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The Top Ten

The new book

The new book

I’ve just published the latest GardenEzi book, this time on the Ten Best plants for indoor growing.

Why did I choose these plants, from all the many available?

Well, first of all, I chose those that have proved themselves the most reliable performers under all sorts of conditions.  The plants that you just can’t kill unless you actually poison them!

I also selected for good looks, with emphasis on patterned leaves or colourful spathes (the big, beautiful leaf-like structures that surround the small flowers in some plants).

I concentrated on foliage rather than flowers because flowers always require more work and more demanding light requirements.

I avoided ferns because they are generally a bit more difficult to grow than the foliage plants from (mostly) the aroid group that feature in the Top Ten – and anyway it’s hard to pick one fern over another for inclusion in so short a list and ferns really deserve a Top Ten book of their own; I’ll probably do it one day.

And then I focused on those that were readily available in most garden centres/nurseries in most countries.

Of course, picking just ten plants is not easy, even when you stick to the above criteria.  There are just so many other little beauties out there, especially among the aroids.  So I hope people will use this book as the guide to a basic collection, adding others – peperomias, fittonias, alocasias and colocasias come to mind – as they gain confidence or want something different.

You can read more about Ten Best Indoor Plants by clicking on the My Books tab.  To buy, go to the gardening book section on Amazon and look for  Ten Best Indoor Plants and Julie Lake, or else just put this info into your browser and that will take you there.

Because a good display of colour photos is not easy with e-books, I’m putting the photos of the Top Ten right here, so those who buy the book can have a better look. Here they are:

Aglaonema - these plants come in a range of subtly-patterned leaves, mostly in greens and silvery-greys

Aglaonema – these plants come in a range of subtly-patterned leaves, mostly in greens and silvery-greys

Anthuriums come with large spathes in bright lipstick hues of pink, red and peach

Anthuriums come with large spathes in bright lipstick hues of pink, red and peach

This is a very young aspidistra in a pot - it will grow into a handsome plant like the one below...

This is a very young aspidistra in a pot – it will grow into a handsome plant like the one below…

This aspidistra is groing outdoors - but it does just as well indoors in low light conditions.

This aspidistra is groing outdoors – but it does just as well indoors in low light conditions.

Calatheas have leaves with fascinating patterns...

Calatheas have leaves with fascinating patterns…

Calathead

Dieffenbachias are tough performers - but the leaves are toxic (though not palatable!)

Dieffenbachias are tough performers – but the leaves are toxic (though not palatable!)

Dracaena (the Dracaena marginata varieties are prettiest) is as good indoors as out, if given bright light

Dracaena (the Dracaena marginata varieties are prettiest) is as good indoors as out, if given bright light

The elegant Lady Palm (Rhapis exelsa) - always a favourite indoors.

The elegant Lady Palm (Rhapis exelsa) – always a favourite indoors.

The white spathes of the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) seem to glow in low light

The white spathes of the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) seem to glow in low light

Lilies of the field

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I love lilies! I mean why would you not – they are as easy to grow as they are gorgeous. I especially love the tall, stately, so-called Oriental lilies which every late spring and early summer offer such a fine reward for so little effort.

Have a look at this splendid specimen in my own garden, which right now is putting on a show that distracts the eye from the sorry state of our pond. We have had no significant rain for four months now so the pond is rather low – much to the delight of the herons that fish there daily for frogs. The poor old frogs are not nearly so enthusiastic though and must be desperate for rain not only so they can start breeding but also to put more water in the pond so they have somewhere to hide from the predatory birds.

Anyway, back to the lily. In its first year after the bulb was planted it produced one fine flower. In the next year it was taller and produced a couple more. Last year it put on a better show and we had the pleasure of it for several weeks. This year it is, as you can see, a wonder to the eye. Not just by day but at night too, because it glows in the dark even when there is no moon, and can be easily seen from the sitting room window.

Oriental Lily1 - Copy

The “Oriental” lilies sold in garden centres or available from bulb suppliers today are highly-bred hybrids of several species of (mostly) Asian origin. They are similar to, but not quite the same, as those commonly called “Asiatic” lilies, just to make things confusing! The latter, however, are generally less tall and stately. They often have colour-contrast centres and are better in pots than the Orientals.

Both Asiatic and Oriental lilies are easy to grow but the latter are REALLY tough. Conventional horticultural wisdom says they do best in good, loamy soil, in part shade, with either well-distributed rainfall (especially in summer) or regular watering. Plus a couple of doses of fertilizer a year.

Well, my beauty gets none of those things! It is growing in the most horrible, hard, stony soil you could imagine. It gets sun for most of the day and water only when I remember, which isn’t often. Sure, it gets deluged for a couple of months in high summer but we’ve just had four months with only a couple of inches of rain (about 45 mm) many weeks apart and only twice have I remembered to give my tall and splendid darling a drink! And I never feed it at all! Nor mulch it, though there is a fair bit of leaf litter around its base.

Yet there it is, flourishing wonderfully. In this past year it has withstood both deluge and drought, strong wind and fierce sun. The older I get, and the more years I study and write about horticulture, the more I realise that plants are like children – they grow best and sturdiest if they are not too spoiled and protected and over-indulged.

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I don’t even know my lily’s exact name and nobody has yet been able to tell it to me. It looks a bit like the variety ‘Santander’ and a bit like ‘Rialto’ too, though it is too greenish in hue to be either. Perhaps it is an old variety and the name has been lost as new varieties come along. It looks like some sort of cross between L. auratum and L. speciosum, as most of these types of lilies are, probably with a couple of other species in the mix as well. Never mind, what’s in a name! All I do know is that I plan to get a few more of these lovely lilies when bulb-buying time comes around again.

