Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Bucket List

Yesterday, before my lower back kicked the bucket, I…

Fertilised all the citrus trees, as it was time to do so

Fertilised all the orchids, because I hadn’t done it for a while

Fertilised the gardenias, whose leaves were yellowing

Fertilised the repotted and divided French tarragon and mint to give them a boost

Fertilised the lemon grass with high-nitrogen food

Fertilised the Asian eggplant yet again

Put out slow-release fertiliser pellets around the potted begonias

And, as pictured above, I pulled away all the potted succulents which were being monstered by the rosemary bush, drilled some holes into the masonry wall behind the rosemary, installed wall bolts with hooks and tied back the rosemary so it stood more upright. (Stakes just weren’t strong enough to hold back this leaning monster).

Then I repotted the succulents worth saving and, as many of the other succulents were showing some signs of autumn growth, I fertilised them with a liquid succulent fertiliser, too.

And as I stood up after moving the last succulent pot, my rotten lousy lower back said to me “time for a spasm, a real good one, old boy”. It’s still sore. Didn’t sleep all that brilliantly, either. My back said things like “you’ve been in that position for at least 10 minutes, Jamie, here’s a mini spaz to turn you over”. Gee, thanks lower back, I can only rely on you to let me down.

Yesterday, before my lower back kicked the bucket, if I did everything on my 'to do' list (which is, admittedly, very unlikely) I could have also…

Trimmed the large murraya near the pergola

Trimmed the murraya hedge near the shed

Trimmed the last of the climbing fig on the garage wall (you know, the bit with the wasp nests)

Repotted the native orchids into nicer & bigger pots

Replanted the potted oregano in the ground, near the sage

Fixed the bashed-up-by-wind scented pelargoniums

Sprayed the asthma weed under the kitchen and bathroom windows

Trimmed my neighbour Michael’s rampant grapevine

Fed the cardamom and ginger plants

Got rid of the baby curry leaf trees at the base of the potted tree

Harvested some limes, then squeeze/freeze the juice

Trimmed the dead bits off the underside of the nardoo

Dolomited the compost bin and checked how it’s going

Potted up seeds of mesclun lettuce

But I didn’t get a chance to do any of those jobs. They’re my bucket list. Not exactly things to do before I die, but they’re things I might have done had my back not kicked the bucket.

Is my back telling me that my garden is too high-maintenance? I think so. I’m going to have to rethink my garden so it’s easier to look after. Now, there’s a whole new world ahead of me. No, my lower-back, you’re definitely not a pal – at best you're a limiting factor who cannot be ignored.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Citrus feeding time again, folks

Here's a reminder for all the Aussie gardeners with citrus plants of any sort, especially those growing in the ground: it's feeding time again, folks. These greedy plants need feeding at the end of February each year, then again at the end of August. You don't have to slavishly follow that timetable, but late winter and late summer are the ideal feeding times, and a good feed every six months is what they need. So here's what I did about an hour ago.

First, I watered the ground under the whole canopy of each tree (pictured here is my Eureka lemon tree, laden with developing fruit – yippee!). The reason for the 'water first' rule is to make sure the plants slake their thirst just on pure water, and not on fertiliser-laden water, which isn't such a good thing for them.

Second, spread the plant food all around the area under the tree's canopy, and especially around the outer edge of the tree's 'dripline' (just imagine the rough circle on the ground where water rolls off the foliage on the tree's perimeter, that's the dripline). Here, I'm using Dynamic Lifter, which is pelletised chicken poo. Being organic, it stinks to high heaven for a day (and Pam says "That's it, I'm going shopping in town for the day".) The packet says to apply three scoops-full per square metre of area. So my lemon tree got six scoops, scattered evenly, as did my lime tree. There are stacks of different citrus foods around, but I like the organic chicken poo, and I am sure the worms in the soil like it too. Pam's not so keen on it, but as she likes shopping she has discovered that citrus feeding day has its attractions.

Third and final step is to water in well afterwards, to get some plant food down into the soil, and to help all the rest of the pellets to start breaking down. That's it.

There are only three citrus trees in my small backyard. The other one planted in the ground is my espaliered 'Tahiti' lime, which is covered in limes ready to use now. This regular feeding keeps the leaves green and glossy and seems to fortify the tree so it looks after itself quite well. It still gets attacked by small numbers of pests, but largely it's pretty trouble-free, and I'm sure that's because it's well fed.

