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Winter Cheer

It’s winter here, and though in Melbourne we don’t get snow, it does get very grey and cold and wet and dreary. And a bit depressing.

I often used to get my mother a plant for Mother’s Day — usually a cyclamen or a flowering begonia, and last year, in May, I bought myself a red cyclamen. It lasted for months and months and I found it really cheered me up.  I’d come out into the living room and the morning sun would be shining on my plants lined up along my wide window sill — and if there was no sun, just grey gloom, the cheerful red flowers of the cyclamen really brightened the day.

Now in the new house I not only have a couple of cyclamens in bloom, I have this gorrrrgeous red zygocactus (aka Christmas cactus) that a friend  gave me when I moved in. She gave me two — both of which she’d grown from cuttings from her own plants. The first one to flower was the lovely soft pink one that I blogged about in May.

As soon as that one finished flowering, I popped it outside in the cold and brought  the red one inside, and it’s started flowering now. Isn’t it beautiful? Beside it is a little Chinese Money Plant that another friend gave me as a tiny baby plantlet, an offshoot of her own plant, and it’s thriving and is now having babies of its own. In fact about half of these pot plants were cuttings or gifts from friends.

Here are the plants ranged along the bookshelf in my bedroom, looking out onto the grey bare trees outside, and keeping me cheerful no matter what the weather. 

That little splash of red beyond the claret and white cyclamen and the maidenhair fern is an anthurium, which has glossy green leaves and red bracts. As you can see, everything is doing well. 

Plants and plans

A friend dropped in at the end of moving day and brought me a couple of zygocactuses that she had divided from her own plants. One is coming into bud and the other has just started flowering, and it’s so gorgeous so I brought it inside. That’s it on the left.

Mum grew zygocactuses but all of hers were the same hot pink and I never knew they came in different colors. This one is soft baby pink and each morning it has more flowers. Don’t you love how small things can make you smile?

I don’t have the wide windowsills of my old house, where the plants thrived in the morning sun, but I have put a low bookshelf under my bedroom window and filled the top with my plants and they cheer me up each morning.

It faces west, though, and I’ll have to find somewhere else for them come summer or they’ll get scorched. But in the meantime, it’s lovely to wake up to flowers and plants.

This new house also has four large planter boxes and I’m going to grow vegies in them. They already have some herbs — amazingly a couple of basil plants are still going strong, despite the cold — and when I bought the house 3 months ago, it had tomatoes growing in one of them. I’m planning to plant broad beans in that one (because you shouldn’t grow tomatoes in the same place twice in a row).

I also have something called perpetual spinach, and a variety of silver beet seedlings. They’re currently sitting in the window and I’ll plant them as soon as I get a moment. I love winter greens.

When spring approaches I’ll be planting more vegies. I’m thinking maybe even potatoes. I grew them a couple of times in the old house and had several wonderful crops of potatoes.

Isn’t it funny how a new situation can spark you up? My old garden was much bigger and was getting a bit out of control (i hear my friends snorting at that understatement) but this one is small and very manageable. Milly isn’t impressed, though — there are no creepers to hide under, and scare critters from and no colonies of little skinks (tiny, sweet lizards) that she used to watch with fascination.

And though I hear magpies singing most mornings — which is a truly joyous sound to wake up to — there don’t seem to be many other birds in this garden. I’m hoping to change that, though, Stay tuned. And if you want to hear the sound Australian magpies make (they’re not the same as magpies from other countries) click here:

Ice and flowers

I saw this photo on Facebook (or somewhere) and thought how lovely it was. It reminded me of when I was a small child, when we lived in inland Victoria (my state) on the border of New South Wales. Up there, in winter, the nights were often very cold, and the frosts were bitter. But it never snowed. We had to drive up into the mountains to see snow.

I was four when we moved to that house and turning seven when we left, and those frosts taught me that Jack Frost and the pictures he made were real. I loved gazing into those intricate, layered swirls of ice that covered the windows and seeing images and stories in them. They reminded me a little bit of the twisty, detailed Arthur Rackham illustrations from some of my story books, only more mysterious. Jack Frost’s pictures were never the same and quite ephemeral — they’d melted away by mid-morning.

Another thing I loved about those frosts was making ice ornaments — not like the ones in these photos, but along the same principle. I’d arrange flowers and pretty leaves in a saucer — geraniums, japonica, whatever was in flower — then half fill the saucer with water and put it out on the back step to freeze overnight. In the morning, thrilled to bits with my icy ornament, I’d proudly bring it inside to display on the breakfast table.

I love the thought of these hanging ice ornaments. A lot of the blogs that describe them are blogs for children, but in some of us, the child within never fades (luckily) and I would love to make hanging ice ornaments now. Alas, it’s summer here, and though I could make them in the freezer, somehow it’s not the same as letting nature (or Jack Frost) do it. And they’d probably only last about ten minutes in the heat, if that.

Even when I was a child, the bitter cold of those winter nights never lasted long. My memory of primary school (elementary school) is that I’d go to school wearing a blazer and a jumper (pullover) over my uniform. (School uniform isn’t always compulsory at elementary school level, but a lot of kids wear it.) By morning playtime the blazer would be hanging on a hook, and by lunchtime the jumper would have joined it.

The pretty image on the left is from this website, and if you want to see some more techniques and ideas go here.  I rather liked this one which incorporated birdseed into the ornament, to help the birds survive winter.