This is the time of year for walking in gardens, when they’re often at their most beautiful.    They’re also the most work if you want to choose a particular look, rather than just take what comes.

waterfallOut on the hills, “what comes” is pretty good right now.

I’m particularly pleased to see flowers on the Daviesia and Indigofera that I’ve planted in various revegetation areas, but also the bulbine lilies in three previously unknown (to me) places along the creek, clinging to the rocks, and Early Nancies (wurmbea dioica) scattered through the pastures.

hardenbergia-and-rosemary-esdaleIt’s still fun to try and create an effect through planting around the house, though. Trying to one-up nature, I suppose.  Or work with it as best we can.  It seems like ages since my new hardenbergias were flowering for the first time  along the top fence.  I thought it was a great idea to cover the ugly wire fence with blossom.  Unfortunately when we let the sheep in to eat down the grass in the orchard, the problem with my fence-covering vine concept was clear.  The chomping left them in tatters.  Oops.  I’ll have to think of some sort of barricade for next year to stop that.

Other parts of the Esdale garden are a snarl of weeds, as I’m a fair weather gardener and there’s been lots of rain this season.  Luckily we were able to get the dead claret ash tree down without Evan and his tree-choppers getting bogged.  It’s still a project to move the timber somewhere to dry for future firewood.  I racked my brains to think of a native that would be as spectacular and grow big enough fill the space it has left.  I’ve finally decided on a silky oak tree (grevillea robusta) which has spectacular flowers in season and beautiful foliage all year round.  end-of-the-claret-ash-esdaleWhile my garden is rampantly out of control, just over the hill from Esdale is one of the most beautiful country gardens in this area, or anywhere.   While my friend Katherine Michael was visiting from Brisbane, we had a wonderful walk around Leonie Leonard’s beautiful garden at Mulliondale.  I was too busy oohing and aahing as usual to take pictures that do it justice.

Leonie always has some flowers going somewhere in her garden, as well as lots of fascinating textures and interesting artworks scattered around. tulips-and-blossom   There are so many different walks and corners – the bluebell walk under the silver birches was spectacular that day.  The setting of the garden is stunning, perched on a rocky outcrop above the creek, facing a dramatic cliff.  A little world of its own, or several of them, a new one whichever way you turn.

So take a deep breath and enjoy the spring while it lasts…



My goal this year was to:

  • Check and do some replanting if necessary on last year’s plots on Adnamira and Carkella.  My guess was 50 to 80 because I knew some of them had had a hard time with the dry weather.
  • plant 30 trees/shrubs in tiny triangles on Adnamira
  • 30 trees/shrubs in a small connection plot in the Tank Paddock behind the homestead
  • 60 trees/shrubs in a rocky knoll connection plot in the dam paddock on Esdale
  • 500 trees/shrubs in a windbreak on Esdale (funded by Local Land Services)
  • TOTAL – 670 approxsection-1-looking-toward-cockatoo-area

What actually happened:

  • 150  trees/shrubs replaced on Adnamira, Carkella and Esdale – an unsatisfactorily high number of losses, due to the dryness and frost at planting,  and a long dry autumn followed by boggy wetness and clay soil in unexpected places.  It was however great that we were able to fill in some gaps in old plantations that had no shrubs while we waited and waited for the new fences to be constructed.   There are still some gaps at Carkella that we’ll fill next year.
  • 30 trees/shrubs  in the tiny triangle project and
  • 30 in the Dam paddock.
  • no Rocky knoll planting.  That will need at least 100, and will wait for next year.
  • 645 trees/shrubs in the Esdale windbreak, which still needs 100 more in next year’s planting, which will make a total of 745 for the whole area.
  • TOTAL FOR THE YEAR:  855 trees and shrubs

hole-digging-crew-disappearing-into-the-distance-like-gophersNo wonder I had to run back to Damian DeMarco  and Greening Australia for extra seedlings, having already exhausted Murrumbateman Landcare’s supply.  Justin Borevitz and his lab provided us with more than expected of the eucalyptus melliodora also, so that was wonderful.

bucket-esdale-windbreakBecause our planting system is fairly labour-intensive, involving mulch mats, mycorrhizae and then lots of extra mulch, I need to plan carefully for how many we’re going to do.  “Plant fewer, plant them better” was Matt Kilby from Global Land Repair‘s advice.

On the other hand, this year’s weather has turned out to be ideal for planting, so it was great that we got more in than expected.  Last year’s weather turned out to be challenging, but I guess we can’t expect perfect conditions every time.

