January 17, 2011


I am addicted to watching the DVDs of ' Lost Gardens' with Monty Don and his team. I don't know where I was when this first came on TV but I can't believe I missed it.

 After slaving away in the garden on Friday & Saturday hefting rocks to remake borders and raking and wheelbarrowing three and a half tonne of gravel I thought I deserved this treat. Not to mention that my poor old back was also screaming at me to rest.

It has taken nearly four months to rebuild the driveway to the backyard after the pool excavators churned up everything in site; busting pipes, gouging deep tracks and squashing plants. The hard work is now done and it looks almost presentable. No more looking at dirt and mud, Yeah!

I really could have done with Monty and his team of experts, 30 volunteers and bag loads of money. I am really enjoyed the blend of history, gardening, art and story. My favourites are the restoration of the Coleman's mustard founders Japanese garden, the Victorian pleasure gardens and the sunken rose garden at Warwick. It is also inspiring to see their passion for gardens, watching them work despite all kinds of weather and their ambitious ideas actually come to fruition. I also recently read somewhere how Monty Don credited gardening with helping him through the challenges of depression.

Now I am on the hunt for 'Around the World in 80 Gardens'. For now my back is rested and I better get back to work in my pleasure garden, re-energised and reinspired (if thats a word).

Friday, January 14, 2011


I have been very touched over the past week by sad images of animals. Images are burned in my mind from the Qld floods of horses swimming desperately in a futile effort to find high ground, other horses resting their heads on the roofs of houses, the confused and soaked rabbit at Halls Gap, make do animal shelters, wallabies stranded and rescued and the Brazilian lady forced to let go of her beloved dog to save her own life. They are all so helpless in these times.

I seem to be encountering touching animal stories everywhere. In October our pool contractor Rob died in a tragic acident. We heard how his beloved bull terrier and mate 'Chuck' sat by the gate for three days waiting desperately for Rob to come home from work. Then in December I had to pull over and bundle 2 adorable puppies into my car before they got run over. They were oblivious to the constant traffic at a busy intersection and were certain to be run over sooner or later. I had to knock on doors and eventually took the pups to the local vet. They were collarless but fortunately they were microchipped. I left them there and the vet called later to say the owner had been found. Relief!

The puppies wouldn't stay still, even for a photo.
 Finally, today a more unpleasant animal encounter. First I am coming across quite a few redbacks in my garden travels- redbacks don't know that there are no redbacks in Japan, France, England etc. Then I get out of my car and am walking to check out a new charity store when an English lady and son come towards me pointing behind me. They are talking and pointing to a man with a broom in hand. It turns out that I had just walked past a brown snake- I must have been less than a metre away- I could have easily stepped on it.  The  man picked up the snake (at last 1.5m long & juvenile I think) and then stands for 15 mins trapping it on the ground with a broom. The lady says we have only been in Australia for two years and never seen a snake. 'Are they poisonous?' she asks. I say everything is poisonous in Australia. They must avoid telling migrants about our deadliest. The Mum & boy are taking photos to show Dad - I am staying far away- hence no real photos here. Ignorance is bliss.

Even looking at this gives me shivers. The real thing was a bit smaller and lighter.

I hate snakes, I stay outside the reptile enclosure at the zoo, normally I can't even look at them in books or on TV. Today though I almost feel sorry for the snake (at a safe distance) - I can see it would rather sneak away to be somewhere else. Instead the man eventually squashes it to death with the broom. I walk back to my car at a considerable distance, not convinced it is really dead.

Of course from then on I jump everytime I see a stick and recall all the horrible stories my 'country bred' husband has told me of snakes getting inside cars.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The last 6

As promised, here is the last 6 things to be happy about in my garden.

7. The lemon thyme planted between the sandstone under the clothes line, that has survived the heat and gives of an amazing scent when I step on it, as I hang out my washing.

8. The final roses before they get pruned back and the wait for the next blooms.

9. Lulu's cute, friendly and happy little head that pops through the fence to greet me and always cheers me up.

10. The Mulberry tree that the dogs go round and round has stopped dropping berries, the birds eat them, do ugly purple droppings everywhere that stain everything. next year I must get to them before the birds do.

11. Being able to use so many of the herbs from my own kitchen garden. When friends came over for lunch on Sunday I made a greek feast and used oregano, winter savoury, perpetual spinach, curly parsley, continental parsley, lemon balm and mint. I even used my own chocolate mint to garnish dessert . Recipes in a future blog- lamb souvlaki, beef kofta, my special invented mint salad and raspberry & white choc cheesecake

12. The electrician is booked and coming next week to give power to my water feature.
(amongst other jobs)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fellowship of suffering.

