I interrupt the regular diet of guerilla planting round here lately, to mention an upcoming event that local folks may wish to attend and people further afield may enjoy hearing about:the famous Knitting Nannas Against Coal Seam Gas (Fracking to some) are coming our way!
These women are my kind of crafters… they came to the Newcastle Local Court to support those of us arrested at the Break Free protests against fossil fuels recently and I had a great chat with a Knitting Nanna. I was knitting a sock, which impressed her, and she was a Knitting Nanna who is not a grandmother and can’t knit, which impressed me! The Knitting Nannas are active all over the country wherever fossil fuel extraction threatens waterways, agricultural land and the climate. They work with Lock the Gate (to oversimplify, farmers and rural people against fracking). And for those wondering why the fuss about fossil fuels, I’ll summarise a bit more, on a day where we are facing a once in 50 year weather event right here at home and floods threaten houses on our quiet street for the second time in two weeks. If we want a viable climate for the future, and we don’t want an escalation in droughts, floods, tornadoes and extreme weather in general, we have to stop taking fossil fuels (coal, gas and such) out of the ground and burning them. The clock is ticking faster and faster and reaching even the targets agreed at Paris is fast becoming unrealistic. If you’d like more information, here is a very bracing, readily understood summary by Bill McKibben. If thinking about climate change scares the wits out of you and you need some help with your despair, try Rebecca Solnit on optimism, first.
And, while we are on the theme of Nannas, it seems that grandparents are the new black! I taught mending at this event a few weeks back and it was such a pleasure. I also joined my friend (below) who spent hours teaching small people how to sew a button on. I was just astonished how many small people wanted to learn from us. But my friend had such a winning strategy, opening with, ‘You get to choose which button, what colour of thread, and which piece of fabric’! I followed her lead (she really is a Grandma, and clearly the best sort) and taught quite a few young ones how to sew on a button… and some came back for a second one. Then my friend would finish up with explanations of how that button-on-fabric could become a brooch… a patch… a feature on your t shirt…
One weekend, out I went with pigface, also known as Carpobrotus glaucescens or sea fig. It has an edible fruit which is quite delicious. These started life as cuttings in autumn but now a couple have started to flower. The world is wet around here, time to get them into the ground.
I walked up to a tram stop where I have planted a lot. I spoke to the poisoners last time I was there and weeded to try and help them not to poison saltbush of various kinds, boobialla and wattle… One of them told me that ruby saltbush don’t absorb the poison. How I wish that were true, but it doesn’t appear that way to me I have had many turn black after the poisoners pass through. When I went back recently to catch a tram I could see lots of weeds and few plants. Some of the larger ones, rhagodias in particular, had made it and were doing well. This time I arrived to find the whole bed deep in mulch. The mulch was only a few days in place, and all over the plants. Three cheers for mulch, three boos for burying the living. I spent time excavating sedges, boobialla, correas, pigface (the large one thriving here drove my decision to plant the bed out with these highly recognisable and quickly spreading plants)… and everything else I could find. I managed to find a few leaves sticking out and dig some plants out that way. Others I found by accident, parting the mulch to plant other things!
In went the sea figs. Then home again, collecting a lot of rubbish after the Royal Show and the storms of recent weeks.
I scored some promising rusty stuff, and had a chat with a chap smoking a cigarette by the road who clearly knew what guerilla gardening was, asked me if that was what I was doing, and was generally approving and cheerful toward my project. I put a few more plants in along the route home, and then it was time for clean up.
I had a query from a lovely reader recently and it caused me to consider what was in my dye garden, which is also the flower and vegie garden, really. So here is a little taking stock. Woad is showing its capacity to self sow. I have gone from struggling to get a seedling out of a hard won pack of seed, to finding I could get it to grow, to this… self sowing in the veggie beds. Let’s see if these plants manage the summer.
The one-year-old-woad is pretty big. Pity I didn’t harvest it at the right time. I still might have another go… but meanwhile some of it is sending up flower heads and the seeds will dye too! This is the woad-and-potato bed beside the peach tree.
This is the woad-greens-rhubarb-you name it bed. Flower heads rising in the middle top of the picture.
The new raised madder bed, with added pansies, evacuated to this spot when their pot fell apart without warning. I think the madder already likes this spot. Californian poppies are doing well in the old one.
Speaking of pansies, I’ve been dead heading these regularly to use India Flint’s ice flower method on them. They are in a yoghurt pot in the freezer, accumulating. I love my pansy dyed thread and have faced the fact that I don’t need kilogrammes of silk thread at this stage and therefore can happily use quite small quantities of dye stuff. I have also been known to deadhead pansies in public plantings. But it goes so much better when I don’t have company, as this kind of weirdness may offend one’s friends. In the top of the picture, the weld. Some of it died months back for no obvious reason–the main stem seemed to rot or be nibbled away. Mysterious!