My other citrus tree is a potted cumquat. These need a different feeding regime altogether. I feed this one lightly every month in spring and summer. Today, I watered it first, then slipped one scoop of Dynamic Lifter pellets under the straw, then watered it again. Other times, when I'm feeling lazy, I give it a liquid feed. And in the cooler months I drop back to feeds every six weeks.

The cumquat is cropping better and better as it grows (it's about three years old now), and this crop should ripen in midwinter. Next spring I plan to transfer it to a slightly larger pot, and to replace the potting mix at the same time.

Listen to a gardening talkback radio show and about a third of the callers are having problems with their citrus trees. It's true that citrus can get all sorts of pests, diseases and nutrient deficiencies, mystery ailments and crop failures. But I'm slowly discovering that if you feed and water them very regularly, grow them in well-drained soil in a sunny spot, and they're much easier to live with than you might imagine.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seedy proposition

A few weeks ago the answer would have been "no, I definitely have no plans to grow a Gymea lily from seed". Strange question of course, but it's a silly thing to do. Really dumb. The things take about eight years to flower when grown from seed. And so I'm having a go, simply because Pammy brought home a Gymea lily seed pod from a botanical illustration course she's doing at the Sydney Botanic Gardens. She's a temptress, that woman!

Here it is (and click on all photos to make them bigger, if you like). The botanical name is Doryanthes excelsa, and the last two photos in the blog, pinched from Google Images, show what the plant and the flower look like. Fancy a big 1.5m tall clump of strappy leaves from which a gigantic 5m (or taller) spike erupts, topped with an enormous, red nectar-filled flower? Yes? The Gymea lily is for you.

The seeds started spilling from the pod yesterday. It just peeled itself open at one end and out they spilled. Fairly big for seeds, and of course I don't have the foggiest idea how to sow these seeds, so this blog posting is just a report from 'day one', Pam's seedy proposition has proved irresistible. If I manage to get them going, I'll share anything I've learned later on.

The seed pod itself is about six inches (15cm) long and two inches (5cm) at its widest point. It contains hundreds of thin, almost papery, crescent-shaped seeds. But wait, what's that little metal thing creeping into the picture frame?

Why, it's Pammy's amazingly nifty holder-on-erer, infinitely adjustable with a magnifying glass at one end and alligator clip at the other. It's a brilliant little device for botanical illustrators to get very, very close to a flower (or other subject, such as a seed pod). Pammy says she thinks it was marketed as 'Helping Hands', which is a good name for it.

I've used it several times to take close-ups for this blog, and I thought 'what the hell, here's a peek behind the scenes in my low-budget outdoor photo studio' (which looks remarkably like our outdoor table and chairs).

As you can see, you can get very very close to your subject without disturbing it at all! Hold still...

As promised, the last two photos are of the plant itself. As the Gymea lilies aren't in bloom in my local area I couldn't get any good photos of them at the moment. But this was what I was looking for, a photo with people posing next to a Gymea lily in flower, to give you some sense of the enormous size of the thing. Page 22 of Google Images revealed this lovely bushwalking shot of Rebecca and Ian, taken near Wiseman's Ferry on the outskirts of Sydney. Thank you Rebecca and Ian, looks like you had a great bushwalk that day! And yes, the Gymea lily is native to the east coast of Australia, notably the greater Sydney region and the NSW Central Coast.

Also found way, way down the list on Google Images is this gorgeous illustration of the Gymea lily flower head, which is actually a cluster of flowers, by well-known botanical artist Beverly Allen, which came from the Sydney Botanic Gardens website. Thanks to all, and love your work, Beverly.

Gymea lilies are not rare by any means. You see them in the bush quite often, and in recent years it seems every local council in the area is planting them in parklands, sometimes even in traffic islands. They're everywhere. Most of them are grown from cuttings or by tissue culture, and hardly anyone sensible grows them from seed, as it takes around eight years for them to flower from seed.

I have nowhere to plant one of these in my garden, either, so the whole idea is simply insane, which has its own appeal, doesn't it? Step one is to find out how deep to sow the seed, in what kind of potting mix, how long they take to come up, etc etc etc. At this stage I'll be happy if I get some healthy little plantlets in a few months' time. Who knows, in between now and then I might even find someone willing to take on Phase Two – the eight-year wait?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Catalogue time!

