Taking Art Outdoors

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Sadly, Not My Garden – Image courtesy of Pixabay

Ever since the implementation of Covid 19 restrictions, we have been wondering whether life would ever return to the way it used to be. Social commentators predict that even when this is all over, whenever that may actually be, life will be changed. And to a certain extent that is true. Life after a crisis is always different. We are changed. Society is changed. Our life as we knew it has changed. Even as the restrictions start to be eased here in Australia, social distancing is still in place and likely to be for some time yet. The way we work, the way we do business, the way we socialise, the way we live our lives, will continue to be different. 

For some, isolation has opened up new opportunities to discover a passion for home renovation or gardening. One can only watch so much tv, after all. Garden centres have sold out of stock as people started home veggie gardens and chook runs. I did wonder if some people knew how long you actually have to wait before you can pick veggies or collect eggs. Even my sister-in-law, who has never shown the slightest interest in gardening, has suddenly been bitten by the gardening bug. We were all a bit surprised at that!

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Alas, Not My Garden Either – Image courtesy of Pixabay

 It has been suggested that Covid 19 and isolation will renew an appreciation for suburban life. Apparently some people are already showing an interest in moving out into the regional areas, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The perils of living in concrete jungles with overcrowded public transport and limited green space have been brought home during this pandemic. In fact, this is exactly what happened after the Spanish Flu epidemic. Creating a garden around the suburban home became quite popular as it gave people a sense of living in the country. The natural open spaces of the country, teeming with birdlife, and a variety of plant life was viewed as a far healthier environment. A home garden felt healthy. Safe. It created a buffer between the family home and the world outside. 

Our gardening project had been put on hold while we were waiting for a boundary fence to be replaced, but I have been delighted to be finally reunited with my garden children. Gardens are becoming a lot more than just plants. Architectural features, such as gazebos, arbors and arches are becoming just as important. Garden sculptures and decor are also becoming popular. No longer does art have to be indoors. We can take the art to the outdoors. 

Bubbling Boy

My Bubbling Boy sits in my front garden, drinking away, while also providing a lovely place in the shade for the birds to splash around.  I have always loved the idea of a water feature. The sound of water trickling and bubbling is so calming. And even better, the water fountain runs on a solar pump.

Tucked into the corners of the herb garden are my Little Readers. Accompanied by their faithful companions, these two love to wile the day away with a good book.  We readers are always on the lookout for a quiet little niche in which to spend many happy hours reading away. How could I resist?

Bench children

And finally, in the shade under the big tree out the back are my two adorable Bench Sitters. A sturdy garden bench in the shade is the perfect place for a little peace and quiet, to listen to the birds and watch the butterflies visit the flowers. Will there be some additions to the outdoor family? Maybe. For now they bring a smile to my face whenever I walk out the door.  

Our gardens are becoming much more than just a buffer between our home and the outside world. They are becoming an extension to our home, a place where we can relax, play and socialise, a thriving natural community. In these anxiety inducing times, a little bit of the country can help to restore some peace, health and joy. 

Happy Gardening

International Year of Plant Health

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Image by Hans Braxmeier – Pixabay

Over the last 60 years the UN has highlighted a range of issues for international attention, beginning with World Refugee Year in 1969/1960. Since then we have had International Years for issues such as  Human Rights (1968), the welfare of Children (1979), Peace (1986) and the Eradication of Poverty (1996).  For some of these issues, such as peace and poverty, we clearly have a lot more work to do. The purpose of the International Years, though, has been more about highlighting, promoting and developing awareness about these issues rather than actually achieving a solution – that is a never-ending work in progress.

As a keen gardener and nature lover I was intrigued to discover that 2020 is the IYPH_Web_Button_Vertical_210x210px_ENInternational Year of Plant Health. Gardeners and farmers know that there are a lot of factors that can affect a plant’s health, from pests and diseases to soil health and weather conditions. It can be quite frustrating to discover fruit fly in your tomatoes or black spot on your roses, but globally, pests and diseases can have a far more serious impact on people’s health and well-being.

The UN sees the International Year of Plant Health as a

once in a lifetime opportunity to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.”

As such, the main focus will be on the strategies and practices that “control and prevent pests, weeds and disease causing organisms” from spreading into other areas, and on the role that human activity, such as international trade, has in the spread of pests and diseases in the first place.

Plant Health in Our Own Backyard

It might seem that there is little we can do about plant health and the spread of pests and diseases globally, but plant health is a local problem too. Our natural environment has already been severely impacted by the introduction of rabbits, foxes and cane toads, as well as numerous plant species that now grow wild. Add to that a severe drought and the current bushfires, it leaves an environment under great stress. The ground is bone dry. Trees are dying. Water sources have dried up.

