Whither my life?

Belonging, Home

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. Make that a lot overwhelmed.

Very unexpectedly, I spent most of last week back home in Perth, attending a family funeral. Now I’m back in Canberra, cold again, and feeling stressed by all the stuff that accumulated in my absence such as insurance policies and performance reviews.  None of this is helped by the bug that I picked up off my niece.  It was thoroughly incubated in the flight home (apologies to my fellow travellers) and is now hammering away at my sinuses.

There aren’t many good things that come out of funerals. One of them is this: you get to carve out a little circle of time which is protected from the astounding tedium and terror of dealing with bureaucracies.  (Filling in forms makes you realise all over again that bureaucracies don’t give a fuck about you.  It’s their way or not at all.)  Watching my cousins deliver the eulogy I was reminded all over again that what is truly important in life is not what we spend most of our time doing.

After the long and emotional day of the funeral, the wake and visiting my own parents last resting place, I had a few days of very precious down time. I went up to Kings Park to see the wildflower festival, and to catch up on my diary and reflect on my direction.  I took my nephew birthday present shopping and visited a dear friend, and sooner than I knew it, I was back on the plane and heading ‘home’.

Perth still feels like home, I still dream about it regularly. After all, I did spend the majority of my life there.  My family is there.  Siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.  And when the place was absolutely awash with flowers, not just in Kings Park but everywhere, it was hard not to think that maybe I should go home.  My friend punctured that one.  ‘Don’t be stupid’, she said.  ‘In six weeks time, it will be forty degrees’.  She’s right.  On my last trip home it was forty degrees in November.  Who knows what I’d do for a job?  Who knows where I could afford to live?  Who knows if I could stand the summer any longer?

When I got the call to come home, I had just returned from booking a trip to Tasmania, where I had intended to go and settle. I had a shortlist of properties.  I had ideas of businesses.

Now, I am just profoundly confused on everything except one point. I don’t want to stay in Canberra any longer.


Adoption, Uncategorized

On ANU campus, reticulation checks. 19 Aug, 016. Photo by the author.

There’s not a better way to visualise the unruliness of my adoption baggage right now.

Every so often it does this, bursting forth in torrents, uncontrollable and unpredictable.  I wish it was as easily fixed as the reticulation, and that I had the emotional and spiritual equivalent of the hort staff that you can see there on the side in his safety fluoro.

But there isn’t.  Perhaps I’ll write about the trigger for this over the weekend, because if I write now I’ll collapse and I have to keep my shit together and pretend I’m OK and pretend that I care about what I am paid to do.  Always pretending.  So much pretending in this adopted life.

A gentle plea for…indexes


Cover of Creating an Australian Garden. Photo by the author

I don’t normally do book reviews on this blog but my recent experience with hunting for specific information has induced me to write this. Hear ye, all future garden authors. Include an index, as fulsome an index as you can make it.

A comprehensive index is a god send to a reader. I will seriously consider whether I should bother buying a book if it doesn’t have an index. My time is just as precious as anyone else’s and a quality index makes my research task quicker and simpler. It’s for this reason that I didn’t buy this book until it went on sale. It’s a real shame as it’s a beautiful book in many other ways. The photography is excellent, and many of the plants mentioned in the index are photographed. But definitely not all, and it would be easy on a cursory flip through to think that they were.

He writes in an accessible and at times humourous style. I especially enjoyed the description of discovering the nature of clay soil. He presents an interesting selection of native gardens as a vantage point, ranging from the suburban backyard to his own forty acres, and gives plenty of interesting material to mull over when it comes to planning a garden to suit your site and your aesthetic aspirations. However, this doesn’t encompass growing for cut flowers. Hence, I waded through the full text of the last section of the book to isolate out plants recommended for that purpose.

The list below is of plants specifically mentioned in the text description of each plant as being suitable for floristry, either for flowers, foliage or nuts. This list is limited to those specifically mentioned, but there are others which could easily be interpreted as being useful for floristry such as many of the other kangaroo paws. Of course, if there’d been an index, I wouldn’t have had to do this.

After this experience, I evaluated the quality of the index of many of my other garden books. My limited collection of native plant books did not yield joy. In a coming post there will be a similar list to that below from the book with the widest references, again to save you the work. My other books, much more extensive and not counting the rose books, were not much better. This goes to show how little cut flowers have been valued in recent decades.

I hope readers find this list useful.

Love, SRR

Anigozanthus ‘Big red’

Boronia megastima ‘Heaven scent’, ‘Purple jared’

Banksia ‘Yellow wing’

Ceratopetalum gummniferum ‘Albery’s red’

Chamelaucium (Geraldton wax) ‘Dancing queen’, ‘Lady Stephanie’, ‘Revelation’, ‘Purple pride’.