Oh, how I love a good seed catalogue, and my favourite, a work of vegie catalogue art, landed in my letterbox yesterday. And while I haven't yet made up my mind what to order, as I have so little spare space left in my garden, I just had to do a blog on the catalogue itself. It's put out by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Missouri, USA. I'm sure almost every North American grower already knows all about these people, but way down here on the sunniest side of the planet, in Oz, they're a discovery I made only last year.

Here's the cover of the 2010 catalogue. I thought it might be of interest to show you some pages, so here we go (click on all photos to make them bigger, for easier viewing).

Who would've thunk that radishes could look so nice?

Cute kids are exploited shamelessly throughout to make things cuter and more wholesome, but I am sure that a whole spread of squash and pumpkins on their own would have looked just fine.

Striped tomatoes? Sure. Now, striped Romas, I might order them.

Just thought I'd toss in a page of weirdos, such as African Wild Melons and knobbly Bitter Melons, to give you an idea of the amazing range they have here.

Tomatoes of all shapes, colours and sizes, of course, including a spread of orange toms.

Asian vegies are very well represented. It's a catalogue of world vegies at times.

Following on from the fun I'm having with my golf ball sized, purple and white Asian eggplants, this page caught my eye. Wow, orange eggplants, I like that idea!

More cute kids! Oh, yes, there's also a good range of flower seeds to choose from, as well as herb seeds, too, plus books and other goodies. If you have both a shopping problem and a gardening problem, you probably shouldn't look at this catalogue. It will only cause more problems for you.

OK, that's the guided tour. If you missed the link at the top of the page they're at and yes, you can order their catalogue from Australia. It's five bucks. Last year I believe they eventually ran out of catalogues, and I suspect half the people ordering the catalogue just wanted the catalogue and not any seeds.

Of course I do get a few other catalogues in the mail, including good old Diggers here in Australia, and they're a good mob, well worth a mention if we happen to be talking about cattle dogs.

The good thing about all these catalogues is that they're one of the best places to find heirloom vegies now. You can't find many heirlooms at your garden centre. These specialist seed suppliers are the keepers of the flame for the rich biological diversity within our food plants. That's why I like to support them and, yes, I know there are plenty of others doing the same thing, and good on all of them, too.

However, I'd better finish up now and spend the evening browsing, dreaming, getting real, then placing a small order... striped romas, orange eggplants, what else?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gone sub-troppo

Wow, two holidays in two months. That's some kind of record for us. But that's just how things have worked out recently. In January Pam and I went troppo in tropical Darwin, and last week we dashed up to subtropical Brisbane to see friends and also to catch the Asia Pacific Triennial Art Show at the Qld Gallery of Modern Art before it closed. Having been blown away by the previous Asia Pacific art show three years ago, there was no way we were going to miss this one. And besides, Brisbane is quite green and lush right now, so there was plenty for garden-lovers to take in, too. What follows is a bit of both (and all photos are by our official family holiday snapper, my wife Pammy).

First, a garden-themed cornucopia by Iranian artist Shirana Shahbazi, that's about 15 feet high and 20 feet wide. I came across it by turning a corner, then wham! Worked for me.

Outside the art gallery, the gardening staff had made a nice artwork of an ixia hedge in bloom and some neatly trimmed buxus.

Just try to ignore the awful metal barrier at the base of this tree and just take in the astonishing way in which ancient fig trees send down aerial roots which, when they finally touch ground, then grow to become extra tree trunks in themselves. I think this is just one tree, even if it looks like a forest. It's a Moreton Bay Fig in the City Botanic Gardens in Brisbane.

This was our view from the balcony of our apartment in Spring Hill, a lovely poinciana in bloom. When old and given space, these trees spread into a wonderfully wide canopy of lacy foliage, topped with red blooms. Last year in a garden-bloggers' meme about desert island plants, I picked a poinciana as one of my three 'desert island plants'.

How's this for a segue from gardening to art? Well, it's the best I can do. It's by Zhu Weibing and it's called, sensibly enough, 'People Holding Flowers'. Full of subversive symbolism to those familiar with the history of Mao Zedong's purges in the Communist China of the 50s and 60s, it's an outwardly cheerful image which contains within a sinister message about the loss of individuality in modern China.