Memories are made of this

 

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Kenya friends reunited – or at least united!  From left, Karin, Marcia, Jill, Robin,John,Barbara and Graham.  Jinx had already gone home and Ruth is taking the picture.

 

 

Why is it, I asked myself this morning, that I am driving for over an hour to have lunch with a bunch of people, most of whom I’ve never met before?  And that gave rise to another question – what is it about Kenya that seems to bind those who grew up there, or ever lived there, in such a way that after all these years we still enjoy getting together with those who share our memories?  It’s because Kenya was – and in many was still is – a special place.  And that makes us all a bit special too.

The luncheon today was for members of the Kenya Friends Reunited Facebook sub-group, or at least those few members who live in south-east Queensland.  Most of us had not met before, yet we immediately felt like old friends.  Such is the power of Kenya – and of those childhood memories we all hold in common.

It’s also a tribute to the power of Facebook and let me say this, knowing that there are those out there who don’t seem to approve of this wonderful social network facility – Facebook has added a whole new wonderful communications dimension to my life and I am proud to be a subscriber.  I have an often insanely busy life, many friends, plenty of hobbies and interests. And Facebook makes all that easier for me because I can so readily and pleasantly keep in touch with friends and relatives around the world and “see” what they still look like and what they are doing.  As far as KFR is concerned it has reunited me with many old friends and brought back many memories – wonderful!

Anyway, back to our first KFR lunch in this part of the world.  The venue chosen was The Lighthouse Restaurant at Cleveland, a bayside suburb of Brisbane. It’s situated at the end of a narrow point of land pointing straight into Moreton Bay – Brisbane’s Bay of Islands.  On a fine and sunny southern hemisphere sub-tropical spring day this should have been a splendid setting but, alas, the weather was not kind.  It blew a gale, sent down a shower or two and forced all the diners at this large restaurant/pub/cafe complex to eat indoors.

This was a particular shame for Robin Swift who had suggested the event – and the venue.  There he was when I arrived, having set up a large table at the side of the restaurant, complete with Kenya flag, and it was all being blown away.  Thanks to Facebook, Robin and I recognised each other immediately.  And fellow KFR members will be glad to know he is just as lovely as we all thought he must be!  As is his wife Jinx though, poor girl, she had to put up with all we Kenyans reminiscing like crazy.  Jinx, I should explain, comes from That Other Place stuck between SA and Zambia that’s ALMOST as nice as Kenya except it doesn’t have beaches and decent-sized mountains.  It does, however, have that well-known humanitarian Robert Mugabe – which is probably why Robin and Jinx and their family don’t live there any more.

Sitting with Robin and Jinx was Graham (can’t remember his second name), another ex-Kenyan who had been at the Duko with Robin.  As is always the case, we immediately found we knew people in common and were busily investigating this when Ruth Davies arrived.  Ruth is a KFR member who never contributes (too busy) and she and I were at both primary and high school together and our mothers were friends.  So we get together pretty often…but never often enough.

So there the five of us sat, waiting for the others to arrive.  Waited…and waited…!  The weather drove us indoors and we went to the bar section – very cosy on a wet day – and ate fish and chips.  After  a couple of hours of reminiscent chat along came Karin Blowers who told us that she and the rest of the expected guests had been sitting in the restaurant section, wondering what had happened to US!  Just a bit of a mix-up made worse by the weather that forced us to abandon our outside table. So we picked up our glasses and joined the others – and met Marcia and Anne, Barbara and John.  More reminiscent chat.  More old ties established.  I knew Anne’s parents (as did my husband and father).  Marcia’s son lives a street away from my home at North Tamborine.  And John and Barbara live down the bottom of the mountain.  Though none of us knew any of this before. Even more surprising, I only found out just before I left home this morning that the Swifts are the parents-in-law of the son of one of our close friends on Tamborine Mountain!

We forgot the horrible weather in sharing our memories as well as our Australian experiences.  The time went all too fast and given the distances some of us had to travel (only Robin and Jinx live near Brisbane, the rest of us came from either the north or south coasts which means at least an hour’s driving) we decided to call it a day at about three o’clock.  And wouldn’t you know…the clouds rolled back, the drizzle went away, the rain died and the sun shone brightly, just as it’s done for weeks now. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and meeting people in the flesh whom I’d got to know through Kenya Friends Reunited.   We are planning another such get-together down the track and next time we’ll make sure we all meet up at the right time in the right place.  Here are the photos:

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 The venue – this is the cafe/bar side of The Lighthouse Restaurant at Cleveland Point, bayside Brisbane

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The actual lighthouse after which the restaurant is named – looking across Raby Bay.

Jill, Ruth, Jinx, Graham and Robin in the bar, wondering why the others haven't turned up.

Jill, Ruth, Jinx, Graham and Robin in the bar, wondering why the others haven’t turned up.

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After she's come in search of us - and found us - Karin returns to finish this very large fish.  Looks like she's enjoying it!

After she’s come in search of us – and found us – Karin returns to finish this very large fish. Looks like she’s enjoying it!

And now we get to meet Anne and Marcia, both of whom live well over an hour's drive away

And now we get to meet Anne and Marcia, both of whom live well over an hour’s drive away

We also get to meet John and Barbara - and that's Ruth on the left of them (our left)

We also get to meet John and Barbara – and that’s Ruth on the left of them (our left)

Another pic of Ruth, this time in typical pose

Another pic of Ruth, this time in typical pose

And here she is again, with John.  Ruth is one of my favourite people in the world so I like to have lots of pics of her

And here she is again, with John. Ruth is one of my favourite people in the world so I like to have lots of pics of her

And here's lovely Robin who got us all together

And here’s lovely Robin who got us all together

Anne and Robin confer, Karin concentrates on her lunch and Graham hits the bottle - but its only water!