Our recent move has provided an opportunity to establish a garden and care for the exisiting flora. Our new place, affectionately called The Last Stop, has plenty of open space and some native wildlife. We have a pair of resident blue wrens, who have been very curious about the new humans that have moved in. I have encountered a lizard enjoying the morning sun and a kangaroo taking advantage of a shady tree. And there is plenty of other birdlife too. 

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Our Blue Wren – photo taken by Bec

Sadly, the drought has had an impact. There is almost no grass and some of the trees have died. As water restrictions increase, gardeners are forced to make some tough decisions. What do we save? As some of our remaining trees are natives, their health is important for the local wildlife. It takes a long time to grow a mature tree, so keeping the remaining trees alive has become our top priority. We are fortunate in that we have the additional resources of rainwater tanks and a bore, but we still need to use them wisely and sustainably.

With some carefully targeted watering, new life is returning. The leaves on the trees and bushes look a bit brighter and some are starting to flower. And as a bonus, plants that we thought were dead have sprung to life. We’ve had to do a bit of tough pruning as well, to encourage new growth, but with a little patience and some TLC, our efforts are bearing fruit. And we’ve noticed a bit of extra bird activity!

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On the far left is a dry-looking bush that I thought was probably dead.

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Same bush today. Just needed some TLC.

Hopefully this drought will break soon and conditions will become more favourable for planting some new trees and shrubs, especially ones that will encourage birds and butterflies. We love taking food from the garden to the table, so a veggie patch and fruit trees is also high on the agenda. We might not be able to do much about the weather, but enriching the soil, nurturing our plants and taking care of pests and diseases in the most organic and sustainable way possible are just little steps we can take to improve plant health in our little corner of the world.

If you would like to know a bit more about the International Year of Plant Health, here are some links to get you started. 

IPPC and the International Year of Plant Health 

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, International Year of Plant Health 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Carnival of Flowers – Celebrating 70 Years

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It’s the first weekend of the September School Holidays, the flowers are out in full bloom and the local parks and gardens are crowded with visitors and tour buses. It must be Carnival time.

The Carnival of Flowers is Toowoomba’s premiere event of the year, a festival that celebrates flowers, local wine and food, and Australian music. It is one of the longest running Australian events, garnering a number of tourism awards and this year it celebrates 70 years, so it will be a very special celebration indeed. For months gardeners have been hard at work in the local parks to prepare the floral displays, and despite the exceedingly dry conditions of the drought, they have done a fabulous job. The floral displays are just beautiful.

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The very first Carnival was held in 1950 and attracted a crowd of around 50,000 to see a three mile procession led by a team of bullocks. Following the hardship of World War Two, the Carnival was envisioned as an event that would encourage economic activity and promote Toowoomba’s reputation as the Garden City. Sadly, I don’t think bullocks are a feature of the Carnival parade anymore, but Toowoomba businesses and community groups put in many hours of hard work to prepare their floats and costumes and put on a spectacular display of colour, music and all things floral. Last year Dan was in the parade on the Yellow Bridge float and he will be again this year, although this time they are just walking the route so I hope they have someone fit and fast to keep up with him!

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Every year the Carnival seems to get bigger and bigger with a variety of events and activities over ten days to keep people of all ages entertained. In keeping with the 70th celebrations there will be 70 different experiences this year for visitors. The Food and Wine Festival has become a popular addition to the Carnival, providing opportunities for visitors to sample Queensland wares while enjoying some iconic Australian entertainment, like John Farnham, Dragon and Bjorn Again. Other events include:

  •  Gardening Competition for Local Gardeners
  •  Photography Competition 
  • Garden Tours
  • Steam Train Rides
  • Talking Pub Tour
  • Carnival Memorabilia Display

We will be heading into the city centre today for the parade but we will be taking advantage of the free shuttle bus service rather than fight the crowds to find a parking spot. We can hop on the bus a short distance from where we live and it takes us into town to Queens Park, the hub of the Carnival. Here visitors can enjoy all the usual carnival entertainment such as amusement rides and side show alley. The Carnival also runs a Park Shuttle service that takes visitors between the three main garden displays at Picnic Point, Queens Park and Laurel Bank Park. Last year the Carnival attracted a crowd of over 255,000 so the shuttle bus is an excellent idea.

From humble beginnings the Carnival of Flowers has grown into a spectacular event that showcases the Toowoomba region, cementing its reputation as the Garden City and providing inspiration for all the novice gardeners among us. If you are planning a trip to Queensland, keep the Carnival of Flowers in mind.

