Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bluebell Walk Progress...


One of my pleasing observations of the garden during my trip home last week was the progress of the bluebell walk over the past 5 years. Spring has sprung, the rain has come, the bulbs are out and all the deciduous trees are starting to sprout!

When we first planted up the walk 5 years ago it looked like this:
There were a couple of winters of transplanting the lines of trees, widening the walk, doubling the number of rows of birches, raising some mulched bulb beds and sowing hundreds of bulbs...

Above: Year 2

Below: Year 3



Below: Year 4, End of Winter

Below: Year 4, Summer

Below: Year 5, Early spring

Below: Year 5, Mid Spring (Last Week)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

NZ Song Thrush

Peter found a nest with a clutch of little blue eggs in a nest in our potting shed. We knew they were Song Thrushes by the type of nest, the little blue eggs with the distinctive spots at the broader end of the shell.


Song thrushes are territorial and nest as solitary, monogamous pairs, breeding from August to February, peaking in September – November in most localities. They nest in the forks of shrubs or trees several metres above the ground and usually well concealed by foliage. The nest is a tightly woven bowl of grass, small twigs, lichen, wool, dead leaves and lightly lined with mud.  Two, three or more clutches of 3-4 (sometimes 5-6) eggs may be laid during a season especially if an earlier clutch is lost. The eggs are light blue-green or pale blue with tiny dark spots at the larger end. Incubation is mostly by the female and takes 12-13 days. Young are blind and naked when hatched and open their eyes after 5-6 days. They are well-feathered 12 days after hatching, and fledge at 12-14 days. Both sexes share feeding, including of fledglings.
- extract from NZ Birds Online

You can hear their lovely song here.

So we decided to take little clips every couple of days of their progress. This is day 1 (after all the eggs had hatched)...


We were amazed at how fast they grew. By day 3 or 4 their feather quills were quite developed and their body tone was strong...


By day 6 or 7 they still had their eyes closed, but had got used to keeping their mouths open for feeding...


By day 9 or 10 they were used to opening their mouths to be fed every time you ventured close to them...


and by day 14 they we know that they had already ventured out of the nest as we found it empty in the morning and full again in the evening...


Soon they will have flown the nest, growing up to look like this...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Dubbo Chronicles No 12: A Day Trip to Mudgee...


Last Friday I took a much needed day off and decided to visit a town called Mudgee, about an hour's drive east of Dubbo. Mudgee is a small town known for its vineyards, cafes and more recently a small distillery. It is about 5 hours drive northwest of Sydney, which makes it a popular weekend destination with some of the city dwellers.


I drove through a few small 'blink and you'll miss them' towns on my way there. Everywhere the scenery was very rural NSW. Just outside a town called Ballimore I came across a small herd of cattle huddling under a tree for some shade. It was only 8 in the morning and already the sun was scorching...


Just beyond the cattle was a natural soda water spring...


I stopped to take a photo and a small video of the horrid sulphur-crested cockatoos, which swarm through the sky with shrieks that curdle your blood....


By 9am I had reached the sleepy town of Mudgee, which was quite a bit smaller than Dubbo. Here is a picture of the main street...

 

After a quick bite of breakfast at a local cafe and a walk around the town centre I headed off to the first of several vineyards, di Lusso, where I had an early lunch. I had a lovely antipasto pizza followed by a creamy chicken and tarragon pot pie, served with a glass of very nice white made from the Picolit grape. The Picolit is an extremely rare varietal from Colli Orientali in Friuli (north east Italy). There are said to be less than 100 producers of this wine varietal in the world. This is because the grape suffers from a condition known as 'floral abortion', which means that it is prone to loosing all its flowers in Spring and thus does not produce any grapes. This makes it an incredibly nonviable grape in a commercial world, especially when growers can go a couple of years at a time before getting a harvest. But, I can tell you that if you like a sweeter wine there is none more pleasant than this little drop.

Above and Below: The setting at di Lusso, where they serve lunch alfresco overlooking the pond. They also grow olives and figs.
Below: My pizza being cooked in a wood-fired oven on the terrace.

One of my next stops was a vineyard called Pieter van Gent. They had a very atmospheric cellar set up for visitors, and were very friendly, although none of their wines was to my taste.

Below: The unassuming exterior...

Which gives way to their dramatic cellar...

