Discovering a hidden haven in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia

Aaaaaaa-choooo!

Yay its spring! Boo its hay fever season!

Being what my dear partner refers to as a ‘red headed asthma kid’ I’ve always been a bit on the allergic side. Nothing serious mind, but at certain times of the year I’ll make sure I’ve always got some hay fever tablets on hand. Sadly this year our daughter, who has up until now not been bothered by hay fever at all, is having a dreadful time of it.

Is this rye grass? I think so...but I really can't tell for sure!

The weather bureau did warn us that the wettest winter and spring for many a year would lead to a bad year for hay fever, and they certainly didn’t lie.

The problem is knowing just what it is that is causing the problem for her and finding our if there is anything at all that can be done to reduce exposure to it or to treat it.  Some plants are just so pervasive in the environment that there is no escaping them. Try getting away from grass going to seed in spring and summer for example. And of course it might not be pollen that is causing the allergy, but it is a very likely suspect right now.

On top of that some allergenic plants are not what you expect. I think I’ve mentioned before that Wattles (acacias) get a largely undeserved bad rap on the list of allergy suspects in Australia, but have largely been cleared. There is a lovely newsletter article from the Australian Plant Society here defending the much maligned wattle.

According to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology, it is in fact the following plants that are known to most commonly cause allergic reactions in the Australian environment:

Annual Blue/Winter Grass, She Oak, Bahia Grass, Couch Grass (Bermuda grass), Bottlebrush (callistemon), Canary Grass, Cocksfoot/Orchard Grass, English Oak, Johnson Grass, Kentucky Blue/June Grass, London Plane Tree, Mango Tree, Murray Pine/ White Cypress Pine, Olive Tree, Paper-bark Tea Tree, Parthenium Weed, Paterson’s curse/Salvation Jane, Pellitory/Asthma weed, Plantain, Ragweed, Ryegrass, Silver birch, Timothy Grass, Wild Oat, Yorkshire Fog/Velvet Grass.

More detail from ASCI can be found here.

Callistemon. Friend or foe??

The plants I’ve highlighted in bold are ones I either have on our property, or can see if I peek over the fence. And they are the ones I can identify,or at least think I can. I have to admit I am particularly poor at identifying grasses, which is a shame, as they are a very common cause of allergy.

Rye grass is one that has been mentioned in several places, including this recent article from The Age newspaper as one of our major allergy causing problem plants. but I’m not sure I am correctly identifying it. I’ve been looking up images of it, but is still looks like well grass to me.

Some on the list really surprise me. Callistemon is one that I’ve never heard anyone talk about in the context of allergies and I’m a tiny bit suspicious of its inclusion. The Asthma Foundation tends to suggest that predominantly insect pollinated plants are generally a lot less of a problem then wind-pollinated plants.

The catkins of my silver birch are not mature yet...so 'not guilty' your honour!

I’ve heard of Silver Birch as a problem before, but for some reason I still feel inclined to look for a poor old wattle to blame rather than the three birch trees in my back yard.

On the other hand...the river birch is more advanced.

So, what (if anything) sets people to sneezing in your area when that time of year comes around?

See you next time,

Heidi

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Where was I?

Yes I’m still here…but thinking of changing the name of my blog to ‘A Yearly Post from a Gippsland Garden’.  It would be more appropriate perhaps.

To be honest the joy of a trip overseas was followed up by a very melancholic few months. It took me by surprise, but thankfully I’m feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed again now 🙂 Thanks to those lovely bloggers who dropped me a line to say ‘Hi’…it might have taken until now to get a response out of me, but I appreciated it very much!

Well, it’s heading into late spring in the Gippygarden and it has been a wet one! The pattern seems to be four days rain then a day or two of blazing sunshine, so you can imagine what the garden is like. The weeds have never been happier. Thankfully some of the intentional plantings are pretty happy about it too and the garden is lush if unruly.

My personal bane the Harlequin Bug (dindymus versicolour)  is also pretty chuffed about all the lush new growth. So my post work relaxation routine seems to consist of carrying around a bucket of soapy water and picking off the bugs to drop into it. I can be heard muttering darkly to them as I find them clustered on my roses. Yes it’s a bit gruesome, but it is the only thing that seems effective without using toxic sprays that will equally hurt the good bugs (the soapy water that is, not the muttering).  It is requiring quite a bit of vigilance. Every day there are plenty of new bugs and my ultimate aim is to keep the population down before my tomatoes grow and produce ripe fruit.

No precious tomatoes for you, nasty little buggies...

In other garden news the garlic I planted in the garden bed has stunned me by growing better than what I potted up, which is a surprise, particularly when it has been so wet. None of it is growing fantastically, but it is all still alive and growing reasonably well.

Some garlic around Christmas...perhaps.

Lately I’ve been focusing on digging some more vege beds and planting for the bees, but more on those later. I’ll leave you with a couple of current bee favourites for now…

Bees love Borage and so do I. Who could resist that colour?!