Corymbia ‘Baby orange’, ‘Baby scarlet’, ‘Fairy floss’, ‘Wildfire’, ‘Summer red’

Crowea hybrid ‘Festival’

Goodenia ovata ‘Lighten up’

Grevillea ‘Ivanhoe’, ‘Jubilee’, Poorinda Peter’, Poorinda Blondie’

Isopogon ‘Pink profusion’

Leptospermum ‘Cherish’, Leptospermum morissonii ‘Burgundy’

Calothamnus diosmifolia ‘Coral flush, ‘Just blush’, ‘Radiance’, ‘Winter white’

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black lea’, ‘Nafray’, ‘Penn stripe’

Philotheca ‘Bournda Beauty’, ‘Flower girl’, ‘Moon shadow’, ‘Profusion’, ‘Winter Rouge’

Telopea ‘Bridal Gown’, ‘Braidwood brilliant’, Coroboree waratah’, ‘Golden globe’, ‘Shady lady pink’, ‘Shady lady red’, ‘Ballerina’, ‘Fire and brimstone’, ‘Pink passion’, ‘Shade of pale’, ‘Wirrinbirra white’

Thryptomene saxicola ‘FC Payne’, ‘Supernova’

Xerochrysum ‘Cockatoo’, ‘Dargan Hill monarch’, ‘Diamond Head’.



Canberra, Floristry, Work

I am having another bout of career angst. No, angst is too dramatic.  Maybe just plain old anxiety.  Of course it’s Monday, where many of us face the prospect of a week doing something that we really don’t find enthralling.

I use the word ‘enthralling’ deliberately. It’s an interesting word, one that has largely changed in its use between now and the early examples from the 1600s given by the Oxford Dictionary.  Originally, it meant ‘To reduce to the condition of a thrall; to hold in thrall; to enslave, bring into bondage; to ‘enslave’ mentally or morally.’  Its meaning has been extended in a more positive direction, as in ‘Now chiefly, to captivate, hold spellbound, by pleasing qualities’.

I think most of us would like to wake up on Monday morning and feel enthralled by the prospect of going to work.

A few weeks ago I had to take time off work because I had reinjured my back.  Unable to sit, my physio encouraged me to take gentle walks. I headed off to the Botanic Gardens with my ipad.  With great care and with lots of rest stops, I made it round the main path loop.  The rest stops coincided with photo opportunities, as I stopped to admire the winter flowers that I found.  In retrospect, I realise that I was enthralled.  Despite the pain, and the freezing temperatures, I was still enthralled.  It was wonderful!  As the poet, Mary Oliver, says:

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

Here I am, telling about it.

From left, the wonderfully floriferous grevillea called ‘Lady O’, the prostrate form of Acacia baileyana, Banksia spinulosa var. neoanglica and a Geraldton wax called ‘Cascade Brook’.  I am definitely going to try and find ‘Cascade Brook’ for the new native bed that I am hoping to construct over the summer.  Lady O is pretty easy to find in Canberra nurseries, as everyone seems to appreciate how reliable she is, great flowers, bird attracting in winter and frost hardy.  I had her in my last garden and would definitely make space for her, even though she may not be a great choice for the vase.  I wasn’t interested in floristy previously so I never thought to cut her.  I think for my next arrangement I might try a banksia.  I am not particularly confident on how or even what I should do, but you have to learn by doing with floristry.  I still have a branch of this amazing something from the Protea family that I bought last week to make a birthday arrangement for a friend.  It has a seductive silky texture and combined perfectly with the apricot spray roses.

How do I find that same sense of delight and enthrallment in my working life that I get from writing about plants and flowers?  From arranging them and growing them.  The obvious answer would be to retrain in horticulture.  But not with a back injury and my cancer producing skin.  Retrain as a florist?  Well yes, but I can’t afford to live on a shade over the minimum wage, certainly not in this town.  I met a florist recently and she says she gets paid $19 an hour, or $39 520, assuming a forty hour week.  The Canberra Times (26 June, 2015) noted that ‘The average income of a full-time ACT worker is about $90,000 a year – a smidge above what a typical APS level 6 public servant earns. (And, in Canberra, more public servants are employed at executive level 1 than APS6)’.  Just for the record, my academic job is well below the average…

Still trying to figure out how to translate that sense of astonishment and communication into a career I can live with, and afford.  If you have suggestions, let me know!

Being grateful



Sometimes, in my case frequently, we need reminders of how good we have got it.  I got such a reminder on my FB feed this morning.  My friend posted an update on her cancer treatment, effectively putting my own life in perspective.

For her, it’s really not going well.  This particular type of cancer is hard to treat and aggressive.  She is now facing certain paralysis if she doesn’t proceed with a relatively experimental treatment to try to save her vertebrae, that is, if she doesn’t die. She is a single mother with two daughters, and her determination to live is absolutely breath taking.

So, in honour of her, I am focussing this post on acknowledging and being grateful for all my blessings. I am grateful for:

Many wonderful friends, spread far and wide

A paying job that allows me to pursue hobbies and chase my passions

A job that is actually in my discipline, because so many doctors of history never actually get to work in the area they studied so hard for

A view from my office window

Lovely work colleagues

A safe home in a quiet stable city

A cupboard full of food and fresh, clean hot and cold running water

A purring cat and a garden about to burst into flower when spring arrives

And the list could go on….

I end with a my brief version of metta, the Buddhist practice of loving kindness.  I wish peace, good health and love for all, and especially for my friend.  May she experience joy, ease and healing, and in her survival, may she bring forward her passion and determination for the benefit of her loved ones and for us all.