Category Archives: nature

The Fear – The Dark is Rising

“It was then, without warning, that the fear came.”

Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising

Oh! The beautiful opening chapter of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, which I’m reading in a massive worldwide book group on Twitter,  has brought back all my inexplicable moments of nature fear – or just The Fear, as Will experiences.

Have you felt, The Fear?

Those times when you find yourself alone in nature and for some reason, your sense of awe and comfort switches immediately to a feeling of pagan animism about everything around you. As if you are so very trembling and small in the scheme of tall tree things.

Being alone in nature is something I am quite comfortable with, and actually sometimes really crave now that it’s virtually impossible to have. I did have some pre-dawn walks for a hour or so earlier this year when we were camping in the remote Flinders Rangers. My husband were still asleep in the tent and I went out by torchlight. There was a slightly similar experience to the one I’m about to tell. Perhaps because I had my dog with me, or because it was morning, or even because I grew up around this wild land, I felt awe, but not fear at the strange undersound I heard as I got closer to the hills.


Watching the sunrise in the Flinders Ranges


There have been a handful of times when THE FEAR has involved not a wild place, but a known place, like it was for Will.

THe last time I felt it, I was feeling comfortable. It was July 2015 and I was outside our rural holiday cottage in Cornwall. A house full of my children and nephews, in-laws and husband asleep. I was outside at midnight with my astrobinoculars and camera taking night sky pictures.


Cosy light from the room when my young children were asleep


Maybe it was because I was marvelling at the novelty of seeing the emerging waxing moon traversing the sky backwards and in reverse around in the northern hemisphere after so long in the southern hemisphere (link explains this if you’ve never realised that there are differences). So, things had been changing in a different way.


crescent moon devon
Waxing crescent moon in Cornish summer skies



Watching the moon travelling ‘backwards’ in the northern hemisphere – Cornwall


Anyway, for some reason, being out there in the dark, even after a long night of Summer light, turned, er,  well, frightening.

It began with a sound from the fields. The gardens were surrounded by tall hedges, puncutated by one small archway cut out with a gate, with fields beyond. The sound had a hint of human cough or maybe throat clearing, but un-animal enough to confuse my senses. It wasn’t a growl, and I’d lived rurally so it wasn’t a cow or sheep or fox sound. Or bird sound. It was just, unidentifiable. Odd. Weird.

Instinctively, in that moment, when my brain could have rationalised, it didn’t. The day spent exploring ancient nooks and crannies of Cornwall took over, and I, the I that might laugh at my reaction,  was gone. THE FEAR had me.

That sound, had set my heart thumping in a rhythm for running. And I wanted to run. I just left my bincolulars and camera on the tripod and ran across the lawns to the sliding door and clambered in to the dark of house and the comfort of the lounge. After a few moments, I realised I had left all my gear outside.  As I tried to slide open the door go back to get it, I tried to let the ridiculousness take over. It wouldn’t.

I forced myself, swearing in whispers,  to go back out and fumble to detach the heavy binoculars, fold down the tripod and pack away my camera in what seemed like an eternity spent in the now thick ominous darkness. It was somehow, one of the most bravest acts against myself.

And that, is The Fear. I’ve felt it only a handful of times.

If you have ever felt it, you will understand.

Just as Susan Cooper must have understood, when she wrote it for Will to experience.

Have you known, The Fear? I would love to hear your tales.



Dark matter and stardust

I love it when black hollyhocks appear, having self-seeded. It’s like having Edgar Allen Poe or Neil Gaiman popping in for a cup of tea.

Sometimes, they cross with other hollyhocks, and appear more of a dark purple. The darkness can be variable each year, so when you get a true deep black emerging, it feels a bit magical.

This years are a lovely velvety gothic night-sky dark.

The pollen falls like stardust on the petals.


In the breath-held beauty of night, every leaf seems paused as if painted in still life, branches striking shapes, shadow-shifting in the moonlit corners of my sight. Crickets sing a rhythmic chorus under the waxing glow of gibbous moon, inciting beetle feet to tread their forests of towering grass blades. The dance of Diplopoda feet, heard burrowing through to damp soil, microcosmic tramping that loosens pathways, unthreading mycorrhizal threads, triggering fungi to fruit. The luminous moon conjures magpies into a midnight warbling, their tree-to-tree dream song the perfect soundtrack of the Universe. I lift my head and eyes to dive up into the starred abyss of the dark-sea spaces in The Milky Way above. Scrambling for words enough to surface from deep wonder, with everything above and below and around and within connected.

