Jottings on Jacarandas

Although the magnificent lilac-blue blooms are beginning to fade, I thought I’d take some time this week to celebrate the magnificent jacaranda trees that bring such delight each spring.

They thrive in the warmer climate of Sydney and surrounding areas, and I have noticed on recent train trips that they don’t appear much beyond Faulconbridge and Springwood. Perhaps that is why they seem to be more spectacular to me in recent years as they are not a constant backdrop in the upper mountains.

Avenue of jacarandas in Victoria Park, Dubbo

Avenue of jacarandas in Victoria Park, Dubbo

Many people admire their blooms, and it has been a newsworthy issue of late with tourists getting into a bit of bother by blocking streets or propping at odd angles in order to get the best selfie with jacaranda blossoms as a backdrop.

I heard a story which might be an urban myth about Sydney hospitals sending mothers and their new-born babes home with a jacaranda seedling, with the trees growing alongside the children. Whether it is true or not, it is sweet image and casts a different light on the lilac trees scattered throughout Sydney suburbs and further afield.

Little wattlebird in jacaranda tree at Kiama

Little wattlebird in jacaranda tree at Kiama

I came across a wonderful article by Helen Curran of Sydney Living Museums titled The Dream Tree: Jacaranda, Sydney Icon. It provides an overview of Sydney’s love affair with the jacaranda tree and its transformative effect upon the landscape from October to November. It is hard to imagine now, but as an imported tree from Brazil, initial plantings were limited mainly to botanical gardens. The rarity only enhanced its appeal with an assertion in the Sydney Morning Herald that it was ‘well worth a journey of 50 miles’ to see the tree in the Botanic Garden.

There were issues with propagation and it wasn’t until 1868 that this was overcome. The trees became more widespread and were a popular choice for public planting programs from the early to mid-twentieth century. One of the loveliest references in Curran’s article was a tree at Potts Point known by children as ‘the dream tree’, which seems to capture the magic of the jacaranda.

A lovely painting of jacaranda trees spotted at op shop recently

A lovely painting of jacaranda trees spotted at op shop recently

But it isn’t just Sydney, of course, that holds jacaranda trees in high esteem. Jacarandas can be found up and down the coast, and Grafton has so heartily embraced the jacaranda tree that there is an annual festival for all things purple, including a street parade and key locations which offer particularly photographic specimens. Listening to a podcast recently, I heard how the jacarandas in Queensland have deeper hues of lilac than those further along the eastern coastline, the colours shifting slightly as the trees blossom in succession through Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Curran provides a perfect summary of Sydney’s enchantment with jacarandas:

The jacaranda may not always have been Sydney’s, but for a few magical weeks it is a dream tree for the city – ardently, abundantly ours.

Do you have the delight of jacaranda trees in springtime?

[Photo: jacaranda and flame tree blossoms entwined – a popular pairing and visual treat]

Advertisements

Cicada Days

As a harbinger of warmer days to come, it’s hard to go past the cicada. It might be due to the combination of a dry winter and a warm start to spring but in recent weeks there have been discarded cicada shells all over the place. Fence posts, brick walls, tree trunks – all are seemingly dotted with husks, cast aside as cicadas move on to their final phase of life. During the day the air often thrums with their calls. Usually camouflaged by leaves, they are hard to spot unless being chased around the neighbourhood by hungry birds.

IMG_6013

After the countdown, they go over the top, grey shapes in the grey dawn, clambering out of themselves (Cicadas by David Campbell)

Cicadas were captured as temporary trophies when I was a kid, with a league ladder of varieties according to scarcity. The common Greengrocer wasn’t given much weighting; Yellow Mondays were a bit harder to find, Black Prince cicadas were highly sought, along with the noisy Double Drummer. The cicadas would be brought to school in ice cream containers with holes punched into the lids, to be admired and swapped before the cicadas were released.

There are Miller or Floury Baker cicadas, covered in fine, silvery hairs. I haven’t seen a Cherrynose cicada, but they are meant to be more common on the coast. There are Red-eyes along with smaller varieties such as Fairy, Maiden and Midget.

