Last thoughts on the last bouquet of 2016


mums-80thMy Mum would have turned eighty today, and here is the bouquet I made for her. I’d wanted to the roses to be a little more vibrantly peachy-orange, but the variety I ordered called Magma did not arrive.  This was the next best alternative.  Mum was a darked eyed beauty who positively glowed in those sorts of gold tones.

The rest of the bouquet is made up of two types of chrysanthemum, yellow daisy and green button, and my long time favourite, limonium. The mint, cerinthe purpurea, parsley and stokesia were all from my garden.  It’s also the solstice tomorrow, so these golden tones paired with blues speak to me of Australian colours at the beginning of summer.

For many people and for many reasons, this time of year can be particularly difficult. I am one of them.  It’s no secret amongst friends that I didn’t have the best of relationships with my Mum, and that my marriage failed at this time too.  I find the rammed-down-the-throat family togetherness messages only adds to the discomfort of the time.  I am thinking also of all those who have lost people in the last year and who are facing the first Christmas with their absence looming over them.  There have been two deaths recently in my world, and I am particularly thinking of my aunt and cousins, and my friend’s daughters right now.

This is not easy to handle. Nor do I have any particularly good advice on how to weather it.  I took plenty of walks in the cool of the day, had a few trusted friends on standby and avoided large crowds and noisy places.  That’s what worked for me, a classic introvert whose heart sinks when the door bell rings.  You’ll have to figure out your own sanity preserving strategies.

Frankly Christmas is mystifying to me. For actively committed Christians it is obviously central to them.  But for the rest of us?  It’s a crazy making, financially draining, calorie laden marketing ploy which relies on cheap foreign labour to make goods that we don’t really need and which probably won’t last the distance.

Sorry to be a downer there folks.

I’ll be going home, shutting the door and getting some much needed rest, no decorations, no special cooking, and a bunch of rented DVDs until all the Christmas specials, movies and advertising finishes.

However you chose to spend this time, I hope it works for you. Thanks for reading and may all your good wishes for yourself, your family, friends and the world come true.



Small (and scrounged) arrangements

employment, Floristry, Uncategorized

Having just lost my job, I have to review my approach to flower arrangement. Small arrangements with minimal purchased flowers and plenty of scrounging in my now abundant spare time would seem to be the order of the day.  This is my first experiment.


The vessel is one of those odd party dishes that only come out at Christmas. Never figured out what people use them for.  Nuts perhaps?  I selected this two dollar bargain from the opshop for its length (about 30cm) and shallow depth (about 4cm) and its fluted edges giving greater scope for keeping the material in place.

I bought one bunch of pure white chrysanthemums, because they are so long lasting, and everything else comes from my garden. I planted the pinks last year and they are still going strong.  The sea holly was planted in winter and the white one here has flowered.  I am still waiting for the blue.  The foliage is mostly herbs, springs of rosemary and oregano with its flowers, along the flower buds of the cotoneaster that hangs over the fence from the neighbours.

This is a very pretty pastel arrangement, dictated by the fact that after our odd weather of late there’s almost nothing in flower in my garden, beyond the trusty pinks, at the moment. Actually, there was one bloom on the radicchio that has gone to seed.  It’s the most exquisite blue colour and this year I will try to use it and see if it lasts.

The point is that with the white and green base, it’s infinitely variable. If you wanted zing you could try green chyrssies with orange calendulas, or bold red dahlias with scarlet perlargoniums.

The long slender shape makes it suitable for window sills and, I realise as I sit in front of my computer, it could replace the usual paraphernalia that clutters the desk.  Wouldn’t this little nut dish of flowers be a better sight?


Year’s end

creativity, Floristry, PhD, Publishing, Uncategorized

I feel like I have a very great deal to catch up on!

It’s been a very busy spring. Between a major garden expansion, the continuation of my floristry night classes and getting my thesis accepted for publication, I have barely written a thing.  I also got my first floristry client too, and her reaction to the flower crowns I made for her gave me sufficient internal fortitude to enrol in professional floristry training.

My main priority between now and when classes start next year has to be revising the thesis in order to meet my publication deadline. This is a strange process.  I haven’t picked up my PhD since I submitted it and reading it again now in depth is highly illuminating.

Part of me is still astonished that I passed. I feel like I am falling into a tunnel as I read it, and that’s exactly what it felt like to write it.  I was in an ever shrinking world.  It is true what they say about specialisation. You get to know more and more about less and less.  I see how, as I leap from one highly esoteric point to another, how far gone I was.  Stress will do that to a girl.

It feels good to be making something more beautiful and accessible out of that raw material. But I still have to wonder.  Why does this process have to be so punishing.  I am currently watching two women friends walk this same path, and it’s not right.  Learning should not be this stressful and this painful.

Processes of learning are significant right now given that I am a student again. I went back to look at all the photos I have taken of what I made in classes this year and what I have practiced on my own.  Quite apart from realising that it was indeed a busy year, I also realised that for the VERY FIRST TIME EVER I kept my new year’s resolution.  I wanted 2016 to be a year of creativity.  It sure was.  And here’s a few photos to prove it.