Anne and Robin confer, Karin concentrates on her lunch and Graham hits the bottle – but its only water!

Jinx takes a pic of the rest of us taking pics!

Jinx takes a pic of the rest of us taking pics!

Karin is probably thinking about the trip she's going to take to Tanzania soon - or else just digesting that enormous fish!

Karin is probably thinking about the trip she’s going to take to Tanzania soon – or else just digesting that enormous fish!

Graham shows us how he used to land his plane when he was a pilot in Kenya!...seriously though, he's going to kill me for publishing this pic.  Good job he lives two hours away!

Graham shows us how he used to land his plane when he was a pilot in Kenya!…seriously though, he’s going to kill me for publishing this pic. Good job he lives two hours away!

View from the restaurant - no sitting out on the verandah today, alas.  Though the weather was soon to clear.

View from the restaurant – no sitting out on the verandah today, alas. Though the weather was soon to clear.

And here we all are at the end of a very enjoyable afternoon - all except Jinx, that is.  And me, who was taking the pic.

And here we all are at the end of a very enjoyable afternoon – all except Jinx, that is. And me, who was taking the pic.

The king of orchids

This orchid is grown on a smallish rock on the ground, with overhead shade and early morning sun.  It gets better every year;  this year there are 16 flower spikes.

This orchid is grown on a smallish rock on the ground, with overhead shade and early morning sun. It gets better every year; this year there are 16 flower spikes.

THE KING OF ORCHIDS

Sue Horder wrote to me recently asking for help with her king orchid (Dendrobium speciosum), also known in Australia as the rock orchid.

This really is the king of orchids for its sheer size and magnificence, once it reaches sufficient maturity to produce four or more spikes, And it’s very easy to grow – provided you give it the right conditions.

All a king orchid actually needs is something firm on which to grow and a position in light shade or direct sun in the morning only. The fork of a tree that’s either briefly deciduous in late winter, or has a light canopy of foliage (such as a jacaranda, erythrina or frangipani) is ideal Or a rock with light overhead shade. The orchid in the picture (above) is grown under the eaves of a house with an easterly aspect; it gets plenty of early morning sun in the cool season but is shaded from direct sunlight for most of the day in summer.

This type of orchid is an epiphyte, which means it occurs naturally on trees or rocks where it gets strong support, good aeration and perfect drainage. The roots can spread where they will without constraint. Nutrition is supplied by insect carcasses and plant debris, with some minerals taken from the bark or rock over which the roots spread. An epiphyte is not a parasite so the plant does not take its sustenance from the host.

Grown in the fork of a tree, this fine specimen has spread its mat of thick, fibrous roots over the bark, giving it very strong support.

Grown in the fork of a tree, this fine specimen has spread its mat of thick, fibrous roots over the bark, giving it very strong support.

In cultivation, king orchids should be given a growing environment as close to nature as possible. If a tree branch (preferably a fork, for stability) or a large rock is not available then a tree stump will do. If you have bought your plant from a garden center then it will be on some sort of support already and you merely have to place this somewhere the orchid has plenty of space to grow – because king orchids can get very large indeed. If you have obtained your plant from, say, somebody else’s garden then you will need to fasten it firmly in place with string or thin rope made from organic fibre that will rot away once the plant roots have established themselves in the new habitat. (see photos).

A wicker basket also makes a suitable growing environment because it provides perfect root drainage if filled with bark and leaf litter or an open orchid-growing mix. A couple of small rocks will add stability and enable to orchid’s roots to extract important minerals. The basket can be placed on the ground (slightly raised on rocks or timber is best) or suspended on strong supports. Choose a position which is lightly shaded all day or which gets direct sun only in the early morning (no later than 10 a.m.).

WATERING
If your orchid is in a tree,and if you live in typical king orchid country with plenty of summer rainfall, you don’t really need to water it at all. In the dry season the orchid will still be able to extract water from the tree bark. In an artificial growing situation, however, and especially if you live where prolonged drought is common, it’s best to sprinkle lightly every couple of days in dry weather. If you have a misting attachment on your hose, this is excellent as king orchids grow mostly in environments where mists are frequent and provide much of the moisture required by the
plant. Always bear in mind that these are plants that like a lot of moisture in the air for most of the year and don’t like aridity. So the important thing to remember is that the root system SHOULD NEVER BE WATERLOGGED YET NEVER ALLOWED TO COMPLETELY DRY OUT FOR TOO LONG. A dry spring, however, will produce larger and more prolific flowers and at this time just a light misting is all that’s needed.

FERTILISING
Feeding king orchids is not really necessary, especially with tree-grown plants. However, blooms will be more and better if you give your plant a feed once a month from June – August, using a cheap soluble all-purpose formula such as Thrive or Aquasol mixed in a spray bottle at half the strength recommended for pot plants. The less “natural” your orchid’s growing environment the more it will need to be artificially fed because it may not be able to get adequate nutrition otherwise. I fertilise my king orchids again after flowering is finished, to promote new stem growth, and again in December – January. I have one “kingie” in a tree and that one I never feed at all!

