A Clutch of Camellias

The early blooming Sasanqua camellias herald the start of months of delightful displays of colourful blossoms. Next to flower are the Japonica camellias, which are able to cope with shade and filtered light, and the Reticulata varieties which have gorgeous large flowers. Camellias flower from autumn through to spring depending on species and variety. They are usually long-living, with some surviving over 100 years. The Sinensis camellia from China is the tea plant, but it is rarely spotted in most gardens.

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I love the density of the petals in this variety

Camellia colours range from white, pink and red to maroon and purple – almost black – flowers. And their names are colourful to match: Bob Hope, Contemplation, Cornish Snow, Happy Holidays and Early Pearly are just a few. The hybridisation of camellias means there are thousands of different plants available, and flowers range in size from small, tightly petalled blooms to the more flamboyant varieties, nearly the size of a bread and butter plate. White camellias were a symbol of New Zealand women’s right to vote.

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Alba plena camellia

This greenhouse favourite of Christmas time, with its beautiful waxy bloom and glossy leaves, is hardier than most amateurs imagine, and does well if kept clear of severe frost and intelligently handled … The red and white selfs are the best and most floriferous, but there are pretty striped and fringed sorts procurable. Pears Cyclopaedia, 1932

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A tinsie camellia

The camellias bloom in winter when the skies are cold and gray,

When the sun shines at its weakest and the spring seems far away …

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A variegated camellia

In shades of pink and creams and reds the colours one might name,

Each is an individual for no two look the same

(from The Beautiful Camellias by Francis Duggan)

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An espalier camellia spotted at Mt Boyce Nursery

the camellia pushes against the warm glass,

it has been looking into this room for 150 years

(from Halfway up the Mountain by Dorothy Hewett)

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Even the bees love camellias!

Do you enjoy the beauty of camellias in your part of the world?

[All camellias are from my Mum’s garden, except for the nursery example]

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Writing Prompt: A Familiar Scent

At a recent writing group gathering, we wrote to a prompt of ‘A Familiar Scent’. A few of the pieces have been posted on Writers in The Mist – you can find them here. Below is my contribution.

There was a familiar scent in the air. Annie paused, momentarily struck. It was the soft, sweet scent of freesias, a fragrance of her grandmother’s garden on a warm spring day and not something that she expected to smell in hospital in the depths of winter. She cast a look around the room but there was just one other woman resting opposite her. She was snoring softly and hadn’t woken when Annie had been wheeled into the corner.

Annie leaned forward, thinking that perhaps it was just a floral scent being worn by one of the nursing staff. But there was no-one in sight and all that she could smell now was the brazen note of antiseptic, strong enough to singe nasal hair and cover most of the bodily odours in the ward. She sighed and closed her eyes. It might have been the effect of the medication or a delayed impact of the anaesthetic but as she closed her eyes, suddenly drowsy, she could smell it again.

Annie let her mind wander back to when life was simple and relatively pain-free, when her school holidays were spent at her grandparents’ house and days passed by playing in the wonderland that was their garden.

The freesias were planted in a neat row along the driveway, forming a fragrant guard of honour along the entrance. There were several garden beds at the front and back of the property, and Annie could picture the native trees marching along one fence line, bristling with banksia men and their fierce brown faces. The front garden was encircled by camellias, their blooms both large and small providing a colourful carpet of petals as the seasons changed. A large macadamia tree stood sentry over the driveway, its barbed leaves protecting the tough nuts. Bright bottle brushes and grevilleas tempted the birds, honeyeaters dancing swiftly about when the shrubs were in bloom.

The steep back garden had been terraced in part to grow vegetables. Crisp beans grew against the back fence, sharing a space with colourful sweet peas in spring. Parsley grew in pots, and Annie had loved to pluck and lightly crush the curling herb between her fingers. Large cabbages grew in winter, their dark green and purple leaves encasing the heavy hearts of the vegetables. The cumquat tree had enchanted her; the zesty skin of the carefully harvested small fruit later transformed into jam. A gum tree towered high above the clothes line, a favourite podium for the magpies to sing their beautiful songs.