The choice of materials in many pieces is so important. Here, Pam and her great mate Judi spent ages admiring this exquisitely detailed work in silk embroidery by South Korean artist Kyungah Ham. (Both artists, Pam and Judi love going to galleries together. While they of course admire the art for its imagery, colour and meaning, both of them spend ages checking out the technical aspects of how each piece is actually made.) But these weren't the only nuclear mushroom clouds on show.

Indian artist Subodh Gupta's huge mushroom cloud of old brass and copper pots, pans and other utensils is a spooky thing to stand under. It rises at least 15 feet tall and softly glows through the patina of clapped out, ordinary objects.

Much more shiny is Mr Gupta's life-size, perfect, solid brass Enfield Bullet motorbike, the hard-working 'milk carrier' model.

As old and authentic as can be is the poignant installation by Chen Qiulin of a real Chinese village house, one of countless thousands destroyed by flooding as a result of the 'Three Gorges' dam project. This is protest art at its most powerful. When you read that this dam project flooded 13 cities, over a hundred towns and over a thousand villages, the callous, arrogant disruption to the traditional way of life of literally millions of people is still a source of huge protest and anger in China. Several other works at the Asia Pacific Triennial by Chinese artists included protests over this Three Gorges catastrophe.

It's amazing what you can find on eBay. Japanese artist Kohei Nawa bought an actual stuffed elk at an online auction site, then transformed it with glass beads. It was set into a room of its own lit with bright white, translucent light which reminded me of a Stanley Kubrick movie's space ship interior. Yes, Hal, there's an elk on board.

Some of the exhibits were to be touched, experienced, like these 'clouds' of white cords suspended from the ceiling (not sure of the artist's name, sorry). A favourite with the kids, of course, and Pam liked it too.

Indonesian artist Rudi Mantofani created several amazing 'unplayable' guitars as a protest against western musicians doing a benefit concert. He's pissed off with the gap between the token philanthropy of rich western – especially American – musicians and the foreign policy of the west towards the muslim world. Those who didn't read his blurb to the left of his exhibit would probably never guess what he was on about. Perhaps the perfect execution of each guitar, absolutely beautiful looking guitars, stole the limelight from his message.

This way to the North Korean section! And no, it wasn't all like this. In fact, the North Korean art included some of my favourite paintings in the show. There was a whole wall of superb linocuts and woodcuts, and another room filled with typical communist subject matter of workers in blast furnaces and factories, but painted not so much in the usual 'heroic' style of North Korea but more in the French impressionist style, where natural light and realism governed the artists' choices.

Finally, here's me discovering yet another astounding bromeliad to stand beside, while grinning stupidly. Brisbane is lovely in summer, and while it's normally very humid and hot and rainy at this time of year, we were lucky with the weather, which was a bit cooler than normal. Everything up there is growing like crazy now. They've gone through a long, harsh drought and only recently the heavens have opened, spectacularly at times. It's nice to see the place green again, though. Great town, Brisbane. I love it.

Hello, anyone still reading? Probably not, as this is a gardening blog! Oh well, that is one of the problems I have with blogging inside a category. I know I could start up an art blog, but I'd only post something once every month or so. As for books and reading I guess I'd post very frequently, to a loyal readership of seven equally strange people. And ditto music, movies, cooking, sport, history, wildlife, ecology and all my other interests.

In fact, I think I might be getting closer to the point where I've said a large part of what I want to say about gardening and maybe I should slow down this Garden Amateur thing after almost two very hectic (for me) years of posting. Not sure what I'll do at this stage. I am still enjoying blogging very much, but I am feeling just a bit restricted by sticking to gardening. My interests are a lot more diverse than just the wonderful world of gardening and plants. Do I start up a second blog or extend the scope of this one? That is the question. (And thanks for reading, if you got this far!)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wilting in the humidity, beating root rot

In many senses February is the worst month for garden plants here in Sydney. I've had more plants die on me in February than any other month, and it's always that killer combination of heat, humidity and a lot of rain that sees some plants saying: "This is nothing like my natural homeland's dry summers, buddy, I'm out of here!".

I can't count how many lavender plants have failed to see out a Sydney summer over the years, but some Australian natives struggle at this time of year, too, because they come from places with hot but dry summers and Sydney doesn't really suit them at all.

Yesterday I was surprised to see our tough old Correa alba wilting with symptoms that had all the suspicious signs of root rot. And if you're on Australia's East Coast in particular and reading this blog, here's a big tip. Spray your wilters and those plants showing signs of fungus disease right now. Not tomorrow. Right now. Here's what I did, and I hope it works as well as it did last time.