GENERAL CARE
If grown as recommended here you shouldn’t have any problems. I’ve never seen an insect attack on a king orchid that was worth bothering about though you might like to remove unsightly spider webs if they form (I don’t: I think they help feed the plant and also keep more harmful insects away). Stem rot can occur from injury that allows harmful bacteria to enter the plant – if you see any obviously unhealthy browning of the stem, cut it away with a clean and sharp knife. The most common problem is root dry-out during drought. If this occurs the foliage will droop and the stems will look yellowish and unthrifty. Just keep watering the plant well (these orchids are amazingly tolerant of hard times) until it responds with fresh new growth.

It’s easy to move a king orchid. Just cut the roots very carefully with a sharp, clean knife and remove gently from the supporting structure. Pack in damp hessian (burlap), peat moss or some other soft, moist material and keep this with the plant when you transfer it to its new home. Tie firmly in place (including the wrapping material which will supply protection and moisture), spreading out the roots gently over the new surface.

And that’s it. A very easy plant that, if given the basics of horticultural care, will reward you with splendid flowering that just gets better every year. Do remember, though, that this glorious flowering period is brief, so don’t put your plant where it needs to offer a spectacle for the rest of the year.

King orchid growing in its natural habitat, high on a mountainside overlooking a ravine.  here it gets its moisture from summer rains and frequent mist.  An epiphytic plant like this won't thrive with its roots in deep soil - such as a pot.

King orchid growing in its natural habitat, high on a mountainside overlooking a ravine. here it gets its moisture from summer rains and frequent mist. An epiphytic plant like this won’t thrive with its roots in deep soil – such as a pot.

An A(Fare) to Remember!

THIS IS NOT A GARDENING POST. BUT I’VE INCLUDED IT ON THIS SITE, INSTEAD OF ONE OF MY LINKED SITES, BECAUSE A Fare With Nature is just such a perfect place for gardeners on holiday and in search of good accommodation with an interesting edible garden as an extra bonus.
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Fare2

Sometimes, you just get lucky! And we got very lucky indeed when we went to stay at A Fare With Nature at Prom Road Farm near Wilson’s Promontory National Park. The “Prom” is one of Australia’s great natural wonders and lies to the extreme south of the continent, sticking out from South Gippsland into Bass Strait (see my article on Wilson’s Promontory on the Tamborine Dreaming website; click on tab above). It’s a “must see” for nature lovers, photographers and bushwalkers.

This is an area of gentle green hills, fat dairy cattle, gorgeous beaches, forest pockets and quiet, meandering backroads. If you want an overseas comparison it’s very like Devon and Cornwall, or parts of America’s Carolina coastline.

A Fare with Nature sits right in the middle of all this beauty; a small B & B which offers just so much more for the money than most. I’ve stayed in guesthouses/B & Bs all over the world and this is my favourite because a variety of small details come together so nicely here to make a happy whole.
First, there is the location, on a hill overlooking the beautiful bay of Corner Inlet which is almost encircled by the rugged northern coastline of Wilson’s Promontory. To the southwest are views of Waratah Bay, on the promontory’s western side, which is studded with rocky islands. Behind the guesthouse the hills rise in gentle swells and in the folds lies a temperate rainforest running down a long, secret gully where the only sound is trickling water and the quiet songs of small birds. The national park is only a short and pretty drive from here while Foster, the nearest small town, is just minutes away.

A sign of good things to come!

A sign of good things to come!

The blue waters of the bay

The blue waters of the bay

Wonderful Wilson's Prom in the distance

Wonderful Wilson’s Prom in the distance

There are also splendid country views

There are also splendid country views

...and another one...

…and another one…

The guesthouse is only a few years old and modern in style

The guesthouse is only a few years old and modern in style

On one side it overlooks this lovely dam, stocked with fish and good for birds too

On one side it overlooks this lovely dam, stocked with fish and good for birds too

I go exploring up the hill behind the house and find   a peaceful and mysterious temperate rainforest

I go exploring up the hill behind the house and find a peaceful and mysterious temperate rainforest

The B &B from the back,  as the winter afternoon sun goes down behind me

The B &B from the back, as the winter afternoon sun goes down behind me

We arrived on a perfect winter’s day when the waters of the bay were as blue as the sky. We drove up the long driveway to the house through emerald fields grazed by black-and-white cattle, for this is a working dairy farm more immaculate than any I’ve seen. When we stepped out of the car the view grabbed us because it takes in such a vast sweep of coastline. The hills of Wilson’s Promontory are much larger than expected (Mt. Latrobe is 754 m and is, I think, the highest point) and make for a dramatic skyline. We were delighted at the thought of waking up to such a view.

The house is modern Australian in style, of brick, with a large upstairs veranda on two sides and a patio downstairs. Inside, the guest accommodation is country in style but not the overly fussy ye olde kitsch style beloved of so many Australian B & Bs. At A Fare With Nature the style is one of simple comfort yet bright and pretty with interesting paintings and photographs on the walls. And, it is amazingly generous as to space. The five bedrooms are all large and the bathrooms equally spacious; ours was so big you could have thrown a party in it! There are two guest lounges too, one upstairs and one down, also of large proportions and very comfortably furnished.

The bedrooms are all spacious and very comfortable - electric blankets on the beds

The bedrooms are all spacious and very comfortable – electric blankets on the beds

Here's another one, which has splendid views of the water

Here’s another one, which has splendid views of the water

I was rather taken with this pretty blue room

I was rather taken with this pretty blue room

But we opted for the twin room - with its giant bathroom

But we opted for the twin room – with its giant bathroom

This isn't our bathroom but gives an idea of the space, modern features and cleanliness - oh dear, I sound like an ad!