After a couple more wineries there was only time to squeeze one more in before dinner. I chose to do something different, I visited a distillery. The Baker Williams Distillery was set up two years ago and makes a variety of spirits and liqueurs. One of the owners, Nathan, gave us a guided tour and explained the distilling process to us. I learnt about 'heads' and 'tails' and triple distilling and temperature control and valves etc.

We got to try most of their spirits. I was especially interested in their whiskey, and the process of aging it. We got to try some of the 'new make' which is the new spirit that has been distilled from malted barley. It was clear and colourless, but already had a burgeoning taste of whiskey. It was quite odd sipping something that looked like vodka but tasted like scotch. We then got to try some that had been aged in American oak barrels for various times, so that we could appreciate the aging process. I must say that even though the process made much more sense to me, the demystification paradoxically made it more intriguing to me. Perhaps I will have a go at trying to make whiskey once we get our still up and running at WBP.

Above: The still head with 6 different valves and a distillate collection pipe.
Below: The still itself.

Below: The process being explained with wine and a bunsen burner.

I then had a lovely meal at The Wineglass bar and grill, at Cobb & Co Court in town before heading back late to Dubbo. So, that was my day.

Below: Sunset over the vineyard.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I Am Resolute...


The Resolute desk is the president's desk in the oval office of The Whitehouse. It was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B Hayes in 1880.


It was built from the timbers of the British arctic exploration vessel HMS Resolute (shown below). The Resolute was sent in search of Sir John Franklin in 1852, but abandoned 2 years later. It was found a year after it was abandoned by a US Whaling ship and was salvaged, refurbished and sent back to HM Victoria as a gift from The President and people of the US (at a time when tensions were high between the two countries - they had yet to forge a 'special relationship'.


Years later when the ship was broken up, timber from it was used at the Queen's request to make four pieces of furniture - the resolute desk which was sent to the US President, a similar desk for herself currently in Windsor Castle, a small lady's writing desk for her yacht (below, currently in the naval collection, Portsmouth) and a small writing desk for the widow of Henry Grinnell, an American merchant and philanthropist. 



Above: The Queen's writing desk

The President's desk was originally a traditional partners desk, being open on both sides for legs, but president Roosevelt had a small door built for the gap on the front side of the desk, with the great seal carved on it.

Above: The original desk

Below: A famous photo of the desk, now with door built in, with JFK at the desk and his son playing under-foot. JFK was the first president to install the desk in the oval office. He also had a plinth made to raise the desk up as his knees kept hitting the underside. That plinth was removed and replaced in 1986 with one which matched the desk better and remains in place today.


Below: Willoughby underneath my current desk. I think he will have more room underneath the next one...


Below: Maggie inspecting the plaque with Jimmy Carter in 1979.

So, when it came time to find a large desk for my study at Willowbrook, I decided to have a replica carved for me. I had looked around for a large partners desk for quite a while. You see, I already have a lovely antique writing desk, which was a present from Peter on graduating medical school, but it is not large enough to spread out all my paperwork on when I am in the thick of something. So I decided that I would use it as just that, a writing desk for letters etc and sit it by the window of my study overlooking the front courtyard. 

I would need a much larger desk for the centre of the room which would be my working desk. When I came across the story of the resolute desk I found that it was indeed a pleasing shape and of generous proportions and so I decided that instead of continuing my search for a suitable desk, I would have a replica of the definitive desk made...


I figured that as The Great Seal was not part of HM's original design I was within my rights to have my own monogram carved onto the front of the desk instead...


It is solid mahogany from a renewable source.


Above and Below: A carver at work. You can see some of the other furniture we have commissioned in the background.


Once it is stained a dark walnut colour and had its top inlaid with dark red leather it will look the same as the replica below...


In the two photos below you can see the little escritoire being made for the Brideshead Suite prior to being stained, and then the actual finished piece after it was stained...


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Duck Houses...


Now with our newly dredged duck pond down on the farm we can keep the Indian Runner ducks happy and well away from our waterlilies in the lake up at the park (for two springs in a row they have stunted the growth of our lilies by nibbling off the tender growing tips).


And with several new families of ducklings to accommodate...



 I think we should build some floating duck houses...

Maybe not on the same scale and an MP expenses scandal...

but befitting WBP none the less.

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