First, let me set the scene. Correa alba is one of the mainstays of our front garden. Pam chose it, so it's one of 'her' plants. It's the greyish-green dome-shaped thing behind the blue-green Cootamundra groundcover wattle. Never had a day's illness in its life, until today. It flowers unspectacularly in autumn with little white star flowers, and so it's main job is foliage colour contrast, and it does that very well.

We've been having record rainfall lately, and lots of heat and humidity too. Classic fungal disease weather, and not all fungal diseases are visible. A lot of it goes on underground, around the roots. The disease is generically known as root rot, and a classic symptom is wilting foliage. When native plants die, they do it in days, not weeks, so you have to act fast. The first signs of wilting appeared on Sunday, and so yesterday I sprayed it. I'll spray it again in a few weeks' time.

Now here's the good news. The spray I used, called Yates Anti-Rot, is a remarkably safe spray to use. It doesn't have a withholding period when used on fruit trees, and so you can even spray it on citrus and other fruiting trees. The substance it's based on is phosphorous acid, also called Phosacid, and it's a relatively new-generation fungicide that is replacing many of the nasty, toxic older-style fungicides that I would never dare or want to use.

I'm hoping the Anti-Rot will work as well for my Correa as it did for my extremely sick grevillea last year. Check out this previous posting from last year, which shows the dramatic turnaround in the grevillea's fortunes, following the spray treatment. But I certainly hope the correa doesn't get as sick looking as my grevillea did last year!

Finally, I also played it safe and sprayed both my lovely backyard grevilleas as a preventative treatment. The product, Anti-Rot, is readily available at most Australian garden centres, but just in case you're not sure what to look for, here's a link to the product listing at the Yates website. I use the concentrate, which comes with a little measuring cup. I mix 5ml of concentrate in a 1-litre spray bottle of water. I used 1 litre of spray per plant, so the concentrate is easily the most economical option.

And no, this ain't a commercial! I just like the way the product saved my grevillea last year, and hope that some of my blog readers might find it a life-saver in this horrible, humid weather, too.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Showers of colour

There I was mid-afternoon sitting by my outdoor table under the covered pergola, enjoying a pot of tea and a quiet read of the Saturday papers. It was a pleasantly warm, cloudy, very humid day cooled by regular light showers of rain. The lazy slob that lurks deep within my soul was quietly cheering at the prospect of doing no sweat-drenched gardening in this dreadful humidity, and I admit I was on the slob's side, too. However, instead of reading about the appalling level of executive salaries (my annual wage in a day!) my eyes kept on wandering out towards the garden.

Something utterly familiar was looking especially lovely, probably the loveliest it has been in quite some time. And I'm sure all the recent rain is the cause of this sudden burst of richly coloured blooming in my grevilleas.

The grevilleas are blooming beautifully at the moment, and as I've done nothing whatsoever to encourage them I can take no credit. It's all their own work, plus thanks to Huey for all the recent rain.

This plant has a bit of an identity problem. The label when I bought it from a specialist native nursery several years ago definitely said it was Grevillea 'Superb', because that is what I was after. And while it looks superb at the moment, it's not orangey-red like a real 'Superb'. Instead, it's rich red, like the very common G. 'Robyn Gordon', which is closely related. And while 'Robyn Gordon' is regarded as boring because it's so common in gardens, it's not at all dull when it looks this good. Maybe I should compromise and call this one Grevillea 'Superb Robyn' and think of it as named accurately after my oldest sister? Much better!

One little thing I love about grevilleas is the way the individual curly needles of colour unfurl from their fuzzy casings, starting at the wide base and ending at the tips.

Across the other side of the path the Grevillea 'Peaches and Cream' is also in its pomp, flowering as it has never done before. This is a youngster only a few years old, and last year I wondered if there was something wrong with it, as the native birds which flock to the 'Superb Robyn' left it alone for some reason. This year no such problem. In fact it's squabbled over at times by different nectar-eaters, so all is now as it should be. As it's only a few feet from our back door, it has brought various native birds much closer to Pam's studio/office, which is a treat.

Peaches and Cream is Pam's grevillea. She saw one growing in a nearby street, took a photo, told me to get one (no, not 'asked me'!) and picked out where it was to be planted. I showed the photo to Geoffrey at work, he identified it, I bought it and planted it, nursed it to good health when it was a sickly child, and it's definitely still Pam's grevillea. She keeps a close eye on its welfare. Should it ever get sick again, I'm in trouble (or at least on duty until it gets well).