One thing I was particularly happy about was that we were able to get a good supply of prickly shrubs – bursaria and Acacia genistifolia in particular, as well as getting some  Daviesias (bitter peas).

This year we didn’t do any advance spraying of roundup to kill the grass before planting, mainly because it rained every time I thought about it.  After last year’s experience with grass having regrown between spraying and planting, I didn’t want to do it too far ahead.  I’m working on the theory that the mulch mats and extra mulch will suppress the grasses, plus we hacked away as much as we could with the mattocks when planting.  We can potentially come back in the summer and spray very carefully around the covers if there is too much growth around our plantings.

Next year  at least there’ll be no waiting for fence construction, because they are going up this year (some of them already up as the funding from NSW Local Land Services has arrived).  Currently I’m planning on:

  • 100 for the Rocky Knoll
  • 100 to finish the Esdale windbreak
  • 50 to fill the gaps at Carkella
  • 600 for the Adnamira windbreak – we’re hoping to be able to use rip lines instead of hand digging holes for these ones.
  • 50 for replacements in the old pine windbreak
  • 30 for the second group of Little Triangles
  • TOTAL:  930

Now we just have to finish mulching this year’s trees, then move on to native grass planting, erosion control and other fun projects.  And order enough tubestock plants for next year.tubestock-damian-dimarco



There’s nothing better than a beautiful day out on the hillside, unless it’s a beautiful day out with lots of lovely people planting trees.


This year we had the wonderful team from Justin Borevitz’s lab at ANU, along with another hundred yellow box  (eucalyptus melliodora) that they raised from seed, genotyped and either pampered or subjected to all sorts of tests (drought strtrees-in-truckess, various sprays etc).  In the last two years we have planted 30 to 50 of these which despite some setbacks in the way of frost, not to mention last autumn’s endless dryness, have been doing well.   The main challenge is transporting the big pots (this year big sections of pipe) up to where they’ll be planted. The rest of our plants come from Murrumbateman Landcare, Greening Australia or Damian DiMarco’s nursery on Wallaroo Road, making as wide and balanced a range of species as we can manage. Continue reading

Vege garden after frost


The Big Wilt has finally come.  Every year when the frosts arrive, the summer plants die back and make way for the ones that can take the cold.

This year we waited a long time for the changeover.  In some ways it was a vindication of my messy, lazy style of vegetable gardening, the one where I keep sticking in new things, but don’t pull out the old ones until after they’ve gone to seed and died. Continue reading

narrawa burr green fruit


There’s a look that weeds tend to have:  often spiky like a thistle,;definitely fast growing;  pretty flowers perhaps; obviously not delicious to sheep (so still in existence in a paddock);and setting lots of seed for example. Continue reading

Flood 2016 view from rock outlook


Even in the dark I can tell when the river has started to flood.  I love to hear the normal soft rushing sound at night, a little like distant traffic.  This is more.  It’s a freeway roar that means big standing waves crashing against the rocks.  Big water on the move is magnificent.

Whole islands disappear, leaving just a set of scrambling waves, rushing to get past. Continue reading

COG Survey Carkella large


A few old trees make all the difference when you’re doing a bird survey.  The bare, newly planted paddocks on Carkella and Adnamira were limited to a few species, mainly parrots (galahs,red-rumps, rosellas) and a small family of magpies.

Red-rumped parrot photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org

Red-rumped parrot photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org

Continue reading

wombat daytime closeup


IMG_4337Our lovely neighbour Cathy Campbell has a new project.  It’s called “Managing Mange in the Mullion” (that’s the title of the Facebook group also) and involves counting wombats, working out how many of them are affected by sarcoptic mange and treating them using “burrow flaps” that deliver a dose of medicine automatically at the entry to their underground lairs. Continue reading

Georgia and Yin and hillside cropped


It’s that time of year again, when we happily send some young trees out naked into the winter.Yin and maximum number of covers ever

The ones that seem large enough have their wildlife and frost resistant covers removed, so that we can recycle them for this year’s plantings.   That’s hundreds of covers to be jerked up, flattened and carried back to the truck, then transported to our overcrowded garage for storage. Continue reading

Craig with drip torch


Farming, like nature, is messy.  It’s nice to see the smooth green grass of spring covering the hills and disguising the rocks.  The modern golf course look.   Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily what you need either for wildlife or for grazing stock. Continue reading

Pelican footprints


Pelican on river vertical 2

Before I got glasses for short-sight at the age of eleven, I used to wonder why people made such a fuss about birds. Most of them were invisible as far as I was concerned.  The only ones I never had trouble seeing were the big ones:  the egrets, the Wedge-Tailed Eagles, the black swans (which I’ve rarely seen since we’ve been back here) and, of course, pelicans (pelecanus conspicillatus).