Upfront-worthy veg

We’re the hippies of the hood perhaps, with our mostly native rambling front garden but I decided to forge on a bit further and gently introduce some vegetables as it’s a great growing site. It’s a first for me in an Australian garden growing vegetables in the front (did it in the UK as we had a very small space).

With wallaby and kangaroo grass seeding, flax lilly’s dainty clusters of nodding blue and yellow flowers, red and yellow kangaroo paw in flower and the sweet scent of native frangipani trees it’s a hot colour riot of sight and smell right now. A bee haven.  Mingling scents of native frangipani, rosemary, lavender and lemon basil too. So why not even more diversity with some produce in the mix!

Hot spires of kangaroo paw – they love chicken manure

The first adventures into mixing some veg into the front (we don’t have street verges alas!) was sacrificing a bed that had mainly herbs. We inherited heavy clay soil in this front garden, so I took a patient year of soil prepping including worm castings, mushroom compost, direct deep composting of kitchen scraps first, before attempting any removal or planting. Removing the large woody herbs wasn’t too laborious once the soil had improved (previoulsy impossible baked into hard clay!) and the tomato seedlings have loved their freedom!

There will be more front veg planting to come, longer term plans for strawbale or timbercrete to replace wooden retaining walls – so much to do – and I’m converting a lawn at the back first – so my guess is this is it for a while in the front.  But by tackling one small thing at a time – like a yield of heirloom tomatoes, which have always been challenging in my backyard raised beds, you find that you can slow down enough to think about design more, rather than just rushing in to plant and change everything all at once. It gives you time to observe.

Front veg bed of heirloom tomatoes, lemon grass, lemon basil, zuchinni

Yellow kangaroo paw on a backdrop of lavender.
Dianella (flax lilly) and native grasses under the native frangipani tree

Ramshackle insect shack hacks

I’ve been keen to try building nest blocks for blue-banded bees, by packing a clay/sand mix into rectangular PVC pipe after hearing about this technique and seeing it online.I’ve looked at a few ideas for insect hotels and made a list of materials required.

However, perhaps because of my recent sessions at Onkaparinga’s Living Smart sustainable living course, or starting my PDC, I’ve now crossed off the “buy rectangular PVC pipe” from my shopping list.

It would cost around $20 from the local hardware store for the PVC pipe. Not much in the scheme of things, but bees have been finding accommodation for thousands of years before PVC pipe came along, so…

First, I’ll keep an eye out for some off-cuts and unwanted bits of PVC pipe found in serendiptious moments out and about so that I can give these wonderful nests blocks from the Australian Native Bee Research Centre a go at minimum investment. They really know what works for attracting native bees, so that’s my ideal to work towards.

In the meantime, it’s Spring and bees need shelter. I used what I had in the spirit of experimenting with some ramshackle nests that I could probably call ‘ bee shacks’, and not quite bee hotels. For the less discerning bee, or indeed any insect interested in a small house footprint. Calling all bees and insects looking for a downshift!

The way I look at is, the wider bee community and insects in general make do with what nature provides, rarely to a formula or straight lines or perfect build.  So why not appeal to those opportunistic and adapatable personalities of nature , with my very own flavour of hacky haphazardness?

So here is a combination of weathered bamboo garden stakes I already had, hessian, twine and some mesh that was a plant protector, packed with a clay and sand mix (clay soils from our front garden), that I then accidentally dropped from a height- removing most of the clay/soil.


Lashed by twine onto a dodgy trellis – it will move slightly in the wind:


And also, an old pot packed with clay and sand, a few hints at what wandering insects might want to do to make a crash pad, and undaintily shoved on the soil underneath the borage.


Now to see, who, if anyone, shelters in these tiny share shacks!


Blue-banded bees (Amegilla) – native Australian bees

This is where I am logging the first sightings in my garden (McLaren Vale, South Australia) of native blue-banded bees (Amegilla) each year,  going back to 2014 which is the first year I noticed them and fell head-over heels in love.

To find out more about these incredibly beautiful bees, start with Australian Native Blue Banded Bees site. There are also some stunning videos around much better than mine.

Here are brief notes and observations in the last few years:


4th October- first blue-banded bee spotted in the garden (I’ve been away for 6 days).

I inspected last years nest and there’s now a woodlouse in it. Not sure if it’s moving in because a bee has already vacated, or is just moving in anyway. Will keep observing.

A woodlouse in last years Blue-banded bee nest


First sighting – 17th December! I was afraid the blue-banded bees were never going to return, but the weather has been quite wet.

3-4 bees sighted daily

30 December:  Very excited! Nest discovered in our backyard in the dirt wall between wooden decking steps!! I simply followed one of the bees.

Blue-banded bee (females) nest




October 23rd