Sunday, December 22, 2013

Progress in the garden.

HI to all my readers who are still reading!! Merry Christmas and happy happy New Year!!!

 I know I've been very slack since coming up here but so much has been happening. So here we are it's Christmas again!!! OMG! I cant believe it was over a year ago that I came up to Cairns to look at properties. It just doesn't seem that long. I've done a lot in the garden since coming up here and I must say its a real joy to work in a garden where things grow so beautifully and so fast. When I bought this little house there was virtually no garden just lawn and palm trees all around the fence line. So it was pretty much a clean slate. Over the months I have had some wonderful WWOOFers come and stay and they really have helped so much . My first big change was to cut back many of the palms and I used the dead fronds for mulch. We pruned them back quite a bit and ended up with two huge mounds of waste one on either side of the garden. These where then covered with plastic and allowed to rot down. Every now and then I would add lawn clippings or compost to help them break down. It looked pretty bad but gardening takes time and patience!

One of my Facebook friends asked if i was after the "mass grave" or "air disaster" look! I must confess he's got a point.
We had lots and lots of boxes left from moving up here so we dismantled all of them and laid them down where I wanted to widen the garden area and stop the weeds.  Then I bought a truck load of soil and with the help of our WWOOFer managed to cover most of the cardboard boxes. Every time we mowed the lawn I would put the clippings on there also. We also started collecting compost so that went down too. The mounds with their blue plastic over them sat there for most of the year just breaking down while i added to them. My aim was to create larger garden beds & kill off the lawn underneath without too much hard work! Nobody likes digging when they dont have too!

Then I discovered a place that had horse poo for sale, not just your average 50 litre bags, more like 100 litres for 2.50....the guy works at the race track. So off I went and bought 5 bags of that.  It was great! With the help of another WWOOFer,  we tipped it all on the two mounds spread it out and covered them for about a month, that was just what was needed to help everything break down nicely. The weather was warming up and things were coming together.When I took the plastic wrapper of a month later after adding some lime and potash also during that time, I had two almost new garden beds. So I started planting things. Got some cuttings, moved a few things from other places in the garden and they started to resemble garden beds.

Then in late November we started to get a bit of rain and things just started growing, and growing and growing!! Then a dear friend of mine helped me get some mulch last week and then i had 6 cubic mtres of mulch to cover it all before the rains come. Thanks Graham!!! and its made such a huge difference! I also got a new client who runs a lawn mowing business. Steves Lawn Mowing.... so he mows the lawns and trims the edges now and I must say they look magnificent. Thanks Steve.

So getting back to the garden, someone I met up here gave me some cuttings earlier in the year and add to that the plants I have bought or others I have propagated from other plants in the garden and the garden is starting to fill up. I've also bought a few trees. A beautiful Crepe Myrtle which has its first flowers on it; and two Frangipanis, a Jacaranda (well 2 Jacarandas coz I managed to kill the first) and a couple of others.

So Finally here are some before and after shots!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Home Made Orange Cordial

  Yesterday I made orange cordial. 4.5 litres of it!!
Here's the recipe.
Juice of 8 oranges
Rind from 2 of the oranges
2 litres of water 
2 kgs of white sugar
glass bottles which have been sterilised

Place the water and sugar in  a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. 
Allow to cool.
Mix the juice and rind from the oranges with the sugar syrup then pour the mixture into sterilised bottles. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Round the bend: The creation, destruction by fire and recovery of Tambreet Gardens

Recently I received an email from the designer of this very beautiful book. It's the story of recovery after incredible trauma. 

Round the Bend is a book written by Esther Leahy with the help of her husband and Gardener Sean. Its a story of survival and recovery after the Black Saturday bush fires which devastated their property eighteen kilometers out of Traralgon in the La Trobe Valley.

It will humble you and bring tears to your eyes while also giving up vital information for garden lovers who live in bush fire or wild fire prone regions of the world.

The photos are lovely and the information is strangely rare as not much has been written about restoring a garden after such immense devastation. The book is called "Round the Bend:The creation, destruction by fire and recover of Tambreet Gardens" . 

Its available on Esther and Seans website here:

Have a look, grab yourself a copy,  I guarantee you will be engrossed and humbled, and blown away by the beauty of this enchanting and often very harsh part of Australia. 
Round the bend the story of bushfire recovery at Tambreet Retreat
Greg Branson who helped Esther and Sean with the design of the book wrote:

...Across the four years as Esther documented the story of their returning garden she and Sean were astonished by tree and plant survival and regrowth.
Gardeners will value being made aware that much of a fire ravaged garden may be able to be rescued. The book has raised the debate about the significance of right choice plants and trees and well-planned gardens around homes.  Extending this debate, the book suggests that gardens correctly planned and planted can assist in protecting communities in fire-prone areas. 

