30TH JULY ?

Is it really only 30th July?

I thought it was Spring and time to plant my Summer herbs and lettuces  😯

The new Mint bush had 10 new leaves in 24 hours after I planted it.
It’s an invasive plant so best to keep it separate from other plantings.

But seriously, in my constant attempts to keep myself amused indoors this past Winter, I decided to do a little experiment.  I’d try an indoor garden to keep the Harlequin Bugs and Cabbage Moth Caterpillars at bay  😉 …….well, for the next month or two  anyway.  I found another 2 Harlequin Bugs on my Rosemary bush on Saturday – that makes 3 little insects that over-wintered in my Herb Garden.

I actually bought my seedlings last Wednesday and despite being short of potting soil, planted my indoor garden on Saturday.  With the wall heater set on fairly low, it should be warm enough indoors for the next 4-6 weeks for a growth spurt.

I bought my old blue painted TV trolley, (used as a potting bench outdoors normally), indoors after a good clean of winter cobwebs.  I removed the centre shelf to allow ready access for the light on the lower shelf.  I’ll rotate & turn all 4 planters so they get an even share of light.

Of course when the heat of Summer casts its spell over my west-facing balcony, my indoor garden will probably have to be moved outdoors.

I pull the block-out blinds down from about 2.30pm when the sun moves over my apartment building in summer and turns the lovely cool space into a sauna, (or hothouse).  The air conditioner will probably be too cold to raise summer crops also, as I have it set on 16C (60F).  I feel the heat terribly in Melbourne’s hot Summers and of course, being very fair, get badly sunburnt in about 10 minutes outdoors in the hot sun, despite repeated applications of Sunscreen when taking photos in the Botanic Gardens back in 2011,2012 & 2013.

…..and I do need to get a clear hard floor mat to catch any accidental watering spills too.  I put a folded tough green garbage bag on the carpet, but that looked too unsightly.

Anyone want to place any bets on the success, (or not), of my indoor garden?

NOTE: By the way, if you see any misspelt words/plant names, it’s that damn WordPress Spellcheck that keeps overwriting my typing, not actual typos.

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PURPLE CORAL PEA (Hardenbergia violacea)

Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.

Camille Pissarro

 

The Purple Coral Pea (Hardenhergia violate) is in bloom.  I wonder if any person living in my road has even noticed.

….and how do I know…..I just stood at the window watching the plants and young saplings being blown nearly double by the strong winter wind and looked across the road between the 2 hedges.  There, nearly 35-40 feet long, is the faint hint of purple.

It’s a very long patch of intertwining vines.  One can’t really see much (in the image below), but I know it’s there and what the flower is.  It’s blowing a gale today and much too inclement to go outdoors to get a close-up shot (after sitting in a heated room most of the day), but you can get the idea by the image below.  Much too far away for a hand-held shot – even with a 150-500 mm heavy lens (which was the closest camera out of it’s bag).

…….and for  those who don’t know what this gorgeous intertwining vine looks like, here’s some images made over recent years.  Most of these were made at the end of the day, hence the rich blue-green tone of the leaves – the blue hour.

Hardenbergia violacea, Purple Coral Pea or Native Sarsaparilla, is a well-known climber with twining stems.

The leaves are glossy green, with prominent veins and up to ten centimetres long.  The flowers are pea-shaped, up to one centimetre across, purple, and violet and rarely pink or white. They are carried in large clusters from late winter to early spring.  Blooms are both profuse and conspicious. They are followed by pods that carry a number of black, hard-coated seeds.

H. violacea could be grown as a ground cover if it is denied access to other plants or objects to clamber over. (The vine across the road is starting to climb up one of the Cypress trees in the top hedge).

The Purple Coral Pea occurs in all eastern mainland states including Tasmania and South Australia.

BALCONY GARDEN UPDATE…..

After the loss of many leaves and some turning yellow, I thought I might have lost my Blueberry “Nellie Kelly” (Vaccinium x corymbusm x ashes x darrowi) and I did some frantic searching through the internet in recent weeks wondering if my variety is the one that loses its leaves.  No real answer found, but 2 days ago I went to inspect it again and found the bush is flowering.

Such a relief to this amateur gardener that I am.  This is the first time I’ve grown a blueberry bush in my balcony garden and I hadn’t been through the annual seasonal cycle and really didn’t know what to expect.  Anyway, there are so many flower buds on the bush, that I’m hoping this represents a ‘bumper’ crop this year.  I bought some cotton netting from the local Hardware/Plant Nursery (Bunnings) yesterday, so am hoping this will deter the birds as I only got a dozen or so blueberries last year.

