Friday, 30 October 2009

My Australian Adventure: The Final Installment

Yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief as this is the final post in my Australian series.  It's been great to blog about some of the sights I have seen and the garden's I have visited.  Saying that it has been incredibly difficult leaving pictures out and deciding what to blog on as most pictures could become a blog in their own right.

This installment, The Final Installment, continues on from the post entitled: My Australian Adventure: Sydney Botanical Gardens.  The above image was taken in a formal area within the gardens which was to the side of the Rose garden.  I find Rose garden's to be quite dull as they don't really capture my imagination, or display any originality.  However, I do find the formality of this section quite pleasing and appreciate the modern elements within a space originating from a by gone era.

Within the Botanical garden's I came across a man carving aboriginal images in to the trunk of a recently felled  tree.

The images were painted on the trunk and the artist was chipping away around them at an incredible pace.  It appeared as though this feature, not too far from the water front, was to become a very interesting feature of the garden's, albeit a transitory one as the wood is sure to rot over time.

I watched the artist for a while, mesmerised by the skill and precision he displayed, only to be dragged away to watch a middle aged woman acting as a perch for over six Cockatoo's.  How I regret not taking that picture!

Moving on from the Botanical Garden's  I was surprised, when out walking, to come across a flock of Ibis.

My experience of Ibis is contained to Zoo's and other captive environments where they are considered important and rare.  It was interesting, however, to discover that these birds, although once considered rare in urban settings, are now verging on being classed as pests.

Lizards also featured highly on my trip.  

Lizards could be seen everywhere and I even encountered one straddling a wall.  Very strange indeed.

These Lizards were pictured, having a chat, in the Chinese Garden of Friendship.    Although I was pleased to find some of the native species I was very disappointed not to stumble upon any native Spider species.  From the abundance of Lizard species I would imagine they are having an Arachnid appetiser every now and again.

Green roofs were spotted regularly throughout the city.  This was one of my favourite buildings.  

A little quirky and completely dwarfed by it's surroundings the roof top garden appeared to house a series of trees.  How did they get there? And, what are they planted in?  I would have loved to visit the roof top to find out the answers to these questions  and to find out exactly what else the garden contained, if in fact it did contain other plants.

In general Sydney appeared to be an extremely green city, by green I mean leafy not environmentally friendly, although I'm sure they are that too.  Sydney houses many parks, gardens; both public and private, and municipal planting schemes which out do anything in my local area.

When out and about in Chinatown I came across a dead tree that had been utilised in spectacular fashion.

The tree had been transformed in to a beautiful piece of art, rather than reduced to firewood as would be the inclination of our local council.

The tree, painted with gold paint, is named 'Golden Water Mouth' and is thought to signify good luck within the Chinese community.

I absolutely loved this piece of art and the fantastic use made of the dead tree.

While we're on the subject of art I thought I would share with you this water feature situated within the notorious Kings Cross area of Sydney.  

The El Alamein Fountain was commisioned as a memorial to soldiers who died in 1942 during  WWII, more specifically in two battles at El Alamein, Egypt.

The sculpture was designed in 1961 by a New Zealander, Robert Woodward.

I think I liked it due to it's botanical influence.  Although Dandelion's are not a favourite of mine their seed heads are undeniably beautiful.

My Australian Adventure has been one I will remember for many years to come.  I have visited so many amazing places in Sydney, not all detailed here as I have tried to keep this blog as garden related as possible, and I will treasure each memory.

Most people ask me if I would make the mammoth journey again and I always answer 'Yes'.  Come to think of it I would visit in a flash.

To appreciate the amazing continent, and do it justice, you have to spend a great deal of time there and absorb it.  I would love to have the time, and lets not forget the money, to visit a larger proportion of Australia to experience the vast array of life, degree of contrast and culture of this beautiful and captivating continent.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Breaking news: The invasion

Okay, so maybe I'm being just a little bit over dramatic but I rarely get the opportunity.

When I got to the office today I found this little creature, beautiful as it is, attached to my leg.  I removed it and then it occurred to me.  Could this be a Harlequin Ladybird, Hamonia axyridis?  It was most definitely an unusual specimen.  The number of spots were more numerous than others I've come across.

With a little research I had eliminated our native ladybirds and had convinced myself that it is in fact a Harlequin.  So, what do you think?