I have delayed adding my 6 other items from my 'Things that make me happy about my garden' as thoughts of all the people affected by the floods in Queensland fill my mind and heart. I have relatives and friends in various parts of Queensland and although all say they are safe, it's hard not to worry. I sincerely hope all the bloggers are staying safe too. Tragedy certainly changes priorities.

Like many, it is times like this that we feel immense gratitude, to even have a house and garden. It is so confronting to realise that at any moment we are all just a breath away from suffering. It could so easily be you or I. We have the protection of distance but the stories of trauma, loss of life of adults and especially children (even animals) and the devastation of lifetimes of toil, is absolutely heartbreaking. I once heard someone say we are all connected in the 'fellowship of suffering' - we are not in control and none of us are immune from suffering.

The only gold in the darkness is that we have amazingly committed emergency service people and the generosity of Australians in tough times. We have several English friends who on migrating to Australia were astounded by the generosity of Australians in donating and assisting in the Victorian bushfires. They had never experienced this community spirit before. It gives you faith in the human spirit to survive and our innate capacity to rebuild. Nevetheless it will be a long and challenging journey for many. We never really comprehend all the big and small losses and the meaning they hold. There is so much we take for granted. This situation also makes us reflect and if necessary reassess our priorities and to remember that relationships are everything.

This Australia Day we will have lots to grieve, as well as much to be proud of .

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

12 things about my garden!

I am a big believer in the saying 'What you focus on is what you get' and also gratitude. Over the years I have found that the questions I ask myself and the language I use really shapes my thoughts, feelings and quality of life.

I have a laminated piece of card on the shower screen that asks about 10 different questions and these help me focus when things are challenging. Sounds corny but it works. Usually when I have the greatest resistance to answering the questions is when I need it the most. Some especially challenging days I have to go through it twice and it takes a while but eventually makes me feel better . I am always amazed at how much I have to be thankful for.

The first question is "what am I happy about in my life right now?" So I thought I would change this to "what am I happy about in my garden right now?" I have found 12 things.
So here goes.... the first 6

1. My Japanese garden which is the only place nearly finished, low maintenance and the sanctuary from the rest of the messy garden it has provided.

Love the colours of nandina and forest pansy

2. The beautiful agapanthus flowers- so hardy- the nursery owners say they they are weeds but they have been a blessing in my garden. I divided some months ago and  even the ones I left and never got around to putting in the ground are flowering now. Talk about tough.
Not bad for a weed!
3. That I have actually got to finally start the box spiral in the circular English garden and how cheap plants are $1.98 from a local shop- shhhh! This used to be a lawn but never got enough light, so now it will be a contemplative spiral walk - made of Japanese spindle bush hedge that leads to a pond. I plan to gradually add to it until it gets to the middle.

Lots of growing to go but small beginnings.
bargain plants make it possible

4. That the young camellias I transplanted are surviving and looking remarkably healthy and happy.

maybe the angel is proteting the camellias from harm
5. The strawberries that look so beautiful on the plant that I am reluctant to pick them and so I end up leaving them for the birds.
6. That the water feature in the French garden finally has the right pump and works really well after several years of frustration and being idle.

she's happy to have some attention at last

So much to be happy about outside- another 6 tomorrow!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Black & White

My Japanese garden is neglected at the moment, the only thing I have done this week is buy some black pebbles for the water feature. I will start panicking when it is closer to the end of the month- after all these years I have accepted that I do my best work under pressure anyway! Doesn't make life any easier though. Although I have discovered that lots of creative planning and decision making happens while I look like I am procrastinating. That's my story anyway.

Another reason for the neglect is that it has been too hot, yesterday was 35 degrees. I have been painting furniture all week so it was nice to get out of the house. We headed to the beach at Goolwa to go cockling with my family (5 kids and spouses), they all love fishing, so it was a good excuse to spend time together. I really appreciate that even though we are all over 40 we still enjoy each others company and the kids especially value the feeling of belonging & connection.

My highlight was 4 wheel driving for the first time through the sand dunes and on the beach, I did get bogged on the way back but the risk was worth it.

I am beginning to realise more and more that nothing in life is simply a good or bad, black or white experience. Everything has it's upside and downside. Going to the beach for instance- there's the scenic drive, the beach views, the joy of watching kids bodyboarding, dogs excitedly playing, smell of the sea, excitement of 4 WDing, chatting and laughing with family, beach cricket, collecting shells, the traditional icecream at the end of the day and the wonderful cool shower when you get home. Then there's the preparation, windburn, sand in your food, feeling hot and bothered, sand sticking to sunscreen on your skin, burning your feet on hot sand, hat hair, cleaning out the endless sand from the car, washing dogs and clothes.

