Join the Aussie Backyard Bird Count – our birds need you!

Whether bright, bold and inquisitive, or delicate and shy, birds have a way of capturing our minds and our hearts. The importance of birds and a connection to nature to our quality of life cannot be underestimated. Just sitting and watching a group of fairy-wrens flit through your garden can be a relaxing and rewarding experience. As a society we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the environment, and at a time when understanding complex environmental issues is paramount, caring about nature is vital. Continue reading

How to design and plant a garden for cats

Cats and humans have a long history together. For thousands of years, cats have provided both companionship and pest extermination services to humans in return for affection and food. In some cases, a lot of affection and food. When I look at my relationship with my cats, I’m convinced they domesticated me. Continue reading

Turning your weeds to good use

In late winter and early spring weeds can get the upper hand. These opportunists are quick to get growing to fill the empty spaces left by plants that have been pruned back or died down over winter. They grow fast and flower quickly ensuring they set seed to keep their seed bank in the soil well stocked. Continue reading

Watch the monarch butterfly pupate

So many magical things happen when caterpillars turn into butterflies. Recently, our neighbors Dale Hammerschmidt and Mary Arneson managed to get some great pictures of the monarch butterflies they often raise indoors to help protect them from predators. They said it was okay to share them, so here you are. Thanks Dale and Mary! Continue reading

5 reasons to love field work in the prairies

Once again I spent a few weeks out at the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s fescue prairie preserves, south of Riding Mountain National Park, studying plant-pollinator interactions. Early June was my first trip of the year. Before I left the city I was feeling apprehensive: were the mosquitoes going to be bad, would I get Lyme disease from a tick bite, eaten by a bear, stuck in the mud? However, all that nervousness melted away as I came to my first plot and remembered what it is I love about doing field work: Continue reading

Two thousand pounds of Carpe Diem

Before you read any further, I must warn you I’m a fairly energetic person. While this statement is in direct conflict with the sloth calendar that hangs in my bedroom for mornings I’m so groggy I need the type of empathy only an animal that sleeps 20 hours a day can provide, as a general rule once I’ve had a few hours to wake up, my energy level switches from a zombie-like trance to a steady simmer that keeps me going til I collapse into bed. Continue reading

Tour Sri Lanka: a piece of serendipity

Sri Lanka was never on my list of gardening destinations. A tiny island off the south east coast of India, the former British colony of Ceylon, it was associated in my mind with cricket and tea but never gardening. Then when I had been working as a Tour Leader for Renaissance Tours for a few years, a friend, John Ekin, persuaded me to consider a tour to Sri Lanka. His great grandfather helped design the harbour at Colombo and John has loved the island for many years, knows it well and has many friends there. Continue reading

A garden design for a long, narrow site

A recent trip down to Dunsborough, a popular holiday destination a few hours south of Perth, gave me the opportunity to visit a garden I had last seen 15 months ago, just after it had been installed. The owners had asked me to design a garden for their weekender which was being renovated and extended to include a second storey. They wanted the garden to be lush and tropical with plenty of scented flowers and herbs, to have a seating area off the deck, to retain the existing peppermint (Agonis flexuosa) tree and to have a feature stone wall from the deck down to the boundary fence to ensure that their two dogs were kept in. They also wanted the garden to look special at night; they were open to the idea of a water feature and liked the look of vertical gardens. Continue reading

A Yarra Valley trip with garden history

In mid March members of the Australian Garden History Society enjoyed a lovely day out in the Yarra Valley. It was good to see countryside less drought stressed than it has been in previous years. Our trip included two gardens open to the public. The National Trust historic farm ‘Gulf Station’ is always a delight to visit and the dedicated volunteers gave us an excellent description of the pioneer history. ‘Alwyn Gardens’ was a perfect spot for lunch. Continue reading

Spiny leaf insects are great pets

Being an animal lover we have a range of animals at our place – dog, cat, chickens, fish and our latest additions which are 3 spiny leaf insects. Coming across them for sale on good old Gumtree classifieds, they soon turned into an unusual Christmas gift for our two sons. Continue reading

Of mice and man

We savour the privilege that we are gardening under old fruit trees of substantial age of whom we sometimes don’t even know the name, although we do know the great-granddaughter of the people who planted them. As far as possible we keep old and rotting trunks, which, without bearing fruits any longer, have an amazing structure and “artistic appeal”, even though moving (or sleeping) under them can be a little precarious. However, despite the fact that the survivors are still heavy croppers, we have to re-plant. Continue reading

Trouble in Tomatotown

I’m done growing tomatoes. I’m done dealing with all the tying, staking, and supporting. I’m tired of furry, rat faced, bastard squirrels that take a single bite of a perfect tomato before flinging it to the ground. I can tolerate the tomato hornworms because I fill my platform feeders with them so the birds can feast. But I am absolutely fed up with all the damn diseases and plant problems that plague these vegetables. Continue reading