Saturday, February 21, 2009

Winter in Another Place

Like just about every other gardener in the northern hemisphere I am officially tired of winter. Every year in October, I bring in my tropicals and disperse them around the house in somewhat-suitable places, lecturing them as I go about how lucky they are not to be left outside. I settle in for the winter, the first part of which goes quickly with the holiday planning and festivities, and enjoy the snugness of the house, the warmth of the fire, and the cosiness of snuggling under a floofy eiderdown. January brings the catalogues, and I greedily pile them by my chair, spending whole days engrossed in my selections. There's winter cooking too -- lamb shanks and lentils, thick soups with cornbread or pumpernickel, beef stews or hearty casseroles, and oranges and cabbages and sweet potatoes and tangerines smelling of exotic lands and spices from the Orient whose scents seem more sharp and pungent in the chilled air.

Now in February I am anxiously patrolling the garden, hunting for small signs that life will return, that we are not yet condemned to eternal winter, that the sun will warm us again, the hummingbirds will return, and there will be greenness and flowers. I am reminded of another winter a long time ago when we lived in Moscow. It was a very hard winter that year in Europe--not unlike this one, actually -- and Moscow suffered along with everyone else. There were huge snowbanks everywhere, enormous icicles hung down outside my seventh floor windows, great winds scoured the streets clean of snow at night, leaving it drifted against the buildings and blocking the entrances with 6 foot drifts. There were no signs of greenness anywhere and although the city was beautiful in the snow, it was a stark beauty. I was enchanted though by the magic of the Russian winter, I had my sister-in-law's old fur coat (she had moved to California) and a good pair of boots, and I wandered the city taking it all in.

A few photographs from that winter -- I wish there were more but many of my slides have disappeared themselves without my knowledge. One is of the little lake at the convent of Novodevichy, with the little house for the waterfowl which lived there; another is an old wooden house in a back street in Moscow, and the third is an old (and unidentified) church, again in Moscow. The third was taken on a day when we went for a troika ride in Izmailovsky Park and met small Natasha, dressed for the cold, the next is a wooden church on a windswept plain outside Moscow -- Kharkov area, I think, and the last is more pleasant -- a little pond in a little village in the outskirts of Moscow.

PS -- I see that Blogspot has decided where to place my photos. Oh well.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I am Australian-born, and although I have lived away from Oz for many years, I still regard myself as Australian. My home is in Victoria where the recent bushfires have done so much terrible damage. So many people have died--we do not yet know how many--and there are many fire victims in hospitals fighting for life. Like Americans, we like to see ourselves as living in a community of order, of laws and organization, where things like wildfires are dealt with quickly and without really serious consequences. My heart goes out to the fallen, to their families and friends, their neighbours, and to the incredibly brave firefighters who have worked to exhaustion this past week. Thank you and God bless you.

The bush animals -- as my daughter used to say when she was a little girl, it hurts my heart so much. Koalas can't run, and on the ground they are slow and awkward. Wombats probably hunkered down in their burrows, and I hope the fires passed over them without harm. Bandicoots and wallabies and possums both ring- and brushy-tailed, flying squirrels and kangaroos, goannas and flying foxes, and the birds! How do we count the birds? The lyrebirds don't fly, and many of these fires were in their dancing grounds; bellbirds and butcherbirds and rosellas and king parrots and sulphur-crested cockies and wattlebirds and honeyeaters -- where are they? How many have perished? How will we count this? And how do we estimate the forward loss?

The vegetation will re-generate because it has evolved over millenia to do just that; the eucalyptus regnans will regrow, albeit slowly because they don't regenerate from root and branch but only from burned-over seeds; it will take many many years for them to attain their mature height of more than 90 meters,but there are still some remaining forests where one can see them in their splendour, but can we depend on the next generation of Australians being able to see them, being able to listen to the kookaburras' dawn and dusk celebrations, to watch a lyrebird as he dances and sings and courts his lady with all the calls of the bushland? And what if they can't? Does that lack somehow detract from their Australian-ness, from the shared experience and love of the things that make our country unique?

Truly, this hurts my heart.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blooms Day, February 09

Well! After last month's dreary count of flowers in bloom on the 15th of the month, there has been a big change in the garden, and much much more change to come next month!

Today's offerings from La Dona Primavera include snowdrops, aconites, and violas; the helleborus niger is determinedly sending up its pink buds, but they need a little more warmth in order to open. The other hellebores have their big fat fringed buds down low among their tattered and burned old leaves, with probably a month to go before they actually get the courage to open. The mahonia by the front door (north face) is dawdling in opening also. My photographs leave a lot to be desired, I know, but as a record for me of what's opening today they are just peachy. There is actually one foolish camellia April Dawn flower almost open; this is an example of what happens when one breaks the rules and plants camellias on a south wall! Not possible to get a picture though, unless I wade right into the bed where the hyacinths are coming up. The little violas have survived the winter very well, and are now beginning to fatten -- this year, I fertilized with kelp all winter and they seem to like it. And one final photo -- the h. niger blooms from a neighbour's garden; whywhywhy does her plant bloom weeks before mine?

The buds are getting fat on the corylopsis sinensis, although the edgeworthia still has its silvery parasols closed up tight. Soon it will open and send glorious fragrance around the neighbourhood for a week, but not this week.