Monday, October 13, 2014

Here Be Dragons

I've been meaning to visit a particular location ever since we moved here over two years ago, but for one reason or another had not got around to doing so. A prompt, by way of "it's really pretty right now - the iris are all blooming" from a visiting friend this morning, put a much need fire under me to set off & explore this oasis in the central city.

Tucked away between train tracks & tall buildings, right on the edge of the central business district, lies the oasis otherwise known as Roma Street Parklands. It's magical, really it is. Perhaps especially so at this time of year when the Iris are in bloom & the Eastern Water Dragons are all shapes, sizes & places

This one you might have to enlarge, in order to spot all 5 dragons.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Minutes, Hours, Days & Months.

Yesterday marked 6 Months since my gorgeous Mum left us. I chose to escape...distract myself from that huge tightness in my heart that, at times, threatens to overwhelm me. Especially those days that seem to mark significant passages of time.

Those days that I feel I've forgotten what she sounded like, how she smelled, or the feel of her lips on my cheek or arms around me as we hugged & kissed in greeting or departure.
Yet I still remember what her tiny, wasted frame felt like in my arms on in those final two days all too vividly, along with the final kiss I was ever able to give her  - & those days I would like to be able to forget. They are not the memories that I want to carry around with me.

Isn't it strange though, how over time one can think they are losing the essence of a person so loved, that the person has been gone longer than they were here - yet at the same time it seems like only yesterday that person left. I struggle with that & I know my children, nieces & nephew do too. Essentially we fear we will forget - but we wont.

In our eyes Mum/Nana was a winner &, most definitely, a "keeper".  We simply weren't ready to let her go yet - but are we ever? Her capacity for love knew no bounds - how a heart that big survived in a frame that small is beyond me. Her often naughty sense of humour was almost as large as that heart of hers. Her laugh, when let loose, was an absolute joy to hear - & that is almost what I miss the most.

Our Winner

So for myself, my children, my nieces, my nephew....& all those, close to Mum, that cared I think Marcel Proust, in his letter to George de Lauris - whose Mother had just died, sums it up very well:

Now there is one thing I can tell you; you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your Mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will forever be cast into the past, then you will feel her gently revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you. At the present time, this is not yet possible. Let yourself be inert, wait 'til the incomprehensible power that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more & more.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Busy Bee's and Silver Linings

Osteospermums, the African, or Cape, Dasies - those stalwarts of the perennial garden, always in flower, tough as old boots & can be planted anywhere....right? Not so much here in my part of Queensland - I've been advised on more than one occasion that it's better to stick to the older varieties, rather than some of the newer hybrids, as they seem a bit more heat tolerant.

Of course I was told that *after* I'd tried & lost my favourite "Tradewinds Terracotta" that I'd surprisingly managed to find here ....along with a rather pretty un-named pale terracotta with a mauve centre that looked very similar.
Not to be deterred when I recently found a divine pale lemon yellow variety called '"Flower Power Lemon", I purchased it. You know the saying "I came, I saw, I conquered"? Well, "I buyed, I tried, I failed". (Yes, I know - lame AND bad grammar, but hey it's my blog...)

The plain of fashioned white variety, however, survived the first years heat, then near drowning during January storms & is now going great guns down in the back garden. 

A couple of  single petaled almost "Terracotta" coloured plants that I found are, so far, doing quite well in front of the patio - the Native Stingless Bee's seem to like them too. Perhaps they share my love of that colour....

Small Native Stingless Bee appreciating "orange".

Then, at a Garden Centre in Toowoomba ( a slightly more tolerant climate than down here) a couple of weeks back I discovered this beautiful Osteospermum called Coral Sands.

Osteospermum 3D "Coral Sands"

A bit hesitant to set myself up for another failure I promptly called my friend over to ask the ultimate "will this one thrive - or turn up it's toes" question ....& lost it the second they laid eyes on it!lol! A nearby nursery assistant found me the only remaining plant of it in the nursery. Sadly it wasn't as healthy or floriferous as the first, & some of the flowers didn't have the gorgeous double crest - instead just being the usual Osteospermum dark purple/blue.

The silver lining to getting the plant that I did, is that the Native Stingless Bee's, while not landing on the fancy double crested flowers (probably at risk of getting stuck!) seem to like the plain flowers & it is so important to encourage & keep these little creatures in our gardens.

The un-crested flowers that the Bee's prefer

Hopefully it will come away & thrive - but right now, with the onset of the really hot weather I'm just hoping for survival.

As a gardener, & one that is concerned about the future of our planet, this has been a good reminder in not getting too carried away by all of the fancy new hybrids. While our senses may be delighted by something new & different - our wee friends & helpers in keeping the food crops alive seem to prefer the plainer stuff ;)

Rosa 'Crepuscule'

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Slow Learner

Sadly, that's me! You'd think two years living in Australia, or more correctly Queensland, would have taught me a thing or two about gardening & it's seasons here. But no.
In my defense I do know that winter is the "dry" season (even though it rained for almost 2 weeks solid when I first got here) & that Summer is the "wet" season. OK - so I'm blindly disregarding that fact that we didn't get a single substantial storm or any rain to speak of here last summer.