Continue reading

Hannah Miller with hoe at Cutting2


2011 planting

Extreme tree planting

Seed collecting is a new art for me.  It requires timing, observation and knowledge of what you’re looking for.  Mostly I’m nervous that I’ll just take the seeds off a plant and waste them by not planting them in time. Continue reading

Hosing the tree 1


Whole tree burning with flames at baseAs I wandered outside on my way to bed a few nights ago, I noticed a speck of red light on a hilltop.

A star?  I’ve been tricked before by how bright they can be in the bush.  A red star?  Venus?  Wrong direction. Definitely not a car tail-light, on the top of a rocky ridge.

As I dithered, the single speck became two, one above the other.  Definitely a fire, probably caused by the lightning storm that played around us all evening, making the tv signal jump and flicker.  Still uncertain, I consulted the only other person awake at that time, my brother Andrew.  He at least has had some experience with fire fighting.coals at foot of burning tree

“Definitely a fire.  Definitely too wet to do any damage.”  The rain was still pouring down.  “Go to bed and look at it in the morning.”

Okay, useless consultation over.  That ridge is at the back of my Box  Gum woodland planting area, full of long summer grass and baby trees.  No way was I going to leave it until morning.  Although the ground was wet now, a few hours of wind would dry it off to a flammable state.  We had a similar lightning struck tree three years ago that smoldered for two days, then took off, burning about forty hectares before it was put out, needing several trucks and firefighters. Continue reading

Closeup ramphotyphlops


In the darkness, I heard the dog barking and scuffling with something in the gravel driveway.  I assumed it was a beetle.  Obviously something small.  But when I went over to look I could see it was a snake.

Calypso was dodging in and out enthusiastically.  So much for the snake-avoidance training.   I shouted at her, though, and she backed off.

“Is it a baby brown?”  I wondered.  It was too light-coloured for a red-bellied black snake.

But our biological dinner guests started shouting “Typhlops! Typhlops!”

Whatever that meant. Continue reading

Serra Bonita forest looking to lowlands


Heliconia Serra BonitaBrazil’s coastal rainforest could hardly be more distant from a sheep farm in New South Wales.  Yet I found visiting it both inspirational and helpful for my own plans.

The rainforest plant life is nothing like our dry eucalypts and grasses.  While there are a few ancient relatives of Australian plants, most of the vegetation looks as if it’s been ordered from a hothouse catalogue – heliconias, bromeliads, philodendrons, orchids and more. Continue reading

ready to rip the lines


Tree planting doesn’t always go as planned.

In 2011, before we actually moved back to Australia, I spoke to Graham Fifield at Greening Australia about being part of their WOPR (Whole Paddock Rehabilitation) program.  That program is designed to revegetate an area of 10 hectares or more, using bands of trees and shrubs directly seeded on the contours.   It uses existing paddocks, so doesn’t require the extra fencing that most tree-planting needs.  After five years, the grazing animals are allowed back in, so it’s not taken out of production permanently.

Direct seeding equipment 2012. Looks like it has a tuba attached underneath.

Direct seeding equipment 2012.

I was interested in trying direct seeding, partly because the way I plant tube-stock trees (with deep drilled holes, plastic covers, mulch, heavy watering, fertilizer, more mulch) is pretty labour-intensive.  If seeding worked, it could be an easy way out.  I was feeling a little overwhelmed at the (643 hectare) size of the entire farm rehabilitation project, so doing 10 hectares at once seemed like it would be a big step forward.  I counted my tree seedlings in the thousands well before they were germinated. Continue reading

Cam carrying a log


One way to stop topsoil from disappearing from under our feet is to use loose vegetation. Anything from grass and weeds to big logs will help catch it as it flows past.

The Southern ACT Catchment Group ran a workshop recently with Cam Wilson from Earth Integral as the expert advisor on how to make the best use of sticks and stones on small areas of erosion before they become large ones.

a knee-deep gully

A knee-deep gully

“Start small” Cam advised. “If the erosion hole is deeper than your knees, it’s probably too big for a beginner”.   Continue reading