Sunday, December 19, 2010

Miniature Ponds in the Hidden Hearts of Plants

Things I like about Sydney No. 43: Miniature Ponds in the Hidden Hearts of Plants

On either side of the pathway leading up to our shack in the bush is a cultivated patch of garden. The left hand side is covered half in ferns and half in a tropical red and green plant. The right hand side is covered in spider plants. These two beds are the only bit of the entire garden which we maintain (apart from the pathway around the house on which I constantly wage a losing battle with weeds). The rest of the garden is left to nature and resembles the bush we're perched in. If we leave the two garden beds to nature, however, they become overwhelmed with the unfortunately named Wandering Jew.

Wandering Jew is "an aggressive scrambling creeper that can smother other plants as it forms a mat-like cover of the ground it occupies." Lane Cove Council, who maintain the trail running alongside the creek below our house, periodically sweep through the area pulling the creeper up, right  to the edges of our garden. So I feel obliged to carry on their good work and to do the same around the house. And as the weed has very weak roots it is a very satisfying job to do - the plant comes up easily just by yanking at any of its long many-leaved stems. Much more fun than weeding the path which leaves me with blisters and holes in my gardening gloves.

The council are currently losing the war against trandescantia albiflora (to give Wandering Jew its proper name. So-called after John Tradescant who created the Ark in Lambeth, a private cabinet of curiosities which subsequently opened to the public as the first museum in London. He is also known as one of the world's most renowned plant collectors). The volunteers are obviously slacking off as Christmas approaches.

Here's a view up to our house from the creek. You can see one end of our bird-feeding balcony.

Wandering Jew creeps along the bush floor, entirely covering everything except the rocks and trees. The Council volunteers have to work their way down the creek, on their hands and knees, putting all the weeds into large white sacks. Every time I see them I think of joining in, but then I think of the funnel-web spiders, the cobwebs of the large Golden Orb Weavers, the red ants, the Golden Crowned Snakes and I immediately dissuade myself from doing any such foolish thing.

Alongside the creek itself, here just below our house, the weed is prevented from reaching the water's edge because of the rocks forming the creek's bank. Further down, along a small channel of water that flows towards the creek, where some beautiful flowers grow in the moist soil, you can see they are completely surrounded by a carpet of Wandering Jew (it's the plant spreading out from the bottom right-hand corner of this photo).

Anyway, the battle was won against tradescantia albiflora yesterday in the patch of garden alongside our front path. Victory goes to the ferns and the red and green tropical plants. And it was whilst tending the latter that I noticed today's blog subject: miniature ponds.

Each of the tropical plants I was de-weeding had, at its reddest centre, a miniature aquatic garden, a secret pond, complete with fantastical flowers and swimming insects. And I hadn't noticed them until on my hands and knees pulling out weeds, my nose inches from their leaves.

Poking up from within the rain-filled hearts of each plant were bright flowers, of an unexpected purple colour, clashing quite viole(n)tly with their surroundings.

After staring stupidly at my discovery for a few minutes I then also discovered that said miniature ponds were a perfectly nice breeding ground for mosquitoes and that just then, ouch!, one was feeding greedily on my elbow, brazen despite the fact that it was the middle of the day when all mosquitoes are supposed to be asleep. Now I felt like a true pioneer - just as you discover something amazing and beautiful you simultaneously discover it has a wretched downside...

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