And there are these pansies too. Only some of them make sense for dye but they are all lovely. I am in favour of loveliness.
Our E Scoparia has made it through the skeletonising caterpillar season and is now my height!
Black hollyhocks old–
Marigold seedlings coming up in a metal tub I salvaged off hard rubbish during winter.
I do use rhubarb leaves to create acidic dye baths, but mostly rhubarb is for eating and not dyeing in our parts! And the rest of my dye garden is out in the suburb and other people’s gardens… I am a dye gleaner.
It’s spring! Well, maybe not where you live. But it is where I live! the first poppy came out!
Bark is peeling…
My part of the country is better known for droughts than flooding rains, but we had a close call and neighbours on our street were flooded. This is just round the corner…
And this is one of my planting sites, with salt bush to the right and water pouring down the bike path to the left!
So I planted out sheoak seed of two kinds.
And the last few months’ collection of E Scoparia seed. I’ve been tucking all the gumnuts I find into this bowl and there is a satisfying drift of tiny seeds at the bottom.
And there were, needless to say, also saltbush seeds involved. And now, we wait!
In not-so-recent dye baths, I included a wool scarf for a friend.
I love the way it turned out. I hope she will too. I bundled up E Scoparia leaves and some windfalls from a tree I think might be E Nicholii. It branches (what I mean is it that it has been brutally pruned) very high so these windfalls gave me leaves to try that I otherwise could never reach.
Love the string resist marks…
Then I returned to the E Cladocalyx bark I harvested weeks back which has been steeping.
Calico mordanted in soy and lots of clamping was the choice of the day.
The wet fabric next day (I know, patience is the dyer’s friend, but my friend was out for the day).
I do especially love the buds!
The overall effect… suggesting my fold-and-clamp technique may require more practice!
Because mending never stops… I have not restricted mine to May. This is a little light darning on some underwear. I know, this is pansy dyed green thread… but this top already has indigo dyed darning (top right) and lots of other mends in all kinds of colours… so when the pansy green took my fancy I didn’t resist.
This, on the other hand, is a pair of jeans. I love seeing people’s glorious sashiko style mending on jeans, but these people have the physique and luck to wear their jeans through on the knees. Not me. And, I think it would be an overstatement of my mending to call it sashiko as well as doing injustice to Japanese sewing traditions…
Anyway… on the outside this is not too obtrusive.
Hopefully good enough to hang together in gardening use, in any case!
I mentioned to my parents that I was trying to grow a quandong (Santalum Acuminatum). This is a native tree that carries edible fruits. It was, and is, known to Indigenous peoples who ate it, and is one of the better known bushfoods. Some non-Indigenous people call it native peach but to me it is more like rhubarb, and yet unlike rhubarb, being its own thing. It is sour and tangy but the texture is quite firm, and softens with cooking. It was one of the special treats of my childhood. Free food was always exciting in my family but some free food was more exciting. Quandongs were especially good, partly because they often led to quandong pie and pie was a rarity. Plus, the fun of cracking the pits to eat the nuts. When we lived in the goldfields in Western Australia we would forage for these fruits, finding the trees because emus left telltale signs they had been eating them. We had a tree in our yard in one mining town we lived in. My grandmother had a tree in her back yard. But these trees turn out to require a symbiotic relationship with another plant/s and they are quite hard to grow in your backyard (depending on where it is). They resist domestication.
My comment to my father resulted in a surprise gift of saved quandong pits. My uncle has a grove of trees at his place further north in our state and preserving them is a huge seasonal task, because the fruits are small (perhaps the size of a hazelnut in its shell–smaller than a walnut in its husk) and the edible part is at best the thickness of orange peel and more often the thickness of mandarin peel around the pit, and about the same texture when raw. My uncle had seeds dating back to 2011, saved with the location of the original tree marked on them (most were from the farm where my aunt grew up). I have no idea if they are viable. But there were kilograms of them! And then there were about 5 fruits saved in an envelope that Dad had saved from a tree he found at a lookout, that he thought would be extra suitable for a dry site.
Well, I took my uncle’s advice–he thinks these are easy to grow but my experience is different–scuffed up the mulch in the front yard where it has taken only 3 years to get our quandong tree to knee height (but the fact it is alive and growing is a triumph), and put them in. I planted lots in the front yard, and then headed out into the neighbourhood planting them in mulched areas all over the place where I presume the chances are slim but success would be awesome! I hope the winter rain and now the spring weather persuades these little pits to seek out the light and a companion plant and all the other necessities of life.