Thanks to everyone who has followed my adventures this year, have a wonderful rest of the year and joyful start to 2017.  May all your dreams come true.

On long held dreams and reading Martha Beck


I love Martha Beck.  I’ve got a couple of her books, and I go back to them regularly or check in on her blog. She is an academic ‘runaway’ with a sense of humour.  I’ve just finished reading this one from December 2014

It was an appropriate choice given that I have been to Tasmania and back since last writing and was unable to make any dent worth didley squat in the long held goal of moving to Tasmania.  With the impetus of grief, I figured that things might stand more of a chance of manifesting if I returned there and tried again.  I hoped that the universe might meet me halfway.

I tried to buy three properties.  Lucked out on each one.  Numerous real estate agents ignored my enquiries.  I did not meet one single person who provided the right name, place, overheard conversation etc etc to lead me onto the next step.  Job applications falling into black holes, despite being eminently qualified.  Since returning I have been back to having all the old adoption related dreams as well as dreams of being stuck or delayed while attempting to travel south.

What should one believe about this experience?

I have no idea so I tried Martha’s exercise.  Hold the dream in your head for a while and fantasize about it.  Then open your eyes and translate that dream into adjectives, at least three of them.  Country garden dripping in flowers in northern coastal, high rainfall (by Australian standards) Tasmania complete with cat and husband and possibly a business being a farmer/florist = lush, loving, creative.

I did actually know this.

I also appreciate the insight that one should focus on what creates these adjectives in the present.  This is why I have just spent money and energy on building new raised garden beds.  I’ve planted a lemon tree, and hydrangeas, hollyhocks, dahlias, scabiosa and cerinthe so far.  The ranunculi I planted in the dead of winter have flowered, giving me fond memories of Grandpa.

However much I focus on the adjectives in the present, it still doesn’t get me any where closer to a resolution or a break through about Tasmania.  Should I take all the failures as means that I should just be content with where I am?  Canberra has extremes of temperature that make the garden ideal I long for very difficult.  It is full of intellectually arid jobs that make me, as Martha once said, want to poke myself in the head with a crab fork.  I try to project myself doing aforementioned jobs for the next twenty years here and I feel my flesh cringe.

Here’s what I don’t understand.  Its not like I am not really-truly-put-my-money-where- my-mouth-is acting on making this dream work. I haven’t gone ‘Oh universe, you know what I really want and you just go out there and get it for me without me lifting a finger’.  I have tried and I have tried again.  So universe, if you are not going to play ball on Tasmania, how about sending me some other new sign or direction sharpish that I can ACTUALLY understand? Coz right now, I am flummoxed.  Bamboozled.  And, ready to give up and drink myself into a stupor while poking myself in the head with a crab fork.

A story about kindness

emotions, Grief, Health

It’s suicide prevention awareness day today here in Australia and I wanted to share with you a story. Its not strictly about suicide prevention but it is about bereavement and trying to keep going when you’re not entirely sure what the point is anymore.   My story happened yesterday and I am afraid that I cannot name the person who was so helpful because I was so distressed during the exchange that I cannot now remember his name.

Yesterday I was pulled over for running a red light. I am usually a very careful and slow driver, and so the fact that I managed to do this shows just how disordered and upset I was.  For context, in the last two weeks I have experienced the deaths of a family member and a friend, was still recovering from a ten day flu and had learnt that I have developed complications from the chronic disease that I have.  Ironically, when the policeman pulled me over, I was actually on my way to the chemist to get some Rescue Remedy.

I was already shaking when he approached me and he asked me if I could explain what I had done. I fumbled some pathetic reply about still not feeling well and was on my way to the chemist.  He took my licence and went back to the patrol car.  I erupted into tears.  Trouble was I was still an eruption when he came back, a totally uncontrollable outpouring of anger, sorrow, frustration, and fear all mixed up together.

He very gently asked me what was wrong, and after some minutes of attempting to answer, in between hyperventilating, coughing and crying, I managed to get out about the complications and the deaths. He offered me his condolences on the loss of my uncle and my friend, then offered to organise counselling for me, saying that the police have people on call if I didn’t have anyone I could turn to.

This stranger offered me more acknowledgement, support and kindness in that tiny moment than most of my friends and acquaintances had. I’ve been shocked all over again by how people are so effing useless at talking about death.  Even when I went to the three different medical types, who I thought would know better, to get help with the illness symptoms, not one even acknowledged the fact that I had used the words ‘funeral’ and ‘death’.

And so, the actions of that young policeman yesterday truly mattered to me.  I can’t begin to express how much his kindness and gentleness mattered right then, when I felt like the whole world was against me.  Nothing changed, of course.  I still ran the red light and have a huge fine.  I still have health issues and my uncle and my friend are still dead.  But for just a fraction of time when I most needed it, someone was kind to me and it buffed off enough of the jaggedy edges to make me think that things might possibly get better.

I will be sure to pass it on when I am in his position.

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.