Annie walked herself around the garden again, taking slow steps to enjoy the multicoloured freesia blooms, almost too heavy for their stems. She walked over to the camellias, marvelling at the marbling of pinks and whites and reds on the petals, such a contrast to the glossy emerald leaves. She reached out and felt once more the soft and comforting warmth of her grandmother’s hands as the scent of freesias surrounded her.

Riversdale, Goulburn

This property, which includes some of the oldest colonial buildings in the town of Goulburn, is set in delightful gardens along the Wollondilly River. As a coaching inn, Riversdale was located next to the old stock route and road to Sydney. Mounted police had been stationed on land nearby.

View from back garden, Riversdale

View from back garden, Riversdale

The property was the first land grant in the area, and was given to Matthew Healey in 1830 under the condition that a dwelling be constructed within two years. A stone barn and stables were built and remain in place today. The property was used as an inn during the early colonial years as the country beyond was opened up. Hops were grown on site for ale brewed and sold from the inn.

Stables and shed at Riversdale

Stables and barn at Riversdale

When it was decided by Governor Bourke in 1832 that the growing settlement should be moved away from the banks of the river, the property remained in use.

Riversdale, Old Goulburn

Riversdale, Old Goulburn

When Healey sold up, the property known as the Old Goulburn Inn was bought by John Richards. Richards built Riversdale as a coaching inn but died before it was opened. His wife Ann took over the running of the business and she later married Benjamin Gould. The stone entrance archway to Riversdale still records the original licensees: Louis Levy and Benjamin Gould. A guide told me that the painted records of ownership were found by chance during restoration work.

Front entrance, Riversdale

Front entrance, Riversdale

As with many old buildings, it has been various things in its time, including an inn, a school and a private residence. The property was known as Goulburn Grammar School from 1850 – 1856 before being bought by the Fulljames family, who are credited with calling the property Riversdale. Various ownership changes followed. It was owned by the Twynam family for nearly 100 years before being sold to the National Trust in 1967. Edward Twynam was Surveyor-General of New South Wales from 1888 to 1900.

Entry to the property is through the rear of the house, and on the day I visited there was a clutch of volunteers in the courtyard and as well as a couple working away in the gardens. The large dining room was beautifully set out, and the parlour had a number of treasured possessions from the Twynam family.  Emily Twynam, Edward’s wife, was a woman of many skills and there are some beautiful needlework panels featuring local fauna and flora, as well as some of her intricate woodcarving including this chair.

Carved chair, Riversdale

Carved chair, Riversdale

Riversdale is regarded as a rarity due to its historical, social and environmental association with the establishment of Goulburn as a town. Goulburn’s first Catholic mass was held in the gardens in 1833, and there is a memorial plaque in situ. Follow the winding road back towards the town and you pass by the foreboding entrance to Goulburn Correctional Centre (designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet), and there are cemeteries perched along the top of the embankment.

A visit to Riversdale is an enjoyable step back in time.

My I Spy: something beginning with ‘Y’

Yes, the end of this alphabetical adventure is just around the corner. It is tempting to write that it only felt like yesterday when I came across the idea on Pip Lincolne’s blog to play a version of I Spy. At the time I thought it was a brilliant idea, a way to make use of some of the many photos that I already have plus keep an eye out for objects in my daily life. When I reached the halfway mark I remember thinking that the alphabet was a lot longer than it seemed – the adventure takes six months from start to finish. But it has been such a treat to keep an eye out for objects, familiar and otherwise. Here is what I’ve spotted beginning with Y.