Not a good perspective shot, but this is a tiny native bee. It is about a third of the size of a honey bee and is clearly enjoying our callistemon!

See you soon,

Heidi

It is a little disheartening as a novice gardener to fail at growing something and later read that it is one of the easiest ‘set and forget’ plants to grow. In fact, I won’t tell you how many websites I’ve just visited that start out with a variation along the lines of “Garlic is so simple to grow that anyone can do it.”

Anyone except muggins it seems.

I attempted to grow garlic for the first time last year and it rotted. Quite literally it dissolved away to nothing.

Belatedly I realise that my soil, which my roses and camellias seem to love to bits, is not to the liking of everyone in the garden. Especially not now that the drought is over (for now*) and winter is back with chilly and watery vengeance. Did I mention that I got sunburnt in Edinburgh a few short weeks ago?

In order to prove something that was already staring me in the face (especially after attempting to walk on the wet and greasy stuff in the rain and landing in it) I did a little experiment. Meet Clay:

Just add water!

Yep. My soil can hold water. Which, I acknowledge is not entirely a bad thing, as it did mean that deep-rooted plants like roses were able to survive the drought with little help. And it does, I read, mean that it is a soil that will hold nutrients. Sand, I imagine would be much harder to live with.

Still, at least I found confirmation via Organic Gardener Magazine that garlic is not overly keen on soggy wet feet. I know, you knew that already! Anyway, while improving my soil en-masse is not realistic, I’m going to have to start improving at least some of my soil.

Which means I’m going to have to learn something.

In fairness, I did improve the soil of the vege patch a little last year, but more by accident than design. I added lime and compost (even appropriately spaced apart in time) and well rotted manure.

But I put in compost simply because it was organic and I thought it would feed my young veges. I wasn’t really thinking about soil, so I didn’t really understand the role compost plays in improving soil. I thought the process of producing compost was all about producing something as intensely rich in useable organic matter as possible, so it was a real light bulb moment to read:

“Because of the humified nature of compost and its low concentrations of oxidizable carbon and available nitrogen, compost is relatively resistant to further decomposition, and additions of compost to the soil over time can increase the soil’s organic carbon and humic matter content. I add compost not so much to provide nutrients as to provide stabilized organic matter that will improve the physical properties of the soil.”

From and article by Keith Baldwin titled ‘Improving Clay Soils‘ on the Fine Gardening Magazine website.

Ah-ha! Now I get it! In fact, while I’ve never heard of  this magazine before (probably because it’s not an Australian publication) I found the whole article very useful and even did the ribbon test with a lump of my clay. The test confirmed that my soil is actually clay loam, rather than singularly clay. I’m not sure, but I think that clay loam is slightly more rubbish nutrient wise.

So, back to the garlic.  This time I have dug in some compost and  aged manure to the spot where I have planted my garlic. I also mounded the row the garlic is in to help with drainage.

I had hoped to grab some selected organic varieties from one of my favourite mail order seed catalogues, but I missed my chance when we were away. None of the local shops have any Australian grown garlic in at the moment either so the chance to grab some of that and pop it in the ground didn’t eventuate either.

I’ve heard that garlic imported from overseas (here they come in from China, Argentina and Mexico) can be heavily sprayed with chemicals, so I avoided those, but I must do some research and verify if it is true for myself one day. Anyway, I ended up just grabbing a couple of punnets of vaguely labelled ‘Australian Garlic’  from the nursery, comforting myself that at least they were getting on with the business of growing.

For insurance I have planted some garlic in a very big pot because I’m still not sure that I’ve done enough for those in the ground. It will be interesting to see of both groups survive and if they do, if there us any noticeable difference between them.

* After the 15 odd years before this one, it’s hard to say a drought is definitely over!

Just to show something does grow in my garden...I'm enjoying some emerging Helleborus

Gardens, what gardens?

I’ve recently returned from my trip to the UK (and the tiniest of peeks at France and Germany) and I’m left wondering if I’ve got the eye of a gardener at all.

Why? Well, I did expect to come home with lots of photos to share of quintessential English gardens, but what I came home with was this…

A seven spot ladybird

and this…

Still trying to find out exactly who we have here, anyone know?

My daughter and I spent one morning in Scotland on a wooded hillside doing nothing but hunting for beetles and butterflies. We had no luck finding the local rare butterfly, but we had great fun searching and we sure found plenty of beetles and bugs. There is nothing like looking for something small and delicate to make you really look at your surroundings and I think that morning will stay etched very deeply in both our memories.

oh and there was this one…

A bumblebee in Hyde Park...we've got LOTS of bumblebee photos!

and this too (look it’s got flowers in it!)…

Travelling as I was with my family, there was only ever going to be a certain tolerance for visiting stately gardens, but I surprised myself by not even being particularly motivated to find a couple of hours here or there to take off to visit one. Which I acknowledge was a bit of a shame on reflection. But what captured my imagination was the wildlife, from the tiniest little creature to the…well, there were no particularly big creatures to be found, unless you count those at  the Natural History Museum or the spider in the bedroom at our accommodation in Bath.