I had to tie up my Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis I think?) again, as the gusty winds have played havoc with the long branches recently

The Rosemary flowers have been spectacular in the last couple of weeks.  Trust this variety of Rosemary to give some cheerful colour for these cold winter days.  I DID find a Harlequin Bug in their midst yesterday.

I thought the Harlequin bugs had “flown north for the winter” – looks like some little bug got left behind and decided to over-winter in the large Rosemary bush.

I’m planning to re-arrange my lounge furniture slightly so I can keep more of an eye on the garden from my desk chair.  You’ll notice in the first (rainy day) photo above, that there is a line down the left hand side of the photo.  This is where my lounge floor-to-ceilings window turns back in towards the south side of the lounge in a sharp right angle.  From looking at the other apartments on my side of the building, I think I am the only tenant that has this extraordinary wrap-around view from their lounge window.  The backdrop of what looks like corrugated concrete in the 1st (rainy day) image above is actually the lift & stairwell for the building.  I think that surface is what is absorbing the sun and making a bit of a greenhouse effect to my garden.

My Spinach Baby Leaf (Spinach oleracea) is still cropping and providing leaves for my weekly omelette.

….and my large veggie trough of 8  X Perpetual Spinach (Beta vulgaris) seedlings are finally starting to grow some more leaves.  The soil must be warming up I think.

We are only 2/3 of the way through Winter, but it doesn’t take much to signal that Spring is on the horizon, although August is often our wettest month here in Melbourne.    The 2 spinach varieties may look similar to you at this stage, but hopefully the ordinary spinach will grow big and strong.  Since I don’t know much about vegetable gardening, only herbs, all of these vegetables are experimental on this west-facing balcony.

I’ve had such great success with green leafy vegetables in the past – but the previous apartment balcony was south-facing and had no direct sun, only lots of light on that side of the building in the inner north-east of Melbourne.

This current apartment is the first time I’ve had lots of west-facing hot sun in summer.

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INTERVAL here.  There are House Sparrows tweeting and calling for some more bird seed.

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Part of the right-hand side of my balcony doesn’t get sun in Winter, so most of the potted plants are crowded up the southern or left hand half of the balcony.  I need to find some room for some more Tomatoes plants too.  After last year’s bumper crop from the 3 Tomato Patio (Lycopersicon esculentum) plants I bought, I’m eager to have another go at growing tomatoes.

I’ve left the Capsicum Redskin (Capsicum assume hybrid) in the pot, but it’s looking kind of sad and droopy since the Possums(?) attacked and broke off 2 large branches.  I don’t know anything about Capsicums, so not sure if it’s an annual or perennial.

I gave a few of the plants some fertiliser yesterday and you’d be amazed how perky they’re looking this morning.  The blue Becopa (Sutera cordite) in particular.

……and of course the pink Argyranthemum (Argyranthemum frutescens) was burnt brown and looked half-dead at the end of last Summer, so I cut it back to about 2-3″ stubble and it is now about 8-9″ high and covered in pink flowers again.  I notice some of the flower buds seemed to be stuck together and on prizing them open, discovered some sort of worm-like pest crawling out of the centre of the flower.  Don’t know what this is, so I am pruning any sticky-looking closed flowers off the bush, in the hope of eradicating any trace of the pesky little critters (without pesticide use).

The photo below was taken yesterday.  Would you believe it was completely brown and dead-looking only 3-4 months ago !

So that’s all folks.

I bought more herbs, lettuces and Pak Choy yesterday, but that story will be found in another post.

(I can see this WordPress Template Theme doesn’t offer enough width for writing much, so this Nature Blog will have to be changed to a different Theme.  I may put it on ‘private’ while I change it over and re-position the widgets again).  Gosh, if only seems like yesterday, I changed the Theme and started afresh.

So, all you inner suburban apartment dwellers, remember………if you want to grow plants…. even some of the faster growing leafy green vegetables and herbs, (and have a reasonable balcony space and the safety fence is not too high), as long as you’ve got enough sun/light and a bit of protection from the wind, give it a go.  It may take a bit of trial & error, but cutting fresh herbs or leafy greens for each night’s  dinner is truly a joy.  Especially if you’re single like me and end up wasting half a bunch of herbs bought from the supermarket.  As to Spinach, if the supermarket bunch is too big, it usually gets made in to Spinach, (or Spinach & Watercress), soup for my freezer.