For more information on Harlequin Ladybirds click here.  I have reported my sighting to the U.K. Ladybird Survey and urge you to do the same so that we can monitor the spread of such invasive species and also populations of our native species.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

My Australian Adventure: Sydney Botanical Gardens

Prior to visiting Sydney I had one special place in mind to visit.  It wasn't, as you may think, the Opera House or the Harbour Bridge, which are extremely popular tourist attractions in their own right.  

The predicted, and later confirmed, highlight of my visit was to be Sydney Botanical Gardens!

The gardens were founded in 1816 by Governor Macquarie and positioned in what I can only describe as the most glorious location imaginable.  Entering the gardens on the city side I was truly unaware of where the gardens would take me.  I will admit outright that I am  a poor map reader.  I also try not to research a garden prior to visiting it as I like to learn as I go and enjoy my surroundings.  On this occasion I was very happy that I let the garden do the talking and fill my trip with pleasant and sometimes breathtaking surprises.

The first thing I definitely did not expect was to walk under an amazing number of very sleepy Grey Headed Flying Fox, Pteropus poliocephalus.

I walked through a beautiful wooded area, under-planted with several species of Tree Ferns, this completely held my attention.  That was of course until I noticed a vast quantity of guano undefoot!  I then made the horrifying discovery that I was directly underneath a giant fruit bat roost.  I swiftly moved out of the "firing line" and observed a sight that was truly magnificent.  There were hundreds of bats in several trees directly above me!

The bats were not original residents in the gardens and are very quickly becoming a pest.  Initially the bats stopped over on migration, feasting on the fruits and flowers the garden offers, but nowadays the bats have set up home in several large trees on the site.  The bats, a great tourist attraction in their own right, are also extremely damaging to the larger tree specimens that they choose to roost in.  A particular worry is that the bat's carry several diseases communicable to humans and this could prove problematic to the gardens attraction.  The local authority has obtained a license to control the population in a last ditch attempt to protect the gardens well loved treasues.  

One night, when walking to a fantastic Italian restaurant, I was part of an extremely eerie moment.  Picture a grey sky as dusk approached.  You look up to view the night sky, expecting to see stars, and watch several hundred bats in flight, each with its 1m (3.2ft) wingspan.  It was like a scene from a horror movie.  I'm not usually influenced by such things but this was a moment that did concern me slightly.

                    Anigozanthos                                                                                                                                              Xanthorrhoea                                                                                                                                             Tibouchina 

Personally, I found walking around the gardens far too exciting.  Like an old computer trying to run several applications or Stacey Soloman trying to sing whilst remembering to breathe (apologies for the X-Factor reference and to Stacey who is great) I found myself overwhelmed.

As I ventured around the beds and borders I became ever more increasingly excited, very much like a child fuelled on E-numbers at a birthday party (The types of party I was used to as a child, not like Martyn's recent experiences).  I took over 300 photographs in all, too many to feauture here, and now that I'm at home checking what I did manage to get a snap of I realise I missed so many important plants.

One special plant I did not miss, although I did walk past it at one point to get to the toilet, was the Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis.  

This tree, once lost to nature and most definitely not a Pine species, is now making a comeback.  It was discovered by a park officer by the name of David Noble in 1994.  David found the tree in the Blue Mountains, where he worked, and leaning on his botanical knowledge he had a sneaking suspicion that this tree was something quite different.  This initial suspicion proved to be correct. 

Since 1996, following a vast propagation programme, the tree has been made available to gardener's all over the world.

Calliandra haematocephala                                                                                                       Clivia miniata                                                                                                                                                 Brugmansia sp.     

Nestled between the beds and borders I stumbled upon a great vegetable garden.

It's currently Spring in Australia and the vegetable garden was most certainly looking very promising.  It was reassuring to see many school groups moving through the gardens, from both Primary School to High School age.

The tours put particular emphasis on vegetable gardens and from what I observed the children particularly appreciated the effort put in to creating such a wonderful scarecrow.

The succulent garden was looking great.  It housed many weird and wonderful specimens including some rather large Agave's.  

I tried to demonstrate the scale of one Agave but instead ended up looking foolish and slightly out of focus.  I'm 6ft in height so I think the photo manages to show the scale of the Agave to a degree.

This part of the succulent garden really impressed me.