This isn’t our bathroom but gives an idea of the space, modern features and cleanliness – oh dear, I sound like an ad!

We relished the space. Those who know us know that we are not usually partial to B & B-style accommodation which requires more sociability than is natural to us (especially Bob!). We usually prefer the anonymity of hotel/motel rooms or self-contained cabins. So part of the great charm of A Fare With Nature for us was that the guest bedrooms are all very separate and private and the guest lounges (two for five rooms!) are so large and well-furnished that you can share them with fellow-guests without feeling overly intimate.

A view of our downstairs guest lounge

A view of our downstairs guest lounge

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...and from the other end

…and from the other end

Despite the bright sunshine the fresh air of South Gippsland was chilly so we were glad to go inside where a log fire was awaiting us in the downstairs guest lounge. And also in the kitchen, which is the heart of this house, as it should be in any good country B & B. This is a kitchen large and splendidly-enough equipped to feature on Master Chef and presiding over it is the REAL secret of A Fare With Nature’s success – the owner and hostess, Rhonda Bland.

Bob with Rhonda in her big and cheery kitchen

Bob with Rhonda in her big and cheery kitchen

Rhonda is a rosy-cheeked countrywoman with a heart as big as the universe and an ability to turn her capable hands to anything from sawing logs and milking cows to grafting pear trees and cosseting guests. She has lived and farmed in the area all her life and her four children are all dairy farmers; one of them runs the farm on which the B & B stands and Rhonda still lends an experienced hand with milking if she’s needed. You just can’t help loving Rhonda the minute you meet her because she is just so cheerfully down-to-earth and dispenses hospitality so lavishly. Her anzac biscuits may just be the best in the world and in her big, warm kitchen she creates all sorts of other country delights. She’s very modest about her cooking but we loved it and others do too. Much of the produce comes from her own garden and the pantry shelves are all aglow with pickles and jams made by her and members of the family.

And then, there’s the house specialty, Rhonda’s rhubarb champagne!

We drank a bottle of this delicately pink, refreshing, sparkly drink and could have drunk several bottles more, but didn’t like to be greedy! It certainly went wonderfully well with Ronda’s roast pork and crisp crackling.

We had to pack a lot into our three days at “The Prom” so didn’t spend as much time as we’d have liked on the property itself (1270 acres/514 ha), though I did have some fun walking around the orchard and vegetable beds, as well as climbing the hill to visit the temperate rainforest which is a place of great enticement for a birdwatcher. As is the large reed-fringed dam beside the house. We spent the first afternoon visiting Waratah Bay and Sandy Point on the western side of the promontory, both gorgeous beach areas even on a cold day (see pics). We also went into the pleasant little town of Foster where you can get food and drink and basic groceries (the pub has an excellent bistro). It was good after this active afternoon to get back to Rhonda’s hospitality and the comfort of our guest lounge. On closer acquaintance we realised just how very well-equipped this was, down to the smallest detail such as tea, coffee and sugar in matching caddies, bowl of fruit and another of chocolates on the dining table in the guest lounge, home-made biscuits in the tin, lots of fresh milk in the ‘frig. The guest lounges have kitchenettes immaculately equipped for limited self catering and Rhonda will provide lunch and/or dinner for those who would like full board. Breakfast, of course, is included in the room price and it’s up to you whether you want the full cooked bacon and eggs and trimmings or just fruit and cereal and toast.

Despite the chill that evening we went on to the upstairs deck to watch the moon rise over the sea while sipping Rhonda’s rhubarb champagne. It seemed an appropriate way to end our first day. Next morning we were up early to enjoy a breakfast of eggs from Rhonda’s chooks before heading out to the national park. I’ve described this in detail elsewhere so it’s enough to say here that we had a great day exploring this very large wilderness area and were exhausted by dusk, when we returned to the warmth of Rhonda’s hospitality – and her roast pork. And more of the rhubarb champagne! The sight of four wombats feeding by the side of the road (not all together for they are solitary critters) was an added bonus because we don’t get these lovely animals in our part of Queensland.

Watching the sun go down over Wilson's Promontory...

Watching the sun go down over Wilson’s Promontory…

...and then watching the moon rise

…and then watching the moon rise

Next morning, before leaving, we did a tour of Rhonda’s edible garden. Though it was winter and the garden not of course at its best, the size of it and the variety of fruit and vegetables grown in it is impressive. The climate of South Gippsland, or at least this part of it, is mild enough, yet cold enough, to grow an amazingly wide range of things; Vietnamese mint flourishes here, and citrus, but so do gooseberries (real English ones as well as the so-called “cape gooseberries”), raspberries, blueberries, greengage and other plums, nectarines, peaches, apples and pears. Some of the latter have been espaliered along trellises by Rhonda’s skilful hand. Vegetables include Jerusalem artichoke and its relative the Yacon, a root cropping plant from montane South America which looks like some kind or radish and has the same crunchy texture, but is juicier and sweeter with a faintly earth taste – it is in fact a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family and kissing cousin to the sunflower. Bob and I had never tasted this root before and thought it very similar in texture and flavour to the water chestnut.

We wake up to a lovely fresh morning

We wake up to a lovely fresh morning

Rhonda loves her garden. It’s open and sunny and when she’s working in it she can look up and see the sea. The soil is good; improved by mulch regular composting and mulching – and a dairy farm provides plenty of rich manure! Guests love the garden too, especially those who are gardeners themselves and can appreciate how much love and hard work have gone into this one. And there’s a definite charm in strolling around tasting things and knowing that the produce you’re admiring in the ground is likely to be on the table that night.