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Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (Brunfelsia)

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Brunfelsia)

This is one of my favourite plants. The shrub appeared in several spots in my grandparents’ garden on the northern beaches of Sydney. One of my best memories is of walking around the extensive garden in the late afternoon with my Nan, and with endless patience she would tell me the names of plants. They had a wide range of camellias, gorgeous shrubs and trees with a variety of flowers that lit up the garden in the cooler months. The blooms of a brunfelsia bush were modest in comparison, but I loved the mixture of dark purple, lilac and white blooms said to represent yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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Yellow

Yellow

As noted earlier in this quest, my favourite colour is green. In recent years I’ve started to gather red objects around me with yellow also starting to appear. There is something about the vibrancy of a sunflower or a bright yellow pot. This lovely glass bowl looks even lovelier with a small candle flickering within.

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Yellow Tulips, Carrington Hotel

And above are some lovely tulips spotted in the gardens of the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba in early spring.

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Platform Y, Temora

Platform Y

Passing through the central western town of Temora earlier this year, I detoured to take a photo of the old railway station. It was beautiful and ornate, and tucked up the end was Platform Y. I took a photo and continued on, discovering later that this part of the railway station has been repurposed as a youth centre. A brilliant idea and great to see the building have another life.

Have you spotted anything worth yearning for beginning with Y lately? Join me next week for the final instalment of this alphabetical extravaganza as I spy something with my little eye beginning with Z.

[Photo: yellow teapot spied at Bygone Beauties, Leura]

An Elongated Pleasure: Springtime in the Mountains

Not long after I moved to the mountains I read an article in a local magazine which mentioned in passing that springtime comes a little later to the mountains. This is particularly true in the upper mountains where it takes longer for the ground to warm up as the days start to stretch and lengthen.

By mid August this year, I could spot the signs of spring in my neighbourhood. Bright bulbs were beginning to appear and there were buds hinting at further delights to follow in many trees and shrubs. The vagaries of warmth, sunlight and soil allow for a staggered display of bulbs and colours. My morning walks have been a continual delight as one side of a street will have a blaze of daffodils for a couple of weeks, and as they fade a mix of daffodils and snowdrops appear on the other side of the road. My scant collection of daffodils gave me much joy before fading, and I still have delicately scented freesias emerging from their thin stalks.

From my kitchen window I can see a cherry tree. One of my annual delights is to watch it change, ever so slowly, from stark branches to branches with a rippling of buds. The buds swell incrementally before erupting in a joyous bloom of bright white petals, tinged with pink. Hanging out clothes nearby one morning I was struck by a thrumming sound – the blossoms were vibrating with bees. I take photos of the blossoms, from the tight buds to the open blooms, to remind me of its beauty long after the leaves have tickled their way down the branches, scattering the blooms on their way.

Azaleas have been beautiful this year, and the rhododendrons have been vibrant masses of colour. I have a couple in my garden, scattered at the edges. It is always a surprise when they erupt, seemingly overnight, with big flowers that demand attention. In the neighbourhood there is one with soft yellow flowers that I love to look at. A couple of my neighbours have magnificent white daisy bushes. When the sun hits the flowers they are almost blinding, wonderful white beacons. People stop to ask for cuttings, keen to strike some of their own.

In winter I planted a few pansies, dotting them in the yard near windows. Their bright happy petals have lifted my spirits during the shortest days of the year, bringing splashes of orange, yellow, purple and magenta into dull days. They are beginning to fade now, just as the jasmine gets ready to blossom.

What spring delights have you enjoyed this year?

[Azalea hedge erupting in blossoms]

 

Impressions of an Island: Norfolk Island

A rich, fertile island located about 1,600 km from Sydney and 1,000 km from New Zealand, Norfolk Island is home to approximately 2,000 people and is a popular tourist destination. It is compact, about 35 square kilometres, and has witnessed some extraordinary chapters of Australian history. Whilst looking for something else entirely, I came across some notes I made during a trip to the island a few years back.

The origins of this place are unusual with four settlements acknowledged by the locals. The first was the Polynesian settlers, who left minimal traces and were long gone by the time Captain Cook found the island and named it for the Duchess of Norfolk in 1774. Cook was taken with the place, calling it paradise. He saw much opportunity for the thousands of tall pine trees and abundance of flax growing on the island. He found a landing-place relatively easily and didn’t spend much time on the island.