Oh and there were these, but I’m not sure if they are quite the point either.

Bluebells by a woodland pathway in Cornwall

A wooded pathway just out of Cerne Abbas

Along with the tiny creatures it was the beauty of the hedgerows, the naturalised bluebell forests and quiet woodlands that really captured my imagination, not the formal gardens. I’m quite disappointed that I arrived home to discover that I hadn’t actually taken a picture of a hedgerow. A beetle on a flower in a hedgerow perhaps, but not an actual hedgerow. Which is a terrible shame as we were there just at the right time to be going past hedgerows absolutely bursting with wildflowers and all the birds and little creatures that make their homes amongst them. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

Oh dear, I’m making myself  feel terribly wistful, I best be off and see what can be done with my mid-winter garden!

Happy gardening,

Heidi

Just a quick note to say that I’m off on a very exciting trip to the UK (and a tiny peek at France and Germany!)  with my little family in a couple of days, so I won’t be about the blogosphere for a few weeks.

My favourite camellia, Early Pearly. My photography does not do her delicacy justice!

Also an apology that I haven’t been keeping up with visiting everyone’s blogs (or posting on mine of late). Between trip preparations, work and family…well, most of you already know the story! It is a shame though as I love visiting everyone’s gardening blogs and I will just have to think about adding it in to the balance of life better when I get back.

A tiny little Veronica that I thought I'd lost.

I’ll  let you in on a little secret too. This trip is such a big thing for us that I’m quite nervous now. I’ve been to the UK some years ago on my own, but didn’t have my little family then and am hoping the trip lives up to everyone’s expectations. Not only that, the whole big-deal quality of the trip is already making me feel a little wistful about being away from the simple pleasures of my home and garden. Still, that gives me lots to look forward to on my return doesn’t it?!

My first pumpkin harvest getting ready for storage. Hopefully those we don't give away will keep well for our return!

I hope you all have a lovely time in the garden while I’m away!

cheers,

Heidi

Redback spider

At the risk of reinforcing the image of Australia as a land of scary and poisonous beasties, today’s post is about the Redback Spider (Latrodectus hasselti) a classic  poisonous Australian beastie.

Ulike the other garden spiders that went racing off when disturbed today, the Redback sat very still for some time.

Today I found a Redback minding it’s own business against a sheltered brick wall (at least it was sheltered until I came along and exposed it with a spot of overdue weeding) in our front yard. It was a perfect little Redback hangout (until the cover was removed) as it is a very dry, sheltered and warm spot.

Now, I have to admit, if I sound nonchalant about discovering a poisonous spider millimeters from my hand, I’m faking it. I am quite the arachnophobe, but am respectful of these creatures that are as much a part of the natural environment as any pretty butterfly or bird. Besides, I am only likely to get hurt by a redback if I’m a) not wearing my gardening gloves and b) not looking where I put my hand. They just won’t come looking for you – you have to blunder into their direct path, which is quite a relief but still cause for caution.

According to the Australian Museum a Redback will struggle even to give you a decent bite. Still, you won’t find me testing the theory as if they do bite it is potentially fatal and at the very least very painful. Luckily antivenom is widely available and there has not been a reported death in recent years.

Another cautionary note is that they generally live close to humans as they love nothing better than a nice comfy shed, hollow garden ornament, sheltered garden wall or, quite infamously, a cosy spot under an outdoor toilet seat.

Because this spider is black (rather than light brown) comparatively big and has some white on the abdomen, I'm guessing she is an immature female based on information from the CSIRO's website.

Weirdly, I was well and truly an adult before I realised that we had Redbacks in Victoria. At some stage in my youth someone told me that they aren’t found in our state and I ignorantly took them at their word. You could imagine my shock when the first one I saw was one revealed by my then preschool daughter playing in the garden.  She picked up a ceramic garden ornament and looked inside to find a very brightly coloured little spider which she promptly came to show me. I managed to respond appropriately without screaming. Just.

In case my photos made you think she is gigantic, here is some better perspective. those are a couple of common garden snailsalso flushed from cover, so you can see the Redback is really quite small.

Many will know that the Redback has a very close cousin in the American Black Widow spider and has cousins in New Zealand and other parts of the world too. Ours just come with racing stripes. The Brisbane Insects website has quite good observations about the Redback if you can stand more creepy crawly info.

Personally I’ve freaked myself out quite enough, so I will leave you with one last photo and wish you a Happy and Safe Easter.

Heidi.

Just in case there was any doubt, a clear view of why this spider has it's name.

Driftwood

At this time of year, as I feel the seasons turn I  seem to give way to a bit of melancholy.

I think I’ll just go with it this year knowing it won’t last long.  By the time Autumn has fully settled over the last drifts of summer I’ll start to cheer up again.

It’s just a couple of weeks of listening to those sad little crickets chirruping after all. Soon autumn will move out of transition and I’ll embrace her full seasonal beauty.

McLoughlin's Beach - 90 Mile Beach Gippsland

But right  now these images of days not that long departed  seem just right.