 

ANTICIPATION !!

Last Thursday, I stopped to look at the small bare-limbed tree in front of my apartment building’s front door.    I was surprised to see a large nest.  When I say large, it was about 4 times the size of last winter’s nest (in my own Maple tree in front of my balcony).

I stepped on to the flower bed and reached up with the camera.  I’d only taken the DSLR with the 17-50mm lens out that day.  Normal people don’t take DSLRs in to Doctor’s appointments and supermarkets, but then I’m one of those eccentric little old(er) ladies who does odd things.

No, still couldn’t get a photo of the nest interior, even on tiptoes, (which made me wobble anyway).

LAST WINTER’S NEST

Last winter I had seen a tiny nest in my own Japanese Maple tree (left), but the strong winds had blown it away within a couple of days.  It was quite a small flimsy nest, but made with the same twigs and soft downy feathers.  I was able to photograph it quite easily on the 19th August, 2017, by leaning over my balcony fence rail.

The current larger nest is about 6 feet off the ground and I’m only 5 foot 6 inches in height myself.  Actually less when I stepped off the concrete footpath on to the slightly lower flower bed.

I went indoors, caught the lift up to my 1st floor foyer and went over to the thick glass window and tried to get a photo (bottom centre of the frame below).

Then I had a bright idea and after taking my shopping into my apartment, picked up my long 150-500mm lens and DSLR and put it on my tripod and took it out to the foyer.  Still not quite high enough, but much better with the longer lens.

This was the best I could capture through the thick reinforced glass (below).

Let’s hope it doesn’t blow away.

I’ll keep you posted, although I daresay birds probably wouldn’t use the nest until the new Spring leaf canopy next September (to hide the nest from predators?

PACIFIC BLACK DUCK (Anas superciliosa)

One of the most common ducks I see in public parks, gardens, on lakes, rivers and nature reserves is the Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) and the image above, made at Ringwood Lake, in the outer eastern suburb of Ringwood where I was born, is my favourite image.  It’s not necessarily the best shot in my Photo Library – I just love the natural setting.

Here’s a few more of the many images I’ve made over the years, since I’ve been photographing Birds.

PACIFIC BLACK DUCK – RINGWOOD LAKE, RINGWOOD (outer eastern suburb of Melbourne).  This Lake was an excursion when we were very small children as it had a playground and swings.  Nowadays, it has more formal landscaping, a bridge and little sun shelter shed in the middle of the lake.
PACIFIC BLACK DUCK fast asleep next to NYMPHAEA LAKE, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, MELBOURNE
Not a good shot per se, as the head & eye is out of focus, but I love this photo as it shows the colours beneath its wings. NYMPHAEA LAKE, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, MELBOURNE
PACIFIC BLACK DUCK – ORNAMENTAL LAKE, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS. This image is one of only a few where I had the long 150-500 telephoto lens on a tripod. I don’t think I had a remote shutter release cable back in those days, or even if I remembered to turn the image stabilising switch off (as you do when using a tripod).
PACIFIC BLACK DUCK – ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, MELBOURNE
I was crouching low on the ground to take this photo and was so intent on getting the focal point on the eye, I accidentally chopped off the bird’s feet from the image, but I like the photo all the same as it reminds me of the fun I had crouching down so the duck wouldn’t see me. JUST BELOW DIGHTS FALLS ON THE YARRA RIVER, ABBOTSFORD (an inner north-eastern suburb of Melbourne).
Not a great photo per se, but I saw this female PACIFIC BLACK DUCK (with her 12 ducklings – not all in the frame) down a slope near a bank of THE ORNAMENTAL LAKE, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, MELBOURNE

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne are actually located in the inner south-east suburb of SOUTH YARRA (where I used to live on/off for about 25 years).  I WORKED across the road from THE HERBARIUM on the south-west corner of the Royal Botanic Gardens for 16 1/2 years, so my 15 minute walk to my office was often made through the RBG (and even around the whole 38 hectare site after work).

As I have often said on my various photo blogs, I’ve probably walked through, or around the Royal Botanic Gardens, somewhere between 8,000-10,000 times and know the Gardens intimately.  This estimation is no exaggeration.  If I was blindfolded and led around its many pathways, I could probably tell you exactly where we were by the flower and/or leaf scent alone.