Based on Cook’s recommendations, the place was the second settlement under Governor Phillip’s command. Phillip was instructed to have the place settled and under British rule as a priority with the French also being in the area. He sent off Philip Gidley King with a small group of settlers, convicts and marines shortly after landing in January 1788. It took them about 6 weeks to get to Norfolk, and it was days before they could land. The island is still notoriously difficult to approach by sea.

This second settlement lasted from 1788 to 1814. The high hopes for the use of the pines for masts on the fighting ships of the British fleet were in vain; due to the lack of sap in the wood and the way that the branches were formed, they were unsuitable for this purpose. The flax was also a disappointment. Initially King could not identify it, thinking it was a type of iris. They had brought along a flax weaver, but the man could not make this flax work. Later on, a couple of Maoris were enticed onboard a ship and taken to Norfolk to show how to work the flax. Alas, this was women’s work and they could not assist. However the rich soil and conditions helped the convict settlement to survive at Kingston. It was eventually closed due to cost considerations. All of the buildings, painstakingly constructed, were burned upon departure to discourage anyone living on the island.

The third settlement is the most notorious. Following the Bigge Commission into the convict system in Australia, it was decided that a secondary place of punishment was required, a place so abhorrent to the convict community that the thought of being sent there would be a deterrent in itself. The settlement commenced in 1825, and was in operation until the early 1850s when it was wound down and finally closed.

The island became home to Pitcairners in 1856. The Pitcairn islanders were the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, with 194 arriving on the island. They inherited all of the buildings and infrastructure created by the convict settlement, and understandably avoided the gaol areas. Stones were quarried from the buildings over time, and families lived in the houses and administrative offices in Quality Row until houses were built ‘up country’.

Norfolk Island has been popular tourist spot for decades and there are lots of tours and packages designed to explore the history and enjoy the many activities on the island. Thinking back my impressions are a mixed bag. The people were friendly – there are very few road rules apart from a speed limit of 50 km/hour, give way to cattle who range all over the place and wave at any car passing by – and the locals were proud and informative about their heritage. The island has a range of restaurants and some of the tours included a progressive dinner at various homes which provided a glimpse into what living on the island permanently might feel like. I was drawn to the remnants of the convict buildings, clustered around Kingston. Plaques dotted the island, anchoring the past in the present.

All goods need to be shipped or flown in. There is no safe, natural harbour and it felt isolated enough now in the age of telecommunications and regular air travel. I could only imagine the isolation during the convict settlements. We watched a boat being unloaded which was quite a feat in itself as it had been waiting 18 days for the water to be calm enough to get to the dock. A couple of days before we left there were major dust storms across NSW and Queensland. TV footage showed Sydney shrouded in red dust, with even the Harbour Bridge obscured. The day we left the dust was visible in the water, crashing against the shoreline.

The rugged coastline with sheer cliffs contrasted with the rolling green hills. There were many beautiful gardens, including one called Camelot which had a series of gardens designed as rooms, a sensory delight to explore. We went to a convict night out with traditional fare, singing and dancing. And jokes with lots of puns from memory. I read a number of historical books whilst there, including one which focussed on the Commandants who ruled the island. Some were average, others were sadistic beyond understanding. The reconstruction and preservation of officer’s houses along Quality Row provided insight into what life was like for the military, and we also had a chance to go through Government House which was beautifully set out. A stroll through the nearby cemetery was sobering with many gravestones of young men in particular.

Have you been to a place which has left an impression on you?

[Photo: Norfolk Island coastline]

Be a Tourist at Home

The proximity of the Blue Mountains to Sydney makes it a popular tourist destination for weekends, short stays and longer visits. Within two hours by train, less by car, you can be in a different environment altogether with a wide assortment of activities to do and sights to see.