Somehow I have killed more plants since moving here than I had in the previous 34 years of gardening. On the flip side I have also had significantly more success with striking various cuttings. With constantly warm temperatures germinating most seeds is a walk in the park. Keeping the buggers alive once in the ground is a whole different ball game though.

But nature has a way of telling us....sometimes. The second planting of lettuces last summer simply bolted & as a result we've had fresh, garden picked oak leaf lettuces available all WINTER! Those lovely garden volunteers almost made up for having to buy tasteless store bought lettuces to eat for the rest of last summer. Of course they came up in the exact area that I wanted to try some direct composting in. Rebels!

I can't really complain though - the rest of the garden got the compost treatment so at least 3/4 of it is done in preparation for summer....but wait, most of the stuff I wanted to grow thrives over winter.
Oh, bother!

The curly leafed Parsley that just sat there wilting in the summer heat,  then seriously sulking over Autumn decided to come alive & have a Parsley party mid winter (whenever that is here - who can tell, stuff just never really stops growing) then go positively rampant in Spring.

Gardening & landscaping is big industry here....not to mention expensive. With most soils needing amending somehow before being ready to plant in the sales in  soil additives to remedy clay or sandy soil alone must be phenomenal, then there are more additives required to aid in water retention, fertilisers, plant foods, mulches & the water itself. Then you have to arm yourself for the battle of the squillion & one pests & diseases that seem to thrive here.

Many people just plant in pockets of a "quality" potting mix - but in my experience the plants do well for a while then once the roots outgrow the mix & hit the crappy soil they just become stressed & very soon start failing completely.

One of the traps I fell into was believing that because stores sold certain flower & vegetable seedlings it was the right time to plant them....or that they would survive & (hopefully) thrive here. Wrong!
While some smaller nurseries will have ethics & only sell what will grow locally - big box stores have no such qualms about stocking the shelves with the latest cultivars whether there they are suitable to the climate or not. I've learned that lesson the hard way - more than once. It can become expensive.

Then there is the incorrect labeling of plants - not something I'd normally worry too much about, except when it comes to buying, nurturing & actually managing not to kill a particular rose - a rose I bought as David Austins "Leander"...only it isn't. Lucky for that rose it's another old favourite  "Crepuscule" &, as it happens it's a good performer in warmer climates - so it gets to stay, even if it doesn't quite look or behave as I'm used to.

The trick, I am discovering, is to know your plants (although bare rooted roses can be a tad difficult to identify....) & choose where you shop wisely.
In my case it is more like take everything you thought you knew & either throw it out the window - or fast forward some seasonal tasks by 3 months, rewind others by two & turn the seasons upside down, just for good measure!
I'm still trying to get my head around why some old favourites from my temperate climate gardens will grow here & others won't - or why those that will grow here grow so differently to how I've grown them in the past. It's a learning curve, a very big one - but I'll get there...

....well, unless the Brush Turkey decides to strip another few gardens of their carefully laid mulch.
But that's a whole different story - & one for another time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

To Think...

...That at the time of my last blog post I imagined starting posting somewhat regularly again about my gardening adventures here in Australia.

...That I believed Mum had a few more months left & that we'd have time to talk, laugh & cry again together.

...That the hardest part of my upcoming trip home to New Zealand in a little over a week would be leaving to come home, not knowing if I'd ever get back in time see her alive again.

...That those phone calls I was making to her room in the Hospice were enough to keep me abreast of how well she was doing.

As it turned out none of the above were true.
I arrived in New Zealand just before midnight on the 2nd April planning on some rest before spending the next day & every one of my stay there after with her, only to be told by my brother during the trip from the Airport to Mum's place that I should go to the hospital that she'd been transferred to right then as he thought she was only hanging on to see me. I was stunned - shaken to my core.

I was further shaken when I saw her - a far cry from the photo that had been sent four days earlier, taken when her Doctor brought her dog in for a visit.
Thirty Four sleepless hours later, surrounded continuously by the three women closest to her (my two gorgeous Aunts & myself) she was gone.

The last thing I expected to be doing on this trip was to have to try & compose a eulogy for my Mother.Apparently she hadn't wanted a formal funeral - rather a celebration of her life. While I could respect the fact that she didn't want us to be somber & sad, I found it incredibly difficult to be light hearted & frivolous when my heart was so heavy.  I also struggled with whether I had the ability to hold myself together while reading anything at all out - let alone anything too evocative.
I hope that I did her justice with the following:

And now she rests at peace. The amazing, vibrant, beautiful woman I called "Mum".
Yet she was so much more than just my Mum.  She was Sister, Wife, Nana, Sister-in-law, Aunty, Cousin & Friend. I know that I will not be alone in feeling the void that her passing will leave in my life.