The rusty metal landscaping helped to add height to a relatively flat area.  It was also planted and designed to exaggerate the colour contrasts you can achieve with succulents.

I was reminded just how varied the succulent world is in terms of colour, shape and habit.  Colours ranged from the  blue of Sencio serpens to deep bronze of Aeonium 'Zwartkop'.

When I started this entry I discussed the fantastic location of the gardens.  It wasn't until I walked right through the garden's that I discovered where they lead.  

The views were magnificent and showed of the true splendor of the magical place that is the Sydney Botanical Gardens.

I will add another post on the gardens shortly as I couldn't fit everything I wanted in to this post.  I hope you've enjoyed reading and continue to follow me in my Australian Adventure.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

My Australian Adventure: St Mary's Cathedral

When out walking in Sydney I stumbled upon the rather imposing and impressive St Mary's Cathedral.  Leading up to the Cathedral I found a series of square planters filled with colourful bedding plants that made a great use of the space leading up to the entrance.

I hope you enjoyed the brief post and pictures of the public planting surrounding the great building.

Monday, 19 October 2009

My Australian Adventure: Chinese Garden of Friendship

This small garden situated in  Sydney's Darling Harbour, walking distance from Chinatown, was one of the highlights of my Australian adventure.  Nestled in the heart of the financial district this garden is a true surprise and should not be missed.

The garden is centred around a large reflective lake (above) and filled to the brim with enormous Koi Carp in every colour and pattern imaginable (left) .  

As you walk around the lake you are taken on a wondrous journey through Chinese buildings, sculpture and native plants from both Australia and China.  

The garden was created and designed by Sydney's sister city, Guangzhou in China.  The gardens were positioned near Chinatown as it was felt it would compliment the already present Chinese heritage and culture but also made links to the new developing area of the harbour itself.  The garden was opened in 1988 during the bicentennial celebrations and symbolise the bond between China and Australia.

On entering the garden you are met with a display of Penjing (as shown below).

This art form is also know as Penzai which is where the Japanese art of Bonsai originates (Bonsai being the Japanese pronunciation for Penzai).  Acer, Pinus and Ulmus were all on display as well as many others that I am unfamiliar with.  The garden also contained trained forms grown directly in the ground, forms grown in rock and scholars rocks (above).

As it is Spring in Australia many plants were just coming in to flower including Magnolia, Azalea, Osmanthus, and Rhododendron.

Out of all of the flowers on display my favourite was the glorious Spring Waratah  or more accurately Telopea speciosissima, pictured right.  

As the national flower of New South Wales, and the official flower of the Sydeny Olympics in 2000, it was a joy to behold growing  and blooming in a garden that combines Australian and Chinese native flora. 

At first I thought this plant was a Protea and I jumped straight to, "What is this plant doing in a Chinese garden?!", of course I then realised what it was exactly.  Indeed, the plant does belong to the Proteaceae family but isn't it amazing how a perceived planting mistake, which turned out to be valid, could cause so much alarm?

I later observed this plant in other gardens that I visited and learned more about it and its relation to aboriginal folklore.  One legend from the Eora describes how a female Wonga Pigeon searches for her husband who was lost when out hunting.  She is attached by a hawk and badly wounded.  As a result she finds cover in a Waratah bush and as she struggles in the bush her blood turns the white Waratah blooms red.

The vistas in the garden were breath taking and I think the angles for photography were endless.  I particularly like this shot which shows some of the architecture and the slope leading to it which was planted with many a mature Cycad.

This area with its numerous large boulders also made a great home for various lizard species which were rather confident around people.  I caught many images of sunbathing lizards and witnessed several disputes between lizard neighbours.  

I'm assuming that as it is Spring breeding season must be imminent, hence the increased aggressiveness.  

I will add a post about some Australian wildlife I encountered on my trip at a later date.

Of course, what Chinese garden could be without a Bamboo grove. Many species could be found in the garden including Phyllostachus nigra (pictured right), Phyllostchus aurea and Phyllostachus vivax, amongst others I failed to recognise.  

The garden cannot be viewed in it's entirety from any one point in the garden.  The large bamboo groves and taller trees aid in achieving this effect.  The bamboo also frames stone sculpture and creates an imposing spectacle when walking along the many paths.

