How to bring Mother Nature to your door

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Photo by Maurício Filho on Pexels.com

Outside the window to my left there is a nest in our mulberry tree. Both parents are back and forth constantly, carrying wormy morsels for consumption by two tiny, hungry baby birds. I have been watching this beautiful process for about three weeks now, starting when I noticed the two adults putting the final touches to their compact little nest, right in front of the glass doors at one entrance to our house. If I wanted to I could clear the distance between the entrance and the tree in two or three strides, stand on the bench just beneath it, and reach up and touch the nest. At first I thought I was surely mistaken: why would they build so close by? Had they not noticed that there are people living here, using this very entrance several times a day? Not to mention our cat (okay, he’s elderly and has never climbed that tree, but he’s often in the area), and that all things considered they had best find another spot?

 

But they persevered. Days later it became clear that there were eggs in the nest, with one adult spending a lot of time sitting there with his or her mouth open, (I think they take turns) and awaiting sustenance. The other parent’s job is then to fetch and carry food, to make sure that the other doesn’t go hungry. And then suddenly there were babies. We couldn’t spot the babies at first, but there was clearly some feeding of little ones going on, with both parents involved and alternating between sitting, finding food and generally fussing around the area in a parent-y kind of way.

 

The birds are Karoo Thrushes, common in Johannesburg gardens and preferring shady, woody areas under trees, where they can forage for insects, spiders and other small creatures.

 

Within a few short weeks this particular little family has flourished, despite several thunderstorms (typical of Johannesburg at this time of the year) which could knock the sturdiest of birds’ nests sideways in no time. Each time, I waited with bated breath whilst rain and hail poured down and wind howled, with loud thunder claps and lightning flashes enough to make your heart skip a beat.  As the storms abated I would peer out and noticed with relief that the little nest was still in tact with one parent, soaking but stoic, still huddled down, covering and protecting the young ones beneath.

 

The first time I first saw the babies was beaks- up, mouths wide open, awaiting the descent of the morsel held in the parent’s beak as he/she alighted the nest. Even more special was the first time I spotted their little bobbing heads, faintly downy and backlit by the morning sun behind the tree, creating a bright little fuzzy halo of newly forming feathers.

 

The past five years (almost exactly to the day) has seen many special wild creatures visiting our garden, some even making it into the house. Spiders: some of them venomous, frogs, herons (which catch and devour the frogs and goldfish in our pond), a tawny eagle, an owl, a small snake, flying bats, scorpions, a variety of wasps, bees and butterflies, damsels and dragonflies, and of course an endless variety of garden birds.

 

How to bring Mother Nature to your door? I can’t say exactly, but no doubt our organic garden (no chemical fertilizers or pesticides) helps to create the right environment. But more than that: perhaps the secret ingredient is love 🙂 The people living here and holding this space do so with love and commitment to an eco-friendly lifestyle and to ‘treading lightly upon this earth’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My mid-summer garden: Circa January 2019.

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In my garden: Cucumber vine (early stages of fruiting)

 

My garden has breathed a sigh of relief, following some impressive afternoon thunderstorms, so typical of Johannesburg at this time of the year. Many a seedling wilted and died last month, after weeks of unrelenting, frustratingly rain-less heat which rendered even the toughest of our garden plants (aloes and crassulas) gasping for relief. January 2019 has offered some rainy respite, bringing with it a sense of fresh renewal and the garden has responded accordingly. Not that we haven’t had some failures: seeds lovingly planted have mysteriously not produced (I have learnt to accept that this sometimes is just so), seedlings have shriveled and expired in the heat, and our lovely lettuce was set upon by some bug or worm with a very large appetite. In this case I have been determined not to use chemical insect repellents, and thankfully our preferred organic alternatives are slowly making an impact.

Please enjoy the pictures to follow. Each one snapped by me earlier today:

 

 

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Borlotti Beans

 

 

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Perfectly ripe red apple

 

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Comfrey, red Salvia and Origanum

 

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Tree stump and Bulbanella

 

 

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Agapanthus and bee, with white Alysum in background

 

 

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Cycad (new growth in centre) with pond in background

 

 

 

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Vietnamese Coriander: pungent and delicious

 

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Our garden angel, with Rose Quartz. Pond reeds in background

 

 

 

♥♥♥

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to make friends with a Venomous Garden Spider (and would you want to)

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Free Photo. Source: Pexels

When I spied this poisonous Brown Button spider and her eggs clinging to the underside of a piece of garden furniture, I felt a strong pull of sympathy and fascination and less of the horror and alarm that some might expect. I even felt a bit guilty for not having noticed her when I initially pulled the chair away from it’s normal shady spot two days ago, and placed it on the lawn in the baking hot sun where it has been  ever since. Waiting to be scrubbed clean along with some other pieces of garden equipment. (We will get round to that). I felt a distinct sense of kinship with this spider mother who was after all, just trying to give her kids a home and fighting chance in a harsh world, and here I come along and spoil the whole plan by exposing them, belly side up, to the blazing summer sun and the possibility of predators, such as certain birds.