Say hello to the chooks and admire the pumpkins

Say hello to the chooks and admire the pumpkins

One of Rhonda's favourite places, the warm and sunny conservatory on one side of the house

One of Rhonda’s favourite places, the warm and sunny conservatory on one side of the house

Bob in front of the house, ready to do a tour of the garden

Bob in front of the house, ready to do a tour of the garden

But it gets a bit chilly so he puts on his jacket...

But it gets a bit chilly so he puts on his jacket…

Two gardeners happy to talk together about one of their favourite subjects

Two gardeners happy to talk together about one of their favourite subjects

Rhonda hates being photographed so she'll kill me for this - but just have to show her with the trellis she built herself - and where she espaliers some of her pear trees

Rhonda hates being photographed so she’ll kill me for this – but just have to show her with the trellis she built herself – and where she espaliers some of her pear trees

In this extensive garden Rhonda grows many unusual and interesting things such as Yacon and Jerusalem artichoke - she loves experimenting!

In this extensive garden Rhonda grows many unusual and interesting things such as Yacon and Jerusalem artichoke – she loves experimenting!

I'm pushing my luck here, showing anothe photo of Rhonda - but it's just such a pleasure to see her with her fruit and vegies.  Here she checks out some pepinos - giant sized!  I only wish I could have been there in the spring when her wonderful orchard is in full bloom.

I’m pushing my luck here, showing another photo of Rhonda – but it’s just such a pleasure to see her with her fruit and vegies. Here she checks out some pepinos – giant sized! I only wish I could have been there in the spring when her wonderful orchard is in full bloom.

All too soon we were on the road again because this is a good place from which to visit the small townships around Corner Inlet westward along the South Gippsland Highway, and so we still had some exploring to do. We left reluctantly though, having fallen in love with Wilson’s Promontory, with the rolling green hills of South Gippsland, and with A Fare With Nature and Prom Road Farm. It’s a long way from Queensland – but we’ll be back down there as soon as we can! If you want to check this lovely place out for yourself, here’s the link to Rhonda’s very friendly website:
http://afarewithnature.com.au/

You’ll find we are not the only guests to give A Fare With Nature a rave review.

And so here I am drinking a toast to A Fare To Remember in Ronda's super rhubarb champagne - in the hopes that one day we will be back in this place we love so much.  Thank you dear Rhonda for one of the best holiday breaks we've ever had!

And so here I am drinking a toast to A Fare To Remember in Rhonda’s super rhubarb champagne – in the hopes that one day we will be back in this place we love so much. Thank you dear Rhonda for one of the best holiday breaks we’ve ever had!

The road to Evans Head

When the Lakes need a beach fix we head for Evans Head, a tiny town in far northern New South Wales which fortunately has remained overlooked by the tourist hordes.

It’s about a two hour drive from here if you go straight down the motorway but we prefer to take the slightly longer but much more beautiful route through the back country down the Numinbah Valley.  From Tamborine we can take a short cut via Clagiraba through to the Numinbah Valley road.  Here the countryside is all ups and downs; on the western side are the heights of the Beechmont Plateau and after this the road follows the west bank of the Hinze Dam which is almost hidden among its many small surrounding hills.

The scenery here consists of rather scrubby forest growing on poor, rocky soil but this soon opens out to green meadows and running creeks as the road runs through the narrow defile between the Springbrook Plateau to the east and the Lamington Plateau to the west.  These high plateaus are bounded by formidable cliff faces, steep gorges and great bluffs such as Ship’s Stern, a favourite goal of bushwalkers setting out from Green Mountains and Binnaburra where so many great rainforest hikes begin.

It was a Monday when we left on our latest trip and so the road, which rarely carries much traffic, was very quiet.  It’s a good road too, considering that there is nothing much on either side except a few farms, a legacy of the legendary politician Big Russ Hinze who was always very generous to his own electorate!

Mountain in Numinbah Valley

Approaching the Border Range

This good road deteriorates rather abruptly when it gets close to the New South Wales border.  There is a scenic wonder here known as Natural Arch, where the upper reaches of the Nerang River have worn through the rocky gorge to form an archway over an exquisite pool, with a cave full of glow worms alongside.  A bit further along, near where the old border “tick” gate used to be is a cave, up a steep track, where 19th century bushrangers are supposed to have hidden from their pursuers.

As you drive over the slight rise where Queensland and New South Wales meet there is a splendid view over the whole of the Tweed Valley towards the sea.   The land is flat and green with sugar cane and other crops. The peaked cap of Mt Warning, an extinct volcano, can be seen on clear days though more often the mountain’s top is hidden by cloud, as it was the other day.  High above, just to the east, is Best of All Lookout at Springbrook which I always think should be called “Worst of All” because the view from up there always seems to be hidden by cloud.

View from Queensland border looking south east into New Souh Wales and the Tweed Valley

I always approach the road down into the Tweed here with great caution because it has suddenly become narrow, rough and with a precipitous drop on the outside.  In the past I’ve towed a caravan through here and hated it!  No cars were coming the other way, last Monday morning, so it was an easy run down to pretty little Chillingham at the base of the range.  Chillingham boasts a few rather scruffy houses and some very pretty Queensland-style (though we are now in New South Wales) shops and public buildings.  It’s all very lush, with palms and the sparkling river and many huge and handsome trees shading the buildings.  On a dry morning in early November it was particularly colourful because the jacarandas were in full bloom, vying with the flame trees for our admiration.  Intriguing little roads take off from Chillingham, into the spectacular Limpinwood Valley and other deep and lesser known valleys that hide among the folds of the Border Range.