She was also a lot more than just “Mum” to me – she was a friend, confidant, staunch supporter of my many endeavours & of course the ultimate enabler  when we went shopping together … something best avoided at all costs as we would both end up spending more than we should!

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t realise how blessed I have been to have landed the Mum that I did…well ok, maybe there were a few rough patches in my rebellious teenage years, but for the most part I knew I’d scored pretty darn well in the Mother stakes! As I told her, & a number of other people, I couldn’t have had a better Mother if I’d been able to choose one for myself.

I’ve always known that it takes a pretty special person to be able to take on & love a baby that they didn’t create themselves & Mum did that…& then some! Both her & Dad’s capacity for unconditional love was immense – along with their ability for complete forgiveness ( & Heaven knows they had to practise that a few times!).

I always admired the fact that Mum could be upset, hurt or angry about something – work through those emotions quickly, then move on & put those feelings behind her, once again seeing only the good in people & taking pleasure out of the part they played in her life. From that I learned that while we can’t control the way people act – we can control how we react to it….. & that a sense of humour always helps!!

Witty, amusing, slightly naughty – that was my Mum!

I have so many memories of her part in my life (& lets face it – it was a pretty big part, given that she is the woman who has influenced me more than any other) – that it would take me hours just to scratch the surface.
The one that outshines them all though was being brought up surrounded by love & security - something that, when I think back, was like a big warm fluffy, blanket. This wasn’t only provided by Mum & Dad – but also by my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles & Cousins. Family gatherings full of love, laughter, intriguing tales of Malta, England & New Zealand. Then there were the family holidays, &  later the bach at Waikuku, parties & dinner parties. Life was never dull.
Oh, yes – I do remember the bottles of Galliano & Vok, the mixing of Martinis - along with the wines, spirits & great food!!

So I get to add amazing cook, cocktail mixer & adventurous, outgoing lady to the list.

My earliest memory of Mum is of her lifting a blanket & saying “ boo” to me when I was still in my cot…& for some reason sitting completely under my cot blanket when I suspect I was meant to be sleeping (perhaps getting into practice for later years when I’d read under the blankets with a pilfered torch when I was meant to be asleep).
One of my last memories will be Mum saying that she just wanted to be normal – I knew what she meant, but told her “Normal is a cycle on the washing machine, Mum… & you have never been normal – how boring would that be!” I should have added “ You were outstanding”.

So to all of those people who have ever been there for Mum – I thank you.
To my two fabulous (yet slightly crazy) Aunts, Yvonne & Elaine – you have my eternal gratitude. Not only were you there for Mum in those last days – but you were there for me as well, offering care & hugs, sharing tears & laughter at the time when we were all on the edge of despair. I love you both with all my heart!
Of course you do realise that now you have another daughter….don’t you?

Friday, March 21, 2014


How can it be that one morning you get up, hear the birds chattering as you look at the view of your patio,with the sunlight demonstrating it's wonderful ability of light play over plants & furniture, through to the garden beyond & remark "how blessed are we to have this beauty to wake up to every day" with a smile playing across your face - then the following morning you wander out there, not even noticing the view, while wondering why the birds are even bothering to sing.

Yesterday we were looking forward to the job & going out & buying a new fridge...well, perhaps not looking forward to it so much, but enjoying the thought that we weren't going to have to put up with a fridge that freezes everything we put in it, at seemingly random intervals.....thereby providing the compost & worm bins with what I believe to be the most expensive compost fuel in Brisbane some weeks.
Yesterday I was anticipating unpacking the last carton of my gear to arrive from New Zealand - a whole 21 months later.
Yesterday I believed for the shadow that had shown up on my Mum's pancreas while she was having a kidney scan to be "just a shadow" or, with her health history, perhaps a blockage somewhere.

This morning I knew better.
This morning I didn't want to be awake once that time where my eyes slowly open & the obliviousness that sleep has afforded is still upon me, before I became fully aware of the day, had passed. I didn't care about cartons or their contents & couldn't have cared less if the new fridge was delivered today - or not at all.
By this morning I knew that the shadow, just a bit they caught in a scan for something completely different, is inoperable cancer of the pancreas that has progressed into Mum's spleen as well. I also know that chemo is not an option as she is so underweight & weak that they have admitted her into the Hospice to try & get some weight on her while figuring out the best medications to keep her out of pain, so she can go home....& what? I'm believing for a miracle.

To think that she went to the Doctor a week ago with back ache which, as it turns out is unrelated, & now this. As if the last 7 years, & in particular the last 3 since the earthquakes, haven't been enough for her already. I always knew that she was a strong woman - but bloody hell, enough already. She's had her share of poor health & more than enough to cover a few other people too.

Speaking to her today I realised that, although she accepts this is terminal, she ain't going down without a fight baby. She was talking of being able to drive again - once her back is better. Heaven help Christchurch is all I can say about that.

I think I can safely say my Mum, myself & my family liked yesterday a whole lot better than today.

Tropical Water Lily - "Tina"