Friday, March 27, 2009

Autumn tasks

Suddenly everything's green. Including things you wish weren't.
Over the next few weeks in my bush backyard I'll be:

Clearing and cutting
Dead scrub and blackberries so they don't become next summer's bushfire fuel.
New weeds (some kind of solanum) that have popped up where the old blackberry canes were, on the riverbank.
Heat-frizzled leaves and old growth from shrubs now that the danger has passed - and before the frosts start.
Annual weeds that have popped up, even in the thick mulch.
Borage seedlings all over the veggie patch.

Planting and sowing
More globe artichokes and white windflowers.
Replacements for a few things that did not survive the heat wave: white echinacea, gaura, Banksia Golden Candles, a couple of grevilleas, some extra Erica longifolia.
New blue salvias (Azurea).
Broad beans, beetroot, garlic and rocket (the slaters have eaten all the beetroot seedlings so far).

(Today I've put in lettuce, broccolini and Tuscan kale.)

Declaring war on slaters and Portuguese millipedes
I don't know how, but I am feeling murderous.

An awful lot of eggplants, zucchini and tomatoes.
I've had another good season of Sweet Bite tomatoes, but the Grosse Lisse and Mexican Midgets (very sour) grown from seed have been disappointing, while Mama's Delight is only now setting fruit. But I guess it hasn't been a normal year.
I'm delighted to be able to report that the much-mollycoddled olive tree has pulled through yet again, and a few plants I thought I'd lost to the heat and drought have come back with a sudden vengeance, including daylillies and the Magnolia Little Gem although it may end up two feet shorter than it was in December.

And I'll be throwing lime, manure and compost around in the veggie patch, and mulching madly.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writers for Wildlife

This weekend I'll be reading/speaking at a benefit for our furry and feathered friends who have survived the bushfires.
Writers for Wildlife
Abbotsford Convent
Sunday, March 22

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The right tool for the job

A confession: I love English garden books and magazines.
Yes, I know that's impractical. Even if I lived in Britain I'd never own an Elizabethan tower with a moat and orchard; or even a Georgian manor with a walled kitchen garden.
It's all garden porn: I know that, but I can't help revelling in it - lush greens, fabulous colour combinations,vast acreages where slaters and rabbits instantly perish before taking a nibble, and spent blooms miraculously turn themselves into gorgeous moist compost overnight - and I'm always a sucker for a row of cabbages or a Miss Jekyll border. It's not real, for me, obviously. It's a little like reading superhero comics.
"If only I could fly."
"If only I could have a field of snowdrops or Flanders poppies."
More to the point: "If only I had a dozen Victorian hand-blown cloches". Because my secret guilt is not even the garden photos but the classified ads up the back of Country Living or The English Garden.
I don't mean "WSF seeks similar with GSOH and strong pruning arm for moonlit deadheading excursions".
Not at all.
It's the ads for bamboo cloches, traditional seed catalogues, bird scarers that look like real barn owls, dove cotes,Victorian conservatories, log trolleys, summer houses, cold frames, bronze sun dials (and for that matter wild Scottish boar or Irish trout, delivered to your door).
And tools.
I love tools - the more obscure the better. I can get lost in Bunnings for hours - any hardware store will do, but preferably as large a range as possible.
One never realises how much one truly needs a small hand mattock, say, until it's there, on special, just next to the check out. It does mean that the simplest trip to the store for a bag of Dynamic Lifter can turn out to be very time-consuming and often expensive. But fascinating and profoundly thrilling - even if you do nothing more than fiddle with things and wonder how they work.
I have plenty of tools at my place in the country (where I sit, writing this) but many are purely for the sake of historical interest: old shears, scythes, a Dutch hoe, shovels, even my Uncle Phil's old beehive smoker. I don't use them - although it turns out that an old bricklayer's mitre is perfect for scraping pine needles out of guttering. (I've looked everywhere for a new Dutch hoe, as they come highly recommended in the aforementioned English garden magazines, but they don't seem to be about, so the antique one may be in for some refurbishing.)
Everyone has their favourites, but here's my list of essential tools for the bush backyard:
Garden fork
Bush saw
Long handled pruners
Pruning saw
Whipper snipper or preferably brush cutter
Mallet (for driving endless numbers of stakes)
Wire cutters
Tarp (for lugging mulch up slopes and a thousand other things)
Trug (ditto)
Rakes (leaf and gravel)
Gloves (leather - lots)
Spray pack with extension rod
Lots of twine, wire, rabbit bags, stakes, etc.

(Ideally you'd have a ute, too, but I get by with a trailer kindly loaned by father and brother.)

I love my chainsaw. I haven't had it long, but it makes me feel wonderfully Davy Crockett. Now the weather has cooled, I'm going to go crazy with it - blame it on the bushfire load reduction zeitgeist.
The whipper snipper or brush cutter is essential. I used to mow the half-acre in the country with it, and always felt very Tolstoyan, scything my way through the long grass, but now a nice man with a slasher comes twice a year so I only have to tidy up. It's tricky slashing at home, because of the slope of the land, and you have to time the cutting after the native grasses have set seed but before the highest bushfire risk.
I have my secateurs in my pocket whenever I'm in the garden, for deadheading, trimming. I don't use hand tools much, but do have a little hand spade for planting out seedlings and even bulbs - usually it just bounces off the clay and I have to bring in heavy artillery. Like the mattock.
I recently bought a cordless hedge trimmer - not for hedges, it's not that kind of garden, but for trimming things like the wormwood. It didn't cost much, but the battery does go flat rather quickly compared to, say, a cordless drill, and only trims light twigs. The monster hebe, for example, is way beyond it, but I suspect that hebe's days are numbered and I'll be taking to it with the chainsaw in the next few weeks.
I don't always buy the best tools. They do cost a lot, so it's a hard decision. But my core advice is to buy the most solid and best balanced you can afford, in a size that fits you, and they will do for a good few years at least.
You can buy great second-hand tools at garage sales, good country charity auctions (Molesworth over Easter, for example), estate auctions, markets, or any trash and treasure. I have two wheelbarrows - one cost $20, one was bartered.
You never need anything fancy. My soil would die laughing if I approached it with a dibber or a patented bulb planter, and a currawong would have a field day with a bamboo cloche.
That's really why I love those English magazines. They are hilarious.