IMG_6022

A shell on the left, a cicada getting ready to emerge on the right

It is mainly the male cicada who sings by flexing their tymbals which are drum-like organs found in their abdomens. They drink and eat using their beak or rostrum, and begin life as an egg embedded in a tree limb. When the egg hatches, the ant-like form falls to the ground and digs until it finds roots to feed on. Cicadas can remain underground for anywhere up to 17 years, according to the species. It is an active life spent feeding and tunnelling.

As nymphs, they return above ground and climb the nearest tree to shed their exoskeleton. Their wings inflate and their bodies harden. They search for a mate with males singing to attract females, and the cycle begins again. As an adult they have a short life, usually only a few weeks.

IMG_6097

Greengrocer

There are over 3,300 varieties around the world, and a couple of unusual Australian cicadas are the Blue Moon and Bagpipe Cicada.

There is a lovely poem about cicadas by David Campbell here.

Do you have cicadas in your backyard?

Main source of information on cicadas: Cicada Mania web page. It is brilliant – hover over a link and the mouse arrow turns into a cicada!

[Photo: Greengrocer cicada]

Wild Windy Weather

There seems to have been a resurgence of windy weather atop the Blue Mountains lately.

After one particularly windy spell, I was in a cafe when I heard one of the staff explain the wind phenomenon in the mountains. Well, her theory of it at least. The location of villages along the ridge of the mountain top – roughly along the original road and trails crossing the mountains – meant that the impact of gusty winds are stronger and more localised.

The past week has been peppered with days of high winds, which are trying enough, but then there are the wind gusts which literally knock you sideways. Walking around the main and side streets of Katoomba, there are funnels of wind that spin about, making it a challenge to walk down a steep incline due to the force of the gusts.

This weekend there has been a couple of days of reprieve – gorgeous spring weather full of sunshine, the scent of blossoms and the promise of warmer times ahead. I am trying not to dwell on the forecasted return of the winds later this week.

One of my memories of primary school involved the notorious winds of August and September in Sydney. There had been a huge wind storm and we were all gathered into the assembly hall to keep us safe from flying objects. This was exciting enough, then part of the roof blew off. For days afterwards there were stray bits of roofing, fences and other miscellany scattered around the suburb. I don’t recall anyone being injured, thankfully, but it was a big deal at the time.

High winds were pummeling the mountains on the day I moved in to my new home. I was moving incrementally, and had a fold-up bed, chairs and card table in my car, along with blankets and a kettle and enough bits to keep me going for a few days. My uncle had given me a box of firewood so I had the wood heater going which was lucky as the electricity went out overnight with trees falling across lines during the wind storm, and it was the warmth of the stove that kept my spirits up the next morning when I was without power in a strange place with wind buffeting the windows and doors, wondering just what I’d got myself in for this time.

As with other instances of wild weather, it makes me appreciate the relative calmness of the every day when it returns.

[Photo: plush toy spotted in the main street of Katoomba – not a wind related incident!]

In Anticipation of Spring

There are signs of spring throughout the Blue Mountains, even in the upper mountains which is usually a bit late to the party. Bright swathes of wattle provide flashes of yellow to draw the eye, and there are bulbs erupting in masses of colour.

A particular favourite of mine are the flowering trees. Some of the ornamental fruit trees have started to flower in my neighbourhood, bristling with pink flowers that are heavenly to walk by. There is a large magnolia tree adorned with buds, some already starting to reveal the creamy flowers contained within.

Wandering around my garden I can spot bulbs that are thickening and preparing to put on a display of colour and scent. Daisy shrubs and roses are showing spurts of growth, and rhododendron shrubs and trees are suddenly heavy with buds.

One of my favourite springtime experiences is a cherry tree that I can see from my kitchen window. In early autumn I watched the leaves as they curled and fell, and now the bare branches are beginning to be tickled by buds, bright fluffs of green that over the next couple of months will morph into delicate white and pink flowers which have a beautiful scent. It is a glorious explosion to delight the senses, and it has come to epitomise some of the joys of spring for me each year.

I await these gradual changes with a keen sense of anticipation.

What seasonal changes are you looking forward to in your garden?

[Photo: buds on the cherry tree]

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]

 

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]