 

 

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I have come across venomous spiders before in Johannesburg gardens, and I knew by sight that this one was not severely venomous. It’s the Black Button (Widow) that you’ve really got to be careful of: typically a bite from one of those results in a hospital admission and having your vital signs measured for about 24 hours. A bite from the Brown Button is less severe and more localised, and symptoms in a healthy adult will normally clear up within a few days. Button Spiders will only attack if threatened; not exactly the vicious predators they are sometimes made out to be.

 

Well anyway, there we were: myself, the spider and her little brood of two, with me wondering what to do next. A nice photograph of the little family seemed appropriate, so I leaned in slowly with my phone and clicked. She immediately darted into her nest, which you can clearly see in the above pic: it’s the pocket shaped mass to the right of the photo, with her balancing at the mouth. Pleased with my nicely detailed close-up, and feeling somewhat bonded with this little trio, I felt inclined to offer them some shelter, so I lifted the chair (easy enough; its made of a light plastic) and moved the whole lot into a shady spot on the patio.

 

And that’s where we are now. But the harder part comes later, because clearly a decision will have to be made. We are encouraged to ‘get rid’ of poisonous creatures from our homes and gardens, and that can mean different things to different people. So when my husband gets home later from an undoubtedly long and hard day, we will still have a little date with Mother Nature to attend to.

 

 

For more on spiders and snakes in South Africa:

http://www.arc.agric.za/arc-ppri/Pages/Biosystematics/Spider%20Research%20Centre/Venomous-Spiders-Neurotoxic-venom.aspx

 

https://www.news24.com/Travel/Guides/Bush/Beware-Snakes-and-spiders-to-watch-out-for-20130814

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A post about pets and other simple pleasures

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Annie, aged 13
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Jasper, aged 16

 

 

Simple is not always the same as Easy, and I find this to be so as I go about my efforts to reduce waste, and my carbon footprint in general. I’m doing my bit to live simpler/ lighter/ less cluttered/ more focused, and this has been largely a hugely rewarding process, but it takes effort and perseverance. It’s a bit like detoxing: you have to go through some pain before you come out clean on the other side! I look forward to the time when Simpler becomes altogether Easier. For instance, as I try to be a conscious consumer, a weekly groceries shop at the mall is a challenge where I brace myself for an encounter with rows of overpackaged items on shelves, much of it in single use plastic. This will only really change when producers of goods and the retailers who display these goods make some major changes. And here in my Johannesburg home, where I am in a process of decluttering and have made good progress with clearing out shelves and cupboards, there have been unexpected obstacles. My husband, for instance, has proved to be surprisingly sentimental about letting go of some of his old stuff, including clothing that he literally never wears, and a set of golf clubs that hasn’t been used for about 10 years (he hates golf and is happy to admit it!)

 

And then sometimes the simplest, most effortless things are there right in front of you, for your enjoyment. If we open our eyes and ears, we may be rewarded for our efforts in the loveliest of ways, just by being receptive to the simple beauty that surrounds us. And very often it is that thing that we live with and so often take for granted. On that note I was inspired to write this mini-ode (that’s clearly not a real word) to my beloved pets one Saturday morning…..

 

 

Entry from my diary:13/10/2018-

Early on a Saturday morning, my first cup of tea of the day:

Annie may have the world’s biggest doggie eyes, as she peeps up at me with those big, dark, almond -shaped orbs from her cozy spot on her aqua -coloured doggie blanket; head tilted slightly sideways and resting on her little white outstretched paws.

Jasper positions himself next to me and proceeds to give himself a thorough cleaning, as only an agile kitty cat can do. Lying midway between his back and his right side, he licks with firm, head -rolling strokes his furry white tummy and chest, and then with a gentle sigh, rests for a moment before proceeding to paws, ears and other kitty bits.

♥♥♥♥