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Carnival of Flowers 1950 – 2019

 

Book Review: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

 

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Last year as part of my studies, I completed a creative writing unit called Writing About Place. We conducted roving workshops in the natural and urban environment, explored personal essays and short stories about the importance of place and were required to select two texts to review, as well as write our own fiction and non-fiction pieces. When choosing a nature book to review, Inga Simpson’s book, Where the Trees Were (2016), immediately came to mind. Inga Simpson is an Australian writer known for her love of nature.

 

First of all, the blurb…

Finding a grove of carved trees forged a bond between Jay and her four childhood friends and opened their eyes to a wider world. But their attempt to protect the grove ends in disaster, and that one day on the river changes their lives forever.

Seventeen years later, Jay finally has her chance to make amends. But at what cost? Not every wrong can be put right, but sometimes looking the other way is no longer an option.

 and now the review…

In the summer holidays of 1987, Jay and her friends spend their days on the river, swimming, climbing trees and catching yabbies. When they discover a grove of carved trees, they immediately sense the need for secrecy and swear an oath to protect the trees. Inga Simpson’s Where the Trees Were follows Jay and her friends as they negotiate adolescence, relationships and high school, while trying to keep their promise to each other and the trees. However, two incidents occur that will test their friendship and change their lives forever.

Moving back and forth in time, from Jay’s childhood home in the Lachlan Valley to Canberra 2004, where she works as a conservator at the National Museum, the story pulls together the themes of identity, Indigenous Land Rights, conservation and the consequences of secrets. Simpson deftly negotiates the shifts in time and place by alternating the narration between first and third person, while still maintaining Jay’s point of view.

Where the Trees Were is Simpson’s third book and was shortlisted for an Indie Book Award, as well as being longlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Australian Book Industry Awards, and the Green Carnation Prize. Simpson has also been a winner of the Eric Rolls Nature Essay Prize. She describes Where the Trees Were as “a deeply personal story” and her passion for nature is evident throughout the book. Nature is everywhere. It is not just in Jay’s observations of the stringy barks and red gums that line the river, or the dragonflies, cockatoos and platypus, but the way the river and the trees speak to her. Even in Canberra, Jay is constantly aware of the plane trees and currawongs, the crimson rosellas and the fresh snow on the Brindabellas. Simpson brings an attention to the detail of nature that enlivens the senses. 

However, Where the Trees Were does more than just draw the reader’s attention to the nature that surrounds them. While Jay carts grain before heading off to university, she notes, “That harvest was theirs; they were part of it, almost part of the land itself.” Food, and the harvesting of food from nature, is everywhere, from the simple roast pork and vegetables, to the fancy dishes of the Canberra cafés, from gathering blackberries and apples along the river, to drinking a nice red from the local winery. Simpson gently underscores the relationship we have with nature, no matter how urbane our lives might be, and our responsibility for its protection.    

Where the Trees Were is a beautifully told story that evokes memories of a more carefree time, when children could wander and explore from dawn to dusk, discover the secrets of the natural world, climb trees and camp out under the stars. It calls us away from our screens, to see and hear and reconnect with nature and each other. 

Reconnecting with Nature

As I read Where the Trees Were, I was inspired by Inga to recapture some of that connection we have with nature. Living in a regional city, it is easy to forget that the food from the supermarket, packaged and labelled in plastic, once started life as a living, growing plant. I wanted to reconnect with nature by growing and harvesting food from our garden, to feel it’s freshness as we prepare it in our own kitchen, and taste the textures and flavours straight from our plate.

We only have a small courtyard, but we have started growing a few vegetables and herbs in pots. We’ve planted spring onions, leeks, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, lettuce and a wide range of herbs. It is quite surprising how much you can grow in a small courtyard when you put your mind to it. We’ve even got some climbing snow peas.

There were a few stops and starts, like remembering that plants need water too, but finally we achieved our goal – a garden salad where everything came from our garden. It was actually pretty exciting. I’m having to wait now for the next handful of cherry tomatoes to ripen, but it feels good to add a little something from the garden, even if it’s only some fresh herbs. 

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I love the way a book can have a direct impact on your life. It is one of the things that I think is so important about literature. It can take us physical places like the Lachlan Valley or Canberra, but it can also take us to places in our mind, where we can reflect on the one question that sits at the heart of our being: what does it mean to be human? As we read, we discover a little more about ourselves, our relationship with the world and with each other. Where the Trees Were invites us to leave the office once in a while and reconnect with nature. It may even rekindle some childhood memories of your own.

Happy Reading

Inga Simpson (2016), Where the Trees Were, Hachette.