Australian natives are some of the most misunderstood plants in our gardens. While they're well adapted to our dry climate and can survive long dry spells better than many other plants, the fact is that they love a good amount of rain, provided the soil isn't gluggy, boggy and heavy.

In fact, Australian natives often look and smell their loveliest on a rainy day. If ever you're planning a bushwalk in Australia and are tempted to cancel it because it's raining, don't. Go for that walk through the bush in the rain. It smells so incredibly lovely, the colours change, many of them to softer hues, others simply to new hues you won't have seen before. But even if you can't quite make it out into the bush, next time it rains in your garden make sure to visit your native plants – they're very likely to be at their nicest then.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Asian eggplants

Don't you love it when an impulse buy bears fruit (rather than fails miserably)? Well, this one, an Asian eggplant, is finally starting to deliver the goods, although at this stage there's little prospect of a glut. Just two fruit so far, but there's promise of several more here and there, judging by the growing number of flowers.

It was early December when I went looking for something to fill a hole in the garden for three or so months, until it's time to plant a new dwarf tibouchina here. The words 'Asian eggplant' leapt out from the seedling bench and so I brought it home. Now, two months later, it's bearing fruit. Not bad at all, but they say eggplants need warmth to do well and it's been quite warm since early December, so I suspect my time has been accidentally spot on.

If you've grown tomatoes or potatoes you'd recognise a Solanum family member's flower. This lilac/mauve and yellow person's name is Solanum melongena, Asian eggplant to her friends. And if you want to know a lot more about all sorts of eggplants, this not very sexy but super-informative Melbourne Uni website is a useful place to check out eggplants.

So far, only two fruits, each reaching a size just a bit bigger than a golf ball. (And if you're wondering about those other, tiny, pea-size Thai eggplants, they're Solanum torvum, and they're listed at that Melbourne Uni website linked to above.)

As there are only two fruit on the plant I might as well show you the whole crop in all its glory!

I don't plan to do anything especially innovative with them in the kitchen. Into a Thai green chicken curry pot they'll go, chopped up into big chunks. However, I will saunter down to my local Asian foodstore and buy a new batch of made-in-Thailand green curry paste, which has a lot more flavour, spice, aroma and kick than the innocuous supermarket Thai curry pastes. It's the least I can do to do justice to my home-grown Asian eggplants.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cuckoo in the curry tree

When you think of cuckoos, most of us tend to think of Swiss clocks with a little door that opens to allow a little bird to pop out and say 'cuckoo' once every hour, on the hour. Last Sunday I finally managed to take a photo of our resident cuckoo, a koel.

It'd have to be a very large clock to house this cuckoo. At least our koels maintain the cuckoo tradition of reliable time-keeping. Every morning around 4am they wake up the neighbourhood with their loud, repetitive calls. As a result, unfortunately, koels are not exactly our most beloved birds! This particular individual is a bit of an oddball version of koel. It's a juvenile male that's going through its first moult, to become a glossy, all-black adult male.

What attracted him to our backyard was the sight of all those juicy curry tree berries. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing. All sorts of berry-producing non-native plants are turning into bushland weeds. The berries might be eaten in my backyard, but the seeds are then carried by birds to bushland sometimes miles away, where they then sprout and compete with native plants.

While the koel family has been part of our neighbourhood for years, these birds are a relatively rare sight, even if they're a familiar sound. The sight of the young moulting male was a big enough surprise midway through Sunday afternoon, but right on dusk another koel appeared perched on our clothesline, this one a juvenile female.

The interesting thing about cuckoos, of course, is the clever way they fool other bird species into raising their young. The adult cuckoos lay their eggs in other bird species' nests, and when the baby cuckoo hatches it pushes the 'host' baby birds out of the nest and the 'host' parents raise the cuckoo baby.

For our koels, their most regular 'host' birds are currawongs - big, black-and-white birds similar in many ways to magpies, but with black beaks. The system seems to work, as the two koels visiting last Sunday were both born last spring are only now getting out and about. The nice thing about juvenile birds is that they tend to spook a lot less easily than adults, and so bumbling amateur photographers such as me can blunder about and manage to get a couple of snaps without startling the birds into flight.