Road through Chillingham

Chillingham shop

A brief glimpse of Mt Warning, not covered with cloud

 

 

 

 

Our road, though,  lies south-eastward to Murwillumbah and the coast.  The view here is dominated by mountains of which Mt Warning is only just the highest.   It’s stupendous scenery even on a cloudy day.

Murwillumbah is a pleasant town just back from the coast on the western side of the Pacific Motorway that links Brisbane to Sydney.  It’s a true sub-tropical minipolis sprawled lazily across many small hills and the streets are shaded by palms and jacarandas and various colourful rainforest trees. There are some fine old buildings in the main street and some lovely old timber houses too on the hillside above, with wide and shady verandahs. The Tweed River runs through it and though at this season it looks tame and peaceful ,come late summer it can turn into a wild torrent pouring down from the mountains and flooding the lower reaches of the town.

There used to be a wonderful little café here called Dali’s which was a favourite breakfast spot of ours because the French proprietor served one of the finest and cheapest big brekkies available anywhere.  The walls were covered in Salvador Dali prints and memorabilia and possibly a couple of originals because the proprietor (it was said) had actually known the moustachioed genius.  Certainly he encouraged local artists to set up easel just outside in the arcade and there was always somebody there wielding a brush under the keen eyes of the café patrons who were not above offering some advice.  There were, too, always European old men playing chess or backgammon in a corner because besides the usual café dining tables there were nooks and niches stuffed with odd chairs and fat sofas and strange curios and arty magazines.  Dali’s positively oozed atmosphere and charm.

Alas, like all good things, Dali’s has come to an end. When we arrived in Murwillumbah fanging out for our special breakfast we found the same café premises but all changed and with a new name and owner.  They serve a breakfast but it didn’t look all that tempting.  Murwillumbah is not short of cafes so we checked out a few and eventually settled on a little place that did good coffee and eggs and mushrooms with a Lebanese twist.  Fresh-laid eggs, too, and yummy bread.  All very nice but not as good as Dali’s.  There is also a large café-bakery in the main street where we had coffee on our way home a week later, and found it very good.  They do a breakfast too but it’s a lot more expensive.  I’m  planning to write a book one day called Breakfast at Dali’s,; I’ve no idea of a story yet but it will be about how nothing lasts forever and that everything we have loved we eventually lose.

Murwillumbah Court House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well-fortified, we took the road again, still avoiding the motorway but taking the old Pacific Highway south over the Burringbar Range.  This was a notorious range in its day, for its steep bends and truck accidents.  Today, just to the east of it, the big new motorway runs straight and flat but the range road is worth travelling for its splendid views of Mt Warning and its paucity of traffic.  On the southern side of the range is the little whistle-stop of Mooball, stuck between the road and the railway line.  Nearly half a century ago the local service station/café owner had the bright idea of capitalizing on the town’s silly name and calling his establishment the Moo Cow or something like that.  He offered milk shakes and other milky comestibles and plastered the exterior with bovine motifs and the black and white patches of a Friesian cow.  The bottom of all the telegraph poles in town were painted to match.  His idea worked well because Mooball was a reasonable stopping place between Brisbane and Sydney so  for many years thirsty travelers were happy to try his famous milkshakes.  Today, bypassed by the new highway, Mooball is a sad little place with a few houses and the tattered piebald fragments of one man’s enterprise.

The new motorway also bypasses Brunswick Heads, another once-popular  travellers’ stopping place but still thriving today because it’s on the beach – we often stop there for breakfast on our way south.  Around here is where we finally picked up the motorway for the run up  to the lush and scenic plateau behind Byron Bay, where Paul Hogan had a home, and down again to Ballina, a thriving and quite large coastal town where we always stop to shop on our way to Evans Head.  It boasts an Aldi,  two large supermarkets and a couple of big discount liquor stores – all you need really!  The drive from the Byron Bay turnoff to Ballina is always a joy, with the mountains  to the west and the vast blue shining Pacific to the east.  It’s all macadamia and avocado and coffee plantations, with pretty little leafy lanes running off to either side of the highway.  A popular area with New Agers as well as celebrities looking for hideaways.  Ballina, too, has recently been bypassed by the upgraded Pacific Motorway and once you are south of here, crossing the Richmond River, the scenery becomes less spectacular where the  mountain ranges give place to low hills and scrubby forest.

But the sea is never far away and at Broadwater the fields of emerald cane open up the landscape again and the big sugar refinery pours white smoke into the sky.  There is a café here named after Nellie Melba though I can’t think why because I’m sure she never lived there, though she did spend some years on a sugar plantation in north Queensland.

We turn off to the east here, for the short run into Evans Head.  Unlike more  glamorous or spectacular places such as Noosa Heads or Byron Bay or Brooms Head, little EH doesn’t reveal its scenic treasures at first glance.  There is no spectacular ocean view as you drive into town though in fact the beach is only a few metres away, hidden behind low dunes and melaleuca swamp.  The first thing you glimpse is the river, only small but very pretty, with aqua water over the pale sand at its mouth.  The town itself isn’t much; an ugly pub and equally unattractive RSL club, both of which serve excellent food, a few shops, a big caravan park, one Thai and one Chinese restaurant.

 

Evans headland

 

Trawlers in the little harbour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In fact Evans Head is like going back in time to the 1960s – and all the better for that, as far as we are concerned!  Most of the buildings don’t seem to have changed from that time and though there are a few very attractive new two-storey beach apartments they are outweighed by the many old fibro beach shacks and sprawling timber holiday homes.  Most of these are owned by country folk from the hills and fishing is still the most popular holiday occupation.  Indeed, there is absolutely nothing else to do in Evans Head unless you are a bowler or a surfer.  It must have the only surf life saving club in Australia that DOESN’T boast an expensive bistro and focuses only on weekend lifesaving activities.