The book is an intriguing read from beginning to end, for all book-lovers. Using the drama, whimsy and humour of her own diary entries the author has captured a tale of ugliness and heartbreak and turned it into a delightful story of plant, animal and community recovery.  The beautiful 264 page book, alive with photographs of nature, has aroused a great deal of interest within bushfire-at-risk communities and the wider reading public.
The book is available online:
Have a look, you wont be disappointed. 


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bees and Basics in FNQ

Hi everyone and thanks to all those folk who still have the enthusiasm to check back now and then. We are settling into our new home and its finally coming together  slowly but surely. I've been busy with my cleaning business "The Domestic Dragon" and we have a bunch of regular customers now which is nice.
Sam has settled into school and the new kittens Felix and Misty are definitely at home now! We have had a couple of WWOOFers staying with us and are now preparing the house for overseas students.
One of the Carpenter bees in amongst the perennial Basil
Its officially Spring in Cairns and I've got to say the weather is glorious! Not too hot but warm enough to be wearing short sleeves. The garden is coming along and I have dug a salad garden out the front and also put some herbs and tomatoes in. Bees seem to be in short supply so I have had a lot of success with plants that need polinating. So I think I might make a bee house for native bees. I have noticed some small native bees, along with these guys below which i suspect are a Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa nigrita)  although I am no bee expert. They look a bit like Bumble bees but not quite as furry. But they are definitely bees. They seem to love the perennial basil, which is great. I wish they'd come round the front and feed on the squash which seems to only have male flowers and no squash!
Since beginning this post I have had a chat with one of my clients, who is also an Apiarist, or beekeeper. He told me that we actually have a shortage of wild honey bees in FNQ due to a small hive beetle which is destroying bee hives. The beetle pupates in the ground over winter and thanks to our milder climate in recent years its population has grown considerably causing havoc in the world of bees.
Bees are essential to our food bowl, and our farmers rely on bees to help pollinate their plants. Sadly in Cairns the council doesn't allow beekeeping amongst the locals but perhaps we can all contribute by helping the native or solitary bees.  Try building a bee hotel to encourage them, many are quite tiny and relatively harmless. Here's a link to something about bee hotels!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Moving interstate or even further

Our life here in the tropics is pretty good. Even if we can't afford much we definitely wont freeze to death!  Its hard leaving everything behind and moving interstate. I cant even imagine what its like for those how move to a new country, where they don't speak the language! or even if you did.

When it comes down to it we are still in Australia but sometimes I have days where I feel like I might as well have moved to China, and today was one of those days!
Its also hard for Sam because he puts up with me.
We have a nice home and the weather has been kind to us, although it is a little wet still but that will pass. The suburbs of Cairns are all new, which is strange being a Melbourne girl where a lot of the houses are Victorian terraces, none of those up here, and I do miss them.

We have plenty of wildlife around the place too, particularly birds, and as I mentioned the other day Rats, which are apparently seasonal.

I am trying to keep positive and keep myself busy, although this week have struggled somewhat. I have taken up piano lessons which I enjoy and am getting the garden together. I do miss the seasons, in Melbourne, but not the cold, and I miss my friends. I love Melbourne but now Cairns is my home. I am still inspired to revamp the garden and make use of the vast indoor space we have, making an income up here isn't as easy as down south, but we wont starve. At worst we can grow lots of yummy stuff in the garden.

Watch this space!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cats and Rats!

We have been living here  in Cairns for just over 5 months. The weather has been kind and the people too! Our family has changed somewhat. We still have Polly our Cairn terrier, and she has settled well and is not so keen to run away anymore. I'm not sure if that is because she is getting a bit long in the tooth or perhaps because the weather is so warm and she's a bit lazier! Unfortunately our cat Chibbie died shortly after we brought her up so now we have two new additions to the family, as many of you will know from my facebook page. They are Felix and Misty, a couple of Burmese kittens, who are brother and sister, different litters but the same dad.

We live on a main road up here so they are indoor cats although they are able to run around in the garage where we are going to set up a teenage retreat and a bit of a cat playground. It also means they wont be hunting native birds in the garden, or cane toads for that matter!

This was Felix and Sam when we first brought him home. He was such a scrawny little thing !

This is Felix now a hansom little cat!
Felix is a red Burmese, but like our Border collie Bruce, is more of a blonde, and a very hansom cat with a lot of charisma. Misty is a lilac  Burmese, and is very sweet natured she's a little bit on the shy side but can give as good as she gets from Felix. They are  very personable cats and very adventurous, they even play with the dog.
Misty the day we brought her home

Happy cats
I've been accused of being a mad cat lady! And I think maybe its true , but there are worse things i could be!
Anyway, back to the garden and the house which are coming along splendidly.The garden perhaps, more than the house! We got rid of the enormous cockroaches ....thank goodness, now I'm told come the rats, as its cane cutting season. Shouldnt be a problem, I hear you say, especially with 2 cats, hah!
May I remind you ...these are Queensland rats, they look like possums!
Its a pity rats don't eat cane toads! But I'm sure we'll sort something out.