I have lived in the mountains now for over 3 years, but there is still a lot that I haven’t seen, and places I am yet to explore. If you have spent any time in Katoomba, you will be familiar with the big red double-decker buses and the brown trolley buses that offer all day tickets, along with various other packages to some of the attractions around the town and nearby villages. When I’m in Katoomba, I often see these buses full of tourists in all sorts of weather, pressed against the windows and generally having a good time. So I thought I’d give it a go.

On a fine spring morning I boarded a trolley tour outside the Carrington Hotel along with quite a few tourists ready to do a loop around Katoomba and Leura. We headed off to Leura, driving up the main street and stopping just around the corner – a handy spot to stop if you want to explore the many shops and boutiques. We then continued on, heading past Bygone Beauties which I have visited before. Then it was off to Leura Garden Resort, through the Leura Golf Club (oldest of the four golf clubs in the mountains) and past the Fairmont Resort. Everglades Garden is the next stop, a beautiful National Trust property with spectacular gardens. As we approached there was a magnificent peacock on the nature strip: apparently his name is Andrew and he is well-known in the area.

Once we turned onto Cliff Drive there was a succession of beautiful outlooks and views, including the Kiah, Honeymoon and Silvermist lookouts. Various walks are accessible from these points, and with buses coming by at regular intervals it’s possible to walk comfortable distances and get back on if required. The Three Sisters and Echo Point, perhaps the most recognisable of the lookouts, were next, before we headed past Lilianfels and towards Scenic World. This is yet another place I haven’t made it to yet, and it was good to get an idea of the layout as we passed by the east landing before continuing around past the Katoomba Falls to the main entrance.

There were various stops and points of interest on the way back into Katoomba before the trolley bus paused at the Carrington Hotel to fill up again.

It was a real treat to be a passenger, rather than a driver, and to be able to focus on the scenery rather than the road. The gardens throughout Katoomba and Leura are so lovely at this time of year, with beautiful blooms and exquisite garden design on display. Leura is famous for its garden festival in early October, and there were still many visual treats to be enjoyed. The driver provided an overview of the history of the towns and key places along the way, and this added to the experience.

Being able to get out and about, especially if you travel up by train, is made much easier by tours such as this. I really enjoyed the experience and have added quite a few things to my local to-do list.

Do you ever get the chance to be a tourist in your home town?

[View from Kiah Lookout]

Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta

Located on a rise that would have once commanded a view of the growing settlement of Parramatta, Elizabeth Farm remains a treasured property with its status of oldest European homestead in Australia. It is located near the Parramatta River, and construction commenced in 1793. The house had various additions over time and grew from a simple bungalow to a substantial homestead with servants quarters. It was the home for John and Elizabeth Macarthur and their family, before changing hands over the decades until it was purchased by the Swann family in 1904. It stayed in the Swann family until it was transferred to the Elizabeth Farm Museum Trust in 1968.

The property is now managed by Sydney Living Museums, and it feels much more like a living space than a typical house museum where there is much to see but access is firmly limited by thick red ropes. The property has been filled with replicas of period furniture, and you are invited to touch, sit, be at home and to have a unique experience in the house. Guided tours are available as well as iPads with additional content about the Farm for self-guided visitors. The content includes photos, newspaper reports and recollections from the time of the Macarthurs, and also from the Swann family whose occupancy played a significant part in the preservation of the property. They were a large family with nine daughters, only one of them married, and they used all of the extensive property between them.

But it is the property’s association with the Macarthur family that is primarily on display. From the the hall entrance off the wide verandah with the dining room on one side and the drawing room on the other, there are many references to the Macarthur family throughout the house. I was particularly taken by the smaller rooms at the end of each side of the front of the house with their windowed alcoves looking out into the garden. These sunlit rooms were a contrast to the bedrooms at the rear of the house, especially the blue room which is kept in shadow in reference to the difficult times that John Macarthur spent here when his mental health declined before his death in 1834.