Evans Head Surf Lifesaving Club

Bob on the southern rock wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For people who are content just to birdwatch and bush/beach walk, however, Evans Head is a marvelous place.  The beach north of the river runs just a kilometer or so from the rivermouth before becoming Broadwater National Park.  Thus with access only at the township, you can walk all day along this beach without seeing more than one or two other people – and fishermen who are allowed to take their 4WDs along the sand at low tide (but not across the national park dunes).  South of the river there are several pretty little coves under the lee of the headland and then the long stretch of beautiful Chinaman’s Beach which runs from the tail of Goanna Headland to the short peninsula of Snapper Rock.  We love this walk though you can only do the whole length of it at low tide because there is a small headland in between which is hard to get around at high tide unless you are very young and agile.  Here there is the exquisite pandanus grotto where wonderfully grooved and coloured boulders make good seats beneath the overhang of pandanus trees and a small, clear, tea-coloured peaty stream flows out of the dunes.  Pandanus palms are thick all along the top of the dunes at Chinaman’s Beach, giving it all a very tropical look.  Around the base of both headlands are pretty little rock pools full of tiny fish and crustaceans and colourful sea plants.

Chinaman’s Beaqch south from the pandanus grotto

 

 

Chinaman’s Beach looking north to Snapper Rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandanus grotto

 

 

Bob sitting out the rain in the pandanus grotto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colourful rocks in the pandanus grotto

 

 

 

 

You can reach Chinaman’s Beach by going over the high dunes behind the headland and walking the edge of the cliffs where there is a narrow path.  In late winter and spring this open coastal heathland is brilliant with wildflowers and all the bush is low and dense, honed by the prevailing sea wind.  Peregrine and brown falcons soar here, along with hobbies and other small hawks, majestic sea eagles, coppery Brahminy kites, plaintive whistling kites, and an occasional pair of harriers hunting low over the swamp to the west of the cliff path.  You can also get there by car, down to the reserve and picnic ground above the beach entrance.  We sometimes cycle down this quiet dead-end road and on our last trip we went early one morning and took our breakfast of bacon sandwiches and coffee.  It’s about a 5km ride from our apartment and a wonderful way to start the day.

I bought this apple pie to carry with me on a beach hike and it travelled safely strapped around my wait until I reached our picnic spot – whereupon I sat on it! Still tasted good though.

 

South of Chinamans Beach is the large Bunjalung National Park that runs all the way (about 50 kms) down to Iluka and there is no access here (except around Snapper Rock at low tide) because the land abutting this end of Bunjalung is owned by the Australian Airforce and though little activity takes place there now entry is forbidden.  This is a good thing because it preserves a large area of pristine beach and heathland.

None of these walks or beaches is very obvious to the casual visitor to Evans Head and we wouldn’t have known about them if we didn’t have friends there to show us.  This is a town that keeps its secrets close to its chest and so you would never find the lovely river walk through Bunjalung National Park if you were not told about it.  This is approached by a dirt road heading up-river from the boat ramp – at the end you leave your car and do a 5km round trip following the river’s edge.  Parts of it are on boardwalks through the mangroves and tidal grasslands.  There are sitting places with views up and down the river and an aboriginal midden and a kurrajong tree said to be at least 400 years old and sacred to the local tribe.    It’s certainly sacred to us because we like to go and sit under its benevolent shade and watch  the little egrets darting for fish in the mudflats below.

Evans River

 

 

 

Further up river beyond the bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycling is our other favourite pastime at Evans Head, especially since we gave up fishing.  Except for the top of the Head itself, which is more or less the “posh” part of town, everywhere is flat and you can bike along in perfect safety and comfort.  There is a good path along the river, right up to the rock wall on either bank, and around to Airforce Beach where we stay.

Me on the northern rock wall

 

We used to camp at Evans Head but nowadays we stay in an apartment; it’s in an old 70s building but has been nicely refurbished and is only a few metres from the beach.  We sit for hours on the narrow verandah watching the sea and reading our books.  This is where we have breakfast, too.  At night we fall asleep and wake again to the sound of the waves and when possible I get down onto the beach just before sunrise so I can see the sun come sailing up over the rim of the Pacific.  Moonrise can be pretty spectacular, too, and at dusk a huge colony of bats bursts out of the melaleuca swamp nearby and flies northwards – it takes an hour for them all to pass and I sit there, drink in hand, wishing them successful foraging.

Tourism as it’s known in more popular beach destinations has largely passed Evans Head by, though it is quite popular with the Grey Nomads.  It’s very hard to use a credit card of any kind in the town and though service is cheerful and friendly it is of the “Whaddya youse guys want to eat….not a problem luv” variety!  Locals smile and say hello and are welcoming because they haven’t yet learned to hate tourists.

To us, Evans Head is like going back in time to younger days when a beach holiday was less about lattes in a stylish seaside café and more about sand between your toes.  We love searching out its secret places and relish the peace of its nights when all you can hear is the sound of the sea.   Let others partake of the more sophisticated attractions of Byron Bay and Noosa and the glittering Gold Coast, we shall continue to travel the green and gorgeous  road less travelled down to our favourite hideaway.

In fact, now I come to think of it I’m sorry I’ve told you all how to get there!

 

Sunrise on the sea – from our apartment