It would be both interesting and great fun to see all the landscaping changes since I moved away from the area in April 2015.  There is just so much to see throughout the seasons in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, but as to  the right time of year to visit, I suppose it must be Spring – the first 2 weeks in September, although the Perennial Border is re-furbished so that the flowers and colours are at their best in around mid-January (as shown in the image below which covers about 1/4 of the Perennial Border’s floral display).   The old restored buildings below are now Function Rooms and host to many weddings, large dinners and parties.


GOLDEN RAT TAIL CACTUS (Cleistocactus winteri)

This particular plant image hails from the slopes of a water catchment in the Royal Botanic Gardens called Guilfoyles Volcano

The sloping ground leading right up to the water catchment is covered in either cacti, succulents or low-water plants and well worth a look if you’re visiting Melbourne.  (Or just a local and hadn’t realised this wonderful section of garden existed).  When living on that south-east corner of the RBG, I used to pass it regularly and while not a fan of cacti, the waist-high beds, as you walk up the spiral path, make for wonderful photo opportunities.

I seem to remember this was one of the 1st areas I took my new DSLR and Macro lens in early 2011.

Today, with a flawless blue sky, I’m inclined to go to the plant nursery (via taxi again) to choose some herbs for my planned new indoor mini Herb Garden.  Being Winter, my spinach and other leafy crops seem to be at a standstill in their growth and the cruel winds over the last few days have almost split my large Rosemary bush in half (again).  I’ll have to give it a new twine and bamboo ‘corset’ to hold it together again.  I only took it off this past Summer.

It has been very cold and windy lately.  Great news for skiing up in the Alpine Regions of the State, but most unpleasant if you don’t have a warm car to go out in (down in the lower elevations).  The thing is that Melbourne, with its generally temperate climate, is not used to extreme cold.

 

COAST BANKSIA (Banksia integrifolia)

 

Wikipedia had the following information which I found far more descriptive than my 2 plant encyclopaedias…………..

Banksia, commonly known as Australian honeysuckles, are a genus of around 170 species. These Australian Wildflowers and popular garden plants are easily recognised by their characteristic flower spikes and fruiting “cones” and heads. Banksias range in size from prostrate woody shrubs to trees up to 30 metres tall. They are found in a wide variety of landscapes; sclerophyll forest, (occasionally) rainforest, shrubland, and some more arid landscapes, though not in Australia’s deserts.

Heavy producers of nectar, banksias are a vital part of the food chain in the Australian bush. They are an important food source for all sorts of nectarivorous animals, including birds, bats, rats, possums, stingless bees and a host of invertebrates. Furthermore, they are of economic importance to Australia’s nursery and cut flower industries. However these plants are threatened by a number of processes including land clearing, frequent burning and disease, and a number of species are rare and endangered.

MUTE SWAN (Cygnus olor)

This white swan is huge and distinctive and you can never miss it on the rare times you might see one in Australia.  It’s an introduced bird and now quite scarce, being only found in the wild in the vicinity of Perth in Western Australia.  Various people say they’ve seen them in public gardens, or lakes, in my state of Victoria, but I’ll bet they’ve been captured elsewhere and let free in the vicinity, not really a wild bird.

I photographed this lovely specimen swimming around the pond in The Japanese Garden at Melbourne Zoo and found it quite challenging to get some definition in those white feathers which appeared overexposed in the bright sunlight, so had to tweak the mid-tones back and forth in post processing (which I rarely do much of).

They’re normally silent, but do occasionally hiss or grunt – can’t say I’ve ever heard them utter a sound.

 

 

BIRD OF PARADISE (Strelitzia reginae)

Strelitzias are evergreen herbaceous perennials that can become quite large and the most commonly grown one is Strelitzia reginae and to be honest, this is the only variety I’ve ever seen.  I think its one of those plants/flowers you love, or you hate.  All I know is that it has flowers that look like the head of a bird with a bright orange “cocky’s crest” of feather-like petals at the top and to photograph them successfully, you’ve got to catch them just after the bud opens and before it starts to wilt and brown off.

The other tip is to try and isolate one or two blooms from the end of the 3 foot stems, not the whole mature plant, otherwise your photo gets too busy with multiple blooms.  They appear year-round in most gardens according to my plant encyclopaedia, but I never found this in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne where the photo in this post was made.  I often walked past the same intersection of paths, waiting for just the right day (of the season), to photograph them.

Apparently, this plant has a giant cousin,Strelitzia nicolai which has foliage more like a banana palm and up to 15 feet tall!  The flowers are very large also.  I don’t remember ever seeing one, but that doesn’t mean to say our Botanic Gardens doesn’t have one among its 55,000 plants/trees.