There is much to enjoy in the shape of the house and the servants quarters, the courtyard and the gardens, along with the kitchen with its big old range and copper saucepans lined up along the mantle. The kitchen garden was inviting with hearty silver beet, including heritage varieties, their yellow and scarlet stalks translucent in the afternoon light. The garden is a joy, modelled on letters and diaries outlining the botanical delights of the garden in the 1830s. Spending time in this historic house is like heading back to an earlier era, and you can nearly forget that you are within an extensive business and residential area, just 23 kilometres from Sydney.

Have you been somewhere that made you feel as though you have stepped back in time recently?

[Photo: view of the front of Elizabeth Farm from the carriage loop]

A Late Winter Walk

Whilst this winter hasn’t been particularly harsh, it seems as though it is finally beginning to relinquish its hold. This is no guarantee that remnants of winter won’t linger on for months, or make surprise appearances such as snow in October, but there is definitely more than a hint of spring in the mountain air.

The incremental lengthening of sunlight, day by day, helps winter to recede. There has been a run of days with more sunlight than rain, and plants are responding by sending out shoots, forming buds and generally bracing themselves for spring. The high temperatures during the day are reaching double digits. Frosts are still in occurrence but they are less frequent and their intensity is diminished.

A late afternoon walk around my neighbourhood further fuelled my suspicions. Daffodils are out, their bright yellow heads nodding politely in the breeze. Camellias are still blooming, their graceful branches weighted down by white, pink and magenta flowers. I brushed past a hedge bristling with daphne blooms, a sensory delight. Lavender plants are sending up spikes, a portent of perfume to follow. The fruit trees are budding, new growth sprouting along the branches. There are flower beds with pansies and violas and calendulas, and daisy bushes are starting to open their bright faces to the sun. Early bristles of hebe plants provide a soft flush of colour against foliage. There are bright flares of wattle in flower, always heartening to see. Rhododendron trees are studded with tightly budded flowers, ready to unfurl. Some early starters are out already, delicate petals with splashes of colour.

But once the sun dips below the horizon the cold creeps back in.  Wood smoke curls its way into the air, fragrant and comforting. There are still stacks of wood alongside most houses, ready for the variable weather ahead. Galahs and cockatoos swoop and pirouette in the air above, probably keen for the spring growth to provide some variety after winter pickings. Kookaburras gather in the tall trees and laugh as the day fades away.

Are the seasons beginning to change in your neighbourhood?

[Photo: wattle in bloom]

Mt Tomah Botanical Garden

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah is located 1000 metres above sea level within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The original owners of the land were the Darug people, and ‘Tomah’ is reportedly translated as tree fern. It was originally covered in rainforest, and the fertile soil is attributed to ancient volcanic activity. It is located on the Bell’s Line of Road and the area was initially explored in an attempt to find an alternate crossing to the Blue Mountains.

The site of the botanic gardens has had a varied history, and in the 1930s it was purchased by Alfred and Effie Brunet and used for cut flower production, supplying into the Sydney market. They proposed the transfer of their property to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, and the park has been open to the public since 1987.

The garden is set out over 252 hectares, and is Australia’s largest botanic garden. It is a cool climate garden with plants grouped according to their geography. There are a number of different gardens for exploration, including a formal garden inspired by traditional garden design, rock garden, bog garden, rhododendrons, conifers and woodlands.

Highlights include a Wollemi pine and giant redwoods, the bright rockery plants and the wide grassed expanses, tempting bare feet and encouraging picnics and relaxation. The majority of plants are signposted, and I wandered through rose and vegetable plots, passed by the lushly lawned picnic areas, traipsed through patches of rhododendrons and azaleas, found the rockery and flannel flowers and the extremely unusual turquoise flowers of a Chilean plant.

You could easily spend all day wandering around the sprawling garden, with something of interest just ahead to encourage you on.  There are various tours on offer, and I was able to get a good grounding of the park on a garden shuttle bus tour. There is a fine restaurant and cafe if you feel a bit peckish or forgot to pack your picnic lunch.

This is a magnificent place, breathtaking in its beauty, with much to offer as the seasons change throughout the year.

Where do you go for a slice of botanical beauty?

[Photo: one of many wonderful vistas from Mt Tomah]