The garden is the same it is a lot of work but also alot of pleasure. I guess you just have to keep weighing it up. It's all about what you value and what you choose to focus on! Right now garden and beach are worth it but ask me again when my sunburnt knees and windburnt arms start to sting.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Selective Ambush!

It's amazing how much joy our pets can bring and how quickly they can make us laugh and change our mood. I am sulking and aggro with the world because I have to wait five weeks for an order of pool coping. This means another delay before any more progress can be made on our pool, which was started in September 2010. That's a story for another day.

Fudge ready for Australias Top Model
The dogs are determined not  to let me hold onto my grumpy attitude. Firstly Fudge the younger, bolder, female (with attitude) turns into a stone statue and won't move a muscle when we try her in a jacket that lovely neighbour gave us. She looks very funny anyway but her stiff protest and forlorn look makes it even funnier.

Then as I sit reading blog updates I hear a cry of protest from outside the family room door. The door is open and I wonder why Darcey the older and gentler Italian greyhound doesn't just enter. A closer investigation reveals that Lilly the male cat has him bailed up and is ready to ambush and attack him as he comes through the door. The cat has an evil sense of humour, it often sits at the end of the verandah like a guard preventing him from passing. Darcey sits shivering and terrified until I pick up the cat and end it's psychological game.

Darcey the timid but adorable iggy!
 Meanwhile Fudge (who is the smaller but wider dog) can attack the cat, bite its ears, nip it's back and generally harrass Lilly with no real consequence. Fudge ambushes lilly as she comes through the door!Occassionally the cat has enough and digs its claws into Fudges head, after a shocked squeal but Fudge is back again a few minutes later. Not sure if this is a female, male thing or whether the cat picks up on different energy. Whatever the reason it is hard to stay grumpy and life is quickly put back in perspective.

Mr Lilly very satisfied with his psychological tricks!
And poor old Darcey has gone back to bed to destress and it's only 8:30 am.

Monday, January 3, 2011

More being than doing!

Funny how the gifts on our wish list  at Christmas are often connected to our New Years Resolutions.
This year I asked for and received a hammock. Up until today everyone else had spent more time resting in it but me, even the dogs got a decent turn. One of my hopes for the coming year is to be able to spend more time just simply being and enjoying the garden and life in general, rather than constantly doing. There is always the feeling that I must do just one more thing before I stop, rest and enjoy the fruits of my labour. Later never comes of course- I think this is a very common 'Mum' habit. I have lots of places to sit in my garden but I rarely use them myself.

This year I want to develop some small, simple and deliberate mindful practices as well as becoming more mindful in my everyday life. Not quite sure whether adding blogging will be another distraction, added to the 'to do' list or  maybe it just might keep me accountable. Lets hope its the latter.

I am hoping that by the end of January that my little Japanese garden space will be a place I can escape to and simply 'be'. It's already a lovely place to start and end the day. Nearly there but not quite. Right now I am still distracted by all the possibilities. In the meantime I did enjoy my time in the hammock this afternoon, laying under the wisteria, what I remember anyway. Although you do have to be very 'mindful' getting in and out gracefully! I plan to put my hammock up on the Mexican patio, when it is finished, then I can have a real 'siesta'
Hopefully this is almost worn out from use by next Christmas.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Water, water!

I realised the missing piece of the jigsaw in my Japanese Garden has been water. All the books I've read and my visit to Himeji garden have helped me to realise that I am missing water. So today I moved my Zen water column around to the Japanese garden and have started to look at what is needed to have goldfish and some aquatic plants in a bowl. I think I will need a bigger bowl. Actually a feed trough or some kind of old  bath would be perfect- keeping  my eyes open. Underneath the study window would be perfect.

I am also making a list of all the things I want to do in my Japanese garden this month. It is not as far from completion as the rest of the garden so it is a good area to focus on in January. January can be hot and windy like New Years Eve, I have the bug for indoor summer/spring clean and the Japanese garden is shady when everywhere else is hot. I also find it hard to get anything major done in school holidays when Soph is home and friends are over etc. etc. So maybe I can dedicate half the month thinking and half the month doing.

So all I have done so far is move the water feature into the Japanese garden, I will get the pump organised soon and electricity when the electrician comes for other jobs in the next few weeks. All looks a bit blah ( Alot really) at the moment but I am all for momentum,small steps and Kaizen (more about this later). Looking forward to the sound of running water very soon. I am also on the look out for black mulch, a better bamboo screen to disguise the hot water tank and working on David about building a screen to better camouflage the ugly but necessary gas bottles (that doesn't blow over in the slighest gust of wind). I have the seeds of an idea for what to put on the blank walls (more later). So I am doing lots just in my imagination and not yet the garden.

And yes I know I need to improve my photography skills and get a better camera!!!!

very blah at the moment!

Bah!Blah! blah! but stay tuned.