As you can see in the picture on the right the lower leaves of the bamboo have been removed to help show off the ebony tones of the wood and increase the dramatic effect that this species of bamboo can bring to a garden.

And of course what garden could be complete without the ever invasive and highly irritating, to me anyway, menace that is Vinca minor.  I found this evil creature lurking in a shady corner and had to grab a snap.  Whether intentional or not I find comfort in knowing that such a great garden has at least one weed invasive species.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship is most definitely an important garden to visit when in Sydney.  It helps in our understanding of the very noticeable relationship between Australia and China.  It demonstrates that gardens can help unite civilisations; they can aid in our understanding of history and also provide a calm  retreat for a very busy city and its residents.

More information on the garden and it's events can be found here.

Have you visited this garden?  Do you have any stories or information to add? Or do you have any comments or questions? I would love to hear from you.

Monday, 12 October 2009

My Australian Adventure: Sandringham Garden Memorial

I have been asked to describe my recent holiday to Sydney, Australia several times since returning and I feel that as of yet I haven't illustrated exactly just how great a holiday it was.

In the first article of what is to be a series of posts I will try my best to give you a taste of what Sydney has to offer in horticultural terms and the sights I have encountered on my short trip.  The first stop on my whistle stop tour is the Sandringham Garden in Sydney's Hyde Park.  The gardens were designed by Sydney architect Dr Epstein and sculptor Lyndon Dodswell.   

Originally the garden was commissioned to commemorate the visit of King George VI in 1952.  Sadly, this was not to be as the King died suddenly and the Royal visit was cancelled.  This resulted in the project being put on hold and the whole project appeared to be in jeopardy.  It was later agreed that the project would go ahead as a joint memorial for the former King and King George V.  The gardens were opened in February 1954 by King George VI's daughter, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The gardens incorporate gorgeous memorial gates, pergolas covered in Wisteria, ornamental lamps and a fountain which forms the centerpiece of the sunken garden. 

Plant combinations within the garden were quite simple and elegant utilising shrubs and grasses to provide contrast and interest in the tiered design surrounding the fountain and main focal point. 

In this picture I have tried to show how the intelligent use of colour and form helps to provide year round interest and a sense of dynamism within the garden.  Metallic tones including bronze and silver help to contribute a clean and contemporary element to the space and enhance the reflective qualities surrounding the main water feature.

The combination of traditional and modern elements, demonstrated in planting and hard landscaping make this memorial an extremely inviting place to be, enticing Sydney locals and tourists in equal measure.  The steps seemed to be a big hit and I can imagine how on a hot Australian day the beautiful fountain would help to cool and relax anyone who visits it or lunches there.

The Wisteria was just coming in to bloom and I managed to get a quick shot of the blooms that would soon engulf the wooden pergolas on the upper level of the memorial surrounding the fountain.

It's currently Spring in Sydney and the garden is intended to be at it's best around this particular season.  I enjoyed the simple colour palette and understated elegance of the garden at the time of my visit.  

It would be interesting to see whether or not the display changed with the season in relation to bedding plants and other planting changes.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the small space and good design of this complex but understated garden.  I would recommend you visit if in Sydney.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

And the winner is . . .

Those of you who follow my blog will know that I like to give things away from time to time.  Most recently I posted a competition to win an amazing pair of Felco secateurs in association with

I would like to thank everyone who entered the competition and apologise for my later than planned competition finale.  I have just arrived back from Australia and will be blogging about it very soon! I hope that you all enter for the next competition that is in the pipe line at the moment.

I can now reveal that after placing all your names in to a bowl, I wanted a flower pot but it was too cold and wet to venture in to the garden, my glamourous assistant, my better half's mother dressed in a white spotty bath robe, has chosen the winner.

So without further ado, drum roll please.  The winner of the amazing prize on offer is no other than the fantastic VP* of Veg Plotting.  Well done you!

Please keep your eyes peeled for more fantastic competitions and follow my blog or add me to your reader so that you don't miss out on the next wonderful competition.

*Please could you email your desired postal address to me at

Dobbies - Inspiring Gardeners since 1865
For over 140 years, the Dobbies name has stood for quality horticulture.  During this time we've been proud to provide the very best products and expert advice to gardeners throughout the UK.  Today Dobbies is one of the the UK's largest Garden Centre Retailers - we have 25 Stores across Scotland and England.
Web Analytics